Northern Thorns

Dance Rock | Seattle

Category: General Music (page 2 of 2)

Kinda New Tune Comin’ – Malevolence

Northern Thorns had been performing a song called Malevolence for quite a few shows, though I’d taken it out of our live set and never put it on Soundcloud because I don’t consider it finished. When I completed Kill Me Again, I replaced it with that in the set.

It’s about a string of killings/disappearings/suppressings of pan-African leaders during the cold war, and how the 1960’s kicked off a renewal of imperialism that had existed on the continent since the European age of discovery. The lyrics, which need a bit of work still, include an adapted piece of a Patrice Lumumba poem:


“These hosannas, tuned to your sorrows, give you hope of a better world to come.”

Especially because of the subject matter, and because I am a white American man writing about black African struggle, I want the words to be their best form before I release this one. I’m taking December to edit charts, rerecord parts, reimagine melodies, etc. where I think that’s needed. This song will be getting a whole new comping pattern and more. I’ll get it out online before 2017.

Also, thank you Google for this entirely helpful definition of the word ‘malevolence.’

Malevolence definition

Kiam – Lola

This is a first for me; I’ve digitized a song from a 45RPM record, converted it into a video, and uploaded it to YouTube for everyone to hear.

Some months ago I decided to try and collect the entire Kiam discography on vinyl. This will likely be a very long term project, but for the meantime I’d be happy to at least have heard all of their songs. There are a small number that I know exist but I’ve not heard. This one is from a single released in their early career. I prefer their songs from the late 70’s, but this one is lovely too.

A good chunk of the Kiam digital recordings that I have came from YouTube and online converters. So this is my way of giving back, as this song did not exist online anywhere before my upload, as far as I can tell.

More to come later. I have another to upload shortly.

Confirmed – Somewhat Last-Minute Show at The Royal Room

We’ll be playing a relatively short-notice show at my home away from home The Royal Room on August 16th, with friends Noonmoon. It’s an early one, show starts at 7:30. The first time we’ve played a weekday also, in fact.

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We’ll have yet another new lineup for this show, and I’m excited to add Austin Bustad on rhythm guitar. I’ve been waiting to play music with this guy for years.

It’s been a long, busy July with much wedding and honeymoon planning and no NT shows. I’m stoked to get it out live again.

Off to the first rehearsal…

Modular Band

Next up is April 1st at The Royal Room, with Maracujá. We’ll have several subs for this show: Sam Esecson from Maracujá on percussion, Scott Teske on bass and Whitney Lyman on vocals and possibly some more percussion. Writing the charts has paid off in this respect; I can have a modular collective band made up of people who read music, and not ask too much of anyone’s time. Scott showed up to rehearsal a few days ago and sight read all the music without even hearing it, and it sounded perfectly great.

I had struggled for months after deciding to start a band, trying to find people who could really be in the group, and that’s gotten impossible as I get older. The days of having a band that rehearses twice or even once a week are over, that’s a game for people in their 20’s. And I play in too many projects to even make that work for myself much of the time. So, the charts were the answer. They’ve paid off big, allowing me to have talented people like those mentioned above in Northern Thorns. I just wonder if it will eventually coalesce into a constant lineup. The guitar parts are more demanding than the other instruments, hence harder to sub out, and I haven’t had to yet thankfully. And I also have to wonder sometimes whether viewing the band modularly comes off as disrespectful to the people involved. I hope not. I got the idea from Mike Sparks (who played bass and sang wonderfully at the Vermillion show), who approaches his project Noonmoon in a similar way. A show gets booked, then he sends out an email and sees who is available and wants to join him to play the music. My band is more particular than his, but I really liked the concept and so I’ve copied it.

In any case, I’m excited to share the stage with all these folks on April 1st.

Analyzing the Highlife Guitar Style

A big part of what I like about soukous music and other Afropop is the contrast and oscillation within it. Rhythmically, each bar of the highlife guitar pattern is a tiny tension and release, the first bar or half bar syncopated and the second half straight quarter or eighth notes.

highlife guitar comp pattern

Harmonically it is typically a similar oscillation between two chords, an ad nauseum simpicity back and forth that contributes to the genre’s dance and trance sound. On a macro level, the best songs are structured with more tension and release within their parts, and as they are generally around ten minutes (four songs would fit on an LP or two halves of a song on a 45), there is plenty of room to build musical tension.

Repetition is key. The solos aren’t really solos generally, but “sebenes,” a term with a nebulous origin that I won’t speculate on. A sebene is an instrumental feature wherein a single player improvises around a theme without straying too far until a new theme comes along. This approach to instrumental sections really appeals to my musical tastes, as I couldn’t care less about the technical ability that solo sections generally showcase. The sebene is more about melody than chops, and the Congo artists were, and are, much more patient than American songwriters typically are.

Ghostwriting In Music

I read an excellent article in the Atlantic recently, on ghostwriting. About how the vast majority of big radio hits in the US are written not by the big names that perform them, i.e. Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, etc. but in fact by professional songwriters that generally happen to be middle aged Scandinavian men. I had heard of Max Martin, and was never assuming that Britney Spears was writing her own music, but I didn’t realize the extent of this pop songwriting pipeline.

While learning of this bit of industry sausage making might outrage some people and make others shrug, my reaction is mostly one of admiration for these songwriters. They’re the true artists here, and the singers and dancers who bring their creations to the stage are really mostly performers in my estimation. Obviously this is nothing new, I am a big fan of Motown and oldies and and lots of the music that The Wrecking Crew played on, and the vast majority of that stuff was ghost written. “Write a word, get a third,” as the saying goes.

This article made me think about my priorities and what I value about art and music, and how these things have changed as I’ve gotten older. I no longer value technical prowess. To me, all that does is provide headroom. That probably speaks to the genres of music I like. If you’re a bebop fan, valuing chops is only natural.

But I love pop music, all genres of it. I love hooks. I love dance beats. I love sing-alongs. I love music that speaks instantly and irresistibly to a large audience. I love pop songwriting. And consequently, I value Max Martin and the Swedish song cabal a lot more than I value Beyonce and the other artists that perform songs they didn’t create. It’s not disappointment exactly, but my admiration has shifted.

Though I am a bit disappointed that Tay Tay doesn’t write her hits. Maybe all she had in her was country music.

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