Let’s Talk. Classifying Music – Can You Judge A Book By It’s Cover?

You read a music review in a magazine or online. In the topic line or in the body of the article the reviewer delivers a quick description of the artist being reviewed: ‘punk rock’, ‘bluegrass’, ‘heavy metal’, ‘pop rock’, ‘funk’, ‘hardcore’, ‘classical’. Those are just some basic labels. The labeling can become extremely micro: ‘psychedelic dance party industrial flaming death rock’. We’ve touched on this phenomena a lot on this blog, particularly when reviewing songs in the Grapevine articles. But is this practice good, bad or not important at all? I believe that all of those interpretations can be accurate.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with attempting to label music. There is a vast amount of musical material available. People writing reviews are usually trying to give you a short synopsis of the music so you can decide if you want to listen. I cruise through musical ‘labels’ all the time to help decide if I want to delve deeper in to a band. But as I’ve stated before, this can have a limiting effect and cause you to miss a lot of music that you might actually like. Or it might help you look for a specific musical style online by doing a search for a musical ‘label’ to find new bands. It’s just info. You get to decide how to use it.

Let’s take an example. The Dead South is a band I’ve reviewed before. Let’s take a look at their video for the song ‘Black Lung’:

If you look at how they dress and the instruments they are playing your first thought might be bluegrass music. But is it? In articles I’ve read the band itself has often stated that they don’t consider themselves bluegrass musicians. And if you really listen to the song, I don’t think I’d consider it traditional bluegrass. This song might fall better in to Americana or folk – but again, you’d be describing the music by using a label. Some of their other songs carry a total different vibe. We have talked about this in our Messin’ With The Music series. Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs use mostly acoustic instruments when recording the covers. Again, the mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, etc are often associated with bluegrass. We’ve consistently stated that we’re not attempting to do ‘bluegrass’ covers of the tunes despite the instrumentation. This pulls in another part of the overall picture. A band wants to present an image that they can be associated with. How you dress, how you look, the instruments you use help construct your image. It’s another form of a label. Fans are looking for something to latch on to. But it’s a label the band creates for themselves. If it’s in the band’s control, I think it’s a good thing. There are limitless examples of record labels creating an image for a band, often with disastrous results.

Let’s listen to another song. This is ‘Radio Clash’ by The Clash:

The Clash have always been considered as one of the great ‘punk’ bands. Is ‘Radio Clash’ a punk song? Musically, I’d be hard pressed to drop the song in to that category. But…….listen to the lyrics. They certainly embody the anti-authority, anti big business attitude of punk. One of the reasons that The Clash are a great band (in my opinion) is the wide variety of musical styles they covered in their career. Even though the music touches a lot of styles, the lyrics and attitude are pretty consistent. They were all about destroying ‘labels’, which in itself was part of their band identity. The Clash controlled their own identity and musical style. You can’t ask for more than that.

How about another one:

White Zombie’s ‘More Human Than Human’. Is it metal? Is it industrial? Hard rock? I can tell you what a great song it is in a dance club. So, can we label it? Would tacking a label on this song cause a lot of people to miss hearing it? If a song is really good, it can sometimes break through barriers and be heard by a wide variety of people (this video has over 31 million views). So labeling can be a two edged sword. Some bands will break through labeling and be successful. The vast majority of bands will never have this level of success. Maybe ‘classifying’ their music will help them, maybe it will hurt them. I think the most important part of the equation is the control the actual band has over their classification and image. If I’m in a band, I want to control my own music. This rolls right in to the topic of bands intentionally misrepresenting their style of music and image. I think that’s totally up to the band. You might present yourself one way to get more publicity. This might work and get people to view you and like what they hear. It could also backfire – “these guys call themselves country music? What a bunch of poseurs”. As long as the band controls their fate it works for me. Who doesn’t want to control their own fate?

One thing I miss that was always part of finding and classifying music is the vinyl album cover (although vinyl has made somewhat of a small comeback). You used to be able to browse in a record store and flip through this wonderful art. A lot of thought went in to the album cover design and the visuals were often created to bring to mind a certain classification of music. Does this Grateful Dead cover for ‘American Beauty’ catch your eye? Does it give you an idea of what the musical style would be? Would you buy the album just because of the album art?

