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Pacifika
Asunción

Review By Claude Lemaire

 

  Peace, La Paix, Paz...

Pacifika is a Vancouver trio featuring the lovely Silvana Kane on vocals and tambourine, Adam Popowitz on electric and acoustic guitars and Toby Peter on five string electric bass and numerous percs, augmented live by fourth member Elliot Polsky on drums, percussion and electronic samplers.

Discovering a new band by first seeing them play live before your eyes instead of through your speakers in your home can be a delight as well as a curse especially nowadays when these same artist auto produce/record their material. With the ubiquitous proliferation of home studio software, gear and free downloads, the present generation of artist can 'dispense' with the old ways of doing business i.e. big expensive studios, mixing boards, vintage mikes and qualified personnel just to name a few. But this new found egalitarianism is like a double edged sword, along with it's technical freedom comes the danger of the self-appointed musician/sound engineer yearning to use every effect at his disposal when oftentimes the "less is more" approach would be the better choice.

Such was the situation with my introduction to Pacifika, you can thus better appreciate my fear or rather apprehension towards my first spin of Asunción on my system. Thankfully I needed not worry, guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz did a fantastic job tracking the different instruments and Silvana's voice - he seems to know what he wants and how to get it on tape, well maybe not really on tape but rather on hard disk in binary form.

Like so many CD's since awhile, the level is on the loud side when you hit 'Play'. That said the general trend of the album is not 'in your face' loud, it is simply louder than need be.

"Sol" opens the album and indeed sunshine and warmth is plentiful in Silvana's native voice occupying central stage. Perhaps mimicking the new day, the beat comes on gradually, panned acoustic guitars top it off. At the end (of the day) we're left with the simple sound of a cricket.

"Me Caí" starts with solo bass, guitar comes in and Silvana seems to double her voice for effect. At midpoint, the songs comes to a total stop. The mood changes completely thanks in part to bassist Tony Peter reaching down towards the B string lending a heavier feel. Quite effective I should add.

"Chiquita" has a cute melody going for it. Once again voice is doubled in center while chorus is panned. The outro is a bit special with Silvana's intimate voice talking closer on the left of stage.

Big change of style with "Sweet". Drummer Elliot Polsky establishes his rhythmic pattern with a panned hi-hat introducing a great simple beat. The low grunt of the bass adds to the groove followed by guitars panned left and right. This is the first song of the album in English. Silvana's voice is sweet and intimate. Midway through she switches to Spanish doubled for effect before alternating back to English. This is in my opinion the strongest track of the album regarding music and sound quality. Drum is punchy and articulate, bass is solid and deep, guitars clean and very well recorded. Voice up close at just the right level. The mix, dynamic (for pop), open and well balanced is spot on. I would tend to qualify it 'Demo-worthy'. If my recollection is correct, this song was the show opener and with reason.

"Paloma" definitely takes on a Spanish twist with Flamenco stylings such as hand clap, castagnettes or similar percs. Cymbals crenscendoe to give way to the groovy beat and soon a ride cymbal joins in 'off beat'.

Turning more towards a Rock feel and back to Spanish, "Más y Más" features a highly distorted electric guitar occupying the right channel. It is very compressed bringing undue right ear fatigue. It takes time before the actual beat appears for a short duration only. Vocals come back accompanied by Adam's guitar. Although I largely suspect the distortion and compression/limiting effect to be an artistic choice, it nevertheless is the worse sounding track of the album.

The sound improves but still some compression persists with "Estrellas De Miel", a Spanish rhythmic guitar 2/4 metered track.

"Libertad" opens with clean guitar on the left, bass and percussion on the right flanking Silvana in English while a second guitar on the right makes its presence known. The bass notes reach way down in frequency and their weight is impressive. The Spanish chorus has reverb added for effect which makes a great contrast with the coda. The latter sung in English, staying very dry as she comes closer to the front to finish a cappella.

"Cuatro Hijas" has wind for intro. Panned classical guitars plus artificial harmonics are intimate and superbly recorded. The singing in Spanish is soft and very close. Cello and violin enrich the outro.

The first four bars of "Oyeme" consist of strummed acoustic guitar plus conga. After which a crash cymbal introduces the drumbeat groove, bass guitar goes down low, rumbling in deep Hertzian territory. Close-miked guitar is panned to widen stage. Great synth percussive effect surprises in its originality. The last bars end with the vocal close up and acapella. Probably my second favorite for music and sound.

"Las Olas" the last song of the album leaves us on a wave of delight. Adam keeps it uncluttered with panned acoustic guitars. Silvana's voice is smooth, close-mic’ed and intimate. Lovely violin, cello plus xylophone lends a 'berceuse' ambiance to the piece. Bass pedals deliver deep solid lows. The fade-out could have lasted a bit longer in my opinion, nevertheless a beautiful finale.

In conclusion, Asunción makes an impressive debut for Pacifika; retaining the rawness of the live event while adding a bit of studio polishing and music arrangements. Guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz is a rarity in this industry in that most musicians don't make good engineers, they either have damaged hearing caused by accumulated years of high level non-protective playing or mix it in a way to put the spotlight on them. Neither is the case here. The instruments are for the most part clean and very well captured with their tone intact. With the help of Mixing Engineer Ben Wisch on half the tracks, the mix is surprisingly (in this day and age) perfect. Honestly I wouldn't change a thing.

Apart from tracks 6 and 7, the dynamic range is refreshingly natural for this type of music - a rare endangered species I'm afraid. Also noteworthy is the wide bandwidth well balanced from top to bottom. In fact in quite a few instances, deep solid bass can be felt and is mixed just at the right level, implying neutral control-room monitor levels along with good judgment. Lastly all this hard work would go to waste if the last sound manipulation step is not equally handled with great care. Here Mastering Engineer Ken Lee seems to have done just such. Kudos for not perpetuating the Loudness Wars.

Of course even with competent ears you cannot expect perfection in binary form - I'm sure Adam and Elliot would agree - so don't go expecting 'golden age' late 1950's tube 3-track transparency nor early 1970's 2 inch 24-track Analog warmth a la Dark Side of the Moon and co. Accept it for what it is: excellent 2008 digital on CD.

If only all new releases approached this level of quality, a reviewer's life would be so much easier.

 

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