Quarantine Jams: What Our Writers Are Listening To

As the global pandemic develops, here’s what our writers are listening to, and why.

Let’s face the facts: we are living in scary and uncertain times. With most public life shutting down over the past few days, it’s been difficult to find a distraction from this fact. Everything happening on the news and in our communities shows that life is not normal. Meanwhile, we are stuck in doors washing our hands and twiddling our thumbs, waiting to see what will happen.

Fortunately, most of us still have access to our music libraries. As the global pandemic develops, here’s what our writers are listening to, and why.

NOTE: Bandcamp is giving their usual cut of the profits from purchases on the website to the artists on Friday, March 20th. Please consider purchasing these albums on Bandcamp to help the artists make money while they can’t play concerts, or albums from other artists that you love!

Ian’s pick: American Football, LP1

Anyone who knows me at a personal level will know about my love affair with American Football’s 1999 album. I first listened to it when I was probably 18 or 19. Since then, it has grown to be one of my favorite albums. It’s like a warm blanket and hot tea after a hard day. It’s the perfect soundtrack for any season, but particularly a chilly night.  But most of all, LP1 is one of those records that has the power to amplify my mood.  If I’m listening while happy, it fills me with a warm nostalgia that makes everything more beautiful.  While sad or anxious, its melancholy tone is more consoling than most any other album. 

As I’ve been dealing with the uncertainty of the high school that I teach at being shut down, and low-level anxiety while being alone in my apartment most of the time, the record has brought the warmth and companionship to get by.  It makes staying home appealing, because it brings out the coziness of life inside.  Maybe it’s the house on the album cover with the warm, yellow light shining out through the top window.  During this time, it’s nice to be reminded of the comfort of our own homes. Purchase LP1 on Bandcamp here.

Jason’s Pick: The New Year, The End Is Near

Western pop culture’s take on “apocalypse” usually involves people scavenging tinned meat from radiated convenience stores, or all of the ancient doomsday prophecies coming true (at once!). Or zombies. The End Is Near is apocalyptic, but in a way that hews closer to the word’s original meaning: it’s a revealing. In this case, The End Is Near revolves around anxieties that bind humanity.  

The New Year formed after beloved ’90s indie rock band Bedhead (often lauded as one of the formative “slowcore” bands) folded near the turn of the century. Songwriters/singers/guitarists/brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane still carry the Bedhead torch here: lots of single-note guitar lines woven together, odd time signatures, philosophy-after-four-drinks wordplay, and some surprisingly catchy melodies. And like Bedhead, The New Year sidestep a lot of standard rock tropes; this is  minimalist music without a clear verse-chorus-verse structure, which makes the occasional distorted guitars or hooks more powerful.

I genuinely love The End Is Near as a whole, but it has a few standouts. “Disease” is evergreen in its relevance, a rumination on the universal nature of suffering, specifically around illness. That it’s packaged with some nice guitar interplay and a slyly memorable melody doesn’t hurt. And “18” builds to a glorious climax while looking through the eyes of an elderly person reflecting on the limitations of the flesh. It’s chaotic, beautiful, and wonderfully humane. The End Is Near is full of songs like this, snapshots of people like us revealing their fears and heartaches. In a time of crisis, it’s a good reminder that we’re not alone. You can buy The End Is Near on vinyl here. You can also buy their latest album, 2017’s excellent Snow, on Bandcamp here.

Tyler’s Pick: Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

My warning before suggesting this album is that this is an album that embodies despair. It is a monolithic exemplar of a degrading soul when faced with loss, destruction, death, and all that negative stuff. But oh my God is it beautiful. 

If you’re like me, the world doesn’t make sense and you’re constantly attempting to find meaning in it. With all the nonsense going on outside our closed doors, many of us are truly feeling the most negative emotions we possibly could be feeling at this point. Social isolation doesn’t necessarily breed positivity.

And sometimes, when we feel negative, experiencing art expressing those negative emotions helps us deal with them better. 

This album is one 80-something minute long track of the most droning, sludgy, metallic-tinged bass and drums that I’ve ever heard. It is an album depicting what it might sound like “on the other side.” To further cement this idea, the architects of the album use the voice of the at-the-time recently deceased drummer midway through as both a tribute to him and a reminder that death is always close. 

So yeah, if you’re not up for some awfully dark music in these awfully dark times and would like something maybe more positive, look elsewhere. Purchase here on Bandcamp.

