Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Bob Dylan - Medicine Sunday

Bob Dylan – Medicine Sunday
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

Side A:
1.  Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
2.  I Wanna Be Your Lover
3.  Freeze Out
4.  One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
5.  New York Instrumental #1

Side B:
6.  Positively 4th Street
7.  Brand New Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
8.  I’ll Keep It With Mine
9.  She’s Your Lover Now

This is a reconstruction of a theoretical album consisting of the early sessions for Bob Dylan’s seminal 1966 album Blonde On Blonde.   Abandoning most of these New York-based recording sessions with The Band in favor of rerecording with session musicians in Nashville, these early sessions represent a different sound that would emerge on Blonde On Blonde -- looser but more energetic, closer to a studio capture of Bob Dylan’s live sound in 1965 and 1966.   Using the best sources possible, most tracks feature unique edits and mixes I have created to offer a more finished album with a modern stereophonic soundstage. 

After his ascension from folk hero to rock star with his groundbreaking “Like a Rolling Stone” and its accompanying album Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan buckled down and rode the wave, intending to continue pushing the boundaries of rock music with symbolic, obtuse and intertextual lyrics, juxtaposed with a driving rock rhythm section and the twin chime of electric guitar and Hammond organ.  For that, he would need a band.  His ad hoc assemblage of players for his infamously electric July 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance, including Al Kooper and members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, were not available to continue.  After recommendations from a few associates, Dylan recruited a group of Canadian rockers--Levon and The Hawks--to back him for the national concerts in support of Highway 61 Revisited, who would later rebrand themselves as The Band. 

Meanwhile, Dylan’s management and label continued to feed the machine and keep this new “electric Dylan” product flowing.  Just two months after the release of “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Positively 4th Street” was released as its follow-up single in September 1965.  Despite being simply an outtake from the Highway 61 Revisited sessions from July, the song was a Top 10 hit and is considered one of Dylan’s most cherished tracks.  With fear of losing momentum, Dylan was whisked back into the studio to pump out his next single.  This time Dylan brought with him The Hawks, attempting to capture the electricity from his current live shows.

Unfortunately, Dylan had blown through all of his good material.  Bob and his band gathered on October 5th to woodshed new material at Columbia Studios in New York, but with dismal results: two song fragments, “Jet Pilot” and “Medicine Sunday” (the later evolving into “Temporary Like Achilles”); a merely semi-interesting Robby Robertson-led instrumental; and a scant jam of another Highway 61 Revisited leftover “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”.  The only cut of real value tracked on this day was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, an electrifying and rollicking tribute (or parody?) of the Fab Four, who allegedly influenced Dylan to form a backing band in the first place.  Sometime after the session, drummer Levon Helm left The Hawks, fed up with being a sidesman, as well as the confrontational audiences on Dylan’s tour.

Returning to the studio on November 30th with session drummer Bobby Gregg (whom had already backed Dylan on both Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and a brand new composition he believed to be one of his best, Dylan was revitalized to create a follow-up single.  Dylan had a special feeling about his latest epic poem “Freeze Out”—later retitled to “Visions of Johanna”—and special care was given to find the perfect arrangement.  Dylan struggled to find the right sound for the song with The Hawks, and the group plowed through a number of completely different arrangements: Take 4 was a slow, uncertain romp that began quietly with just Dylan on electric guitar, adding instruments as the song built to a rocking end; Take 5 was a more organized version of the previous take, but lacked the suspense, danger and dynamic; Take 7 slowed the tempo but succumbed to typical bar rock trope; Take 8 was an icy, electric march with bursts of celeste; Take 14 was slowed down to ballad territory, the closest to its finial incarnation on Blonde On Blonde.  Despite having several great takes—all sounding completely different (especially 4, 8 and 14)—Dylan was not satisfied with “Freeze Out” and set it aside… temporarily.  Instead, the band focused on a new uptempo arrangement of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, nailing Take 10, which was rush released as a single in December.  It was a flop, stalling at #58 on the charts.

