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Pnau's Sambanova was re-released, but is there a difference?

This has always intrigued me. Pnau released their Sambanova album then only after gaining popularity it gets pulled from stores because it contains uncleared and uncredited samples. It is then re-released under a new label, this time with Warner Music. I am lucky enough to have both copies here in front of me and despite having different cover art and a slightly different track listing, it begs the question: Original Pressing Peking Duck vs Warner Music, just what is the difference?

A short warning: This is going to be a long one!

A quick view of the Discogs page reveals there have been in fact 6 versions world-wide, however since 5 of these versions are through Warner Music or it’s subsidiaries, I’ll assume they are much the same. While we are on the topic of labels, it’s worth noting that Peking Duck only ever released one album, which is this album in question - Pnau’s Sambanova. I think that is a real shame because Peking Duck is such a great name for a label.

To quote Wikipedia

Pnau released their debut album Sambanova in 1999 under the small independent Peking Duck label. It was recorded in a bedroom studio and they only expected to sell a few thousand copies. A week before winning the ARIA Award for Best Dance Release the album Sambanova was pulled from record stores for uncleared samples.

Now it’s probably worthy of mention that the 2 CDs I have are:

Peking Duck: DUCKCD001 - Released 1999 Warner Music Australia: 8573883392 - Released 2001

… and I should also mention that I don’t own copyright of the songs nor the artwork but I believe this is a fair use of said material to facilitate discussion and with any luck trigger landslide sales for this album. One can only hope.

There is also a 2000 issue from Warner but because I don’t have it, it won’t be included in this comparison. Who knows, maybe I can do a 3-way comparison in the future.

Album Art

We'll ease our way into this analysis by looking at the album art. Now I for one love the album art on vinyl releases because you get 12 inches of cardboard to cover in fantastic artwork. CDs were never as good, with just 5 inches to work with. And I'll leave it at that! Peking Duck Peking Duck issue of Sambanova Album Cover Art Warner Music Warner Music Australia issue of Sambanova Album Cover Art So the covers are completely different. In fact, the artwork on the Warner release looks a lot more, well, I'll just say expensive. But it is probably nicer. Since when was music about the artwork anyway? Well, maybe a few decades ago. Anyway! This is probably not a big factor here because companies will often repackage and rerelease albums with new artwork but not change anything on the actual CD. Sometimes you might get a bonus track or two, but let's see if that has a play in things for this Sambanova release.

Track Listing

Next, the track listing comparison. Both albums are 13 tracks apiece, but there are quite a few differences before you even open the jewel case and put the CD into your player (that sounds almost retro these days). Where tracks are within 5 seconds difference I haven't highlighted these, but even some of the same tracks are of different lengths between the releases, including the title track "Sambanova".
Peking DuckWarner Music Australia
Not present Follow Me6:09
Journey Agent4:21Journey Agent4:20
Mellotron6:48Mellotron6:49
Keep On Truckin'4:58Keep On Truckin'4:46
Hard Biscuit5:25Hard Biscuit5:26
To Hear Your Love – Jon Hardy’s Tinted Mix5:06Not present 
Not present Ordinary Day4:00
Sambanova6:07Sambanova6:26
Need Your Lovin’ Baby6:30Need Your Lovin' Baby6:24
Direct Drive5:37Direct Drive5:36
Discone4:40Not present 
The Red Tapes5:21The Red Tapes4:48
Not present Searchin'6:16
Meshes Of The Afternoon3:47Meshes Of The Afternoon3:32
Arthur’s Pizza4:28Not present 
The Last Track10:19The Last Track6:19
So all up, if you had to collect all tracks from both releases, you would be looking at 16 tracks, not 13, however neither album contains all 16 tracks. That leaves 10 tracks which are common between both releases. I could start to speculate that some of the "uncleared samples" are present on the tracks missing from the 2001 release however I don't have any hard facts about this. Tracks like To Hear Your Love – Jon Hardy’s Tinted Mix, Discone and Arthur’s Pizza haven't been released since on any other release that I can find. Anyone care to check in iTunes (I don't want to install iTunes just to check!)? No results in Spotify, but then I can't find Sambanova either! Can't find Pnau - Discone in Spotify

Overall Peak

This is also known as the ReplayGain Test. That’s a term I coined just now. Basically, we look at the analysis that ReplayGain gives us. ReplayGain is a tool that can be used to ensure all songs play at the same volume level without having to manually adjust the volume - a godsend when playing music over the air on the radio.

