Now that I’m out of the seventies I want to get some really great examples of sequenced music to highlight what works great when the people involved really nail it. This is a surprisingly complex track which has a deceiving simplicity. Download this copy of No Ordinary Love and let’s begin listening!
The first impulse of this song is the smoothest bass one can imagine with a drum machine kick short and tight. The drum loop here is in stark contrast to anything I’ve analyzed on this blog for a couple of reasons. The drum machine itself has a very narrow stereo field. The hihat gently on 16th notes is slightly right with a steady tambourine on 1/8th notes just to the left. Since this is a drum machine we can get some sounds that would be impossible with a live drummer because each kit piece can be 100% isolated, stuff where a live drum kit has bleed from each microphone. Where this is utilized here is with the snare: there is a very short gated reverb (meaning the snare is fed to it’s own reverb unit set to a larger room space but a very fast decay. So it’s as big as a cannon shot but only for a millisecond.) Here the snare drum sound is technically a rimshot so it is a higher and shorter timbre. The gated reverb gives it some girth which would otherwise be impossible.
The way this song is produced gives us another unique aspect in that you don’t have individual band members who have to sit there playing their instruments for the whole song (or sit there not playing in this case. You have sounds that come in once and then are never heard from again until much later in the song. In this way it’s kind of like an orchestral piece that might have brass in just one small part of the song and then never again. This sort of track is like a modern “Bolero” in that regard. A perfect example is the 3 notes played at 0:06 in the left channel. That sound is introduced for literally one second and then gone until MUCH later in the song.
The keyboard sound is in two parts- the attack is a very short percussive note with the second sustained part being a simple yet luscious synth pad. It’s only about two notes at any given time, view but the decay of the reverb from the attack part over the sustained pad has a really cool interplay of texture. Since each attack is slightly different this is a mild variation in the sound which keeps things from being too repetitive.
While I’m on the subject of being repetitive, viagra here I have to acknowledge the producers of this track here: it’s essentially the same chords and parts for an over 7 minute long song, and somehow they leave you wanting more- truly incredible. You can’t do that with copy and paste!
Ok, guitar. The guitar part is probably the sneakiest thing about this whole track. There are some beautiful clean, sensual phrases that sprinkle in on one part or another that could be studies unto themselves. But this just blows me away: as we approach the chorus there is a palm muted, heavily distorted guitar playing power chords? This is something for a heavy metal track, not smooth R&B! And then when the chorus hits it’s just sustained feedback- totally aggressive a la Jimi Hendrix.
Throughout the track there are the tastiest of tasty keyboard, synth and guitar phrases. You just have to listen and catch them. They are throughout and very cool. It always impresses me when musicians this talented can exercise such restraint in not overplaying. I guess that’s a large part of what makes them great!
Now lastly: the vocal. It’s an “everyone knows” that this is an incredible vocal performance. Her voice has incredible texture. She sustains notes that just all by themselves are beautiful. She doesn’t really have to sing high or fast or anything. It’s just very very good. Two things that contribute to this performance technically: the reverb against this sparse arrangement. Her voice is great, but then the instruments are playing ONLY just enough so that when the reverb of her voice plays after as a shadow, it’s in full rich color. You can hear it all and it helps make each note she sings stick with you. It’s kind of like a multi-camera shot giving you two perspectives of the same action. There is enough pre-delay on this reverb where you can hear it as a separate entity and not as a washed through vocal.
This is a song I can just put headphones on and listen to over and over again, picking out little details. The heavily distorted guitar just blows me away. At 4:37 there is the funkiest, tastiest, smoothest little keyboard part on the off beats. AT 5:22 there is a really simple drum loop of hand percussion on some sort of tom tom which has a short and dirty reverb on it. At 6:14 we have a some guitar attitude. At 6:27 you hear a live drummer play this same rhythm on real drums which carries the steady pulsing theme through to the end.
Just listen and listen. There is a lot to listen to. One can also NOT listen to this recording- just have it on in the background and have it create a beautiful space while you do whatever you do to sensual R&B. A masterpiece on many levels, thanks for listening!