Refocusing his attention from a single to an album, Dylan reconvened with The Hawks (this time with fill-in drummer Sandy Konikoff) on January 21st, 1966, armed with new material intended to populate this follow-up LP.  Beginning with another heartbreak-themed long-form poem, Dylan searched for the thin, wild mercury sound to accompany it.  “Just Another Glass Of Water”—later published as “She’s Your Lover Now”—could have been one of Dylan’s masterpieces on Blonde On Blonde, on par with “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”.  But Dylan could not find the sound he was looking for, struggling not only to communicate his ideas but for The Hawks to interpret him.  Take 15 came very close, before breaking down halfway through the fourth verse.  Exasperated, Dylan called off the session, the song lost forever.  Before leaving the studio, Dylan recorded a demo of the complete 8-minute composition alone at a piano, at the very least immortalizing his idea before it was abandoned forever. 

The next session on January 21st was more productive.  With Bobby Gregg back behind the kit, the group hammered out another new Dylan composition, this time a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Memphis Blues.  Nailed in presumably one take, “Brand New Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” seemed to fit The Hawks as this steady yet bombastic recording tops the eventual Nashville version released on Blonde on Blonde, in this listener’s humble opinion.  Moving on to a dynamic breakup ballad driven by Paul Griffin’s exquisite piano, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” was eventually perfected by Take 24.  Again rush-released as a single in February, the song did moderately well, charting at #33. 

It was now obvious that the fruits of these New York sessions with the Hawks were few and far between and Dylan grew weary of only stumbling across the right arrangements.  An additional session on January 27th proved mostly uneventful, resulting in yet another song fragment, “Lunatic Princess”.   Despite the previous week’s results, a remake of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” was attempted as well, but Dylan was not even bothered to see it through completion.  Finally, Dylan takes his band through a mere rehearsal of a magnificent song dating back to the initial acoustic Bringing It All Back Home sessions almost exactly a year earlier.  “I’ll Keep It With Mine” is loose, beginning with Dylan solo at a piano, with The Hawks individually coming in as they figured out the changes.  With only this single run-through, Dylan was done with the band—and this city—for recording his follow-up. 

At producer Bob Johnston’s suggestion, Dylan relocated to Nashville in February and March to finish the album that was barely begun, only bringing Robby Robertson and Al Kooper along.  Re-recording both “Visions of Johanna” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”—as well as a sudden wealth of brand new compositions—Dylan completed Blonde On Blonde.  Released to universal acclaim as Dylan’s masterpiece, the only New York recording to make the cut was “One Of Us Must Know”, a tombstone to the album Blonde On Blonde could have been under different conditions.  Is it possible to reconstruct what a New York Blonde On Blonde would have sounded like?

For this reconstruction—which I have named Medicine Sunday, after the song fragment which isn’t actually featured here—we will try to create a single-LP follow-up to Highway 61 Revisited from these late ‘65/early ’66 sessions.  Since the sessions were obviously never completed, it will be difficult to make a complete-sounding album.  The only rule we will implement is to include material with some sort of precedent on other Dylan albums.  Hence, all of the one-minute  song fragments (“Jet Pilot”, “Medicine Sunday” and “Lunatic Princess”) will be excluded, as not only is there no precedent, but their inclusion would make Medicine Sunday sound less complete.  With a lack of finished material, we will have to look at two filler-tracks: the untitled instrumental (here I appropriately titled “New York Instrumental #1”) and “Positively 4th Street”.  While it is true Dylan is known for his distinctive voice and lyric, Dylan would go on to release instrumentals on both Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait.  Just as well, “Positively 4th Street”, while not a part of the New York sessions proper, was the current single at the time.  It is conceivable the label might have included it on the LP anyways as a cash cow, as previous singles like “Like a Rolling Stone” was included on Highway 61 Revisited and “One of Us Must Know” was included on Blonde On Blonde. 

Side A begins with the lead single from these sessions, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”.  Using the complete semi-stereo version found on The Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge, here I have widened the stereo spectrum to further separate the instruments to an ideal nine and three o’clock.  It is followed by “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, again taken from The Cutting Edge with the stereo spectrum widened.  Take 8 of “Visions of Johanna” (here we use its original working title “Freeze Out”) from The Bootleg Series Vol 8: No Direction Home follows, a version that tops the Blonde On Blonde recording in my humble opinion.  Next is my own personal remix of “One of Us Must Know” from the multitrack stems, as provided on The Cutting Edge.  My mix attempts to replicate the balance of the original mono mix, while retaining a modern stereophonic image with a centered drum track.  Likewise, I have replicated the edit before the third verse, only ever heard on the rare mono single mix; thus, this is the first time that original edit has ever appeared in stereo!  Side B concludes with “New York Instrumental #1” as a sort of intermission, again taken from The Cutting Edge with a widened stereophonic spectrum.

