This week marks the 10th anniversary of La Dispute’s instant classic debut album “Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair.” To celebrate, the band – with the help of prolific engineer Will Yip, producer Dave Schiffman, and Grammy-nominated mastering engineer Emily Lazar – released a completely re-amped and remastered version of the now decade-old album.
Full disclosure: the original release of “Somewhere” is easily one of my all-time favorite records. Its focus on storytelling, specifically folklore, cemented La Dispute’s place as one of the most poetic and varied indie bands of the ’00s.
Thankfully, this re-release improves upon nearly every aspect of the original recording.
While the new mix is really what’s on display with this release, it’s important to note the ambition of the original album. The record’s 11 tracks are all loosely connected as they retell the ancient Chinese folktale of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl” – two lovers whose forbidden relationship led to their banishment to opposite sides of a roaring river.
The band dedicated one song from their spoken-word series “Here, Hear” to a traditional telling of the story. However, on “Somewhere,” vocalist Jordan Dreyer uses the tale as an anchor point to tell other modern stories – a set of three songs detailing the adultery of a married couple, the failed relationship of a young couple, and a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee.”
Right from the first track, it’s clear that Yip respects the original album and pays attention to its details as he expounds upon what’s already there and considers not just its original instrumentation, but also its lyrical themes.
The twinkling guitars on the opener “Such Small Hands” are much cleaner and are no longer overwhelmed by Dreyer’s spoken vocals. A layer of atmospheric guitars has also been added and contribute to the already dream-like tone of the original mix.
The tambourines are brought forward in the mix of the second track, “Said the King to the River,” adding even more urgency to the galloping western bass. Layers of hand claps are also added to the chorus of the song.
This is one of the more layered and chaotic songs on the album. Going back to the original, it’s admittedly much muddier and too much of the instrumentation gets lost in the mix.
I applaud the efforts of Yip, Schiffman, and Lazar, as they were able to breathe new life into this beloved album and give listeners even more to digest and analyze than the original release already did 10 years ago.
Going forward, this remaster will be the one I go to whenever I listen to “Somewhere.” I’ve never heard such attention to detail and consideration of the interplay between lyrics and instrumentation on a remaster such as this.
Even those who aren’t already in love with this album should give the reissue a listen. Now we can only hope La Dispute will put out a remaster of their perfect follow- up, “Wildlife,” for its anniversary in 2021.
A near-perfect album gets even closer to perfection.