Review of "Studio Sessions"?

  • Has anyone volunteered to write up a review of the FANTASTIC Studio Sessions (lookin' at you 1:45 It's a Bunch!)? It certainly deserves a thorough going over. If not, are you looking for a volunteer?

  • M

    I don't know about a review, but I sat down and made a set of timestamped notes. I did this for the Columbia Bee heater and I think it was pretty well-received. Should be done with it today, just listening through a few times to get all my thoughts :)

  • M

    Who knows if anyone will get any enjoyment out of this, but here's my thoughts from this 2 hour odyssey...

    It's a Bunch
    0:00 - Starts with some noodling; band is settling in. At this point I assume they know they plan to play for 2+ hours and are in no rush.
    8:00 - Upbeat, rocking jam; Brian teasing the rhythm of the Bunch melody. Nick filling space. At this point I figured they wouldn't be playing a song at all, a la Bloomington '19.
    9:30 - things start to reach a peak, but really just foothills of the trek to come
    10:30 - It's a Bunch. To hear Jordan's opening riff without any cheering is one of the stranger sensations...
    13:00 - In the double time segment, I detect an urgent edge to the band's playing, especially Nick and Brian. Not sure if it's being without a crowd, the way they've been practicing, or what. I think this vibe makes a return later during the deep space segment.
    14:30 - Nick is high in the mix, which I love. Especially the hi-hat. Nice riffs by Jordan in the final moments of the song proper.
    15:00 - Red attempts to get a funky thing off the ground but Brian and Jordan object, aiming for a rhythmic-focused jam. Red is amenable. Nick wisely selects the cowbell as his weapon of choice.
    17:00 - Sounding more contemplative and groovy. Red gets his clav anyway. (Objection overruled.) Brian has some cool, almost Manteca-esque phrasing.
    18:00 - With Red switching to the organ, things get a late-night back-room vibe. Brian hits a quizzical refrain, letting the band shape phrases in between his punctuation. Jordan's bass tone sounds like it jumped in a swimming pool full of jello.
    20:00 - It's apparent that the band is completely not concerned with frequent peaks. This is one of my favorite things about when the band jams without a crowd. Crowds come with the lure of attack and release; when it's just the band, the message itself is the medium. Impatience to reach a peak can wind up stifling the improvisation.
    20:40 - All contemplation is abandoned for a hard-rocking. Brian adjusts his angry-face riffs knob to 8 or 9. This is what I call an all-natural peak.
    22:00 - Nick seems to be trying to make the rest of the band lose the 1, and doing a pretty good job. They are nonplussed. Jordan sticks to his ostinato, Brian and Red riff.
    23:00 - Interrogative space funk. Red seems to be asking a question that no one has the answer to, or at least I certainly don't. Nick writes a love letter on his hi-hat and it gently presses on the gas pedal.
    24:30 - They're so good at this "dark, unsettling, but groovy" sound, like if Footloose was set in Twin Peaks. Nick letting loose with four on the floor for the first time in this 2-hour trek.
    25:50 - A bit more tempo.
    26:30 - Really amazing all-band interplay here, with Jordan and Red totally locked into each other's effects palate, and Brian complimenting with perfect rhythmic licks. One of my favorite bits of the whole thing. I love when jams sound composed like this. Sometimes these things make a return later in written songs, like the Chapel Jam becoming Mind's. Maybe this one will find its way into something.
    27:38 - Brian almost teasing Weasel, and the whole band sounding kind of Down-Undery.
    28:45 - Another cool composed-sounding section, but with more fire and verve. Brian playing blues riffs over the top of angry up-tempo Kraftwerk sounds from Jordan & Red. Now I would believe it was the middle of Mad World. Hard stop, "All around us are familiar faces..."
    30:00 - Brian's quarter note smoke signals indicate a change of vibe and the band obliges. Within half a minute it goes from evil German industrial to damn near Palisades. The band takes a bit of a breather here, except for Nick.
    32:10 - Jordan is teasing the Waltz; I think he's proud of that one. Here it gives a Victorian-era lilt to an otherwise upbeat segment.
    32:50 - Bass and rim shot on the 3 is a classic reggae sound. Punctuated by snare hits and rimshots. Brian switches on some Garcia-esque effects. Red switches on some arps-on-acid effects.
    35:00 - I think if you just listened to Brian & Nick, or just Red & Jordan here, you would hear two very different themes going on effects-wise. It works, though, with generally happy phrasing on both sides.
    36:00 - Again I get the feeling that they aren't in a hurry to take this anywhere. This kind of jam is hard to get live unless it's an extremely sparse set list.
    37:11 - Brian selects a nice set of upward trills, and the band hears it. They switch gears to a pensive, almost mournful, repressed sound.
    38:45 - It's awesome how long they're willing to wait for something to build out of an idea like those lifting notes. And then, once the rest of the band has caught on and found something they like, Brian's free to explore again, letting go of this little jam's original muse. That is the essence of ear training and just undeniable proof that the band knows how to listen to each other right up there with some of the best musicians on the planet.
    40:00 - This builds to some of the best and most cathartic playing in the whole shebang. Sustain and negative space are used expertly to create that yearning feeling of needing the next note. Slowly that space is filled in with notes, and the needing is too.
    41:50 - Great peak. Absolutely classic, organ and bass doing their chord progressions from the previous jam with Brian shredding soulfully. Nick doing a great job of keeping it balanced and supported, but still having that calm, introspective feel.
    43:50 - Weird, pt1. Cool polyrhythms from Nick.
    45:00 - Blues riffing. Jordan is exploratory in this segment. Brian backs off considerably.
    45:40 - Red finds the next hook, Nick takes a more forward posture, attacking with lots of swing and punchy fills.
    47:30 - Full-band exploration, Nick and Red taking turns driving. I love Red's classic hook making a return occasionally to remind you where you are.
    48:10 - Hard stop. More cool phrasing, I especially like Brian's phrase up, phrase down idea. Lots of playing with dynamics. Taking advantage of being in a studio with no crowd noise?
