10 Essential Albums produced by Dave Fridmann

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10 Essential Albums produced by Dave Fridmann

In the 1980s and 1990s, the rise of D.I.Y. culture and lo-fi music separated independent music from big-name producers. It was partially out of necessity — some bands simply didn’t have the resources to hire an outside producer to work on their albums. And in some cases — like Guided by Voices — the money was spent on beer instead of equipment or personnel. But the funny thing about the rise of indie rock culture in the ’80s and ’90s is that it actually gave rise to some of the industry’s most notable and recognizable record producers, like Jon Brion, Phil Ek, and Dave Fridmann. Fridmann is the subject of the list you’re about to read — a longtime member of Mercury Rev whose penchant for booming, distorted and often orchestral sounds has come to define his work. You can identify a Fridmann like you can a Picasso — maybe the technique differs a little each time, but you know it’s his. Given that Fridmann did some production work on Spoon’s They Want My Soul — one of our favorite records of the year so far — it seemed time to honor the man and his craft. So we present a list of 10 Essential Albums Produced by Dave Fridmann.

Mercury Rev Deserter's SongsMercury RevDeserter’s Songs
(1998; V2)

As an original member of Mercury Rev, Dave Fridmann gave up his touring duties in 1993 to focus on his record producing career, but he’s never left his position as a musician for the band. Primarily playing bass on all of Mercury Rev’s studio recordings, Fridmann is also responsible for piano and mellotron on Deserter’s Songs, the band’s signature opus. For as eerie as the album sounds, it’s equally as charming. As much as it is quiet, it is loud. Jonathan Donahue’s singing voice is an instant reminder of the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, and the way Fridmann captures his high register, you would think a child is heading the microphone. Chamberlin strings show up on “Holes,” “Endlessly,” and “Pick Up If You’re There,” and the way its recorded makes it sound like a sad saw being played with a bow. Other recording delights include a trumpet call to the senses (“Holes”), a particular snare roll by The Band’s Levon Helm that engulfs the track (“Opus 40”), saxophone and a short but effective guitar solo (“Hudson Line”), and waves of debilitating noise (“The Funny Bird”). Whenever I listen to Deserter’s Songs, it sounds like an album made from friendship and unlimited creativity. It’s a dusty classic that may leave you thinking about Bruce Springsteen on acid, but it always leaves a permanent smile on your face. – JJM

Elf Power a Dream in SoundElf PowerA Dream in Sound
(1999; Arena Rock)

A Dream In Sound is a powerhouse indie-pop record. As if Elf Power don’t pack enough gusto on their own, they teamed up with Elephant 6 associates like Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal), Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Scott Spillane (Neutral Milk Hotel, The Gerbils). Fridmann’s production was the icing that made this cake just that much sweeter. The vibe here is less experimental than most of Fridmann’s late-’90s work, but his hand is still felt. There’s an almost shoegaze gloss to the otherwise straightforward instrumentals here that allows Elf Power’s melodies to mystify the listener and sweep them up. Songs like “Jane” are gorgeous and clever in their own right, but it’s Fridmann’s expansive ear that gives them true gravity and makes this album worthy of its lofty title. – ATB

Flaming Lips the Soft BulletinFlaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin
(1999; Warner Bros.)

The Flaming Lips have a long history of separating the recorded product (an album) from the live experience of their shows. Dave Fridmann has been part of that process for most of the band’s career, including 1997’s extremely experimental Zaireeka, but The Soft Bulletin is where he helped them combine their experimental edges with pop-rock sensibility. The Lips’ ninth album has warranted accolades as extreme as “The Pet Sounds of the ‘90s,” and for good reason. Here we find acoustic sounds alongside the synthesized — electronic hand in hand with organic. Noise hidden within serene beauty, hidden within still more noise. Few ballads sound as perfect as “Waiting for Superman,” with its other-worldly temperament; mesmerizing songs like the driving “Race for the Prize,” the dreamy “Spiderbite Song,” and the shocking “Suddenly Everything Has Changed” seal the deal for this record as a cohesive whole. The production Fridmann helped provide on The Soft Bulletin not only brought a whole new spectrum of focus on the Lips, it also established Fridmann as a partner well worth pursuing. – ATB

