Friday, April 18, 2014

The Weather calls for scattered innuendo

Robin Aigner provides the Weather on the 2013 April Fool's edition ("Poetry Week") of Welcome to Night Vale.  I'm not sure who is singing the male vocal part in "Get Me Home."  My guess is Larry Cook, the bassist in Parlour Game, her backing band.  This cute duet is reminiscent of "Baby It's Cold Outside", though without the counterpoint of that classic. 

The harmonies are basic 12-bar form: I - IV - I - V - I.  But the rhythms are rather interesting, sliding the lyrics at unpredictable points into the previous or next musical grouping.  And each subsequent verse adds lines to the V chord, as the woman talks herself into staying out later. That is, until the last verse as a repetition of the first verse.  The woman reverts back to a 1:00 am deadline, whereas the man stays with the 4:00 am deadline.  The length of the last verse suggests a slight compromise.  1:00 is twelve bars long, 2:00 is sixteen bars, 3:00 is eighteen bars, 4:00 is twenty bars.  The last verse is fourteen bars, so maybe 1:30? 

There is plenty of sexual imagery, from organs/sax and keyhole/key to driving a car and a charging bull trying to penetrate the bull fighter.  But like "Baby It's Cold Outside," there is still a chastity projected on the part of the woman, that she knows what he wants but also knows exactly what she will allow.  She emphasizes "get" as her highest note, to demand that he respect her wishes.  But then again, she does slide into "home"...

The following lyrics have the male part in normal font, the female part in italics, and group singing in bold.
I'm told that you're pretty, you're told that I'm cute,
Let's go for a ride, I'll show you a thing or two
Let's paint the town and have some fun
We'd be a pair, just get me home by one.

I know a place where we can relax
You'll wear a skirt, I'll wear some slacks
There'll be some organs, there might even be sax
We'll say goodnight, I will be blue
I'll stew for a while into Saturday too 
to fall asleep happy, just get me home by two.

Well I got a car I drive like a pro,
You should see me in action, check out my mojo
I'm/He's romantic, a dance king Romeo
I'm fond of you, you seem to like me
I got a keyhole, you got a key
Let's take it on slow 'til we are a we
I'm fond of you, just get me home by three.

I swing you around on a Saturday night
You're the belle of the ball, I'm a bull at a bull fight
Why say "Adios" when we can be dos?
I might want less, you might want more
You say "Let's a-nuzzle," I say "What for?"
You show me a backseat, I show you the door
I like the sofa, you like the floor
I'll stay for a cuddle, just get me home by four.

I'm/You're told that you're/I'm pretty, you're/I'm told that I'm/you're cute
Let's go for a ride, I'll show you a thing or two
Let's paint the town and have some fun
We'd be a pair, Oh we'd be a pair
Just get me home, I'll get you/me home by four/one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bar Mitzvah or human rationality?

I've been looking forward to analyzing the Weather of the famous double episode of Welcome To Night Vale.  In the "Sandstorm," a storm engulfs both Night Vale and Desert Bluffs.  The double episode gives us the perspective from both towns' radio hosts, who end up trading places briefly through a portal.  Both episodes use the same music, "Eliezar's Waltz," composed by Larry Cardozo and Ron Fink, who is likely related to the podcast creator Joseph Fink.  However, the Weather is performed by two different groups.  The Night Vale weather is by the Ventura Klezmer Band, a traditional klezmer band in the Los Angeles area.  It is a very traditional sounding waltz, one that would fit in very well at a Jewish wedding or Bar Mitzvah.  There are no lyrics, though a female vocalist does sing the Yiddish syllables "Lie lie lie."  This could be taken as nonsense, or a play on the similarity to the English word "lie."  The other version is by the New Age band Disparition, which also provides the theme song and background music for all the episodes of WtNV.  While the melody is recognizable, it is no longer a waltz.  Electronic instruments, with heavy distortion, reverb, and other effects, play in a standard 4/4 meter, though with a lot of hemiola and other syncopation.  Many of the sounds are atmospheric, while others are more percussive, like a standard drum machine and the melody on a sort-of-vibraphone.  The harmony is also much more confusing, unlike the clear minor key of the klezmer version. 

