track by track.
Victorian Intuition / Father Winter Replies
The last song recorded for the album. I was nearing the end of things, and I had two songs that I really liked parts of, but they just felt incomplete on their own. After playing them separately on the piano between other recordings, I came upon the idea of putting them together, and it worked (at least I think it did!). I really wanted a longer, more involved piece for the album, so after adding some riffs, verses and outro parts, I had what I was searching for. It was literally "seconds" away from not making the record, but of course this turned out to be the song that might be the most satisfying for me in some ways. Lyrically it's talking about the contrast between the "entitlement" generation versus the virtues of hard work and thankfulness that can lead to joy and fulfillment. A sad song, but oddly upbeat at the same time. It came together pretty quickly too, but I've found that by the time I reach the end of an album, everything tends to really flow....it just takes so long to get to that point. My favorite parts are all of the colliding, brassy bits on the chorus and the discordant synths during the "da,da,da's" at the end. That "barely there" bassline is something I wanted to do for awhile too, so yes, all of my dreams have come true now....
This was the first song written for the album almost immediately after "The Otherly Opus" was finished in February of 2007. I programmed two different live versions of it that I played off and on throughout the year, but it wasn't until almost the very end that I finally came up with a version that I liked. It's a quirky, minor key thing with all kinds of little synth riffs coming in and out. Something I was pretty excited about when I wrote it on the piano one night before bed, but became less enamored with as I struggled with the arrangement during the year. It happens....what can you do? The lyrics are about the primitiveness of man's creations versus the majestic designs of the Creator. The album has a lot of contrasts like this. My favorite parts are the sharp, synthesized snare sound, and some of the lead sounds I came up with using the oscillator sync function on the Moog. It might be the most technical song on the record, next to the title track, but I really don't know what to think of this one.
Draw for Me, M.C. Escher
Very straight ahead pop song that could have easily fit on "Melody", or any of the early releases for that matter. In fact, this is probably the realization of what I dreamed of doing when I was making "Melody", which was combining pretty melodies with otherworldly and sometimes complex analog tones. I still don't feel like I got this one totally "right", as it's a little less minimal than I would have preferred. Raymond Scott was a big influence on this one (as well as on the whole record), which you can hear through some of the high pitched, percolating type sequences that come in and out. The other influence was probably some of the old Moog recordings from the late 60's/early 70's, like Perry Kingsley or Hot Butter. It sounds playful to me, but I haven't let this kind of chorus come through in awhile, so it feels good. What does it mean? Umm.......? The lead sound is another one of those brassy type things, which I really fell in love with using. Probably my Stereolab influence coming through.
Four Gone Pierre (or What Electricity made)
This was written for "The Otherly Opus", but it didn't make the cut in spite of a live version I've been playing off and on for the past year. The live cut was real four-on-the-floor and dancey, but I didn't want to do anything with that sort of feel for this album (I think I do for the next one, though), so I went through two or three versions before I came upon this more minimal one. The title is referring to Pierre Schaeffer, who was the French composer/experimentalist behind musique concrete. It was a struggle to keep the track as minimal as it was, because I felt the chorus should have had a bit "more" to it, but.....I'm happy I kept it sparse. That abrasive sound effect at the beginning and the end was my version of what static electricity sounds like. Probably the most obvious "single" on the record, but it's way down on my list of favorites.
The First Time I Loved Her it Was Here
My favorite song after "Victorian Intuition", and like that one, it was one of the last two songs finished for the album. It's kind of a long, involved arrangement, influenced by early Kraftwerk more than anything else. It was a sad sort of ballad I had been playing on the piano during all of the recordings, but as much as I tried I could never come up with a chorus for it, until it struck me that I already had everything I needed. The title was something I've had for years, but never had the right song to use it for until now. It's the story of two people who grew up together, fell in love, but are then torn apart because of the other person's desire to "move on and see the world". That sharp, metallic lead sound shows the Moog and the analog sequencer at it's best, as well as all of those ring-modulated arpeggios at the end. I did a double time bass drum pattern to put a little more energy into it, but it's still sounds low tempo....maybe a little too low.
I Recall the Telephone Booth
I came up with the title one day when we were at Disney's California Adventure, which is the park right next to Disneyland here in So. Cal. They have one of those old, British, red telephone booths in the back corner of the park, like a stage prop, and it just dawned on me how much of a relic it was since the spread of cell phones. The more I thought about it, the more I started to see it as sort of a romantic piece from a bygone era, so I put the story of the song in a kind of WWII setting. It's the fastest track on the album....all double time, post punk, 1979 feel. I had no idea how to do the song after I wrote it, but it came together pretty quickly compared with some of the others. I don't do many story telling type songs like this, but I wish I did because they always feel the most interesting to listen to lyrically. I achieved an "old drum box from the 70's" sound for the drums, instead of them sounding too synthy, like a lot of the other sounds on the album. This illustrates better than anything how hard it is to translate a sad, tragic song with synths and programming, because the music certainly doesn't convey that feel at all. Someday I'll get it right......