Casey’s Pick: New Language, Come Alive

New Language burst on the scene in 2017 to critical acclaim and they quickly made their way on the list of my favorite bands. While their sound continues to evolve, their conviction is undying and their work ethic is indomitable. 

The band’s lyrics have always been socially-conscious, even laced with (non-partisan) political ethics. Their debut, Come Alive, is peppered with calls-to-action regarding critical thought, fighting through personal doubts, and persevering when the obstacles feel insurmountable. It’s a high-octane, intelligent release that musically straddles the line between hard rock and post-hardcore. It’s the kind of sound that typically gets abused and becomes offensively-commercial, but that’s not the case here. New Language seem to borrow as much influence from Bloc Party as they do from bands like ’68. 

Ultimately, Come Alive exists in the same emotional space as the current pandemic: urgent, uncertain, brooding, never stagnant. The lyrics are more timely than ever as we as a country, and as a human race, strive to make sense of the chaos and find order in the misaligned segments of society. Purchase here on Bandcamp.

 

 

The Unconventional Genius of Bubba Sparxxx

Hint: It’s not “Ms. New Booty”

I’ll start with this: I’ve spent my entire life in suburban Wisconsin. I grew up listening to punk rock and metalcore. I spent much of my time on creative endeavors rather than physical ones. All this to say, I might be one of the last people you’d expect to talk about Bubba Sparxxx.

Indeed, there probably is not much that Bub and I have in common by any stretch, what with his primary focus on Southern and rural culture. Thematically, it’s completely foreign to me. But the powerful thing about art is it’s able to transcend some of these barriers.

You may know Bubba Sparxxx for his hit, “Ms. New Booty”. The track dropped in 2005, and it took off pretty well. Perhaps the inclusion of the Ying Yang Twins on the song had something to do with this.

However, that’s probably where most people’s knowledge of Bubba Sparxxx ends. To the uninitiated, he dropped a song about hitting the club, looking at butts, and “rockin’ everywhere”. And that alone fails to impress the critic in me. It’s a base effort with a fairly commercial slant to it. The music video attempts to impress some added meaning about body positivity, but let’s be honest: it’s at a best a party track, and at worst, a song for thirsty dudes to bump-n-grind to. To distill Sparxxx’s identity to the content of the track is remiss.

Here are a few quick facts. Sparxxx’s real name is Warren Anderson Mathis. He was born in the late 70s in LaGrange, GA (about an hour southwest of Atlanta). LaGrange’s population is in the mid 20,000s, so it’s not completely rural, those it certainly has a plurality of staple Southern restaurants like Chick-Fil-A (bless up). It is unlikely that Sparxxx has access to “playa’s clubs” in LaGrange.

But one thing he did have access to was hip-hop. His start was mostly with west coast acts. And let’s not overlook the fact that there was already hip-hop in the South; Outkast was from nearby Atlanta. This ended up being foundational for his later life.

Sparxxx moved several times throughout the South and eventually found success in Athens. This may seemed drawn-out or regurgitation of a Wikipedia article (which, let’s be honest, it kind of is) but there is a point to all of this. Sparxxx’s Southern roots are undeniably authentic, his interest in hip-hop had deep roots back before trap-type beats even existed, but it’s hard to discern just how rural his actual experience was. We’ll dive into why this is important shortly.

Sparxxx’s career was largely contingent on Timbaland’s production, and even his earliest releases don’t feel entirely estranged from the larger hip-hop scene. Sure, his lyrics have been referential to his Southern surroundings at times, but these were woven authentically into albums that were, frankly, just rap. It wasn’t until the 2010s where his music started to deviate a bit, incorporating banjo and other country and bluegrass instrumentation fully. This is also around the time where new country-rap artists where on the rise, and Sparxxx was no enemy of collaboration.

Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert released “Dirt Road Anthem” in 2008, but it wasn’t until Jason Aldean’s version surfaced in 2010 that it really found success in the mainstream. And this is perhaps the most pivotal point of this entire conversation – bro-country has been scorned for being generic, disingenuous, inhumane. This is only augmented by a dude in a cowboy hat and tight jeans attempting to rap about the most cliché Southern things. It’s catchy to the point that most listeners won’t even process the absurdity of what’s happening here. But, as mainstream country loves to do, appropriating yet another genre isn’t surprising – there are plenty of great small and independent country acts out in the world, but most of what you’ll hear on the radio is just “pop with twang”.

