evolution of an album

2 Dec

When the Go tour came to Chicago

There’s a new bite to the air now each day I walk to work. I warm myself with a fresh music selection. Every so often I wipe my iPod, deleting both the albums I haven’t touched in months as well as those I’m in danger of wearing out too quickly. I have to keep myself from ruining the things I love. It takes sometimes an entire night to make the transfer, removing large blocks of electro-pop, indie rock, and jazz and then handpicking things from my computer that I’d somehow nearly forgotten about. Go was one such thing.

It’s an overwhelming record in many ways; its crescendoes are waves that could overturn an ocean liner. We’re at a time now when it’s easy to create big sound, and Jónsi and Nico Muhly and Thor “Doddi” Thorvaldsson took it upon themselves to make one of the most room-filling records of 2010.

An album that began as a collection of quiet, acoustic songs

What I recall of my conversation with Mark Grimmer though—the man in charge of bringing Jónsi’s tour to life—was that this huge sound wasn’t there in the beginning. Originally the songs were written on acoustic guitar, quiet little pop tunes that fluttered like fairies—beautiful, magical, but shy. And that’s what Grimmer’s team, Fifty Nine Productions, began working with. Then new versions of the songs came back, and they were markedly different. As if the original recordings they’d heard had been in some sort of pupal stage and now were emerging from their cocoons. It happened again and again. Muhly’s orchestral arrangements grew larger and more complex. Thorvaldsson’s hammering percussion was suited for his namesake. Here’s how Grimmer described it to me over the phone some months ago:

“It was an interesting evolution … because the record wasn’t finished. Actually, the tone of the album changed dramatically over that year. The first recordings we listened to … in Reykjavik were acoustic guitar tracks, they were early demos, and it wasn’t really until he started making the arrangements with Nico Muhly … that it turned into the pop record that it became, so we had to keep up with that. Our ideas developed alongside the music. We kept getting sent new versions of the tracks, and they were getting more and more complex and nearer and nearer to their finished state.”

The band at the Vic. Photo by Samantha Simmons.

By the time the album was released and the band took Grimmer’s set design and video work around the world in support of it, there was not an acoustic song on the setlist. The only quiet was the electric thing before a storm. It would be interesting to hear the demos now. How simple they must seem, how pupal. I wonder how many demos there are in the world, stored on hard drives in small, blue folders. Origins of music that eventually emerged.

:: :: ::

Read the story of Fifty Nine Productions and the Go tour in Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color and Music

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