Artists International (label)
17 April 2020 (released)
26 May 2020
The gated reverb snare. Even if you aren't familiar with the term, you know it when you hear it. It's the sound of the 80s. It's Springsteen's 'Born In The U.S.A.', Phil Collin's 'In the Air Tonight', INXS' 'Never Tear Us Apart', Depeche Mode's 'Never Let Me Down', and countless others. The studio production technique was a way to make snare drums sound larger than life by giving the snare an unnaturally large amount of effected reverb while keeping a somewhat tight pulse at the same time (Vox has a great video on YouTube explaining this). Eventually a funny thing started happening. Not only did the sound tear through the industry like a virus, affecting nearly every genre in the process, but it ended up changing the way music was written. With the snare, all of a sudden carving out this pronounced spot in the mix, the other instruments by consequence gave it a wide berth. If your instruments are subconsciously altering their rhythms to accommodate this phenomenon, it changes the beats and entire feel of the song. Would David Bowie's 'Modern Love' have that same jubilant side-to-side skipping beat if not for the space the snare is given? Without that huge reverb tail to fill out the sonisphere, it's a different song entirely. More than a generation later, whenever you hear that sound, you're transported to that decade. Even without the actual effect present, you can hear the influence in the way a songwriter arranges their music.
Mystic singer-songwriter Andrew Reed's latest record As a Bird of the Air... is a blend of the wide-open rock of Bon Jovi at their 1986 height and the thousand-yard stare of a Gilmour-led Pink Floyd. Reed conjured his opus from his remote mountaintop recording compound, a place Reed himself designed so artists can go “beyond themselves”. To create organically in an unbound, stream of consciousness manner.
Airy strings and fingerpicked guitar lead-off the opener and title track. Reed enters with billowing clouds of reverb on his pensive lines. His voice shifts midway into Jon Bon territory as he contemplates the use of his time on the planet so far, looking longingly to the skies. This brief intro segues into the driving rocker 'Strangers'. Crisp high synths, long windmill-armed guitars, and that ubiquitous spacious snare that delivers that go-get-em 80s energy. This first single hits all the aspirational, over-the-top notes which that decade is known for.
That snare asserts itself even further on the arena-filling 'Twisted World'. Guitar chords ring out in bell-like arpeggios. That unmistakable shimmer of an effected Fender Stratocaster. Reed croons earnestly to the big open major chords. He revels in the inherent irony of this messed up world. 'Too Little Too Late' takes that arena sound and takes it down for a wistful ballad of missed opportunity. The single 'Dropping Out of the Race' takes its cues from a different corner of the '80s. Taking that big snare and dropping in some heart-tugging synths a la The Cure, Reed takes some more time to sit in a mood on this one. The finale 'Another Time Another Place' is perhaps the biggest outlier as it largely ditches the big drums and boisterous guitars for a synth-led thinker.
It's near impossible to describe the album without several references to the decade of Reagan, hair metal, and the rise of the synthesizer. Reed has a clear love for the music of the era and it permeates every fibre of the record. When you love the era, you chase after its production techniques and as we explored earlier, techniques can do a lot to shape the music that comes out. The reverb-drenched drums, stadium-filling guitars, and heavy-handed proto-synths lead themselves to a particular sound that listeners will either love or hate. Which side are you on?