We’ve moved in to the second quarter of the year. It’s “April showers……” time. Of course we basically had March showers becoming April showers which will continue with May showers. I couldn’t imagine living in places like Alaska (although the state is absolutely stunning) where you go through periods of no daylight. I can barely deal with our constant cloud cover around here. For most people I do believe there’s a huge correlation between sunshine and happiness. So I’m definitely looking forward to some spring sunshine. On another note I watched a video discussing the vast amount of music created that no one other than the creator sees or hears. Why do we write songs? If you’re doing it for money or fame you’re most likely going to be disappointed. It would be interesting to know what percentage of songs written really become known to the general public. Obviously it’s a percentage measured by a decimal point. We like to at least throw our songs in to the public forum and are happy if some people outside the studio get to hear them. With equipment more affordable then in prior generations a lot more tunes at least get recorded. But most probably don’t go any further than that. So why do it? We do it for the fun and challenge of the act of creating. Seeing a song start as a kernel of an idea, working to discover what that kernel becomes. The joy you feel if that idea works out. That’s why we usually try to celebrate songs that get less attention in Grapevine. Hopefully that gets the creators to the final step – having a total stranger enjoy the music they created.
First Up: Water Tower – ‘Anthem’
This song has a great combination of styles thrown together. When I find a song I like I usually look at several different songs from the band to get an idea of the type of music they do. Water Tower has a lot of wonderful Americana style songs using double bass, fiddle, guitar and vocals. For this song they did some change by addition. The song starts with a distorted electric guitar and then Ron Reyes, who did some time with Black Flag, comes in on vocals. They also have some added sonic sound effects which you’ll hear come in and out throughout the entire song. The song then drops down to acoustic guitar and vocals. The double bass and fiddle drop in. It’s a really nice and different dynamic build up. When it drops to vocals and guitar again they have a (probably) keyboard generated sound effect in back. Again, I think this little added touch gives the song more character. They add in some kit drums, courtesy of another guest, Don Bolles, who played with The Germs. The drums don’t over power the other parts, acting as another effect that comes in and out to add some flavor. The combination of vocalist and fiddler Kenny Feinstein’s vocals and the vocals by Ron Reyes are mixed just right without one dominating the other. The playing is stellar and the mix allows you to hear all the pieces. The animated video is cool. In some ways the video is a very important part of the tune as many of the sound effects tie in to the action in the video. The video and the music enhance each other and create a great piece of art.
Next Up: This is the Kit – ‘This Is What You Did’
‘This Is What You Did’ is another song that uses an interesting combination of instruments to great effect. The banjo is an instrument that really lives in two worlds, rhythm and melody. The way it is often used in bluegrass is a chordal rhythm that also carries the melody line. It really is in part a rhythm instrument – the bridge for the strings does sit on top of a drum head. This song starts with a hint of keyboard and then the banjo comes in with what I’m guessing is a drum machine due to it’s sonics. In this song the banjo sticks to the chordal rhythms. These two instruments carry a very busy underlying rhythm throughout the song. The vocal line is really the focal point of the composition. It has a great melody and feel and the busy rhythm makes it sound like it is floating in the space on top. The vocal also has a lot of rhythm to it so the parts all fit together like a puzzle. After the first minute other instruments enter the mix. there are horns that have a jazz feel to them. There are also keyboards that hold notes and serve as a steady base for the rhythm parts. Whoever did the mix does some very nice subtle changes that you might not notice. The banjo and drums are slowly pulled down lower in to the mix to allow space for everything else. If the pull back had been done in a quick clumsy fashion it would have been jarring and halted the song’s flow. The middle break at 2:00 has the drums doing quick hits and the horns coming out front. The dreamy flow continues through the end of the song. A great example of how mix and production handled well can make a song beautiful.
Finally: Muck and the Mires – ‘I’m Your Man’
I thought we’d end with another musical turn and delve in to some punky power pop. There’s a number of things I like to hear in a song like this for it to work. Crispy, crunchy guitar sounds – check. Ability to hear all the instruments clearly in the mix – check. Clear, easy to understand vocals – check. Added credit for a nice flaming guitar solo – check. The well put together mix and recording production on the song really help the music come across. For me that’s the best part of this song. It has the key ingredient of a really catchy riff. But what allows the riff to work is the clarity of the recording and the way it is EQ’d in the mix. It seems that if you look around you’ll still be able to find bands that follow the best parts of the garage rock aesthetic. If you follow styles in rock music you’ll find some interesting facts. Some styles come and go. They’ll become ‘the new thing’ and then you won’t hear them anymore. It seems as if the style we call ‘garage rock’ has been around since the earliest days and never really disappears. It will occasionally come to the fore front and people will call it a ‘revival’. But I don’t see these times as revivals because the style has never left. When the ‘revival’ ends the bands head back to the garage and small clubs and eventually burst in to the mainstream again. I think this style is best seen in a sweaty, small club. Muck And The Mires would be a whole lot of fun to see in that type of setting.
Retro: Hole – ‘Violet’
We’ll end this month’s Grapevine with one of my favorite song’s from the early 1990’s. There’s not a lot of albums that hold their power and are great from start to finish. I think Hole’s 1994 album ‘Live Through This’ is one of those albums. Courtney Love is a pretty divisive figure in music. I think she is often judged more by her personal life than by her music. But I think it’s hard to deny that ‘Live Through This’ is one of the best albums of the early 90’s and of the style people refer to as ‘grunge’. ‘Violet’ is really propelled by the dynamics of the song. You have the quieter verses that are cleaner and moody. Then you’re hit in the face with the sonic blast of the chorus, distorted guitars and vocals that are a screaming howl. A lot of band’s used this style and it’s was actually around far before it became more ‘fashionable’ in the 90’s. But not many songs pull it off as well as ‘Violet’. For me one of the reasons it works so well here is underlying feel of the song. The dark mood and very personal feel of the music and lyrics push it to another level. None of that would have as much impact if the production and mix weren’t perfect for the song. Great snap to the snare drum. The vocals are placed out front without diminishing the power of the feedback laced guitar distortion. It’s tricky when you’re mixing a song with polar end dynamics to have the quiet and loud parts actually maintain a consistent overall volume for the recording. Great writing, recording and mix have made this song a classic for me.