Mogwai Come on Die YoungMogwaiCome On Die Young
(1999; Chemikal Underground/Matador)

Come On Die Young (AKA CODY) is the first of two collaborations between Fridmann and Scottish post-rockers Mogwai. When I chose to include Rock Action, the other one, in my Beginner’s Guide to the band, it wasn’t because I thought it was the better record. I thought CODY was less accessible to a new listener because of its dark attitude and lack of the distinct aggression of the record before it, or the tempting electronics of that after it. But those same qualities are what make CODY one of the band’s greatest achievements. Mogwai is not a band that creates the same album (or song, even) twice, and Fridmann brought out a reserved tone and beautiful, reflective side of Mogwai on this melancholy record. Any fan of Mogwai knows the approach didn’t last long, perhaps due to lukewarm critical reception. But, with time to ferment, CODY has become a fan favorite and a shining mark on Fridmann’s resume. – ATB

Sparklehorse It's a Wonderful LifeSparklehorseIt’s a Wonderful Life
(2001; Capitol)

Mark Linkous self-produced the first two Sparklehorse albums — Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and Good Morning Spider — but when it came time to record the third album, Linkous teamed up with veteran producer Fridmann. The result isn’t as drastic a change as you might think; It’s A Wonderful Life isn’t quite the psychedelic wonderland that he created with Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. But there’s a dreamy surrealism about it all, as in the hazy loops of the title track, the lush arrangement of “Comfort Me” or even the dense crunch of “King of Nails.” It’s a beautiful album through and through, though to be fair this is the effort of three producers — Fridmann, Linkous and longtime PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. It’s a breathtaking and heartbreaking work, made all the more devastating given Linkous’ death just nine years later.  – JT

Delgados HATEThe DelgadosHATE
(2003; Mantra/Beggars Banquet)

Dave Fridmann had already worked with one ambitious Scottish group — Mogwai — before stepping into the studio with Motherwell’s The Delgados. But where Mogwai had become known for a climactic post-rock sound, The Delgados were right in Fridmann’s wheelhouse — their orchestral, soaring art-rock songs a cross-Atlantic parallel to bands like The Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev. Their partnership reached its most glorious peak on HATE, an album that featured both a Beatles joke (“All You Need is Hate”) and one of the best hit singles of the ’00s that never was (“Coming in From the Cold”). It’s arguably the band’s best set of songs — or at least tied with 2000’s The Great Eastern — but it also simply sounds masterful: The booming drums on “The Light Before We Land,” the eerie strings on “Woke from Dreaming,” and the majestic layers of Emma Pollock’s voice on “Favours” are all sublime pieces of evidence as to why the album is such a wonder of production. These songs would surely stand up sufficiently without the extra layers of ear candy, but here, they’re more than just songs. They’re miniature symphonies.  – JT

Low The Great DestroyerLowThe Great Destroyer
(2005; Sub Pop)

I’m not going to say that Dave Fridmann was the best thing to happen to Minnesota slowcore outfit Low; that was very likely Steve Albini, who produced 2001’s Things We Lost In the Fire, and we’ll get to that soon enough. But after Albini opened up Low’s sound to a broader spectrum than the muted tones they explored in the ’90s, Fridmann took the group a step further and transformed the minimalist indie rockers into an expansive, ornate and above-all loud group that created something once considered uncharacteristic in The Great Destroyer. The album layers distortion, organs, mellotron, vocal overdubs and more distortion, resulting in something that’s much closer to — well — actual rock music than Low had ever delivered before. What Fridmann did, more than anything else, was prove that they were actually pretty good at it.  – JT

Sleater-Kinney The WoodsSleater-KinneyThe Woods
(2005; Sub Pop)

