Friday, January 29, 2010

Mission Statement for the MuZac Review

Welcome to the MuZac Review. This blog is dedicated to providing detailed reviews of individual pieces of music. It is my hope that it will provide a new way to connect more deeply to music. I plan to review many different styles of music. I hope readers will find new value in the pieces or types of music I review. My intention is to magnify aspects of the subtlety and complexity of music and to connect the music theory and mathematical aspects of music with the emotional and social aspects. Overall, I hope to share the power I experience in specific moments in music.

I hope people will contribute to this blog by providing their own opinions. I welcome feedback on the moments I discuss, comments on my writing, and thoughts on the goal of the site. I hope we people will feel free to join in and dissect music with me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dave Matthews Band- Typical Situation

It is late at night in the summer of 1996. The whole world is tucked soundly in bed, but I lie cold and sleepless in an old cot made firm by a wooden board. Dave is counting down from ten but I don't know why. I cover my shoulders with my thick woolen blanket hoping it will shield me from the cold, but I know the nip I feel is on the tip of my nose and in my cheeks. I hear a cough over the music which reminds me that thirteen others sleep soundly around me. Looking around the room, I see their silhouettes. I watch the peaceful rise and fall of their chests. For them, time continues steadily through the night. Jealously, I shut me troubled eyes. I am alone, stuck. "It's a typical situation in these typical times."
And then... wind chimes send me to a new place. I feel a honey sweet breeze burning the frost off my chilly nose and cheeks. I am in a grassy field, on a pebbled beach, on an sandy island; in a midsummer's romance. "Everybody's happy, everybody's free, keep the big door open, and everyone will come around." I want to jump out of bed, run outside, and cover myself in life. If only I had a prism of light which could paint over this dark night world with a rainbow of daylight. Tomorrow can't come too soon. Life will be so full around me, tomorrow. My cold jealousy has melted away and the boys sleeping next to me threaten me no longer. They are ignorant to their emptiness, and I am full. I am alone, free.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sublime- Pawn Shop

I just noticed this song tonight for the very first time. I have spent hour upon hour listening to Sublime, and somehow this song always slipped past me. It was one of those songs that half the time I'd skip to another track, and the other half id let it play out so as not to ruin the Sublime set mood. But tonight, the song hit me like a swaying bag of potatoes; directly in the face.
The song begins with a razor sharp guitar; straight from the devil, sucking on to its last breaths of air before its is swallowed up by the lava be-low. Add bass with its rolling chocolate mountain of giant foot steps. Drum beat. Space. Hit, Enter beat, enter rastafari organ.
All of a sudden, I'm in a hot desert jungle watching a snake slithering through the deep golden grass, pleading with the dirt below for a sip of a rainwater. The dirt not much better off, a pale shade of grey, suggests crumbled balls of sick.
But all of a sudden, now that sublime has set up this sweaty jungle scene, the snake takes a new turn. Unexpectedly, things are developing musically. Out of nowhere, the razor guitar begins to solo. This isn't your average solo, either. There isn't that space filling mess of an improvisation. This is a constructed jam, much reminiscent of bands like phish, pink floyd, and genesis. The solo builds higher and higher, but the energy level doesn't change. You'd miss it if you blink twice, but this solo IS the essence of this song. This solo that sublime knew had to be turned into a song. Everything else is secondary. Everything else is background noise. Pay attention!
Listening to the song with headphones, I notice that this composition was mixed strangely. The guitar is played solely in the right speaker and the bass is primarily in the left. It sounds miserable. It sounds like an old time track. It needs to be remastered or better produced. Sublime was capable of more than this, was it not? And then...
Wap, was that feedback or did my headphones play the guitar out of both ears for a second? I hope the head phones aren't broken! And it happens again! It's a piercing note, but it's clearly a guitar note. Again, and again it happens. Bradley must accidentally be getting feedback off the same note and its picking up on both speakers. But then I hear it again, and this time it sounds purposefully loud and clear. Is this meant to be part of the music? Maybe this recording is going for something on the sound quality. Maybe this is the genius of sublime.
And then I hear IT. At 53 seconds, the guitar soars from one ear to the other like a shooting star, like the forth of July, like a carnival and like a symphony. As Bradley begins to sing, I am void of judgment. I am sold.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Dave Matthews Band- #41

