May 2023 Grapevine

It’s been a pretty nice spring in our area. We often have a season that goes from 50 degree days then jumps directly in to the 80 degree summer. It’s been refreshing having some time of 70 degree days and cool nights. I’m enjoying it while I can because I certainly don’t expect it to continue. The year 2023 continues to cruise by. Quickly. It’s interesting to remember lyrics to songs that I heard when I was growing up that didn’t mean much then and I’ve come to understand now. I remember when Pink Floyd released the album The Dark Side Of The Moon. I was just hitting my teenage years and we were all fans of the band’s music. The album stayed on our play lists (and the charts) for many years. You knew the words by heart. But I didn’t really think in ‘life’ terms about what the lyrics were really saying. I listen to the song ‘Time’ now and the lyrics are somewhat chilling for me. “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today And then one day you find ten years have got behind you No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun” “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”. Yikes!! Who wouldn’t love to go back to those days when years seemed to last forever? As you get older you try to make the most of your time, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. One thing I don’t do is live in the past musically. That’s one reason for the Grapevine. It helps me search through new music and has introduced me to artists I would not have heard otherwise. Hopefully it does the same for anyone out there who reads our blog posts.

First Up: Cliff And Ivy – ‘Fossil Fuel’

The band bills themselves as ‘Alaska’s Goth Duo’. Honestly, with periods of the year where you don’t see the sun, I would think that Alaska would lend itself to dark, goth music. Everything about this song and video is fun (yes, I consider dark goth fun). There’s a lot of late 1970’s punk feel to it and the video and tune remind me of the band X (they have a newer release ‘Bring Us The Night’ that has a quicker, punkier sound to it). It’s really a well produced, crisp recording. Very straight forward, driving drum beat. Nice snap to the snare drum. The bass line pins itself to the drum beat and adds a presence to it. The fuzzed out rhythm guitar is not overblown in the mix but is another driving force. Keyboards and synth add atmosphere as they come in and out of the mix. And atmosphere is a big part of the song. Lead guitar parts are leveled in with the rest of the mix and add more to the feel of the song than a big in your face presence. Lead vocals are also more in the mix but are still at a level where you can pick up lyrics. Backing vocals almost sound like another synth, high, airy and slathered with reverb and delay. Some cool changes in dynamics throughout with instruments dropping in and out of the mix. Definitely ‘black light’ music. I think the overall mix is well thought out and achieves the goal of creating a dark, moody presence. The video is wonderfully DIY and fits the song perfectly. It was filmed at a glacier in Alaska – awesome. Nothing better than a band who takes control of their music and video and gets to create their own vision.

Next Up: Piroshka – ‘V.O.’

This song fits pretty well in to the wonderful world of ‘shoegaze’. As with any genre, there can be a lot of variety. A lot of shoegaze puts the swirling guitars and keyboards way out front in the mix and often buries the vocals and drums a lot deeper. In ‘V.O.’ the guitars swirl and keep their own time using delay and an ocean of special effects. The guitar is basically the canvas that the rest of the song’s picture is painted on. To make the guitar fit cohesively in with the rest of the song you have to get the timing of the delay and other effects correct – that makes the song flow. If you present the guitar oscillations out of time with the drums and the rhythm you have a whole different type of song. There’s other guitars that add to the effect with chimey chord arpeggios throughout. The keyboards give more presence to the music, with swells that rise and fall to add to the atmosphere. The drum work is great and deservedly has a higher place in the mix than you often hear in shoegaze. Lots of snap to the snare and some really tasty work on the cymbals. The bass is a bit deeper in the mix. You can hear it if you listen for it, but it functions more as a bottom end floor that’s another building block for the song. The vocals keep to the dreamy feel of the music but they are rightly placed fairly high in the mix. You can pick out lyrics in ‘V.O.’, something that doesn’t always happen in shoegaze songs. There are also other vocals sprinkled in the song that act as another instrument. The song has great mixing and production. I think the separation of instruments makes everything a bit more complex. You can sit back and enjoy the overall swirl of the music or pick up each instrument as a separate piece. A finely crafted and enjoyable piece of music.

Finally: Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle – ‘Learn To Lose’

A lot of the ambience, feel and sound of a song has to do with the way it is produced. I think ‘Learn To Lose’ is a great example of this. The chord structure and changes are pretty simple. It pretty much follows a blues type structure. The rhythm and timing is also pretty straight forward. So what makes this song stand out more and attract attention? It’s the sonics used on each instrument and the way they are placed together in the mix. Let’s start with the guitars. You have a guitar in the right channel that is basically living in a swamp of feedback. It sounds like they’re taking the guitar, cranking distortion and having the guitar feedback through the amp while actively using a wah pedal. The guitar on the left side has more recognizable chord sounds, although they also have a lot of distortion on it too. In fact, distortion and feedback is a huge part of the overall production of this tune. The vocals come in and they also have a distorted quality to them. They’re placed much higher up in the mix. I’m not really sure if there is a bass in there, this might be all guitars (in watching the performance clips in the video it looks like three guitars on stage). The drums are also placed deep in the mix. The one piece of the drums that comes through clearly is the snare – but that is also fuzzy and distorted. There’s no changes or fills that break up the beat, just a relentless snare keeping time. So if there are kick drums or toms they’ve been kept out of or extremely low in the recording mix. The feel of the song is a crackly vocal placed on a bed of distortion. This is the intent of the song and the production. It’s probably an acquired taste for most people. The joy of sticking your head right in front of a buzzing amp.

Retro: The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Blue Green Olga’

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has put out songs using a wide variety of musical styles. You can hear influences of punk, blues, noise rock, garage and and a number of other influences. ‘Blue Green Olga’ is from the album ‘Acme’ which was released in 1998. I think the song is probably one of their most accessible, stylistically, to most people. The lineup usually functioned as a three piece with two guitars and drums. For this song there is a great organ sound throughout as well as backing vocals sprinkled among the mix. I think what really grabs me is the wonderful, funky guitar riff that runs throughout the song. Another favorite part is the great snare sound. Lots of snap with a bit of distortion and just the right amount of reverb. These two pieces draw you in right from the beginning of the song then underpin everything else as the other instruments are added in. The vocals are upfront in the mix and yet don’t over power the rest of the instruments. One highlight of the arrangement is the break coming out of the chorus at 1:36 where the instruments drop out and leave the vocal alone before a cough and a second of silence bring in the rest of the instruments. The choruses also provide a nice change of pace with the cleaner sounding guitar playing the chord arpeggios. Another cool part of the song arrangement is it’s long run out at the end which starts at 2:35 and really takes up about a third of the entire song. Great funky breaks and drop outs. Who could ask for more.

Published by churchhousepro

Musician, Sound Engineer, Producer

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