For Part 15 of our Messin’ With The Music’ series we decided to tackle ‘Lawyers’ Guns And Money’ by Warren Zevon. The song comes from Zevon’s 1978 album ‘Excitable Boy’. This was a huge album for Zevon and contained many of the songs people know from him – ‘Excitable Boy’, ‘Werewolves Of London’, ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ as well as ‘Lawyers, Guns And Money’. There’s a lot of ways you can describe Zevon’s songwriting, but one part of his music that I always enjoy is the entertainment value of the lyrics. First, his vocal style makes the lyrics pretty easy to hear and understand. Many of the song lyrics are built as stories: some humor, some fun, some just out and out strange. He may be an acquired taste for some people, but you’ll absolutely recognize who it is when you hear them on the radio. Another cool thing about this album is the amazing amount of well known musicians who participated in the recording besides the ‘main band’: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jeff Porcaro, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Waddy Wachtel, Jennifer Warnes, Danny Kortchmar to name a few. Some of those names might not be as familiar, but if you look them up you’ll see how many well known songs and albums they’ve played on. Zevon was definitely a well respected musician among his peers.
For our version the main instrument holding down the song is a twelve string guitar. We recorded it twice and panned the tracks hard left and right. For these acoustic versions this is a common way we start the songs as it builds a good stereo field and makes the song sound full. If you had drums and electric guitars, they would usually handle that part of the recording. There is a six string guitar and a six string banjo. Besides the chords during the vocals, they play riffs in between the vocal parts, sort of mirroring the guitar that plays on the original song after the second verse. We also added mandolin and bass parts. There are duo vocals on this song – we actually sang both live in the same room at the same time. That was a lot of fun. We’d usually add some percussion, but with the banjo and guitar playing riffs, it seemed pretty full and more percussion wasn’t necessary.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs cover Warren Zevon’s ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money’:
We have another Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs ‘Live In The Studio’ performance for you. This time we recorded a live version of our song ‘The Wish’. This song was originally created with our previous band Conduit for the CD ‘Superior Olive’. You can find out more about the band and the CD version by visiting the website for our record label Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds. The version in this video is performed with just vocals and acoustic guitar. That’s how we write most of our songs, so this gives you an idea of how we start out with a tune before we add all the other parts for the full studio version. This version is recorded with just two room microphones. We want our blog reading friends to have the feeling of sitting with us in the room as we play, so the video is live start to finish from turning on the camera to the end, comments, silly faces and all.
And….the story of the t-shirt. For anyone who’s not from the northeast US, ‘Live Free Or Die’ is the state motto of New Hampshire – it’s also on their license plates. New Hampshire is an awesomely beautiful state, so I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ in the video like when I wear national park t-shirts (please support and cherish your national parks). I always thought it was such a cool motto to have on a license plate. If you want great hiking, head to the White Mountain National Forest. Some wonderful, rock strewn trails to challenge you. I’ve included a photo from the last trip my wife and I took below .
Anyway, here’s the video – Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs performing ‘The Wish’ live in ChurchHouse Studio.
July has arrived with the summer heat melting everything in sight. Live music has begun to open up which means more bands will begin to get an opportunity to tour the music they have been recording. As I read through record reviews this month I really took note of some interesting trends that happened to recorded music over the past year. The pandemic was a huge topic of many songs that were written, in some cases it became the theme of whole albums. A lot of artists also had to change their recording styles, figuring out how to work together as a band while not being able to be in a studio at the same time. This was especially true of bands where all the musicians were not living in the same city. That had a big effect on the way their music sounded and resulted in new styles and experiments for the artists. Another trend was musicians in bands working on solo projects. Since the entire band could not be together to record, individuals put out songs that they had been working on or had demoed that did not fit in to the fabric of the band as a group. This made for some interesting new material being released. The advent of easy home recording has certainly aided this trend as you can get a decent recording on a low home budget. Studios will remain a higher level option due to the quality of mics, preamps, mixing boards, monitors, etc that are available (of course I’m a bit biased on this having a studio, but it really is true). Well, on to our selections.
