Calling Cadence's Eponymous Debut Album Is Made "Like They Used to Make Albums"

The Southern California retro-band Calling Cadence signed to Hi-Res Records recently released an eponymously titled debut album recorded, mixed and mastered "the way they used to" make albums: recorded and mixed to analog tape and mastered by Kevin Gray from the analog master tape, and pressed at RTI on 180g vinyl. The cover image of an 8-track tape helps seal the retro-deal as does the music.

Oscar Jesus Bugarin, the group's lead vocalist and chief songwriter has a keen ear for the kind of pop melodies heard late 70s-mid 80s in L.A. clubs (and S.I.R. rehearsal spaces) but rarely on commercial radio or charting on Billboard. It's earnest, bouncy, clean and "good-timey" industry showcase type pop music that's "strictly local" if you know what I mean. Bugarin has a strong, enthusiastic vocal style he uses well to sell the breezy pop confections he writes. The song that connects best is "I Don't Know Why" a mid-tempo song of regret hidden midway on side two. It produces some gravity. Most of the rest just bubbles away pleasantly in a nostalgic sort of way as you are reminded of one or another classic of that era.

The band is made up of studio pros and hired hands working the Southern CA music biz studio scene such that there still is. The playing, like all of the singing is skilled and "professional" but most of it flies by expertly filling space without producing any moments of distinction. The more times I listened the more I heard nice but minor production touches. For all intents and purposes the album comes across more like a well produced publishing demo than as an album really meant for commercial release, though side two's opener "Dancin'" produced sufficient excitement upstairs that my wife came running down to hear what was playing. "No one makes music like that anymore" she exclaimed dancing her way back upstairs and she was correct. That song could be the album's earnest highlight. You might enjoy seeing this group in a cruise ship's lounge where the spirited musicianship, high energy and earnestness would keep you engaged, but I doubt in concert you'd be good for more than a few songs.

Like the music, which is more admirable craft than it is notable artistry, the all analog recording and mix is competent and pleasing but it also points out that just because it's AAA doesn't mean it's a sonic spectacular because it's not. It's strictly demo quality—the kind you could produce at many of the "$20 per hour 24 track" studios that advertised in the back of Music Connection magazine in L.A. in the late '70s-early '80s, though the mix is well more skilled. The album is available at Elusive Disc, where you'll read a few "audiophile writer" type raves. Maybe I'm wrong and they're right, so with permission, here's the opening track and first single "Throw My Body". It's a song of personal cleansing and baptism not about a foul deed—as in what the people involved in making this record might wish to do to me!.

"Throw My Body"

(Note: I have known the co-producer for decades and once wrote for his video magazine but that cannot affect an honestly written AnalogPlanet record review).

DrJB's picture

I'd have to hear the entire album, but other than the annoying synthi thing at the front end, it seems they missed the mark by a few years. Sounds very much, to my ears in the vein of Allman Bros. Midnight Rider (1970) or Delaney and Bonnie or something by Steve Miller from the same period. When I think of the later 70's and early 80's, I hear Toto, The Clash, Michael McDonald with the Doobies, and the Jam, or Tom Petty which is maybe a bit closer. There's so much great music to explore from the 70's--where the production was astonishing--that I have trouble warming up to these types of artists, but I certainly appreciate their spirit and ethos. And thanks for introducing them.

anodyne jones's picture

A very mean spirited review. I own this album and enjoy it very much, and it is hardly "demo quality" cheapo sound. Time to ride off into the sunset, your ears have expired.

MalachiLui's picture

i haven't had much of a conversation with fremer about this record but based on the "meh" vibe of the review balanced with the seemingly careful word choices, i thought it was very politely written. not to mention, fremer took a hearing test not too long ago and the results show his ears aren't necessarily "expired" yet. maybe find something better to waste your time thinking about?

Lazer's picture

the response Malachai! I appreciate honest reviews even if I disagree with them.

Michael Fremer's picture
And your comment was what?
jazz's picture

for this kind of honesty! Surely there’s a lot more of very average music (just my taste) one could write about like that, but this belongs here because this crowd is sensible for AAA and professionally mastered stuff!

The hype for average music (just my taste) and average sound quality results, just because it seems audiophile by the involved AAA and mastering engineer is worth more indignation than this honest review.

AAA and 180g doesn’t mean good music, nor good sound.

arcman67's picture

I listened to the EP releases on Qobuz...nothing special. I'm so tired of "retro". Plus, making "retro" sound like it's recorded on a Tascam cassette portastudio with a bunch of SM57's is pointless. I'm all for going all analog.....just make music that is interesting and make your band sound the best it possibly can. This is why the same classic records, of any genre, keep getting reissued over and over again...the music is good and interesting. New Jazz recordings are so much more interesting with quality than pretty much any new pop/rock record (with a few exceptions).

anodyne jones's picture

It is impossible to win with you people. If the music was more "appealing" to you and was recorded on ProTools you would complain it is digital slop. No wonder they keep reissuing the same golden oldies over and over, in ever more expensive packages.

