Monday, September 24, 2012

Song #264 of 9999 - Help Me by Joni Mitchell

Song #264 of 9999 

Title: Help Me
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1974
Album: Court and Spark

I may have mentioned this before, but my familiarity with Joni Mitchell's work is somewhat limited, so I won't try to put Court and Spark or the single "Help Me" into any sort of precise perspective in terms of her career. The furthest limb I'm willing to climb upon is that Mitchell was steadily cultivating her interest in jazz and its influence on her songwriting and arranging was becoming more and more apparent. Perhaps I'll go one step further and say it seems to me that, while Ladies of the Canyon and Blue seem introspective, Court and Spark is bursting with extroverted color and charm.

The obvious and most significant change is her incorporation of Tom Scott's L.A. Express, a jazz fusion band that backs her on several of this album's tracks. The bright chords, with their glimmering major 7ths, are colored in with Larry Carlton's tasteful guitar arpeggios, the tines of electric pianos, flourishes of flutes and tight vocal harmonies. But to me, the real evidence that Mitchell has been steeping herself in jazz is her vocal track. The angular and far-reaching melodies are not new—she was doing this kind of thing almost from the start of her career. (Although they do seem to fit snugly into this style, her voice seeming as versatile as a wind instrument.) It's actually the rhythmic phrasing of the vocal line that captures my attention. Listen to the way she delivers the last verse, especially the lines "Are you going to let me go there by myself/That's such a lonely thing to do/Both of us flirting around/Flirting and flirting." Even in this context, where the rhythm section is pretty much laying down a straight pop groove, these lines swing through variations in rhythm, dynamics and articulation. It's a very creative approach to pop singing that is really unlike anyone else (except maybe Ani DiFranco, twenty years later).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Song #263 of 9999 - Where Did Our Love Go by The Supremes

Song #263 of 9999 

Title: Where Did Our Love Go
Artist: The Supremes 
Year: 1964
Album: Where Did Our Love Go

In August of 1964, The Supremes scored the first of five consecutive number one singles, including "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again." Every one of them was written and produced by the Motown songwriting team known as Holland-Dozier-Holland (Lamont Dozier and Holland brothers Brian and Edward, Jr.). Even if they had stopped right then and there, this trio would be worthy of honorable mention. But they went on to pen such classics as "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "You Keep Me Hangin' On," and "I Hear a Symphony." And those are just the highlights through 1966! 

Spotlighting Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964 is significant not just because of their overwhelming success but also because the music industry was about to undergo a dramatic change with regard to songwriting. The model that had been built around publishing companies and in-house studio songwriters was shaken by the arrival of The Beatles, who proved to be not just accomplished performers but excellent songwriters in their own right. They are really one of the first big acts to assume this double duty and it would become the new standard. Today, with the exception of certain high profile vocal talent, it's almost an expectation that musical artists compose their own material. (A quick survey of the #1 pop chart singles of 2011 finds only Britney Spears and Rihanna without a writer's credit. The list includes Adele, Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Wiz Khalifa, all of whom at least co-wrote their hits.) This is especially the case in the indie and rock worlds where outside songwriters would seem almost unthinkable.

Of course, the irony is that The Beatles cut their teeth playing covers of so many great American songwriters, including some who wrote for Motown (although they tended more toward Smokey Robinson). There's no question that this experience influenced their songwriting and arranging. So here's to Holland-Dozier-Holland for creating some of the masterpieces of pop and for leaving a lasting songwriting legacy! See you tomorrow in 1974.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Song #262 of 9999 - A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

Song #262 of 9999 

Title: A Change is Gonna Come
Artist: Sam Cooke
Year: 1964
Album: Ain't That Good News

Posthumous releases tend to resonate with an increased level of sympathy and occasionally garner attention they would not otherwise receive. Consider Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" or Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle," both of which seems eerily prescient in light of their untimely deaths, but probably were not ascribed any special meaning by the artists when they recorded them. It's only after their tragic deaths that we the living elevate the songs to their lasting statuses.

Such is the case with "A Change is Gonna Come" but if you're going to have last words attributed to you, these seem like good ones. For that matter, if you're going to leave behind one final vocal performance, this also seems like the best possible choice. (Let's be thankful orchestral arranger René Hall wasn't forced to let this overblown arrangement serve as his final work.) Inspired by the work of Bob Dylan, Cooke diverted his successful pop career to record a song that became an inspiration for the Civil Rights movement of the mid- to late-1960s. He tapped into his gospel roots to deliver a performance that transcends singing and delivers a stirring sermon that not only reflects the experience of the repressed but inspires them to move forward.

