Inside Track: Björk’s Vulnicura

The history of rock & roll is littered with breakup albums, and early this year the genre received a notable addition in the form of Björk’s Vulnicura. The futuristic experimentation of 2011’s Biophilia has given way to exquisite yet stark string arrangements, written by Björk, augmented by cutting–edge electronics, again courtesy of Björk, mostly in collaboration with young electronic music artists Arca, the Haxan Cloak and Spaces. Together the music and the lyrics create a compelling journey from pre–breakup unease, to the desolation of her split with long–term partner, artist Matthew Barney, to post–breakup despair and eventual healing.

In an email interview with SOS, Björk calls Vulnicura “my most ‘psychological’ album” and “an Ingmar Bergman album”, harking back to an era when art was expected to challenge and disturb. However, while the content and approach of Vulnicura may recall times past, and the heartbreak theme itself obviously is as old as mankind, the album’s form and manner in which it was made are entirely 21st Century.

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Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Manny Marroquin - Inside Track: Kanye West 'Stronger'

Rappers Kanye West and 50 Cent intentionally put their latest albums under starter’s orders on the same date, September 11, 2007, so they could slug it out in the charts, 50 Cent sulkily declaring that he would stop releasing records if he lost the race (a statement he since appears to have retracted). As both artists had enlisted the services of celebrity producer Timbaland, the whole thing felt rather like a family feud gone public. There appears to be no clear winner yet in their who–sells–the–most–albums stakes, but West has had one of the hits of the year in ‘Stronger’, which was a UK and US number 1.

‘Stronger’ is constructed around a sample of ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ by French duo Daft Punk, itself based on a sample of a song by ’70s funkateer and keyboardist Edwin Birdsong called ‘Cola Bottle Baby’. Daft Punk strongly quantised the beat and added vocoded vocals, giving the song a Kraftwerk–like robotic feel. They also added a melodic chorus with a descending chord sequence, which was the section West sampled. The American rapper and producer then slowed down and loosened the rhythm, and overdubbed pulsating synths, evocative rapping and singing, transforming a robotic feel into something much more soulful.

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Inside Track: Rihanna 'SOS' & 'Unfaithful'

Phil Tan's work has appeared on albums and singles that have sold in excess of a staggering 150 million in the US alone. He specialises in R&B and hip-hop, and his credits include Usher, Snoop Dogg, the Neptunes, Fergie, Ne-Yo, Nelly, Ludacris, Destiny's Child, Gwen Stefani, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Cee-Lo, Toni Braxton, Run DMC and many, many more. In November 2006, when this interview took place, 16 songs mixed by him featured in the US Billboard Hot 100 & Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and 23 albums containing his mixes were in the Billboard 200 album chart

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Inside Track: The Weeknd

On his Facebook, Soundcloud and other social media pages, Montagnese describes what he does simply thus: “I paint sounds.” All sounds recorded and sourced in the “real world” serve as basic starting points for him to paint with and on, a bit like ‘found objects’ in art, and the painting takes place entirely ‘in the box’, where Steinberg’s Cubase functions as his canvas, palette, paint and brush. It’s how Montagnese approached his debut solo album, History Of Man (2013), which contains experimental electronic music in a similar vein to Aphex Twin and Autechre. It’s how he approaches his work with other artists on a rapidly lengthening credit list containing names such as Florence & the Machine, Lady Gaga, Drake, Wiz Khalifa, MIA and, of course, the Weeknd. In all these cases, Montagnese has managed to marry commercial adroitness with an experimental approach to painting sounds. This was most ear–catchingly in evidence on the Weeknd’s US number-one single, ‘The Hills’, which combines a catchy melody with heavily treated vocals and all manner of sonic weirdness.

The album from which the single was taken, Beauty Behind The Madness, has proved a stunning commercial success, reaching number one in dozens of countries and gearing up to become one of 2015’s biggest albums. Montagnese had a hand in the making of seven of the album’s 14 tracks, and also executive–produced the entire album with Tesfaye and Jason ‘Daheala’ Quenneville. Also involved was legendary pop producer Max Martin, the driving force behind the first big hit off the album, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. In a sign of the Weeknd’s omnipresence, that single was eventually bumped off the US top spot by ‘The Hills’ after the latter song had spent months roaming halfway down the charts since its June release.

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Mandy Parnell: Mastering Audio

Mastering is arguably the least well understood step in the music production chain. So, to demystify things, we headed to Black Saloon Studios to examine that very process with Mandy Parnell, mastering engineer to Björk, Aphex Twin, Snoop Dogg and White Stripes.

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Master Producer/ Engineer - Greg Wells Q&A

Get comfortable and settle in for some serious advice from the fantastic Greg Wells on the back of his recent week-long recording seminar at La Fabrique Studios in France for Mix With The Masters. Greg knows a thing or two about being versatile — he's produced and written with an extraordinary range of artists including Adele, Rufus Wainwright, Keith Urban, Weezer, Pink, Deftones, Elton John and the Count Basie Orchestra.

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Fabian Marasciullo: Recording Lil Wayne's 'How To Love'

Marasciullo's work on Lil Wayne's best-selling album Tha Carter IV suggests that when labels do dare to invest in albums rather than just singles, the results can be very worthwhile. Marasciullo mixed all but one of the 21 tracks that make up the album, and he and Wayne pulled out all the stops to deliver an album with the best possible sonic quality. Whether this is a direct result or not is up for debate, but Tha Carter IV sold close to a million in the first week after its release at the end of August, while its first single, '6 Foot 7 Foot', went double platinum, and the more recent single, 'How To Love', went platinum in a week.

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