Posted by & filed under Iamanerdymuso.

The Evil Label Boss has commanded, and so i obey. Here’s my third nerdy musician write up for a Bad Elephant track.

Home Sweet Home by We Are Kin is a very nice song, shockingly short for something on a ‘prog’ label as it clocks in at the frankly silly time of 3 minutes twenty seven seconds.

Thematically, I don’t think it’s a million miles away from the 13 minute prog monster that I started this blog series with, The Willows by the Gift. Both of them have at their heart a yearning for home, simplicity and freedom, and both seem to associate a major key sweetness with that feeling.

Mike Morton was singing about laying down underneath the willows, whereas here Hannah Cotterill is singing about images of home, villages, community, cities hard at work.

This is your 3 minute song form so of course it doesn’t have the extended instrumental contrasts the Willows had. Nevertheless there’s a nice contrast here. And whereas in a pop song you might expect the main vocal pay off to happen early and often, here you still have to wait to hear it. This is a song you listen to all the way through, not a ten-seconds-is-enough flash in the pan pop song.

So what’s going on?

Verse 1

We start with the main chord sequence in D Mixolydian, Under some arpeggios a bassline moves from D to B to C then F# to G and back to D. It’s in 4/4 but the progression lasts 3 bars with lots of the movement off the beat. What’s the effect of that? It makes us feel pleasantly off-kilter, and slightly dreamy. Throughout this song the modal harmony and the fact that the bass is often melodic and not just playing root notes means we often get a feeling that the harmony isn’t quite resolved, adding to the dreamy quality. There are light keys in this first verse, guitar arpeggios and drums.

Verse 2 and 3

A couple of straighter bars of E minor and C and then we get verse 2, adding bass and piano marking out the same bassline. E minor and C again and then we get an instrumental refrain that’s a little bit more rocky and in D minor, giving us a bit of harmonic contrast. Verse 3 repeats material from verse 2 but with a some vocal harmonies and few little extra textural gestures.

Home Sweet Home!

We then get the D minor refrain which gives way to trebley chugging guitar and some vocal ‘ah’s and some nice piano melodic lines. The bass joins in with a section that builds up in 3/4 under the line ‘seek and you shall find, the key to free your mind’ before we repeat the opening chords, much louder and with the drums spelling out the chord changes rather than playing a beat for the pay-off line of ‘home sweet home, home sweet home’.

I really like the mood here, and its interesting that so far in all three of these songs the instrumentalists aren’t going for the virtuoso look-at-me solos. What’s up with all the understatement and tasteful accompaniments guys? I thought Bad Elephant was a prog label!

Posted by & filed under Iamanerdymuso.

My Evil Label Boss suggested Scuttle by noisey prog-rock bastards Trojan Horse for my next nerdy muso write up. Who am I to disobey? I’ve seen Trojan Horse live twice, and they’re bloody good so they are.

What’s similar between The Willows and Scuttle? They’re both a kind of rock, they both sound like a band rather than soloists with backing, neither stick to the pop song formula and unsurprisingly there are elements of your 70s prog rock in places, though I think less so in the ‘orse.

What are the differences? One is the choice of timbres. Even though the instrumentation is basically the same, The Gift present their sounds in a pretty clean way. Every instrument can be heard distinctly. Trojan Horse sound like a band driving the metres into the red. Loud and distorted, echoey and gooey and rich. The studio isn’t just there to record, it’s there to help create the sound.

The other difference is harmonic. The chord choices in The Willows were out of the popular song play book and movement of fourths and fifths was common. The changes in key were likewise, G and C being the tonic notes. Scuttle is a whole different kettle of ball games in this regard. After the intro section in D minor it’s mostly in B minor. The chord choices tend to be a third apart, and the bass isn’t always playing root notes. What’s more there’s lots of use of that lovely sharp fourth in the lead-in to both iterations of the A section. At the end of the intro you get it in the D diminished chord, at the end of the B section we get movement between F# and F.

What effect does that have? It’s less certain. As you’d expect from a song called ‘scuttle’ a lot of this is uneasy. It’s introspective, close, insects-in-your-speakers stuff, not sing-along soaring choruses like the Gift deliver.

The other difference is simply the amount of rock. Trojan Horse are a more raucous affair than The Gift.

Here’s the low down:

Section: Intro
Key: D minor with diminished bits
What’s going on? Intro chords from the guitar lead to noise with a d diminished flavour. This is all about the bass riff, as much of the song is.

Section: A
Key: B minor ish but there’s a modal quality to it and the F# sometimes feels like the tonic.
What’s going on?: It’s still all about the bass! A simple three note bass riff takes us around the notes of a B minor triad with a dead simple but catchy vocal. keys melody. Some arpeggios join in, before it all gives way to a big riff that’s all chromatic but centred on movement from E to C# – another movement of a third, incidentally.

Section: B
Key: E Minor
What’s going on? This bit’s got more than a hint of dub reggae about it. It’s all psychedelic echo effects, twisty, mucked about drums and again a great bass riff. We then get some harmonised vox and a beat to go with the bass riffing. Once again the guitars and keys are marking out little melodies and little bits of gestural material, and then everyone joins in for a riff centred on B. Before breaking into a great F# Minor/Fminor riff that reminds me a little of The Specials (I am completely ignorant of dub, reggae and similar so I assume there’s more that could be said about that here by someone more knowledgeable that me). A tiny hint of the intro gives way to the next sections.

Section: A*
What’s going on?: Here we recapitulate the material from section A, in a louder, more busy form. As with the Gift, vocals give way to similar melody from the guitar and a big (though not quite sing-along) ending, before everything goes massive with the repeat of that chromatic E based riff.

Posted by & filed under Iamanerdymuso.

