December has arrived. I thought it would be good to start with a Grapevine article and get back in to the groove of discovering new music. The last two months have been hectic. We spent October on a long trip hiking in some National Parks in Colorado and Utah. It was an amazing trip. There’s nothing better than getting out on the hiking trails to clear your head of all the negative vibes that seem to be piling up. We like to start early and hit the hiking trails before sunrise. There’s a number of positives from early rising. First, the trails are virtually empty. Second, there’s a much better chance of seeing wildlife. Third, you get to see the sun rise over some amazing landscapes. There is a feeling I get on the trails that is amazingly similar to the feeling I get creating or listening to music. It’s a feeling that I wish I could have all the time. You’re totally ‘in the moment’. The rest of the world fades in to the background. You can dedicate your entire being to the music (or the trail). The vast majority of your life doesn’t work that way. So much time is spent completing ‘necessary’ tasks like working to earn money, upkeep of the items you own, taking care of the vast list of things you need to do to survive. That’s why I try to not take the good parts of life like art and music for granted. They’re not a given. They’re a gift and recognizing and enjoying the gifts life presents to you is a key to having a healthy, happy life (yikes! this sounds like therapy!). So let’s get back on a roll and take a listen to this month’s selections.
First Up: Deanna Petcoff – ‘Trash Bag’
Let’s start with something that gives off an upbeat feeling. So we’ll discuss the musical end of the song first. The drum beat is very straight forward. The snare is snappy and tight. The kick drum is also a tight sound, with a lot of top end being presented. With all the drums you’re hearing mostly pop and attack without a lot of ring. That’s really helpful if you’re using the drums as a driving force in the song. They also keep the drum beat fairly straight forward with fills coming in for accents and changes between the verses and choruses. There’s multiple guitars. One is keeping an on beat strum that is also used to drive the song. If you listen there’s a second guitar that strums a chord and then let’s it ring over the rest of the music. In the chorus the second guitar plays some single notes and little lead type riffs that add to the feel and help to differentiate the verses from the chorus. The bass keeps a pretty simple line holding down the bottom end of the song. There’s a great little change in dynamics when the second verse starts. The song drops down to just the bass and a simplified drum beat for a few measures with a nice little drop beat added in before the guitar resumes. When the guitar comes back in it’s strummed and held chords and there’s a few piano chords added. It’s these little changes in dynamics that really make a song work. It breaks up a relatively straight forward chord pattern and adds a interesting dynamic to the music. The song also does a change at the end, dropping down to quieter chords and mostly hi hat on the drums. Everything in the song is created to highlight the vocals and in this song the lyrics in particular. The lyrics are what really caught me. Who doesn’t feel this way sometimes – “I’m acting kind of stupid, get used to it, cause I’m not put together all the time”. Awesome.
Next Up: Jack White – ‘Fear Of The Dawn’
Even though I usually try to find musicians and videos that are less known and ‘under viewed’ I’ll certainly make exceptions if the music or the artist lights a fire in me. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a big Jack White fan. If nothing else, the variety of styles that White is willing to take a shot at makes him an artist I admire. Let’s look at ‘Fear Of The Dawn’. Even at the level of recognition he now has he’s still a ‘throw it against the wall’ type of artist who will take a shot at making the music he wants to do at the time. This song is a loud, blazing guitar rock tune cramming a whole lot of sound in to it’s two minute running time. It’s pretty straight forward with a heavily distorted and effected guitar sound driving the song. The drums and bass keep a persistent beat pushing the song forward. The rhythm parts aren’t complicated and fancy – that’s the whole point of the song. It should carry the phrase I saw on several records in the 1970’s – “for best results play at high volume”. Drums, bass and rhythm guitar pound the song forward. The guitar solo parts are pretty free wheeling, not a lot of smooth melodic lines, instead using a lot of screaming, effect laden, string bending runs. As with most songs the important part is – does this fit the tune? Here the answer is yes. There’s even more buzz in the song by adding the theremin. The vocals are matched to the song the same way the instruments are. White has said he’s a ‘vocalist’ as compared to a ‘singer’. The vocals are used as another instrument in this song. There’s no overwhelming vocal melody here, but that’s by design. For me, the fact that he also did all the playing, recording and production is pretty amazing. Finally, the video itself is the definition of DIY. He picked a single hallway shot in the studio then recorded the video with friends wearing masks and pounding instruments along to the music. They recorded the video on film then scratched, damaged and painted the film to get the final look. Another great entry that shows an artist who has a vision of a song and knows how to get it.
finally: Wet Tuna – ‘Sweet Chump Change’
Lets finish by listening to something to something a little more funky. ‘Sweet Chump Change’ has a deep groove, dance floor type vibe to it. There’s a lot of percussion sound percolating in the background of this tune. You here the snap of the snare and a tight high hat ringing at the top end of the percussive mix. But if you listen closely you’ll also hear hand drums mixed in to keep the deeper end of the beat rolling. Adding to the bubbling bottom end is a very deep bass sound playing a funky line as well as a repeating organ riff. All these sounds are melded together to form the underpinnings of the song, the canvas and background for the rest of the musical painting. The picture on top is created using a more psychedelic feel. Guitar riffs come in and out throughout the tune. They’re usually heavily effected with lots of delay and reverb. The same is true of the vocals. They’re more spoken than sung and are slathered in layers of echo and reverb. Other instruments and sound effects roll around on top as the song progresses. This is the type of song that gives the feel of being in a black light illuminated room, listening on a bass heavy stereo system or sunk in to a chair with headphones on. This is the type of song arrangement that is recorded to create a vibe rather than highlight a single instrument or a vocal or lyric. Different styles of music are often used for different purposes. Sometimes a song like ‘Sweet Chump Change’ is the perfect track to sit back, space out and nod your head to it’s hypnotic beat.
Retro – The Bottle Rockets – ‘Radar Gun’
Let’s finish with some straight ahead guitar rock. The Bottle Rockets came along in the early 1990’s with their mixture of guitar rock and some alt-country underpinnings. I usually pulled this song in to the set of most of the bands I played in since that time. The reason is simple. It’s fun. Great choppy guitar sound for the rhythm guitar. The beat is four on the floor overdrive. Nice meaty lead guitar riffs throughout. The leads are not overdone. No blazing fast finger work that is there just to show of – just solid bluesy riffs. We have a part at about 2:15 where everyone backs down a little bit for a quieter break. The main purpose of this is to allow the song to kick back in at full force at 2:38. There’s little production ideas that make it work. Vocals are clear and right down the middle. Lyrically the idea is simple, riffing at all the small town speed traps set up to make some cash, but delivered in a humorous way. The drums keep a steady consistent beat. The bass usually stays on the key note of the chord and reinforces the straight ahead beat of the drums. The icing on top is at the end of the song where you hear the phone call home from some small town jail where the driver is probably calling for bail money. Sometimes fun can be had with the simplest of song ideas.