First Up: Carter Tanton – ‘Steep Angles’
We’re going to start out with something simple, slow and moody. I do enjoy full band hard driving tracks, but there’s something about a simple guitar (or any single instrument) and vocal track that can really touch your soul. Here we have two guitars, vocals and harmonica. The guitars are blended well and if you don’t listen very carefully it sounds as if only one guitar is being played. When I break these songs down for review I always listen to them on headphones. When you do this you can pick out the two instruments as they are slightly panned to the left and right channels. Technically, the more you pan them the easier it is to hear the difference, but the object here was to have the guitars heard as a blended single entity. The vocals have a real nice tone and EQ. With spare instrumentation like this the layers of reverb pull all the instruments together. The harmonica maintains the melancholy tone of the song, adding a melodic line that mirrors yet is different from the vocals. You can hear early Neil Young influences in the sound, without it being an out and out identical copy. Beautiful mood music as it can match the mood you’re in or bring you to that sad, open prairie space.
Next Up: Riley Downing – ‘Good To See Ya’
Let’s move in to blues territory. Riley Downing offers a nice blend of traditional blues along with some New Orleans flavor on ‘Good To See Ya’. The song follows the basics of a traditional blues song as far as the chord progressions and tone. The guitar has just the right amount of distortion, adding some ‘dirt’ without being over fuzz toned. If you listen you’ll hear the occasional second guitar playing with a good bit of digital delay added to draw out the note and move you in to the next part of the song. It works as a nice transition. The vocals fit nicely in to the blues feel, low and simple with just the right amount of expression. What set this song apart from a lot of blues songs for me is the addition of accordion and New Orleans flavored organ sounds mixed in. This background does just enough to pull the song out of a totally standard blues feel. There’s some nice simple guitar and organ work during the break. The drums do a cool touch at the end of that brake where they’re layered with extra reverb as well as what sounds like hand claps added. When you’re playing blues, which really can be very standard, it’s the extra touches like this and the accordion background that can make the difference. Also note the back and forth pull between guitar and organ gives the song a nice unbalanced feel. A very well put together blues tune.
Finally: Reigning Sound – ‘I Don’t Need That Kind Of Lovin’
Let’s finish up with some straight ahead rock. Start the song with some great distorted guitar with a cool lead riff. Add in vocals and stir. The guitars and vocals are put out front in the mix. The drums and the bass are a bit in the background. There is a doubling harmony for the vocals in the chorus and handclaps added to the drums. After the second chorus there is break that has a short held chord slowdown with a change in the vocal tone. It revs back up with guitar lead before returning to the vocal. At 2:04, bang, the song is over. Short, sweet, hard hitting rock tune. Seems like a great song to hear live. This style goes back to the earliest rock songs when the tunes were short and to the point. Over time most songs got longer and a bit more complex. I think there’s still plenty of room for the great two minute rock blast. Good old rock n roll fun.
Retro: Rod Stewart – ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’
This song is from Rod Stewart’s third album of the same name. There’s so much I like about this song and it typifies many of the reasons I still get goosebumps listening to songs from this era. The biggest overall reason I love this style song is the loose feel of the arrangement and playing. It’s something I think is sorely missing from music of today – especially music that is more popular and ‘commercial’. Much of the musical backing is from The Faces, the band that Stewart had begun his career rise with. The song alternates between vocals and guitar riffs, both of which maintain that amazing loose blast. We also have some solos from a great blues bar room riff on piano. There’s sections where the instrumentation becomes more minimal and then fires back up again. The song is played like a journey which mirrors the fact that the lyrics really do tell a front to back story. It starts with a beautiful arpeggiated guitar part that is an intro to set up the rest of the song. The guitar has a great ring, a wonderful, unprocessed guitar sound before a held chord heralds the beginning of the vocals. All the parts from vocal, guitar, drums, piano and bass can be heard clearly. The stereo field placement adds to the ability to hear everything clearly with guitars panned hard left and right for full effect. There’s a slow down break at around the 3:30 mark of the song. Props to back up vocalist Maggie Bell for the added vocals in this section and the end of the song where her vocals are given as much heft as Stewart’s. The song ends with a minute plus long run out. The song arrangement is so well done you don’t realize it’s a six minute long song. I never get tired of hearing this song. Classic.
