Monday, March 31, 2014

Despite What You've Been Told

The Weather in the seventh episode of Welcome to Night Vale is the first example of standard indie rock, after two raps, three folk songs, and Scandinavian post-rock.  "Despite What You've Been Told" by Two Gallants is full of angst, a drifter making a sexual connection but lamenting his lost soul/happiness/conscience.  The verses follow an AABC pattern, what Walter Everett calls Statement-Restatement-Departure-Conclusion.  The end-rhyme scheme seems straight-forward, but it connects the pairs of stanzas with an aaab cccb dde ffe pattern.  There are a few unusual features of the form.  First, the chorus doesn't appear after the first verse. Instead, we get the refrain "That's how we deal with boys like me" to signal the end of each verse, coupled with a conclusive cadence.  The narrator is "satisfied" with his negative view of himself.  Finally after the second verse we get the chorus with the song title set apart as a pickup to the new harmonic content and a more conventional rhyme scheme (aabb).  The narrator recalls past moments of pride/glory when he had a soul, and slightly relaxes musically. 

The title also fits well with the WtNV episode, "History Week," telling us to forget everything we've been told about the history of Night Vale, which the Sheriff's Secret Police would probably appreciate.

Verse 1:  I guess by the bloodstain of your lips / And the wander of your fingertips / I should prove true to my emptiness / And stay here

Well I'm just a kid of ill repute / But the skin I wear's my only suit / And you are just a substitute / For the one that I hold dear

You know you could be anyone / God forgive my tasteless tongue / I never should have been set free

I carve my eyes, I skin my face / And beg somehow to be replaced / That's how we deal with boys like me

Verse 2: I guess by this world so sick with loss / And your services so free of cost / I should climb down of my rugged cross / And lay with you

But you know by now it's half past late / And I only came here for escape / You, you're just my next mistake / Like me to you

You know you could be anyone / God forgive your unborn sons / I hope they don't end up like me

I drag my mind through streets of shame / Blame myself, forgive the game / That's how we deal with boys like me

Chorus:  But despite what you've been told / I once had a soul / Left somewhere behind / A former friend of mine

And I hate to speak so free / But you mean nothing to me / So if the streetlights they shine bright / I'll be home tonight

Verse 3: I guess by the dim light in your eyes / And that to you all things come as a surprise / I should set the steel trap of your thighs / And dive right in

But to you I'm just a confused child / Insecure or in denial / Go raise your robes, go have your trial / I'll let you win

You know I could be anyone / God forgive what I should have done / My thoughts enough to guilty be

And yes, I guess I've made this bed / But I'll take the sidewalk instead / That's how we deal with boys with me

Chorus: But despite what you've been told / I once had a soul / Left somewhere behind / A former friend of mine

And I hate to sound so true / But I mean nothing to you / And with the streetlights they shine bright / I'll be home tonight

Outro (instrumental)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dutch rap. You heard me.

Yes, the Weather on the sixth episode of WtNV is a rap IN DUTCH by Dio, featuring Sef.  Dio is the stage name of Diorno Dylyano Obedient, born in Amsterdam to Surinamese parents.  Sef is another DUTCH RAPPER with ties to Morocco.  As you can see from the video below, they are deliberately pushing the old school vibe, not just with the sound (sampling funky guitars at the beginning with fake scratches) but also the visuals (Run DMC wants their hats back). 