Classifying items is a big part of how the human mind works. This is definitely true in almost any type of art. In the last couple of years I’ve fallen in love with landscape photography. I use many of the images for still pictures on videos on our YouTube channel. The following picture was taken in Yellowstone National Park. I altered it to fit with the music for a Steaming Mulch song. Is it still ‘landscape photography’? Does the viewer get to decide? My final thought – art is subjective. You make the call.

New Music from Lather Scream Moment – ‘Suburban Renewal’

We just finished recording a new single in ChurchHouse studio for the band Lather Scream Moment. It’s their first recorded song of original music. They found our studio online and decided to record here after hearing some of our work. It’s great that a bunch of newer bands have continued the culture of low-fi garage music. The truth is that this style has never really gone away. At times it has gone ‘underground’, but always seems to bubble back to the top when a band with great songs breaks through to the mainstream. When I say ‘mainstream’ I’m really talking about getting some plays and recognition. I honestly could not tell you what’s in the Billboard Top 10. Anyway, this gives me hope for the future. You always want to see new bands put their music out in the public arena regardless of what style of music they play.

It was a fun recording session. Lots of noise and guitars. A bit of controlled chaos. They gave me some examples of what they hoped for in the mix. As a recording engineer that’s a huge help. If you have an idea of what you want, let me know ahead of time. If you want me to decide how to produce the song, I’m good with that too.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about ‘the suburbs’ lately. They said the lyrics are about people who want to ‘escape’ the cities and when they move out develop ‘suburban paranoia’. As far as distributing the song they talked about putting it out on cassette. There’s been a vinyl revival and I guess some areas and scenes are having a cassette revival as well. Since they’re not from the area, they said they’ll keep in touch and let me know how it goes. Hopefully we’ll get to work with them again.

So here you go: Lather Scream Moment‘Suburban Renewal’

March 2021 Grapevine

Three months in to 2021. Although I’ll be happy to get to some days of warmth and sunshine, time is passing quicker than I want it to. Every coin has two sides. Anyway……… I expanded my search area for new music this month to some web sites I haven’t been on before. When I can, I mostly like to go through reviews in print magazines. They tend to be pretty concise and relatively short, so you can go through a lot of reviews pretty quickly. Online reviews tend to be much longer. Sometimes you read through a band biography before you start to hear about the album. And I really need something to click with me if I want to be able to write about it, so I look and listen to as much as time allows. But getting a broad view of what’s out there seems worth the time.

First Up: Michael Gay – ‘Long Cold Winter’

Speaking of winter. Saw this video and found it pretty amusing. So I look at a song like this on two levels. The lyrics reflect how I feel a lot of the time in winter. So it’s a good topic to make a funny song and video for. The song is lyrically pretty straight forward which is what makes a catchy fun song work well. So here’s the second part. There’s a pretty great sounding country song musically underneath the lyrics. Very nice pedal steel. Some guitars with reverb and delay. You get a real nice bass lick to start the song. Crisp drums. And a very authentic, well played country sound. I searched around and found info that the song was studio recorded as a live take. Everyone playing at once. That will give a song great feel and it takes a bit of skill. When you listen to it concentrate on the instruments once in while. The song works because it’s a total package of music, lyrics and video.

Next Up: King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard – ‘Minimum Brain Size’

‘Minimum Brain Size’ is a rhythmic paradise. I was caught right from the beginning with the interplay of the drums and the first guitar that comes in. I love songs that are built on riffs. And the first combo of drums and guitar feels wonderfully off balance. Bass comes in and adds it own riff. All the instruments play off one straight forward beat, but in different patterns. When the vocals come in the guitar simplifies it’s pattern. The vocal is mixed at the same level as the other instruments, so it forms it’s own rhythm. There are different background instruments that pop in and out. Electronic keyboard, a second guitar part, a few sound effects. One way they keep the song interesting is by having the main guitar play several different riffs throughout the song. Some are simpler, some are arpeggiated chords. It allows the song to have changes in tone while maintaining the same overall feel. If you’re wondering about lyrics, I suggest you look them up and go ;Ahhhhh….’ Wha? When you put lyrics at that volume level in a song it serves a purpose. The vocals become more instrumental and you hear the lyrics in little pieces and phrases. Which suits the content of the lyrics. Ex: “Riddle me this, Did you ever grow? Break the spider’s legs, Just to feed the crow, Sympathetic crowds Are not well endowed, They dance like flies on shit, Swarming in the clouds” Yup.

