Here we are at the end of another year. I had great expectations for 2021. Some expectations were met, some weren’t. It was definitely a strange and chaotic time. There is one thing I have found to be true. As you get older, every year gets shorter. I don’t know how to account for this in any type of scientific manner. There’s no actual physical proof that this is happening. But it feels true. The question then becomes what to do about it. The answer? Pack as much life in to every moment as you can. Live, dream, create. Take a drive down the road less traveled. Keep the people and things you care about close and boot everything else out the back door. With that in mind, let’s explore some more new music. With music you can always find a stylistic ‘road’ you haven’t traveled on before. You can create something new that you haven’t experimented with before. You can do whatever you want with no boundaries other than the ones you set. So in that spirit of discovery, let’s listen to this month’s tunes.
First Up: The Bug – ‘Demon’
I thought we could venture in to some electronic music this month. Evaluating how this type of music is constructed is very different than describing the pieces of an acoustic song. Rhythmic pieces take priority in this song. The rhythm is created using numerous small sound bites that are placed together in a repeating fashion. It’s interesting to try to concentrate and pull apart all the small pieces. You’ll hear sounds that are consistent pulses and at first don’t seem to have any rhythm at all. But if you pay attention you’ll find that even the background pulses will fall on the same beats per minute in a consistent fashion. There are drum machine (could be samples instead of a drum machine) lines that also keep the same BPM. They are set up to fall on a different beat within the measure. The same is done with keyboard lines. In the song all these pieces are used to create the non stop pulse feeling. Even the vocal lines are constructed with this in mind. The emphasis is on rhythm rather than melody. In the studio this could be constructed using repeating electronic devices, samplers or cut and paste within the recording software. It really does lend itself to a different kind of listening experience.
Next Up: W. H. Lung – ‘Pearl In The Palm’
For our second example of electronic dance music we have ‘Pearl In The Palm’ by W. H. Lung. Although it is built with the same type of rhythm first logic as the first tune, it falls much closer to a conventional song structure. The drum machine follows a pattern much closer to what you would experience using acoustic drums. You can recognize the snare, kick and other drum parts. The keyboards and samples accent the pulse and change throughout the song to keep the background interesting. They even feel more like a traditional bass and melody line. The vocals stay rhythmic, but there is a distinct melody line and the song is constructed to have verses and choruses. There are numerous places where small pieces of sampled sounds are put in to add a little spice and variety to the song. Music has always had the capability to move people physically. That may have been one of it’s primary functions in it’s beginning and creation. I still enjoy songs that make you want to move and dance. The great thing about music is that it can move you both intellectually and physically. This song absolutely led to me dancing around the house. It’s a wonderful release and a whole lot of fun.
Finally: Sturgill Simpson: ‘Ol’ Dood (Part 1)’
For our third song I thought we’d take a sharp turn and bring in something more country/bluegrass. I think it’s a great comparison to the first two songs in how rhythm and movement is created in a song. The song uses the classic bluegrass instrumentation: acoustic guitar, banjo and violin (in this type of song we’d definitely be referring to it as a fiddle). I can hear some bass down in the bottom, added in so the song doesn’t end up sounding ‘thin’. This also has to do with the way the guitar is recorded – when mixing you bring up the EQ on the bottom end. As with many bluegrass tunes the music is created in service of the vocals. It’s a classic story telling song and in many ways the instruments are used as a canvass to paint the vocal story on top. You can hear the difference in the tone of the song between the verses and the chorus. The verses tend to be lighter in instrumentation and have a more minor key feel than the chorus, where the instruments open up and feel slightly more major key. The fiddle often acts as a secondary or counterpoint vocal coming in between the lyrics. This song is taken from an album named ‘The Ballad Of Dood And Juanita’ which is written as a concept album and tells a linear story through it’s song cycle. That’s not easy to pull off and if you find it online it’s absolutely worth listening to start through finish.
Retro: Front 242 – ‘Headhunter’
Front 242’s ‘Headhunter’ came out in 1988. The band is considered one of the pioneers of Industrial Dance Music. The version we’re listening to here is a shorter version of the song. Dance songs often have album versions and much longer extended single versions that are played in the clubs. Once you get moving, who wants to stop? The basics of the song sound very simple. Drum machine that keeps a repetitious beat; keyboard sounds, using a relatively simple structure that matches the drumbeat and a vocal that again reinforces the beat. During the chorus the keyboard notes match the notes the vocal is using. You need the beats per minute of the song to be danceable. Too slow or too fast doesn’t work. There is a trick to this if you want something you record to sound a bit different. If you’re trying to keep your song at 110 bpm you could also try to set the drum machine to 55 bpm or 220 bpm. Even though those times are much faster or slower, they are multiples of the original 110 bpm. Most people will naturally dance on the comfortable beat so, for instance, twice per beat on 55 or every other beat on 220. I’ve always been intrigued as to how some dance songs that sound so simple are really difficult to make.