Much like many album from the 60s, Side B begins with the previously-released single “Positively 4th Street”, the original stereo mix taken from Side Tracks but with its stereo spectrum narrowed to match the rest of the album.  Next is “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, taken from No Direction Home, a personal favorite as aforementioned.  Next is “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, taken from The Cutting Edge; in order to make this recording more complete, I have edited out Dylan’s vocal flub in the intro, as well as extracted and patched Bob Johnston’s talk-back interruption during verse one.  Despite being a mere rehearsal and probably meant to have a more thorough and defined arrangement, this recording works as a loose arrangement precursor, as we would soon hear similarly-relaxed Dylan arrangements on The Basement Tapes and New Morning.  Medicine Sunday appropriately concludes with the epic that never was, “She’s Your Lover Now”.  Using pieces of Takes 15 and 16 on The Cutting Edge, I was able to create a complete performance of the song by editing a proper intro onto take 15 and crossfading into take 16 at the point where the band trails off, hopefully giving the illusion that The Hawks intentionally stopped playing and Dylan finished the song solo.  A further edit was made at the outro so that Dylan concludes with the tonic of the song, giving it a resolve and a remorseful vocal improvisation to end the album.  

Sources used:
Bootleg Series Vol 8: No Direction Home (2005)
Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge (2015 Collector’s Edition)
Side Tracks (2013)

Flac --> wav --> mixing & editing in SONAR Pro & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Flaming Lips - 7 Skies H3 (100-minute edit)

The Flaming Lips – 7 Skies H3

(100-Minute Edit by soniclovenoize)

Disc One:
1. I Can’t Shut Off My Head
2. Meepy Morp (Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections)
3. Radiation Wind
4. Battling Voices From Beyond
5. Electronic Toy Factory
6. In A Dream
7. Metamorphosis

Disc Two:
8. Requiem
9. An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From The Heavens Consumes Your Body
10. Meepy Morp (Reprise)
11. Riot In My Brain!!
12. 7 Skies H3 (Main Theme)
13. Can’t Let It Go

This is my own unique edit of The Flaming Lips’ epic 24-hour song, “7 Skies H3”, edited to the length of a 100-minute double-album.  Each of the song’s fourteen movements were extracted from the 24-hour piece to represent a “song” on the “album”; each song was then edited down to an appropriate length for that particular song in the context of a double-album.  In effect, some tracks act as mere transitions to others, while some tracks remained epic in scope (in the context of a double-album anyways).  While similar to the band’s own official 50-minute edit released on limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day in 2014, my 100-minute edit is twice that length and much more inclusive; not only allowing specific songs a more epic breath that they deserved but including music that was completely removed from the RSD release altogether.  All track segues are intact and this album plays as a continuous 100-minute piece--although one could separate tracks 1-7 as Disc One (49 minutes) and tracks 8-13 as Disc Two (51 minutes).  All official song titles are used except for the unnamed movements, which will default to the long-held fan-chosen titles.    

By the 2010s, The Flaming Lips have reached a mid-life crisis.  They had already made their cherished acid-punk indie releases in the 1980s; they already had their breakthrough noise-pop hit in 1993 with “She Don’t Use Jelly”; they already made their self-serving experimental four-disc 1997 album, Zaireeka; they had already made their critically acclaimed symphonic-pop masterpiece The Soft Bulletin in 1999; they had already managed the trick of gaining mainstream success while still retaining their core audience with Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in 2002; they had already made a complete musical about-face into dark, hypnotic Krautrock for Embryonic in 2009.  If they refuse to break-up, what does a band who has already done everything do next?  The answer: whatever the fuck they want.