Everything that Dave Fridmann recorded is explosive and huge, so it’s a wonder that the loudest thing ever to be released bearing his production credit is Sleater-Kinney’s final album, The Woods. Seriously, play any other album on this list first, and you’ll still be knocked on your ass by the sheer force of The Woods, a record that’s almost too huge to be contained within any format. After a screech of feedback, in rushes the opening chords of “The Fox,” and there’s almost nothing like it in the entire Sleater-Kinney discography. And mind you, few bands between 1995 and 2005 rocked quite as hard as this Portland trio did. What’s particularly interesting about Fridmann’s work with the band is how alien the experience was to them after working with John Goodmanson. They didn’t receive much feedback after takes were recorded, and he’d make odd suggestions like ‘This part should sound like Keith Moon — and then like a blanket being lowered over Keith Moon’s kit.’ Whatever that means. But it seems to have worked — only Dig Me Out is competitive with this album in the Sleater-Kinney catalog.  – JT

Thursday City by the LightThursdayA City By the Light Divided
(2006; Island)

Looking back, Dave Fridmann saved Thursday from being just another band. Thursday’s first three albums — Waiting, Full Collapse, and War All The Time — produced by New Brunswick, N.J. ally, Sal Villanueva, were the cream of the not-so-deep crop of emo and screamo. Thursday’s last three albums — A City by the Light Divided, Common Existence, and No Devolucion — produced by Fridmann, were something different. Undoubtedly, Fridmann gets credit for making Thursday sound better, and more innovative, which helped separate the band from the relatively square mainstream emo scene. Thursday was a good band from the beginning; Fridmann made the band focus on being all it could be. Alas, Fridmann was one of the first producers to call Thursday back when they decided to go another direction for A City by the Light Divided. Here’s what keyboardist/songwriter Andrew Everding told Ultimate Guitar about Fridmann back in 2006: “Just the work he has done and he’s an amazing person. His intentions for music are definitely at a different level than most. He was definitely our supporter…Extremely creative, extremely experimental — which we weren’t used to.” Up to this point, Sleater-Kinney and Weezer were the hardest rock bands Fridmann had ever produced; taking on a post-hardcore band was an interesting play. Fridmann, with his dark, filthy sonic touch, tried to confine the sound of Thursday playing in a room for A City by the Light Divided, and succeed. Tucker Rule pushes most of the choruses with his furious yet sturdy drums; Geoff Rickley’s voice is as hopeful as ever; Everding’s keys find unlimited spaces; and the guitars seethe, scratch, and scream. From the twinkling keys of “The Other Side of The Crash/Over And Out (of Control),” the crashing harmony of “We Will Overcome,” and the goose bumps induced by “The Lovesong Writer,” Fridmann birthed a new chapter for Thursday. Who knows if Fridmann was a fan of Thursday before he produced them, but he definitely saw something in their potential.- JJM

Black Moth Super Rainbow Eating UsBlack Moth Super RainbowEating Us
(2009; Graveface)

Pennsylvania psych-poppers Black Moth Super Rainbow may not have the name recognition of The Flaming Lips and Mogwai, but their music definitely follows in the footsteps of those experimental legends. It’s fitting that Fridmann produced Eating Us ten years after his work on The Soft Bulletin and Come On Die Young because, in many ways, the record is a natural extension of the experiments that made both albums so extraordinary. Eating Us combines sonic experimentation (more organic v. electronic) with folk and post-rock influences for an unprecedented psychedelic. And, according to band leader Tobacco, Fridmann deserves the majority of credit for the end product, stating that the producer “totally polished a turd.” Well if Tobacco considers gems like the slow-bouncing “Tooth Decay” and the erupting “Dark Bubbles” to be pieces of shit, I’d love to hear what he serves for dinner. – ATB

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View Comments (3)
  • All great albums, and I’d add MGMT’s ‘Congratulations’ to that. However, imo the ultimate Fridmann has to be the surround sound 5.1 mix of Yoshimi.

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