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
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
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
"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 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
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.