We’re back with another tune from our Messin’ With The Music series. Instant Karma! (the exclamation point is officially part of the title) was released by John Lennon in 1970. This song came out at the same time The Beatles were working on Let It Be. One interesting fact about the song is that it was written, recorded and released within a period of ten days. That’s an incredibly quick turnaround, especially for an artist at that level of success. It’s always been my favorite Lennon solo single. The idea that karma, ‘you reap what you sow’, could happen instantaneously rather play out over the remaining course of your life is a very appealing idea. The power in Lennon’s vocal always felt like a big middle finger to every self centered person who screwed other people over. Karma, of course, works in both directions. I also find the idea that people who do good will receive good in return appealing. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing instant karma doled out for much of what happened in 2020 (and continues to happen in 2021).
We kept with our usual Messin’ recording protocol using single mic straight through tracking. We did put in a pretty full roster of tracks for this song. The original was Phil Spector produced and used multiple piano takes for it’s basic feel. Spector was famous for his ‘wall of sound’ methodology and it shows in this recording. The original was also swimming in reverb to make it sound even bigger. For our base tracks we used finger picked acoustic guitars and recorded two separate tracks, panned hard left and right. There are two separate mandolin tracks, one using mostly chords and the other generally picking single notes. A third mandolin part plays a little riff in the instrumental break. We added a bass guitar track and a sparse single note oriented banjo track. Percussion tracks include tambourine, shaker, washboard and wood block. There’s a main vocal track with a harmony vocal floating underneath in the verses. We wanted a bigger sound in the chorus in keeping with the feel of the original so we have a main vocal and four other vocal tracks that are panned in hard stereo to give that bigger feel.
I really enjoyed finally being able to do a cover of this song. We hope you enjoy it too.
Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma!’:
It’s been a while since we checked in to see what’s happening with one of our favorites, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The band has always put out stellar work whether it’s audio, video or live music. I’m including two videos that will give you an example of all three areas. We’ll start with the recent video for ‘Too Cool To Dance’. As always, the playing is great. Rev’s still finger picking the hell out of his guitar. The recording sound is a bit cleaner and smoother than some of his early work, but just as fierce. And the video maintains the great humor of his other videos. The band’s vibe remains ‘let’s have fun and not take ourselves too seriously’. They always bring the same joy to their live shows.
The next video is from a recording of the Elmore James classic ‘Shake Your Money Maker’. The band recorded this live in Sun Studios with Dom Flemons, the legendary Steve Cropper and bassist Scot Sutherland. So many cool things going on. The video was made on an iPhone and synced with the live recording. Check out the classic equipment used in the recording. We recently talked about live studio recording in a post. This video is an amazing example of nailing a take. I’m not going to over analyze. Just sit back and enjoy it!
Amazing. We’re almost in to the second half of the year. 2020 dragged on like watching an endless horror flick during a long drinking bender. I had high hopes that 2021 would end up being the great release and return to total normality. Silly me. Yes, things have gotten better. But this year still feels like a bad hangover from last year in many ways. I don’t think any of us wanted to give up another year just trying to return to ‘normal’. But anything that is worthwhile takes some work. So I’m trying to work on the good old ‘positive attitude’ and just ‘keep on truckin’ as the old hippie saying goes. Let’s take a deep breath, sit back, and listen to some tunes and see what we can come up with for positive attitude. We just finished re-watching Ken Burns’ great ‘Country Music’ documentary. Every time I watch it I pick up some new inspiration and ideas for songs. Hearing how great songs were conceived and constructed really helps to fire up the old brain synapses. And the wonderful simplicity of early country songs shows what’s really important when you’re writing. They often referred to country music as “three chords and a great story”. With the best songs the human connection always overwhelms any ‘simplicity’.
First Up: Bluegrass Jam – ‘Where The Wild River Rolls’
Let’s start with Bluegrass Jam. First, since we were talking about country and bluegrass music this is a great example. I really like the video because it gives you a great picture of live recording technique. In the studio, I would always give musicians who wanted to record ‘live’ the pros and cons. And truthfully, recording individual parts as overdubs is what I would usually recommend. One of the main reasons is that if one person makes a mistake like an incorrect chord change, in a live setting the entire group will have to re-record the track. Not all situations lend themselves to live recording. If you’re playing through amps with a live drum kit, the bleed through in to microphones can cause some tracks to overwhelm other tracks. The bluegrass instrumental set up we see in this video lends itself much better to a live recording. To do this you have to learn some ‘mic technique’. You’ll see someone step up towards the mic during a solo or back away when necessary. You also have to be aware of how hard you’re playing to keep a good mix and bring different instruments to the front of the sound at different times. Distance is important – each instrument projects sound differently. Banjos really project so you’ll stand a little further away. The three mic setup is nice – real old school recording had everyone work around one mic. Finally, I like the song a lot, it has a wonderful feel; the players all do a great job on their instruments and the idea of getting a recording like this live in a living room is totally awesome.