Sadly, Cooke would not live to see the impact of his efforts as he was shot and killed by the manager of a Los Angeles motel in what was ruled a justifiable homicide.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Song #261 of 9999 - The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Song #261 of 9999 

Title: The Sound of Silence
Artist: Simon and Garfunkel
Year: 1964
Album: Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.

Okay, I admit it. I have gaps in my pop culture education. I've never read The Grapes of Wrath. Never saw Gone With the Wind. Didn't watch Ken Burns's Civil War series all the way through. And until a few days ago, I had never heard this original version of "The Sound of Silence."

What a revelation! This is the kind of experience that makes the blog worth writing. I've never been a big fan of the well-known version of "The Sound of Silence" with its excessive production and overly compressed backing band distracting even the most ardent listener from the song's lyrics and message. (Seriously, what is up with guitar pitch bends and why do I have to walk across the room to the left channel speaker to hear the drums?) And as it turns out, all of this stuff was added without the knowledge or participation of the duo. The instruments were simply recorded over their original cut! The rest is pretty much history: the record went straight to number one when it was released in 1965 and probably saved the band, who had already gone their separate ways after the failure of Wednesday Morning 3 AM.

Listening to the stripped down version from their 1964 debut, I am struck by a fervent quality that drives the song forward in ways the rhythm section was unable to in the hit single. Listen to the bass in the second verse, propelling the song forward with a cadence that suggests the spirited determination of the 1960s folk movement. This rhythmic thrust supports the text of the song ("In restless dreams I walked alone/Narrow streets of cobblestone") as the protagonist takes to the neon-lighted streets of the dark night. But the most obvious and frequently chill-inducing aspect of this version is the dynamic phrasing achieved by the duo, all of which is lost in the updated recording. It's fun to wonder what would have become of Simon and Garfunkel had this song found its audience in 1964. Would they still have emerged as pop superstars or would they have blossomed into the serious folkies they seem to aspire to be on this captivating early release?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Songs #258, 259, and 260 - It's a Spectacular Triple-Play Wednesday!

Song #258 of 9999                      Song #259 of 9999                            Song #260 of 9999
Title: I Want to Hold Your Hand   Title: Tell Me                      Title: All Day and All of the Night
Artist: The Beatles                       Artist: The Rolling Stones                     Artist: The Kinks
Year: 1964                                   Year: 1964                                            Year: 1964 
Album: Meet the Beatles             Album: England's Newest Hit Makers   Album: N/A - single release

I took the day off yesterday from writing, missing a TWOsday, so I thought I'd come back with a Triple Threat Wednesday! It would be outrageous to look at 1964 and ignore the so-called British Invasion of the United States. I thought I'd look at three early singles from three giants of the phenomenon.

Comparing these three singles, I think the overall sense I get is that these were bands in drastically different stages of development. The Beatles were obviously very polished in almost every way, from their appearance to their performance to their production. Watching the video (of them lip-syncing, but still), there's an ease in their performance that comes with playing so many thousands of hours in the Hamburg clubs where they cut their teeth. They are clearly superb musicians even at this early stage of their career. 

But it's the songwriting that sets them apart. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is Mozart-perfect. There's not a note out of place and there are things going on in the chord progression that none of the comparable acts of the time were doing. Here's an example: in the verse, we have the progression G-D-Em-Bm (I-V-vi-iii) with motion away from the tonic supporting the melody of the first line. The progression begins the same way in the second line (I-V-vi) but instead of proceeding to Bm, it switches to B Major (a III or actually a V/vi for über-theory geeks). This happens at precisely the time the lads leap by an octave in the vocal line. All this tension and excitement propels the song a 1/2-step higher to C and the refrain concludes with a strong IV-V-I cadence (C-D-G). It is an amazing moment in pop music history and it comes from really smart songwriting.

The Rolling Stones, by contrast, were just beginning to write their own songs. While they had hits in 1965 with Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and the cover "Time is on Your Side," the only single release penned by Jagger/Richards was the ballad "Tell Me." It's not a bad song but it's pretty simple when compared to the Beatles' output. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say The Rolling Stones grew as songwriters and musicians faster than any other British Invasion band and they obviously blossomed into some of the most dynamic performers of our time. 

