Approaching Perihelion

Our fifth –  FIFTH!  – full-length album, Perihelion, is being mastered and will soon be a few shiny new discs and a bunch of shiny new digital formats.  It’s been a long walk to get here.  Since Suspending Belief, there’ve been sad departures by band members, weddings, babies, and general “life” type stuff that often slows down one’s progress on a new album.

But damned if it isn’t a good disc.

It’s a different sort of album for us.  I hesitate to say there’s a strong EDM influence because 1) I hate the term “EDM” 2) it isn’t that strong of an influence and 3) I hate the term “EDM”, but as far as it goes, it’s our danciest, probably most “modern” sounding works.  Whereas on SB and the subsequent Fading Belief, the synthesizers provided texture for all the ethnic instruments, this time the synths and electronics are front-and center.  Eric G. recently commented that there’s “nary an obscure ethnic instrument in sight” – while that’s not strictly true, there’s a lot less of a “…and here’s a dholak!” kind of presentation of them.  “The One Who Came After Me” opens with a sitar loop, but one that’s been chopped and processed.  “Wardrobe” features a plaintive duduk, but used more as a pad sound than a melody.  “Now You Know” has santoors, saz, and flourishes of eastern-european violin, but paired with bouncing electrohouse beats.  “Indecision” features arabic strings and dumbeks, but the strings are filtered and distorted and the dumbeks are melded into a minimal house groove.  And so forth.

When we set out, there wasn’t a whole lot of direct intent – nobody ever said “hey, let’s make a dance record.”  I had basically two boxes I wanted to tick – a) finish an album and b) get Jill singing lead on at least one track.  Everything else was just “let’s see where it goes.”  We wrote maybe 16 tracks for the album, 13 got finished, and 11 fit on the album.  The remaining two seem like they’d make good B-side or compilation fodder.  One is already in the process of being reworked for a compilation.  The others are in various states of disrepair – one strongly resembles the opening to Underworld’s “King of Snake” if Karl Hyde had decided to play the bongoes a lot, another is something that sounds like Tiesto on an off day, one was a drum-n-bass song in desperate search of a hook.  I’m pretty happy with the ones we’ve got.

Our process has changed little over the years.  Eric G and I bounce ideas back and forth – either he sends me lyrics or I send him musical snippets and we try and make the two fit.  The wrinkle this time is that Jill has been coming up with stuff too – she wrote the lyrics to two songs and co-wrote a third.  The recording and mixing process is now a bit less “Eric crawls into his studio cave for a month and comes out with a finished track” than “Eric records stuff, Jill does a few sessions, we go back and forth with arrangement notes, etc until we have something that’s pretty strong.”

Technically, though, my process has changed quite a bit.  A few years of practice, some experience recording other acts – in the past three years I’ve done a surprising amount of engineering for other people – and a lot of studying have changed the way I approach many parts of the mixing process.  For one thing, I now always mix through a 2buss compressor (thanks to Eric “Mixerman” Sarafin), I more aggressively use EQ (thanks to a few lectures by Fab Dupont), and I’ve been taking more advantage of large movements in stereo pan.  Just because I can.  I think this is one of our best-sounding discs,  in terms of mixing and programming.

It’s been fun.  I don’t know where we’re going next, but this ride has been enlightening.