Mandy Moore's Silver Landings

I didn’t know who Mandy Moore was when the press blurb arrived in my inbox. Incredible Boomer ignorance. What my eyes latched onto was the blurb’s “laid down to tape” line. A web search quickly informed my Boomer/pop culture cluelessness! I should be embarrassed, but I don’t embarrass easily.

The soon to be 36 year old has been a teen pop star singer/songwriter with six previous albums to her credit starting in 1999 (!) and a feature film actress with a long string of credits. She currently stars in the NBC series “This is Us” (never watched) and was once married to Ryan Adams— a now tarnished artist I have heard, and heard of and she’s now married to Taylor Goldsmith lead singer and songwriter for the band Dawes, who is definitely a retro kind of folk/pop musician both musically and technologically.

I have a few Dawes albums and they are on double 45rpm LPs. 2009’s eponymous album on ATO Records was produced, recorded and mixed by the Laurel Canyon analog maven Jonathan Wilson. One song was co-written by Blake Mills who it turns out, grew up with Goldsmith. Both records definitely point back towards long abandoned melodic and multipart harmonic vocalizing popular during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Dawes led the way for bands like Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses that achieved greater popularity and commercial success. Don’t worry, we’re getting to Mandy Moore! I just want to show you that I know something and this all helps explain the “laid down to tape” thing.

So I asked for the WAV download and loaded it into the Astel and Ultima SP1000 and listened on the plane ride to Germany a few weeks ago when I went there to produce the Acoustic Signature turntable factory video.

I played this record repeatedly most of the way over and part of the way back enjoying every aspect from the well-crafted tuneful, hook-filled songs and thoughtful autobiographical lyrics to the “haven’t heard this quality production in decades” sound.

My favorite part of researching Moore’s career was reading about her less than commercially successful attempt in 2003 to cast off her “bubble gum” musical image (by then she’d already proven herself a serious actress) with an album of ‘70s and ‘80s era covers including John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me” from Bring the Family, Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” and XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime” (as the album’s second single) from the band’s masterpiece English Settlement (hope she had/has the original U.K. double LP not the Geffen “cheaped out” single disc abridged edition). Other songs, from Joni Mitchell, Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Blondie, and Joan Armatrading among others, filled out the album.

So, with that background, here’s an album of superbly crafted, introspective originals that ingeniously blends/camouflages/submerges/re-purposes “familiar but can’t place them” musical and production gestures and arrangements into a fresh and endlessly listenable pop album aimed for a change at adults. Forget about “throw away” songs, there’s not a throw away musical measure on this record.

A few months ago, I pulled from the shelves and played Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast and thought “Where today are well-produced, thoughtful productions like this?” Why can’t we have records like the ones that used to be produced by Glyn Johns, Val Garay, Roy Thomas Baker, George Clinton, Jimmy Miller, Chris Thomas or Bill Bottrell? I could go on!

This record, produced by Mike Viola who is also VP of A&R for Verve Records and is probably responsible for signing Moore to Verve/Forecast (original home of Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, The Blues Project, etc.), is one of those records. It’s that good.

The songs, all collaborative efforts by Moore, Viola, Taylor Goldsmith and various “fourth wheels”, are compact, preach-free life lessons with Moore reassuring herself. You are invited to listen in.

The lilting opener “I’d Rather Lose” with the smart hook “If the only way to win is by breaking all the rules, I’d rather lose” brought back the “Boys of Summer” 80’s era vibe but sounds completely fresh. “Save a Little Love For Yourself” reinforces the opener’s vibe.

The lovely “Fifteen”, a rich, intimate autobiographical reminiscence tinged with regret, never descends into self-pity, though it concludes with “Between the demos and the lonely public eye, So real, Real famous, Without even knowing why.”

The darkest, most penetrating song, “Forgiveness” is also the most personal. It’s a painful kiss-off that Moore delivers with both bitterness and vulnerability. It’s a song Joan Armatrading could deliver well and upon hearing it might wish she’d written it, though probably not lived. Not that Moore doesn’t nail it! “If That’s What It Takes” is a waltz ballad that would fit right into a Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac album and be among the best on the record.

The album ender and title tune is another reminiscence of loneliness and a lost childhood. “I’ve been unpacking a suitcase ever since I was a kid, I wanna stay home but I know that I won’t”.

There’s nothing less than a fully realized, brilliantly written, produced, arranged and delivered song on this album. One great hook-filled melody follows the next. When the title tune ends, you’ll know Moore and company have taken you for a heartfelt personal ride you’ll want to take again. And again.

