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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Music Mondays: "Pierre" by Ryn Weaver

For this week’s Music Monday, we aren’t moving too far from the subject of the last few columns. I actually first heard of Ryn Weaver through the news that Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos would be co-producing her debut album. Upon checking her stuff out, her first single “OctaHate” was enough to hook me.

But while “OctaHate” is a wonderful song (go check it out if you haven’t heard it), I’m not going to be focusing on that one this week. Maybe some other time. Right now, I want to focus on a song that came of her debut album back in June, “Pierre”.

I’ve always had a soft spot for songs with more narrative structures, and by those standards, “Pierre” is a near epic in scope, covering a major string of events of its narrator’s life. Each stanza of the verses comprises a vignette from the singer’s past, all describing the different lovers that she’s found herself with in recent memory. Tying them all together are the choruses, focused on “you”, the second-person one-that-got-away. The disjointedness of the narrative actually took me a little off-guard at first; I was expecting a much more standard love song, and didn’t catch on that they were each their own self-contained stories until the second verse. Also, it’s almost surprising how much Ryn manages to flesh out these supporting characters; each gets just enough detail to make them feel like real people that you can picture.

Musically, the song very closely matches Passion Pit’s style (as you might expect). I have trouble picking my favorite part; there’s the opening, a sparse arrangement that focuses on Ryn’s striking voice with claps and a atmospheric breeze underneath; there’s the big piano chord that rings out at the start of the second stanza; there’s the glassy guitar riff that kicks in halfway through that stanza; and of course, there’s the huge, emotional chorus. The chorus probably deserves its own focus; there’s an incredible forcefulness to it, with Ryn Weaver selling the hell out off its emotion. The words hit on downbeats with the drums, adding punch. Ending each line is a vocal sample that sounds straight out of Sleepyhead.  Finally comes the frantic, crashing end, a rush in and of itself.

And then, the second time through, it just gets bigger and grander, adding a sense of majesty to it all. And just like that, after two cycles, we get a short outro where the song just sort of fades into the sudden nothingness that it burst out of. For as strange a finish as it initially seems for a song of this scale, I have trouble picturing a better conclusion. It’s a perfect bookend to a larger part of a never-ending story.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Music Mondays: "Five Foot Ten (I)" by Passion Pit

Okay, finally, here’s the third part of my Music Monday series covering Passion Pit’s new album Kindred (parts one and two). And this one covers the song that I’ve come to think of as the best song from the album, “Five Foot Ten (I)” (The weird punctuation refers to its matching song “Ten Feet Tall (II)”, with each song closing out a half of the album).

Structurally, it shares a lot with “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)”, starting with a fade in until and building into synth chords that form the backbone of the song, before swelling into a big chorus. However, where “Until We Can’t” thrives on its large scale, “Five Foot Ten” feels a lot less anthemic and more intimate. “Five Foot Ten” makes up for the lack of huge climax with a much more interesting texture, with it’s synthesizers feelings much more sharp and puncturing than the alternating crashing hits and calm atmosphere of “Until We Can’t”’s. And while I appreciate the relative simplicity of “Until We Can’t”’s arrangement, “Five Foot Ten”’s intricate arrangement feels much more exciting, with puncturing chimes, bells, wood blocks, vocal samples, strings, and all manner of things giving a frantic feeling.

Lyrically, it’s about equals with “Until We Can’t”; both deal with various anxieties singer Michael Angelakos is coping with. “Five Foot Ten” feels a little darker, though, dealing with his simultaneous frustration with and dependence on his wife, needing both his own space and companionship. Like their earlier “Little Secrets”, it’s a very personal song with somewhat dark lyrics behind a very bright façade (although here, the lyrics aren’t quite as dark, but a little more anxious). Unlike “Little Secrets”, this one offers more of a sense of resolution, with Michael reaching out and trying to work through his issues.

While I enjoy the lyrics, I think the music is far and away the highpoint. There’s just so much going on, and it carries on to the choruses. While the verses are sharp synth chords with more sounds as punctuation, the choruses build to the sizes of the choruses in “Until We Can’t” by just layering sound after sound. It’s a big and fitting conclusion to the rest of the song, complete with vocals as catchy and easy to sing along to as the latter without as much grandiosity. After much thought, I’d definitely call it the best song on the album.