Now, the original song is perhaps less egregious to some degree since Colt Ford is known for his country-rap elements. But at this point, Bubba Sparxx has almost a decade of rap cred cemented in several albums of material. The country-rap premise had arguably been tried and tested for years now, and it did fine with what it had. It’s akin to the popification of worship music; the substance was inherent but it needed to be repurposed for commercial means.

Most genres seem to come in waves, and the early 2010s was a second wave of country-rap; arguably, this is when it shifted to what many know as hick-hop. And that name alone should tell us something.

While Sparxxx’s music has not always taken itself too seriously, these following waves read more like parody. It’s founded on self-deprecation. It feels like a Mad Libs sheet filled in with country clichés stolen from Luke Bryan songs. Ultimately, it’s no longer rap with country elements. It’s country songs in rap form.

I’m not arguing that Bubba Sparxxx is one of the greatest modern rappers, but he certainly was a forerunner in his own right. His music is certainly not perfect and it’s not without its own clichés, but it’s also the kind of music he loved. It’s not on par with the bastardization that is Zac Brown Band’s The Owl, a terrifying frankenstein of country and the indescribable ingredients of a hotdog. Rather, Sparxxx crafted songs that, while quirky at times, are arguably no stranger than what we’ve seen from some of rap’s most popular icons. They just happened to have Southern influence. And while Sparxxx may have done a bit of pandering in the recent years as well, in his most unobserved stage of his career, things never felt gimmicky.

So, the genius of Bubba Sparxxx really isn’t built on some secret ingredient. He managed to stand out in the scene because of his background, connections, and authenticity. Hip-hop is a genre with a lot of history and ethnic roots and it’s counter-cultural for white, Southern men (the unfortunate stereotype of racism and prejudice) to participate in this verbal ceremony. There’s a tradition to be respected, an art to be honored. And seeing country musicians shameless twist this into music that is often antithetical to the cultures which created propagated hip-hop to begin with is uncomfortable.

Bubba Sparxxx ultimately managed to help bring forth a whole wave of Southern artists who were eager to put their own take on hip-hop, and it probably wasn’t even intentional. Whether or not you actually like Sparxxx’s music, his approach is noteworthy. It’s certainly more organic than what has come to pass in recent years.

Everything Matthew Milia Won’t Talk About

Frontier Ruckus is known for some deeply personal lyrical motifs, but even they still leave some points unaddressed.

Frontier Ruckus is a band that thrives as much on its lyrics as it does on its instrumental arrangements. Frontman Matthew Milia’s lyrics oscillate with ease better utter specificity (typically involving references to his home state of Michigan) and broad, speculative poetry. Even so, there are some things Milia just won’t talk about – and he has kindly laid these out for us in his lyrics. So, without further ado, here is a list of (mostly) everything Matthew Milia won’t tell us.

  1. Who killed who in a Top 40s country song
  2. All the sins he’s committed with a straight face
  3. How he abandoned his only companion
  4. What he farmed in his nightmares
  5. How he could be loved with all the phantoms in his mind
  6. The things rotting in the back of Kohl’s
  7. What they got from Little Caesars for the birthday party
  8. When Jacqueline is coming home
  9. What the glass in his friend’s eye implies
  10. If “it” is worth
  11. If he can bear the typos on the menu
  12. The secrets about Rebecca’s sister
  13. What it means to “go it alone”
  14. If his friend’s dad falls asleep holding the remote
  15. What he found in the woods behind the Taco Bell
  16. If the microphone is malfunctioning or broken
  17. If sad modernity has had its turn with his companion
  18. The joke that woke him up
  19. What made his special day dim
  20. If the “Queen of the downgrade” got paid for “making beds”
  21. If he got reimbursed for $27
  22. What the $27 is for
  23. If his friend’s dad found work on Craigslist
  24. If his friend made it back to the night of bluish black

And that’s about sums it up. Will we ever get answers or another Frontier Ruckus record? Only time will tell.

Vampire Weekend and “Album-As-Installments”

In a faster and faster paced world, people have less tolerance for listening longer.

Indie pop icons Vampire Weekend made headlines last month by releasing two new tracks, their first since 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City.  For fans, this was exciting news, throwing them into a frenzy of anticipation.  As a casual listener, I was interested in hearing the songs, and marked the band’s return as something I would want to review later in the year when the full album dropped.  But, the release of the new tracks also came with the news that they would not be releasing their album by traditional means, opting instead to release two new songs every month until the album drops, which will result in six tracks being pre-released total. 

