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FM - Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] CD (album) cover

DIRECT TO DISC [AKA: HEAD ROOM]

FM

 

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3.68 | 82 ratings

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Walkscore
3 stars This is the second album from this Toronto-based band, and one with a very interesting history. The album was originally called "Direct to Disc", and this is because it was recorded in one go, very literally direct to disc (or rather direct to special vinyl cutting machinery, producing the vinyl lacquer used to produce the metal stamps for stamping new vinyl albums. This limited the length to about 16 minutes per side, as that is the limit to how much room the lacquer had). The title "Headroom" was added later after MCA records threatened to sue their label because MCA had released the soundtrack to the film 'FM' and did not want this band's record to conflict with their sales strategy. So, 'Headroom: Direct to Disc' it became for later pressings and the international releases of this album. Even more interesting is that only 20,000-30,000 copies of the album could be made from each lacquer, because each lacquer could only make one metal stamp, and that wore out after printing/stamping that many copies. For this album, the limit came at 26,000 copies. After the record sold this many, the record company had to find another lacquer to print the albums. FM recorded their songs four times, creating four lacquers. The last one was consider the best take, and so the first 26,000 albums printed used that lacquer. However, once that limit had been reached, the record company had to use a different lacquer, and so went with the second-best takes. So, anyone who bought later pressings of the album was buying different versions of the songs than those who bought the first 26,000 copies!

The version I am reviewing is the remaster CD re-release on Esoteric Recordings. The sound quality is excellent, and this uses the original versions of the songs (from the first 26,000 pressings). The music is relatively sparse - because it was recorded in one go direct to disc, there are no overdubs, and no opportunities to tweak any errors. With only three musicians, the recording has a very airy and sparse feel to it. It also have a very 'live in your basement' feel (augmented, I think, from the excellent remastered sound quality). This is both the album's strength, and its weakness. Strength - it feels very present, sincere and authentic, the direct opposite to typical over-produced rock music. The music combines classic 1970s progressive rock feel with early electronica and is one of the few bands with an electric violin player. Furthermore, there are solos on this, and the band stretches out in places, which is quite nice. Weakness - in order to get the best out of the compositions, the music here I think could actually benefit from more intricate arrangements, and from more instrumentation (ie overdubs). On the second side there is a drum solo, which is very nice (and I wish there were more drum solos recorded on contemporary albums), but on this track makes it drag out a bit. Compositionally, the music seems a bit rushed, like they had to finish the compositions shortly before recording them, instead of taking them out on the road and refining them based on how they sound played live.

On the whole, this experimental album has an important and unique, if somewhat minor, place in progressive rock history. It is good, but not brilliant. It makes very interesting first, and maybe second, listens, but I doubt one will want to put it on after that. I always listen to an album multiple times before I review it, as albums usually reveal their musicality over subsequent listens, and the best ones get better with each additional listen. This one started becoming boring after the third listen for me. I give this 6.9 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.

Walkscore | 3/5 |

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