There are many sources I try to go through to find music I’m going to use for the monthly Grapevine. As I’ve stated before, I’m trying to highlight lesser known bands, although I don’t ignore a song I really like just because it’s popular. Recently I watched a few videos that were discussing songs that were on top 10 lists from sources like Billboard and streaming services like Spotify. And I realized I don’t have any reference point to the music that is currently considered ‘popular’. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the artists and music they referenced. I guess that’s logical since I don’t listen to radio or belong to any streaming service. I find music by searching for it after reading reviews, either in print or online. When I bring up a song, the algorithm for Google, YouTube or wherever will then bring up similar songs to the one I’m listening to. This continues to lead me to lesser known artists and songs. Truthfully, I didn’t hear much in the ‘popular’ music that interested me. This isn’t a comment on the ‘quality’ of the music that is popular. The music a person likes is based on their own subjective taste. I think my point for the month is that I’m glad that there’s a way I can find new music I like by putting a little effort in to my searching. I’d encourage everyone that wants to hear music that’s a little more ‘under the radar’ (‘Under The Radar’, by the way, is one of the sources I often search). So if you hear a song you like in the Grapevine, go pull it up on YouTube or Google or whatever search engine you use. You might come across a lot of music you like that you otherwise would never have been exposed to.
First Up: Ten Million Lights – ‘Comatose’
I have quite an affection for songs that are built to wash over you and rely on creating atmosphere. This band accomplishes this using both parts of song creation: the way the song is written and the way it is recorded. I would think you could put ‘Comatose’ in to the ‘shoegaze’ category. The guitar sound is created by piling on effects so you hear them more as a wash of sound than individually strummed chords. Ten Million Lights uses two guitars to double up and enhance this effect. The guitars are in essence the canvas that the rest of the song is painted on. I like the way the bass is mixed in to the song (the recording part of creating the song). It gives the song a lot of bottom end which really expands the sound field. The bass also plays a lot of chords as well as single notes, increasing it’s presence in the mix. The drums are mixed in to continue to enhance the atmosphere. They are crisp enough to be heard clearly in the mix, yet their level in the mix adds to the overall wash. The drums are active enough to drive the song without being over played to the point of being a distraction. The vocals are mixed more as an instrument than an up front presence. Again, this is used to make the vocals more a part of the overall wash. What you lose in not clearly hearing the lyrics is made up by enhancing the atmospherics. The recording and mix in a song like this is so important. If there was more instrumental separation, it would be a totally different song.
Next Up: Honeychain – ‘Pocket Full Of Good Luck’
So we’re moving from atmospheric wash to buzz saw crunch. From a recording perspective you have to have a different mindset to capture the feel of the song correctly. You have distortion on the guitar, but you have to keep the sound crisp rather than droning. Some of this is in the recording and some of it is in how you play the guitar. When you want the drone, you’ll let the chords ring as you play them. If you want to keep it crisp, one method is to ‘dead string’ the chords with either your right or left hand. You want to keep them from ringing. The bass and drum parts are also very straight forward. They work together to keep the bottom end of the song moving forward while the guitar sound sits on top. The vocals are clean and placed on top of the mix. One break in the song comes in at 1:34. It drops down to just the guitar for a few measures before the drums and bass come slamming back in. There’s a second break that runs from 1:50 to 2:08 where drums and bass play in half time compared to the rest of the song and the guitar sits on single strums. From there it’s a ten second reprise of the main riff to the end. The guitar sound especially reminded me a lot of the band X. Short, sweet, two minutes of fun.
Finally: Kestrels – ‘Grey And Blue’
So for our last song we’re going to travel the road that runs in between the first two selections. There’s a bit of shoegaze wash in the music, but also some crisper parts and the vocals are fairly clear and placed much higher in the mix. There are parts where the guitars drop out almost completely. The space is filled by rolls on the snare drum. This lets you pick up the vocal melody a lot easier. I like the feeling that the vocal melody adds to the song. Having a great vocal melody is an art that is not always taken in to consideration. It can take a song that otherwise would not be a stand out and turn it in to something really special. I think melody composition is an under valued part of writing a song, especially in a lot of rock music. The dynamic change ups in this song also add to the feel. A nice guitar solo is added compliments of J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr fame. I’ve always said that sometimes I’ll put a song in because I really like the video interpretation. Being a dog lover, I had to add this video for the month. I especially like when all the dogs get named at the end. Yup, I’m a sap for a pup video.
Retro: The Replacements – ‘Answering Machine’
For our retro entry I’m putting in a song that I’ve always had an emotional connection to. ‘Answering Machine’ is from The Replacements amazing 1984 album ‘Let It Be’ (the fun idea that you’d actually use the same title as a classic Beatles album). If you haven’t listened to this album, you really need to. Chock full of amazing songs, one of the best albums of the 1980’s. The song is built on an heartfelt, ragged sounding guitar and vocal and not much else other than some FX. That’s all that’s needed to push the soul crushing feel put across by the lyrics. I wore this album and song out in 1984. I had moved out of state by myself and was living in a small town where I didn’t know anybody and had no real close friends. I was being ghosted by the person I was seeing back home. I lost my job. So I was leaving messages on her answering machine (remember – 1984) with no reply. I think at one point I left this whole song on the answering machine (the kind of stuff you do in your early 20s). When we talk about the power of music, this song is a prime example. That someone else could write a song that encapsulates all the emotions you’re feeling. A song that will forever bring back that time and feeling.