Time keeps flying by. March is a season of change. Today we went back to Daylight Saving Time (I personally like the light later in the day rather than earlier). March 20th is the first day of spring. There’s the saying “March comes in like a lamb….”. The idea is that the changeover from winter to spring is a time of sleep turning in to a time of growth. The interesting part is the changeover is different depending where you live. In our area we still have somewhat distinct seasonal changes. In other areas the changes are more subtle, or the winter and summer weather lasts longer or for most of the year. Go farther north and you might have snow from September through June. People react differently to seasons. Some people are able to hunker down inside and produce a lot of new art when the weather is bad outside. Other people need to be able get outside in nice weather to get the creative juices flowing. I tend to fall in to the category of people who are affected more by the amount of sunshine than the outdoor temperature. I also find that what’s going on in my life affects me more than the weather does. I wish I had the ability to be creative no matter what the circumstances. People who are able to separate their creativity from the circumstances they are in tend to put out more creative projects. Right now we have a lot of partially finished projects on the burner. I’m hoping the roll over in to spring will make our projects bloom. In the mean time let’s look at the music some other people are putting out and take some inspiration from them.
First Up: Dry Cleaning – ‘Don’t Press Me’
I get a kick out of the human necessity to find a label for most things. This is especially true when it comes to artistic endeavors. Categories, sub-categories, sub-sub categories. Dry Cleaning falls in to the category that is being labeled by some as ‘sprechgesang’ (Wet Leg would be another example). It carries a feel of ‘indie rock’ musically. The drums keep a relatively straight forward beat throughout the song. The bass sits mostly on the keynotes of the chords, sometimes doing walking notes from one chord to another and helps keep the beat steady by staying mostly on quarter or eighth notes. The guitar is the wild card here. It often runs through little riffs or melodic lines during the verses. The guitar sticks to the top end. I would describe the sound as ‘thin’. That’s not a criticism as it is a deliberate choice that the band makes. The parts played and the sound of the guitar sticks to the top end. There’s not a lot of fatter middle and low tones in the guitar sound. There’s a little bit of distortion crunch, but not too much. The guitar tends to walk across little riffs and a lot of chords are played as arpeggios. With the bass and drums being the foundation, the guitar almost acts as a vocal. The biggest feature that ties bands doing this style together are the vocals. ‘Sprechgesang’ has vocals that are partly spoken and partly sung. And the parts that are sung are ‘lightly’ sung – there’s not a lot of movement in the vocal range. Dry Cleaning’s vocal mix feels like it’s sitting on top of the rest of the mix and are recorded very dry. It feels like being at a fun band party where the the band is playing and someone is talking in your ear right next to you.
Next Up: Momma – ‘Rockstar’
There’s a lot of different styles that fall in to the big category of ‘rock’ music. At this point it’s pretty hard to create a style that’s really unique. I would bet that if somebody came up to me (or you) and said “wow, this band has a totally different sound”, we’d would be able to give examples of other bands, maybe famous, maybe obscure, that sound similar. So the question becomes. does falling in to a ‘known’ category make a band automatically good or bad? A resounding “nope’ would be my answer. The devil is in the details: what does the band do with that sound? That’s a long lead in to talk about Momma and ‘Rockstar’. The sound is classic ‘indie/grunge’. Quiet parts, giving way to loud, blasting sections. In ‘Rockstar’ we have clean guitar parts with simple strummed chords, dropping out the bass and drums. When the time is right they kick in the guitar distortion to bang in to heavy mode. The vocals tie everything together, keeping a consistent almost laid back feel throughout. Sometimes the difference when you’re taking on a more well known style is how well the song is mixed. They did a great job with this song. The drums and bass are at a consistent level in the mix. If you go too loud with the actual sonic volume in the noisier distorted parts the quieter parts become lost. It’s a delicate balance and Momma pulls it off in this song. This is a song that catches me with some of the vocals and the tie in with the video. “Still need a drummer, the last one quit the band” sums up our years of experience in the multiple incarnations of our band. Do people still put up flyers with pull off tabs? I think anytime a song captures a personal experience the listener has had there’s a big connection right away.
Finally: Phil Tyler & Sarah Hill – ‘Are You Going To Leave Me’
I thought we’d end on a song that works with very stripped down instrumentation. The song is made up of vocals and banjo with sounds like some background hand drums. I’ve always liked bluegrass music and have become a much bigger fan of the style in the last few years. When we talk about music with banjos and mandolin we tend to think about bluegrass. But the instruments have served in many different kinds of styles. Folk music often used that instrument combination. A lot of styles like folk and bluegrass drew from early English and Celtic music. The feel of this song falls more in to the Celtic style. The banjo is played in a claw hammer style as compared to the three finger picking style that has become more associated with bluegrass. There’s more full chord strums added to the single picked notes. The vocals certainly have the Celtic feel and sound. You have to do a great job with mic and EQ selection to get the vocals right when the arrangement is a spare as this song. If you’re not familiar with working in a studio and recording some of the concepts may seem sort of backwards. I’ve found that’s it’s often more difficult to record a very spare arrangement like this as compared to a full multi guitar rock band. There’s not a lot of room for error as any little mistake or glitch will really stand out with no drums or loud distortion to cover them up. They did a beautiful job with the presentation and recording of ‘Are You Going To Leave Me’. Any song that would sound right for walking through the woods alone will always catch my ear.
Retro: The Sisters Of Mercy – ‘This Corrosion’
I thought we’d take a trip back to the dance clubs of the late 1980’s. This song originally appeared on the band’s 1987 album ‘Floodland’. ‘This Corrosion’ was the lead single from that album. It fell right in line with much of the post punk music being created at the time. There were a lot of post punk bands whose music was perfect for hitting the dance floor. Making danceable music is not as easy as it would seem to be. You can’t just get a beat and throw anything on top of it. You have to hit the right tempo. Not too fast, not too slow. The best dance music made it almost impossible to stay off the dance floor. The drums and bass keep the song moving along. The vocals are what really propel this song forward. You have a lead vocal that is in the baritone range, which sets it apart from most dance music. The great idea here was adding the huge chorus of vocals through out the song. The album version (usually the version played in clubs) has a 38 second chorus lead in. In a club that was great – you’d hear it and it was a call to hit the dance floor. The snap of the snare and high end mixed kick drum sound propel the song, but all the instruments are designed to keep a steady beat going, where you can place the vocals on top. The Sisters Of Mercy used a drum machine – they referred to it as Doktor Avalanche as if it were a human band member. The sound of most bands doing this music was often somewhat keyboard/synthesizer centric – a lot of small parts that worked perfectly together. This song, however, also has some really tasty guitar parts thrown in – noisy leads and chord arpeggios in the background as well as actual bass guitar. Turn on the black lights and push up the volume!