Next Up: Jane Weaver – ‘The Revolution Of Super Visions’
For our second tune this month we’ll move along to the wonderful world of thumping bass and snappy drums that highlight Jane Weaver’s ‘The Revolution Of Super Visions’. One of the basic needs of a great funk song is a stellar drum track. It doesn’t have to be complex – in some ways complex would totally defeat the purpose. The drums are placed relatively high in the mix, and rely on the snare, high hat and kick to keep the beat going. Although the beat sounds simple, getting that groovy hi hat is not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes for drums keeping that slinky sound is much more difficult than blasting all over the kit. The verses keep the music a little more minimalist. There’s a clean guitar playing little riffs at the high end of the scale, a pretty standard feel for a funk based tune. You need that sound to cut through because a lot of funk has a heavy bass bottom end. In this song the bass is joined by buzzy synth sounds that act as a second bass feel. Weaver keeps her vocals high and airy, floating on top of the music. I like the fact that you can easily pick up the lyrics as the song is delivering a story and a message. When we hit the chorus the music fills in. Several more keyboards are added so the chorus really hits home. You need changes in dynamics to keep a dance song interesting and that is often created by beefing up the amount of instrumentation or vocals in the choruses. The little touches in the song that you may not notice if you don’t listen carefully also make a difference. Listen for the background vocals during the verses echoing the main vocal as well as more short riffs by bass and synth. Turn it on up and dance!
Finally: Alabama Slim – ‘Freddie’s Voodoo Boogie’
For our final track let’s venture in to a dark, smoky lounge and feel some old time blues boogie. Alabama Slim has been working the blues for quite a while. At 82 he’s still dropping great blues albums. He just put out a new album, The Parlor, in 2021. I decided to grab this song for the great ‘boogie blues’ feel it has. This blues style has been around quite a while and many great rock bands have taken this style and ran with it over the years (think early ZZ Top, ‘La Grange’ era). In this type of song the guitar is king. It’s backed by real simple percussion. The vocals are spoken as much as sung. A key to playing this on guitar is that it leans on the rhythm you do with your right hand as much as the melodic notes you’ll hit with your left hand (yes, yes, reverse that if you’re a left handed guitar player). You can pick up little riffs that repeat throughout the song. Pinpoint accuracy on notes is not real important. It’s all about the feel. He probably doesn’t play this song exactly the same each time he plays it. For me, that’s just another point that makes it fun and interesting. Turn it up, stomp your feet and feel it in your bones.
Retro: James Gang – ‘Funk #49’
What song to pick for the monthly ‘retro’ selection comes to me in many different ways. Sometimes I try to pick something a little more obscure that I think should of been more well known. Sometimes I cruise through my album collection and think wow, haven’t heard this in a while. Sometimes when I’m picking the new songs they trigger ideas of older songs. When I was listening to Alabama Slim, I thought, hey, haven’t heard ‘Funk #49’ in a while. A lot of people are familiar with Joe Walsh through hearing his solo work or work with the Eagles. I first heard him playing with the James Gang. ‘Funk #49’ is such a fun guitar song. The song’s initial guitar riff alone is worth a listen. Great string bends and a sloppy little riff start the tune with rest of the band dropping in perfectly. It also has one of the coolest middle breaks you’ll ever hear. The song is first stripped down to just drums and vocal shouts and hoots. Then that great, bendy initial riff hits again before the entire band comes back in. Absolute classic.
I finally got to see a live band last Saturday night. We went with friends to see The Verve Pipe at Levitt Pavilion which is a local outdoor venue. It was the first time I’ve been to see a live band in over a year. It’s been so long I almost forgot how much fun it is and how much seeing live music adds to your life and elevates your attitude and sense of happiness. It was one of the coldest May 29ths on record around here and we were in a misty drizzle. Shows are still social distancing so it wasn’t very crowded (OK – I sorta like that part). None of the conditions affected how great it was to see a show. It felt like a return to real life.