Finally: Hayley And The Crushers – ‘Jacaranda’

Thought we’d hit this winter month with some upbeat pop-punk. Musically this hits all the best touch points. First: crisp, trebly distorted guitar. Getting the sound just right is really important for the feel and tone of the song. There’s an art in getting just the right sound. Enough distortion that it’s crunchy, but not too much or the sound would blur. You have to be able to hear the individual strokes on each chord. If you don’t have the EQ set correctly the guitar will sound muddy. If the guitar sound is muddy it doesn’t drive the song forward. You also have to set the amp up correctly and have the right microphones placed properly. There are things we all take for granted and don’t give much thought to when we’re listening to a song. But something that seems as simple as getting that guitar sound makes all the difference. The bass sits on the chord’s root notes, mirroring the guitar chords and in essence adding a driving bottom end to the guitar. The drum sounds are also kept crisp, even the bass drum. Again, this is all set to keep the song driving forward. The vocals on top are given pretty much the same treatment. Not a lot of reverb because in this song we’re not looking for the spacey ultra reverb feel. Finally, at this time of year it’s nice to see a video of sunshine and bright colors. Makes me look forward to spring.

Retro: KMFDM – ‘Light’

So let’s end March Grapevine with a bang! German industrial dance band KMFDM (originally Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, loosely translated by the band as “no pity for the majority”) always kick it. For me this brings back amazing memories of dance clubs that specialized in industrial dance. Being on a full dance floor when this song would come on was an unforgettable experience. Great tempo for dance, but also right up the alley for anyone who wants to ‘headbang’. As a guitar player I love KMFDM for adding amazing crunchy guitar sounds to a style that often lives on electronic keys and various sound effects. We talked about ‘riff’ guitar reviewing King Gizzard. This song has some of the coolest guitar riffs you’ll find anywhere. Top it off with a couple of very different vocals. The main vocal is deep and almost spoken. This is paired with a soaring female vocal that adds a total counterpoint to the male vocal. Lyrically – “The blind inspiration, total disillusion, Instant consecration, mind and body fusion, Frontal assault on the seven senses, Orgasmic waste, eccentric and pretentious”. Indeed! Get on up and bounce off the walls!

Steaming Mulch Remastered – ‘A Symphony Of Delirious Fluff’

For this post we have another remastered song by Steaming Mulch. It’s always fun posting a Steaming Mulch song because you never know what you’re going to get. This tune rolls through a variety of different parts. It starts with live drums, guitars and bass. As you go through the song you’ll hear vocals rolling in and out of the mix. They’re altered in a variety of ways – backwards, raising and lowering the pitch, cut and paste. The song moves in to an electronic beat. The band adds different electronic keyboard parts while the guitar floats along on top. In this song the vocals are used more as an instrument then a lyrical addition. Then live drums make their reappearance on top of the electronic beats. There are parts where the live drums have been cut in to smaller pieces and pasted back in to the song repeatedly or have been doubled. The drums have sometimes been distributed to separate stereo channels. The beats, whether live drums or electronic, tie everything together. As always, this is fun from a recording standpoint. You never quite know what’s going to happen. The songs usually have basic parts created before entering the studio, but a lot of parts are created during the recording process. You get extra credit if you can decipher what the vocals are saying (I seriously do not remember exactly what was being said – they don’t provide me with lyric sheets). Hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did recording it.

February 2021 Grapevine

February is the short month of the year. In as much as the weather is not always pleasant (I’m not big on snow, sleet and ice) I’m OK with it being a bit shorter. What to do when you can’t get outside and enjoy nature? Listen to more music. This month I’ve listened to more new material than usual. There is so much to listen to out there. I’ve heard a lot of variety and in the future may delve in to some genres that I don’t review as often. For this month we’ve got some guitar driven ‘indie’ style music. The ‘indie’ musical definition is really wide. I’ll still use that definition although I’m sure you could break songs down to their micro definitions (i.e. ‘swirly retro pop guitar driven emotion oriented vocal croon’). Does it really just fall under the huge heading of ‘rock music’? Who knows? Who cares? I have found that if the review tries to break a song down in to a several word definition in the heading and you just go by that to decide if you want to listen, you might miss a lot of good things. So, onward we go!

