Saturday, February 21, 2015

Something Brought Up From Deep Within the Subconscious

You ever find yourself in a state of absent-mindedness, or deep thought at something, or just random thinking, and some sound or bit of music fades into your mind from virtually nowhere, just an absent sound that's been there forever, but you don't know where it came from?

It's pretty amazing and probably feel-good when you finally actually hear the actual music or sound.

An hour ago, I happened to have this kind of rediscovery. It was via the TV, and I was thankfully able to get upstairs to see the title/artist of the song.

For me it was this song's introduction, particularly the ending before the first verse launches onwards. That last bit of intro would enter my mind now and then randomly throughout the years, although not recently, more when I was a younger teen. I never knew why or what it was or where it came from.

I think it's pretty neat when a song or a part of a song can integrate into someone's subconscious background thoughts to the point you recognize the sound but can't recall where it came from, but it's there. And now I've finally heard the song it came from, I'm quite impressed with the song itself.

In terms of song info, it came out in 1999. When I saw it on TV, I thought it was a late 70s-era song due to the simplicity of it and the general sound. There's a quote by the vocalist on Wikipedia explaining that he wrote it about his divorce from his first wife, to whom he apparently wasn't faithful, explaining her pleasure at moving on from him (as opposed to being sullen or 'sour' the day they met).

Before writing this, I tried figuring out some of it on the bass. I definitely know that the root note of this song is G. In thinking about the general notes used, I would guess the scale is G melodic minor. The verses begin in G; the chorus starts on B flat. But playing to the song itself was not easy right away; the introduction isn't impossible, but its transition to the first verse sounds confusing in time and root note.

Having listened to it more than several times now (I obviously quite like it) there are many elements of it that I like. Often music will synesthetically give me circumstances or situations as often as it will give me personalities or memories or visuals. For instance, the introduction makes me think of a situation where someone has been indecisive up to the last possible second, and everything has become hopeless. The music sounds tired and grave and at the end of its rope, it's 4am.

I like the progression the verses take. It sounds solid to me, as well as multi-faceted.

Apart from the bass and my synesthetic interpretation of it, I quite like the vocal melody of the verses as well. I love Weiland's high notes with 'she was a happy girl the day that she left me,' etc. That actually gives me an image of the original tall, white, concrete south side stands at Lansdowne Park, in morning sunlight, seen from the canal. I attribute the shape and colour of the very white form I get when he sings that one high note in his vocal. White in a sunny-bright way.

It's a nice easy-going song. The drums aren't heavy or overbearing, and the music is simple, bass-led with some acoustic guitar and understated electric guitar that slowly moves centre-stage towards the end. I like the after-chorus hook; that was the other bit of the song that had hung around in my mind for a long time.

Finally, I like the lyrics. Not in the way they're supposed to be interpreted though. I take a more personal view of them. "Hey, what are you looking at?" and "What would you do if I followed you?" stand out quite a bit to me. I just think about the times in which I think because a girl keeps looking at me, I think she likes me in some way, and I interpret it so until it's proven that's not the case, which has happened more often than not. Therefore - what are you looking at? I'm sure everyone finds that frustrating.

I take the chorus lyric as a sort of lightly jocular romantic phrase in a circumstance involving a simple crush on someone, even though it's far from it. Like seeing someone you like and ensuring you're close because you like them, maximizing the time you see each other.

My view of the lyrics is quite in contrast to how they're actually written and intended, but hey, everyone has their own personal feeling and idea with something they like.

The last thing I'll mention is the music video. The lighting is pretty cool; the animal costumes are quite unusual and ominous. When I saw that, I could have sworn I may have seen some random scene of it before, long ago, because those bunny-like characters didn't look absolutely unfamiliar.

Music: A-
Lyrics: B+

Very pleased to hear the actual origin of what's been buried in my subconscious for so long.
Red Cloud

Friday, February 20, 2015

Two (not and a half) Smashed Pianos

Despite not having watched any of it for several years now, I watched the series finale of Two and a Half Men. It was kind of interesting.