The sound, performance and music were awesome. The band put on a great show. Kudos to the band for going all out – it’s got to be a bit more difficult playing to a smaller crowd on a cold, wet evening. They even added some cool cover songs to their set. Highly recommend seeing The Verve Pipe if you have a chance.
I’m really hoping our return to some form of normality (at least as far as live music goes) continues. You sometimes forgot how much connecting with a band and their music in a live setting adds to your life. It can lift you up and pull you through a full range of emotions. I know it does the same for a band when you play a live show. We’ve been in a period of darkness. Let’s all cross our fingers that we’re finally heading back to the light.
In a previous post about change and growth of a band we discussed the career of Talking Heads. I thought it would be interesting to look at another example of someone who has exhibited a great deal of change during their career. This time we’re going to go through some of the music of Beck. There is one big difference between those artists right from the beginning. That difference is working in a band with other musicians versus working as a solo artist. Beck, as a solo artist, worked with whoever he felt like collaborating with from album to album, even song to song. There’s a lot of freedom in working that way. First, you are really the final (maybe only) person who decides what your songs will sound like. Second, without the necessity of working in a band where you’re trying to keep everyone engaged and happy you can pretty much record any style you want. You are also able to bring in musicians who have a vast array of influences and abilities. The ‘down side’, if you want to call it that, is that all the work and creative idea construction falls solely on you. You can pick ideas from a variety of collaborators, but in the end, it’s your name and reputation on the line every time you put out music. You definitely have to have a strong sense of self to work in this fashion.
Beck had been performing as a solo artist beginning in his teenage years. In some ways he lived the life of a busker, travelling between the coasts and becoming involved in various folk and conceptual art scenes that interested him. His performances could be ‘eventful’ as he would make up songs on the spot if the audience wasn’t paying attention. Or wear strange costumes and set his guitar on fire. Again, being a solo artist allows you to take any chance you want. You’re not affecting the careers or lives of the other musicians who may also be close friends.
Although he released and handed out cassettes of his music (later made in to albums after he became successful) ‘Loser’ was the flash point that began his career in earnest. An amazing aggregation of folk, hip hop and everything in between it was not expected to be a hit, but the public really makes this decision for you. Add in a crazy, cut and paste video and the world was introduced to Beck. I’m not sure how many people haven’t seen this video, but the freewheeling joy of it amazes me to this day. In the long run, it became the anchor of his first album, ‘Mellow Gold’. In case you’re wondering about the first line of the chorus, ‘Soy un perdedor’ literally means ‘I’m a Loser’ in Spanish.
Beck did release another album called ‘One Foot In The Grave’ before his next major album, ‘Odelay’. ‘Odelay’ sits in my album collection as one of my favorite albums of all time. It had several ‘hit’ songs, but the album sticks with me as I always listen to it front to back, there’s not a song that I would think of skipping through. Musically, what category does it really fit in to? I’m picking ‘Devil’s Haircut’ as the song from this album. There’s great sounding drums, a bass part that has a riff that holds everything together and sits as the main theme that the other music works around or copies. A lot of the rest is studio sampling magic. It almost sounds as if random sounds are thrown in. But they’re not random. Try it some time – fitting in the right sound at the right time is an art. Then there’s the lyrics, strange phrases that act as images floating in your head. Do they have an overall meaning? Maybe – whatever you want.
After the studio production heavy ‘Odelay’, Beck put out a quick album titled ‘Mutations’. It was meant to be the opposite of the production style of ‘Odelay’, more live recording of the players. This was not an album that ever became a big public recording. I think that this again is a benefit of being solo versus being in a band. When you take chances it’s all on you, you don’t have to worry about how decisions could affect the other band members. The song ‘Cold Brains’ feels like psychedelic folk, much more like a full formal band.
After ‘Mutations’, Beck released ‘Midnite Vultures’. In some ways this returns to the studio production feel of ‘Odelay’ except I always felt there was a whole lot more funk going on. The song I’m choosing from this album is ‘Peaches And Cream’. It always reminds me of a somewhat warped mirror version of a Prince song, right down to the falsetto delivery of the vocals. Just when you think you can grab on to it as a straight forward funk song, there’s a noise guitar or odd keyboard/sound sample to throw a monkey wrench in to the flow. Even though it feels like a trip back towards ‘Odelay’, it still takes a lot of steps in to new territory throughout the album.
