Welcome to February, the shortest month of the year. I always thought it was a good idea to make the shortest month we have a winter month (not really how it works, but sometimes it’s fun to mess with the reality of life). You would think winter months would be a great time to huddle inside the studio and work on more music. Maybe that works for some people, but I find myself much more energetic and creative when I get to spend more time outdoors. There are people who like to spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter. I used to have a number of friends who skied and were always celebrating when it snowed. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not my thing. I’m much happier hiking in the mountains than flying down them in a controlled slide – although I do have a story about going down a mountain in a controlled slide with no snow involved. Maybe I’ll share that some day. Let’s talk about music instead. We had the 2023 Grammy Awards earlier in the month. I’ve never actually watched the show since I was a kid. I do tend to take a glance at who ‘won’ different awards. Having an awards show for music never made sense to me. As I’ve said many times, music is a subjective art. As such, I’m not really in to the idea of calling any particular piece of music the ‘best’. Maybe ‘most popular’? But I won’t go in the opposite direction either and dislike a piece of music just because it won at the Grammys. Two artists I like, Wet Leg and Molly Tuttle both won awards this year (both of them have been in Grapevine reviews). I’ll stick to my current method of finding new music the old fashioned way – going through record and song reviews and listening to as much as I can.
First Up: Goat – ‘Under No Nation’
We’re going to start with a bit of funk. I’ve listened to a few songs from their most recent album ‘Oh Death’ (I’m always drawn to happy album titles). The songs I’ve listened to reminded me of a lot of the post punk type funk that I came across in the 1980’s. It comes down to establishing a propulsive groove. If you can do that, the song will carry the listener along. If you take the song apart and listen to the separate pieces, each instrument is sitting on a relatively simple riff. Start with the drums. It’s a pretty basic groove. For me, the part that makes the drums interesting is where the snare falls. The main groove is carried by the hi hat. The snare often falls on what could be considered an ‘off’ beat. You can do this and keep a rhythm going, but the key is consistency. If you keep changing the place in the measure where the snare falls, the groove would fall flat. If you off set the drums a bit you have to keep consistency with the other instruments. The bass line is basically two notes an octave apart played on the key note of the chord most of the time. The guitar riff is also pretty consistent throughout the song. Although this keeps the groove in time, every once and a while they’ll drop some different parts in for a change up. Change ups are important. Throwing them in keeps the song from getting boring. There are little ‘clap’ breaks and second guitar parts at different spots for variety. Vocals are added like a bit of spice on a meal. They also are rhythm driven and are mixed at about the same level as the other instruments in the song. At 2:05 they drop in a hugely fuzzed out guitar to carry you to the end of the song.
Next Up: Snarky Puppy – ‘Take It!’
So I thought we’d keep going with the groove and look at another funk based song. This time we’re moving from post punk to a more jazz based feel. There are a lot of cool things to see in this clip. Let’s start with the fact that it’s recorded live in a studio. That would be great to see and hear as an audience member. Notice how everyone in the audience is wearing headphones, so they’re hearing the mix as it’s comes right from the mixing board. That would be an amazing experience with an ensemble this large. You get to see it live, feel the vibrations, yet hear it in a professionally mixed format through headphones where you can pick up all the little nuances of each instrument. Now let’s move in to the instrumentation. Holy crap! That’s a lot of players. Three drum sets. Mucho percussion. Three guitar players. Brass, woodwind. Tons of keyboards. Only one bass player, but a lot of other bass lines are carried by the keyboards. If you want to see the full roster of instruments go to the video on YouTube and scroll down through the description. As a studio engineer I can only imagine what it must of been like setting up all the mics for this. Then add in the amount of precision required to get it mixed right for a live in studio audience. Incredibly impressive! Towards the end of the piece each kit drummer gets to solo. This is a must see both for the quality of instrumentation and playing as well as the technical aspects of the recording. I didn’t feel the need to try to take the song apart instrumentally – just sit back and enjoy.
Finally: Trampled By Turtles – ‘A Lifetime To Find’
It’s been a few years since we’ve had an album release from Trampled By Turtles. I really love so much of their back catalogue and had been wondering when they would release a new album. This song works for me in so many ways. The instrumental pieces are wonderfully played, recorded and mixed. The early parts of the song rely on the guitar to carry the music with the other instruments adding the feel and flavor. The playing of the instruments is subtle. The bass is mixed low but adds a great bottom end to fill out the musical range. The other instruments, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and cello add pieces to put across the feeling of melancholy that carries through the entire song. The musical parts are played and mixed in service to the vocals. It’s a song where the vocals are up front and clear because the lyrics are what the band wants you to concentrate on. I think the lyrics in this song resonate more as you get older. The idea that many people only find and understand what they want from life when they get older. There’s an old saying “youth is wasted on the young”. When you get to certain age and say “I wish I would of……”. The difficulty in song writing is matching the feeling of the lyrics with the perfect musical background. I think Trampled By Turtles has done that with this song.
“It takes a lifetime to find a life like the life you had in mind”
Retro: Crosby Stills & Nash: ‘Helplessly Hoping’
I wanted to put this in as sort of a companion piece to the Trampled By Turtles song. Simple acoustic guitar is the companion to the wonderful vocal harmonies. I think this song also shows the importance of the song melody. Would the lyrics carry as much weight without the melody line of the song? Putting these lyrics to a blues rock beat just wouldn’t be the same. The band said they viewed their harmonies as tying together as one voice. The lyrics are are bit more intricate than a lot of songs you’ll hear. But even if you don’t catch all the words, the melody line says so much.
“They are one person, They are two alone, They are three together, They are for each other”