Singles are nothing new.  Since music first became distributable, artists have been releasing single tracks as promotion for their LPs.  With the advent of digital music, this became an even more popular promotional method, as musicians began putting out singles on iTunes and now Spotify and other streaming platforms.  And, with the digital world geared so much towards playlists, singles make more sense than ever, whether they appear on “curated” playlists by streaming moguls and algorithms, or in your own personal library. 

Although the move towards an album-as-installments-based plan on Vampire Weekend’s part is relatively unsurprising, it does make one think about how the art of the album is evolving in the digital age.  Because of the mass availability of an endless supply of music, artists are having to find new ways to make themselves stand out, especially when it comes to releases.  Beyoncé set the trend of the “surprise album” with her self-titled record in 2013 by simply posting the full track-list online with no prior warning or promotion.  This has become a popular method among BIG artists since, and hence has somewhat lost its shock value, but the surprise effect is one that many still opt for. 

When a band as big as Vampire Weekend chooses to release a record in installments, it causes me to wonder whether this will become the new norm sooner or later.  In a faster and faster paced world, people have less tolerance for listening longer.  Perhaps Vampire Weekend understands this, and are capitalizing on this awareness.  It causes me to pause and wonder how many other artists will follow suit. 

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned and over reacting, but as an editor of a blog dedicated to showcasing the album as an art form, I was a bit disappointed by their decision.  The power of the album is to create a world that is experiential, a feat that is not possible in two songs.  I did listen to the two tracks, and did enjoy them.  But, I think I’ve made the decision to save the others until the full release.  To me, the power of the album has always lied more in the full experience, not in the song-by-song consumable rush of things.  As the music industry continues to shift and change, I hope that the album format remains a medium that artists continue to give their listeners, allowing them to partake in a brief escape from their daily lives that is longer than a few moments. 

However . . . if you just want to listen to the singles . . . here they are, free of charge.

Fall In Love With Quiet: Or “Why You Keep Clicking Lofi Hip Hop Beats To Study/Relax Too”

“There is a rhythm to life. You got this… ride the wave.” – Some Random Guy In the Lo-Fi Hip Hop Radio Live Chat

Something that I think gets overlooked too often on music blogs much like the one you’re reading right now is “vibe” music. Music that sets out to set a mood, and should it choose to tell a story, it does so in a subtle, usually instrumental way. I think there’s a huge place in our everyday lives for this music.

Luckily for us capitalist underlings, a large corporation also had this thought back in the 40s. Muzak, a term that would become an insult rather than a copyrighted moniker, was a company that found their niche in creating music that would boost the productivity of the average american worker, and encourage store consumers to spend more.

Muzak could apparently make workers happier and more productive. Muzak patented a system called Stimulus Progression that offered 15-minute blocks of instrumental background music that provided listeners with a subconscious sense of forward movement.” (MentalFloss.com)

For better or for worse, this science proved to be questionable at best, but the concept that music can soothe the mind, or focus you on a task is still strongly supported. According to the UMD Medical center, it’s actually good for the heart. “Listen to music. Music is an effective stress reducer in both healthy individuals and people with health problems. Research finds that listening to soothing music can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels in heart patients” (Florida National University). So the science is there, but you already knew the effects that calming music had on you when you’re trying to focus. It acts as a buffer, a conduit for thought; provides framework but not enough stimulus to distract you or “take you out of it”. It’s the 21st century version of listening to the rain at night; which is, unsurprisingly, a common sound sample in this genre.

There’s something magic about certain tempos, certain grooves, and certain instrumental tones that calm us. The sounds are soft but defined, dark but not foreboding. They feel like a cold summer night, the kind of night that conjures memories of fire-lit evenings and hoodies. There’s a specific feeling that follows putting on nice headphones, or putting this type of music on in the car at night that feels warm, safe, and inviting.

This feeling, I will dare to say, is peace. So much of our days are spent with a checklist in one hand and a heavily caffeinated beverage the other. A paper, some homework, a test, a last minute Not A Sound post because the Head Editor is sick, or just the stresses of feeling the need to move forward every day as quickly as you can. “Chill” music offers you a brief, but welcomed respite from these feelings through nothing more than a few un-quantized kick drums and a warm piano sound.

