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Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Bitter Fruit & Lost Opportunities - WCPAEB

Recently I have received several comments from folks who are querying my input in regards to the recent 4 CD reissue of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's entire Warner Bros./Reprise catalog, on Grapefruit Records (a subsidiary of the British label Cherry Red, managed by David Wells). In addition to the stereo mixes, the deluxe box-set brags the first mono reissues of Part One, Vol. 2, and A Child's Guide To Good And Evil on CD. This reissue has been long-anticipated (I first heard rumors of it at least two years ago) and has made quite a splash upon its release.

Unfortunately, as one might have guessed from the title of this post, the mastering on this reissue is not definitive nor archival in any form, and therefore I will keep my posts for the aforementioned mono mixes active for the time being. Rather than edit those essays with descriptions of the mastering issues present on this 2023 reissue, I figured that I would make a dedicated post to enumerate the problems which kept this compilation from being what it could have been. Hopefully this helps shed some light for folks who are interested in purchasing this box set.

Please note that this is a review and there are no downloads here.
You can purchase this new deluxe reissue (as I did) here: Amazon

The 4 CD box set A Door Inside Your Mind: The Complete Reprise Recordings 1966-1968 was mastered by Alec Palao, a well-known Bay-area musician and producer who has worked on countless projects over the last 30+ years. Most of us have Big Beat and Ace CDs on our shelves that were done with his touch. The mastering is typically signed with boosted treble and added gain, which can sound pleasing on some of these old recordings (e.g. the remixed Frumious Bandersnatch), or other times not so great (e.g. Kak-Ola, as compared to the excellent-sounding original Kak CD).

The West Coast Pop Art recordings on this box set may sound okay on first listen, but when juxtaposed with what they could (should?) have been, the excitement quickly drains. A treble boost is immediately apparent upon listening, with an estimated 3 to 6 dB high shelf starting above 3 kHz.

Approximate EQ differences for the mono mix of Part One, averaged over the entire album.
Original white-label promo LP (green); 2023 remaster (white); effective EQ difference (orange).

The dynamic range of the new remaster is also compromised, which can be heard by a lack of presence on the CD as compared to previous issues. Without close comparison or knowing the sound by heart, though, it would be easy to miss this, even checking the waveforms by eye. The peaks were limited (the audio was compressed), and then for some reason negative gain was added afterwards, while maintaining the clipped peaks. The result is that the mastering has neither the benefits of a boost (higher volume) nor the appeal of a neutral approach (full DR). Below are some example waveform screenshots; you can click to blow these up to full-screen.

"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2023 remaster, no edits.
"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2023 remaster, +5.906 dB (bring existing peaks to 0 db).
The clipping on this remaster is now readily apparent.
"Shifting Sands" (stereo), 2001 Sundazed Music SC 6173, no edits.
There is some limiting, but not as severe as the 2023 remaster.

A quick look at the spectrograms reveals excessive levels of dither to the point of noise modulation above ~18 kHz. It is frustrating to see this on CD masters, as dithering is the least audible part of digital mastering and there are no benefits from it being overdone. Nonetheless, the unnecessary reduction in amplitude by an approximate factor of 2 (as seen above) will result in higher quantization errors, increasing the need to dither. 

Dither (noise) added during the CD mastering of "Shifting Sands" (mono), 2023 remaster.

There also appears to be some adaptive noise reduction (NR) which was used on several mono tracks. The digital source files which were used for both the 2017 Jackpot mono LPs and 2023 mono CDs have phase issues that are not present on the original 1967 pressings. These problems are consistent with a damaged tape. In order to cover this up, some light processing was apparently applied in places where the noise fluctuations caused the biggest problems. The differences in noise levels can be seen by comparing the spectrograms from these various masterings.

Spectrogram comparisons for "Shifting Sands" (mono).
Top: original 1967 mono pressing. Tape noise is smooth and consistent throughout.
Middle: 2017 Jackpot LP reissue. Fluctuating tape noise is audible in the master.
Bottom: 2023 remaster. The phase issues remain, with apparent NR above ~12 kHz being used to limit audibility.

While using inferior audio sources for the haphazardly-done remaster, the producers of this reissue still managed to visit this blog to "lift" some scans for their reissue, without any contact given to me. While this blog definitely floats in grey territory, it is still disheartening that these producers did not even care to write a note of thanks for making money off of my hard work and investments. Below is a photo comparison between a scan posted to my blog in January 2022 and the rear sleeve image for the Part One CD included in this box set.

Left: scan from my mono LP, posted to this blog in January 2022.
Right: back cover image of the picture sleeve from 2023 box. Notice the identical splotches of ring wear over the dark areas.

