Thread: Harmonies
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Old 01-30-2008, 08:54 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Posts: 9,280
Default Harmonies

I wrote this while I was "trapped" at the wifes house but I'd been thinking it for awhile, does anyone else do this?

"I haven’t really been listening to music lately so much as I have the backing harmonies that accompany different music’s, and I think it’s a craft that I’d never appreciated as much as I do now, or should have ever.

It started with Waits, as it always does with me. He’s never one for backing vocal harmonies but he knows his brass and on many Blood Money tracks, its absolutely spot on. I’ll save you the indulgence of gushing about a musician I’d try to pontificate on at every passing chance but when it came to harmonies on this recording, I feel as if he gave them a special role, or importance. He’d always had harmonies, but these were less about the music and much more about the emotion. Music serves as a sister guide to most story lines, Aristotle insisted on it for gods sake, but supporting harmonies are usually doing just that. Supporting a melody line that works with the story line but acts as a sort of a tag along and rarely if ever, anything more.

But on Blood Money the brass section works as elements of setting and plot. In Starving in the Belly of a Whale, the trumpets are a roaring ocean that slams against the sides of a ship charging through open storm waters manned by a lunatic captain screaming at his crew “tell me who gives a good god damn, you’ll never get alive, don’t be greedy, don’t be needy, a man must test his mettle in the crooked old world.”

And that world is this water logged old ship as it sorts its way through the North Atlantic while the furious trumpeters bury it in squeaks and bends.

I’d listened to Blood Money for days, reveling in the trumpets and the saxophones that sounded like they’d been pulled form time, running around the streets of New York on some coke-fueled romp in the 1980’s. They were wild and the notes were frayed and they complimented everything on the album better than anything else. Those god damned trumpets.

Then it spilled over. I was looking for that subtle and pained sound anywhere I could. At the end of Jolie Hollands “Old Fashioned Morphine” I’d found a dark and sinister waltz in the antebellum south that had never been touched before. The floors were old and rotting and they squeaked as the guests danced over them while some Colonel Sanders type person rocked in his chair to the music while drinking his whiskey. It’s a good two minutes or so at the end of the song where words can’t get in the way and I’ve probably listened to that 2 minute instrumental three times as often as I have the first part of the song.

But the brass gave way to vocal harmonies. I was going to work when I’d realized that, on top of being a great song, the backing vocals in “No one knows” by Queens of the Stone Age might be as brilliant as the rift that punched through the stubborn wall of modern rock radio and its resistance to anything it hasn’t let in prior. Their notes, that might be the band, or Josh Homme multi-tracked but either way its one note gong down in sequences of three, like a stop light, filled with a enough pain to let you know he’s hurt but that he’s pretending he doesn’t want you to notice. And in that same vein, John Frusante (sp?) does a similar but not quite as brilliant a job on the Chili Peppers track “Can’t Stop” from “By the Way.”

And when I’d found these harmonies sitting back their patiently waiting for anyone to notice all the hard work and beauty in them, and subsequently all their worth, it was as if I’d discovered a whole new song. With regard to Can’t Stop there was a time between te songs novel appeal and this discovery that I hated the song. 1200 listens a day on rock radio tends to put one off. Once I’d found these harmonies however it was a breath of fresh air. Or more accurately found something else to breath. It wasn’t air any more it was something else. It was a whole new song. I didn’t listen to the foreground any longer it was all these harmonies and the bass, and what was going on behind the scenes that meant something. If it were a performance of the stage it would be like running up afterward and asking for autographs from the stage crew. And with that last line I may have staged a movement in while sweaty black-clad stage hands moved en mass to their local guitar center for want of some overdue adulation, but such is life.

This is one of those things, the attention to detail that, as we get older and move from our teenage predilection to any given genre up to the appreciation of well crafter music and structure that separates the masters of their craft from the would-be bar band cover acts of 5 years down the road. I don’t know MBer’s, just some food for thought. Hang in there."

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