Friday, April 16, 2010

Sokoband Review

The third release by Charlottesville-based Sokoband, entitled Sokoband, is a step in a new direction from their previously mellow origins. The band took the songs from their debut album, In November Sunlight, and re-recorded and mastered them for what is overall a huge improvement over already great songs.

If you pay attention while ripping, you'll see that the band slipped 'Reflecting November Sunlight' into the album tag rather than 'Sokoband.'Music
In November Sunlight was a very jazzy, smooth album that could be described as "easy listening." The new versions of these songs really pick up the pace.
"Jiriki," somewhat of a classic song from this band which features Dave Matthews on vocals, used to be a light, vaguely tropical 5/4 jam with chords similar to "Take Five." The redone version of this adds rock 'n' roll flair, with electric guitar spicing it up and much more lively drums. Over the past years, Dave's voice has declined in some areas and improved in others, and I have to admit, on this track I prefer him in 1996. Still, it's wonderful, and would be fine if I hadn't been spoiled by the old version.
"Energy Change" went through an energy change, and was thoughtfully renamed to "Energy Changed" on the new album. Just like "Jiriki," it gets a heavy dose of electric guitar to bring it closer to rock. In the middle of the song, it even borders on techno. The new recording has a revised baseline which opens up the "sound space" for these new instruments. In addition to this we also find a new transition into the double-time section which makes it seem like a segue into a new song rather than the continuation. This could be either a pro or con, but I like it. Note: The band recently tweeted me mentioning that this is actually the old (1979) version of the song. So it changed back, not forth.
Added to "Coast to Coast" are horns or saxophones (I don't know how to tell the difference). The old version of this song was somewhat repetitive; the melody didn't really "pick up." In its new slot on the album, as opener, it gets it going with solid horns/sax, then mellows down to become like the In November Sunlight version. The sax solo on this track gives the listener a real feeling of adventure. It's exciting.
"And Yet Your Smile" is one of two all-new songs on this album. It's very percussion based. Perhaps I'm just impatient, but I feel like this is a bit drawn out. I would love to see it as a 1-2 minute intro to "Jiriki" or maybe "Body Home."
The other new track, "Nightfall," is also a percussion song. This song, while not particularly outstanding as-is, is a perfect finisher for the album that really cools down the ears well.
There are 5 more tracks on this album that I didn't get to, but trust me, they're all great. This album is one of the better ones I've purchased in a while. It has more guests than band members (17 vs 3), but this gives the songs somewhat of a "communal" feel that is nice to hear. All in all, it's a solid album and is a great introduction to this band.

Because I'm reposting this at anythingbutipod, I have to add this section.
Non-tech folks, you can skip this paragraph. Let me start off by saying that I listened to this through on my RE0s, which are considered to be fairly revealing headphones, along with mt Cowon S9. I ripped the CD to LAME VBR V0 mp3, which is considered the best setting for mp3. It averages about 230 kbps, but it is VBR, meaning on complicating sections it will jump up to 320k so as low as 32k for silence. To 99% of the population, this sounds exactly like the CD. The CD itself, according to the back, was "manufactured from a solid glass master." I'm not entirely sure was this means, but I presume that a glass master is like a vinyl record, but made from glass, thus overcoming the various problems with vinyl. In addition, I ordered the limited edition copy, which is numbered and signed and costs $2 more. I did this more to support the band than for any other reason, but I think that because mine is numbered 15/25 it is the 15th one made. If my logic is correct, we assume that, like vinyl, glass will degrade with playing, just at a slower rate. Which leads me to believe that I have the 15th best version of this CD. Sweet.
OK, laymen, you can start reading now. The music is mastered, well...masterfully. I usually have problems with the way bass guitar/upright is handled in production, but they nailed it. Just the right amount of twang, and the right amount. (that was a period). With as much brass as they have on "Coast to Coast," one would think that instrument separation would be an issue. In my opinion, the RE0s don't have very good instrument separation, but on this album, the instruments are synchronized so well that I can't distinguish them very easily, despite being channel-split. So, uh, kudos to the musicians for playing in such perfect time that you fooled my ears/headphones.
Dynamic compression is a big issue in music today. This album has a bit of it, whether intentionally or not. It could just be that they didn't choose to have anything stand out that much. I wouldn't know. The compression isn't that bad; you can easily forget about it. Thankfully, the volume isn't jacked up too much; Replaygain tells it to do about -3.5. So yes, it's twice as loud as standard, but a lot of stuff today is as much as 32 times too loud at -15. (15/3=5, 2^5=32). So, good job. Could be better, but as long as your above average, I can't complain. Yet.

So that's that. You can buy the CD as well as download at Amazon and CDBaby, just search for "sokoband." However, to maximize the band's profits, I recommend buying direct from their website, From their website you can also subscribe to the emailing list and stream the entire album for free. That's also the only place to get the limited edition copy, which is still available at the moment. Thanks for supporting independent music.

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