So as I’m working with Bad Elephant, I thought I’d amuse myself by having a proper listen to some of their artist’s work with my ‘nerdy muso’ hat on. #iamanerdymuso

The Willows – The Gift.

The Willows is the opening track from The Gift’s Land of Shadows‘. Its progressive rock that clearly owes a debt to the 70s stuff – I can hear echoes of Genesis and early Marillion here – but it’s also dramatic in an almost musical theatre fashion. In fact I found myself thinking about the opening track from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars album 5 years. Both tracks give us a smorgasbord of lyrical images and an apocalyptic the-modern-world-is-dying attitude. Both make disapproving reference to (at the time) modern technologies, whether irons or TVs or youtube. Both songs also make use of rock music elements – drum beats, electric guitars and so on – without being straight up rock tracks. They’re both about drama, theatre, story telling with rock music as a means to that end.

I wouldn’t want to push that comparison too far however. The Willows is a progressive rock track and has a little more to it than the Bowie track.

Elegy

The opening section is all about Mike Morton’s baritone. The keyboards and guitars mark out some chords in G major with tasteful understatement, the drums join in to mark out the ‘marching band’, but everything here is about the vocal. Scenes of myth and fairytale gone wrong – Rapunzel letting her virtue down, Magdalene with blood on her gown – are contrasted with scenes of modern life. We’ve lost out way, ‘weatherbound in our dormitory towns’ and Mr Morton lets us know in the most melodic fashion over descending G major chords.

And the chord choices are worth mentioning here, because they spell out the simplicity that the lyrics yearn for. There are actual IV V I transitions here, almost pastoral cadences the belie the despair of this opening elegy. Throughout the track the choice of key is clearly not random, instead following the narrative through the elegy to the darker middle section and the final major key redemption of the ending refrain.

Feast of Fools

A flurry of electronics and distortion leads to a lovely descending G minor riff over a G pedal note and then we’re off. The Feast of Fools gives us Sinewy guitars, synths and driving bass over a proper rock beat showing exactly what the rest of the band can do. Which is rock.

Except, they do it in a way a straight rock band wouldn’t. The band stops for gestural moments like a short guitar passage that breaks up the beat. They change frequently from full to half time and give us extended passages from guitar and synth. It’s a middle section that gives us drama and impressive solo work, but never the abandon or showiness that you’d expect from a hard rock or metal band.

A build up under a spoken word section leads to the most strat-ahead rocky section at the end of the feast. Here were also find some of the best vocal moments of the track, mocking us for putting ‘your heartache on youtube’ as we’re damned for our modern conceits. Here it’s Icarus staring at the moon in his navel and Lazarus tempting us back to the comforting cold at the climax.

‘Let us go then’

A calmer passage then takes us through some arpeggios to a recap of the mood from the opening section. Now we’re in C and spoken words from a child take us finally to the innocence and simplicity that the lyrics have been yearning for. A sing-along refrain that deserves a concert hall full of people joining in leads to a melodic guitar solo. In this final section Morton’s hoping to lie amongst the willows, natural imagery replacing the trappings of modern life he clearly disdains.

The emptiness of modernity contrasted with a more natural, purer life is a theme that’s turned up in fiction plenty of times, but here we have it in musical form. The lyrics tell us the story, but unlike that Bowie track, there’s redemption rather than a five year wait for the end. And unlike the Bowie track, we’ve been on a harmonic journey. We started in G, then moved to Gminor then finally ended in C major. Do you get a more simple key than C? It’s like the whole track is an extended cadence, bringing us back home to the willows to ‘wait for miracles again’.

So that’s what I thought listening to The Willows. I rather like it.

Right, what shall I listen to next?

Posted by & filed under bad elephant.

Today’s lovely news is this:badelephant

My next album will be released by Bad Elephant Music

Yes, that’s right, the label that bought you Shineback, The Fierce and The Dead, The Gift, Trojan Horse (and more besides) have taken leave of their senses and decided to release my next cd too. I am a ‘signed’ artist.

I am well chuffed at this news and am looking forward to losing us all a lot of money in the near future!

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

Spinning the Compass is the title track. It’s about feeling as if the world is spinning out of control and has stopped making sense. Like the world you are living in right now. Come on, admit it. Nothing makes sense, everything is batshit crazy and even the laws of physics seem designed to confuse and disorientate you.

You can download the whole album here. For Free.

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

Home is about missing the person you love because you’ve spent too long hunting big game from an airship. It is important to write about universal human experiences.

I’m really proud of the chorus on this – nice big singalong stuff in my opinion. Although I am biased, it might be awful.

Here’s a link to download the whole album.

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

I Still Smile is the 7th track from the album. It’s about a latex and metal substitute friend who will never judge you or leave you or hurt you. Which is what we all want really, isn’t it?

Here’s a link to download the whole album.

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

Two is the 6th track from the album. It’s an instrumental duet between guitar and synth and is one of three such pieces I wrote at uni. I really like it. You can hear Three if you join my mailing list and get the password to the fan page. I might record One at some point. Or I might not.

Here’s a link where you can download the album for free.

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

Bad Dreams is the 5th track from the album. It is about bad dreams! I really like the broken fuzzy loops and weird solos. One of my favourite of my songs.

Here’s a link to download the album for free.

Posted by & filed under Spinning the Compass.

It’s the 5th Anniversary of my first solo album Spinning the Compass, so I am giving it away for free.

Lines Overheard at a Séance is the fourth song from the album. It is about ..er.. what someone overhears at a séance. Who’s overhearing it? The same person who’s POV the song Ironbark is mostly from, and who is the subject of the short stories that came with my last two EPs. Yes, my work can be quite involved. And silly. I like the chords in this.

Here’s a link to download the entire album for free.