Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretend to Romanticize

The other night, I decided to try and give R.E.M.'s entire album Green (1988) a listen. It's on YouTube in its entirety, so I gave it a go. Most were all right, some were only okay, others I knew, and one stood out completely.



At first glance - in terms of reading the title - I assumed it was referring to or mocking the then-U.S. government and its leader, George H.W. Bush. (the album was released in America intentionally at the same time as the election to provide fans or would-be voters their criticisms of Bush). It might still be intentionally doing that, but I'm not sure because the lyrics seem to be more about someone who plays games in which he is at war on himself. I'm not really too great at reading between the lines all the time.

It's the music that I tend to romanticize, and extremely. That's what stands out to me overall. Of course, with me, you can bet that I'm doing that because the song uses E minor and B minor as its main progression, at least during the main choruses. R.E.M. uses minor chords in a majority of their songs, which can give them quite a longing or forlorn feel to them. But E and B always work brilliantly together, and I peg them as quite romantic. I've probably said this dozens of times here.

It's not just the two notes/chords in the song, it's also how they're played, on the bass anyway. The procession is generally E, EE, D-E-D-F#-E-D-B. The acoustic follows along exactly the same. Synesthetically I see what sounds like effort and dabbling and stress followed by a reward of endearment, thanks to the bass and guitar bouncing around E and D, going up to F# and winding down, and ending on B (the endearment). That endearment is conveyed by the person that was stressed and all over the place putting that effort in. It's the same as going to lengths to fulfill a wish or a simple request or favour for that person you love, even if she didn't really think it was urgent or much, but you want to make the effort anyway to show that resulting endearment. And it's not "I'm going to go to lengths to help you on whatever it is you want to do in order to keep you with me," it's "I'm going to go to the end of the world and back for you because I love you, and you're all I care about."

The verses are just as bright and lovely, with a procession that goes D-G-C-D. A nice piano part plays during this at one point, never chords but likely the notes of those chords, so broken chords. Completing the whole thing, the beauty fulfilled, are the castanet clicks throughout. I always find them kind of romantic (though it took me until an eventful Friday evening at my paternal grandparents to figure out what they're called) and they're prominent in 'You Don't Know What I've Been Thru' by The Tenants. That song also has a prominent B in it. Neither song has any Spanish influence other than the castanets, which make them all the more obvious and unexpected and appealing.

I don't know if it was that Friday night or not, but the song made me see my father in the E minor, particularly from the acoustic guitar. It's the first guitar sound you hear when the song stars, and the last. I find E minor (on acoustic guitar particularly) makes me think of someone languishing in need or disappointment, unsatisfied, wanting more. I don't think my father really does embody that, in general personality traits anyway, but I might be seeing that as a personal reaction to me, which is a psychological thing my mind has created thanks perhaps to his parenting style and attitude towards me over the years. In other words, perhaps I think my father looks towards me and has those emotions. E minor. This is particular to acoustic guitar as opposed to piano or electric guitar because an acoustic's strings are more subtle and you're striking more strings than you are depressing piano keys, so there's more resonance and harmony involved. E minor is the simplest guitar chord I know - in fact, you are literally only holding the A and D strings down on the same fret, playing E and B together as a result. E and B again. We've come full circle.

This mixture of E, B, D, G, etc. plus the gentle acoustic, lazy electric guitar, and clicking castanets, creates quite a romanticized feeling and image for me. Stipe's vocals are also easy and intriguing, and I like the register his voice is in - not too high and not too deep. It kind of makes me think of a Western thanks to the instruments and style, but just lovely. There are subtle instrument parts and backing vocals (best heard if you listen to it quietly) and it's not too layered, so the production is good. You know how there are songs that are over-produced or over-layered so your ears don't know what to define or decipher, and there are others that sound raw and like a jam session with minimalist production techniques, and this is just right. I wonder if the snare hits during the E-to-B transition (and drum roll) are supposed to signify war machines and guns, etc., since the song has a lot to do with the subject. They probably got that sound by just recording from the dynamic mic directly under the snare drum.

Yesterday, I was on my break at work in Mc-you-know-where when a girl with The Face walked in. Of course when I say 'The Face' I mean a general type and a passing resemblance, not a 100% replica of the original source, and as I sat there, I couldn't help but smile and just bask in the beauty of it. When I think of that and listen to the song, it just feels great, especially aligned with D major (which the piano likely plays as a broken chord during its part). I've now lost count of how many similar faces that apply to this type I've seen, which says something - they're not uncommon. And perhaps I'm in some way drawn to them, or the other way around. I just know that they literally make my day. What's also uncanny is that of all the girls I've seen that have that kind of round face with dark hair and perfect eyes, about nine out of ten of them have a very similar-sounding voice as well, a voice that is also just as appealing.

This finally leads me to what I'm thinking of doing here, which is a chord-personality thing like the Signature Series I listened to on CBC - where I do a post on each major and minor chord in music (though not the scale). I've got my own deep ideas and alignments and feelings about each chord, some more over others, and I can use differing contexts from songs I've reviewed on here. With that in mind, I'll probably start with C major tomorrow.

On the original subject of the song...
Lyrics: B+
Music: A

My favourite word to use here seems to be 'endearing.' It does mean quite a lot to me, despite what the lyrics talk about, but kudos to R.E.M. Another song that uses E and B (though reversed) is 'Can't Get There From Here' which starts on B, goes to E, then returns to B, but minor. It's nice.

Red Cloud
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