Hot Tracks #09

Artist: Exit North
Album: Anyway, Still
Published: April 14, 2023
Label: Exit North
Produced by: Exit North
Recorded by: Charles Storm
Recorded at: Cloudchamber & Tonkontrol, Göteborg
Assistant engineer at Tonkontrol: Åke Linton
Mixed by: Charles Storm & Exit North at Cloudchamber, Göteborg
Mastered by: Seigen Ono at Saidera Mastering, Tokyo

Ulf Jansson: Piano & Keyboards
Charles Storm: Backing Vocals & Various
Steve Jansen: Backing Vocals & Various
Thomas Feiner: Lead Vocals & Various

Strings arranged & conducted by Mikael Backegårdh

Exit North are an anglo-swedish quartet set on a most singular sonic mission, perched on the edge between the exploration of sound-design-driven atmospheric soundscapes, and a seemingly endless palette of song-form structures inspired by the singer-songwriting- and art-rock aesthetics.

Lead singer Thomas Feiner’s most distinguished baritone vocals resonate with those of Japan’s David Sylvian – whose brother Steve Jansen, formerly Japan’s drummer, is concurrently both a stable member of Exit North, and the solo artist host who invited Thomas Feiner to collaborate on more than one work of his.

Only one member of Exit North is credited with playing a specific musical instrument – well… two, actually: Ulf Jansson sits on piano and keyboards, while all other members play whatever else is heard here, back Feiner’s vocals, and are collectively credited with the production of Anyway, Still.

Across different interviews circulated on the press when Anyway, Still was released, songwriting and production is described as a plural, collective praxis within Exit North; it commenced at band member Charles Storm’s own Cloudchamber studio, near Göteborg, to be later shifted to Tonkontrol, a new studio whose engineers roster counts the very Charles Storm, and Exit North live sound engineer Åke Linton, too (of Esbjörn Svensson Trio and Rymden fame).

Why does Anyway, Still, appear on this Hot Tracks review?

It is a work that seamlessly blends a finely weaved orchestral score to a wisely calibrated use of electronics, onto which acoustic instruments lead the path to pristine dynamics and a daringly creative use of spatial artifacts, where both percussions and vocals seem to go beyond the boundaries of song-form, enriched with ambient field recordings and found-sounds loops laid in the background here and there.

From a sound engineer’s viewpoint, achieving this organic feeling at mixing such a varied palette of sound sources is by itself no small achievement – a result made possible, on Exit North’s Anyway, Still, by a collectively-driven exercise at which sound-design choices are not a juxtaposed layer of studio strategy laid upon song concepts at a later production stage, but rather elements that belong to each track right from the very beginning of each track’s initial sketch or snippet.

And, not only Exit North’s production does finely blend all these elements into a highly refined sound picture of utmost depth and resolution, but it makes all of these sounds coherent and organic, even when the very lead vocals are dipped with raw distortion and heavy filtering, over the most delicate touch on a wonderfully balanced and tuned grand piano – without any hint of artificially added flavors, or sonic pretense.

Like most (or all, actually) of the works presented hereon Hot Tracks, Anyway, Still, too, wraps the listener into the silkiest sound fabrics at any playback level – and, while perfectly attuned to evenings and nights of listening pleasure at modest playback level, its highly-contrasted, distinctly dark-ish, northern-lights atmospheres make for a most addictive consumption at high SPL – even in broad daylight.

Hot Tracks is an editorial collection of sound-works’ reviews devoid of any competition purpose, not a contest or a very best selection of very bests – but rather a parade of albums aimed to hopefully inspire one sound engineer’s choices (or many’s) when behind a mixing console in concert, or involved with a production studio pratice…

When we learnt that NativeDSD, a streaming provider of high-resolution audio contents, credited Anyway, Still the title of Album of the year, being how DSD, short for Direct-Stream-Digital, a trademark used by Sony and Philips for their highest standard of encoding-decoding format beyond the limits of PCM digital audio techniques, we could only agree with their… resolution!

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