While I'm making fun of the idea of DUTCH RAP, I do admit that the first time I heard this piece, the hook stayed with me for a long time.  "Aye, aye, niemand hier die kan tippen aan de swagger die ik heb / Aye, aye, Schatje fock met mij, want al die rappers die zijn nep."  Something about the repeated Aye and the very clear syncopated rhythms  of the words are very appealing.  The original lyrics can be found here (I don't know if they are accurate, because they are IN DUTCH).  A Google translation is below.  This is a braggadocio, though like the previous Weather, it is meant to be a parody of that genre.  But unlike the Dylan imitation, there are probably not many WtNV listeners who are fluent IN DUTCH to understand the humor. So to just about everyone the meaning/humor comes from hearing old school rap in a foreign language.  Perhaps someone more fluent in rap can tell me if the form Intro - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Bridge (or Conclusion perhaps?) is standard for any forms of rap.  I had expected a return to the Chorus after Sef's guest rap, but the ending is very abrupt.
Yeah yeah it is that so oh so dope rapper away
and I 'll take it
d - i -o because you know the guy
yes we can hang like a mega poster
and the most hated
the most discussed
rapper in the game
rapper in the game, I am welcomed so hard they think I was Steen
looks so good so they think I was gay
yo so sick they thought I had AIDS,
but I did not
No man I did not boy , so call me John F. Yayo,
because they know that boy
and put rappers in the note so they call me
do you have a moment that rappers on the line
all Keding yes I keep them on a leash
and are not dogs, but I keep them on a leash
Sonja Bakker, yes, I keep them on a leash
man I'm much too far, man she does not love me!

I way off ! Aye !
no one here who can match the swagger that I have
Aye ! Honey fock with me, because all these rappers that are fake.
Aye ! Baby come see me and let me say what I have.
Aye ! I have pants layer , cap layer , yep everyone cries, aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , stop.
aye , aye , aye , aye , pants coat , pet coat , yep everyone calls :
aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , stop.aye , aye , aye , aye , pants coat , pet coat , yep .

They look at me , say it must be him. Yep exactly what you should have and this I would like to offer everyone mn apologies, I had never seen such Fackin dope rapper should be. But I'm sorry , homie understand me , if you do not, I do it both for us.
I'm much too hard , baby stay with me , otherwise I'm gone, or I'm gone. PEACE . Whattup , hoeisset , who who who is it?
Fans in the game that can not miss me , rappers in the game that can not diss me and if I 'm not mistaken , I can not be mistaken . I am , yep I 'm difficult. Yes I am a bomb and I do not even bother . Baby bevoel me , but do not touch me . So grab your gear gap , nigga let's go . And then I'm off !

Aye !
no one here who can match the swagger that I have
Aye ! Honey fock with me, because all these rappers that are fake .
Aye ! Baby come see me and let me say what I have.
Aye ! I have pants layer , cap layer , yep everyone cries, aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , stop.
aye , aye , aye , aye , pants coat , pet coat , yep everyone calls :
aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , aye , stop.aye , aye , aye , aye , it 's your boy Sef those Flinke Names .

Hey , stop that beat Big2 effe because uuh I want shinen beat without leveling , enne I want you to see me effe , dussuh close your eyes and take a minute. But enough about me , let's talk about me . Let me rap about me , because I love to talks about me, so I fill tracks and couplets about me . I end, I am the future , I'll give that males , some males who deserve. I'll take the money and that money comes to me , in me money bags, money for the future. I 'm jealous of those men . You must understand me, I would also like to look at myself. Well , if I have to describe myself. Sorry , I do not use the word swagger . I 'm off!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I don't love you all that much

Dan Bern is known for writing songs on Apatow movies, including Get Him to the Greek and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. So it is understandable that a first listening of his "Jerusalem," the Weather on WtNV's fifth episode "The Shape in Grove Park," sounds like an ironic impression of 1960's Bob Dyan.  He purposefully messes with the harmonic rhythm by adding more and more lines to the oscillating I and IV chords, while singing in the high nasal voice with over-enunciated words on very static melodic lines.

The lyrics also encourage a humorous take: 

When I tell you that I love you / Don't test my love / Accept my love, don't test my love / Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

Don't ask what kind of music I'm gonna play tonight / Just stay awhile, hear for yourself awhile / And if you must put me in a box, make sure it's a big box / With lots of windows / And a door to walk through / And a nice high chimney / So we can burn burn burn everything that we don't like / And watch the ashes fly up to Heaven / Maybe all the way to India / I'd like that

All the ancient kings came to my door / They said "Do you want to be an ancient king too?" / I said "Oh yes very much / But I think my timing's wrong" / They said "Time is relative / Or did you misread Einstien" / I said "Do you really mean it?" / They said "What do you think we come here for / Our goddamn health or something?"