    49:30 - Kind of a Pink Panther segment. It steams for a while. Brian teases Tweezer at 51:15, kinda. Sharp hi-hat work from Nick as usual. Pretty sure if Nick was trapped on a desert island and could only have one food, it would be a hi-hat.
    52:00 - Slow-build energy again. Band has nothing to prove and they're happy to hang out here as long as they want because they like playing like this.
    53:55 - Natty peak #2. How many bands can bring that much energy at something like 60 bpm?!
    54:55 - Post-jam, Red instantly switches to his ... hungry cat synthesizer? Nick plays another cool rhythm on his, you guessed it, hi-hat. At this point I suspect Nick is just bursting at the seams to play faster.
    56:00 - Red almost teasing the Reprise, but it doesn't have the fourth bar resolution.
    56:30 - Red teases Na Na Hey Hey. Brian teases a similarly old (or maybe children's?) tune I can't put my finger on. Nick responds with cowbell/woodblocks. They are having Fun.
    57:25 - Nick makes brief usage of his MIDI pad, then goes back to the woodblocks. Nice part A -> part B -> part A work, kind of Umphy. Jordan lays the effects thick and they sound great with the MIDI pads.
    58:15 - Brian finds a sick riff and we're locked in.
    58:55 - Building energy. Any venue would be losing their minds here.
    59:25 - Hypnotic groove soup. Sick. Brian finding a way to do some stygian or phrygian phrasing before launching into full tension-building-mode.
    1:00:00 - I don't know what this effect/sound is that Red's using, but it has textured some of my favorite jams (ETS & All In from the 2018 SF run come to mind.)
    1:01:15 - So much tension at this point, because there hasn't really been a release since the riff at 58:15; but we've seen so much music since then!
    1:03:00 - It appears they would rather groove than rage here. Release becomes a distant pining feeling in the back of my mind, rattling around while I bop my head.
    1:03:45 - Classic Brian hook. I want to say this shows up in On Fire a lot, could be wrong.
    1:04:22 - Cool little part B double time segment.
    1:04:54 - Back to part A, everyone's playing a bit more urgent and tight. The classic phrase returns. The evil vibe of this jam reminds me a bit of the 11/15/18 Bee Jam.
    1:06:20 - Crazy the amount of energy stored up here from that hook at 1:03:45. Suddenly Brian opens up his rhythm and Jordan/Nick's pulsing groove gives things a rocking, conclusionary vibe. Asteroids are crashing into planets. Species are going extinct up in here.
    1:07:20 - Back down to dirt. Could easily have become America the way Nick shifted straight to the toms, which would have been sick, but this is sick too.
    1:07:50 - Brian STILL teasing his hook.
    1:08:20 - Weird, pt2. I love this soundscape. The last remaining survivors from the asteroid impact duke it out for resources.
    1:09:30 - The sun pokes through the clouds thanks to Red's piano riffs and Brian and Jordan's quick listening. At 1:10:02 Jordan plays a note that suggests a chord progression, changing the entire tone of the thing from questionable to smiling. The band catches quickly. I wish I could identify these chord progressions by ear, I'm sure someone can – I just know they're happening.
    1:10:45 - Beautiful, suggestive playing by Red. A really nice contemplative sequence follows. It's easy to lose sight of these passages and only pay attention to the ripping peaks, but I think some of the most locked-in playing is happening in these quiet moments.
    1:17:30 - I've come back and listen to the preceding 6-7 minutes over and over. Stunning, tear-jerking music. That long build! That natural peak! When I see Spafford I'm happy for anything but I'm hoping for this.
    1:19:20 - Diana-esque, careening upbeat segment. Lots of momentum at this point. They're latching onto each others hooks and ideas in just a bar or two. Good punctuation by Nick.
    1:23:40 - A little ostinato from Brian suggesting that things might be winding down. Nick works the snare.
    1:24:30 - Sometimes these guitar/piano mixing jams remind me of Kein Trink Wasser by Orbital. Jordan and the cowbell take things once again into hypnosis mode.
    1:25:22 - Brian plays some almost PYITE-esuqe high off-beat chords. Hypnosis building, Jordan pushing effects, Red back on the synth sounds. Brian has so many cool phrases during this build segment.
    1:26:40 - Brian finds a riff he loves; Nick brings the snare back on the 2/4 and the band is PSYCHED here. I love Jordan's effects stack in these jams.
    1:28:00 - Yet another sick riff. Total peak Spafford. Listen for someone (Nick's?) yell at 1:28:06.
    1:28:30 - Everyone's found their spot and is locked in.
    1:29:25 - More droning trance goodness. Delightfully energetic and weird. I love the patience of these groove jams.
    1:30:10 - Great use of the electric piano to complement the synth by Red, crazy scraping by Brian gives me the impression of imminent Weasel for like the 3rd time in the jam.
    1:31:00 - Nick brings the tempo up and switches the beat, suddenly going from groove to rock. More PYITE/2001 energy-building feels. This patient electronic influence in the drumming gives the rest of the band so much room to breathe.
    1:32:30 - Cool, eerie theme by Red. Tempo picks up more. Nick doing a great job with that drum attack & release. I'm biased as a drummer, but I think Nick for MVP of the back half of this It's a Bunch masterpiece.
    1:34:05 - Full-band energy and Brian finally leaves rhythm mode to shred a bit. I think he was gloriously restrained during most of the jam. Brian has said himself that when he's in "rage mode" it's not a good thing for ideation (although IMO the crowd tends to love it.)
    1:35:51 - I think this segment is genuine as it's not clear to anyone if they're going to do an outro jam or call it. But no one commits to the ripcord, and just enough sustain and low dynamic play makes it clear that no one's ready to call it over. Reminiscent of the 1/28/20 Bee outro which > Settled In, so much so that I was sure they were going to play that tune next.
    1:37:40 - I wish they would jam more like this live, even though I know it's not for everyone with the lack of danciness. Anyone else?
    1:38:12 - Deep throbbing bass reminiscent of 90s electronica. Massive Attack or something. I asked Red where the theremin was somewhere in here on the live chat and he said he wished he had one, so... Get Red a Theremin
    1:40:20 - Weird, pt3 – full weird. Preparing for NYE Aliens probably. Probably also catching their breath, honestly. Some cool sounds in here, hard to tell who's playing what at times.
    1:44:58 - It's over! Seems anticlimactic here, but thanks to ATW, we know it has a fiery conclusion to come.

