Lately I had the pleasure of discovering two wonderfully original Canadian bands; one posting a small following after two albums and the other less well known, emerging with a five song EP. What they both share is a multi linguistic approach to singing, a respect for the environment plus a deep and mutual appreciation for and from its audience.
Peace, La Paix, Paz...
PACIFIKA - ASUNCIÓN
Category: World Fusion
Silvana Kane - Voice, Sounds & Percussion
Adam Popowitz - Guitars, Xylophone, Sounds & Engineering
Toby Peter - Bass, Drums & Sounds
Elliot Polsky - Drums & Percussion
Pepe Danza - Percussion & Sounds
Will Yew - Violin
Christina Zaenker - Cello
Band photography - Rebecca Bisset
Art Direction/ Design: Michael Snyder
Discovering a new band by first seeing them play live before your eyes instead of through your speakers in your home can be a delight as well as a curse especially nowadays when these same artist auto produce/record their material. With the ubiquitous proliferation of home studio software, gear and free downloads, the present generation of artist can 'dispense' with the old ways of doing business i.e. big expensive studios, mixing boards, vintage mikes and qualified personnel just to name a few. But this new found egalitarianism is like a double edged sword, along with its technical freedom comes the danger of the self appointed musician/sound engineer yearning to use every effect at his disposal when oftentimes the "less is more" approach would be the better choice.
Such was the situation with my introduction to Pacifika, you can thus better appreciate my fear or rather apprehension towards my first spin of Asunción on my system. Thankfully I needed not worry, guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz did a fantastic job tracking the different instruments and Silvana's voice–he seems to know what he wants and how to get it on tape, well maybe not really on tape but rather on hard disk in binary form.
Like so many CD's since awhile, the level is on the loud side when you hit 'Play'. That said the general trend of the album is not 'in your face' loud, it is simply louder than need be.
"Sol" opens the album and indeed sunshine and warmth is plentiful in Silvana's native voice occupying central stage. Perhaps mimicking the new day, the beat comes on gradually, panned acoustic guitars top it off. At the end of the day we're left with the simple sound of a cricket.
"Me Caí" starts with solo bass, guitar comes in and Silvana seems to double her voice for effect. At midpoint, the songs comes to a total stop. The mood changes completely thanks in part to bassist Toby Peter reaching down towards the B string lending a heavier feel. Quite effective I should add.
"Chiquita" has a cute melody going for it. Once again voice is doubled in center while chorus is panned. The outro is a bit special with Silvana's intimate voice talking closer on the left of stage.
Big change of style with "Sweet". Drummer Elliot Polsky establishes his rhythmic pattern with a panned hi-hat introducing a great simple beat. The low grunt of the bass adds to the groove followed by guitars panned left and right. This is the first song of the album in English. Silvana's voice is sweet and intimate. Midway through she switches to Spanish doubled for effect before alternating back to English. This is in my opinion the strongest track of the album regarding music and sound quality. Drum is punchy and articulate, bass is solid and deep, guitars clean and very well recorded. Voice up close at just the right level. The mix, dynamic (for pop), open and well balanced is spot on. I would tend to qualify it 'Demo-worthy'. If my recollection is correct, this song was the show opener and with reason.
"Paloma" definitely takes on a Spanish twist with Flamenco stylings such as hand clap, castagnettes or similar percs. Cymbals crenscendoe to give way to the groovy beat and soon a ride cymbal joins in 'off beat'.
Turning more towards a Rock feel and back to Spanish, "Más y Más" features a highly distorted electric guitar occupying the right channel. It is very compressed bringing undue right ear fatigue. It takes time before the actual beat appears for a short duration only. Vocals come back accompanied by Adam's guitar. Although I largely suspect the distortion and compression/limiting effect to be an artistic choice, it nevertheless is the worse sounding track of the album.
The sound improves but still some compression persist with "Estrellas De Miel", a Spanish rhythmic guitar 2/4 metered track.
"Libertad" opens with clean guitar on the left, bass and percussion on the right flanking Silvana in English while a second guitar on the right makes its presence known. The bass notes reach way down in frequency and their weight is impressive. The Spanish chorus has reverb added for effect which makes a great contrast with the coda. The latter sung in English, staying very dry as she comes closer to the front to finish a cappella.
