09.29.2009

Stockholm Syndrome Remixed

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:08 pm

As part of the highest tier of preorders available for Stockholm Syndrome, Derek Webb offered a disk of full album multi-track stems for remixing–in other words, the original recorded tracks for the album, so that they could be digitally altered and manipulated by others into remixes. A cool idea. The remixes all have a home at SoundCloud, and the Stockholm Syndrome group can be found here:

http://soundcloud.com/groups/derek-webb-stockholm-syndrome

Not all of them are particularly creative, but I really liked “Black Eye (Shiner Mix)” by user anothermisty. It was an excellent example of taking the original material and doing something unique with it–something that was clearly derivative of the original but took it in a new creative direction. My favorite thing that anothermisty did was take Derek’s vocal track, duplicate it, and manipulate the pitch, thereby adding a harmony vocal line that didn’t exist in the original song. Very cool. “Cobra Con (Acoustic Remix)” is fun too, as it retains only the acoustic guitar tracks and the vocals from the original. “8-bit ConGame,” another remix of “Cobra Con,” imagines the song as music from a Nintendo game back in the day, with Webb’s vocals superimposed (quite quickly) over the chords of the chorus played in a loop. On its own it might not be terribly interesting, but if you know how the song goes, it’s cool to see how the different sections of the song interact.

Those are the highlights, but some of the others are interesting in their own ways. And you can keep checking back, since more will continue to be added as they’re created!

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09.21.2009

Another one of my favorite tracks on Derek Webb‘s latest album Stockholm Syndrome is the last one, “American Flag Umbrella,” which is track 13 on the “censored” version of the record (without the song “What Matters More”) and track 14 on the full version. The lyrics speak to the racism still lurking in the undercurrents of American society and the tension between how things are and the way they should be, ending the album on a final note of hope. They’re some of the best on the album, in my opinion, belonging on the same category as “This Too Shall Be Made Right,” the amazing understated finish to his last album, The Ringing Bell, and one of my favorite of his songs overall. And the music is intriguing as well: also in the tradition of “This Too Shall Be Made Right,” which consisted simply of Derek’s voice and a solo acoustic guitar, the accompaniment to “American Flag Umbrella” is mainly an acoustic piano, with some percussion and synthesizers taking a back seat role, reversing the concept of most of the rest of the album. And, even more intriguing, the entire song is based on a single chord progression, which itself is based mainly on two chords: Gmaj7 – D/F# – Gmaj7 – D/F# – Gmaj7 – D/F# – A – Bm – Gmaj7 – D/F#. I think that the simple music makes the lyrics stand out even more and lends them a directness and power that more complicated music might have obscured; but I’ve also read reviews that believe that the music distracts and detracts from the lyrics. What do you think?

To listen to the song, click here, click on the “Lala” player and scroll down to the last track. When I first clicked on it, it looked like it was going to play the whole song; but after I stopped it and went back later, it only played a 30-second clip. But it’s the only place online I could find that had at least the possibility of hearing the whole song. If you find another one, let me know; otherwise, try that link out and see if it works. And leave a comment to let me know what you think of the song and the music!

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09.18.2009

Despite what I wrote a month ago, partly because I finally got the physical copy of the album, I’ve been listening quite a lot to Stockholm Syndrome, Derek Webb’s latest record. One of the tracks that has stood out to me is “I Love/Hate You,” one of his self-so-called “sabotaged love songs” (or at least I presume that it’s one of those songs). His philosophy is that although most love songs are “you’re great, I’m great, we’re great together, our love is great,” real life is not like that, being something more like “I’m broken, you’re broken, our love is messed up but we’re still committed to making it work” (he’s said “The truth will kill a good love song”). “I Love/Hate You” is the latest installment in the series, and follows a similar pattern as the previous versions, talking about a love that is simultaneously messy and even dangerous (“Your love is a noose around my neck”) and yet also a necessary and integral part of who he is (“But I don’t know who I am unless you’re holding me”). And the music makes it one of my favorite tracks on the album. It opens with an Eastern-sounding flute line, which makes for an interesting blend and contrast with the synthesized beat that enters next. This is one of the songs that bothered me due to its exact repetition, as I wrote about in my intial review; each of the three verses repeats its opening line three times, with no variation. But I believe it’s an intentional artistic decision on Webb’s part, and when paired with the hypnotic synths that fill out the harmony, it creates a trance-like effect that’s really cool. And I think the music of the chorus is some of the most accessible and Top 40-sounding on the album, along the lines of “Cobra Con” (and I when I say “Top 40″ I mean it in a good way–it sounds more like pop music, and less like electronic, and thus may be appealing to a wider variety of listeners). It’s another fun and very listenable song on my latest favorite album. You can hear the song in its entirety by playing the YouTube video below.