‘Midnite Vultures’ was followed by a very different style of music on the album ‘Sea Change’. The tracks are anchored by acoustic guitar and relatively straight forward lyrics. For an artist who had attained his level of success, this could be a big risk. Beck had built a brand on strange, funky studio experiments. Breaking this down to acoustic songs with more personal lyrics was a risk. ‘Lost Cause’ is acoustic guitar, simple hi hat drums and some string sounds in the background. It definitely centers on the vocals and lyrics. Where most of his previous work had been upbeat and odd, ‘Lost Cause’ and the other songs on ‘Sea Change’ had that feeling of sadness and melancholy. This type of change is where you find the true genius of the best artists as Beck pulled off this change and still delivered songs that could touch people emotionally.
Beck’s next album, ‘Guero’, returned to the style exhibited on ‘Odelay’. There’s a lot of studio production work and sampling. He also worked with a variety of producers when putting the album together. Our selection for this album ‘E-Pro’ has a lot of parts that grab me. It certainly indulges my love of cracking, fuzzed out guitar. The drum beat drives everything as you never feel a let down when the song moves just to the drum beat and vocals. Again, if you listen to all the parts it seems like it would be simple to put a song like this together especially where there’s just drums and vocals. One sign of genius to me is taking something that’s actually pretty difficult and making it look simple. I also really like the video for the song. The movement between animation and reality is in constant motion, just like the song.
The next album was titled ‘The Information’. The song I picked from this album is titled ‘Think I’m In Love’. To me it sounds like a more straight forward indie rock style song. As always, you can certainly tell it’s Beck by the little flourishes that are thrown in throughout the song as well as his distinctive vocals. One thing I’ve always liked in Beck’s music is his elevation of bass in his songs to where it is often the big rhythmic and/or melodic hook. There’s a really nice break in the middle of the song which adds acoustic guitars as well as keyboards/strings. He combines many things he does well here, keeping a danceable beat moving along with vocals that act as another rhythm part. At this point in his career he had a large library of prior styles and ideas to choose from.
On the album ‘Modern Guilt’, Beck continued to mine the vast array of different styles he had previously used. ‘Chemtrails’ fits in to the neo-psychedelia mold. As I’ve gone through his albums for this post I’m amazed at the variety of styles that I usually touch in the Grapevine series that he hits in his albums. All of his music, while having one foot in a variety of styles depending on the song tend to keep a piece of his own unique vision in them as well. One of ‘Chemtrails’ stand outs is the great live drums in the song. It also feels like the recording is a full band playing live.
For the album ‘Morning Phase’ we return to more acoustic, introspective song writing. ‘Blue Moon’ has acoustic guitar and piano built in to a more standard song style. Lots of reverb on the vocals and really nice backing vocals fill in much of the space. With an amazing encyclopedia of styles and songs at his fingertips, Beck continues to try any type of music that suits his fancy at the time. It’s really unusual for any artist to be able to put out music that fits his current mood and still remain successful both commercially and artistically. He’s released two albums since ‘Morning Phase’, ‘Colors’ and ‘Hyperspace’. For all his success, I think he’s still underappreciated for the wide range of remarkable material he’s released from ‘Loser’ in 1994 to the present day. That’s a long time to be able to continually change, experiment and grow as an artist. Hopefully He’ll continue for many more years.
Last time we released a new song by Steaming Mulch they said they were going to come back in to the studio soon. It usually takes them a while to get together and bring a new idea in for recording, so I was very pleasantly surprised when they said they had a new tune ready. The entire song was finished pretty quickly. The band usually has a basic song idea and comes up with the parts and riffs as they work on it. The new song already had the basic structure and instruments decided before we started recording. This made the recording process a bit different than usual, but just as much fun. After we finished recording they said they wanted to have a video for the song. Another great surprise as we usually use a static photo for their videos. As with their static photos they said we could do whatever we want. Ah, carte blanche to create! So we put together some footage for the song. They, of course, came up with the song title – pretty much keeps with the style of title they usually come up with. Hope you all enjoy listening to the song and watching the video as much as we enjoyed creating it.