For this part and onwards in the analysis I’ll be focusing on the tracks that are common between the two releases, which is 10 tracks in total.

The first item to discuss for Overall Peak is a little technology known as audio compression. Now I’m not talking about MP3 or AAC or other compression formats, no I mean the actual sounds are ‘compressed’ so the range between the quiet sounds and loud sounds is compressed. Anything quiet is amplified, anything loud is made quieter. This has lead to something called the Loudness War and I encourage you to read more about it here, and here.

For this section, I am going to focus on the track called Direct Drive which has much the same length between both releases at around 5:36.274. The following images are from Audacity, which is an open-source audio editing program and it works really well.

First up is the Peking Duck Release. Overall the sound is approaching the clipping point (top and bottom of the image below) but we don’t see any prolonged sound at the clipping point.

Direct Drive - Peking Duck

Peking Duck issue of Pnau - Direct Drive

Now, the Warner Music release. The overall sound across the board is louder. A good example of this is the introduction, which is noticeably louder on this release, shown by the larger amount of blue on the left of the graph for the first 30 seconds.

Direct Drive - Warner Music

Warner Music issue of Pnau - Direct Drive

We’ll now zoom in on the song around about the 31 second mark. Here we can see 4 bars in the Peking Duck release:

Direct Drive - Peking Duck (zoomed)

Pnau - Direct Drive (Peking Duck)

Direct Drive - Warner Music (zoomed)

And now the same 4 bars in the Warner Music release:

Pnau - Direct Drive (Warner Music)

Now before you remind me and say “What about ReplayGain?” I haven’t forgotten. I thought I’d start with the pictures because they are a lot easier to look at than pure numbers. Here are the numbers from Foobar2000 (it’s a music player) using the ReplayGain analysis feature.

Also a quick note to say Calypso helped a lot here too, because it allowed me to query the ReplayGain data in a database in one go, rather than copying and pasting each number manually. On with the numbers…

Peking DuckPeakGainWarner Music AustraliaPeakGain
Journey Agent0.97-2.6Journey Agent1.03-8.2
Mellotron0.98-3.88Mellotron1.14-7.81
Keep On Truckin'0.89-3.15Keep On Truckin'1.14-6.39
Hard Biscuit0.97-3.35Hard Biscuit1.05-8.11
Sambanova0.97-3.84Sambanova1.06-7.73
Need Your Lovin’ Baby0.81-3.35Need Your Lovin' Baby1.07-7.54
Direct Drive0.97-3.34Direct Drive1.07-9.09
The Red Tapes0.97-3.65The Red Tapes1.1-7.06
Meshes Of The Afternoon0.95-0.21Meshes Of The Afternoon0.95-4.47
The Last Track0.97-2.27The Last Track1.01-7.96

Straight away you can see that almost all tracks on the re-issued Sambanova album are much louder. In fact, the only track that hasn’t really had the loudness war treatment is “Meshes of the Afternoon”… however on closer inspection, Meshes of the Afternoon has been compressed but not nearly as much as the other tracks.

Meshes of the Afternoon - Peking Duck

Pnau - Meshes of the Afternoon - Peking Duck

Meshes of the Afternoon - Warner Music

Pnau - Meshes of the Afternoon - Warner Music

OK, so I think that’s enough for this section. Next we turn our ears to actually listening to the sound itself to work out if we can hear anything different, apart from one album sounding louder than the other.

