we never thought it would come to this

There’s always been an interesting tension in rock between sheerly energetic amateurism, and technique (whether physical, musical, or recording). Even some very punk guitarists, scornful of others’ need to endlessly practice scales at 700 mph, will enthusiastically talk up their gear.

Without rehearsing the whole argument here (because you probably know it), I’ll just state that sometimes, the “let it be” attitude can undermine a perfectly good song, when musicians release shoddy performances not because they’re particularly spirited or interesting but merely because, like Mt. Everest, they’re there.

Here’s an example. I like a lot of things about this song, “Mudflat” by Jake Mann – the alternation between spoken and sung vocals, the melodies in the chorus, its overall feel and sound – except would it have killed them to do another vocal take to get those high harmonies in tune? (The second chorus is particularly flat.) It’s not as if what we hear is some amazingly soulful live performance whose intensity more than makes up for its iffy intonation – no, this isn’t that kind of overtly emotive music anyway. There’s no attempt to create a “live” feel, and I’m left to conclude this is a case of “close enough for rock and roll.” Was there limited studio time? If so, that would be ironic: home recording equipment is good enough and cheap enough now that, unless you want your music polished to gleaming chrome Steely Dan finish, you can overdub the vocals at home at almost no cost. (The irony being, of course, that because of the more casual sound and feel of the song, a less-finished vocal sound isn’t a problem for any listener who’s sympathetic to this approach and style.)

Maybe it’s just me: unless it’s clearly intentional, being out of tune is something I’m pretty sensitive to. I suppose some people can’t stand all this Garage Band laptop stuff and wish everything were recorded by professional engineers in real studios, and they hear those differences as annoying.

(More samples and downloadable tracks at Jake Mann’s website.)

Jake Mann “Mudflat” (Daytime Ghost, 2007)

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