I’ve really been wanting to have some more modern sequenced / sampled pop music here and now I have a track that is GREAT on so many levels to have you listen to. One thing is for sure: you will be nodding your head and tapping a foot before you’re through with this one. Buy Ain’t No Other Man from Christina Aguilara and have a listen with me.
Off the bat in the intro you’re hit with two things which set this track apart production-wise: a blend of old and new. The horns- live horns- are blazing, generic sampled off a record so you get their smoky crackly flavor but with a twist: they are sliced so the noise cuts out after each hit to pure digital silence. You hear it click off with a non-zero crossing (in the middle of the top of a waveform) so it clicks off instead of trailing off. You know it’s sampled, and you know it’s something new at the same time. You can also hear that the bass was NOT sampled and instead performed live with this recording. Adding to the build of the intro the last hit is sustained by looping the last part of the last hit (without any crossfade) where this just absolutely sick ass vocal comes in on top. Damn. Another couple bits of sweetness here is that between the last two chords you can hear the room reverb of the original recording which is just awesome. One last note here, the interplay of the noise levels in the different recordings sampled is actually musical. (Musical noise!)
Keeping with the old and new motif, a scratch DJ blends a vocal bit from a record “scratch scratch D-Do your thing honey” – and right on time: Verse.
A couple of notes here on this vocal, first: the performance is flawless. There is no substitute for someone who can sing their ass off, no plug-in can add this much soul-juice. Just a live, very talented and in the groove singer can pull this off.
Now technical notes on the recording, the signal chain here isn’t hurting anything either. Through the track the lead vocal is making very musical use of distortion. The whole track has distortion that just creeps in at the right level to give it some tube testosterone as an exclamation point in the key parts of her performance. You can’t get this sound by just plugging into a mic pre and then your converter- it’s hot enough on the mic where it distorts, but not anyplace it shouldn’t, and it’s hit with some compression so the only distortion you hear is in the analog domain and the level is safely in range before we go digital. To make this happen you need an engineer who well knows each component in his signal chain to get this into the recording without blowing blowing takes on any technical mishap. Also, most singers can only do a few takes in a session at this caliber before they start risking vocal damage. It’s a very tight window you have to get this recording. Also the reveb here on the voice is almost unnoticeable but is SO musical. It’s beautiful.
Drums: this is great. It’s just a few bars of a breakbeat samples from likely an old recording. (I pray everyone who deserved to got paid). You have a couple of fills here and there which are completely different samples, but live drums nonetheless. The really beautiful thing here is this first part of the track is only a solo vocal with the drum sample, then the horn sample with bass. You get to soak in the awesome sound of those three elements without getting distracted with unnecessary flourishes.
The background vocals are the same singer doubled in unison, splitting to harmony at some points in the track. Again, you have the lead and the BG trading back and forth- harking to answer backs from an earlier time in music before we had all this multi track mush.
On the pre chorus (“Told the others, my lovers, my sister and…”) there is a vocal sample which comes across as percussion like a breathy “ahhhh, ohhhh” – I can’t even pretend to type it you’ll just have to listen. Not something you would hear as a vocal but more as almost a crash cymbal sound. It’s cool.
Likely this next thing is accidental but I love it: when we first get the vocal “ain’t no other man” the first part of the note is chopped at the downbeat, with the effect of it just hitting harder than it should with that same non-zero crossing clip sound that we had in the horns. So again, this old/new thing: the “new” vocal sounds “old” because it’s edited the same way as the “old” samples were in the beginning of the song.
Also, holy crap is this doubled vocal tight, almost Michael Jackson tight. Panned about 40% left and right you can really hear that it is in fact two takes. Who knows what kind of editing might have taken place here, but it SOUNDS like it was performed this way. There is only one part of the whole track that sounds like it might have been tuned: “you got what I want boy and I want it.” I don’t even care, because the pureness of the harmony (though almost unnaturally perfect) makes me think of doo wop singers dropped in and out for just the phrase.
The next verse just adds a tambourine and our BG vox answer backs. The verse after that adds a palm muted guitar playing the root note which is just kick ass.
Listen to the interplay between the BG and lead vox. Little laughs left in, riffing like a master. The edits of all the samples and vocals are just so slick. What stands out for me about this track as well is how FEW elements it has. No wall of sound here.
Tracks like this make me realize that it’s ok to use a click track every now and then and that you can really get some incredible syncopation and flavor when you have a really talented vocalist at the helm flanked by great tracking engineers and great editing.
Thanks for listening!