And there are The Kinks. To me, The Kinks are the most English of the British Invasion bands (with apologies to Herman's Hermits). The Stones were so into American Blues records and The Beatles were covering Motown artists, but The Kinks seemed to be mired in the Mersey Beat and never abandoned their English culture. With "All Day and All of the Night" (almost assuredly a variation on their previous hit "You Really Got Me"), The Kinks unveil an energy and irreverence that feels like a precursor to punk. Although The Kinks softened their approach by the mid-60s, perhaps that torch was carried on by The Who before eventually making its way to The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Song #257 of 9999 - Walk on By by Dionne Warwick

Song #257 of 9999 

Title: Walk on By
Artist: Dionne Warwick
Year: 1964
Album: Make Way for Dionne Warwick

It's hard to give just one week to a year like 1964 and not short-change someone. After all, the year that officially marked the so-called British Invasion saw THREE studio releases by The Beatles, two by The Rolling Stones, debuts by The Kinks and Dusty Springfield. Not to be outdone, American artists were out in full force with Bob Dylan releasing two of his most significant albums, the debut of Simon and Garfunkel, the chart dominance of The Supremes—it's an amazing list. In the meantime, there was still a strong wave of professional songwriters peddling their creations to very talented singers. So I thought before I got caught up in all the hype of 1964, I'd start with one of the latter.

With the recent death of lyricist Hal David, Fresh Air did its thing and aired a previously recorded interview wherein he talked about his relationship with songwriting partner Burt Bacharach and their association with singer Dionne Warwick. One of the songs featured on the show was "Walk on By" and I was immediately struck by how light and airy Warwick's voice was. She would have been just 23 at the time and, while her voice certainly has aged well, I hadn't remembered ever hearing her sing so effortlessly in this upper range. She seems to just let notes evaporate into her head voice and it's really beautiful. Moreover, her phrasing in this arrangement (especially in strings of ascending eighth notes like at 0:25 and the triplets at 1:18) is remarkable for its subtle dynamic shaping. To be honest, I can do without the spastic rhythmic stuff at the end (although it is nicely complimented by the drummer), but otherwise, this is just a fantastic vocal performance, made only better by its restraint.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Song #256 of 9999 - Come Back (Light Therapy) by Josh Rouse

Song #256 of 9999 

Title: Come Back (Light Therapy)
Artist: Josh Rouse
Year: 2003
Album: 1972

Earlier in the week, I profiled a song by Fountains of Wayne from an album in which they seemed to be paying homage to their pop influences by writing songs in the style of these artists (most obviously, their Cars tribute "Stacy's Mom"). In 2003, American singer-songwriter Josh Rouse took this same concept in a slightly different direction, producing an album written and performed entirely in the style of pop artists hitting the charts during the year of his birth: 1972. He went all the way with this concept, right down to the album cover which features swirls of brown and mustard yellow enveloping a monochromatic photo of Rouse looking like a young Paul Simon. Listing the song titles right on the front of the record is also a nice 70s touch.

Although largely ignored, this is one of my favorite records of all time so it was difficult to choose a track to feature. I went with "Come Back (Light Therapy)" for the fat Fender P-Bass line that would not seem out of place on an Al Green record and the falsetto-laden bridge (at 1:55) that is as sweet as anything Bread or America ever mustered. The groove is pre-disco but lives on the verge just like the time period it emulates. In fact, the break at 2:14 captures this idea wonderfully with its pentatonic sixteenth note string orchestra riffs syncopating over a four-on-the-floor drumbeat. And those strings are real, just like the saxes that punctuate the second verse and the well-placed flutes that snuggle up against the vocal at 1:35. All of these colors, adding so much warmth and richness to the track were commonplace in the 70s and have since been replaced by synthesizers and samples. (He even throws in some vibes on the outro for good measure!) For many of you, this track will be a reminder of how music used to be made; for others, an introduction. Check out the whole album—it's a classic within a classic.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Song #255 of 9999 - Oh What a World by Rufus Wainwright

Song #255 of 9999 

Title: Oh What a World
Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Year: 2003
Album: Want One

Rufus Wainwright lost me with the Want albums. Too theatrical, too flowery, too overblown, too marble-mouthed. (Dare I say too gay?) Rufus Wainwright was so refreshing and Poses is a masterpiece. Each featured exotic elements but never drifted too far from the primary objective of making great pop music. Want One sounds like a collection of songs for a musical and, dammit, if that's what Rufus wants to write, he should go write one. At least then the songs will have some context and a story to move along.