So go ahead, boot up some of those lo-fi/jazz/chill playlists, because now more than ever, it feels like we as a generation need something that not only encourages stillness, but romanticizes it.



I’ve included the link to the now infamous “lofi hip hop” radio, and my personal favorite I found while listening to it during my writing tonight, so enjoy!

“There is a rhythm to life. You got this… ride the wave.” – Some Random Guy In the Lo-Fi Hip Hop Radio Live Chat

http://mentalfloss.com/article/28274/muzak-history-background-story-background-music

https://www.fnu.edu/benefits-studying-music/

What Makes a “Classic” Album?

Let’s say you’re like me, and anytime you have a few extra bucks, you roll on over to your favorite used record store for a few hours and bask in your hipster glory. One of my favorites to visit during such (rare) times is Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.  Jerry’s is a vinyl geek’s dream.  Walk in and you will find boxes on top of boxes full of records spanning the entire lifetime of the format, covering all genres.  Let’s say you go to the rock/pop section, which in itself takes up a quarter of the warehouse.  You start thumbing your way through the stacks, in hopes of finding something by The Beatles, Prince, Bowie, maybe Springsteen.  Instead, you would likely be able to find massive stacks of music by relatively unknown pop bands from the sixties, or a plethora of Barry Manilow records.  You’ll be lucky if you find a Bowie covers album, or maybe a scratched Capitol Records version of one of the Fab Four’s early releases.

This is not because these records don’t exist.  They aren’t rare.  The Beatles are one of the most popular bands of all time, selling millions of LPs and singles over the course of the past 50 some years.  The fact is, people don’t get rid of these records often, and when they go on sale, the folks at Jerry’s put them right up at the front so that the costumers will see them and snatch them up within minutes of being on the shelf.

That is because these albums are true “classics.”  Their influence has lasted for decades.  Despite the fact that the Beatles broke up in 1970, they continue to draw new fans with every generation, and hence are more difficult to find at record stores than a band like Bread.  My question is, what makes an artist or an album stand out in this way? What qualities of popular music continue to draw people in and stay relevant for years?  Why does Walmart sell Pink Floyd merch?  What is up with the resurgence of Fleetwood Mac in popular culture?

I would argue that there are three broad categories of classic albums.  As a disclaimer, I’m not saying that all “classics” fall into these categories.  There is such a thing as an “underground classic,” or artists that have a dedicated cult following long after they are gone.  I’m not devaluing that.  Additionally, artists could have multiple albums that exist in any of these categories, or sometimes albums might blur the line between two, or all three.  But, in terms of popular culture, there are three categories of “classic” albums that stand out to me.

Mastery of a “tried n’ true” method

These are albums that demonstrate a deep knowledge of a tradition.  Yet, instead of being boxed in by that tradition, and making a paint-by-numbers folk album for example, they add something new to the conversation through their work.  Think of artists like Johnny Cash.  Cash knew country music better than anyone.  Country, folk, and blues were genres that had existed prior to his career.  His music was not “re-inventing the wheel” so to speak.  He just wrote really damn good songs in a genre he had a mastery of. Often times, as was more common in the fifties and sixties, his albums even included many covers of other people’s songs.  Yet he is still one of the most revered American musical artists.

So what sets Cash’s work apart from the countless mimickers that followed, all of the covers of his songs, and the lookalikes in the industry?  Although his sound was not necessarily groundbreaking in the way that later artists would be, Cash managed to add something newto the conversation through his unique image, presence, voice, and writing style.  His country background melded into the rock-n-roll aesthetic and persona that he had acquired by working with Sun Records, putting a unique spin on what qualifies as “country.”  It is not always easy to put your finger on what makes these artists stand out, but it shows in the influence that follows their career, even after their death.

 

Examples: Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A’ Changin’, Whitney Houston’s self-titled album, Nirvana’s Nevermind.

A tasteful combination of genres

Sometimes, an album comes out that attempts to cover every genre under the sun. These albums tend to come off as cheap imitations of the original form.  Think about the current Island and Latin sounds that have been popular on the radio over the past few years by artists like Drake, Cardi B, and Twenty One Pilots.  A song like “Hot Line Bling” may be catchy, but sounds like a week imitation of the reggae genre, under the guise of being “influenced.”  This type of song usually turns out to be a fad replaced when the next trend comes in.  Another example is in the early 2010’s when all you heard on the radio were singles by Mumford And Sons, The Lumineers, and Gotye.