Here’s Steaming Mulch and their new single ‘Whisper Beneath Me After Proto Essential’:
Spring has officially arrived. Flowers are blooming, Temperatures are rising. Trees are green. The pollen from the trees is so thick it’s like walking through fog……..well, that last part isn’t great but we need to accept the bad with the good. So let’s move on to the tunes. Listening to new music is always good. This month we’re going to start out by comparing two selections of music. What we see is that good music can be found in songs that have either a small amount of instrumentation or a large amount. Another comparison between the songs is the length. Some people like their music in short, easy to digest nuggets. Other people like the journey and changes that come with an extended piece of music. I’m firmly in both camps. As usual, I feel if you put limits on what you’re going to listen to, you end up missing some amazing songs.
Let’s start out with the ‘macro’…
First Up: Squid – ‘Narrator’
Stylistically Squid would fall in to what most people term ‘post-punk’ music. You can see their basic instrumentation in the video. Two guitars, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals. As you progress through the song you will also hear a number of samples as well as a second vocal (featured player Martha Skye Murphy). The first part of the song is pretty classic post-punk. Short bursts of notes from the the melodic instruments. Very angular guitar lines instead of held chords. The bass and the keyboards follow suit. As the lines clash you pick up some dissonance between the instruments. The vocals work the same way. Not a whole lot of melody to the vocal lines. A lot of the impact of the vocals is rhythmic. The drums keep the steady beat that the other pieces work around. Fans of eighties bands like Gang Of Four will find this familiar. By now you may have looked at the length of the song. 8:35????? Unfortunately a lot of people will see that length and bail. But the point of the song is the journey. As you get to the halfway mark the song goes through a breakdown in to less instrumentation. The remainder of the song builds to a climax using repetition, noise and ambiance. This song is definitely a journey. Stick with it, you’ll pick up different things in the background every time you listen. It feels like you’ve finished reading a story when it’s done. A great video mirrors the music.
Next Up: Old Leatherstocking – ‘Death And The Lady’
If we’re looking for the opposite of the style we heard in the first song, you’ll find it in Old Leatherstocking. A simple, traditionally Appalachian banjo and vocal song. The focus in a song like ‘Death And The Lady’ is it’s presentation and simplicity. This is how a lot of music really began. You’ll often hear a song like this presented as just vocals, without any instrumental backing at all. The banjo mirrors the vocal line, driving home the dark tale being told. This song is played using a two fingered banjo technique, not the three finger ‘Scruggs’ style banjo most people are used to hearing in Bluegrass music. Again, the banjo here is used to double up the vocal melody as compared to being a featured melody and rhythm line in it’s own right. The power behind such a simple presentation is amazing. It brings the chills and conjures up a lonely walk through a graveyard at night (put on headphones and try that sometime – I find it inspiring). The video perfectly fits the song. A single static shot of the performance. Death singing a tune. The polar opposite of our first selection. And both songs take you on their own amazing journey.
Finally: Remember Sports – ‘Pinky Ring’
This song would fit comfortably in between the poles of the first two selections. The song could be filed under indie/pop/punk if you were looking for a genre to list. Classic instrument line up of guitars, bass and drums. The mix is well done with a clear, distinct place for all the instruments and the vocals. During the choruses one guitar follows the vocal line melodically. There are a lot of bands creating this style of music. What makes one song like this different from the tons of others I hear? For me it’s a couple of things. First, it’s the recording quality and mix. I really like the way this song is put together. Second, does it bring on some kind of emotional feel? ‘Pinky Ring’ has that sad, wistful feeling of something that was lost in the past. Finally, what really caught me was the video. When I’m listening to new music I’m almost always going through videos. I saw an online review of the band and started searching. I came across this video and went ‘wait a minute…..’ ChurchHouse is located in the Allentown, Pa area. I grew up around here and spent weekends and vacations going hiking and picnicking in the Pocono mountains. Much of the video is shot in Boulder Field in Hickory Run State Park. We used to go there and see how fast we could run across it without killing ourselves. We still go there occasionally. Always cool to have a video trigger childhood memories.
Retro: Urge Overkill – ‘Sister Havana’
Urge Overkill delivers a big dose of power pop with their 1993 song ‘Sister Havana’ from the album ‘Saturation’. This was always a fun song to play live, with it’s wonderfully crunchy guitar barre chords and straight forward, head banging beat. It’s the kind of song that could be killed with a bad mix, but ‘Sister Havana’ has the placement of drums, guitar, bass and vocals to tie everything together. The most important part of any song is the writing. But the difference between success and failure is often found in the studio and final mix. This song is a good example of how making the right studio choices can determine the entire direction of a song or career.