Here we are in the month of March. There was the old weather saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” (or vice versa). I don’t usually see that around here. My pessimism says ‘in like a dark cloud, out like a dark cloud” or “in like a weasel, out like a crow”. Whatever. The weather really is no longer consistent or predictable. So our answer, as always, is let’s talk about music. I’ve probably said before how we ‘review’ songs. We talk about structure and why the recording and other decisions make the song great. One thing we’ll look at are things like ‘arrangement’ and ‘orchestration’. Arrangement may create differences in transitions or modify the work by adding a bridge. Orchestration is more about what instruments are playing at what time throughout the song. Dynamics. These two concepts are not usually discussed when talking about rock (of any persuasion). You might hear it more in jazz (obviously in classical). But I will try to point it out on the songs we look at if it applies. I remember when I first starting playing in rock bands in high school and college the discussion tended to be ‘who is playing too loud’. “Can’t hear my vocals because of your guitar”…..”could you please back off on smashing your drums as hard as possible?” “Mine goes to 11”. Etc, etc. Then half your time is spent arguing. Hopefully at some point you all start discussing the structure of the song. The songs we look at here have had some great decisions made in their construction. So let’s look at this month’s tunes.
First Up: The Harrisonics – ‘That’s The Thing’
We’re going to start off with a song that’s pretty straight forward. ‘That’s The Thing’ is a great example of how good simplicity can be. You know I like to start with guitar sounds. A single guitar playing nice crisp chords. Just the right tinge of ‘dirt’ on it, but it really occupies and creates the top end EQ of the mix. To balance this the bass guitar is more active. Great little runs working around the key note for the guitar chord. This adds some feeling of change to the straight forward guitar beat. When necessary it locks in to the guitar beat. This makes the change from groove to head bang. To make this happen they make the bass higher in the mix and make sure it has top end. The drums are recorded at a good equal level in the mix, good top end, snappy snare. If you listen to the verses there is some nice little drum hitches, rather than a simple straight snare beat. Because of these small pieces of rhythmic variety when the instruments do lock in, it feels more powerful. Vocals work well in this mix. Rhythmic like the rest of the instruments, but you can clearly hear the lyrics. If you listen in headphones, most of the instruments are mixed right down the middle, not a highly separated stereo mix. Also a relatively ‘dry’ mix – less reverb. I also like the little ‘after the song’ clip at the end. Here’s the important part of knowing your song – for this tune those are perfect choices.
Next Up: Black Nite Crash – ‘Wrong’
So I thought for our second track I’d put in a song that in recording and orchestration is relatively opposite from the first song. Black Nite Crash make a wonderful psychedelia soup in their song ‘Wrong’. First we have multiple guitars involved. With plenty of reverb and pedals you have a flowing canvas to place the rest of the instruments on. The guitars all have a little different color to them. Although all are heavily reverbed, they do have differences that can be picked out, with one guitar concentrating on single note riffs. They also move around in the stereo field which gives you the effect of a wonderfully dizzy motion. I like the wah pedal effect at about :50 seconds. Nice bottom end bass that is mixed at a level to be heard. Like the first song, it does not sit solely on chord roots so it adds some concrete timing to the flowing guitars. The drums are farther back in the mix. I think this is a good choice for this song as you’re looking for a dreamy flow and you don’t want the drum sound too crisp. The vocals are handled in a similar way. Mass clouds of reverb pull it in to the overall field. While they’re not clearly out front, you can pick out most of the lyrics. This is sometimes difficult to do in this type of mix and it is handled well here. In this style of song vocal melody is often more important than lyrics. Nice little drop out break at 2:50. This dynamic change allows everything to rebuild for a strong ending for this tune.
Finally: Melt Citizen – ‘Drunk On The Blood’
The first thing that caught my ear in this song was the decision made in the intro of the song. It’s starts with a lone guitar riff. The feel of this riff led me to believe I was going to hear a song leaning to the ‘metal’ end of the spectrum. It’s a sonically interesting riff as the guitar sound is muted rather than being real crisp top end. It’s also mixed straight down the center. Then we get a bit of feedback in the left channel and the main guitars kick in. These guitars widen the stereo field by being placed harder to the left and right. If you listen in the verse you can also hear some nice note stretching whammy work. After the first verse the single guitar returns but this time drums are added to bring in the second verse. It’s a good way to keep building the song structure. The guitars and vocal really carry the tune. The drums are kept in the background and the bass adds some deep end without having a real distinct presence. The second verse is followed by the chorus before the single guitar riff reoccurs. This time the riff is accompanied by guitar feedback. It’s these types of seemingly simple choices that keep a song interesting. In a compact arrangement like this that bit of variety makes a big difference. They add another verse and chorus before closing out on the riff – with another different sound in the background. Great job keeping the song short and sharp. Also like the ‘video on a budget’ look. We’ve been putting together little clips of somewhat random video for future songs (we just did some strobe flash stuff too!) Shows that we all can put our videos out on our own and just have some fun.
Retro: Monster Magnet – ‘Crop Circle’
Sometimes the joy in loud, hard rock music is in the simplicity of the riff. A great example of this is the band Monster Magnet. The song ‘Crop Circle’ was released on their album ‘Powertrip’ in 1998. It starts with a wonderful slow build. You have a background tune that builds in volume. You don’t really hear the first chords of the proper song until you’re a minute in. The chords start out clean with a nice snare drum build. Then you kick in the distortion. It’s a really simple, straight forward three chord riff. You’re on these chords until the 2:00 minute mark where you get to the chorus. Next you have the guitar moving slowly up the neck with a drum roll then – bam! in to the guitar solo. You could view this progression as ‘cliche’. But sometimes things become ‘cliche’ because they work! You have three build ups with a great payoff in one song. Sonically for this style of song the recording sound is perfect. Nice separation, crisp sound all the way around. Enough top end and bottom end. Awesome guitar distortion. After the guitar solo they rebuild the sound with another three chord riff and ride it out until the end. Every once in a while I love being pounded over the head with a sonic hammer. And as a guitar player, it’s so much fun to jam along with. Since the chording is simple you can go all over the place with your own playing. This is where you crank the volume up and bang your head.