Amidst this slog, an artist will occasionally make a record that tastefullycombines genres to make a unique piece of art, that has mass appeal, while also showing a loyalty to the forms that it is influenced by.  I would argue that The Beach Boys’ Pet Soundsfalls into this category.  The record creates a unique soundscape through by writing pop tunes with classical arrangements.  Music critics continue to gush over every aspect of this album, even just listening to the instrumentals alone.  The combination of classical and pop does not come off as hokey or just someone trying to mesh things together that don’t belong; rather it listens as a unique piece of art by someone who had a deep respect and understanding of both traditions.

 

Examples: The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Past, Sufjan Stevens Come On, Feel The Illinois!, and Bon Iver’s self-titled album.

Something totally different

Let’s be real, anyone can make a noise record.  It’s easy to hook up a Stratocaster to a bunch of delay petals and brag about how artsy you are.  Many albums have been released that are “different” from most music people have heard, but different doesn’t always equal good.  What sets apart the noise as something that listeners will latch on to and discuss for years to come?

Think about the Beatles reallytrippy stuff from the Sgt. Pepper era.  Tracks like “A Day In The Life,” “I Am The Walrus,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” come to mind.  The mainstream world in 1967 had never heard anythinglike that before.  While it could be argued that these songs come through a combination of multiple genres, I would argue that the contrast is so harsh that it was more something almost entirely new.  These songs were weird, but still had a mass appeal. Songs like these tend to be ones that we look at as bench marks by which we measure how popular music has changed overtime.  Albums that are total game changers but still have pop sensibilities are remembered and loved for generations, making them difficult to come by at your local record store.

 

Examples: My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless,Radiohead’s Kid A

Dynamics: On, Off, Left, Right, B, A, Start

At the center of every great pop song, orchestral piece, or ambient synth-based horror movie score is a conscious or intuitive understanding of dynamics. Giving a song a beginning and an end, or the intentional lack thereof, is an important part of using music to tell a story.  “Dynamic” is often used to describe music that spends some of its time being quiet and some of its time being blisteringly loud, but I’d like to offer up (or rather repeat what I’ve learned from people smarter than me) the idea that there is much more to dynamic music than stomping on a distortion pedal and deafening an unsuspecting listener.

Movement can happen in a song through (deep breath) volume, melody, the choice of instrumental tone (or timbre), the types of instruments used, layers of instruments or voices, space, complexity, dissonance, harmony, chord changes, tightness, sloppiness, the choice of words, the intonation of speech, the rhyming pattern, the length of a given section, repetition, stopping short and a million other dimensions that can make a song feel like it’s progressing from beginning to end. Movement, in all these dimensions, becomes a tool to the songwriter or composer.

You may be wondering: “But Sean, you uninformed and uncultured slob, what about music that doesn’t change much over time? Ambient music, film scores, even simple hook-based pop music? Does a lack of dynamics make them bad?”. To which I would say, “read the first sentence ya nerd” followed shortly thereafter by a far more friendly “no, of course not”. A lack of dynamic change can be just as much a powerful choice as an abundance of dynamic change. Familiarity, comfort, mundanity, and a feeling of a continuity can all be expressed by maintaining a constant dynamic. A song that sets out to capture one particular moment or feeling wouldn’t be served well by an evolving sound that changes dramatically from beginning to end; a song’s movement should match the story it’s trying to convey.

         Subverting this idea can also be a powerful tool. Presenting horrible events with a carefree disposition, jangly guitars, and dancy rhythms (e.g. much of “Bubblegum” by Kevin Devine) can communicate sarcasm or highlight the absurdity of our tendency to live life as if violent injustice is a perfectly alright status quo. Dramatic change between sections can convey the volatile nature of a person or event, such as Slow Mass’s use of major tonal and volume shifts to show the inner existential turmoil caused by pointless, “cyclical living”.

 

The idea that every aspect of a song or album should reflect its place in the world being created or presented by the artist is key to creating what Zack and Ian (Editors in Chief) refer to as “a world album”. The world being presented can be big or small, and the timeframe in which the story takes place can be short or sprawling; the dynamics of a song or album should be coherent with the world being built, and how the world is meant to be viewed by the listener.

 

    Next time you’re listening to a record (or writing one!), try and follow the dynamics of each section or each track. What story is it telling, how is it choosing to tell it, and how is it asking you to listen?