You can go the “listening booth” route to audition on Qobuz at 96/24 or MQA 96/24 on Tidal but once you love the record, I suggest getting Eric Boulanger’s ½ speed cut using his refurbished lathe that once belonged to Stan Ricker.

Even though the production was “cut to tape” it was probably mixed to hi-rez digital (Boulanger cuts only from digital). Even though this record is cut close to the label and even though it’s cut from a file, the record still better communicates the content. I used the stream for convenient “analysis” but went back to the LP for one last listen before writing this and no doubt Moore’s voice sounds richer and fuller on vinyl (as do the drums and guitars), though the stream may be dynamically superior and the drums do lose some luster. A double LP would have been better but probably not in the budget. (The 10 for sound is for a pop production, not for a buncha guys and gals playing live in a space recorded using a pair of microphones, ok?)

Gotta go. Time to binge watch “This Is Us”.

Music Direct Buy It Now

mraudioguru's picture

...this album also. Very well done with excellent songs.

BTW, I really like Ryan Adams. Maybe you need to listen to him more/again?

Michael Fremer's picture
Nothing negative about his music!
mraudioguru's picture

...tarnished? Sorry, I didn't understand your comment I guess.

MalachiLui's picture

was a huge story when it broke. his career is forever damaged, and for good reason.

garyalex's picture
Nightfly3000's picture

Sara and Sean Watkins of Nickelcreek and Sara Watkins Family Hour fame are on some of the tracks here.

Cam08529's picture

Thanks for the review. I’ll order it and give it a spin while sheltering in place.

Stay healthy

Jeff C

Puffer Belly's picture her last album, Amanda Leigh from 2009. Very 70's sounding.

DaK's picture

Thank you very much for you review. 10 for sound AND music? Seems a bit like you are overcompensating your ignorance ;-) To me this is a very average record, even though Goldsmith did a lot of the songwriting. Sorry but to me Moores singing aint that special at all. And promoting this album for almost a year with this ex-husband, Ryan Adams breaking free story did leave a nasty taste. Ryan Adams' big career is over his musical genius isnt. And by the way if what he did bears relation to what was done to him is debatable. Will have to listen to the Silver Landings again, because I really like the musicians involved, maybe I will change my mind...

Zardoz's picture

I would have probably bought, but this review, and B&N not having anything else on my list yesterday, made me give it a chance. It's a nice album, much better than I had expected. After only one listen, I am willing to go back for a second dip. Figured it would be a throw away.
Thanks for the review, and everything you do for us Michael. Stay healthy and safe.
Good listening,

delleceste's picture

I can't understand how 10 can be given to sound, given the following Dynamic Range numbers:

01 I'd Rather Lose.flac: DR 5
02 Save A Little For Yourself.flac: DR 4
03 Fifteen.flac: DR 7
04 Tryin' My Best, Los Angeles.flac: DR 5
05 Easy Target.flac: DR 6
06 When I Wasn't Watching.flac: DR 5
07 Forgiveness.flac: DR 7
08 Stories Reminding Myself Of Me.flac: DR 5
09 If That's What It Takes.flac: DR 6
10 Silver Landings.flac: DR 7
DR = 6

which are numbers only, that I decided to calculate after feeling the annoyance of an overcompressed recording, the umpteenth product of today's music plague: dynamic range compression.

It would be good if a site caring for sound took into account those "numbers" and promote really good recordings, which are not those so compressed.

So sad for 99.x % of current recordings, classical music excluded.
Music from skilled artists constantly spoiled by compression...

Zardoz's picture

all the way to the end of the review, where Michael said " (The 10 for sound is for a pop production, not for a buncha guys and gals playing live in a space recorded using a pair of microphones, ok?)".
Was going to be snarky with my answer, but I'll give you the benefit of doubt.
Good Listening,

Puffer Belly's picture

Is the source for the DR numbers a digital file, CD, or digitized vinyl? I have the digital files and my foobar2000 DR numbers match yours, but the vinyl range should be at least 3 dB better, hopefully much higher.

my new username's picture

If the 24/96 mix was relatively uncompressed, then compressed more for "all" digital releases, then the LP might be more dynamic. This assumes Boulanger would take the time to master separately for LP in such a way that better preserves this ... and would someone who only cuts from digital have that mindset? I think that's a fair question.

But even that begs the question of why compress the digital release, apart from the standard marketing cynicism that assumes "louder"=better?

Stringreen's picture

...just heard the LP.... I thought it was a dynamic powerhouse. Silence between the notes, etc. I agree re: the sound. I only heard the album once, so can't yet comment on the music