Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nine Inch Nails - Right Where It Belongs

In May of 2003 Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor wrote lyrics that one youtuber called "lonely but alive."  The lyrics formed a song, with gentle two note piano motifs and root-note octave jumps on a distorted synth.  The song is called 'Right Where It Belong.'

Here is a video of the song:

Nine Inch Nails has produced 8 studio albums since their formation in 1988, while Reznor has been called one of the musical geniuses of our time.  He described himself in a Rollingstone interview as "a snarling guy sweating on the mic," but in this song, the snarls turn to an existential loneliness.

The song begins in the minor, with a fuzzy, distorted synth behind Reznor's playful piano line.  lready we have set the tone, with the piano characterizing a human side to a background of industrial breathing.  Reznor's voice sounds faded and muffled, almost hidden behind some barrier.  The lyrics depict an animal at the zoo, questioning, "Are you sure what side of the glass you are on?"  Imagine Reznor, on stage, sulking over piano keys, staring out at the huge audience.  He is that animal.  He is unsure of which side of the glass he is on.

At 1:09 we get a tonal shift to the relative major as Reznor sings, "What if everything around you isn't quite as it seems?"

And then, around 3:10 into the song, the bass notes in the synth become clearer.  Reznor asks, "Are you hiding in the trees?"  His voice steps out to the front of the mix.  You can literally imagine the lights on stage shining on him as he sings to the audience.  You can even hear the audience as they scream; curtains up! This is Reznor's reality! College professors would used the term 'word painting', but whatever the is poignant and clever.

"What if everything around you isn't quite as it seems?
What is all the world you used to know is an elaborate dream?"

With the audience surrounding him, onstage or off, Reznor digs into nihilistic and existential philosophies in an industrial modern era.

Fun Fact: There is an alternate version of this song!
Check it out HERE

Sunday, May 15, 2011

M.I.A - Teqkilla

Last year M.I.A. dropped the new album, /\/\ /\Y/\, which lead songwriter Maya Arulpragasem called 'schizophrenic' and Rollingstone called "the most abrasive protest music in recent history."  One track on the album, Teqkilla, will get you drunk.  M.I.A. takes a shot of tequila and dances.  The electro-club beat (produced by Dubstepper RUSKO) drowns out Maya's vocals as she plays word games with titles of different alcohols.  The song comes at a perfect time, when dubstep listeners are growing tired and want something new; while youthful revolutions denounce older monarchies in the Middle East and, most importantly, while the national past-time for this country's youth tends to be binge drinking.

The title, teqkilla, is ambiguous in that M.I.A. could refer to tequila or 'to kill her'.

The song is also unique in that Maya's husband is the heir to the Seagrams fortune.  Also check out the 'remixed' version that includes an extra verse featuring 'barbie' Nicki Manej.

Check out the video here; I would recommend a listen while under the influence.

liqueurs referenced in order: Johnny Walker; Jack Daniels; Jim Beam; Pernot; Kahlua; Smirnoff; Captain Morgan; Sparks; Blue Tattoo; Malibu; 99 Bananas; Seagrams; Chivas; wine; Sambuca. 
Down the drain, down the drain, down down down down down down, make it drop down the drain

We squeeze we sniff we cut it up, to give you the ultimate
Oh its M.I.A. Oh woah, Oh its M.I.A. woah
Rock it, just rock it rock it two for the stage, two the bars, woah

Johnny keep walking, Jacks on coke,
Jim Beam and Jameson, they give me jokes
When I Pernot, I say hell no
Kahlua's a turnoff, I tell him to Smirnoff
Cap'n Morgan jump up for Sparks, when we hang out he shoots arrows through my heart
Blue Tattoo chillin on Malibu, he got 99 Bananas but hes not my boo.

I got that sticky-sticky-icky-icky weed
I got a shot of tequila in me

When I met Seagram he sent Chivas down my spine
Got me on the dancefloor and we started to wine
His ex Sambuca, shes just a hookah
I put it on the chilla, but I want to killa

I got that sticky-sticky-icky-icky weed
I got a shot of 'to kill her' in me.

