Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Once again, Boom 99.7 has come forth with something great.

I've never heard of Sublime before, not really. Wikipedia told me they were a 90s outfit, and, completely characteristic of my tastes, their genre was Ska. With some punk.

This song makes me realize why I love Ska. The Police's 'One World' made me realize I will always love it and it will define my overall taste in music to no end, and this song makes me see exactly why I love it.

It's the bass.

In Ska the bass guitar is the instrument you hear the most in terms of constancy and melody. The guitar usually plays staccato chords and now and then full melodies via string plucking, but its sound is mostly as accompaniment, or at least it sounds that way to me. Everything plays around the bass line. Also, it's often played quickly at times, sounding fretful, which I find attractive.

Since I was very young I always tended to get the majority of my emotional response and synesthetic backdrop from the bass in music. I relate to that instrument the most and find it the main reason I like the majority of the songs I like. There are some in other genres where it's almost entirely the piano providing the reason I love the music, but 90% of the time it's the bass. Its notes are deep and rooted, which I feel aligned with in terms of my own personality, or how I see myself. I guess my ears are more tuned to the lower notes of a song, because I've always enjoyed and listened to and picked those up first and focused on them. My method for learning a song by ear is always to learn the bass line first, because it almost always uses root notes of the chords other instruments use in its progression. Bass plays a C, the guitar plays a C...major, or minor, or seventh, whatever.

It's the bass and, to a slightly lesser extent, the rhythm. The drums always keep a nice steady beat and rhythm in Ska songs, and this one is perfect in terms of the speed and rhythm of the hi-hat. Perhaps it's partly why I took up the drums eight years ago...I always drum my fingers to the beat of every instrument in a song almost every time, and I have a sense of time and beat. One thing I realized when I tried to play 'One World' on the drums for the first time, a song that's full of almost random flourishes and constant changes in beat (a Stewart Copeland masterclass type of thing) I surprised myself by very quickly adjusting to and keeping the rhythm and beat mostly correct while predictably screwing up every flourish, on hi-hat and toms. It comes naturally to me.

Focusing on this song, I heard it on the radio once and found the bass attractive due to its melody. Of course, I forgot to look it up, so I didn't hear it again until yesterday, when I remembered and located the song and listened to it completely for the first time.

As I wrote above, its low-end melody made me realize what I love about Ska, and I liked the hi-hat rhythm. Deeper down, though, the bass painted a personality that seemed kind of high and low, full of very human worries and faults, and for the first time, it came off as feminine to me. My natural response was to paint a picture of my type based on the bass melody: A dark-haired, mostly round-faced girl with those Sherry Kean eyes (green) feeling and coming off exactly as this bass does. The A flat the bass plays during the chorus sounds especially fretful and highly attractive to me, and later it plays that note an octave lower - or deeper.

Despite the melody sounding kind of complicated and as a result multi-faceted and deep, it's actually quite simple. In general the bassist follows a progression (during the verses) of E, A flat/G sharp, C sharp/D flat, and B. The choruses go A, B, E, and A flat with extra notes between E and A flat that bring it down (D sharp and C sharp). Four main notes per progression, like most (if not all) commercial pop music songs. The trick to its greatness and dynamic is the bassist's adding of secondary, extra notes during and between notes of each progression. The changing of the note's depth - up or down an octave - also contributes. Because you're already going at a quick, steady tempo, adding these extra notes requires you to be quick in fretting them, so they come off as sixteenth notes added in almost at the last second, giving that 'fretful' yet dynamic, melody. All the sharps involved around E makes me suspicious that it's in E major.

In sharp contrast with the music, the lyrics are quite dark and threatening. When I first heard it I didn't pay too much attention to them though the vocalist sounded wistful. Looking them up, and reading about the suggested meaning on Wikipedia to be sure, it's actually about someone's jealous anger over his loss of a girl to someone else, using Mexican words to describe the guilty parties. "Sancho" took his "Heina" from him. This anger develops into a threatening yet pathetic-sounding, wistful rage as the vocalist talks about shooting the other guy with his 'new forty-five.' All this is set to mostly happy, easy-going, reconciliatory-sounding music. The progression during the chorus literally sounds like it's saying "Hey now, we're all happy here, let's set this all aside and forget our negative feelings." Meanwhile the singer is sadly venting his anger against this.

Some notable details: The band came from Long Beach, California, and started going in 1988. They were modestly popular and had a few minor hits in the 90s, but immediately after recording their third album (which was their first on a mainstream label) lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell died of a heroine overdose (on May 25, 1996 - for me, one day after my 1996 aerial photo was taken). The band's mascot, Nowell's dog, took his place in the music video. The song was released on January 7th, 1997. It became a hit - though a posthumous one. The band broke up immediately after Nowell's death. I find it kind of unfortunate and sad that the voice I'm listening to doesn't exist anymore, that the singer died a long time ago. Also of note is that the bass line of this song, the reason I like it altogether, apparently comes from an earlier song of theirs called 'Lincoln Highway Dub' from their 1994 album Robbin' the Hood. I may go listen to that.

Song: A
Lyrics: B+

Sooner or later I'll be writing a review (a proper review, not a huge look at why I like a music genre -and then the review) on a Billy Joel song.

Red Cloud

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