The Master: Ariel Rechtshaid’s 5 Greatest Accomplishments

“Ariel works early in the day, it’s like, ‘Oh, let’s go to 1 P.M.'”, said pop songstress Sky Ferreira while perusing a shelf full of records during an interview with FACT magazine. This tidbit is one of the only easily retrievable facts that one can find about the mysterious methods of reclusive music producer Ariel Rechtshaid. With one foot in the upper echelon of the independent world and the other creeping through the ranks of pop, Rechtshaid has waded his way to the forefront of modern music.

His talent as a producer lies in his ability to solder together a perfect pop single as well as work with artists through the entirety of an album, creating a cohesive hour-or-so of music. This rare skill makes him one of the masters of today’s musical pantheon. With that in mind, here are 5 of his most brilliant works.

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend (2013)

The crown jewel of Rechtshaid’s discography has to be Vampire Weekend’s opus Modern Vampires of the City. In collaboration with the band’s own ex-member Rostam Batmanglij, Rechtshaid produced this 2013 tour de force, which was nearly drowned in accolades. Both Rolling Stone and Pitchfork called Modern Vampires the best record of the year, and those two never agree on anything. The group also took home a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. But the highest praise may have come from senior rock critic Robert Christgau, who compared Modern Vampires to none other than Sgt. Pepper’s.

Rechtshaid’s production brings the band’s expertly written songs roaring to life with ingenious production touches throughout. The production is wholesome and grand, with eclectic instrumentation that makes the album feel like it comes from the bars of New York and the mesas of New Mexico. It’s the most American album of the decade, with colonial percussion and Puritan choirs coexisting with blasting Blondie synths and pitch-shifted doo-wop vocals. “Unbelievers”, with its heart-quickening drumbeat and soaring woodwind breakdown, is one of the album’s best tracks, and this level of quality is maintained throughout.

Rechtshaid, the first outside producer hired by the band, had a strong guiding influence over the project, and encouraged the group to abandon any musical ideas that were too similar to their previous work. He’s even credited as a writer on the God-themed single “Ya Hey“. Vampire Weekend and Rechtshaid set out to create a modern classic, and, like the protagonist of album highlight “Hannah Hunt“, they crossed a continent to get there.

2. Night Time, My Time by Sky Ferreira (2013)

As the cover art suggests, the brand of pop on Sky Ferreira’s Night Time, My Time is not glamorous, but extreme and uncompromising. The production here is loud and gritty, with waves of background noise that recall Phil Spector and The Jesus and Mary Chain. More than any other piece of music on this list, it feels like Ariel Rechtshaid had tons of fun producing Night Time by filling in every little crack around Ferreira’s songs like an overzealous stone mason. And though they are essentially her songs, Rechtshaid and additional producer Justin Raisen earned writing credits on every track. These songs surge with maximalist melodies and booming drums, marrying 80s pop with modern indie. Night Time, My Time paints Ferreira as a girl with ripped jeans and big, huge emotions. The production is suitably enormous.

3. Days Are Gone by Haim (2013)

The Fleetwood Mac comparisons are a little unfair. Fleetwood Mac shifted styles every album, if not every song, and only about half of Haim’s debut Days Are Gone sounds like Buckingham, Nicks, and McVie blended up and served to order. The other half apes Springsteen (above),the Go-Gos, and Chic. Kidding, of course. Haim’s originality shines through all the 70s and 80s mimicry. With Rechtshaid’s help, the Haim sisters crafted a sugar rush of a record with tight, immaculate production. Sometimes, the production is a little too controlled, as Haim never really gets to let loose and just shred the guitar for a minute or two like you know they can. But, with every moment offering genre-specific nostalgia and brilliant melodies, Rechtshaid and the band should be proud that they put out an album that so tastefully melds what was with what is.

4. “Ring Off” from Beyoncé: Platinum Edition by Beyoncé (2014)

11 writers and 7 producers. That’s how many people it took to put together “Ring Off”, a bonus track on the reissue of Beyonce’s self-titled record. Not to criticize Beyoncé’s methods, as I am fully okay with pop being a collaborative effort, but that does make it hard to parse out exactly what Rechtshaid’s contribution to the song was. I hear him in the sparse guitar riff and deep synths, while the tropical vibe and disembodied voices probably came from the others.  Regardless, these writers and producers put together a song that was good enough to make it onto the original album, which was the best pure pop album since Ray of Light. It was probably left off because, well, it’s about taking your wedding ring off, holding your head high and looking for love after a failed, broken relationship. Beyoncé probably didn’t want to overload the already feverish rumor mill about her and Jay Z’s troubled marriage. But, as we all know, within two years she abandoned all pretense anyway. Despite Rechtshaid’s diluted contribution to the song, “Ring Off” represents the producers’ most high-profile coronation into the pop mainstream.

5. “All That” and “When I Needed You” from Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen (2015)

Carly Rae Jepsen didn’t just throw off the “one-hit wonder” mantle with the release of her sophomore album. She tossed it into the air like a clay pigeon and demolished it with a .5 caliber rifle. Emotion is loaded with track after track of polished and resonant pop. For this album, Carly brought together musicians from many sectors of the industry, such as Rostam Batmanglij, Dev Hynes, Sia, and Ariel Rechtshaid. Rechtshaid worked on two songs, the slow-burning funk ballad “All That” and the banging album closer “When I Needed You”. “All That” bears more of a Dev Hynes signature (he co-wrote and co-produced), but “When I Needed You” is classic Ariel. Here, Rechtshaid harnessed all of his powers to construct an album closer with tons of little embellishments on Carly’s vocal take. It’s not really a distinctive or genius production job, but it’s intricate and cool, and fits the album perfectly. Emotion has the air of a shy, introverted girl coming out of her shell and being daringly expressive, and Rechtshaid nailed the process of making those expressions real.

Bonus: “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s

I was as surprised as anyone to find out that Rechtshaid was the producer behind this 2006 mega-hit. Although, it makes sense that someone as successful as Rechtshaid would have had an early smash to fast-track his career. “Hey There Delilah” was inescapable during the summer of my transition between elementary and middle school. The production is memorable because of how spare and simple it is, with just Tom Higgenson’s plaintive guitar and lonely vocals. I guess the purpose of Rechtshaid here was just to make sure the song didn’t sound bad. It doesn’t. However, “Hey There Delilah” also doesn’t give away any hints about the producer’s colorful future and the dizzying heights he would eventually reach.

Comment Question: Who is your favorite modern producer and what is his or her best work, in your opinion?

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