Sunday, January 04, 2009

Simple Is Not Always Best but the Best Is Always Simple

I want to be a hardened cookie, but often I'm gobsmacked with how easy I am to please. That's why I like pop music so, although what I think should be pop(ular) almost never is, and when it becomes popular, I almost instantly distrust it (democracy has taught me so). This is all a prelude to trying to explain how I can like a song that for its chorus repeats the same single-syllable word 50 times.

One of my guilty pleasures for 2008 has been Re-Arrange Us by Mates of State, a duo I hadn't known before, a husband drummer/singer and keyboardist singer/wife. Their recordings come off more textured, with layered vocals, strings, etc. so that live they seem thin--you'll see at the end if you watch the video. But on CD it comes out as small-scale Spectorish at times (and that doesn't mean they'll murder a starlet someday). I've always been a sucker for that fullness, no matter how achieved, whether by massed guitars (Perfect from Now On, anyone?) or massed mass, like the great unstoppable joy of watching the Mekons lurch about the stage, everyone singing and there's even a goddam accordion. But that's a different entry.

This is about "Now." Of course all pop is about now, and that's one of the song's tricks, as it's the trick of all rock-related songs--you get a present as a present, presently and continuously. It's not that time stops, it's that time feels, ticking like a bassline. But the Mates of State song "Now" actually makes the chorus the word now in the following pattern 7, 7, 7, 4 (a bit more drawn out), repeat. Heavenly echoed it's the prayer and prayer's answer at once. Pleasing, that.

Of course it's only pleasing as the song isn't that simple. The woman takes the lead, claims she is looking for a sign to tell her where she belongs. The person she sings to is waiting for the night to take the person far away from the singer. This is called cross-purposes. We've been trained to think this won't end well--we've heard other songs, seen movies, lived our lives. Instead we get a lot of Now.

Somehow a song this simple, and relatively short (2:39 to be exact), has a bridge, as if it's kind of embarrassed it can't offer more. The bridge suggests there's "patterns in the pain" but just leads us back to another shore of Nows. That pattern is Now. The pain is Now.

And it sounds really pretty. Now is that simple, after all, so much so we forget it all the time. That's how we get time in the first place.

Here's a video that won't quite get you there....



Blogger George said...

I also forgot to say I'm sure in 5 years Purina will buy the song for an ad that goes "meow meow meow...."

10:39 PM  
Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

I've been liking this one since it showed up on my pandora list awhile back:

10:15 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

Nice post for a brief work, George. Check out their earlier work, which is excellent. Also, your readers might like to know that they're the "house" band when This American Life does their annual live show in Chicago.

12:20 PM  
Blogger E-6 said...

I, too, have always been a sucker for that "massed mass." From the Spector stuff ("Be My Baby" by the Ronettes is one the the greatest songs of all time), to the multi-stacked glory of "Born to Run", MBV's Loveless, on through to Perfect From Now On and beyond.

I'm curious, George. Have you heard M83? Talk about massed mass. Before The Dawn Heals Us and Dead Cities, Red Seas..." are both gigantic in scope. Huge, huge sound and the choruses go supernova. Haven't heard their latest, but it got a rave from Pitchfork.

Due to your recommendation, I'll give Mates of State a shot.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Al Bonowitz said...

I've got to start using Pandora more often. My Cheap Trick channel has never steered me wrong.

They say a lot with a little ... I find that the older I get, the more I appreciate stuff like that.

6:33 PM  
Blogger George said...

Did not know M83. Songs seem good, but all the videos on Youtube about teenagers make me feel old.

11:45 AM  

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