For a finale, it mostly fulfilled the usual characteristics of one: Reappearance of old recurring characters/former main characters (except for the obvious big one) and, although it was quite overly rampant in this finale, intertextual jokes and pokes at the show's own writing, plus word-play by the characters referring to the show's run, plot, humour, and personalities. Even Charlie Sheen, his personal life, and recent sitcom Anger Management was referenced/joked about.

There was a time in the past where I extremely enjoyed this show. I even have the DVD box sets of seasons 1 up to 8 (I believe). I watched them all the time. Its original dynamic and origin was pretty good - take a lifestyle like Charlie Sheen's, create a sitcom around it - and then add in an uptight younger brother who's recently divorced, plus his ten-year-old son. That would be the clash of the lifestyles. There's nothing unbelievable about it.

But it didn't age well. Jake, for comedic purposes, got progressively more dim-witted until he essentially became an unsympathetic simpleton. I know a lot of people no doubt get a big laugh out of an unsophisticated character whose misunderstood wordplay in simple conversations only leads him to confusion and annoyed ignorance. At first, Charlie appeared to be an accepting, largely tolerable character who could be fun to watch, but as time went on, he only became more obnoxious, disinterested, and devoid of hardly any feeling. Originally his verbal matches with Alan and Evelyn were funny to watch; they ended up just being constantly, overly mean-spirited. Jokes and certain, tolerable personalities do eventually get old and intolerant.

Then there's Alan, a character I originally felt for and saw as the straightest of the straight men on the show. His character seemed like a normal, conscientious, relatively smart father personality who went through an unfortunate dilemma in life with his divorce. But as the seasons rolled by, any normal adult dignity he had wore away pretty quickly. He wasn't going anywhere. Not in terms of moving out or, apparently, in his career. Unfortunately, the show's dynamic could only work as long as he continued to have bad luck, money issues (believable or not) and only as long as his independence and sense of worth was continuously castrated, mauled, and hopelessly beaten out. Any sympathy I had for him no longer exists - he has no more shame or self-worth. He matured into a cartoon of a middle-aged man, the interminable butt of constant bad money/poor jokes that peppered the dialogue of a typical later series episode so much I wonder if the audience is supposed to spend every half-hour episode jeering maniacally at him. Are we supposed to feel superior and callous towards someone because they live in poverty? I say this because of an episode I did see from the ninth season involving a storm (Ep. 16), where Alan's and Walden's girlfriends argued with each other while stuck in the powerless house. Most of what I remember from those scenes are condescending remarks largely regarding Alan due entirely to his lack of money.

I'm impressed that a series such as this one was able to last for so long, especially after the star of it ended up fired after a series of televised and online rants and words and comments. I find most shows that lose its main star or character tend to last only 1 to 2 seasons at the most, as the main reason people watched it is nullified. The main reason I'm impressed though is its portrayal of relationships, women, and men's attitudes. I've read that it's been described as 'misogynistic.' I don't think that's too far off.

In the show's universe, relationships never pan out. Virtually every marriage mentioned or seen on the show ends in divorce - save for Judith's and Herb's. All three main characters - Alan, Charlie, and later Walden - seem to never pass up an opportunity for sex, regardless of where, when, and if it would mean cheating or ruining their situation or someone else's. I can understand Charlie's attitude and appetite for it (it's obvious right from the very first episode, part of his character) but by the latter half of the series every main character (including Jake in the end) has this sex-above-everything-else requirement. Women, by contrast, are portrayed as cruelly greedy, manipulative, entitled, controlling, and powerful in a seedy, mean-spirited kind of way. Not to mention superior and condescending.

In short, men are portrayed as sex-crazed, women superior and greedy objects, and relationships dead-end ways to be manipulated by them into losing your dignity, self-worth, and financial stability. Every character on that show came off as selfish, unsympathetic, sometimes bumbling, often callous. I didn't find a reason to like any of them, including Alan, to whom the writers never stopped short of being cruel to. If I were him I would have left that unforgiving, seedy environment long ago - no one would really care to miss him, it seems. The practice of chiropraxy isn't dead-end - where I live, chiropractors litter the area, along with dentists. I would have ended the series with him finally moving out, moving on, and creating a new life for himself elsewhere - particularly far away from where the show is set.

