Can you break down this song musically for me?
March 22, 2013 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Can someone tell me what is going on musically in this song? I'm mostly interested in chord progressions and key changes, and especially what happens in the breakdown starting around 3:20 and continuing for the next minute or so-- does it just go up an octave or is there a key change, and why is that so emotionally affective? I'm not interested in production techniques or the percussion(which I already know), only the melody of the lead and interplay with the bass and pads in the background.
posted by empath to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The chords and key don't actually change at all - at 3:06 the drums drop out (bar the snare/handclap sound) then at about 3:26 the synth melody, which has previously been a very repetitive pattern, starts becoming a higher in pitch bit-by-bit, and then stays up there for a while, still in quite a randomized pattern but overall higher in pitch than for the rest of the song so far.

The loss of drums makes you suddenly aware of all the pads and stuff in the background so that will create a change of mood, and the introduction of a higher melody is an oft-used device to "add sparkle" and bring in another layer, often in a chorus section but in this style of music, in the later part of the song to hold the listener's interest.
posted by greenish at 6:15 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with greenish, as well as noting that the background ghostly/wooshy sound gets louder. Combined with the percussion dropping out and the melody using the higher notes, this (to me) creates a feeling of tension.

I agree that the melody doesn't really change much, it sounds sort of like an "improv" break in a jazz or blues type of song. The artist is choosing notes in the same key, but choosing different, higher ones that are further away from the root of whatever key the melody is in. Again adding tension.
posted by gjc at 6:26 AM on March 22, 2013

Agreeing with the above that it's one key throughout and one chord droning throughout. What I'm hearing is that leading into the break, those ghostly notes in the background are providing a consistent and predictable tension build and release as they cycle through 8-7-6-7-8 (or Do-Ti-La-Ti-Do) repeatedly. With 8 (Do) being the root of the song's key (and chord), that's where the tension is resolved. As it wanders away the harmonic tension builds, and as it returns the tension resolves.

At the break, that predictable pattern drops out completely and those ghostly notes spend more time on unresolved 2s (Re) and 6s (La). At the same time the main melodic part jumps up into a higher register, as you heard in the octave lift. From that point on, it's a very slow resolution to the end of the song, as those ghostly notes start to land a little more regularly on more harmonically resolved 3s (Mi) and eventually end up back in the original, predictable, and familiar pattern of 8-7-6-7-8.
posted by Balonious Assault at 6:58 AM on March 22, 2013

I disagree with others who say the chords don't change. The notes don't change much, but the bassline implies a very strong IV-V-iv harmonic progression.

Having said that, I don't think there is a satisfactory "music theoretic" answer to why the song is evocative. To me it's mostly those killer synth "howls" and the interesting arrangement of parts and sounds (and not necessarily the specific "notes" being played).
posted by grog at 12:00 PM on March 22, 2013

Grog you're totally right about the chords, but I meant they don't change at that point in the song. The IV-V-VI progression is constant throughout, if I remember rightly. The OP was asking what changed at the breakdown :)
posted by greenish at 4:27 PM on March 22, 2013

I'll stand by the assertion that in the traditional sense of chords this song has one, and it drones in the background from start to finish. But I will also agree that it has pronounced implications of chord progression, and that's probably what carries the bulk of the song's emotional weight.
posted by Balonious Assault at 5:41 PM on March 22, 2013

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