You should look at the Big Picture. Why would young or even established artists spend the time to hand craft analog recordings and hire people like KG when they met with this kind of mean girl reception.

jazz's picture

what you mean. Let’s forget music quality for a moment, it’s a matter of taste.

It should indeed be honored (and I think it is by the folks here), that the group goes the extra mile to produce AAA with a great mastering engineer.

But this here is the right place to say: it unfortunately doesn’t help, if what happened before AAA and Kevin Gray isn’t technically on similar level. More homework has to be done. Michael is a critique and if he doesn’t call it out, who should?

My personal main point is, that I appreciate the transparency when a less good result is called out vs clueless online non-listeners hype anything that’s produced in an audiophile way or even just pressed on 180g. I don’t want to read the advertising of the label here again, I want to read what’s fact.

anodyne jones's picture

You make some good points. I will however point out all the Cut From Digital, expensive vinyl reissues, both box sets and single releases that get a huge pass here and other places. Ironic.

And may I point out, "what's fact" with regards to this release, is one person's opinion.

Michael Fremer's picture
Expensive vinyl reissues cut from digital when there's a tape available do NOT get "huge passes" here unless they are remixes like Beatles stuff. If you are going to make charges please back them up.
arcman67's picture

I mean really. "Hey let's make a record and make it sound like it's thru an AM radio, Hire and Put Kevin Gray's name on the sticker....Have it pressed on 180 g vinyl,....The old fart audio fanatics will have a field day and buy gobs of them...we'll be rich in no time...don't worry about the songs...they'll buy anything that says analog and Kevin Gray in the same sentence"

anodyne jones's picture

Do you actually believe any of the cynical garbage you just posted?
Or are you just trying to be a smartass?

arcman67's picture

I feel that is the "attitude" that could exist. Like I said, retro for the sake of being retro just sounds artificial to me. Timeless and retro are two different things. Analog (or any format) used the right way is timeless. Purposely going out of your way to sound a certain way, unless there's a reason...period film soundtrack, etc, is just a waste of energy. The "retro" PT Cruiser was a waste of energy. A "timeless" corvette is interesting. A Retro "crosley-plastic old time "waltons looking" radio is cheesy. A Tivoli model one radio is timeless.....Get the picture yet?

Michael Fremer's picture
Did you read the "Gift to Pops" review just below this one? It's a digital recording and it sounds great. Did you read the "Mulberry Street Symphony" review? it's a digital recording and it sounds great. You are just being a disagreeable asshole.
Anton D's picture

I agree it has a retro vibe, and the Allman bros comparison was great.

It also reminds me of a group called "Snail" from the later 70s.

I think a "7" is appropriate.

I tried another cut:

Yeah, it's fine, I guess.

THE BIG QUESTION: Senor Michael, did you do anything to the record before playing it? If you hit it with the Kirmiss treatment, it would be fascinating to see if you thought the sonics changed.

(Side note: on that "Good Day" cut, you can imagine Dave Matthews singing it, too.)

jtavegia's picture

In 2022 with the best ADDA converters ever, excellent tape machines, mic preamps, and great microphones it seems too hard to make albums that are 9-10 in sound quality. It seems to happen too often and maybe, just maybe they are messing with the mix to much just because they already bought the gear in the rack.

I just bought an album of a male singer I am a big fan of and some of the tracks are just dreadful. When viewed in my audio editor both channels are just full color top to bottom with all the dynamic range compressed and limited to death. A cassette on some of these tracks could not have sounded worse. With most releases just because we have all these plug-ins in our DAW doesn't mean we have to use them.

arcman67's picture

I was reading an article I believe in "songwriter magazine" about recording demos. An engineer who worked with Phil Ramone back in the day was talking at one of the Songwriting camps about making quality demos. The person played an acoustic-vocal track that he recorded that really sounded fantastic. The engineer asked how do you think I recorded this. People chimed in with this mic, that preamp, vintage compressors, that recording deck/console, etc. At the end of the talk, the engineer told how he recorded the track. A single SM57, in his hotel room (where the camp was) using a Sony Cassette deck. The class was amazed. A good acoustic engineer can make a phone recording sound the best it possibly can. Many artists of today only know virtual instruments and plug ins and could not record a natural sounding instrument if their life depended on it

Cam08529's picture

and have played it only once. Based on that single play, I agree with Michael’s ratings. That may change for the better after a few more spins but probably not.

richiep's picture

Every musician cannot produce a 10 album every time! They have tried to do what they feel will reproduce their music the best, being a 7 is pretty dam good for their first? I listened a few times and am happy with my purchase of it!

jtavegia's picture

My point is that it could have been at least an 8 or a 9. If an engineer is in the room and hears what the group sound like he should be able to replicate THAT sound, unless the group is wanting what you received. We will never know. The old saying: "Is it live or is it Memorex" should still apply today.