In the second episode, Cecil discovers that the Desert Bluffs radio station is covered in blood, a strange distortion of the gentle happiness suggested by the Desert Bluffs announcer, Kevin.  In the first episode it seems like Desert Bluffs is the nicer version of Night Vale, but by the end of the second episode it is very unclear which town is "good."  Which one is the distortion of the other, which one is the "normal" one?  The klezmer sound is Night Vale's, and the old fashioned music fits with Kevin's observation that the NV radio station seems very old and out of date, much like the town founders, who are still alive after hundreds of years.  If that is the case, then Desert Bluffs is the strange distorted version, murky in its electronic modernism.  It is heavily capitalistic, which fits with the modernist music performed by colder electronic instruments rather than humanly imperfect acoustic instruments of a klezmer band. 

Eliezer is the first name of an artificial intelligence theorist, Abraham's steward, Moses' second son, and a prophet of Israel.  The name translates as "Help of my God" from Hebrew.  The connection to klezmer music makes sense, but it is intriguing to think that the Night Vale folks might have been alluding to the theorist.  Besides artificial intelligence, Eliezer Yudkowsky works on human rationality.  What does it mean to be sane?  He also writes about the Singularity.  The question of whether Night Vale or Desert Bluffs is rational makes for an interesting waltz.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Cost of Religion

Eef Barzelay wrote "Jews for Jesus Blues" as the leader of Clem Snide, shortly before the alt-country band broke up in 2005 (they reformed in 2009).  As the Weather for "The Traveler," the 18th episode of Welcome to Night Vale, this song explores the negatives of being saved.  The country elements of the song (shuffle beat in the snare, slight twang to the voice, banjo) sets up the expectations for a typical country revival song.  But Eef's view of religion is more complex, as indicated by both his birth in Israel and the title of the song.  The narrator of the song was trying to fill the perceived emptiness of his life.  He did so by being reborn in Jesus.  But he regrets this action, and the reason for this regret is unclear.  The title might suggest that it is because he went against his cultural heritage of Judaism.  The third verse says "I don't wanna suffer and I don't wanna die / I want the clouds parted in endless, blue sky / But someone up there has a different plan / Now that I'm saved, I wish I was damned."  God has a different plan than his vision of eternal life with no suffering and strife.  He thought he would be free of his sins, but instead he feels guilty.  Is it the work that is demanded, that we all must love one another as we love ourselves?  This love requires effort, and perhaps suffering. 

Between the second and third verses, a very distorted electric guitar solo clashes with the country music tropes.  It is like a parody of a slide guitar solo.  Is this the feeling of a Jew stuck among Christians, not exactly fitting in?  There is also a Hammond organ sound in the background of the third verse and the coda, coming to the forefront as the singer stops abruptly.  It is rather disturbing, with very heavy tremolo and a kind of distortion at the very end.  Did he stop himself out of shame, or was he interrupted by death?  Either way, it is an upsetting moment.  Religion isn't easy.

Monday, April 14, 2014

B-girl Ballads

Mystic was the Weather in the "Valentine" episode for the first year of Welcome to Night Vale.  Her rap, "Neptune's Jewels," is a valentine to a love on a pedestal.  The chorus states that he is the one that she would do anything to keep happy.  In the second verse, Mystic makes it clear that her attraction is more than physical, more than sexual.  "It's the way you make me wanna live instead of die."  Backing vocals make some of Mystic's raps melodic, especially "But you put a new hue in my blue, added a perspective to my concrete views..."  This is a great phrase on learning to trust her emotions.  The melodic chant makes it sound like a quote, perhaps that is a saying of her (potential) lover's.  The language in general has an interesting juxtaposition of street slang and polished poetic imagery:  "I would fly into a merciless sun steal you the sky 'cuz you're the one."

