We’re at the end of the rainy month of April. At least we haven’t had a sudden freeze so we did have the joy of seeing the spring flowers bloom. Of course all the blooming added to the huge amount of pollen floating around the soup bowl of a valley we live in. I guess the moral you learn in the spring is that life and nature is a two sided coin. In spring there is the beauty of the flowers paired with the torture of the sinuses. So it goes with most things in life. This is another reason to indulge yourself in the beauty of artistic endeavors. There may be a negative side to it, but I’m not sure what that would be. Possibly it is the need to wade through a lot of selections to find music that you can really latch on to. But even that does not seem like a negative to me. As I scourer reviews and listen to different styles I always tend to hear something new. It may not end up being a style that does anything for me personally, but it’s always a learning experience. Even if a style of music does not make you want to delve in to it further, there’s always something to be learned. What instruments does the song use? How is the arrangement put together? Is there a style of mixing that defines the genre? What pieces can be used in the style of songs you are writing? When you listen to this month’s songs, keep those questions in mind – and keep an open mind. An open mind will open new doors and the other side of that door may contain an unexpected revelation.
First Up: Triptides – ‘Hand Of Time’
Listening to this song takes you back to the late sixties heyday of driving jangle rock. You can view it as ‘retro’, but that doesn’t distract from the beautiful way the instruments are combined to push the song forward. The driving foundation of the song is the drumbeat. If you listen to the kick drum in the beginning of the song, it almost sounds like a lower snare – tight and punchy. That sound along with the snare drum does the bulk of work moving the tune along. The snare is crisp with a little ‘dirt’ thrown in to add crunch. What’s also interesting in the percussion parts are the subtle pieces you can hear in the background if you really listen. If you listen closely you will hear what sounds like a shaker at the 1:15 mark. In any song it’s the little, subtle touches that you don’t notice consciously that make a difference. The guitars are split up nicely between the left and right channels with the left carrying a fuzzed out drone and the guitar in the right channel playing heavily reverbed single note lines throughout the song. The bass guitar is placed more towards the middle of the mix and keeps the song’s chord pattern steady. The bass sound and placement make a big difference in the song – just the right EQ, and mixed in so that it is perfectly audible without muddying up the rest of the instruments. There’s keyboards throughout the song which also add to the retro feel – a very 60s Farfisa sound. Finally the vocals are added directly in the middle. They’re upfront in the mix so you can catch all the lyrics with a little reverb and fuzz added. All this makes for a fun song for driving with windows down in the summer and a slight feeling of nostalgia for a musical time from the past.
Next Up: Maximo Park – ‘All Of Me’
For our next selection we’re sticking with the retro feel of early eighties indie rock. The drums here drive the tune throughout but are a bit more muted than in our previous selection. The song is built with dynamics that keep the verses a bit quieter and go full bore when the chorus starts. To add to the drive of the chorus sections a keyboard is added that plays a short consistent musical theme when it appears. For most of the song the bass keeps a steady pulse on the eighth notes echoing the keynote of the chord being played. The verses pull back on the volume a bit and are highlighted by the guitar playing the chords as arpeggios with some chorus and delay effects. The vocals and lyrics are absolutely highlighted in the song. They are upfront throughout and when the song picks up in volume during the choruses the vocals are doubled to keep them the main focus. In songs vocals have multiple purposes. They are an instrument and sometimes they are used for that only. But vocals also have a lyrical content and in many songs that is the main focus. Finally, the melody line may be the most important part of the vocals. There are songs where the lyrics are just OK, but the melody line is so powerful it commands the song and makes the lyrics seem much richer than they actually are. ‘All Of Me’ is a great example of a well crafted song that combines all of the elements in to create a fun, cohesive tune.
Finally: Bitter Defeat – ‘Long Lash’
We’re going to stick with the style we’ve listened to in the first two songs. I don’t usually have a theme style for the songs we review each month. For April, we’ve stuck with the indie rock sound throughout the three selections. Sometimes that happens due to the magazine I’m going through to find new songs, which is what happened for April. The instrumental lineup fits the bill here: two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. We have a main vocal as well as some nice backup vocals to fill in the sound at certain parts of the song. The mix is pretty even, with each instrument having a presence in the song. There’s a guitar theme that is played throughout the song that acts as a counter melody when there are no vocals. As with the other songs in this style the bass keeps a consistent rhythm and stays mostly on the key notes of the chords. The mix between the vocals when the backups come in is well done. This can be trickier than you would think – you don’t want to overwhelm the main vocal and yet you want to have the secondary vocal loud enough that the harmony between them has a presence. The keyboard has the least noticeable sonic presence. It acts more as the ‘floor’ of the tune that all the other instruments are built on. One final interesting note is the drummer in the video playing his kit standing up. Not something you see very often and I’d love to know how that changes the feel of playing a kit.
Just Because – Billy Strings featuring Willie Nelson – ‘California Sober’
I’d usually throw a ‘retro’ tune in here, but this song just came out. What more could you ask for? Billy Strings and his band. Willie Nelson. Twisting a few up to keep ‘California Sober’. As always Billy and the band kick ass on the instruments with a few other guests appearing. This was written to celebrate Willie’s 90th birthday. We should all be so lucky as to be able to keep doing what we love when we’re turning 90. The smoke filled bus at the end of the video brings back fond memories (smaller vehicles, just as much smoke). If you have a chance to see either of these amazing musicians, don’t hesitate, just grab a ticket.