As for the finale, it seemed pretty promising up until near the end. I was hoping Charlie Sheen really would show up, having not died. Rose is a pretty insane character. The Looney-Tunes inspired backstory to how she imprisoned him was a neat element to the episode considering the character's actual state of mental stability. But instead an actor that resembled the back of his head and body size very closely had to show up at the last second - only to have a grand piano crush him at the front door.

I have never seen an ending to a series on TV where the departed main character shows up in the final scene only to be comically crushed by the piano he played so often in the early seasons - and then the creator and executive producer is revealed right afterwards, only for him to be similarly crushed. I guess it's an absurd ending to a comedy focusing on sex and hapless characters. I doubt any other series finale concludes with its own creator in a director's chair enveloped into the episode, sound stages revealed and all. Or falling baby grand pianos.

It is what it is. I wouldn't have expected it to end this way, which makes it interesting, so I think I'll just conclude on this note:


Red Cloud

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hallmark of Days, The

When I think about days like Valentines Day, I try to find a way to justify it. Any holiday, or special day, has some sort of justification to it. Christmas had religious beginnings, and Easter has a similar origin/basis. Mothers and Fathers Days to me would equate almost to Thanksgiving, in that you are saying thanks to someone who brought you up, raised you, and nurtured you, made you who you are today. As for Thanksgiving, that has historic justification.

Out of all the special days of the year, I can't find any justification for this one. There is no real point to Valentines Day just like there is no real point to Halloween or Family Day, which to my non-Canadian readers is a holiday (at least in Ontario) where a couple of Mondays during the month of February are considered holidays (basically stores are closed and no one has to go to work).

Before you call me negative, let me ask this question: Did something special happen today historically? Is it a celebration of someone notable? Is it patriotic? Are we celebrating in the name of our country like we would for Canada Day or the American Independence Day on July 4th? Is it someone's birthday? Ironically, today actually is my paternal aunt's birthday. Let me ask this even more dumb question: Are we only specifically allowed to celebrate relationships and romance on this day, and this day only?

I wouldn't normally say much about today but there's a certain stigma it creates that I find childish and bothersome. In what I've taken from media and TV and other places, I've found that that stigma created is "Single = Bad/Sad."

There is a slight superiority I find that those in a relationship tend to create on a day like this, especially when they make a ridiculous show of romance; being alone is the most horrible thing to be on Valentines Day. On TV, characters who don't have a girlfriend/boyfriend are miserable and feel like they have no reason to exist because it's this occasion and they're alone, and that removes the point to anything. Some people take Valentines Day ridiculously seriously, and if you're alone, that's, no, just smother yourself. Geez.

There is a reason for today to exist: It's commercial profit. Hallmark and all the other card makers make it a big deal; it's another day on which to exploit an occasion that would require a card. In any film set on the day, the main character is desperate to - and gets - a girl. That's the point to the day when all it is is a profit-making scheme.

Call me negative. Call me pessimistic and single. I'll just call you childish and ignorant. My basic message here is to those who take a stupid view on such a mindlessly normal day: Being on your own does not mean your life has no point or meaning. Having a partner is not the end product of life; you weren't put on this earth to have a partner or you'll rot away. Valentines Day is not I'm-single-so-my-life-is-lonely-and-depressing. Nor is it I'm-in-a-relationship-so-I'm-better-than-you-and-I'm-going-to-shove-it-in-your-face. It's a day for Hallmark cards to sell. If I were in a relationship, I wouldn't wait for a certain day to do something romantic. I'd do it every day of the year. She wouldn't get any more or less from me just because it's February 14th.

Those who are single are not inferior or any less to those who are in a relationship, no matter how much media and TV try to force that down everyones' throats. Being alone should be just as good as being with someone. It's no doubt less complicated. And again, do we need a day to be especially romantic? Use your own free will and be romantic whenever you want.

