Fri, 10 Jul 2020
Picture it: Cincinnati, 1996. I'm in high school and at just the right age to find the music that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Obviously The Residents come into play here, as well as They Might Be Giants and Neil Innes, but there's also a debut album this year that will prove just as inspiring as those well-established artists: Chameleon in a Kaleidoscope
The album opens with one of the highest words per minute lyrics I've encountered (you get a sense of this from the title alone: "The San Antonio-West Virginia Energy Malaprop Incident"). Within seconds it becomes clear that I am hearing something that will stick with me for a long time. Each song provides something new, yet it all feels like it belongs together. There's a strange sci-fi story in there, children being awful and getting punished (perhaps too severely), and a murder with the only clue being an irresistibly catchy melody.
Intelligent, funny, memorable, and unafraid to try something different. This is everything I want in music, friends, and myself. This album became a mainstay in my life, and I grew to know it inside and out. I had found a kindred spirit, and due to the good fortune of the world growing ever more interconnected, I was able to become friends with Adam Rabin, the man behind Mailbox, and we've worked together several times over the years.
Now it's 2020, and thanks(?) to the pandemic, Adam finally has time to revisit this album. Due to some technological shortcomings (mostly to do with MIDI patches), he's forced to recreate some of the original sounds, and sometimes that means an approximation as opposed to a perfect replica. And that's where I come in...
As someone who spent a lot of time with this album, but from a fan perspective, I am in a great position to help balance the desire to improve it but also stay faithful to the original. The process was initially Adam sending me new versions of songs and I'd call out what parts stuck out to me as being different, based entirely on my memory of having listened to the album so many times. After that I could re-familiarize myself with the original version and find other bits to tweak.
Sometimes, though, I'd find that my memory was a little off. For example I'd remember a real low-pitched sound, but it turns out it was never there - it was the emotion of that part of the song, a sense of foreboding, that put the extra layer in for me. So in a couple of places we tweaked the sound to better elicit the feeling that would come from multiple listens. So we have a mixture of sounds that closely match the original, some that are further off but acceptable because they're just better (I'm looking at you, drums), and some that are noticeably different but have the right feeling.
I didn't work on the original album, but I am proud to have assisted in the remix, and honored that Adam asked for my input. His willingness to share control is a credit to him, but not unexpected; though it appears as a one-person project, Mailbox has always had collaboration in its core DNA.
The album is working its way to various streaming sites, but Bandcamp is the only place you can get all the bonus tracks: https://mailbox.bandcamp.com/album/chameleon-in-a-kaleidoscope-25th-anniversary