First Up: Hospital Bracelet – ‘Feral Rat Anthem’

The song starts out with a clean guitar running chord arpeggios. One interesting decision in recording the song is the mix of the clean guitar with the bass guitar. You almost don’t hear the bass guitar as a separate instrument. It gives the guitar a huge sounding bottom end, making it sound ‘bigger’ than just a single guitar. During these parts of the song the drums maintain a relatively simple beat, putting the emphasis on the vocals and allowing the lyrics to remain very clear and up front. The mix during these quieter parts keeps all the instruments at about the same level. When the song hits the change in dynamics, the power kicks in. The guitar adds distortion and increases it’s presence in the mix. The vocals move to a near scream. The quiet/loud dynamics in a song is used frequently by many artists. Why? It works. The feel of the music mirrors the lyrics in the song. If you want an idea of the mood of the lyrics, take a look at the picture on the album cover. See the drawing of the four hands throwing the bird? That is a good symbol for the lyrics of this song: “I really hope you learn to never forgive yourself because evеryone knows you’re a lying cheat and I hopе you’re always feeling incomplete”. Ouch. Anyone you know?

Next Up: Drive By Truckers – ‘Tough To Let Go’

There’s a number of ways to make a song memorable. It could be having an amazing instrumental or vocal hook that catches everyone’s ears. You could have amazing instrumental players, a guitarist, pianist or drummer whose part makes you stand up and take notice. Or it could be lyrics that simply burn in to you. The best combination can be great lyrics that create an emotional feeling and instrumental parts that play to those lyrics. I think ‘Tough To Let Go’ falls in to the last category. I like the instrumental sound they come up with from the very beginning. A very simple drum pattern, with a great snare sound, grounds the song in a simple beat. Organ, guitar and bass join in to fill out the instruments. Everyone backs down on the instrumental dynamics when the vocals come in. This puts the lyrics directly in the spotlight. The instruments pick up to deliver more power to the lyrics during the chorus. Between the vocal sections is a great, simple lead guitar part. Some lead guitar parts put the emphasis on the instrument. This guitar part echoes the feeling of the vocals, sad and a bit lost. What sticks with me is the lyrics. How do you let go of expectations you had and move on to new things? The lyrics probable hit you harder when you have a few years under your belt and, as the lyrics say, “you’re wondering where did all the time go?”. Where indeed?

Finally: Still Corners – ‘It’s Voodoo’

It’s interesting how different styles of music will affect you depending on your mood. As I go back over the songs picked for this Grapevine I can certainly see a pattern of mood and style. It’s tough enough being relatively house bound during an epidemic. Top that off with a week or two of no sun and way too much snow where it seems that the only time you go out is to shovel in a blizzard. These songs are the current soundtrack in my head. I think we all tend to gravitate to music that fits our internal mood. ‘It’s Voodoo’ continues this narrative. Great job on the guitar sounds and playing in this song. The band manages to have both dreamy background sounds and crisp leads. Listen to the guitar in the beginning of the song. The guitarist is ‘dead stringing’ the notes – leaving your picking hand touching the strings so the note does not ring. As a result you can really pick up the effects being used – some reverb and a great echo. The guitar sets the tone for the entire song. We don’t even have the first vocal until the song is already about a minute in. The vocal delivery matches the feel of the guitar – laid back and dream like. The band makes good use of effects on the vocal, adding a doubled vocal when they want to put emphasis on the lyric. At the three minute mark we drop down to just the guitars – one keeping a beat in the background while the other throws in some tasty lead lines. ‘It’s Voodoo’ is a song carried by the guitar feel – and that was the right mix for this tune.

Retro: Neil Young – ‘After The Gold Rush’

If you want to hear prime examples of mixing emotion with simple arrangements you can always go to Neil Young’s catalogue. His songs are also examples of how amazing songs will hold up decades after they were written and recorded. When I get a chance to hike though the high mountains, stand on the summit and look over the overwhelming beauty of nature, this is one of the songs playing in the soundtrack in my head.