Everybody's waiting for the Messiah / The Jews are waiting / The Christians are waiting / Oh so are the Muslims / It's like everybody's waiting / They been waiting a long time / I know how I hate to wait / Like even for a bus or something / An important phone call / So I can imagine how darned impatient / Everyone must be getting

So I think it's time now / Time to reveal myself / I am the Messiah / I am the Messiah

Yes I think you heard me right / I am the Messiah / I was gonna wait till next year / Build up the suspense a little / Make it a really big surprise  / But I could not resist / It's like when you got a really big secret / You're just bursting to tell someone / It was kinda like that with this / And now that I've told you / I feel this great weight lifted / Dr. Nusbaum was right / He's my therapist / He said get it out in the open

I spent ten whole days in Jerusalem / Mmmm Jerusalem sweet Jerusalem / And all I ate was olives / Nothing but olives / Mountains of olives / It was a good ten days / I like olives / I like you too

So When I tell you that I love you / Don't test my love / Accept my love, don't test my love / Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

But, like most good humor, there is truth hiding deep in the bits.  Why do we test love, why do we need to label music, the commonality of religions, the possibility that anyone or everyone could be the Messiah.  I'm torn whether the truths are emphasized or apologized for by the humorous elements.  Of course, the same thing could be said about the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, that there are philosophical elements that are undermined or softened by ludicrous humor or horror elements.  I love humor, but I get frustrated sometimes when a strategy or beautiful thought is spoiled just for humor.  Is that the case with "Jerusalem"?  I don't think so.  I feel that Bern's passion is legitimate, so the humor comes out of that anger and frustration.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Close but no cigar

The fourth episode of Welcome to Night Vale is "PTA Meeting."  The Weather of this episode is a song by the Swedish band, The Tiny.  Pianist/vocalist Ellekari Larsson's voice is small, high, child-like, much like Bj√∂rk or Joanna Newsom.  She is joined by Leo Svensson on cello and Johan Berthling on bass.  The song, "Closer," was recorded in 2004, and according to Wikipedia the popularity of the band has risen thanks to their exposure on WtNV.  According to MetroLyrics, the song was composed by Harry Warren with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, but I couldn't find it in the Johnny Mercer Song Database or lists of Harry Warren's songs. 

Larsson's voice enters alone for each verse, before the piano and strings join her.  The sliding cello line and rhythmic left hand of the piano along with the the dramatic pauses evoke a sense of a tango, without truly being a tango.  The form is a little unusual.  Instead of the typical Verse-Chorus, Verse-Chorus, Bridge, Verse-Chorus, this song has three verses in a row, each finishing with a small refrain, variants on "closer."  The third refrain leads into the chorus, which feels more like a bridge because of the isolation from the verses and the shift to the relative major key.  But the same section comes back at the end, making it a better candidate as a chorus.  Perhaps a hybrid bridge/chorus is an even better label. The bridge/chorus is followed by two more verses, each a variant on the first and third verses, and the song finishes with another bridge/chorus.  Each verse follows an ABAC form, with the C section ending with the refrain.  The bridge/chorus also follows this pattern, finishing with a half cadence each time.  The fifth verse starts with a tease, a suggested bridge/chorus with the repeated "closer, closer" before moving on to the verse itself.

