Review Summary: In an album where audio engineering takes center stage, Ken Andrews also writes some good songs.
Meet Ken Andrews. He’s had a hand in some of the most popular music of the late 90s to the present. Never heard of him? That’s a shame, but you’re not alone. Back in the grunge era, he founded the band Failure and produced three albums with them, including Magnified
and Fantastic Planet
. Some critics threw this music away as a terrible attempt at Nirvana cloning, but they missed the point. Failure helped pioneer the second wave of a little edge of rock music known as space rock, featuring a large sound where the production adds maximum effect and makes sure the sound is as open, dark, and expansive as possible. With this idea, Ken Andrews left Failure as one of the best audio engineers in the industry. His résumé now includes Pete Yorn, Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182, Tenacious D, and many other popular artists. Recently, he produced Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”, which he did for the latest Bond movie Casino Royale
. Besides his rise to prominence in that industry, Andrews continued writing music in various side projects, most notably On and Year of the Rabbit. So what’s the next step for someone with Andrews’ background? Start your own record label, of course. On Dinosaur Fight Records, he released Secrets of the Lost Satellite
, the first album released under his own name.
Plagued by failing record labels all his life, Andrews finally had the ability to really create an album on his time, his way. Perhaps more than the music itself, his engineering ability stands out immediately. The mix allows every instrument to be heard with incredible clarity. Remarkably, there are really two different ideas going on in each song. Ken started the album with the idea of doing everything himself, and his base tracks are still on each song, laying down chord structure and basic melodic ideas. However, before he fully finished these tracks, but co-producer Justin Meldal-Johnson had a better idea. He brought in a live band, Beck’s live band, to overdub on the already recorded tracks. In two days, what was going to be a mostly electronica album became a rock album with electronica flourish. Still, because Andrews meant for the base tracks to be the whole track, it provides more than just flourish. It adds a deepness and sheer volume to the album. Throughout the album, unintended but brilliant effects shine through in the duality of the live and electronic recordings.
The lengthy description to get here - Andrews’ history, the production style, and the specs behind the final sound - is necessary to understand and appreciate this album. Just as the production of Fantastic Planet
took the music to a whole new level, the masterful engineering and ability to combine the two completely different sounds make Secrets of the Lost Satellite
a triumph in simply that respect. Luckily, the songwriting is great too. The album combines everything he’s ever done into one sound, from the rock sound of Failure to the lighter, poppier sound from On. For the most part, the live band takes prominence in the mix with Andrews’ tracks laying the foundation. The singles, “In Your Way” and “Up or Down” sound like Pete Yorn’s latest album with Andrews’ distinctively different voice - deep, hushed, but slightly waning. He hardly carries memorable vocal melodies, but he never has and instead lets the instruments make his songs catchy and enjoyable. “Write Your Story”, which he wrote with the third producer on the album Jordon Zadorzony, makes the best mix between electronica and rock, where live and electronic drums blend brilliantly and keyboards make poppy melodies. It is these tracks where Andrews blurs the lines that work the best.
Still, some songs slant towards one end or the other in the genre spectrum such as “Without”, a completely electronica song not too far removed from Thrice’s “Atlantic” or the beginning of “Red Sky”. Here, Andrews sings the best and blends with the oceanic sound that his composition portrays. It provides a small inkling as to what the album might have been. Other times, such as “Secret Things”, the band plays second to Andrews’ recordings. Synth bass, catchy strings, and simple piano make up the main instrumentation, while the band only adds power and distortion to the already climatic chorus. Each song moves to the next cleanly. Unfortunately, the album becomes too much of the same style. Like so many other albums, Secrets of the Lost Satellite
lags in the middle before the subtle yet powerful closer “Without” comes along. While no songs are necessarily written poorly, there is nothing that makes them stand out past anything else. All in all, Secrets of the Lost Satellite
is a triumph in audio engineering with great songs and extreme replay ability.