This song has always seemed cubical to me. Somehow, as it starts, I imagine a clear cubic box, made of glass perhaps. It is beautiful the way it reflects the light, bright white light. The cube is right up close next to my eyes, and it shines into my soul. Right behind the cube is a backdrop of sea green and winter blue, with hints of a deep black texture. Maybe this picture comes from something about the guitar or maybe its just the way that all of the angles of the song build up together to create a layered whole. But as soon as that hissing snake of an initial drum beat starts the song, I always know I am in for a taste as sweet as any dream.
The intro builds into a fierce duck call lost in the wind. The call is of hope. Enter dancing guitar riff. Before the song has even started, this rhythmic guitar ecstasy has already begun, and it celebrates over the blunt bass and slick drums like a dancing metallic robot that has just learned how to feel.
Enter Dave Matthews' voice. "The difficulty's coming heeeeeere." His voice climbs up until it trails off to join the duck call in the field of dreams it disappeared into earlier. But there's no need to worry about the destination of that voice. The hope is drowned out by dancing angels that let us know all is well and we are safe. They dance their jig.
Enter Dave. "In the way we used to play all of the loneliness that nobody notices now." He scats this line out like he's Louis Armstrong. I just want to get down low and shake my hips and arms like its the hokey pokey. And then in builds to... "Coming heeeeeeere." Another hopeful wind storm and the angels are back to the rescue. This time, Dave keeps singing. "I'm only this far, and only tomorrow leads the way, I'm coming waltzing back and moving into your head." The saxophone punches note after note out over the angels' jig. "Why wont you ever be glad," you can actually hear the wind here. It is an eerie whistling gust of wind right at the end of the phrase but it glazes over you like an icy winter chill. "Why wont you run into the rain and break and let tears splash all over you?"
Begin jam. It sounds like a fiddle dancing around, the sax has taken the back seat. We are in new territory. This isn’t the hopeful windstorm from before, this is picking up in a much happier place. It's the joyful celebration of ferries and dwarfs. Perhaps it is the angels' theme song. It's an evening walk after dinner. And it comes to our rescue just as Dave's hopeful message has been signed, sealed, and delivered; sent out like a bottle into the ocean. Finally, there is no worry. There is nothing left to do, but to enjoy this peaceful song. And it is summer sweet and safe.

U2- With or Without You (live edition)

I want to make it clear that the studio version of this song has never done this for me. It is an emotional low throughout the song, and the energy that I discuss in this song is unique to the live version from Boston that is floating around the internet. For me the video was instrumental in connecting me with the music on a deeper level, and has made me eager to see U2 in concert because these guys know how to capture the important moments in their music on stage. I will discuss the Live in Boston version of this song and will include aspects of the video because of how deeply it touched me. But don't be afraid to use this review to understand the studio version. I mean, it is the same song.
It begins with the guitar and drums, but it really begins when the bass plays its first note. The bass pounds away at every eighth note, there’s not a second that goes by where that warm and deep tone doesn’t go right through our stomachs. And with that guitar quietly screaming a few octaves above, we know something exciting is coming. It's eager anticipation. The guitar climbs higher and higher. Enter Bono's voice. It's on the low side, nothing too exciting, nothing to energetic. The drums just keep a beat, they don’t get in the way. Add a keyboard with some more high notes. The scene is set.
End first verse, bono grabs beautiful girl from audience. She is shocked, doesn’t know what to do. He lies her down next to him. The drums begin to march along like a storm, rolling in but not yet having crashed. We are in a calm before the storm, but it is already brewing. "And you give yourself away." The guitar sounds like bright stars falling from heaven. Each note comes out like a billion pieces of light.
Verse two, the guitar continues this starry effect and bono sings one octave higher, and the energy and emotion are there. He can't even hit all the notes, because he's overcome with emotion. With the girl in his arms he screams the chorus, "I can't live, with or without you." She sings along, not knowing what else to do. She is so lost. It is beautiful.
Enter stage lights. The song explodes at 2:59. Bono cries out his melody, head flailing. The starry guitar begins to bellow deeply, and the drums punch out the finishing touches of the nearly blissful moment. And then it stops. Lights go down. The drums hold back; the eye of the storm. The guitar screams quietly above. Waiting, expecting. Bono looks down at the girl and hums. He moves in toward her face slowly and gently kisses her lips. She can barely breathe. She grabs her head and starts to laugh. She feels this so deeply. Bono sends her back to the audience politely. Begin starry guitar, strong and calling out but not yet booming. Perfect timing.
Enter lights again. Bono running around the stage. "Oooohhhhhhhhh ohhhhh ohhhhh ohhhh." He lifts the microphone up to the audience so they can sing. He gets his response and more. Every instrument is booming in bliss. Memories of his girl sticking with every one of us. "I can't live with or without you... with or without you" The song ends. Bono stands at the microphone eyes closed, trying to catch his breath. I am trying to catch my breath.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Doors- Riders on the Storm