This of course meant a series of bizarre EP releases throughout 2011 which included: a song meant to be played on 12 different cell phones simultaneously; recordings released on flash drives encased in marijuana-flavored gummy skulls; and a six-hour song released inside a strobe light toy.  While one could perceive this as pure gimmick, this observer saw it as a result of the combined boredom with the typical rock-band archetype and the realization of ultimate artistic freedom, something earned after 30 years of making music.  But it was that six-hour song, “I Found A Star On The Ground”, that set a new bar for the band searching for something interesting to fill their time in 2011: how does one top a six-hour song?  With a 24-hour song, of course!

“7 Skies H3” tells the story of a protagonist whose love commits suicide, and the listener embarks on a psychedelic journey through his grief process as well as a musical representation of her afterlife.  The song—becoming an insane challenge for Flaming Lips fans to even listen to it in its entirety—was released to a limited edition of 13 copies on Halloween 2011, encased in an actual human skull.  It was also broadcast as a live webstream, which continually (and to this day) plays the song indefinitely.  While detractors found even more gimmick to condemn, there was one thing they could not argue: “7 Skies H3”contained some of the best music The Flaming Lips ever produced. 

Unfortunately, much of that great music was lost to it's own daunting massiveness.  Does one really have the time, energy and will-power to sift through a literal day of music to appreciate the highlights?  Some fans did... notably StrangePets who made both a 90-minute and 213-minute cut of "7 Skies H3" (which urged me to do the same!).  The Flaming Lips probably took notice, and issued their own condensed 50-minute version as an exclusive Record Store Day release in 2014.  Their "distillation" RSD cut showcased some of the most interesting music they'd made in their 30 year career as a standalone album, rather than a 24-hour endeavor.  Unfortunately not all of the magical moments from the full endeavor made the cut, notably the atmospheric interlude of "Radiation Wind", the quaint chaos of "Electronic Toy Factory", the ending jam of "Requiem" and it's following "The Other Side", and the driving ecstatic jam of “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” and it's singular rainstorm breakdown.  And criminally, the centerpiece of 7 Skies H3--the seven-hour emotionally-catastrophic sound-experiment "Metamorphosis"--was reduced to a trite five minutes and lacked any of the nuances that made it one of The Flaming Lips' masterworks.  Is it possible to make a concise 7 Skies H3 as a typical album that could not only be enjoyed in one sitting, but also retain the aforementioned epic attributes?  I have found a run-time that precisely doubles the RSD release is the perfect length, assembled as a double LP--discs timing 49 and 51 minutes respectively--while still edited for continuous play just as the original 24-hour song. 

Disc One
1.  “I Can’t Shut Off My Head” [7:45]
My 100-minte edit of 7 Skies H3 begins with one of the four lyric-based compositions that explains the concept of the album itself.  While the original full-length version of “I Can’t Shut Off My Head” contained eight verses and ran 25:39, the Record Store Day edit cut it down to three verses and running at 8:23 (as well as adding superfluous echo onto Wayne’s vocals).  My edit is structured similarly as the RSD edit, as I chose to include what I felt were the three best verses (1, 2 & 4) as well as an instrumental introduction.  Additionally, each verse was edited down from seven to five lines, omitting the two weakest lines of lyric for each verse.  The instrumental passages were then edited to match the length of each verse.  Because of this, my edit is a bit more concise than the official RSD edit, clocking in at 7:45.
2.  “Meepy Morp (Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections)” [3:15]
Following is what fans called “Calliope Trance with Major and Minor Celestial Sections” but was officially titled “Meepy Morp” on the RSD record.  Originally an hour in length, I have reduced it down to just over three minutes to keep the album moving, featuring three different sections of the piece to give a feeling of variation as the instrumental progresses. 
3.  “Radiation Wind” [2:36]
An officially unnamed track “Radiation Wind”, originally running 37 minutes and not appearing on the RSD version at all, is reduced to a two-minute interlude before the battle begins. 
4.  “Battling Voices From Beyond” [4:02]
The epic “Battling Voices From Beyond” was a grueling two hours and 37 minutes on the original 24-hour "7 Skies H3".   While it was edited down to 3:05 on the RSD vinyl, my edit is a paced 4:02, which showcases several of the interesting sounds that dance around the pounding main vocal riff. 
5.  “Electronic Toy Factory” [2:27]
Another track that was completely omitted from the 50-minte RSD edit, the 10-minute and unnamed “Electronic Toy Factory” (featuring the experimental duo Pitchwafuzz), is edited down to a reasonable 2:27, acting as simply a linking track between two main selections.   
6.  “In A Dream” [6:28]
The original version of the second of four lyrical songs ran an hour and 4 minutes, which was edited down to a feasible 4:51 on the RSD release and included additional vocal overdubs to smooth of the mix.  Here I present a more hypnotic 6:28 mix, organized into two verses. 
7.  “Metamorphosis” [22:27]
The massive centerpiece of 7 Skies H3 is “Metamorphosis”, which originally ran seven hours in length!  It was reduced to an anticlimactic five minutes on the RSD edit, fading out at the end of side A.  With a theoretical double-album format, we can allow “Metamorphosis” to retain its true epic proportions.  My edit spans a reasonable 22:27 and features my favorite elements of the original seven-hour piece.  It is meant to be the conclusion of the first disc of this theoretical double album. 

