Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Blue Ridge Mountains" - Fleet Foxes (Fleet Foxes)

(or: surely now I will resume blogging with any kind of frequency at all).

mtg is teaching playwriting this semester, and is considering making her students do a blogging response project, wherein they read plays, blog about what they think made those plays successful, and then read and comment on the blogs of other students who are doing the same. It's an exercise in construction through group de-construction.

Will this work for songs? Who knows? But I'm not blogging about anything else these days, and knowing more about how to successfully construct a good song would be a lot of use to me. The rules will be made up as we go along. So...

Blue Ridge Mountains -- Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut made everybody's year-end top ten list. It would have made mine if I, you know, had one. When this song comes on my machine at work, after thirty seconds I forget what I was doing and start staring wistfully out of the window. It's not just that this song is good, it's transcendent.
  • It sounds epic. Dark, cavernous reverb, like we're in a cathedral. Vocal harmonies to match, it sounds almost like a boys choir in the intro.
  • Interesting, unusual lead instrument. I thought it was a hammer dulcimer at first, but it turns out to be a mandolin doubled with a piano.
  • Starts simple (and in mono--it's not in stereo until about half way through), and builds to a huge crescendo, but without any of the usual rock-and-roll elements. No electric guitars. No driving beats. No bass guitar at all that I can hear. Shakers, pounding on the piano, bass drum, the same lead riff we heard in the quiet parts, those same soaring harmonies all create the drive instead.
  • Unusual structure. No verse/chorus per se, there's a first part and a second part that's repeated, and so is chorus-like. Definitely unlike anything you'd hear on the radio.
  • Lyrically it seems like there's some mysterious family secret being referred to, but otherwise I have no idea what this song is about. And it definitely doesn't matter.
  • Singer with a good and reasonably strong voice with really just a hint of character. Certainly at his edge on this song, he breaks a couple of times on the high parts, but not in a way that sounds unpleasant. He neither carries the song nor impedes it, he just kind of rides it.
This song breaks almost all rules of popular songwriting, I have no idea what genre you'd put it in (alt-folk americana or something?), there's no hook, there's nothing about it that's really hummable. And if I were a record exec, I'd sign the band on the spot after hearing it. What have we learned here in lesson one? If you have a totally original and captivating sound you can break all the rules of songwriting and be successful in spite (or, much more likely, because) of it. And probably some other things, but I don't know what they are yet.


Anonymous said...

this song makes me wonder - what could this album be like? Repetitive? Indulgent? Boring? 10 songs of same and i would hate it. (Moby's Play - for example - Porcelain & monotony)But, on its own, I do like it and agree with your points. Is one song success? I for one am a fan of the album still - I know: a dying trifle of a thing in the business.
~ Lane (Lil's little sis)

Transient Gadfly said...

Dude, me too. I feel extremely sad about the apparent and imminent death of the album. Maybe when I'm bored of doing songs, I'll start deconstructing albums in the same way.