Two years into the launch of Apple Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, the catalog is unrivaled and continues to grow at a breakneck pace. As a follow-up to last month’s column of the same name, we analyze the best new spatial audio tracks released through the streaming services in July and August of 2023.
Christine McVie - “Friend”
Christine McVie’s little-known 2004 album In The Meantime received a fantastic new Dolby Atmos mix courtesy of her nephew, Dan Perfect.
The opening track, “Friend,” kicks off with guitars upfront and percussion filling out the side and rear surround speakers. Christine’s vocal is isolated in the center speaker, but extends a bit further out into the side channels. During the chorus, backing vocals burst from the top speakers to great effect.
Neil Young - “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
Immersive music fans were no doubt pleasantly surprised to discover much of Neil Young’s classic catalog – including iconic releases such as 1970’s After The Gold Rush and the seminal 1979 live album Rust Never Sleeps – suddenly became available to stream in Dolby Atmos earlier this month.
“Only Love Can Break Your Heart” sounds massive in Dolby Atmos, with Neil Young’s distinctive vocal placed upfront and multiple acoustic guitar parts filling out the side & back channels. During the chorus, background vocals burst from the rear surround speakers.
Brian Eno - “Sky Saw”
Following the release of his acclaimed new album FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE in Dolby Atmos this past October, a number of classic Brian Eno titles quietly became available to stream in spatial audio earlier this month.
“Sky Saw” – the opening track from 1975’s Another Green World – in an immersive tour-de-force, featuring synthesizers moving all around and above the listening space. Drums & bass are interestingly panned almost entirely to the side surround speakers.
The Band - “The Weight”
Though fans may recall that the 2018 deluxe edition of The Band’s classic debut Music From Big Pink (1968) contained a 5.1 surround sound mix by legendary engineer Bob Clearmountain, yet another immersive take on the album – this time in Dolby Atmos, again mixed by Clearmountain – quietly appeared on the Apple Music and Tidal streaming services earlier this month.
“The Weight” was previously more of a three-channel affair, with most of the core instrumentation & vocals arrayed across the front soundstage while ‘you-are-there’ ambience and organ permeating the rears. Now - thanks to filmmaker Peter Jackson’s proprietary AI-based ‘de-mixing’ technology - the opening guitar riff hovers between the front right and side right speaker while piano is almost entirely confined to the side left channel. The rears again feature the organ, with the ambient sound spread both behind and above.
Bruce Soord - “Dear Life”
Bruce Soord has no doubt had a busy 2023 – having just come off an extensive world tour with The Pineapple Thief and remixed albums by other acts such as Haken, TesseracT, and Katatonia into Dolby Atmos – but he’s somehow found the time to write and record a third solo album, Luminescence, due for release on September 2022.
“Dear Life,” the first single released ahead of the full album, is already available to stream in Dolby Atmos and it sounds just massive in the immersive format. Soord’s vocals hover between the fronts & front heights, while acoustic guitars and backing vocals fill up all corners of the listening space.
ABC - “Valentine’s Day”
The long-awaited Dolby Atmos remix of ABC’s classic 1982 debut album was finally released on August 4, both via streaming and a limited-edition Blu-Ray disc available exclusively through SuperDeluxeEdition.com.
Steven Wilson unsurprisingly makes expert use of all 12 channels afforded by the 7.1.4 Atmos format, with some elements changing position from song-to-song in order to keep the listener engaged. The interplay between the speakers is consistently clever and inventive, further enhancing the witty, whimsical nature of the music. Anne Dudley’s orchestration throughout “Valentine’s Day” is featured primarily from above, along with some previously-unheard percussion and synth blasts.
Peter Schilling - “Major Tom (Coming Home)”
It’s been more than four decades since Peter Schilling landed a #1 hit on the German charts with "Major Tom (Völlig Losgelöst)" - the song remained on top of the charts for eight weeks.
The single, together with his debut album Error In The System (1982), marked the beginning of an unprecedented musical career for the artist originating from Stuttgart, Germany - a global success story spanning from Europe to the US, where his English version of "Major Tom (Coming Home)" reached #14 on the billboard charts. The album and single also reached #1 on the Canadian charts and were certified with several awards.
“Major Tom” in Atmos kicks off with dancing all around the listening space while drums & bass take up residence across the front three speakers. Schilling’s whispered backing vocals appear largely from the front height speakers, with harmonies popping up from behind. Lead vocals interestingly appear largely from the top speakers during the chorus.