That being said, the opening track to Want One is really good and worth taking a look at for its clever use of Ravel's Bolero as its primary source material. Wainwright's vocal is woven around Ravel's melody as a descant, filling in the spaces left by the longer notes of the French composer's famous composition. Like Bolero, "Oh What a World" features long phrases alternating rolling eight notes and sustained long tones. Wainwright's lyric is presented as a round, wrapping around three times with increasing intensity and complexity, as tight vocal harmonies that would not seem out of place on his mother's records glisten against the theme and variations of Ravel's Spanish dance movement. By the crescendo's end, the song makes a very good case for Wainwright's wished-for NY Times headline: Life is Beautiful.

P.S. I usually don't link to live performances but this one is so true to the record and so good, I couldn't resist. The Wizard of Oz costuming makes reference to the song's title, as the Wicked Witch of the West screams "Oh What a World" as she is melting away. Theatrical to the end, Wainwright even makes sure he has a cigarette in hand to mimic the smoke that rises from her melting body. What a card.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Song #254 of 9999 - Bright Future in Sales by Fountains of Wayne

Song #254 of 9999 

Title: Bright Future in Sales
Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Year: 2003
Album: Welcome Interstate Managers

I've read that Fountains of Wayne were an amazing cover band, specializing in the same melodic power pop they currently create. But even though they were no doubt influenced by the bands they cut their teeth to, they managed to develop their own sound. With Welcome Interstate Managers, however, it seems like they just decided to wear their influences right on their sleeves almost to the point of being derivative. In some ways, this makes the album weaker, perhaps lacking the originality of their debut and sophomore efforts. But as a case study in how to write songs just like your heroes, it's pretty fascinating. (I know it sounds like I'm being critical—I actually really like the album a lot, but when I want to listen to Fountains of Wayne, I tend to reach for Fountains of Wayne (1996). And when I want to listen to The Cars, I listen to The Cars—not "Stacy's Mom.")

I chose to feature "Bright Future in Sales" because I'm always impressed with songs that are built around guitar riffs since I'm so bad at doing it myself. "Stacy's Mom" was the big hit from the album and is an obvious tribute to The Cars. Other songs on the record pay homage to The Beatles (the opening riff to "No Better Place" sounding like "Ticket to Ride"), Jackson Browne ("Valley Winter Song"), Paul Simon ("Hey Julie"), maybe Glen Campbell ("Hung Up On You"). Listen to the whole record and every song will have you saying "Who does this sound like?!"

So how about "Bright Future in Sales"? To me, this sounds like "In the Street" by Big Star but maybe though the lens of Cheap Trick. Either way, it's a superior song, with Fountains of Wayne bringing their too-clever-for-their-own-good lyrics and killer hooks to the chorus. But how vastly different is the subject matter! Big Star sings about the mundanity of teen life on the suburban streets of the 1970s while FOW sings about a frequently soused corporate business traveler of the 2000s. Kind of an odd subject and certainly less relatable than the Big Star track (which is probably why Big Star tends to connect more frequently on an emotional level). Still, a great little riff and a fun rocker from one of my favorite bands.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Song #253 of 9999 - Toxic by Britney Spears

Song #253 of 9999 

Title: Toxic
Artist: Britney Spears
Year: 2003
Album: In the Zone

Okay, I realize I'm probably going to lose some of you with this choice. We have a tendency to form opinions about our pop tarts based on a lot of extra-musical characteristics and there are perhaps plenty of things to dislike about Britney Spears the person. But there is absolutely no denying the brilliant pop single that is "Toxic." (Just ignore the video and listen to the song!)

The production is the real star here but none of the bells and whistles would matter if they weren't framing a smartly crafted song. Spears has become the queen of minor key dance pop and this song is no exception. I realize the lyrics aren't poetry, but the concept of a lover who is so bad for you that he is the equivalent of poison is pretty clever and expertly handled. When Britney sings "you're toxic, I'm slipping under" in the chorus, the chords descend by half-step in a bit of word-painting that would make Schubert proud.