On Being Principally Utopian
Don't ask me about the title...... it seemed good at the time! It's about people who pour all of their time into useless, temporary things (which all of us have the tendency to do) in hopes of creating a world that keeps them from responsibility. Musically, the song was played in completely by hand, with the sequencers only doing the drums and bassline, but it oddly sounds like one of the most rigid pieces on the record. Who needs sequencing, I guess? I like the darkness of the tune, and the end turned out nice, with all of the synthesized strings and leads bouncing off of each other. It's a another song that reminds me of something from an earlier album. I remember Sonnenberg saying "When I first heard it, I wasn't expecting the chorus to go THERE at all.....", with a weird disappointment in his voice. Of course, he never told me just where he thought it should have gone, but....what can I say?! The whole things reminds me of Gary Numan or an earlier Depeche Mode song, but I have to admit I wish it had a bit more "kick" to it. That glassy lead on the chorus makes me happy, though.
Whether By Horse, or Horseless
Definitely the most minimal song on the album and probably the one that gave me the most trouble as well. It didn't come together until I finally programmed that offbeat snare pattern, which for some reason brought it to a place I finally liked. It has that old school JE key change....G-D-C....or whatever the equivalent of that is, I forget what key exactly....but the whole song flows in a way that I really like. I don't know where the story of the song came from, but I was picturing a journey through the mountains in the nighttime, like "Wizard of Oz" meets "Living a Boys Adventure Tale". You try, you fail, you try again. This is the sleeper of the album, but it oddly might be the most emotional, too. A little too paint by numbers possibly, but I felt oddly compelled to keep working on it and make it fit on the album. I like the middle and end solos, and that snare was like the light at the end of the tunnel for me, but that sounds dramatic.
Musically, it's the companion to "...Telephone Booth" because of the tempo, and for a long time it was the track I was most sold on, but that changed as I went along. There's not a lot going on and I'm glad I didn't add too much else because I think it has a unique feel to it. The vocals turned out to be the most difficult, and I did quite a few takes before coming to something that I thought was ok....but that's every song so I don't know what I'm talking about. A very minimal song that somehow sounds full, in spite of the lack of parts. I struggled with where to put it in the album order for ages, until I finally just put it near the end, right before the "Cubist Trilogy"....the albums ends with science and art, I guess. I had bigger dreams for this song than what it turned out to be, but that seems to happen with every album, unfortunately. It's tough putting a song second to last, because that inevitably makes it the least heard and talked about song for some reason. But something has to go there, right?
Prelude to Cubism
Done in an afternoon, which makes me like it all the more. I knew that I wanted to open and close the title track with instrumentals that would connect with each other, but I also wanted them to be totally structured and melodic rather than just discordant pieces. The lead was played in by hand, which is a nice contrast to all of the sequenced parts (if you can even tell), but I think there's a nice balance....experimental, melodic, but not too laborious. How nice of you to think that, Ronnie. The end was another Raymond Scott influenced passage, which you can never have too much of, I think.
My Grandfather, the Cubist
Possibly the most realized arrangement on the album. Those "spidery" textures that you hear when the song first comes in and go through the entire piece are probably what I love most. The bridge with all of the layered solos came by accident....just building and building until I thought, "ok, three solos is enough". I actually had a completely different chorus that I wasn't thrilled with until I was playing the song on the piano and came up with what you hear, so that made it at the last minute, thankfully. Or not, but nobody but me will ever know. It's an upbeat piece tempo wise that turned out very mid-tempo sounding, somehow. This might be the song I would show someone who asked "what does the album sound like" because I think it takes all of the elements of the album as a whole and combines them into one song. The drums were kind of breakthrough for me, because that sharp, deep snare was something I tried to achieve for awhile but wasn't getting to....it's nice when you have those moments of "oh, there it is!". The chorus and bridge mean the most to me because of all the colliding melodies....I feel like it "takes you to a place". Well, I hope it does, at least.
I recorded the original version of the interlude in a day, but later realized that I needed to spend quite a bit more time and do something more complex and progressive. I love doing instrumentals because you have absolutely no constraints like you do when there's a pop song in the middle of it all. The piece has everything.....insect-like percussion, ring-modulated white noise, super-delayed arpeggiated sequences, filtered effects.....it's an obvious homage to all of my favorite 1970's electronic artists, with some later, almost IDM influences coming through as well. It's my favorite album closer ever. And maybe it should stay that way.......