    Ain't That Wrong
    0:00 - The song starts with a slightly slow bpm, I think. Just a few bpm shy of some of the banner versions.
    2:40 - Upbeat, happy mode to start off the jam. Seems like we're back to normal tempo.
    3:20 - Hooks flowing quickly out of Brian and Jordan. Clav seems really low in the mix here unfortunately.
    4:30 - First real thematic change of the jam, with Brian playing some descending chords, Red pulling out his synth again and Nick taking things off-beat but still up-tempo.
    5:07 - Again it kinda seems like there are two bands happening - Red switches from synth to organ and things sound more "traditionally" ATW, and more synced.
    5:40 - Ol' reliable four on the floor arrives to the party.
    6:15 - A new hypnotic theme, and Red returns to his synth idea. The band is copacetic, Nick providing texture with the ride and crash.
    7:00 - Once again (I'm feeling pretty redundant after a couple hours) you can hear how good they are at playing around each other, with all four members finding their own pocket to stay in, especially the complement of Jordan/Red's timing, and Brian staying wonderfully restrained during this cool hpyno jam.
    8:45 - We leave hypnosis world, most of the show's home base.
    9:30 - A kind of Weasel theme, but then actually Final Countdown tease from Brian.
    10:00 - Red responds with his own tease, at first I thought Star Wars (Luke's theme, the double-moon Tattooine sunset scene music) but then on his second play, it's Na Na Hey Hey again. Red likes Na Na Hey Hey.
    10:25 - The band is open to this idea and we get a weird, sad Na Na Hey Hey jam.
    10:45 - I was starting to wonder during the live stream if this was actually going to be a Big Cypress type deal. They're so far away from ATW proper that it seemed like it might be another 1:45 jam.
    11:20 - A nice evil, Phrygian (?) hook from Brian. Again, I wish I actually knew modes by ear...
    13:15 - Probably one of the weirdest ATW jams ever, really good off-beat on-beat play from the band here, and a cat/mouse game from Jordan & Brian.
    14:30 - Natty peak with the off-kilter theme of playing with the beat.
    15:30 - Brian using an echo pedal to AMAZING effect, sooooooooo cooooool.
    16:15 - Listen to how fast Brian & Red pick up Jordan's hook there, and Brian immediately doing a Streets of Cairo off of it.
    16:45 - More Star Wars from Red, and more of the kid's song theme from Brian and Red. Teases appear to be a theme of this bizarre ATW.
    17:30 - We almost get Weird, pt4, but Nick applies defib paddles.
    18:30 - First sounds of the return of the ATW chords/theme. Buckle up.
    19:10 - The end of this song is always a show highpoint for me. Shred!
    21:07 - It's so bizarre not to hear a crowd after those final notes. Good night everyone, see you on 12/30!

