Monday, October 15, 2012

Song #271 of 9999 - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) by The Icicle Works

Song #271 of 9999

Title: Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
Artist: The Icicle Works
Year: 1984
Album: The Icicle Works

1984 was such a good year for music. It's almost impossible to narrow my list, let alone pick a significant starting point so I'll just go with what it perhaps my favorite song of the year. The Icicle Works (or simply Icicle Works in the USA) had only one hit but it's a doozy in my book. "Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)" (or "Whisper to a Scream [Birds Fly]" as it was known in the USA—apparently Arista wanted to throw its weight around with this release) is one of those songs that grabbed me from the beginning and has never let go. I could listen to it every day.

So what makes this song so special? I do think it's expertly arranged and I like the concept of the song. (I guess I'm just talking about the title really—I have no idea what it's about and have never really paid much attention to the lyric.) But I think what really elevates this song to amazing is the rhythmic interplay between the instruments. The jangly guitar riff that open the song benefits from unison "E"s played on adjacent strings, but it's the syncopated rhythm that makes it so engaging. The bass joins in with it's own layer of syncopation, establishing the simple two-chord harmony. When the drums enter, they actually work to anchor the rhythm, establishing a sixteenth note pulse beneath the unaccompanied vocal of the first verse. And then the real magic happens: the chorus vocal adds yet another slower-moving layer of syncopation independent of both the bass and guitar. For me, this is one of the most exciting choruses in all of pop. It helps that the lyric is somewhat anthemic in its content, inviting you to sing along and be included in the "we" who are "but your children" and "rather helpless." The vocal counterpoint on the outro adds even more layers of rhythmic activity and, well, it's just sublime, isn't it?

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