Sunday, July 25, 2010

Very Awkward-Sounding

When I first heard the song 'That Face,' I was completely dumbfounded by its sound and musical structure. That did not sound like Madness. That sounded kind of odd...just the way it sounded musically.

This is a review of the song I'm doing for anyone who hasn't yet caught on by the way.

It's a song that, for percussion, relies largely on the upper tom tom drum and bass, with a snare hit only after the first few hits, every time. The bass only occurs substantially at the beginning of each measure, alongside the piano, which plays the same notes. Then it's just quick little notes way up the neck, almost like beeps. There are actual beep-like sounds in the song that sound similar to telephone dial buttons.

The real music you hear in the song rather comes from the piano and sax, as well as the guitar now and then, which sometimes slides down. The piano itself comes off as fast and a bit complicated but well-executed. The sax sounds like, to me, it's trying to retain some sort of sense. It's just how I see it.

To me, the music sounds awkward and a bit odd. Like someone is stumbling about trying to accomplish something but at an odd angle or awkwardly. To put this into something more realistic, an example is one of the story arcs of the TV show The Office: The Andy character is interested in the Erin character, and Erin is equally into Andy, but Andy's attempts to ask her out are both awkward and kind of full of odd 'beat around the bush' drama.

The part that really sounds awkward is the 'Reflections of yesterday!' refrain. There's this sort of dodo-de-do created by the 'telephone dial button' beeps, and a ready-sounding, asking-a-girl-out-uncomfortably-really fast-like bass note - then it goes down a semi-tone, as if with shock and embarrassment, if the girl turned him or it down or embarrassed him or it as a result. 
The actual notes are F, pause (for the 'reflections of...') lyric, then simply 'E' (and resounding 'yesterday!' lyric). Accompanying the shock of the bass (and shouted 'yesterday') is a big crash and floor tom hit.

What's funny about that refrain is that the backing voice for the lyric really shouts it, and tends to make me think that Ryan Howard from that same show, The Office, could say the exact same thing in the exact same tone. It would refer to his odd, unusual days at the Scranton branch and his awkward relationship with Michael, the office manager, and he would think about this during season four when he would unexpectedly be working for corporate.

From my point of view, the song is interesting, but only okay. I like the little musical bits where there seems to be a trombone playing (some sort of brass instrument) and the piano/bass sounds quite reflective. The brass makes me think of late winter afternoons, with the sun low but still bright, and someone's spending their free time reading a book by themselves in their empty flat or something in the waning sunshine as cars turn corners on streets and reflect the glare off their windows and shiny chrome parts. The one reading is a bit lonely and tends to reflect as he reads in his bedroom.

But otherwise, the song sounds a bit too overproduced and long. The style of the sound - the way the bass plays and the beat - you wouldn't want to play it for a long time because of the inherent unusual way it sounds and the awkwardness it tends to evoke. For me anyway. I'm sure it would be different for other people.

For the lyrical content, it seems to be about reflection and wondering where everything went - like one's youth or old friends or girlfriends, whatever. They're noticing the lines and wrinkles appearing in their face as they age and realizing their life's really gone by without them noticing. 'That face was fine only yesterday. My problems seemed so far away.'

Coming from their concept album The Rise and Fall, it seems only right that the song has this kind of content. Most of the songs on there, from Sunday Morning to Rise and Fall (the opening song) to Our House all deal with childhood memories and reflection. This song is no different. It was Carl Smyth (Chas Smash) who suggested writing about childhood memories, and so he ended up writing this, and co-writing Our House as well (for which I think he did a much better job than this).

Lyrically, the song is kind of interesting. Not bad. Just stop yelling 'Reflections of yesterday!' so much. It sounds too absolute and kind of sad.

Music: C+
Lyrics: B

Not a bad song but not a great one either. Kind of odd-sounding. Has an awkward tone. Not a bad lyric though. I forgot to mention that one of the bass notes - the G to G Sharp procession - makes me think of the surprise on my old math teacher's face when I laughed at his annoyance of how two girls left the class procession on its way down to a computer lab in grade 11. Synesthesia can really make me think of some interesting things.

Justin C.

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