Recommend musicians whose songs are in odd time signatures
January 17, 2004 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Dave Brubeck, Radiohead, Juliana Hatfield, Weezer, and Ben Folds write music in a variety of odd time signatures-- 3/4, 5/4, 7/8, etc-- and are some of my most favorite acts. Can anyone introduce me to some new music that also features songs written in odd times?
posted by trharlan to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
yes have always been fond of alternating measures of 4 and 3 beats, or 7/4, depending on how you look at it.
posted by quonsar at 1:42 PM on January 17, 2004

Elliott Smith has a couple (literally) of songs with "waltz" in the title on XO — including the title track — and indeed they are in 3/4 time.
posted by Utilitaritron at 1:49 PM on January 17, 2004

3/4 is hardly an odd time signature, many, many dances are in 3/4 (ie the waltz). Almost any classical (by which I mean 1750 AD - 1810 AD) will contain a minuet and trio in the second or third movement, and these are always in 3/4. As for 5/4, the one of the most famous pieces is Take Five, the jazz standard (meaning I have no idea who originally wrote it).

Most modern orchestral music features many changes of time signature, including the irregular ones. It depends what you want - serialism, written mostly by Arnold Schoenberg and his students, often changes time signature every bar, but I wouldn't recommend it for easy listening. To be honest I'm not quite sure what you're getting at, as time signatures aren't really a way of picking good music, in my opinion.
posted by Orange Goblin at 1:50 PM on January 17, 2004

Orange Goblin, your points are well-taken. I should have specifically asked for rock/pop/alternative suggestions, since the vast majority of "modern" music is in 4/4, and playing in other times is a somewhat reliable indicator that a band is (at the very least) trying to do something different.

FYI, Take Five is attributed to Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck.
posted by trharlan at 2:10 PM on January 17, 2004

Clem Snide do a lot of songs in 3/4.
posted by dobbs at 2:21 PM on January 17, 2004

Led Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused is in a variety of time signatures, largely 6/8 and 4/4, with a few stranger measures thrown in here and there, IIRC.
posted by Zonker at 2:30 PM on January 17, 2004

A Perfect Circle likes to muck with tempos quite a bit, and their latest album (Thirteenth Step, which you can preview here) is outstanding.
posted by Danelope at 2:32 PM on January 17, 2004

A lot of the '70s bands in the "art rock" or "progressive rock" genre use unusual time signatures frequently (some would say willfully): King Crimson, (early) Genesis, Yes, Moody Blues, etc.

Also some "jam bands" like Primus and Phish.

And Frank Zappa, of course.
posted by staggernation at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2004

Throwing Muses liked to muck about with time signatures, often within the same song.
posted by vers at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2004

Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/8.
posted by kindall at 2:45 PM on January 17, 2004

Don Caballero
you know, for the kids.
posted by clockwork at 3:03 PM on January 17, 2004

Check out:
Turing Machine (instrumental indie rock, on Jade Tree Records)
Botch (super-heavy but incredibly musical hardcore, on Hydrahead records)
Keelhaul (super-heavy instrumental metal, again on Hydrahead)
Pelican (doomy melodic instrumental stuff, also on Hydrahead)

Three of my favorite bands, and they all run the gamut from 4/4 to 3/4 to 7/8 to 13/8 to 15/16 to 235778/32565. The latter three are harder and heavier, but don't let that put you off, especially for Pelican, who make beautifully melodic and intelligent, while heavy, music that doesn't just hit you over the head. Free whole-song mp3s of Keelhaul and Pelican are available on the Hydrahead website.
posted by The Michael The at 3:05 PM on January 17, 2004

A Perfect Circle likes to muck with tempos quite a bit, and their latest album (Thirteenth Step, which you can preview here) is outstanding.

