November 2021 Grapevine

November. Where we turn our clocks back an hour. Why? WHY? Daylight is in short supply anyway. I know, we don’t actually lose another hour of daylight with the time change, but it sure feels like it. Who wants it to be getting dark at four in the afternoon? I’ve always heard a bunch of reasons why this is done. I’m not sure if any of them are actually true. Bottom line, I don’t care. I’d rather get my darkness in the early morning, thank you. There are places that don’t change the time, maybe I’ll move there. Of course it would be odd being in one town, driving to the next town and BAM, it’s an hour later. Strange when you think about movies concerning time travel and the impossibility of it. Technically, if you could fly east to west fast enough you could experience the same hour of the same day more than once. Or call someone in Australia from the U.S. – your talking to them tomorrow! Time travel! Well let’s move on to music where you can consistently time travel in your own mind. You can listen to new music that sounds like it was absolutely made thirty years ago. Or listen to music you loved growing up. Doesn’t it bring those years all back? Time travel!

First up: James McMurtry: ‘The Horses And The Hounds’

Classic example of a great mix of what a lot of people may call ‘country rock’. Fair enough description I guess, but that description covers so much ground. The difference between a song of this style that catches my ear and others that I’d just pass by comes down to a couple of things. If you’ve been reading the Grapevine series for a while you know that one thing that makes a huge difference for me is the mix. For this type of song I think a clean mix with a lot of instrument separation makes a huge difference. For the drums in this song they’ve given the high hat a very prominent place in the mix. It ends up being the main time keeper, where a lot of times the time keeping duties lie mainly with the snare drum. Bass guitar is there as a bottom end. They’ve kept it fat instead of sharp so it holds the bottom down without stepping on the prominence of the other instruments. Good crunchy guitar sounds. If you’re not listening on headphones or a stereo with good separation between the speakers you might not notice that the rhythm guitar is slightly different between the left and right channel adding to a wider stereo field. David Grissom, well known as a session player, adds some tasty lead riffs. Finally, clear vocals where you can understand the lyrics. The lyrics tell a story you can follow. This adds to the dark feel of the tune and matches the lyrics to the music. Background vocals add that final touch.

Next Up: Willie Nile: ‘Off My Medication’

Speaking of time travel, let’s head back to my early punk years. This song is just fun. A lot of early punk rock was supercharged bluesy rock with a big old attitude. The song starts with a cool guitar walk down riff. Listen closely to the song right after the walk downs and when the vocals come in. Boy, do I hear Sex Pistols (for all it’s ‘punk’ notoriety, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ is an out and out amazing rock album). Great little guitar riffs punch out throughout the song. If you chart out the chords it’s a variation of basic 12 bar blues. Another neat trick is at 1:30 when the third verse starts. The entire chord pattern moves up a half note (a form of tonal ‘modulation’). It moves up another half note for the fourth verse and one more half tone for the fifth verse. Each move up ‘tightens the knot’ a little more and keeps the song from getting bogged down in repetition. So the song feels like it’s constantly changing even though the chord patterns and riffs stay the same. There’s a nice instrumental drop out when they hit the chorus for the last time. Every instrument does it’s part and keeps the song driving forward. Lyrically it’s something I can certainly relate to. You know when life gets to a point where you’re just “WTF”! I think you hit a home run when you have a song that makes everyone want to chant along with the chorus. This goes on my list of songs I’d like to play for a live audience.

Finally: Wet Leg: ‘Chaise Longue’

Well, once I get in to a punky feel, it’s best to just keep it going. Keep driving it forward. This song absolutely revels in it’s simplicity. It starts with a straight forward drum beat and a two note bass riff. They add in a deadpan monotone vocal for the verse. That’s all the instrumentation for the first minute of the song. So simple, yet so effective. When they add in the guitar part, the rhythm section really doesn’t change. The guitar just adds it own repetitive riff on top. It flows this way throughout the entire song. During the rest of the song the only changes are addition by subtraction. That’s all they need to have here folks. When you break a song down to this level of simplicity, it works or it doesn’t. For me, this song works. For some people it may not work. I don’t have a crystal ball to predict when simplicity works and when it doesn’t (if I did, I’d be rich). My analysis for this type of music comes down to – does it make me want to bounce around off the walls? Yes.

Retro: Beastie Boys: ‘Sabotage’

Since we’re on a roll, I decided for the retro track we should just keep rolling. This song was a huge hit for the Beastie Boys. They are considered an early rap band, but when I heard their first album, definitely felt more punk rock to me. Their career moved to more studio and sampling wizardry and they became innovators in that field. This song harkened back to their early days of being a loud, thrashy three piece band (although we do have some turntable FX). Again, so simple, noisy, sloppy. But everyone loved it and a lot of people cover it. Not a lot of musical parts to analyze. Simple – still bouncing off the walls? Yup.

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