Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Song of the Week: "Turn South"

Here's the next song of the week from Cheap Seats--track #4, "Turn South."

I can tell you what you’re doing is predictably sad
And point out all the wasted potential you’ve had
Believe me, I won’t point the finger any which way but out
I may as well go ahead and turn South

I’ll go on about the secrets that you’d better learn quick
And I’ll scoff if you suggest a method other than logic
Nobody’s impressed with what I’m talking about
I oughta go ahead and turn South

I’ll swear there’s something good in the alternative
I’ll bluff so hard I’ll claim that I don’t mind if I live
I don’t believe in all the shit that’s coming out of my mouth
I’d better go ahead and face South

In terms of the album's concept, "Turn South" represents an early peak in conflict--it's about overconfidence and ego.  By the time we've reached adulthood, it seems we are secure enough in the way our minds behave (and in the relationship between our minds and our brains) that it becomes just "the way things are" and there's no need to question that there may be other things going on behind the scenes that the conscious mind is unaware of.  In this state, our elective preferences and opinions dominate to the point that ego becomes a caricature.  Of course, this is a personal song with some scathing self-assessment.  The phrase "turn South" relates to my much-explored interest in Daoist writings and classical Chinese religion--it's said that when the emperor achieves order in his kingdom and harmonizes the way of the human world with the way of nature and heaven, as a natural next step, he'll "face South"--as in, "attain perfection."  Naturally, here it's used sarcastically (time to add the ever-popular self-loathing tag!).  Along with "The Knack" and "Chrysalis (In Three Verses)," this makes up the hubristic peak from which a fall is inevitable.

Musically, this is another example of what I'm short-handing "ITC (intuitive through-composition)," where one part is through-composed and the others are subsequently composed by ear to fit together as a sort of sloppy puzzle.  Differently from other songs, though, this one doesn't really have a "lead" guitar part--there's the acoustic (trivia: the very first part I tracked over a year about an ego-destroying experience), then the Telecaster (which plays a rhythm part in low-register octaves that somewhat overlap the acoustic) and finally the ES-335 (the last guitar part composed, which plays smaller intervals of thirds and fourths in the upper register).  You'd better believe that things get contrapuntal

This being one of the first songs I started working on, it's interesting to revisit because I had so many hypothetical goals and ideas about how the project would play out--for instance, I was hoping to avoid bass guitar entirely for the album, replacing it with bass clarinet and synthesizer where appropriate.  Obviously that didn't work out, but this one has low register Moog and no bass guitar, which contributes to a sort of (attempted) "warped indie rock" feel.  Also contributing to the "indie rock" feel is the eighth-note focus (so many staccato eighth-notes in indie many) and the absence of lead guitar.  The verses modulate chromatically, which was easy to write on paper but you can bet was a bitch to record vocals for.  The horn arrangement is another interesting thing to look back at--though it changes harmonically, the placement of the parts doesn't change, and I think it's one of the arrangements that fits best and most audibly in the overall mix...guess I got lucky early on, since not all of the parts work out as successfully.  In the studio, this was the second song Drew recorded drums for, and the first really weird one.  At first I was directing him to go "dancy," which turned out to be obviously not what I was hearing in my head.  After a few false starts and a quickly-internalized lesson in communication, we settled on "jazzy" and Drew basically figured out that he could do whatever he wanted, blasting out some ridiculous fills in the song's ending (a show for which I was privileged enough to have front row seats).  And so proceeded the rest of the drum tracking...

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