Saturday, 2 July 2011

Probably the best album in the world...

One thing that has been taking up a lot of my time lately is listening to Punk & Poetry by The King Blues.

It’s a bold statement and somewhat unsettling to say, but this is currently fighting for the crown of being the best album I own. It’s the perfect mix of political punk and hook-laden pop and captures life in London in 2011. It’s full of passion, vitriol, love and most importantly sincerity.

The lyrics are pure poetry and Itch’s delivery and intonation add further colour to every word. There’s not a single mediocre track on the album and it’s a real struggle to single out a favourite track because I love so many so much.

If I have to select highlights then its We Are F***ing Angry for it’s anger and energy, I Want You for the line "like Robson wants Jerome", Sex Education for my political sympathies and Headbutt for making me want to jump up and down like a nutter. If pushed to single out one track then it’s got to be Everything Happens For A Reason. This track is so pure and sentimental and closes out the album on a beautifully uplifting note.

I had to edit out multiple uses of perfect from this entry but I’m saving one more.

This album IS perfect.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Refining the arrangement

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged about it but I wanted to continue with documenting the progress through the production of Radio Silence.

Below is my final demo of the track. I hope you’ll agree that it’s a much slicker number following a few subtle changes to the arrangement.

I made the following changes:
  • Refined the drums, including simplifying the drums in the verses a little – the three tracks I identified for my critical listening were very helpful in working out what to do in the choruses
  • I kept elements that I liked and moved the tom hits to preceding verse 2 where they work really nicely
  • I got rid of the things that didn’t work - as much as I liked the feel of the drumming in the old 2nd verse, it just wasn’t working so it had to go
  • Rearranging the building blocks of the song can make a massive difference to the feel and momentum of a track. I reduced the 1st chorus to half length and inserted a small break before we hit the verse again. The 3rd and 4th verses get split up with another chorus stuck between them. The final chorus starts nice and pared down, has a nice fill in the middle and thunders through to the outro which has been tidied up so that it flows much better
  • There’s still work to be done; the guitar in verse 4 needs to be revised as it’s not really working. The track also needs a proper bass line and a couple of interesting guitar lines to add a little sparkle
I’m happy now that this will form the template for the final version which will be on my EP to be released later in the year.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

I wish I'd made this - #3 Private Eye by Alkaline Trio

It's very rare for me to listen to a song on repeat - the exceptions being when I'm scrutinising a track or reviewing my own work - but when I got my hands on the album From Here to Infirmary I just couldn't help myself. It took me a couple of weeks to wean myself off of prolonged periods spent listening to just this one song.

Alkaline Trio start the album as they mean to go on; there's no build up, no long intro, the track launches straight in with an urgency that just sucked me in.

The hook hits us straight away, a six-note guitar riff played in octaves. The beat is strong and the crash cymbals add to the momentum. The bass locks in tightly with the drums cementing that driving feeling with a simple variation the third time through the riff that adds enough interest without over-complicating matters.

The lyrics paint a bleak picture that gives me a real sense for the washed-out alcoholic that is our protagonist. I don't know whether this song is about a detective and his relationship with his work or a lover or if our supposed Private Eye is in fact a stalker. I opt for the first interpretation but, whoever he is, he reminds me of Jack Caffery, the Detective Inspector in Mo Hayder's gruesome crime novels.

My highlight is the start of the second half of the second verse. We get our alternative bass line, a subtle change to the hi-hats and a couple of punchy guitar chords. It's just two bars but it provides a perfect punctuation to our story.

There's nothing complicated about this track, it's all about the execution - a perfect combination of a great hook, evocative lyrics and a flawless arrangement.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The pleasure of buying CDs

Having been busy of late (I’m holding the little puppy responsible), I’d overlooked the release of a couple of new albums from Shihad and Steriogram. I assume I could have gone online and instantly downloaded them both but instead I chose to order two CDs from the other side of the planet. I could have opted for instant gratification at half the price but I find pleasure in awaiting the thump as the package falls through the letterbox, even if it is two weeks later.
When that thump finally came, I ripped open the envelope to find these:

Look how shiny the Shihad sleeve is and how menacing those fortress-thingies are. And aren't those doodles on the Steriogram insert fantastic? No download could give me this! I’ve not even listened to the music and I’m happy already because buying an album is more than just getting a load of data that I can put on my mp3 player (which is very definitely NOT an iPod – but that’s a rant for another day).
I like having something that I can touch, something that I can catalogue (alphabetically by artist, chronologically within artist – obviously), artwork to look at and sleeve notes to read. Does the lead guitarist write all the tracks or does the band share all the credit? Are there any guest appearances? If I've got other albums by this mixer or producer can I identify their contribution to the overall sound?
Long live the Compact Disc!

