Sunday, March 25, 2012

Songs Are Like Onions

Someone asked me recently what I meant when I said that you could "move around inside" songs.  I can't answer that question in 140 character snippets, so I'm going to try to do it here.  The first time I listen to a song, I generally hear the vocal (unless it's instrumental...obviously).  Because I'm a lyric junkie, I always want to know the lyrics first, what's being said, what the song is about, all that.  I honestly didn't even realize how much of a door to the rest of the song the lyrics are for me...or how locked that door can be...until recently. 

There is this song that I love, love, love but I could not, for the life of me, understand the chorus.  Not grasping the verse is one thing (I actually really enjoy being able to pick up new phrases in the verses and catching unexpected, clever bits of lyric), but entirely missing out on the chorus was fucking me up.  In the perfect storm of my weirdness and the songwriter's awesomeness (!!), I was finally clued in to what he's saying.  As soon as I knew the words, the next time (okay, maybe the 4th or 5th time after that) that I listened to the song, I was able to move past the vocal and listen to the music behind it.  It wasn't until I did it that I realized I had just been so hung up on trying to understand the words that I hadn't really appreciated the song itself.

That's kind of what I do.  I like to go into the song and pick out individual instruments and listen to them separately.  (Which stands to reason because I also pick apart my food and anything else pick-apart-able)  I'll listen to the guitar one time, then the drums one time, then back to the vocals, etc.  For me, it's by listening to each of these things separately that I can appreciate the wonder that's created when they all come together to form the whole song.  There are few things more enjoyable than a song with an intricate arrangement because every time I listen to it, I can hear something different.  Speaking of that, no one creates depth of sound like Paula Kelley.  Check out the arrangement on this song and how the combination of the instrumentation and the vocal is absolute perfection: 

Is that not the most wonderful thing you've heard today?  Her arrangements are perfect examples of music that is tangible, that you can go inside of and wander around in.  (And you know, obviously Ryan Schmidt is not too shabby himself)

But a song doesn't have to include that many instruments to be dimensional.  It can be just a voice and a guitar.  In fact, some of my favorite songs to hang out in are "just" a voice and a guitar.  I guess, in the end, I don't know how anyone can listen to music and really be a fan of it and not get what I mean when I say those things.  Haven't you ever just closed your eyes and drifted through the song as it drifts through your ears?  If not, I highly recommend it.  It's like a little 3 minute vacation.  Just take your favorite song and look around inside it.  Observe how the drums and guitar work together (or push up against each other), see how they support the vocal and give it a place to rest or give it the energy it needs to hold up the song, or what the bass line is doing in there.  It's just amazing how much can be going on inside a song and how easy it is to miss what's really happening if you don't pay attention. 

I'm not sure I've really explained myself very well, but I hope the next time you have a some quiet time with some good tunes that you'll investigate what you're hearing and take the time to truly appreciate what's been created.

**If you haven't seen Shrek, you might not get my title on this one but trust me, like onions - and ogres - songs have layers**

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