Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Song 17: The Thessalians

What's that? A song about ancient conflict between paganism and Christianity? With environmental overtones? How original...

...yeah. Not to happy with this one, but it's done.

The Thessalians

Verse: | F#m | F#m | F#m | B E |

Chorus: | C#m | C#m | F#m | F#m | C#m | C#m | A | B E |

Bridge: | G#m | B | C#m | C#m | G#m | B | C#m | C#m |
| G#m | B | C#m | C#m | G#m | B | A | B E |

As I was walking by the shore,
I heard a lark a-grieving.
"My song I won't be singing more.
I may as well be leaving.

The people have a new faith
And new gods of three
Who need not bird, nor mountain,
Nor sweetly flow'ring tree.”

As rock withstands a thousand floods
Across the ragged plain,
The twelve upon the mount know
It's only men that change.

The lark was still as never was
And loosed not cry nor quaver.
The sea itself drew to a pause
And ceased it's churning labor.

All around me silence set,
Except from down the road.
Fishermen hauled giant nets
Of plunder to be sold.

"Sure," said I unto the lark
"You're right to speak with caution.
But stone will live a thousand lives,
A wooden cross goes rotten.”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Merlin Mann @ MaxFunCon

Merlin Mann (whom I'd never heard of) did a nice talk on doing creative work at the Maximum Fun Convention recently. He gives examples about writing, but as he says, it can apply to any sort of creative work.

Song 16: Frustrating baby

Wooo. One song in under an hour. Simple and to the point. Based partly on the chords to "Are You in the Mood."

Frustrating Baby

A: | Am7 D7 | Am7 D7 | G Am7 | Bm7 E7 | Am7 D7 | Am7 D7 | G | G |

B: | G7 | G7 | C | C | E7 | E7 | A7 | D7 |

You want to stay in
You want to go out
And catch a movie
You want to call friends
Or keep it just you and me

Don't like it too hot
Don't like it too cold
Or inbetween
Don't like too much fat
Or worse when it's much too lean

Oh frustrating oscillating baby of mine
Ain't gonna be no loving till you make up your mind

How can I understand
What you want from me
When you play games
This indecision
Is gonna drive me away

Friday Listening: Comus

I've quite obviously fallen behind. I have a few sketches of songs that will probably get posted all at once, but I feel I need to start tricking myself into thinking and writing about music more. So, as my last blog featured an almost-weekly Sunday Music post, I'm going to try to start a similar project, tentatively labeled Friday Listening.

And to make it easier on me, I'm going to use my Last.fm profile to help me pick one artist whom I listened to in that week. (I'm not going to always pick the top, because this might lead to repeats.) So this week my choices are Howard Shore (I put all three LotR albums on one evening), Comus, Stereolab, The Skillet Lickers, and Dead Can Dance. All tempting, but one earns me significantly more scene points.

Comus. "Diana."

I'm not sure how it's happened, but Comus has been added to the list of bands you're supposed to like but no one else is supposed to know. Their influence seems to have been sporadic, and I can really only trace this new interest to Current 93's decision to cover the above track.

In my one sentence review of Comus's First Utterance on RYM, I wrote "Like a raw Jethro Tull demo that accomplished everything it aimed for with much less stumbling to get there." I somewhat regret so limited/specific a comparison now, but I think this shows the sort of context most newcomers place them inside. Like Tull's forays into prog folk, Comus's 1971 debut stands outside the British folk rock scene, and although Roger Wootton's vocals invite some comparison to Ian Anderson at his most aggressive (not to mention Rob Young's flute), the Comus soundscape seems to owe much more to the experimentation of the Incredible String Band than to the British blues rock that formed the cornerstone of Tull (thanks in large part to Martin Barre).

When First Utterance appeared, British folk rock was well underway. It seemed that everyone was looking to Fairport Convention and their influences (Dylan, The Band, The Byrds) for their reference, though a few acts stood apart (most of these only "folk rock" in a very wide sense, like Amazing Blondel). Though I like late Fairport and Steeleye Span, there's no denying that their electrified folk was formulaic.

Coming together while the genre was still new, Comus created something entirely different. Their shifting rhythms, multi-part songs, and pseudo-Arabesque harmony are reminiscent of metal. Yet like most early metal, they are clearly a product of their generation. Witness the overwhelming late 60s feel of "The Bite," despite brutal lyrics about Christian martyrdom any black metal band would kill to have written.

Lyrically, Comus explores enough pagan themes to make Robert Plant blush. The two songs above concern dark subjects (rape and murder, respectively) and nature at its cruelest, most sexual, or most mysterious. Yet there's a lighter side to that mystery, and this takes center stage in "The Herald" (in three parts on the Tubes), where a flute-playing herald ushers in the dawn.

"The Herald" is the sort of song that frequently earns itself the adjective indulgent, but at least Comus fills the twelve minutes with a variety textures by using their multiple instruments and voices and a beautiful transition to the major key melody of the B section. Besides, unlike most real folk traditions, this isn't music for dancing or even singing along. This is art music and unapologetically so.

How do I feel about Comus? I always find it inspiring to hear a group uncover a sound that works using a unique and seemingly heterogeneous bag of tricks. I'm not a fan of psychedelia, so the moments where such influences are on display lose points with me (e.g., the verses to "Song to Comus", with their obvious nod to "Green Tamborine"). So overall, I enjoy them, and I'm glad I stumbled upon them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

JoCo on Sound of Young America

At least one of you will appreciate this. Jonathan Coulton talks about his career, how he tricks himself into songwriting by creating puzzles, and how songs about giant squids can be sincere and personal.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Song 15: Betrand Hustle

The idea for this one has been siting quietly in my brain a few weeks, but a melody came to me while walking this afternoon. It's sort of a play on Russell's paradox. Originally, I wanted to write a song about the cardinal numbers and set theory, but it was too hard. Maybe another time.

The Betrand Hustle

| C | D7 | G7 G+7 | A7 | D7 | G7 | C | G7 |
| C | D7 | G7 G+7 | A7 | D7 | G7 | C | C |
| E7 | E7 | A7 | A7 | D7 | D7 | G7 | G7 |
| C | D7 | G7 G+7 | A7 | D7 | G7 | C | G7 |

If your socks don’t fit so tight
When you shake your feet each night
Then step up, listen, ‘cause I’ve got the dance for you
Suppose you’re dancing any style
One-step, two-step, sweet or wild,
Except for the dance that’s the dance you’re gonna do
That is how you Betrand Hustle
A paradox of Mr. Russell
It takes brains more than it takes muscle
So knock that bee right out your bustle
If you want to impress your date
And you’ve heard what I relate
Then do the dance that’s the dance no one can do

Other dances all exist
But logic never gets you kissed
So forget everything that’s a thing you thought you knew
Think of any dance you like
With a partner, with a bike
And do anything but the dance you’re gonna do
That is how you Betrand Hustle
A paradox of Mr. Russell
It takes brains more than it takes muscle
So knock that bee right out your bustle
When your proofs are yielding doubt
And you find your cheeks a-pout
Just do the dance that’s the dance no one can do