You know those songs that just don’t sound quite as good when they’re played quietly? They’re by no means bad when they’re quiet, but they feel like they were written to be played loud. Today I want to talk about some of those songs and maybe why they are so much better louder.
First off I want to mention ‘Only Shallow’ by My Bloody Valentine, which I believe is one of the greatest opening tracks to an album ever (a topic we will be covering soon). One of the reasons I believe it’s so great is that you get 4 snare hits and then BANG! It hits you.
Though there has been a loudness war raging for over 20 years now, seemingly with every producer (particularly within EDM) trying to make their track the loudest, nothing to me seems to hit quite as hard as this does when it kicks in, that’s not to say it’s heavy as such, but just sonically it is seriously extreme. The texture is like a huge wave of custard hitting the ears, it is so thick with the huge mass of guitar, feedback and compressed drums. Kevin Shields apparently spent hours and hours in the studio playing with guitar sounds, layering guitars, inventing whole new techniques, which some of his contemporaries even adopted, although he nearly bankrupted the record label in the process, but I’d have to say the result is well worth those hours, with the album widely regarded as the band’s masterpiece and a seminal album in the Shoegaze genre.
But why does ‘Only Shallow’ work so much better when played loud? I think it’s something to do with the production, going back to my simile of the “wave of custard” if you don’t give this track the right kind of volume, it ends up a little bit more like a puddle of custard. Again, that isn’t a bad thing, I love custard regardless, but whilst it’s played quietly it doesn’t have anywhere near as big of an impact, the low end doesn’t hit so hard and there’s less of a feeling of the scale of this production, you almost lose some of the unhinged mayhem when it’s turned down, leaving you with something far more restrained than it truly is. I strongly recommend trying it for yourself, give the track a listen quietly and then again with it cranked right up and see what a difference those extra dBs make.
Bringing it forward to this year and another release that I think needs to both be played loud and on the right listening system. ‘DNA.’ by Kendrick Lamar is simply massive when you’ve got it blaring, his vocals are sharp, fluid and decisive in comparison to the relatively sparse beat. But the real reason this song needs to be played loud is for that bass. Prior to hearing this song I don’t think I’d enjoyed low-end like that since the funky bass line of ‘King Kunta’ on Kendrick’s last full-length, despite being a completely different animal. At low volumes DNA. still sounds fantastic, whether you like him or not (and most do) Kendrick Lamar reliably delivers brilliantly produced albums every time, however for me the song takes on an entirely new dimension when you turn it up, seemingly amping up every aspect of the track, including Kendrick’s absolutely brutal flow, particularly in the latter section of the song.
As a generation who spends much of their time listening to music through laptop or mobile phone speakers, or the pretty questionable headphones certain manufacturers distribute with their mobile handsets, this song may not realise it’s full potential in many’s eyes, however given the chance of being put through a half decent set of earphones, speakers or even a portable docking station that low end is unleashed and the track seems to come alive.
What other tracks do you think need to be played loud? Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is, perhaps an obvious shout and some would argue that a whole lot of the music The Who released is better cranked, but what are your favourites? Or alternatively, and perhaps the more difficult question, what songs are better enjoyed a little quieter? As always leave your comments below or on our twitter page and if you have any suggestions for upcoming articles or are keen to contribute an article of your own, get in touch via our contact page or at firstname.lastname@example.org any time.