This song is what I would call onomonapiac. The title of the song describes exactly what the song portrays. The Doors must have known this, and taken complete advantage of it, because a literal storm starts the song. Its not just any storm. You can almost picture the grey clouds, the soft rain, and the calming thunder, not loud enough to scare even a pup. Its that kind of fall storm where if you see anyone wearing a neon colored hat, it stands out against bright against a subtle world. Enter jungle drums; enter deep echoey bass. A train chugs along in the autumn storm somewhere in the west. The keys float over the accompaniment like leaves falling off trees into a flowing wind. The keys' slight echo sends icy shivers down my spine reminding me that winter is coming soon. Enter Jim. His voice is so deep and fitting. It is the authority. "Riders on the storm..." he sings, describing the situation the instruments have already set up. Enter western guitar, echoing what he has just said, putting us back on the train rearing down the highway.
Is this blues? Is this jazz? Is this funk? It has hints of all three. The keys are reminiscent of Miles Davis' "All Blues." But strangely, I can't listen through this whole song without somehow being reminded of Sesame Street's theme song. Maybe someone else can figure out why??? I haven't looked into it yet.
There is so much space in this music. I can look away, think, analyze, and enjoy fully without missing miss a beat. It's funk music that I find I most often have the sublime opportunity to enjoy open space in music. This song was born to be in a minor key. The eerie, cold, depressed sound that comes out would not be available in a major key. Mixing the minor with the free space and a little bit of funky stuff, all of a sudden you have a song that fits in with classics like Tom Petty's "Breakdown" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."
Begin jam. The guitar makes this jam. Hahahaha, what a statement. This is clearly a keys solo, and an excellent one at that. But this jam is not about the solo. It is about the punctuation. It is about the exclamation points at the end of every phrase, supplied by a warm guitar. Its about the guitar chugging along through the solo, offering its two cents throughout, pushing the keys along, claiming to merely suggest commas, parentheses, and apostrophes, but in reality stealing every line. From the first note of the solo a tidal wave washing over us, the guitar proclaims, 'this is a gift from me to you!" The storm continues with a crack of thunder. This jam IS running through puddles.
The jam ends famously with those key notes dropping leaves back down upon us at the pavement below. Enter the song once again. A perfect A-B-A ending.