As for Halloween, I said it was meaningless because really, it's fun for children, and that's all. It's more of a social event than a special day, dressing up and going from house to house with your friends collecting candy. Family Days are essentially a normal weekend expanded by 24 hours, which the government thinks we need a couple of times a year for some reason. No different from any other long weekend.

Happy Valentines Day. To Everyone, not just those in a relationship, who have nothing more than those who aren't. If I had some money, I'd buy a Hallmark card for the occasion. That's the point, after all, isn't it?

Red Cloud

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Music of 'In The Middle of the Night,' The

Today, I found myself searching YouTube for the Madness song 'In the Middle of the Night.' I don't recall why, I had a reason, I just can't remember it at this second. It might have been the way the music of the song works.

While I was thinking about it, I hit a few random chords I'm partial to on my keyboard, and hit an A minor. When I played that, I got an impulse to hit an E minor, and when I did that, my ears told me this kind of sounded like the song itself.

I thought back to the bass line, which I haven't forgotten. I learned it by ear years ago yet didn't know the notes. Knowing as I played that I'd end the first part on E, I realized I'd started on a high A and made my way down to E.

Recalling the other part of the bass line, the complimentary part of the first, I ended up working out, from memory, how the song works.

I then played the song and tested my ear's theories out. What I heard from my headphones and what I heard my fingers play on the piano matched. And after putting the acoustic guitar together as well, I figured I'd lay it out here.

Of the song, the first instrument I learned was its drum rhythm. Then the bass guitar, and finally the last two tonight. I know the lyrics, but what I can't do is sing them. Or play the sax. Or know for certain that the organ notes are the same as the chords on the piano, just their root notes.

But let me try and write out what I do think I know.

The snare drum is the main beat the song plays to; all the instruments cue off of the rhythm of the snare drum, at least in the verses. The bass drum takes over in the chorus. The bass drum beat is once every two snare hits, sometimes coupled as two eighth notes. During the chorus, the snare keeps its rhythm but the bass drum takes centre stage as the main beat everything starts on. Bass-snare-bass-snare-bass-snare-bass-bass-snare. The rhythm stays the same for the entire song, with minor snare fills at the start of each hypothetical measure.

Musically, I've identified the song's verses as a simple 1-5 progression in A harmonic minor. The chorus is in two different keys, G major and C major. With that knowledge, the piano and guitar both play A minor twice, then E minor twice, before then playing B minor and F sharp minor twice. That's for all the verses. The style is on-beat staccato, each time the snare plays. Am-Am-Em-Em, Am-Am-Em-Em, Bm-Bm-F#m-F#m and so on.

The chorus is very simple. G major, A minor, B minor, and back to A minor. Then there's the C part, C major, D major, E minor, and back to D. Chris Foreman plays this exact progression during the intro to the song, except on guitar I'm pretty sure he plays a B major instead of minor.

As for the bass guitar, it has an interesting style played on it. Mark Bedford fingers those strings very cleanly and quickly. Basically, he winds his way down from the root to the dominant (A to E) via G. Then he continues down to B from the same place, off of E, though not every time, and there are alterations to how he gets from A to E, and whether he goes to B. He does the same from B to F sharp, via A, and again, he may go all the way to C sharp, and may not. He may go BB-F#-A instead. For the chorus he simply does a G-A-B, or C-D-E. And back to A or D in each case.

The thing with 'In The Middle of the Night' is it's the kind of song where everyone's playing the same notes, or bouncing around them like Mark Bedford on bass. That makes it a simple song with a simple progression (two 1-5s joined together with a 1-2 for the verses, and a 1-2-3-2 progression for both keys in the chorus). The drums are a simple rhythm as well, a constant snare-led beat with sporadic bass notes and a hi-hat that is on-time and constant with the snare. Plus a few minor fills and crashes at the beginning/end of the chorus.

Before finishing, I must note that all of what I've written here is strictly based on my ear/synesthesia, and guessing from those. I could be very wrong, and have been before, usually by one step (semitone). If anyone finds this helpful or interesting, please remember to consider that. No one is perfect, after all. I also welcome corrections if I've made an error (given they're genuine and obvious).

