Fall is upon us. The temperatures are starting to cool down. Daylight is getting shorter. Fall is my favorite time of the year. Although I do enjoy the long days of sunlight in the summer, this time of year is special to me. We do our traveling in the fall to avoid the large crowds in the spring and summer. We’ll be spending most of October doing hiking and photography in the National Parks. We’re heading southwest this year to the land of desert, canyons and incredibly huge vistas. Away from crowds (hopefully), traffic and often cell service. It always feels like a time of renewal. A time to contemplate the beauty that still exists when you get out in nature. Hiking to the top of a mountain or mesa to see the sun rise or set. Away from lights where you can see all the stars and the Milky Way in the sky. Challenging yourself on hikes that skirt cliff edges and scramble over rocks. For me it doesn’t get better than this. We build memories that last a lifetime. Lots of pictures and videos that trigger those memories. When we’re out there we wish we didn’t have to come back to the daily grind and non-stop b.s. news cycles. You also tend to meet some like minded people if you hit the trails early. I think my pre-travel mindset had a hand in the songs that were picked for this month. Let’s take a listen.
First Up: Sharon Van Etten – ‘Come Back’
This song sounds like the musical equivalent of watching the sunrise coming over the horizon. Starting with just acoustic guitar and vocals, the beginning of the song sets the mood. The guitar is panned slightly to one side, which puts a greater highlight on the vocals. Van Etten has an incredible voice and it’s front and center in this song. Keyboards slowly rise in the right channel to match the guitar on the other side. After a while you’ll hear a bass in the background adding some depth and bottom end to the song. When the chorus comes in the second time at the 1:30 mark, the vocals are doubled with harmonies added, drums and more keyboard appear and the music swells louder. If you create a song that has an emotional core and can produce the same kind of emotion for your listeners, you’ve succeeded. This song brings the feeling of a beautiful melancholia. It shows the importance of a song’s arrangement in achieving this. The slow build of the instruments as the song progresses. The power that builds throughout in the vocal presentation. It ends with a drop down in the last thirty seconds to just vocals and keyboards. The song succeeds in taking the listener on a 4:30 trip. The trip ends lyrically too, with the line “Come back, moments of fire can turn the car on back home”.
Next Up: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – ‘Saw You At The Eastern Beach’
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have put their song together in a very different way than the previous track. There is almost a separation between the music and the vocals. Let’s start with the music. There’s a nice little intro in the very beginning of the song. A little synth riff starts us out with a strong bass line coming in. A very straight forward drum line anchors the song throughout. Two different guitar lines are panned in the left and right channels. They stay within the chord pattern of the song, but the riffs they play are sometimes loose so the parts do not sound too repetitive. They’ve kept the bass line relatively high in the mix so that rather than acting as sonic fill at the low end, it’s another riff added on with just as much prominence as the guitars. Every once in a while a guitar playing a lead riff is added down the center of the mix. With the effects on the guitars, the overall feel is a wall of sound grounded by the steady beat of the drums. At the 2:56 mark there’s a neat lead guitar part. It keeps the same feel as the rest of the music, rolling along with the huge wash of the rest of the instruments. While all this is going on instrumentally, the vocals seem to sit in almost another plane of the song. They’re somewhere between singing and spoken. They’ve added a lot of reverb to the vocals and they’re not way up front in the mix, which keeps them in line with the instruments and gives them the feel of separate but equal in the arrangement. It ends with another interesting synth blip, finishing the song the way it started as if you’ve finished a chapter in a book.
Finally: Cola – ‘Degree’
We’ll finish with a song that relies on the rhythmic interplay of the instruments and vocals to create the feeling and tone of the song. Each instrument follows it’s own line of rhythm throughout the song. To make this arrangement work you have to pay special attention to the EQ of each instrument. Since you don’t want the instruments to all blend together, the mix is very bright. They’ve pulled up the top end of each instrument so they stand out as separate pieces. There’s a great snap to the snare drum. If you listen carefully to pick out the kick drum, even that has a bit more snap than boom. You can get a good picture of how everything interplays if you listen closely at about 2:00. The guitar is playing arpeggiated chords, the bass is sliding between foundation notes, the vocals are working another rhythm and the snap of the snare and cymbals keeps the song driving forward. There’s a guitar part I really like at about 2:20. The guitar is slow strumming chords and besides hearing the chord itself you can hear the pick hitting each string, which adds another rhythmic element to the mix. One other little recording note – if you listen to the very end of the recording you can actually hear the amp buzz from the guitar during the short fade out. I think that’s a cool thing to leave in.
Retro: James Taylor – ‘Country Road’
Since I’m gearing up for hiking, I needed to include ‘Country Road’ in this month’s selections. This song and the album ‘Sweet Baby James’ is my go to listen when I’m thinking of being outdoors. I don’t listen to music when hiking – there’s more than enough just being on the trail to fill your senses. But if the right hike and mood presents itself…..Last year we listened to it on our hike on the Tall Trees Trail in Redwood National Park. We got there at 6:30 in the morning and were the only people on the trail. On a side note – if you’re going to listen to music on the trail, use earbuds. People are there for the peace and solitude.