And then there's the brilliant arrangement. The Swedes who put this thing together (Bloodshy and Avant) are amazingly creative. Just listen to the bed of instruments laid down prior to the first word being sung. The synthy strings are obvious and grab your attention right away, but I love the guitar-ish instrument that comes in at 0:07. And then the BASS—so good. But my absolute favorite section of the song occurs at 0:42 with the angular melody of the pre-chorus ("Too high, can't come down...). Somebody very smart figured out that Britney is no Christina or Beyoncé so she does something with her voice much more creative than belting: she just let's it float around her head, as if, you know she was kind of woozy. FROM THE TOXINS. It's very cool. By the time that spaghetti western guitar emerges at 1:11, I'm absolutely sold. Pure genius.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Songs #251 & 252 - It's TWOsday!

Song #251 of 9999                                                  Song #252 of 9999

Title: Love Hater                                                      Title: Bowtie
Artist: Outkast                                                          Artist: Outkast
Year: 2003                                                               Year: 2003
Album: The Love Below                                           Album: Speakerboxxx


About 200 blog posts ago, I talked about the big hits from Outkast's brilliant double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below so I thought I would feature a couple of deep tracks on this TWOsday. While both records are dripping with myriad influences, I chose these two tracks because they both really swing but in completely different ways. 

With "Love Hater," André 3000 gives us a guitar intro that would fit right in on any Prince album before unveiling some traditional up-tempo swing. While Dré is not the greatest singer, he does a respectable job delivering the song in his light head voice and falsetto. More important, he wisely surrounds himself with incredible players who really know what they're doing and play the track without an ounce of irony. Later in the record, these same players (presumably) pay homage to John Coltrane by delivering a rousing version of "My Favorite Things" over a frenetic beat box.

Big Boi's "Bowtie" is informed less by Miles Davis than it is by George Clinton. Taking a cue from some of the best P-funk—the backbeat handclaps so reminiscent of "Atomic Dog"—Boi keeps the beat simple and lets the horns swing on top. I love the horn stabs that punctuate this track and the casual rhythmic interplay between the chorus and brass. If you weren't sure just how hard this track is swinging, listen to what happens at 1:58 when the unison vocals straighten out the eighth notes for a minute. When the rhythmic restraints are lifted at 2:27, the song just gushes out, immediately finding its funk swing footing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Song #250 of 9999 - Vincent O'Brien by M. Ward

Song #250 of 9999 

Title: Vincent O'Brien
Artist: M. Ward
Year: 2003
Album: The Transfiguration of Vincent

2003 was not a particularly good year for music. But it was a very good year for me. I was in love so just about everything sounded good to my ears. Luckily, the woman who captured my heart had very good taste in music or I might be featuring something by Evanescence this week. Still, reviewing this particular year in music is bittersweet despite the fond memories it rouses.

I'm so glad Chris introduced me to M. Ward when we met. Otherwise, my first experience with his music would likely have been the terrible terrible records he makes with actress Zooey Deschanel. Listening to The Transfiguration of Vincent is a little like listening to Billy Joel's The Stranger circa 1992 when it was clear that Christie Brinkley had destroyed him. To be completely fair, Ward has never consistently found his way in terms of making solid records but he absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one (and continues to whiff with She and Him).

"Vincent O'Brien" is not my favorite song from the album but it is probably the best representative track. There's an adventuresome spirit buried beneath the layers of guitar and piano that occupy the deliberately lo-fi space. I really appreciate the juxtaposition of styles present in what is essentially a straight-forward pop song: the piano eluding to barrelhouse blues, the electric solo left over from the 90s noise pop scene, the core of the song dressed up for shoegazing. And then there's the vocal, a velvety rasp that takes risks like no other M. Ward record since. It's the voice that really shines for me on this record, even more than the superb guitar work and strong songwriting. It's a very fine album, comparable even to some of Tom Waits's best work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Song #249 of 9999 - More or Less by Frankie Big Face

Today is the last day of me writing about my own music. I will return to my normal blog on Saturday. Thank you for your indulgence!
Song #249 of 9999 

Title: More of Less
Artist: Frankie Big Face
Year: 2012
Album: Nur Ein 7

Click here to listen!

And so I found myself in the Nur Ein final for a third time. Once again, the challenge was to "bring your 'A'-game." Which to me means a full-blown arrangement. So writing the song fast is necessary to organize the arrangement and collaborate with other musicians if necessary (in this case, a drummer). So, the title is posted on June 6 at 9:47AM and I've got three days essentially.