I should also finish by saying that Mike Barson plays a tune on the piano right-handed that sounds a bit brighter and different from the left hand that's probably playing the G-A-B chords. I haven't totally figured that out yet.

Otherwise, it's an interesting song that I sort of stumbled upon figuring out.

Red Cloud

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

'If You Were Here' & That Progression

Yesterday evening I bought a neat book on 80s New Wave artists. It was a simple "oral history" as it defined itself, with the frontmen or songwriters of the bands featured going into the backgrounds of their most well-known songs. For instance, A Flock of Seagulls frontman Mike Score talked about the band as well as the background to 'I Ran.' Tears for Fears - Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal - talked about 'Mad World' and their influences in their early songwriting and experiences as a group. Quite interestingly, at the end of their section, Smith noted that there was always one 'novelty' kind of band out of every 'good' 80s band, and referenced A Flock of Seagulls, and at the bottom of the page was Mike Score's response to Curt Smith's words.

There was a section on the Thompson Twins - a band of which I reviewed their song 'Hold Me Now' back in 2011 - and one of the authors of the book, in her intro to the section on the band, mentioned a song called 'If You Were Here' and how it played at the end of Sixteen Candles, etc. Having re-read my old review of 'Hold Me Now,' that song very quickly became old for me. And it's not in D major at all - the main notes of D-B-C-A put it in a D melodic minor scale to accommodate both the B and the C (natural minor uses a B, harmonic & major use a C). I should have written a proper review of the song after that spur-of-the-moment one.

Back to the song in the title of this post, when it was mentioned as the closing music to that John Hughes movie, I immediately took note of that because I liked the music at the end of the movie but never knew or tried looking it up. I did that late last night.

This one is in C minor. C-G-A♯-F. Can you tell what popular progression that is?

I-V-VII-IV (1-5-7-4)

I want to talk briefly about this progression, because like the I-III-VII-IV (1-3-7-4) minor progression I talked about a couple of weeks ago, this one is used and reused like crazy in popular music, more so than the one used in F♯ minor in 'Mad World' and all the others. Thankfully they're not all in the same key (most of them). I've talked about this many times before briefly in other reviews of songs using this progression. I never actually noted the whole scope:

'Ah! Leah!' (Donnie Iris) - C♯ minor (chorus)
'Rio' (Duran Duran) - E minor (chorus, the demo the song is based off of, 'Stevie's Radio Station,' is essentially that exact progression played note for note).
'Hotel California' (The Eagles) - B minor (verses)
'Where's the Love?' (Hanson) - G minor (verses)
'Memories' (Madness) - D minor (chorus)
'Driving in my Car' (Madness) - D minor (verses)
'We Are All Made of Stars' (Moby) - D minor (chorus)
'I'm Sorry' (The Payola$) - E minor (chorus)
'When Can I See You Again' (Toronto) - A minor (chorus, obvious in the keyboard).
'Something or Nothing' (Uriah Heep) - D minor
'Is She Really Going Out With Him?' (Joe Jackson) - A♯ minor
'Steady As She Goes' (The Raconteurs) - B minor

Songs that come close but are actually off by a semitone on the 2nd and 4th notes include 'So Lonely' and 'Message in a Bottle' (just the 4th note) (both in D minor) by The Police and 'Land Down Under' by Men at Work (B minor) (chorus). I guess 'Hold Me Now' could also be considered similar-sounding as well.

D minor is the most popular key out of all of those songs, and consider these are only songs I know. There are probably many others out there. E & B minor comes second in that list in frequency. The rest all show up once - in that limited list.

It's obviously an appealing structure of notes, having them in that order. Each song puts the progression into its own style and genre, somewhat refreshing it for the ears and making the song sound catchy and fun and often bright. And the key it's in makes a big difference as well. Having that progression in E minor gives you a very happy, resounding, bright progression, depending on how you play it (in 'Rio,' it sounds that way, whereas in 'I'm Sorry' it sounds more playful and chirpy thanks to the staccato guitar rhythm). In D minor, its popular key, it sounds cheerful and bright and catchy. A lot of the little music interludes in the TV series Community that begin a scene in the early season episodes have a guitar playing this progression in this key.