Riffing off of this, Tool has a fair number of songs in odd time signatures. (One of the songs off their latest album alternates 5/4 & 7/4, and another has a 5/8 against 5/4 thing going on.) And for those who wonder why this is related to what Danelope said above, the two bands share a lead singer.
posted by Johnny Assay at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2004

Well, since you asked... Sting does it very well. There are, I believe (without looking), 3 songs on Ten Summoner's Tales with either 5 or 7 beats per measure. I think it's Omar Hakkim (?) handling the drumming chores. He does this thing playing quarter-notes on the ride cymbal on one song and, with an odd # of beats per measure, the cymbal beats alternate from off- to on- to off-beats brilliantly.

Of these three tunes, one (Love is Stronger..?) is very purposely obvious in its 7 beats, with a heavy "jerk" down to the first beat of each new measure. The others are very seamless, and one takes a little focus to even notice it has an odd # of beats. I think St Augustine is the smooth one...

It's worth a look (um, listen), I kid you not. Just forget Sting ever did that awful thing with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, and please, NEVER mention that goddamned CD of "Rod Stewart Defiles All Your Favorite Old Classics." I nearly go postal every time they play that thing in Border's.
posted by Shane at 3:39 PM on January 17, 2004

Radiohead's already mentioned in the question, so you probably know about 'Airbag' (first track on 'OK Computer'). It has some bars with 3 instead of 4 (or 7 instead of 8) beats in the fast middle section, which make it much more intense and interesting.

Also, 'Music' by John Miles has 7/8 in the second fast section.
posted by willem at 3:42 PM on January 17, 2004

...the cymbal beats alternate from off- to on- to off-beats brilliantly.

That is, the bell of the ride cymbal is hit on beats 1,3,5,7 in one measure, and on beats 2,4,6 the next; and so on; Hakkim (if it's him on the CD) prob'ly isn't the first to do this, but it's cool.
posted by Shane at 3:42 PM on January 17, 2004

This is fantastic. Exactly what AskMeta is great at. Please keep them coming.
posted by trharlan at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2004

Shudder to Think
posted by eastlakestandard at 3:44 PM on January 17, 2004

Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/8.

Listen even more closely and you'll hear that that 7/8 consists first of a 3/4 measure first, followed by the 4/4 for the first few measures... and it alternates with the opposite thru' the song. It's a subtle distinction, but listen very closely and count the beats, and you'll see (um, hear) what I mean.

Does anyone have a link to the story of that song? Does the eagle say "Don't jump"?
posted by Shane at 4:25 PM on January 17, 2004

Soundgarden's track on the Singles sountrack, Birth Ritual, is in 7/8. crap, i'm showing my age
posted by keswick at 6:15 PM on January 17, 2004

Shane: Apparently there's no real consensus or official version as to what the story behind that song. The most common view is that it was about Gabriel making the choice to leave Genesis, though others say it was about time he spent in a mental institution. More than most songs, it seems to mean different things to different people. This story was interesting to me.
posted by Zonker at 8:00 PM on January 17, 2004

From the bands you mentioned in your question, I think you might like some of Guster's music. They've got a crazy track called Two Points for Honesty that flips back and forth from 4/4 time to 6/8.

Also, check out Sister Hazel, specifically: Champagne High. That song is great. Oh, and Angie Aparo's Cry, a song that was butchered in a cover by Faith Hill.
posted by Happydaz at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2004

Classical music in funky times.

Holst's Mars is perhaps the most well known (classical). And if you can get the damn brass to play the rythm correctly (granted, it was high school, and it's a funky rythm), it can be fun to play, too.

Another thread (long, not just classical).

"Odd Time" on Google Groups - go crazy.
posted by whatnotever at 8:41 PM on January 17, 2004

See the old MeFi Math Rock thread. I'll second Don Caballero, although they're strictly instrumental, so that may not fit your bill. For some stuff with some cerebral lyrics and odd fucking timing, try 31Knots.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:52 PM on January 17, 2004

I share the appreciation of off-beat time signatures (ugh, terrible pun), but am not much interested in prog-rock. For an alternative, Tori Amos is notorious for occasionally whacky alternating time signatures; try "Spark" or "Carbon" for a taste, there's a bit on each album.

