Music deconstruction

I spent two very nice hours with JBQ tonight deconstructing music. JB has studied theory of music, so he delivered on my hopes to make me understand why I don’t like the hipster bands, namely Animal Collective (AnCo), Dirty Projectors (DP), and Grizzly Bear (GB). So we compared them with my favorite experimental band, the Cloud Cult, and a few other bands. Here’s what we found out:

1. We found that Cloud Cult, one of the few experimental bands that I like, actually pass themselves as experimental, but the constructions of their songs is very classic: there is always a rhythm, albeit usually hidden from the listener, but still there to not throw him/her off. And there’s melody and harmony at all times. One of the great features of Cloud Cult songs is how they start with 1-2 instruments, the song then transforms to a classical piece, and then somehow transforms back to rock. In contrast to most experimental bands out there that change their songs mid-way, Cloud Cult never change their tempo, even if they change music styles within the same song. Also, the songs’ transformation is slow enough that the listener can follow the genre changes without feeling that he has had the carpet pulled out of his feet. So basically Cloud Cult is more of a smart classic band rather than full-on non-accessible experimental.

2. I always thought that what drove me crazy with AnCo’s music is that it has no melody. Apparently, it’s not the melody, but the rhythm/beat. AnCo’s electronic music is very jazzy usually, where the instruments don’t play in sync with the vocals or other instruments. This jazzy feel confuses me musically because I don’t know to which instrument I should be holding on to in order to find enjoyment. A massive proof for that is that I LIKE the few AnCo songs that are faithful on a rock-style (as opposed to jazz-style) rhythm! Namely: Grass, My Girls, Summertime Clothes. I can’t stand jazz, so it’s no surprise that I don’t like most of AnCo’s songs. I need a “beat” to music. An instrument or vocal that tells me WHERE to latch my brain and follow it. Jazz is the exact opposite of that, and I guess, I’m just not used to it. Then again, most people don’t like jazz (at least in the environment I grew up). Some of their songs, also lack harmony (e.g. “Guys Eyes”).

3. Further proof for all that is the fact that I don’t like Nine Inch Nails either (I like maybe 2-3 songs overall from them too). While NiN are not as jazzy as AnCo, the vocals are usually off the beat, enough for me to dislike their songs. Red Hot Chili Peppers are also off in their drum and bassline, but they somehow complement each other every time in a way that does not throw me off. So NiN are out, Red Hot Chili Peppers are in, even if they’re not exactly classic in terms of music construction.

4. For Dirty Projectors, we agreed that they have no harmony. There is a melody, and there is rhythm. But there is no harmony in the vocals, so their songs sound like a bunch of kids who don’t know how to sing. The music itself feels bare and undeveloped too. The band tries to break conventions in order to “break new ground”, but all it does really is breaking well-researched parts of music theory. This is no different than the market being full of finger-friendly capacitive screen smartphones, and these guys decide to create a new phone that uses a stylus! It’s not pretty. It’s doing it differently for doing it differently, and that’s just not good enough for me to like something. As JBQ put it, that’s just a band to piss off your 40 year old parents when you’re 16 and angry at them. They offer nothing more useful than that to my ears. Without harmony in the vocals, some of their songs feel like when my neighbors are fighting for attention.

5. Grizzly Bear have harmony, rhythm, and some melody. But they’re boring as hell. It feels like they didn’t even try to write music. It’s like a bunch of lazy kids sitting on the balcony and getting sun, and someone walks to them and orders them to “write music, or there’s no dinner for you tonight”, and then they looked at each other and say “you write something”, and then they all reply “no, I don’t feel like writing anything, you do it”, “no, you do it, take one for the team”. Finally, someone replies, “oh, whatever, I’ll do it”.

Tonight we established that we don’t want to hear DP & GB ever again in our lives. They’re annoying as hell. We established that we, like most humans, require both rhythm, harmony, and melody, plus a joyous, and/or catchy beat. If all these requirements are met, we usually like the song. If not, they fall apart for us.