Monday, 21 March 2011

The most awkward question

I went to a gig this week with a friend and a couple of their mates. Everything was going well until I was asked "So, what kind of music are you into?"

Given my enthusiasm for the subject it should be a question that I revel in, however, I always feel my heart sink as I've never been able to come up with a satisfactory response. I inevitably either over simplify things by naming a couple of "popular" bands and feel that I've misrepresented myself (and excluded 80% of my music collection) or talk about obscure bands and sound like a music snob*.

I wanted to give a very brief snapshot of my musical tastes to the readers of this blog and it took a great deal of effort to narrow down my favourite artists to just eight bands. Whilst I'm happy with my list it fails to acknowledge my love of NZ rock bands, early 90's dance music, prog metal or Billy Joel. I hate to be pigeonholed; there are genres of which I am a huge fan, but there will be respected and successful artists within them that I can't stand but there are artist whom I love, despite liking nothing else comparable.

Do you have the same problem, or have you found a suitable response to this awkward question?

*Proof that I'm not a music snob: I still know every lyric on East 17's album Steam and I reckon that Papa Roach are one of the finest live bands around.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Out of my head

Having covered the writing phase of Radio Silence I'll now continue into the arranging phase:

Whilst I usually have a good idea of how a complete song should sound, I make a demo to allow me to take a step back and really listen to the song. The beauty of recording on computer is that I can very easily change the arrangement; cutting, copying, pasting, inserting and deleting as necessary.

Having spent a little time working out how to play Radio Silence and finding the right key, I recorded a simple guitar track, the lead vocal and the outro vocals. Throw in a simple bassline on an organ and it's sounding pretty good.

Sometimes it’s a guitar riff or bass line that shapes a song and I'll build a demo with a very simple drum track. Not this time. The feel of this song is going to be very much dictated by the drumming. I wouldn't normally work so hard on the time consuming process of drum programming for a demo. In this instance I plan on getting the drums as close to perfect as I can and then using them in the final recording of the track whilst recording everything else anew. Demo #1 sounds like this:

I've listened to the track quite a few times and overall I think it works. These are my thoughts as I listen to the track:
  • I like the low-key first verse. The end injects a nice little bit of energy.
  • I like the feel of the drumming in the second verse but it doesn't feel right; it's at odds with the ending of the previous verse.
  • The chorus works pretty well but I'm not totally happy with the drums. I have a couple of tracks in mind that I want to listen to for inspiration. (All the Small Things, The Breakup Song, Katie W - Blink 182, American Hi-Fi, Fenix TX respectively.)
  • I'm very happy with the snare leading us into the third verse, which has quite a dark feel to it; a combination of the organ and the way I've sung "over and out" is really pleasing... a happy accident that could well survive into the finished song! I think I'm going to leave the bass out until the end of the verse where it's going to make a pretty elaborate reappearance.
  • The link between verses three and four doesn't feel right, although I like the tom hits entering the fourth verse... they'll probably end up somewhere else.
  • The break into the outro is good and I'm happy enough with this for now, it's going to rely on quite a lot of texture so it's sounding very thin at the moment. I'll probably end the song after a chanted "To the R, to the A... etc." without bringing the other two vocal lines back in.
  • FYI "To the R, to the A... etc." should be "For the R, for the A... etc."
  • I think the listener (and me as a singer) might need a little bit of breathing room as the song just rockets through without any time to absorb what's going on. I'm not sure how to achieve this as each individual section flows naturally into one another, but as a whole it might be a bit relentless as it currently stands.
Back to The Kennel...

    Monday, 28 February 2011

    Finding the words

    I've just written an entire song (working title Radio Silence) without picking up an instrument. It's not like I have a formula for writing, but this was a first for me. I've written music to lyrics before, but this time I knew exactly how the song would sound as I was writing.

    Lyrics have always been a big challenge for me and many projects get abandoned due to my struggle to find the right words. I finally decided last week that I needed to address my approach to lyric writing and adopt some new tactics. I had a good chat with Mrs Dog who suggested that I should carry a notebook with me at all times and write down any ideas I get about subjects and interesting words and phrases that I come across. In hindsight it seems foolish that I'd not adopted a similar approach before.

    By the end of the first evening I had a good collection of ideas and was already brainstorming on a couple of topics. I then came up with the first line You've got the perfect face for radio and the whole idea just grew from there.

    Hopefully I'll get into the kennel this week and knock up a quick demo once I've worked out how to play it.