I'll second the aforementioned Guster track. Also, my favorite 5/4 song is "Living in the Past" by Jethro Tull. As for classical, Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms is entirely odd when it comes to time; it took me an entire semester to learn how to count the 7/4 piece correctly.

Meanwhile, what Juliana Hatfield & Weezer songs are in odd signatures? Or, do you just mean 3/4 or 6/8? And, finally, can anyone explain how to count "Pyramid Song" from Amnesiac?
posted by krisis at 10:44 PM on January 17, 2004

(Oh! I got all empowered and found the answer to my own latter question. Thought you might be interested)
posted by krisis at 10:58 PM on January 17, 2004

Meanwhile, what Juliana Hatfield & Weezer songs are in odd signatures?

Spin the Bottle is in 5/4. Keep Fishing, like many other Weezer songs goes between 3 and 4 quite a few times.

I neglected to mention Stereolab.
posted by trharlan at 11:23 PM on January 17, 2004

Joshua Redman's Beyond is a recent jazz album that has a lot of interesting time-signature experimentation.
posted by staggernation at 11:44 PM on January 17, 2004

Metallica are very astute at changing time signatures for either breaks in a song, or whole tunes.

Try "One" for plenty of that.
posted by triv at 2:31 AM on January 18, 2004

Try "Riverman" by Nick Drake - 5/4 I believe
posted by skylar at 3:11 AM on January 18, 2004

Broadcast do many/most of their tunes in 3/4 time and are a good tip for fans of Stereolab.
posted by backOfYourMind at 4:27 AM on January 18, 2004

Pretty much any Skinny Puppy, Coil, Swamp Terrorists or Mogwai album has a fair amount of work with unusual time signatures. You can also take a listen to Tarmvred's Subfusc, or This Morn' Omina's Le Serpent Blanc ~ Le Serpent Rouge.
posted by Jairus at 5:27 AM on January 18, 2004

Pink Floyd's "Money" starts out in 7/4, with samples of a cash register being rung up.
posted by carter at 7:11 AM on January 18, 2004

There's this fellow named David Byrne who used to like to do a lot of funky things in odd signatures before he hit his head and woke up thinking he was a Latin Artist.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts has a couple of interesting-rhythm tracks, including the first, which is really in four, but the drums play throughout as if it were in five, and also the last track (on the CD, wasn't on the LP), which is in a great seesawing 3/4-6/8. Also on Fear of Music there is "Animals," which is in either 5 or 7, I can't recall, because it's not one of my fave Talking Heads songs.

Of course one of the best, or at least best-known, rock songs in a large three is "Synchronicity I." I think Andy Summer's "Mother" on that same album is in an odd signature, but who the hell wants to listen to that?

Actually, though, Andy and Stewart Copeland both have a good repetoire of songs from their non-Police albums that are rhythmically noteworthy. Look for Copeland's The Equalizer & Other Cliff Hangers in particular.

And I can't let this go without a shout-out to Tchaikovsky, who wrote the second movement of his sixth symphony in 5/4.
posted by soyjoy at 8:50 AM on January 18, 2004

I'll second the Copeland album. "The Equalizer and Other Cliffhangers" has a note in the booklet saying something like "Attempting to dance to these tunes will give you a strong body and healthy mind, but it won't be easy" -- a sure sign that there's no 4/4 to be found (if you couldn't tell by listening). Don't know why I didn't think of that one.
posted by kindall at 10:19 AM on January 18, 2004

Polvo have some amazing, absurdly atonal songs featuring eccentric time signature changes. I particularly recommend their album, 'Today's Active Lifestyles'.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:34 AM on January 19, 2004

Electronic acts Aphex Twin, Plaid and Autechre really play around with time signatures (13/4 anyone?) - particularly the latter two, I would say.
posted by nthdegx at 5:00 AM on January 19, 2004

Second the recommendation for Polvo. Also check out "Possum Kingdom" by the Toadies.
posted by Vidiot at 12:14 PM on January 19, 2004

Devo's "Jocko Homo" is in 7/8 time.
posted by waxpancake at 9:19 AM on January 20, 2004

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