I got you off your f*****-face, I tell you what to do
You want your mother; you something-or-another
I got you off your f*****-face, youve half turned to another place
Your brother, you f****** nutter.

I got sticky-sticky-icky-icky weed, I've got a shot of tequila in me.(x10) 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Radiohead - Everything In It's Right Place

Here is a link to the video; I highly recommend listening, then reading my article for understanding, then taking a second listen.  This song will blow your mind.

        Lead singer Thom Yorke touches genius on this track as he plays piano and sings into a condenser mic.  The song's time signature is 10/4; the beats are heard in the bassdrum (count the bassdrum hits until you get to 10 and start over; that is the phrasing of the song).
At the beginning of the song guitarist Ed O'brien uses a loop of lyrics from later in the song.  This loop of Yorke's voice sounds like it is repeating 'Kid A', which is the name of the album. (In reality the loop is a backwards lyric from the end of the song.)
So far, nothing is in it's right place.  We have an extremely unusual time signature, Yorke playing dissonant chords on an electric piano and a faint, ghostly 'Kid A, Kid A.'  Manipulated vocal samples from the middle of the song: “woke sucking on lemons” can be heard briefly and then...
Thom Yorke begins to sing...
“Everything, everything, everything, everything, in its right place.”
The house beat on the kick drum (bass drum) has taken over.  Yorke's voice sails smoothly over the electronic melody his fingers dance on.  Guitarist Johnny Greenwood's manipulation of Yorke's voice builds in the background.  
The lyrics, “yesterday I woke up suckin a lemon,” refers to a sour disposition.  The lyrics are relatively ambiguous, however, as most of Radiohead lyrics are.  The line can also sound, “Yesterday I woke up stuck in hollywood,” and Yorke has been known to blend the lyrics during live shows.  Also during their shows, Drummer Phil Selway uses a salt shaker in the shape of a lemon to accent the eighth notes while Greenwood and O'Brien use effects pedals and manipulators to 'remix' Yorke's voice. The ambiance builds during the next chorus into chaos leading to a non-climactic second verse: “There are two colors in my head,” possibly refering to our two party political system.
At this point the listener has only heard 3 lines of lyrics, yet they all say so much.  Many have speculated that Yorke's words were very political, suggesting that the song reflects the down-ward spiral of the modern age.  The modern 'house' (techno term) beat with heavy reliance on electronic and ambient sound are ideal timbers to express that the current two party system (two colors) creates a sour disposition (also highlighted by the dissonant chord structure and use of the phrygian mode).  Nothing is in the right place, but that is right where it belongs.
With heavy vocal manipulations in the background Yorke sings the last verse, “What was that you tried to say?”  A gentle chorus follows the verse and the song fades to silence.

This track opens the album Kid A, which has been called the best album of it's decade by Rollingstone, Pitchfork and Time Magazine.  The imagery and symbloyism used in this song are a mere example of the albums brillance as a whole.  I highly recommend shutting your eyes, opening your ears and listening straight through.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

POWER - Kanye West

Rollingstone voted Kanye's 2010 release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the #1 album of the year.  The hit from album, POWER, was called a "contemplation on fame and obsolescence," by Spin Magazine's Chris Martins.

The tune samples King Crimson's 1969 release 21st Century Schizoid Man , off the album In The Court of The Crimson King.  Kanye plays off this theme repeatedly (see lyrics explained below.)
The song also samples Afromerica by the funk band Continent Number 6, and It's Your Thing by funk band Cold Grits.

The music video for the song (link above) has caused a lot controversy, with supposed Illuminati symbolism.

My analysis is highlighted in red.

I'm livin in that 21st century  
(hinting towards sampled theme)
Doin something mean to it    
Do it better than anybody ever seen do it  
(Kanye believes he is the best rapper alive)
Screams from the haters,
Got a nice ring to it       
(Kanye enjoys the 'haters' criticisms)  
I guess every superhero need his theme music  
(hinting at Keenan Ivory Wayan's comment on rapper KRS-1: "Its my theme music, every good hero should have one.")

