About three weeks ago, Ted Gioia wrote a blistering critique of music criticism. In it he complained, correctly, that music critics have stopped writing about the music itself, instead writing about the social underpinnings of music in a very trivial manner. In response to this complaint, composer Owen Pallett has written three articles for Slate, supposedly using theory to explain the music of Katy Perry, Daft Punk, and Lady Gaga. While I appreciate Pallett's musicianship, he has a very limited view of music theory which resulted in purposefully stilted analyses. In Tweets he admitted that these articles (or at least the first one) were meant to be ironic, proving Ted Gioia wrong.
This is unfortunate, as there are many analytical tools available to make meaningful statements about pop music, without exploding in jargon or losing respect for the genre. Pallett failed in both these regards, doing the worlds of music criticism, music theory, and popular music a disservice. In my series of analyses of music from Welcome to Night Vale, I hope I have been showing appropriate ways of analyzing popular music.
I'll continue now with the Weather from episode eight, "This Too Shall Pass" by Danny Schmidt. While this song shares a title with one by OK Go, it is very different. Danny Schmidt is a singer-songwriter, whose song starts with a distinctive Spanish vibe before shifting to a more country/folk feel from the jingle bells, fiddle playing, and banjo-like guitar picking. The minor mode with continual shifts to the relative major and the haunting violins remind me of the theme song from Firefly. The rhythm is interesting, sudden little rushes at the beginning of each stanza followed by a pause before the rest of the lyrics arrive in a quick stream. Schmidt's twangy voice gives humbleness to his lofty ideas about the hugeness of the universe and the smallness of mankind within it. He touches on religion, the biology of self-interest, and mythology, all in service of showing how time keeps going with or without us. The melody has moments of static monotony, followed by sudden shifts in contour, keeping it from becoming too predictable while obeying many of the tropes of the genre. The song fades out, which is both appropriate to the subject matter, giving a sense of eternity yet dying away to nothing.