For two days, I struggled to find a lyrical angle for this tune. And I really didn't have a solid musical idea either. I had ideas, at least six of them judging from the recordings I found on my cell phone. But I knew none of them were really worthy of developing. And then it happens. At 12:36pm on June 8, I made a recording on my cell phone of an idea for the chorus. And at 3:34pm, I made a recording of the entire song. That's how fast something like this can come together once you have an idea and a plan. The next morning, I met with Paul (the drummer) and we laid down his parts in a couple of takes and by 9:30pm, the entire song was recorded and mixed. (I did tweak it a bit the next morning.)

Of course, you know I won since I haven't stopped talking about it for three months. But more important, I learned the correct spelling and pronunciation of "cummerbund." Nur Ein!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Song #248 of 9999 - Cold Comfort by Frankie Big Face

Just two more days of writing about my own music (as mentioned in my post of July 20) and then back to my normal blog!
Song #248 of 9999 

Title: Cold Comfort
Artist: Frankie Big Face
Year: 2012
Album: Nur Ein 7

Click here to listen!

One of the judges from Nur Ein 7 compared songwriting of this nature (title and challenge provided) as the exercises for actual songwriting. I think he may have even called it "homework." While I can understand that perspective, I have quite the opposite view. I know full well and from experience that the songs I write for this competition are way better than the songs I write on my own. And I finish them because there's a deadline. The titles and challenges coax me into areas I would not go on my own and all kinds of crazy creativity results.

Cold Comfort is a perfect example. We were asked to incorporate a tongue-twister. This is something I would never consider doing on my own because a) what's the point? and b) I think the challenge of a tongue-twister is reduced or even eliminated when supported by a melody. (I would compare this to the way that stutterers often lose their stutter when singing.) But since I was forced to work in this context, I came up with what I think is a clever tale of comic irony: a man loses his woman because she is repulsed by his stammer, which she most assuredly caused. The "cold comfort" of the title is revealed in the bridge: "Though I'm glad to see it go, I'm sorry to discover/The girl and the impediment: I can't have one without the other." The chorus (which is a pretty vicious tongue-twister when not sung!) offers proof of his ability to speak with ease while simultaneously lamenting the fact that he can't shake the feelings he has for his lost love, who of course he can never get back because then he will start stuttering again. It's a pretty complex song (even though one friend called it "silly"—the nerve!) and it doesn't really matter that I wrote it in a day or as "an exercise." In fact, my only regret is that I said "I pressed the screen" instead of "I touched the screen." Because it's called a "touch-screen." Not a "press-screen." I'm still slapping my forehead over that one.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Song #247 of 9999 - Cassettes by Frankie Big Face

Song #247 of 9999 

Title: Cassettes
Artist: Frankie Big Face
Year: 2012
Album: Nur Ein 7

Click here to listen!
ATTENTION: I don't recommend listening to this track with headphones.The crotales will hurt you if you are not careful.

It just so happens I'm writing this post on John Cage's birthday and it seems appropriate as Cage once famously said "There is no noise, only sound" and proceeded to break all the rules of music composition in the same way Picasso revolutionized art. This wasn't just thinking outside the box; it was ignoring the box altogether.

My Cassettes is not quite that revolutionary and doesn't attempt to be. I'm a slave to popular music in the truest sense of the word. Even when I step outside and try something new, I want it to be accessible and stand up to repeated hearings. That being said, this isn't your father's Frankie Big Face. It's noisy, messy, dissonant, harsh. My assignment was to write a villanelle (it's okay—I had to look it up) and I came up with this apocalyptic tale of acceptance and legacy:

Put it all on the cassettes
We'll invest our faith in audio
Acetate never forgets

We've lived a life of no regrets
Embracing the open window
Put it all on the cassettes

The new ones will settle our debts
To the planet we sorely owe
Acetate never forgets

We were ready for the bayonets
Not for the chemical glow
Put it all on the cassettes

The night will harbor our silhouettes
The sun will rise on the crow
Acetate never forgets

And when our last duet
Makes its final diminuendo
Put it all on the cassettes
Acetate never forgets

Sonically, I was trying to create an atmosphere of certain annihilation at the hands of something mechanical. (I pictured that big machine in Lost that moved about the island taking out trees wherever it went.) I layered a lot of vocals with varying rhythm, emphasizing the major second which has always represented stasis to me. And I employed gradually intensifying polyrhythms in the crotales, tuned cymbals which have a brilliant timbre almost impossible to record without overloading the mic. In the end, I think I produced an interesting track, only wishing I had made the low end more apparent during the last two minutes or so.