Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Music Analysis: Indie/Alternative Rock

My favorite genre of music is Indie and Alternative Rock. Anything from acoustic/folk rock (Guster) to post-rock (Sigur Ros) to piano rock (The Fray and Ben Folds) to atmospheric rock (Angels and Airwaves) to "mainstream" indie rock (Death Cab For Cutie) are my favorite kinds of music. My all-time favorite band is Guster- an acoustic/folk/pop/rock group which featured hand drums in their older music.
Lately, my favorite band is Freelance Whales- a folk/indie/atmospheric/alternative/rock band which features dream-like ambience and intense vocal harmonies. I also just saw them in concert tonight (Wednesday, December 1st) at the 7th Street Entry downtown. These multi-instrumentalists are extremely talented at not only crafting gorgeous and catchy melodies and harmonies, but performs them live with such precision, yet such a different experience from the recorded album. They are such incredible musicians and performers that at times, the show felt more like a spiritual experience rather than a rock concert. Their intense vocal harmonies and ambient accompaniment during the song "Generator ^ Second Floor", which features banjo, electric guitar, keyboard, glockenspiel, bass guitar and drumset, literally sent shivers down my spine.

Here's a clip of the band performing the song live:

The band uses traditional instruments in non-traditional ways. For example, on a few songs including the aforementioned song, the electric guitarist uses a stringed bow (like one would use on a violin) on the strings to create an extremely esoteric sound. Also, the band uses the banjo as if it were a rhythm guitar and serves as a main focus of accompaniment on many songs. Another way Freelance Whales creates a wholly unique live experience, is that in between songs, the band continues playing low level sounds on their instruments until the next sing begins. This creates a sense of fluency in the show, as if the show keeps going after a song ends and the sounds lead the audience into the next song.
Returning to the specific song, the lyrics are another component of the masterful artwork that is Freelance Whales. Here are the lyrics to "Generator ^ Second Floor":

And I could never tell as a kid
What that window door went to
Only told to stay away
I almost had an accident, age 6
When I found the key in the attic
And now the smell of these wood frames
Is the only sense I've left
So as you pull me from the bed
Tell me I look stunning and cadaverous

And since you are my friend
I would ask that you lower me down slow
And tell the man in the black cloak
He doesn't need to trouble his good soul
With those Latin conjugations
And if it's all the same to them
You should tell your gathering friends
Please not to purse their faces grim
On such a lovely Sunday

Don't fix my smile, life is long enough
We will put this flesh into the ground again (x 6)

While somewhat morbid discussing an experience with a funeral, the band takes this traditionally foreboding event and turns it into a somewhat more comforting perspective. Anyone who has experienced a funeral first-hand will undoubtedly relate to the lyrics and find a new point of view.

Music Video Analysis:
The video I chose to analyze is "This is how it Feels to Have a Broken Heart" by Guster, my absolute favorite band.

This music video is absolutely hilarious!!!! The video employs the use of animated caricatures of the members of Guster "performing" the song in different environments- most of which are references to films or other music videos: Yellow Submarine, Apocalypse Now, Titanic, any space film, any western film, etc.
Guster is famously known for having a very strong fan base of die-hard fans. Therefore, the fact that the music video features caricatures points to the fact that fans of Guster will most likely find the caricatures humerus because we know their real faces so well.
If viewers of the music video is not familiar with Guster, the caricatures serve as a motivation to do more research on the band, as they will want to understand the humor behind the animations.

Teaching Plan about Music as an Art and Media Source:
1. Play for the students a recording of the Sigur Ros song "Untitled 4".
Here's a youtube clip of the song:

Please Note: for the purposes of this lesson plan, DO NOT SHOW THEM THE MUSIC VIDEO, ONLY PLAY AN AUDIO RECORDING.

Before you play the song, explain a few things:
The band Sigur Ros is an Icelandic band, therefore they sing in Icelandic.
The band uses instruments in non-traditional ways to create a very atmospheric sound.
As the students listen to the song, they are going to try to think about what the song could be about. Because they are not able to understand the lyrics, tell them to try thinking about how the song makes them feel (sad/happy/etc) and how the song portrays the theme with the instrumentation.

2. After the song is over, call on students to discuss what they think the song is about.
3. Explain that the song is actually in gibberish:
"Sigur Ros also makes songs that are entirely in words and sounds that they make up on the spot while recording that correlate with their emotions at the time of the creation. Sigur Ros has called this "language" Hopelandic. The album that this song is on is ENTIRELY in Hopelandic.
4. Have a discussion with the class about the business of music:
"Why do you think you probably have never heard of this band or this song?"
"Why do you think that radio stations such as KDWB do not play music from this band?"
5. Explain that music gets popular through careful marketing on radio stations and touring performances. KDWB will only play music that they think their audience will enjoy. KDWB caters to under 30 urbanites who's music interests are lady gaga and the disney channel performers.
HOWEVER, Sigur Ros is played on The Current- a radio station whose clientele is that of twenty-something hipsters who are obsessed with indie rock.
6. Ask the students: "How do radio stations made money if we get the station for free in the car?"
Explain that radio stations sell airtime to advertisers to promote their product or services during "commercial time". Therefore, advertisers will only buy airtime on stations whose audience they believe will hopefully be the clientele of their business. For example: A medicare company advertising their motor-chairs will not buy airtime on the Disney channel radio station as their clienteles do not match up.

Homework Assignment:
Create your own radio station for students in their respective grade. List who the target audience would be, the type of music that they would play on the station, and the advertisers that would be advertising on their station.

1 comment:

  1. Brian, discussing the absence of "real" lyrics is really intriguing. This demonstrates the power of emotion that music evokes. Many times when bands don't want lyrics, they simply won't include a vocal track. Sigur Rose has almost used "anti-lyrics" by creating sounds rather than words with voice. Lyrics can oftentimes enhance the power of the song but this demonstrates that the song can stand on its own.

    You can use this song to demonstrate the power of emotion has in movies and commercials too.

    Nice Job! I'm familiar with Sigur Rose but wasn't aware that they made up a language of mood words! They're definitely an interesting band.