The introduction is also interesting, with mysterious vocals that I (and my family) can't figure out.  Are the purposefully vague murmurs representative of her previous confused loves, or her initial hesitation before falling head-over-heels for Mr. Perfect?  Either way, the whole piece makes a nice Valentine.  Won't you be my Sade tape in the coldest spring?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I Can't Be the Wounded Man

I had intended to write my next post on music from Night Vale yesterday, but I'm glad something kept me from doing so.  For I read the final third of John Green's Paper Towns this morning, and realized what was keeping me from feeling a strong connection to Barton Carroll's "Those Days Are Gone and My Heart is Breaking." 

The narrator begets a child, but "couldn't stick around" and never even remains in contact with the mother or the child.  This attitude, the lack of responsibility for the child is foreign to me.  I immediately start judging him as a bad person.  It is easy to treat him as a one-dimensional character, just as several characters in Paper Towns realize that they had been doing the same.  Yet ultimately I know that we are all people trying to live the lives we have been given.  I don't know what kind of life the singer had before he left his town.  It implies he had friends, but these friends are abandoned (or abandon him).  He had a mean streak, and a rage over being held back from what he thought he deserved.  I did not grow up with similar feelings.  I grew apart from friends, and I've had feelings of being held back.  But ultimately I always felt the responsibility was on me, and I couldn't imagine abandoning my children.  I don't have the same wounds that the singer has, just as Quentin doesn't have the same wounds as Margo.  I haven't read Walt Whitman's poem, "Leaves of Grass" but Quentin interprets it as showing that while we all are connected, we can't truly know one another.  I don't think that is true with everyone, but there are people that I cannot relate to.  This is not their fault, and I need to remind myself not to judge harshly because of this.  The song's narrator has clearly grown as a person, no longer filled with rage but rather with regret.  He no longer feels held back by others, recognizing that he needs to put in the work to make connections and to earn his keep. 

The melody is very repetitive, within a major pentatonic collection of notes.  But the third line of each stanza is performed very quickly, within a single measure, which changes the flow.  There is a lot of space after this third line, setting up the fourth line as a different end-rhyme (AAAB). These unpredictable rushes and pauses can exhibit the narrator's nervousness in trying to reconnect with his old friend.  He knows he has made many mistakes, and needs to come clean in this attempt to reconcile.  Perhaps this is a first, easier step towards making things right with his son.  The last stanza eases the rhythm of the third line and doesn't rhyme as exactly.  Besides bringing things to the present day, the last stanza changes the refrain from "Those days are gone and my heart is breaking" to "Those days are here, and my heart is waiting."  He is thinking about the future, I think he is trying to fix the damage he did to his son and his ex. 

So maybe I can find connections with this wounded man.  There are plenty of mistakes I need to repair, even if not at the level of abandonment.  I can understand the nerves, and the relief once a hard step is taken.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I'm torn on what to do.  The Weather in episode 15 of Welcome to Night Vale is a song by Tom Milsom, who has been accused of statutory rape.  This puts me in a similar situation as fans of Woody Allen who believe the accusations of rape levied against him.  Does one separate the art from the artist, condemn the art because of the artist, or account for the bad aspects of the artist as well as the good when considering the art?  There are plenty of jazz, classical, and rock musicians who have done horrible things, from Wagner's anti-Semitic remarks and Gesualdo's murders to James Brown's alleged abuse of his third wife.  Yet I still appreciate their music.  So I will analyze "A Little Irony" by Tom Milsom, while condemning the acts he is alleged to have done.

This is a love song, from the perspective of a mad scientist.  Unlike Jonathan Coulton's "Skullcrusher Mountain," Milsom's scientist has listened to the voice in his head (his little irony?) to kill everyone, including the girl he fell in love with after freezing her. 

