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.