I just watched a Mix With The Masters episode and one engineer put in his own "vocal?" sound, manipulated it, added reverb and compression showing us how he did it and it sounded like a mistake to me and added nothing to the song, but he was so proud. HE is not a member of the band, but he is now.

DrJB's picture

I will qualify that by saying that for albums originally recorded 100% on tape or direct to disc, it is not irrelevant. But the vast majority of music of the last 25 years and going forward is and will be recorded, mixed and mastered in a hybrid fashion. Tube powered studio microphones are a mainstay of even home studios. Tube powered mic preamps and their solid state cousins, many designed and/or manufactured in the 50's and 60's are common. And mix engineers run all kinds of individual tracks and mix busses through classic analog gear like Pultec EQ's and UREI 1176 compressors during the process. Entire mixes are subject to mastering gear that is 100% analog on their way to the master disc. And some hybrid projects such as Analog Productions Beach Boys stereo mixes are even sent to ¼" tape before the masters are cut. So when bands like Calling Cadence and Tool record albums using nothing but analog gear, is it that big of a deal anymore, or is it an exercise that elicits unrealistic expectations that may (Tool) or may not (nothing comes to mind at the moment:-) be met?

By the way, I can find no official releases of Tool's Fear Innoculum (supposedly all analog, although the info is sketchy) on analog media--until the $180 vinyl box set which will be released in a few days, nearly 3 years since its initial release. So what does that mean? (I know what it means, but I'm not accusing anyone of anything at the moment).

The important thing is this--digital recording contributes to equity in music. Analog is cool but many of us have stacks of AAA albums that have great music but sound horrific. Many of us have a DDD CD or two that sound great. Most music, however, is neither digital or analog. It's ANAL-DIG (©2022 DrJB). I suppose I could have skipped the long winded stuff and included only these last couple of sentences, but, whatever. Love and Peace. Analog and Digital. Anal-Dig ©. I'm done.

jtavegia's picture

This issue is mostly due to the lack of available tape machines from any manufacturer. One can go to Mara Machines and pay huge sums just to get back in the game, but maintenance and calibration still have to be done. I have some great Sinatra and Bennett LPs that sound exceptional, so it can be done.

DW Fern makes great mic preamps as do others and many tube mics have low self-noise including affordable ones from the likes of Rode. I own some DSD/SACD releases where the noise level right before the band starts playing is around -40db. That noise was not an ultrasonic artifact, but under 250 hz. as seen in FFT. That is pathetic on any level and only shows there is there is some noise from the console, AC, or just the ambient noise in the room itself. That, to me, is outdoor concert stuff that does not belong in a studio recording set up.

In my amateur recordings for local schools and universities most of my problem are the venue and the HVAC noise, and adjacent room/street noise. At home I have a -75-80db noise floor.

Still I contend that in 2022 it should not be that hard to make a recording that sound 9 out of 10, that is a totally separate issue of the rank of the performance itself.

Most of us who are fans of Analog Planet have read and listened to interviews of all that lacquer cutting engineers go through to make as good an LP as possible. It is not easy work and it can never be better than the files or the tapes they have been given.

I think of all of this in the same way as all that Michael has shown us here about cartridges and the poor mounting of the styli to the cantilever and what off-set errors can do to the reproduction. Most of us have no way to do this type of investigation. Can we not trust that the $100, $1,000, or more cartridge that we buy was manufactured right? Evidently not.

There is much science going on at every level and at times it seems progress is often missing. At the price of LPs today no one should suffer a grade of 7 engineering wise on an LP.

creativepart's picture

I like it - but I'm in my 70's. Qobuz only has the 4-tracks available as a pre-release tease. But the full album is supposed to be available on May 5th. These four tracks are 98/24 resolution and played through Roon/HQPlayer at 384/24 through my Chord Qutest (and all tube integrated and Harbeth speakers) it sounds pretty nice. But what do I know, my ears are 72 years old, too.

creativepart's picture

I put my $30 where my comment is... I went over to Elusive Disc and purchased the LP-which by the way was No 6. on their "Best Sellers" list.

anodyne jones's picture

Thanks for sharing your positive input. I am glad you did not let this mean spirited hatchet job of a post dissuade you from purchasing and enjoying the LP. Cheers.

creativepart's picture

OK, received the LP yesterday. I like the music quite a lot. I like the overall sound and everything is good - EXCEPT the vinyl is trimmed badly. The record is too large in diameter. I've never seen this before. How big? Maybe 3 to 5mm too wide at the outer rim.

It plays fine but it hangs over the outside of the platter in a noticeable way. I thought it looked wrong so I measured it with my other LPs and this record is absolutely too large.

I don't know why but I don't think I've noticed this before on any of my 600 other LPs.