  • Awesome review Jeenot!!! Thanks so much.

    This jam is near and dear to my heart, for many reasons.

    Many little things you say that resonate, but one I will comment on:

    "20:00 - It's apparent that the band is completely not concerned with frequent peaks. This is one of my favorite things about when the band jams without a crowd. Crowds come with the lure of attack and release; when it's just the band, the message itself is the medium. Impatience to reach a peak can wind up stifling the improvisation."

    This is a great point. And it's wonderful to "settle in" to this journey because of this. The peak moments with a crowd ARE what we live for in many ways... but come with potential traps too. The very best live Spafford experiences have those peaks patiently interspersed, in their due time. Not forced. Patient Moss is the very best Moss.

    I think the two parts of the whole thing that I most frequently come back to are.... around 58+ with the get your ass moving, unbelievable electronic groovefest. In the right club for this (scratch that, any club) and wow, what a moment. And... the breathtakingly gorgeous segment from 1:10 to 1:18 or so. Yes, that is Spafford at their most emotive best.

    What a jam, what a night, what a band.

    Thanks for the review!

  • Also, you're dead on about Nick. He is so good throughout this, and the big smile he carries all night can be seen on the video. Such a pleasure to watch. Nick's the best!


  • @jeenot great review. Thanks for the great review.

  • @jeenot Super-cool. Love it. Thanks so much!

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