it's gonna get like three notes

MEET & GREET! Submit your meet-and-greet stories to bryanstarsfanpictures@gmail.com. They are posted throughout the week.

So I met Alex Gaskarth on 10/11/14 and it was probably the best day of my life! Alex has been such an inspiration to me and the only reason I started guitar was to make covers of All Time Low songs. All Time Low has been with me all through highschool and being a senior this year all I wanted to do was meet them before I went to college where it probably would’ve been harder living away from home. I was planning on going to the meet and greet until I realized it was the same day as the SATs which devastated me, especially because my brother was going to meet my idol before I did. So the night before, I wrote a note telling Alex how much he inspired me and attached it to a phone case I made him and went to bed. I was awaken by my mom at 5:30 and she was like “get up you’re going to meet Alex” and I was like no way like what about my SAT and she was like you’ve gotten the same score three times its not gonna get better, plus I don’t wanna be the blame everytime someone brings it up. So I happily jumped out of bed, called my friend, and got ready to stand in line. I waited outside in the pouring rain and went to get dunks and left my friends in line. When I came back into line some psycho mom came up to me and was like You need to go to the back you cut! I was like wtf no I’ve been here since 6! She called security on me and I didn’t know what to do because If I went to the back i wouldn’t make it. Luckily security came up and was like don’t worry about it shes crazy lol So I waited in lines for a solid 8 hours but it was worth it because the moment I got my wristband I nearly cried because I was one of the 300! When I met Alex I was shaking so bad and red and I was struggling to form sentences. I felt bad because I didn’t wanna seem like a crazy fan girl but I was kinda starstruck. but I told him I flew from Boston to California for A Love Like Tour and he was like wow that’s amazing and he said he loved me and it was everything I could’ve imagined. He signed my poster I bought in Cali and he hugged me for the picture which was everything. I almost started crying when I got out of zumiez but tried to cover it up cuz I felt so stupid but I was so happy because that was one of my life goals that I finally accomplished.

FOUR Analysis: Track 12 - Clouds

Yo, I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to come to grips with this track.  I literally gave a presentation on this months ago to a teenage group of classically trained singers who were learning structural analysis; basically this is just a loose transcription of that presentation, with some elaboration here and there.  I really have no excuses.  Mea maxima culpa.  (But here is the part where I note that Louis sounds like a minor deity throughout, because there’s not really anywhere else to put it but it has to be said.)

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Clouds is written in a form that I have labeled* pop-strophic.  Strophic, in classical terms, basically just means that you repeat the same music through different text.  Older church hymns are generally good examples of strophic music.  Pop-strophic means it’s not strictly strophic because it has things like bridges and interludes, but it does tend to return to the same material in a regular pattern**.  

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*Pop-strophic is a nonstandard term which I made up.  I’m sure there’s a term for it in pop scholarship, but I have no formal education in that area.

**I mention this now not because Clouds is unique in this at all, but because, in comparison with, say, a pure strophic German art song or a through-composed 20th century composition or a Baroque da capo aria, pop-strophic is a distinctive form that is generally adhered to by contemporary popular music, and it’s good to identify it as A Thing rather than just assume that’s how songs are written by default.

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As a whole, this track’s defining characteristics, which set it apart from the rest of the album, are that it is kind of weird and kind of evocative, and the weirdness and evocativeness are linked.  Tonally, it’s not what we’re used to from One Direction, and that makes it stand out, for good or for ill.  It’s quite well structured and, assuming all is deliberate, is well developed, though the motifs are simple.  

For starters, I want to compare the verse with the chorus, and we can do that with reference to a few different compositional elements.  

Melody

  • melody in the verse hops around quite a lot, whereas the chorus melody is much more smoothly connected - disjunct vs. scalar
  • get this, though: both melodies are based around the same three-note motif – starting on one pitch, then stepping up, then back down. (THIS IS SO ANNOYING TO TRY TO DESCRIBE WHY CAN’T I JUST SKETCH OUT NOTATION FOR YOU ARGH) okay it’s like if you go so-la-so, or mi-fa-mi, get it?  Like in “you’re gonna wish you’d never left me” and “here we go again”.
  • this three-note motif pops up all over like little leaf buds on a tree in spring until it finally unfurls into its final form (develops, if you want to get technical) and we get the pentatonic expansion, i.e. “never coming back down / looking down on the clouds”
  • ALSO both verse and chorus are basically sequences (same or similar melody shape repeated at a higher or lower pitch class).  Verse is pretty rough but you can make a case for “the things that I see / the air that I breathe / you’d never left me” being practically a sequence, and then in the chorus it’s near-pristine repetition of the first phrase in the second and third, just shifting down.

Harmony

  • in the verse it’s all about the relationship between the bass and melody (which is also your absolute fundamental relationship to take into account when you’re writing chorales and shit, this stuff is foundational) - largely because that’s about all there is.  It’s great thematically, though, because the bass-melody relationship mirrors the former relationship of the singer and his ex - it’s full of dissonance, tension and instability
  • the chorus, on the other hand, cushions its weirdness with a thicker instrumental and vocal texture - there are still some slightly unusual progressions, especially that initial shift to the major 9th chord, but it’s not starkly left out there like in the verse. (also, I have been waiting to link this post from ivy persimmonlions, though as you can probably tell by now I kind of disagree with the assertion at the end that the verse and chorus sound like they’re from different songs)

Rhythm

  • the verse has this driving 8th-note pulse that feels like it’s just trying to get away
  • but then you get to the chorus and hit a half-tempo quarter note feel and everything opens out into endless possibilities

Here also is some other noteworthy stuff that’s not directly related to the verse-vs.-chorus comparison:

Interludes

  • so if you hadn’t noticed, the guitar riff that sounds like Abbey Road-era Beatles is the same melody as “never coming back down”
  • and a cool thing there is that the backing vocals get a simplified version of that riff: instead of so-la-doh-re-mi / so, it’s just sustained so–la–doh–mi (if this is confusing just listen, you’ll hear that they sketch out the same rough shape)
  • also the vocals evoke kind of an angelic chorus which reinforces the lyric imagery of clouds and ascension

Bridge

  • phrase length supports text: “and we go and we go and we go and we don’t stop” is one of a pair of the longest unbroken phrases in the whole song, and it’s fitting because it goes and goes and goes and doesn’t stop, and I know this is really obvious but just let me have this, okay, I think it’s neat

Meter

  • so you’ve figured out that there’s something hinky going on at the end of the chorus but you’re not sure what?  LET ME EXPLAIN
  • this whole song is in common time, that is, four beats to a bar.  Except that at the end of the chorus, in “looking down on the clouds”, they’ve slipped in a bar with only three beats.  WHY IS THIS, you ask?
  • okay, see, the whole idea of this song is basically elation at shaking off a relationship that was dragging this guy down - the relief has made the singer giddy, essentially, and when you’re that excited you sometimes describe it by saying your heart skips a beat
  • we have literally skipped a beat.  in the music.  the music skipped a beat.
  • think about that.  think about how fucking cute that is.

And that’s about all I’ve got.  If this was more minutely technical than usual, well, blame it on the parameters of the talk for which this was prepared.  (Can you believe I only had ten minutes to present?  I did mention I’d be elaborating a bit here…)