Finally we come to 'If You Were Here' which uses this progression in C minor. C as a chord on its own sounds down-to-earth and grounded to me. That as well as positive. In this progression? Well, at this point, the best musicians can do with it is play it out on keys it hasn't been used in (if there are any unused ones left) and reinvent its style and sound as much as possible to make it seem refreshing and once again appealing. Because I haven't heard 1-5-7-4 in C before, the Thompson Twins did manage, and quite well.

To figure out how this works, you have to analyze the notes and their relation to each other. This progression is a fusion of two already musically appealing relationships. From a 1 to a 5 is already appealing to the ears. The fifth note in a chord and progression is the dominant, the final note of a triadic chord - 1-3-5. C major is C-E-G. Theoretically, you can play a chord without the middle note and still recognize the chord. So the dominant and tonic are the most important. And going from a tonic to a dominant is particularly attractive when you're going lower on a keyboard or a fretboard. There are multitudes of songs - probably more so than ones in this progression - that are simply 1-5 progressions. This progression is made up of two sets of 1-5s - the 1-5 and the 7-4. On their own, they're equally five steps away from each other.

The second happy relationship between notes here is the relationship between the 1 & the 7. The amount of music simply in that order - 1-7 - could be tied with the amount of music using a 1-5 progression. It's simply a tonic and the subtonic; the first note and the one a full tone lower. Like playing D and then C. It's a good descending distance and works. It makes me think of going from an older sibling to a younger one. The first is taller and more of a leader, the other is shorter and grounded and a little more introverted.

Put those two together, 1-5 and 1-7, have the first and third note be the 1 of a 1-5 progression, and put the first and third notes in a relationship where the third is a subtonic from the tonic, and it's a fusion of great appeal. Then each musician gives the resultant progression a style rooted in a particular genre, and it's relatively refreshed over and over each time, especially in each different key.

For the case of 'If You Were Here,' with the synths and style the progression is played, in that key, it personally gives me a feeling, a sound, and expression of high, excited, great expectation. It also makes me think of childhood, of feeling this way as a young child. Except, with the subject matter and influence of the film it provided for, it's a childlike wonder, excitement, and expectation for seeing someone you love. Like greeting her at the airport, and as you wait in the arrivals area, you've got this childlike happiness, this glee of happy expectation, bubbling under the surface of your calm demeanour. It's the synth sound playing that progression that gives me this image and feeling.

I could easily map it out note by note. A 1-5 progression usually gives me depth and emotional integrity, absolute clarity and honesty, true feelings. Then it descends one tone down to the subtonic, to the 7, and it's like looking out at your circumstances with a happy, down-to-earth feeling, feeling reassured and good about everything. Then the final 4, a fifth away from the 7, the absolution of everything.

It works quite well in C minor. I'm pleased with how the Thompson Twins handled it. I also like Tom Bailey's voice in the song. It's green to me and I just like how it sounds, how he delivers. The only thing I don't like is the brass-sounding synth thing at the end of the progression. It sounds like it's supposed to sound romantic to me, but I think it overplays it too much. Otherwise, the song gives me a nice great expectation for seeing a certain kind of face, and it's a feeling so genuine it makes me feel at home and like a kid again. I hope I meet someone in the future who makes me feel that way, because that's what I envision through the music.

I'm glad I never came upon this properly while I was in that long-distance relationship. I would have overly attributed the music to her and the situation, which would have sullied it afterwards. A childhood peer of mine, someone I've known since junior kindergarten, moved out to Calgary last year to be with his girlfriend to solve his long-distance relationship with her. I applaud his success.

I've been writing this sporadically all day, so I'm not going to comment on the lyrics. I will, however, say that the Thompson Twins did a great job of using an over-used musical progression and re-inventing it in a nice key which gave me great synesthetic imagery and feeling. Good job.

Song: A
Lyrics (based on the sound of Bailey's voice): A-

Red Cloud