Disc Two
8.  “Requiem” [5:15]
The second disc begins with the third of four lyric-based compositions on the album, which is also coincidentally the mid-point of the 24-hour "7 Skies H3".  Originally spanning 23:20—essentially a 3-minute song with a 20-minute jam—the RSD release unfortunately exorcised the ending 20 minutes completely.  Here I have restored the ending jam, although only keeping about two minutes of it for the sake of emotional finality for the song. 
9.  “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” [25:58]
The series of musical movements which follow are mostly absent from the RSD edit, what Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne describes as “the other side of this long journey through death”, and seems to musically depict the significant other's journey in the afterlife. It starts with the unnamed but aptly fan-titled “The Other Side”; originally clocking in at over an hour, an edit of the serene piece eventually found a way onto 2013's The Terror as the outro to "You Lust".  Because of this, I have excluded “The Other Side” from my edit of 7 Skies H3 in the name of redundancy. Next is the unnamed yet fan-titled “An Outpouring of Immaculate Light From the Heavens Consumes Your Body” (but described by Wayne as a “Bb chord with varying accompaniment”, which would also suffice as a title, I suppose), originally spanning three and a half hours and also completely missing from the RSD release.  In reality, the movement is a loop of the same 26-minute no-wave jam in Bb with different sets of embellishments upon each repeat (with one even being played backwards!).   For my mix, the piece is introduced by one of the greatest moments of the original 24-hour edit: a between-rotation breakdown of a rainstorm, ticking stopwatch and chiming keyboards.  I then have included a complete rotation of the full 26-minute jam. 
10. “Meepy Morp (Reprise)” [2:42]
“Meepy Morp (Reprise)”—also known as the fan-titled “Movement of Celestial Bodies”—was originally two hours and 15 minutes in length, although it is simply a loop of the same eleven-minute piece.  On the RSD edit, “Meepy Morp” is paired down to a short, two-minute interlude.  I have made a similar edit, but allowed the piece to continue for another 40 seconds to create a logical outro to the instrumental. 
11.  “Riot In My Brain!!!” [4:32]
The destructive noise jam “Riot In My Brain!!!” originally totals an exhausting hour and a half, but was trimmed down to a digestible 4:28 on the RSD release; I have made a similar edit. 
12.  “7 Skies H3 (Main Theme)” [6:26]
The gorgeous main theme to 7 Skies H3 (fan-titled “Forever Floating”) drifts on for two hours and 12 minutes and includes three movements; the RSD release condenses it down to 6:26.  I have made a similar edit, giving each of the three movements about two minutes of time.  Coincidentally, my edit runs the same length of the RSD release! 
13.  “Can’t Let It Go” [6:08]
The closing song—the fourth lyric-based composition—originally ran eight minutes in length, with the RSD release not bothering to edit it at all.  Here I have trimmed it down to 6:08, with numerous edits in the ending outro.  In effect, the build-up is no longer gradual, but immediately apparent and the track is perceived as more bombastic to end this amazing 100 minutes of music.    

320kps mp3s (part 1, part 2)
Lossless FLAC (part 1, part 2, part 3)

Flac/shn --> wav --> mixing & editing in SONAR & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8

*md5, artwork and tracknotes included