"Cuatro Hijas" has wind for intro. Panned classical guitars plus artificial harmonics are intimate and superbly recorded. The singing in Spanish is soft and very close. Cello and violin enrich the outro.
The first four bars of "Oyeme" consist of strummed acoustic guitar plus conga. After which a crash cymbal introduces the drumbeat groove, bass guitar goes down low, rumbling in deep Hertzian territory. Close-miked guitar is panned to widen the stage. Great synth percussive effect surprises in its originality. The last bars end with the vocal close up and acapella. Probably my second favorite for music and sound.
"Las Olas" the last song of the album leaves us on a wave of delight. Adam keeps it uncluttered with panned acoustic guitars. Silvana's voice is smooth, close-miked and intimate. Lovely violin, cello plus xylophone lends a 'berceuse' ambiance to the piece. Bass pedals deliver deep solid lows. The fade-out could have lasted a bit longer in my opinion, nevertheless a beautiful finale.
Asunción makes an impressive debut for Pacifika; retaining the rawness of the live event while adding a bit of studio polishing and music arrangements. Guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz is a rarity in this industry in that most musicians don't make good engineers, they either have damaged hearing caused by accumulated years of high level non-protective playing or mix it in a way to put the spotlight on themselves. Neither is the case here. The instruments are for the most part clean and very well captured with their tone intact. With the help of Mixing Engineer Ben Wisch on half the tracks, the mix is surprisingly–in this day and age–perfect. Honestly I wouldn't change a thing.
Apart from tracks 6 and 7, the dynamic range is refreshingly natural for this type of music–a rare endangered species I'm afraid. Also noteworthy is the wide bandwidth well balanced from top to bottom. In fact in quite a few instances, deep solid bass can be felt and is mixed just at the right level, implying neutral control-room monitor levels along with good sound judgement. Lastly all this hard work would go to waste if the last sonic manipulation step is not equally handled with great care. Here Mastering Engineer Ken Lee seems to have done just such. Kudos for not perpetuating the Loudness Wars.
Of course even with competent ears you cannot expect perfection in binary form–I'm sure Adam and Elliot would agree–so don't go expecting 'golden age' late 1950's 3-track tube transparency nor early 1970's 2 inch 24-track analog warmth a la Dark Side of the Moon and co. Accept it for what it is: excellent 2008 digital on CD.
If only all new releases approached this level of quality, a reviewer's life would be so much easier.
PACIFIKA - SUPERMAGIQUE
Category: World Fusion
Written, Produced and Mixed by Pacifika
Recorded and Mixed at Rear Window Song & Sound.
Mastered by Emily Lazar & Joe Laporta at The Lodge, NYC
Silvana Kane - Lead and Backing Vocals, Cajon, Palmas, Tambourine, Shakers & Synthesizer
Adam Popowitz - Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Synthesizer, Backing Vocals, Programming & Engineering
Toby Peter - Bass, Drum Kit, Dumbek, Udu, Cajon, Triangle, Guitars, Backing Vocals & Synthesizer
Elliot Polsky - Drum Kit, Congas, Dumbek, Claves, Wahshaker
Joseph "Pepe" Danza - Congas, Surdo, Double Udu, Shakuhachi, Timbales, Mbira & Cuica
Christina "Zippy" Zaenker - Cello
Package Artwork, Design & Layout Lee Fenyves
"Close to Everything" starts off with deep low synths and 'doubled' vocals. There is some compression but the sound remains not too agressive.
"Chocolate" has vocals leading, followed by a knocking beat, hi-hat, percs, bass, 'one note' guitar then turns into a Spanish guitar feel. They come back to the main theme with a lowering heavier electronic feel to it. Sound is slightly better than the previous track.
"Ana Maria" has an a cappella intro plus strumming guitar; modulated synth; the beat is artistically 'dirty'; electric bass a bit burried in the mix. This continues with a heavy emphasis on percussion. Too bad it's a compressed dense mix.