Verse 1:  Now I'm thinking maybe, I was stoned / I felt my feet lift off the ground / And my heart was screaming / At my bones / I need you closer

Verse 2:  As he's in the middle of the street / Then I pretend he is mine to keep / Cars are running fast on both sides of his head / his eyes say / Closer, closer, closer

Verse 3: I met him when the sun was down, the bar was closed / We both have had no sleep / My face beneath the street lamp / it reveals what it is lonely people seek / Closer, closer

Bridge/Chorus: Closer, closer / And you're close enough to lose / Close to the point, to where you know that your mind, it cannot choose / Close enough to lose / Close enough to lose your heart

Verse 4: Now I'm thinking maybe, I was stoned / I felt my feet lift off the ground / And my heart was screaming / At my bones / I need you closer

Tease: Closer, closer

Verse 5: You met me when the sun was down and the bar was closed / We both have had no sleep / My face beneath the street lamp / it reveals what it is lonely people seek / Closer, closer


The oddness of the form, along with the pseudo-tango feel, fits the emotion of the lyrics.  The singer is obsessed with a lover, mentally and emotionally unstable (screaming heart, maybe stoned).  She is afraid of losing her heart, I think because she doesn't really believe that he will love her back, that she will be hurt.  So she is dancing around her emotions.  Their relationship exists in the darkness of night, and the emphasis on coming closer suggests an unhealthy desire/need, much like a drug.  The first three verses are speaking about the lover, the last two verses are speaking to the lover. This suggests she has returned to him, even as she knows it is not a good relationship (her mind cannot choose). 

Like the previous WtNV weather, this song is about choices in love. But while Bill made a rational choice to honor his commitments, this song is about the irrational side of love.  This does not speak poorly of Bill and his choices, but rather shows how culture, family, education, etc. affect our romantic decisions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Fault in our Stars

I just finished reading John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, after getting to meet him and hear him talk at church on Sunday.  But this post is not about that book, not totally.  Instead, I am continuing to analyze the Weather segments from Welcome to Night Vale.  Episode 3, "Station Management," features "Bill and Annie" by Chuck Brodsky.

Chuck's voice is reminiscent of Bob Dylan, especially how he says "life" and "wife."  The song has a country vibe from the slide guitar, but mostly feels folk/singer-songwriter.  The lyrics are a complete narrative, no chorus to interrupt the story or emphasize a moral.  In the song, Bill and Annie can't catch a break.  They fall madly in love at his wedding reception, but Bill stays true to his wedding vows.  When Bill's wife dies, Annie has already gotten married herself, and had moved away.  They never act on their shared "one and only true love."  The narrator of the song is not Bill or Annie, but Annie's husband, Chuck (in a live version of the song, Chuck Brodsky suggests this is autobiographical).  They meet at Bill's peach stand, and Bill tells Chuck the story of their love.  The song deliberately leaves the point unclear, whether or not it is right that Bill and Annie valued commitment over true love.  Each strophe of the song ends on an inconclusive IV chord, much like the ending of "Let It Go" as Elsa unconvincingly claims that the cold (and isolation) doesn't bother her anyway. 

In John Green's book (SPOILERS! but this plot point is revealed in the trailer for the movie), the two main characters do act on their love, but they also repeatedly acknowledge that "the world is not a wish-granting factory."  In fact, Bill's decision to stay true to his vows is supported by another character in Green's book: "Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway."  While Bill's wife was not his true love, she was a love that he felt the need to protect and honor, even if it was hard.  These are clearly the things that Chuck is thinking about at the end of the song. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

And Now, the Weather

Episode 2 of Welcome to Night Vale, "Glow Cloud," features a rap for the Weather.
"The Bus is Late (Waiting For The Bus In the Rain)"is performed by Satellite High.  This is a minimalist rap, starting with permutations of "Waiting for the bus in the rain" over (bus and rain sound effects?) as an introduction.  I'm linking to this hypertext-annotated transcription of the lyrics, because the annotations are fu-u-u-u-ny.  