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09.12.2009

“Four Chord Song”

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:22 am

Thanks to my friend Jessica (@jesserface) for this one: A video by Australian musical comedy trio Axis of Awesome where the keyboardist quips, “We’ve never had a hit because we’ve never written a four chord song.” They then proceed to show how every pop song ever written uses the same four chords: I – V – vi – IV (in the video A, E, F-sharp minor and D). The list of songs included below the video is from the YouTube page, so I take no responsibility for any grammatical or punctuational or capitalizational errors (and just to be sure, I encased it all in quotation marks).

Funny? Yes. True? Yes. Sad? You decide.

“Songs Included are :
You’re beautiful by James Blunt,
Forever young by the Alphaville (covered by Youth Group),
I’m yours by Jason Mraz,
Amazing by Alex Lloyd,
Wherever you go by the Calling,
Can you feel the love tonight by Elton John,
She will be loved by Maroon 5,
Pictures of you by the Last Goodnight,
Cigarettes will kill you by Ben Lee,
With or without you by U2,
Fall at your feet by Crowded House,
Am I not pretty enough? by Kasey Chambers,
Let it be by The Beatles,
Under the bridge by RHCP,
Horses by Darryl Braithwaite,
Down under by Men at Work,
Waltzing Matilda,
Old Australia’s funniest Homevideos intro,
Taylor by Jack Johnson,
2 become 1 by the Spice Girls,
Take on me by A-ha,
When I come around by Green Day,
Save tonight by Eagle Eye Cherry,
Africa by Toto,
If I Were A Boy by Beyonce,
Self Esteem by the Offspring,
Apologize by One Republic,
U + Ur Hand by P!nk,
Pokerface by Lady Gaga,
Barbie Girl by Aqua,
Kids by MGMT,
Scar by Missy Higgins,
Thats all it takes to be a star by Axis Of Awesome.”

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09.09.2009

“Happy Birthday”

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:19 am

My wife and I attended a holiday/birthday party on Labor Day, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to the lady who was turning a year older partway through the festivities. (Instead of a birthday cake, Irish cupcakes were served, which are cupcakes made from Guinness with Baileys frosting. They were delicious.) Being a musician, I’m often asked to lead the group in singing everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) birthday song, but in this case, someone else, who is not a musician, did the honors. It’s hard, especially for non-musicians, to start singing something a cappella, because you don’t know exactly where you’re starting pitch-wise so you don’t know whether the range of the song will eventually take you too high or too low to sing comfortably. And, of course, it always takes a while for a non-musical group that’s singing to agree on a pitch. There were probably 15-20 people at the party at that time. I decided to listen intentionally to the group’s singing to see how long it took for them to fall into something close to a unison agreement. Unsurprisingly, it took two whole phrases: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to–” and then by the second “you,” they were pretty close to singing the same notes.

It was an interesting experiment. Try it the next time you’re at a birthday celebration–and let me know what you hear!

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09.02.2009

On The Importance Of Silence

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:05 pm

A few days ago Slate Magazine published an article on silence in music (classical music, specifically), and how it can be just as important or sometimes even more important than notes. It’s a good survey, and best of all, it includes sound clips so you can hear all the examples it talks about. Worth a read. Check it out:

“Silence Is Golden: How a pause can be the most devastating effect in music”

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