The scientist is apparently an accomplished pianist (and British), giving himself a florid introduction.  The first verse and chorus stay solely with piano accompaniment, as he contemplates freezing the world to keep it from getting worse.  The rest of the band joins in as his heart starts beating in the second verse, a rather on-the-nose example of text painting.  Another example is the pause on "stop" in the first verse.  This effect (and the whole world-freezing) might have been influenced by Joss Whedon's Doctor Horrible.

Milsom's chord progressions are rather interesting.  The whole piece is in E major, with  plagal cadences at the end of each stanza of the verses.  The chorus oscillates between I and vi chords, I suppose demonstrating the uncertainty of the mad scientist to share his love/oops-sorry-I-killed-you thoughts.  More interesting are the F# major chords that come between the vi and IV chords in the verses.  These major II chords fit better as semi-tonal voice-leading - the E and G# slide up to F# and A#, the F# and A# slide down to E and A - than in an functional sense.  The second and third verses add tonicizations of the vi chord, and the bridge weakens the only dominant chords with deceptive resolutions and chromatic planing. 
Verse 1:  Time should stop moving / And never go beyond today / If we could find a way to stop / The world would be okay

If I'd thought about it sooner / It wouldn't have been downhill / But I'll make the best of what I've got / While I've got it still

Chorus: Do you wanna know / A little irony about me / I don't know if I should say / This little irony about me

Verse 2:  But it's funny 'cause my heart has started beating / It never has before today / It must be something in the way / She looks at me

She started screaming / Before I made the earth stand still / Of all the people I could kill / It had to be


Verse 3: But it's funny because love was just a Feeling / Irrelevant before today / But now I've gotta find a way / To make her real

Freezing / Was just for me to get away / But now I need to learn to stay / And make her real

Bridge:  When all the world around me / Moved so unpredictably / A moment never lasted long enough / For me to see the reason why

Love never came to me / It moves unscientifically / But now you're trapped and I can Find a reason now to ask you one more time

Coda:  But you'll move me more forever / Than you ever could before today.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lieder Ohne Worte

Just this morning when attending the weekly school recital hour, I recalled that every bit of Weather on Welcome to Night Vale that I had analyzed was text-based.  I wondered if an instrumental work would be coming up, I couldn't remember from my binge-listening last fall.  And Night Vale delivers, with a piece by the daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra.  A 2007 article on describes this group as around 60 musicians, including rappers, DJs, and singers.  The piece on Welcome to Night Vale, "Movement 1: Invocation of the Duke," sets up a latin beat with low saxophones, percussion, and some subtle record scratching.  The repeating eight-bar bass line hovers around scale degree 5 of a harmonic minor scale, occasionally jumping around to grab some additional notes, but never resting on tonic.  Over this beat, two violins trade eight-bar solos.  The first entrance is rough, the rhythms don't quite fit the 4+4 phrase that the bass line has established, but after this rushed entrance the rest of the solos continue the latin beat on the harmonic minor scale.  The augmented seconds give an exotic feel to the solos, along with the continued avoidance of tonic as a resting point.  Right at the Golden Ratio of the chronological duration (63 out of 102 seconds), the violin solos stop and the brass starts playing a riff that slowly gets louder and more ornate, with high trumpet shakes and sustained string chords.  By the end, I wasn't sure whether I should be hearing the E major chord as the dominant of A minor, or as its own tonic.  That rotation of the A harmonic minor scale results in the E "arabic" scale, also called the Phrygian Natural 3 scale, or the Dominant b2 scale.  One live performance by the Orchestra does pair this song with "Reap What You Sow," which is in the key of A minor, so that reinforces the feeling of "Invocation of the Duke" as an introduction.

Presumably the Duke that is being invoked is Duke Ellington.  Another track invokes The Clown, probably a reference to Charles Mingus.  The podcast episode is "The Man in the Tan Jacket," who is a character that no one can clearly recall or describe.  This haziness fits with the tonal ambiguity of "Invocation of the Duke," unclear whether it is an introduction or a stand-alone piece.