Keep dreaming………

Music By The Flank – ‘Horrible’

In to the second month of 2021. February brought us a lovely snowstorm at the beginning of the week that dropped about 30 inches of snow on us. Saturday has arrived and we’re still digging out. So for this weekend we’re going to deliver another song by The Flank. This song was also on the first album, ‘At Stake’. I’ve always loved this track. It is the only song on the album that was created with a programmed drum track instead of live drums. Although I like the use of live drums on songs, creating a simplified drum track suited the music on ‘Horrible’. The instruments and vocals are played in a very rhythmic manner. We wanted to put emphasis on the melodic side of the instruments and the vocals and we thought that a full drum set might step on them a little bit. There’s always a great feeling working on a project in the studio that has no boundaries, recording what works best for each individual song. I think you tend to produce the best music when you are open to any idea that best serves the song being recorded.

Here’s The Flank’s ‘Horrible’:

Steaming Mulch Remastered – ‘Enormous And Turbo Smooth From Diamond To Rose’

We’re back with another remastered version of a song by Steaming Mulch. This song is a bit different from the last two Steaming Mulch tunes we did recent posts on. The band doesn’t worry about maintaining any particular style. Different songs sometimes have different musicians sitting in to add a new flavor. This song has live drums (which are wild just on their own) with guitars, bass and some muted vocals (no movie clips here). Much of this song was recorded live. The players were in a room together to facilitate their ability to interact when playing. The drums were recorded using direct and room mics in the main studio room with the bass and guitar amps placed in other rooms in the studio to eliminate the amp sound bleeding in to the drum tracks. There were some overdubs completed afterwards, such as the vocals, but the main part of this song is pretty much a live take. I remember this recording as being incredibly loose and fun. Also challenging as doing any kind of ‘live’ recording is. Enjoy.

January 2021 Grapevine

So it’s a new year? Serious question. I’m not really sure. Anyway, we’ll get right in to the music. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained how I pick songs for the Grapevine. Like most people searching for new music, I go through reviews and articles in print magazines and online magazines/fanzines. I try to avoid the writer’s opinion on whether the band is ‘good’ and look for a description of the band’s music. If it sounds interesting, I’ll write down the band and album’s name. After I have a few on the list I’ll start listening to them, usually looking for YouTube clips on the tablet using headphones. I don’t really do ‘reviews’. If I don’t like the song, I’m not going to write about it. I tend to pick songs that have been viewed less to highlight lesser known bands. I also want to voice a concrete reason why I like a particular song. I guess all that brings us to the specific point about this month’s songs. I tend to be real interested in how a song is mixed – especially where instruments are placed in the stereo field. A lot of this month’s song’s appeal to me was in the stereo mix. Which is why I originally listen to the songs using headphones. Sooooo…… if you don’t get to listen to these songs with headphones or a pair of stereo speakers the mix tricks won’t be as obvious. That being said, let’s take a listen………

First Up: Mamalarky – ‘Drug Store Model’

The first thing to hit me as soon as the song started was………..good guess – the stereo mix. It starts with a guitar panned to the right. The vocals, bass and drums come in and get placed in the center of the mix. The drums are spaced wider across the field to give it the feel of standing in front of a ‘live’ kit. The keyboard comes in on the left side of the mix. All the instruments are pretty crisp, so you pick each out of the mix. The instruments have a bunch of little riffs they do between chords. Sometimes they play the same riff, sometimes it’s different. That and a good, strong snare beat keeps the song bopping along, toe tapping. The vocal floats on top. This is the type of song where the cadence of the vocals is as important as the notes you sing. At the 2:00 minute mark the tempo starts to slow down until it comes to a complete stop. The song comes back for another 30 seconds of instrumental to the end. It’s an neat little way to end the song rather than another straight verse/chorus. It’s the little things that often make a song stick with you.