Uncleared Samples?

Now I don’t have any hard and fast facts about which samples were uncleared or uncredited but I can use my ears to determine what sounds different. For this section I am going to refer to the track Mellotron which runs for approximately the same amount of time on both releases. In fact, you can play both tracks at the same time and they beat match. So there’s an inspiring way to make

The interesting thing about Mellotron is that the trumpet is completely different between the 2 releases. This will require a short sample of the track to highlight this point further.

Peking Duck

Pnau - Mellotron (5:34 to 5:44)

Warner Music

Pnau - Mellotron (5:34 to 5:44)

I can’t say the trumpet on the original release was uncredited and I haven’t been able to find where it comes from (if it was even a sample to begin with). But I am certainly willing to add it to this blog when I do found out!

And how about that fella, Billy Cobham?

Talking about real samples now. Billy Cobham. Crazy fusion jazz drummer. Worked a lot with George Duke and on one particular occasion, toured Europe. Try this sample on for size, it’s clearly audible in both Peking Duck and Warner Music releases:

Pnau - Meshes of the Afternoon

(Sample appears at 0:01)

George Duke/Billy Cobham - Live on Tour in Europe - Space Lady

(Sample appears at 1:21)

Interestingly I have the George Duke/Billy Cobham album on vinyl and the Pnau Sambanova album on CD. There are probably lots more samples just like this one but I haven’t found them yet. And I’m still looking. Ian Pooley also makes great use of samples from the “Space Lady” track as well, but that’s a discussion for another time.

While we are on the topic of samples though, here’s another:

Pnau - Sambanova (Sample appears throughout the song)

Two Man Sound - Que Tal America (Sample appars at 0:00)

By the way, Que Tal America is a fantastic song in it’s own right and I can see why Pnau sampled it for the title track of their album Sambanova.

Track Lengths

Right, so there are 10 common tracks between the 2 releases but 4 tracks are noticeably shorter on the Warner Music release (Keep on Truckin’, The Red Tapes, Meshes of the Afternoon and The Last Track) and 1 is noticeably shorter on the Peking Duck release (the title track, Sambanova). I’m going to highlight “The Last Track” first up because there is a silent gap of about 1 minute in length at 7:50 which is certainly not radio friendly!

But apart from adding large silent gaps just to annoy radio DJ’s (at least I assume that’s why it’s there… it also catches me out at home when the music finishes then comes back with a punch), I should really look into one track in more detail. And why not look at the title track, since it’s actually shorter on the original release?

Peking Duck

Sambanova - 6:07 Pnau - Sambanova - Peking Duck

Warner Music

Sambanova - 6:26 Pnau - Sambanova - Warner Music -

OK, so not real conclusive here as to why, but the outro is defintely longer on the reissue. Maybe it made the overall album flow better? That’s quite an important thing, at least to me, because I like to play albums from start to finish as they were intended. I don’t like to play random tracks or subject an album to “shuffle” mode.

Wrapping it all up...

So we have a few differences between the releases which are summarised thus:

  • The cover art
  • The track listing - both releases have unique and common tracks
  • The length of some tracks
  • The audio signal is compressed on the re-issue
  • The audio signal is noticeably louder on the re-issue
  • The songs are noticeably different - different samples, mix and recordings

Perhaps Pnau just decided that in the time between the original release and the new cleared samples release, they reworked some of the songs with new ideas, which would explain why some of the songs do sound a little different. I’m all for continuous improvement (unless you count the original release as being perfect already!).

What I don’t like is this continual drive to compress the living daylights out of every track that is released. Yes, the good old Loudness War is at work here. Get rid of the crazy compression and you have, what is basically, an excellent release whether you pick up the original Peking Duck copy or a newer Warner issue.

So do yourself a favour, grab whichever version you can find (Peking Duck preferred of course!) and have a listen. It’s in my unofficial “top albums of all time” list.