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The 10 Best Productions by... Guy Sigsworth

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

He’s been producing music for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from Björk, Madonna, Britney Spears, to Alanis Morissette, to name a few. Without a doubt, UK songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Guy Sigsworth is one of the most accomplished and well-respected people working in the music industry today.


His production trajectory can be broadly described as going from experimental to mainstream, though he recently got the chance to indulge in freakier sounds with Chinese artist SingerSen. Early Sigsworth productions, from the dawn of the ‘90s, are usually danceable; cloaked in thick, hazy atmosphere; featuring synth pads that pulse and recede like waves; laced with busy high-frequency percussion; and contain the harpsichord. He also liked to throw in some Indian flavor from time to time, featuring tabla, sitar, and Indian music scales; this habit continues today. It was clear from the beginning that Guy pays little regard for staying within genre boundaries.


From the late ‘90s on, Guy began to incorporate samples, reversed keys, scratchy distortion, pitch-bent basslines and glitchy sound effects into his pieces. He also has a propensity for working with female vocalists with distinctive tones, beginning with Imogen Heap in the mid-‘90s, then Björk, Kate Havnevik, and Diana Vickers.


By the time he was working with Madonna, Britney, and his duo Frou Frou in the 2000s, he had shifted much of his focus towards shiny, polished pop, tracks that sometimes seem to overflow with instruments. His sonic palette since the start has been heavily electronic, with repeated attempts at electric guitar parts usually sounding flat. This is compensated by his impressive skill at arranging string parts, whether they need to sound threatening, kinetic, or just plain pretty.


Capable of playing off-kilter or straight down the middle, Sigsworth can flip from aggression to beauty in his work without breaking a sweat. On the eve of his next major project release, Alison Moyet’s the minutes, here’s a countdown of Guy’s best productions based on creativity, complexity, and emotional connection.


 
10. “It’s Better to Have Loved” by Temposhark (2008)


Here’s a typical example of Sigsworth’s signature sound in the 2000s: pitch-bending electro bass squelches that spew sinister smoke in the verse, before cinematic strings bring sweeping sentimentality in the chorus.


 
9. “Unravel” by Björk (1997)


Was there any way that this guy’s work on Björk’s best album wouldn’t come up? Guy’s production contribution for Homogenic—he also worked on the classic “All Is Full of Love” as an instrumentalist—is minimal compared to his regular tendencies, but effective an remarkable all the same. The airy organ, tumbling backwards keys and moaning percussion aurally approximate human breaths and heartbeats, as if we hear her bodily sensations along with her voice.


 
8. “Should Have Known” by Robyn (2002)


Before the Swedish DIY pop artist reminded everyone how awesome she was in 2005 (and rerecorded this track in a simpler style), Guy worked with Robyn on two tracks, both examples of edgy electronic pop. “Should Have Known” stands slightly above “Blow My Mind” thanks to its breathing, pumping sonics via a rubbery bassline and drifting synth pads.


 
7. “Must Be Dreaming” by Frou Frou (2002)


Sigsworth’s duo with Imogen Heap only lasted for one album, but what an album it is. Concocting a heady mix from his favorite shades of pop, electronica, symphonic, Indian and jazz trumpet, and positively overflowing with instruments, you get the sense that the producer found a perfect match in Heap and together, they did whatever the heck they wanted. Impossible to pick just one representative from the album, “Must Be Dreaming” gets the spotlight for its varied instrumentation and shifting moods.


 
6. “What It Feels Like for a Girl” by Madonna (2000)


An excellently placed spoken word sample (delivered by Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a keening synth line immediately set the tone for Madge’s track as fashionably lonely. The producer then builds the song from a groovy verse section, driven by a cool beat and filtered bass licks, towards a dreamy chorus washed over by tidal keys and pads.


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