Next Up: Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams – ‘Plastic Bouquet’

This song caught me for a few reasons, starting with the recording. The recording was done perfectly for the song. Very simple: two guitars, vocals and a simple beat for the percussion. Again, speaking of sound placement in the mix, some good choices. The guitars are panned a bit to the left and the right with the more ‘active’ guitar being on the left. This separation allows you to hear each guitar part. It also allows you to mix the vocals down the middle so they are the featured instrument in the mix. The recording strives to highlight the lyrics, and I would definitely consider this a lyric centered song. After I heard the song I was driving and couldn’t help but notice a number of places that had ‘shrines’ on the side of the road where people had lost their lives in car accidents. Which to me means that the song/recording had succeeded in it’s purpose. It caused me to pay attention to something I would normally drive by without noticing. There’s also some really tasty acoustic guitar playing. Enough so that’s it’s noticeable, but not so much that’s it’s distracting. The feel is enhanced by the song being played in ‘waltz’ (3/4) time. ‘Country/Folk’ style song writing at it’s best.

Finally: Lee Paradise – ‘Boogie’

So let’s finish up with something completely different. This is music to dance to. At least I would love to hear this if I was out on the dance floor. To make this song work you have to start by getting the basic electronic dance beat right. A good solid couple of recording tracks that include electronic drums where the kick drum sound is king and you work the sound of a snare and hi hat as well as some repetitive keyboard sounds around it. The other sounds you put in are the icing on the cake. These other sounds are the ones that tend to float around in different areas of the stereo field. But they’re important to make the song stand out from other ‘dance tracks’ since a lot will have the same tempo and even the same electronic drum beat. In ‘Boogie’ this would be vocals that come in and out and especially the electronic bass sound that adds bottom end. I also like that the song is kept to a reasonable length – a little over three minutes. The length keeps the song from being too drawn out if you’re listening to it when you’re just lounging at home listening to a bunch of different styles of music (which tends to be what I do). There might be a ‘club’ version that would be at least twice as long. Yes, yes another black lights and incense song.

Retro: Steppenwolf – ‘Monster/Suicide/America’

I’ve always been a big fan of Steppenwolf. I’ll probably do another Retro Steppenwolf song in the future just to discuss the musical parts of a favorite song (like one of the best crunchy, fuzzy, ‘sloppy’ guitar tones of all time). I was listening to a Steppenwolf album the other day and this song came on. I was sitting in the recliner with headphones on. I listened to the lyrics. Hmmmm. Looked at the release date. 1969. That’s weird. Listened to it again. Weeeeellllluuuummmmmm. OK. So 52 years have passed. Lyrical time machine to 2020?

Music By The Flank – ‘Something Better Be’

The year that wouldn’t end is officially over. We’re all going in to 2021 with hopes and plans that we can accomplish some positive things. We received a new track in November from Steaming Mulch with the goal of seeing more this year. We’ll be replaying some of their older tracks while new ones are being worked on. We also came across some unfinished tracks from The Flank, another band on Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds (Note – you can find more info on the bands on the label site velvetwrinklewreckerds.com as well as songs on our Soundcloud site). We’re hoping to finish those tracks this year and thought we’d dig in to the archives (it’s been quite a while since the last album release) and give you a sample of The Flank material. We’re starting with ‘Something Better Be’ which is the opening track on the album ‘At Stake’. I’m really looking forward to working on the new songs as they headed in a different direction from the first album which is always exciting.

Here’s ‘Something Better Be’ from The Flank:

There are other projects in the works for 2021 since some situational changes may allow us more time to work together. New original music is in the works for Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs as well as more Messin’ With The Music covers and some live In The Studio performances as well as more In The Studio ‘tech simplified’ videos. We’re looking to have some t shirts and other merch available. There’s even the possibility of another band coming in to Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds. Bonnie and Samantha are certainly happy to see a new year so we’re starting with some dreams and the hope that this year will allow us to make them reality. We’re hoping you’ll join us in this 2021 adventure (and bring your friends along)!