The producers also apparently failed to check the market for previous issues of this material. CD 4 -- the only disc which retains any value, as no previously existing digital versions are available for most tracks -- includes a few single edits which were also included on the 2001 Sundazed CD reissue of Part One. Remarkably, despite the Sundazed versions being mastered from tape with excellent sound, the 2023 Grapefruit versions were seemingly mastered from vinyl, with a low-pass shelf around 14 kHz and only meaningless distortion and artifacts above that. 

Spectrogram comparisons for the mono single edit of "Unfree Child".
Top: 2001 Sundazed CD, mastered from tape with full frequency response.
Bottom: 2023 Grapefruit remaster, with truncated frequency response.

In summary, the 2023 Grapefruit Records remasters of the Warner/Reprise catalog of WCPAEB is a bitter disappointment. While in-the-works for years, the producers failed to check appropriate sources, neglected to give appropriate credit for the sources that were used, and degenerated to amateurish mastering faults. The anthology is neither definitive nor archival in nature, and while its sprawling 40-page booklet is a wonderful feature, it fails to make up for the hefty $40 price tag. For the original stereo mixes, the Sundazed CDs remain superior listening sources; for the mono ones, the vinyl transfers available here remain untrumped. I suggest to folks who want to own the original mono mixes to track down one of the various Jackpot LP reissues, which appear to have been uncompressed cuts from the surviving WB masters, despite their faults.


  1. I ordered this box set a few days ago, and now I stumble upon your review... If I had known... Thanks anyway for taking the time to describe with such accuracy the problems with this Grapefruit set. And thanks for all the hard work on your blog, too.

  2. Many thanks for your revealing words !!!

  3. Perfect comments. You have summed up the so called remaster market to a tee. And why they sound inferior to original vinyl. Also many of todays listeners consider phones to be hi-fi. They aren't. People today are attuned to the trademark sterile digital sound. Giles Martin admitted that he gave his Beatles remasters(inferior to original vinyl) a digital sound. I have read many young people stating how poor the originals sound when compared to remasters. Thats because they are attuned to sterile digital and listening via inferior mediums such as phones.
    Your comments perfectly sum up the current state of the remasters market.
    For myself, theres no substitute for original vinyl with its beautiful full and warm sound.
    Keep the faith and thanks

  4. Thank you for this fascinating rundown of the issues with this set. Every time this sort of thing happens, proceless pieces of musical heritage get vandalized and we drift further away from the actual historical documents and the intentions of their creators. It matters!

  5. Thanks for the analysis. Could you comment on those alternate mixes for "A Child's Guide to Good and Evil" I have yet to purchase this set and that fourth disc is what I really wanted to hear, especially now that it seems the mono mixes aren't ideal. Keep up the good work!

    1. Most of CD4 was remixed from the multi-tracks in 2006 by Brian Kehew. They're studio demos, or clearly unfinished / unpolished takes: interesting versions to hear, but that third record was produced so well... the studio is a big part of its sound. The gaffes are hidden in the mix. The band playing on CD4 sounds like it needs to do some serious woodshedding before they cut an LP.

      I'll post the CD on YouTube for you to hear -- stay tuned for that.

  6. TPB, The lack of acknowledgement of source sounds similar to "Woodstock: Back To The Garden" Even though Andy Zax mentioned in blogs and such, when it came to official shout outs he never mentioned The Woodstock Project, which basically created the "road map" for the final release. Zax wouldn't have had a clue what to do if it wasn't for the gang at TWP.
    I know that Brian Kehew seems to have some kind of reputation but my ears really don't hear it. Being in the "catbird" seat of such a project should have been his apex of creativity in the studio but I believe that there was some seriously missed opportunities in sound in the final release. When Prof Stoned did a remastering of Zax / Kehew's remix of The Who at Woodstock, you can hear the improvement immediately. Kehew has some Abbey Road studio pedigree but he is no Paul Hicks.
    It's a shame when guys like you put in the legwork and it isn't acknowledged or approached for such a project as The West Coast Art Experimental Band ..shame.

    1. I remember the Woodstock Project. Wasn't that the same people who compiled the complete concert from all available sources? I had several iterations of that on my computer long ago.

  7. i've listened to your points, but to be honest the set still sounds pretty good to me. we spoke once before about my fondness for the "where's my daddy?" album. i was wondering what you thought of the fifo lp "volume one" which predates the first reprise album. i think it's amazing really, a bit crude at times, but melodic and probably less bob markley? their take on bob dylan's "she belongs to me" is the highlight for me..

    1. If it sounds okay, but pales in comparison to what's already available, why bother? Waste of money and shelf space.
      I have no interest in the pedophilic 4th album nor the Fifo demos which are only interesting from a historical perspective.

  8. Regarding your comments on them using your scans, I was wondering if you've ever run into any legal issues with that or with sharing the music itself. On the flipside of that, have you ever been approached to make an official remaster for a studio?