The Doors- Light My Fire

Light My Fire is a member of the group of songs that without its solo/jam section would be a waste of tape space. The verses and chorus of this song are so boring and dull that I almost always consider fast forwarding over them when I turn the song on. However, if you listen to the version of Light My Fire that appears on the Doors' first album, you will recognize that the chorus actually is more exciting than if you were to hear it on the radio or the greatest hits album. This is because it follows the strangely western sounding "Whiskey Bar." The end of Whiskey Bar ends cleverly and almost seems to be the perfect bridge into Light My Fire. If only the producer of this album had realized this, he would surely have chosen not to end Whiskey Bar with that final thump and instead, he would have used the initial drum beat of Light My Fire as a bridge between the two songs. Luckily, this is not completely lost, because after enough listens through the album, it becomes second nature to begin thinking of Light My Fire at the end of Whiskey Bar. The connection is automatically made.
As I said before, neither is the beginning of the song. I wonder if the fact that the song is not actually in a key (it lays somewhere between C maj and C# maj) makes it a little eerier in a less attractive way.
One thing is for sure, the very beginning of the song sounds completely stupid, and its a terrible way to open and close the song. It isn't exciting, it doesn't do anything musically, and that organ sound sounds like circus music. Good thing Morrison can sing, cause what a relief it is when his booming voice comes on sounding deep and on-tune as ever (especially for Off Key Morrison). So the verse is nice, even the organ sounds ok, and the guitar sure is eerie in a neat way. But, as soon as those drums come in for the chorus, you know its getting bad. "Come on baby light my fire." Ugh, its like a bad commercial with those circus organ sounds again. Once that happens, I give up on the rest of the singing and I'm pretty much out until the jam section begins.
It doesn't take longer than the first chord of the jam section to grab me back in. The organ starts out with a few accompaniment/preparation chords, and then the solo begins perfectly. I always wonder if this was written out before hand. Is there much improv going on here? I doubt it.
As the organ solo starts, the bass begins its everlasting chugging of the same riff over and over again. This is actually fine. It isn’t distracting, and the bass sound is almost hypnotizing, probably one aspect that makes this song so good, in fact. Although, the closer you listen to it, the more you realize that the notes of the bass really sound pretty rough, not so musical, and unprofessional. So the organ solo starts at 1:14 with multiple hits of that one note that he sticks with throughout the rest of the solo, its THE note of the solo. The solo builds up for a bit, until at 1:52 is the next exciting point. Here he plays around with the time signature, giving us some 3/4 over the 4/4 time signature. Makes you rock to a different beat if only for a moment. And that builds right back to the normal time at 1:59 with a dissonant and exciting chord. That lasts till 2:15 where all of a sudden it’s up even higher. Then again at 2:30 another rise and this time the drums and guitar joins in on the rise of excitement. The drums probably highlight this part beginning around 2:32. Sadly, at 2:42, with nowhere left to go, the drums signal the beginning of the end of the solo, the organ starts to slither down and die, and by 2:48, the drums are just banging away, and the organ can't pick up the lost energy. The only redeeming quality of this part are the guitar's sliding licks that occurs at 2:43 and again at 2:47 and then happen a little more frequently starting at 3:05. 3:08 marks the end of the keys solo, and a much welcomed break from thinking.
For those of us who don't yet know what is coming next, the organ starts its accompaniment sounding chords again at 3:14, signaling another solo is about to occur. Prepare yourselves, folks!
At 3:18, the real song begins. The first note of the guitar signals a shift in the music. All of a sudden, we are being hypnotized. I almost feel as if I am in india and there are snakes floating out of baskets. The guitar sound is so pure and full. Not a note is missed. Every note sounds well prepared, and just plain old sit back and listen beautiful. Then, at 3:34, there is not more melody. All of a sudden, it is conversation. Twice, the guitar makes some kind of nervous statement almost like a kid playing hide and seek nervously searching in a dark room pleading blindly, "Jimmy I can see you there, hear me I can see you there!" Snap back to melody.
After a strange but unique note to end a phrase at 3:45, a bold conversational statement appears once again at 3:46! An excited, "I knew Id find ya! I knew Id find you!" Four times in a row, followed by a great one phrase melodic response 3:53. Some dissonance at 4:05, and some LA Womanesque doors guitar sliding.
4:28 starts the next excitement with the high reaching note played again and again, just like trying to reach the top drawer where the cookies are (on tiptoes). And then, a little harder and harder, and explosion of high guitar notes with some help from the drums until, crash, down we go dully until we reach THE low point of the solo at 4:40. A group of three notes, the third being a badly fit (accidental?) distortion. A great alternative would have been for the second note in the group to be distorted instead, but I imagine this was less of a musical decision and more of an accident.
After this mess, we end up with some really meaningless guitar noodling. I do not enjoy it, I find not substance in it at all, and I wish it would go away. It sounds like the beginning of the solo, and if were trying to build up, this is a let down. If they're trying to bring the energy down, WHY??? What a waste of time where they could just skip this and go to those booming end notes. But no, they start over from scratch. Finally, the beginning of the end at 5:08 with some triplets again. These continue until 5:14, (where the radio edit version picks up the solo) with booming guitar and organ notes/drum beats that no one can mistake as being powerful.
And back to the circus music, actually a good entrance, but come on, its so corny! A nice verse (good bass, I am noticing now). And then a nice twist in the last chorus starting at 6:13. Back to a not so enthralling "light my fire" chorus again, and some circus music to send us home. The ending would leave a sour taste in my mouth if it was any more drawn out. Luckily its not, and I'd merely call it harmless.
Overall, the solo makes the song. But without the song, would the solo be as good? For some reason I think not. The contrast between the song part and the solo seems to be the cause for the solo's sounding so damn good. If the song was just the solo, I think it might not be as eerie and attractive. That’s probably why i never fast forward over the song part.

Best Moment(s): 3:34, 3:46
Worst Moment(s): 4:40, the circus music
Song Rating (out of 16): 14