December 2020 Grapevine

Well, we’re in the last month of the year of horror that wouldn’t end. Except it looks like the beginning of 2021 won’t be much different. I’m hoping for personal brain reversal salvation when the new year rolls around. A bit of an attitude adjustment. A shining light of positivity to appear. Some beauty in the world. Which for me means diving deeper in to music and art. I guess ‘positive’ is only there if you create it yourself. So let’s finish off the year by reviewing some more music. Maybe you’ll hear something that will be a positive influence for you. Or a least take the ‘real’ world away for a few minutes. Let’s see what we have:

First Up: Bambara – ‘Death Croons’

I’ve stated before that songs show up in our Grapevine posts for a variety of reasons. When I hear a new tune that I like, I go back after hearing it for the first time and try to take apart the pieces that each instrument plays. ‘Death Croons’ has a great driving drum beat with a bass part that enhances that drive. Moody, reverb laden guitars add atmosphere, with one guitar pushing it further with some retro sounding slide. The vocals, somewhere between spoken and sung, make the song sound even darker. One reason I like to occasionally put in performances of the song that are recorded live to video is that you get to see what the musicians are playing and that can give you a better feel for how the songs are constructed. For this song I’m including a live video and the studio version of the song. See if you can pick out the differences in the recordings. One thing missing from the live version is the backing vocals. I think their floating, almost call and response feel add a great deal to the song. The drums are a bit more smoothed out in volume and attack. The echo and reverb on the guitar floats from channel to channel in the studio mix. The versions are similar, but the slight variations are cool. One reason to see a band live is to enjoy these differences.

Next Up: Best Coast – ‘Wreckage’

Let’s start with the musical composition on ‘Wreckage’. Great straight ahead driving rock song. The drums and bass lay the foundation for the song. The bass sits on eighth notes of the chord root, driving the song relentlessly forward. The guitars provide the atmosphere, pulling back in the verses and pushing the chorus forward. In this song the music is meant to highlight the vocals and lyrics. Vocals are crisp and clean on top so the lyrics can be heard and understood. The lyrics are the main part that resonates with me in ‘Wreckage’. I’ve had these kind of songs in Grapevine before – singing loud with the window rolled down while driving (not as much windows down in the winter – hard to sing with your teeth chattering). I’m including the lyrics here because there are a lot of great lines. I really relate to ‘Guess I’m really still the best at getting in my own way’.

So sorry for everything
You know I really wanted it to work out
I put the blame on everybody
Was incapable of not being stressed out

I, I wanted to move on
But I, I kept writing the same songs

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

So if I’m good now
Then why do I feel
Like a failure
Almost every day?
And if I’m wise now
Then why do I feel
Like I’m lying
Straight to your face?

I, I wanted to move on
But I, I keep doing this thing wrong

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

I’ll keep pushing forward
So I don’t slip way behind

Now that everything’s burned down
I can put it all to bed
If only I could make sense of it
When it’s swirling in my head
I’m so sick of being proud
And I’ve got nothing left to say
Guess I’m really still the best at
Getting in my own way

No one’s saying that I’ve got to be perfect
So why do I keep pushing myself?
No one’s saying that I’ve got to be perfect
So why do I keep pushing myself?

Finally: Aoife Nessa Frances – ‘Geranium’

Right off the bat what struck me with this song is the use of a drum machine over live drums. If you had played the song for me before completion, I would have expected live drums to push it forward. For ‘Geranium’ drum machine proves to be a great choice. Their simplicity lays down a wonderful foundation to build the rest of the song. The arpeggio guitar chords with the simple drums gives a dreamy, magical feel you probably wouldn’t get with live drums. There are reverse tape effects in the song that are another great trick to maintain the atmosphere. All the instrumentation is used to highlight the vocals in the song. There are many different ways to highlight vocals musically and I think ‘Geranium’ and the previous song ‘Wreckage’ show that you can do it using two very different techniques. ‘Geranium’ is a more ‘incense and candles’ than ‘sing along’. Shows how important recording/production can be if used correctly.

Retro: The Beatles – ‘She Said She Said’

I sometimes like to use the ‘Retro’ song to look at the musical past and how much of it still relates to music today. You can always find lots of influence looking through The Beatles catalogue. ‘She Said She Said’ has the arpeggiated guitars in the verses, turning to jangly chords in the chorus. The recording has a trippy, laid back feeling to it. And the music serves to highlight the vocals. This song came out on the 1966 Revolver album. For a song written and recorded over fifty years ago, it does not seem at all out of place with the other songs in this post. Remarkable considering the differences in recording tech between then and now. If a song is great it will always continue to influence.