180 degree change of style with "Story". Vocals back to English, acoustic guitar plus sweep with lots of weight goes way down on a 6/8 rhythm bar. There's a bit of a progressive influence, voices are doubled then ends with bass chords, acoustic guitar plus vocals; hi-hat and snare are soft before fadeout.
The title track "SuperMagique" intros with a cappella vocals then shifts towards rock and electro-processed electric guitar plus muffled bass and panned distorted percussive effects. Here Silvana's vocals take on a heavy accent–that makes following the lyrics a bit of a challenge–amid the more commercial writing orientation. Interesting electric guitar a la Edge; narrow filtered effect on background spoken Spanish vocal track strangely recalling Kraftwerk's "Numbers" ("Mummern") from Computerworld (Computerwelt). Unfortunately quite compressed, it is the lesser sounding of the album.
"Le Matin" has cleaner, less compressed sound which does good. Her accent while still strong and cute, resembles 'French chanson' and the simpler mix allows her French to cut through better. This slower song in particular is perhaps aiming to penetrate the Québec music market. Strumming acoustic guitar plus percussion, doubled vocals and fadeout.
"Doce Meses" represents a change of rhythmic style. A faster 'hurried' tempo with a sunny calypso influence. Good balance of treble details vs lows. Another strong one for music and sound.
After the frenzy comes the calm with "Perlas". Slowing down of tempo, muffled bass smooth groove, excellent acoustic guitar on the left, subtle reverbed oriental flute and percs. The mood is relaxing, refreshing and airy. Beautiful interplay of male and female vocals recalling Simon & Garfunkle's 1966 hit "Scarborough Fair/Cantabile". Nice long fadeout. With it's great sound and superb song writing this is definitely the pearl of the album.
"The Mariner" is very slow and reaches down in the sub-bass region. Nice sustain and guitar a la Pink Floyd's Wish You Where Here and The Wall ambience. Also in the vein of the lesser known outfit The Sonora Pine. Good sound.
The group surprises us with their version of Chicago's 1969-70 hit "25 or 6 to 4". Adam's guitar intro resembling more Led Zep's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" from their 1969 self titled debut album. Superb warm soft sound with a slightly veiled groove. My only quibble is the too short timing. Even so it's my second favourite for music and sound. Which is why I would have preferred ending the album on this high note instead of...
"La Semilla", a Spanish mid tempo ballad. It is compressed but at least has good tonal balance, though the highs sound digitized. Ends with vocals plus acoustic guitar along with percs and running water on the right.
Instead of taking the easyway out and repeating the same winning stylistic formula like many groups do, Pacifika chose to explore a different approach on their second full length release Supermagique. This one is more dense in music (track) layers while remaining, perhaps even more so, accessible to the masses versus their debut Asunción. Which CD comes out on top, has more to do with personal tastes than any other factor. With it's rawer sound and more groove oriented rhythms as well as Flamenco influences and Electro overtones, I favoured quite a bit their debut album.
As for the sound quality, it is most definitely above average. Once again, the mix is generally well balanced, same thing for the tonal balance which often goes down quite low and weighty but regrettably, the higher compression and limiting sucks out air and dynamics, making it therefore a good notch inferior to their debut. Assuming Adam reprised his role as engineer for tracking and mixing which I believe is the case - explaining the many positive attributes noted above - one must come to the conclusion that the determining and deteriorating factor is the change of mastering engineer. In this instance, Emily Lazar & Joe Laporta at The Lodge, NYC instead of Ken Lee of Ken Lee Mastering, Oakland, CA who had done a splendid job on Asunción; unless of course it was the band's wish.
Let's hope, at least for us audiophiles, that Ken Lee will come back to the fold or that this immensely talented (augmented) trio find somebody of his calibre for the next album, perhaps even on vinyl.
Eaubansan, another fine trio, originally hail from the greater Montréal region in the province of Québec and like Pacifika are sometimes augmented by a fourth musician or more.
Category: Poetic Ambient Jazz
The cover art with it's soft pastel hues gives a fairly good visual approximation of the meditative vibe of this debut EP. The flip side contains the music and technical credits. A matching black and white filtered picture of the lead singer elegantly adorns the label and jewel box backdrop.