11 Comments »

Pluijzer wrote on January 6th, 2010 at 10:58 AM PST:

Brains are constantly in search of patterns, melody and rhythm are patterns. Simple patterns produce simple nursery songs it is very easy listening to them but very shallow. Too complex rhythms or melodies produce music that can be difficult to comprehend or can sound scary. Then there is chaos, which has no pattern so is no music.

I listened to some Cloud Cult tracks on Youtube an although I think they make nice music I fail to see anything experimental about them. There not simple pop I agree, but there melodies and rhythms seem very safe. Music can be MUCH more experimental or complex without loosing a patterns.

Tones are nothing but speeds of vibration. In Europe and America we collected a pattern in these vibrations and created our octave system out of it. The thing is this is only ONE pattern, there nothing special about it, one can find many more patterns within the endless amounts of frequencies. Yet most musicians (even most experimental musicians) seem to fixate on this one tuning system. The same goes for our chords and rhythms. There are endless more ways of creating patterns of frequencies (music). This music can even be enjoyed very much.

I agree with you about AC, there music is not complex, it’s just chaos. It is not well composed. Though maybe people like it because they find there own patterns within it, like when you see pictures within the noise(snow) on television. Still that credit cannot go to the artist 🙂


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Eugenia wrote on January 6th, 2010 at 11:40 AM PST:

>I fail to see anything experimental about them.

I find “The Tornado Lessons” to be pretty experimental. My husband doesn’t like it much because of that too.


Aj wrote on January 7th, 2010 at 4:07 AM PST:

I think music should just be enjoyed for what it is, there is no need to be so technical, you either like it or don’t.


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Eugenia wrote on January 7th, 2010 at 12:13 PM PST:

The article is a continuation of the Animal Collective discussion, so yes, it had to be analyzed.


Mique wrote on January 11th, 2010 at 1:44 PM PST:

I guess what confuses you is why the hell AC have so many listeners and critics on their side if they have no harmony and uncatchy deconstructed rhythm.
I guess the most obvious answer would be you’re old school and you never listened to alternative (electronic) music. It’s european’s vast soundscape of alt-electronic labels where AC “got” their sound from (check Warp records for example). If you never listened to that kind of stuff, never looked for that… I guess it’s just not for you, don’t try to understand it, cause if you don’t feel it…?

People seek for new things and some conventional approaches in making music are being deconstructed and a lot of people really like that. I would call that progress…


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Eugenia wrote on January 11th, 2010 at 3:25 PM PST:

>It’s european’s vast soundscape of alt-electronic labels where AC “got” their sound from

I’m European, and there was a lot of electronic music in my life in the ’90s. AnCo is not exactly that though.


Schewert wrote on January 11th, 2010 at 4:17 PM PST:

I’m so sad for you that you can’t seem to get into Animal Collective. Their music and almost painfully lucid lyrics tickle the core of my soul. They console me and make me realize in my saddest moments that the world is a beautiful and majestic place. I’ve actually cried listening to their music before (Did you see the words, namely) and I sincerely hope that one day you can experience the genius of these fellas yourself.


Jack wrote on January 11th, 2010 at 6:01 PM PST:

if you can’t even enjoy grizzly bear, you should stop trying to like “experimental” music.


Kevin wrote on January 12th, 2010 at 8:51 AM PST:

I think I speak for fans of all three of these bands when I say you’re very welcome to never listen to or have to discuss these bands ever again : )

Thank you.


haha wrote on January 12th, 2010 at 10:35 AM PST:

animal collective aren’t “jazzy” by any means. I don’t think you know anything about music. you just come across as a pretentious idiot. but I guess the internet is full of people like you, spewing bullshit onto the blogosphere that doesn’t even add up, in hopes of getting some sort of attention.


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Eugenia wrote on January 12th, 2010 at 11:09 AM PST:

Oh, shut the frak up. You came here from the Animal Collective fan forum (I can see your referrers), to spew your hipster bullshit. I don’t like any of these three bands, with DP being the worst of the three. They’re over-hyped, overrated, and untalented. And I have every right to review these bands on my own blog. By the time they sell their music, they’re opening themselves to criticism. All you have to do is to not read it if that pains you. But instead, you preferred to click the links in the AnCo forum and come here, even if you knew it was a negative review, instead of simply ignoring it.


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