This is followed by the chorus, a sung-style rap over synthesized scratches and dopey calliope-like keyboard sounds.  The voice is electronically altered to be super low, menacing but in a comical way.
The following verses are in a normal voice that is doubled at a transposed interval.  The verses don't add much narrative, still about waiting for the bus, taking pictures, noticing the wrong buses that come by.  Is the right opportunity delayed in arriving?  Or is this song about everyday life for the poorer classes of society, stuck with bad bus schedules, bad rain shelters, bad options?  The narrator needs to catch a bus to watch the news, make a plan, keep to a regiment.  Is the bus keeping him back, or is the bus an excuse?  The verses and choruses share the same beat, though slowly building layers of additional sounds. 

The bridge has a brief reprieve from the beat, but it comes back fairly quickly, morphing back into the chorus. 

There are little jokes, one poking at Twitter:  "I'm waiting for the bus, like I do everyday on my way home; waiting for the bus in the rain (at least on the days, when it's raining and I'm waiting for the bus, 'cause the other days ain't the same). Tweet"  Convoluted, exceptions to broad statements, and trivial experiences being broadcast.  Yay, Twitter!  Another joke is at the end, making fun of bad jokes and inane small talk.  "Should be waiting for the bus with a mop. (That's a joke, do you get it? Hey, where are you going?)"  This light-hearted tone, accompanied by the goofy beat, is reminiscent of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop."  Both songs are making social commentary, but try to make it more palatable with catchy rhymes and jokes.  That such tricks are needed is itself a social commentary.  (Meta!)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Welcome to Night Vale Music

I've jumped onto the Welcome to Night Vale bandwagon, as have my entire family.  Besides the adventures of Cecil and all the citizens of Night Vale, I am intrigued by the Weather artists in each episode.  I've decided to explore each song in episodic order.

Up first from the pilot episode is "These and more than these" by Joseph Fink, the producer and co-author of the podcast.  This is performed by the singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar. 

Verse 1: The old church down the street / Concrete beneath my feet / The Shadows of the leaves/ These and more than these.

Chorus:  These and more than these/ Dig in deeper / These and more than these / You gotta dig in deeper.

Verse 2: I speak in ancient tongues / I stare straight at the sun / What I've done can't be undone / These and more than these.


Bridge:  Blood on my hands but not on my soul / Someday, God willing, I will be whole / And up above I feel the love From every star in the sky / I'll never be alone I will never cry / I'll never be alone I will never die.

Verse 3: I hear them speaking still / My will is not my will / I wonder what is real / These and more than these.

Chorus (2x)

Outro:  And these (x6)

This song follows a fairly normal form of two verse-choruses, bridge, and a third verse-chorus.  The eponymous refrain links the verse and chorus, which have different harmonies.  The first verse, like the podcast, starts with deceptively innocent tones.  The major key, oscillating I and V chords, and the imagery of neighborhood churches, streets, and trees portray small town America.  But the refrain is resolved deceptively to a vi chord as the singer indicates that there is more than this innocent facade.  The chorus repeats this warning, over minor chords as the journalistic credo or scientific imperative tells us to dig deeper.  Is this Cecil's song, or Carlos'?  As the composer is also a co-author of the podcast, it is a fair assumption that the song is intended to fit within the universe of the storyline.

The second verse reveals more mystery and odd behavior, though it could also still be interpreted as scientific inquiry. The third line could be acknowledgement of self-harm, or an irreversible spell, or a philosophical viewpoint about the inexorability of time -  even as the happy I and V chords continue.

The bridge takes a darker tone in the lyrics.  The narrator sounds more like Cecil now, with blood on his hands that he does not regret.  We learn in subsequent episodes that Cecil is a practitioner of the blood-stone religion, so he would regularly have blood on his hands.  But Carlos has a hidden past, we don't know what costs he has had to pay to become a preeminent scientist or to get his perfect hair.  The singer emphasizes "whole" and "above" with falsetto notes (and "love" but that starts feeling strained as chest voice is mixed in). 

The third verse sounds much more like Cecil, he often ponders what is real and he is more likely to both hear voices and succumb to them than Carlos.  The repeated "and these" in the outro could be Cecil losing his will, becoming a stuttering automaton.  Or the motto could be the singer finding more mysteries to describe.