For many music fans, the phrase “recording an album” probably conjures the mental image of a musical group—maybe even dozens of musicians—in a professional studio, and, on the other side of a glass partition, an engineer at a mixing board. But there’s an alternative to the big studio production: recording at home.
The homemade album is not a new thing. Musicians have been building home recording studios since at least the 1950s (in this, as in so many things, Bo Diddley was a pioneer). By the late 1980s, analog recording equipment was so inexpensive that home recording was in vogue, especially in indie rock circles. Sebadoh and Guided By Voices were two prominent “lo-fi” bands. Their music had a fuzzy, amateurish quality that some fans found thrilling but just as many listeners found off-putting. Then there were the difficulties of manufacturing the album in a vinyl, cassette tape or CD form, and then distributing it.
But with digital recording technology readily available, the homemade, entirely self-produced album is a trend of the 21st century. Renoite Ford Corl’s new album, Acoustic Face, is just such an album. Corl wrote all the songs on the album, performed all the vocals and instruments, recorded it all in his home, designed the CD cover and package, and posted it to the music distribution website CDbaby.com, which distributes independent music to downloading websites and music retailers.
Straight from the songwriter’s brain to iTunes without him ever needing to leave his bedroom. But what’s really striking about Corl’s album is how great it sounds.
Corl, 26, is a Tucson native who moved to Reno four years ago. He’s a newscast director and motion graphic artist at local TV station KRNV, and he plays bass in the local band Red Car Slow. In high school, he played in punk bands and studied classical and jazz bass. He then attended the University of Arizona, where he studied media.
Acoustic Face is a tribute to Corl’s love of two crafts: songwriting and recording. The album’s title is a reference to the acoustic guitar patterns at the heart of most of the songs, but every song is colored with tasteful electronic keyboard sounds, minimal percussion and other sounds.
“I love going, ‘whoa!’ at some random noise—how did they make that sound?” says Corl.
The overall effect is weird but poppy. Corl himself offers the concise but accurate description “Neutral Milk Hotel meets the Shins.” (The blank-meets-blank description is all any music review really needs, right?) There’s more to it than that, but that description sends you in the right direction.
Corl’s mellow, pleasant singing voice is often is often doubled or tripled up a la Elliott Smith. “Doubling vocals is a way to add a lot without doing a lot,” he says.
There’s an undercurrent of anxiety that runs through the seemingly cheerful lyrics. “I don’t want to say that this is a break-up album,” says Corl, “but there’s a lot of frustration with relationships on there. … There’s just something about a dramatic change that inspires you to be creative.”
That frustrated loneliness dovetails nicely with the homemade, do-it-yourself approach Corl took to recording the album.
Corl took an unusual approach for recording the drum track for his song, “Be Mine.”
“For that whole song I was hitting my walls and my desk with my fists,” he says. “My neighbors must’ve been so pissed. … I hurt myself with that song.”
Self-recorded albums, like Acoustic Face, allow listeners new glimpses into the weird kinds of introverted personal pain that come from a solitary labor akin to writing a novel.