No one man should have all that power,
The clocks tickin I just count the hours
Stop trippin I'm trippin off the power
(21st Century Schizoid Man)

The system is broken
The schools closed the prisons open
(possibly stating that during budget shortfalls public schools often loose funding first while prisons loose funding last)
We ain't got nothing to loose motherf***er we rolling
Huh, motherf***er we rolling
with some white skinned girls
and some Kelly Rowlands
(Kelly Rowlands is the 'darkest' skinned member of 90s pop-trio Destiny's Child)
In this white man's world
I'll see you in the morning
Huh I'll see you in the morning
This is way too much, I need a moment

No one man should have all that power
The clock's tickin I just count the hours
Stop trippin I'm trippin off the power
Til then f*** that the world's ours

(21st Century Schizoid Man)

F*** SNL and the whole cast
Tell em Yeezy (what Kanye calls himself) said they can kiss my whole @$$
more specifically they can kiss my @$$hole
(quoting '99 Problems' by Jay-Z)
I'm an @$$hole, you n****s got jokes
(Taylor Lautner of SNL joked about Kanye's MTV Video Awards stunt in which the rapper interrupted Taylor Swifts acceptance speech; Kanye is 'joking' back)
Your short-minded n**** thoughts is Napolean
My furs is Mongolian, my ice brought the goalies in
(a fashion statement followed by a hockey pun...)
And I embody every characteristic of egotistic
Ya know, he's so f***in gifted
I just need time alone with my own thoughts
(time alone is a reference to Kanye's year long seclusion in Hawaii following the Taylor Swift incident)
Got treasures in my mind but couldn't open up my own vault
My child-like creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me
Taking my inner child, I'm fighting for custody
With these responsibilities that they entrusted me
As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece
(With the amount of jewelry Kanye has this could be interpreted as his necklace depicting Jesus on the cross, or it could refer to a diamond encrusted firearm, in which Kanye wonders if ending his life would solve his problems; again, no one man should have all that power....)

No one man should have all that Power
The clocks tickin I just count the hours
Stop trippin Im trippin off the power
Til then f*** that the world's ours

Colin Powell, Austin Powers
Lost in translation with a whole f***ing nation
(This is a reference to Kanye's televised blurt "George Bush hates black people," in which he was standing next to Mike Meyers, who plays Austin Powers; Kanye has said in interviews that the public mistook his message that day)
They say I was the abomination of Obama's nation
Thats a pretty bad way to start the conversation
(After the Taylor Swift incident Pres. Obama called Kanye a jackass)
At the end of the day
Godd*** I'm killing this sh*t
don't need your p***y b*tch I'm on my own d*ck
I ain't on a power trip, who you goin home with?
How Ye doin?
I'm surviving
I was drinking earlier now I'm driving
Where the bad b*tches
Huh Where they hiding?
I got the power to make your life so exciting
(the echo of 'so exciting' it begins to sound like suicide; foreshadowing the outro about suicide)

Now this will be a beautiful death
(I'm jumpin out the window, lettin everything go)
(Kanye is at the top, there is no where to go but down)
You got the power to let everything go?
(Kanye's ends the song by speculating what real power is...)

(21st Century Schizoid Man)

Kanye's piece refers to several events of the past year, mostly surrounding his own fame and celebrity stunts.  Kanye questions his existence and suicide, accurately embodying the title of the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  
Most rappers find power in jewelry, guns, drugs and a 'gangsta' lifestyle.  Kanye turns this piece into more than that, into a study of what it means to be powerful.  His conclusions define power as allowing your perfect image to be dismissed and work toward ones own goals.


In the age of the internet, billions of bloggers comment and express their opinions with free-reign.  This blog, however, will strive to enhance a listeners understanding of their musical taste without opinion or bias.

To achieve this I research songs in several ways, both analyzing their scores and then 'covering' them.  Over ten years of trumpet lessons, seven years of self-taught guitar and 3 years of a bachelors degree in music from the University of Connecticut have helped me gain the ability to make the complex simple and explain any song to any listener.

Please let me know if you would like one of your personal favorites explained, and most importantly: Enjoy!