Coming October 16th
Coming October 16th
In Summer 2012 I was disappointed in myself because I had stopped recording pop music. I wanted an excuse to touch a keyboard and to sing (never my strong suit). So I recruited some friends for something called The Average Sunsets Cover Club. The idea was I’d get some disparate musicians to cover the same song once per month. This went on for about six months or so before it lost steam.
Then my site got hacked and I lost all the posts.
Here are the contributions. Thank you to everyone who participated. If I ever have more than five free hours per week, I might try this again.
DON’T COME AROUND HERE NO MORE (Originally by T Petty)
Alternate Version (still Gary Butterfield)
I’M ON FIRE (originally by B Springsteen)
Alison Dennis (Hot Apparatus)
REVOLUTION 9 (Originally by the B-tles)
ROAD TO NOWHERE (originally by the T-heads)
Alternate Version (Still by Alison)
Weasel Skunk Pocahontas
SOUND OF SILENCE (originally by P Simon)
BEAUTIFUL WORLD (originally by D-vo)
CHRISTMAS SONGS (originally by J Christ)
Alison Dennis – XMASS Don’t Be Late
Mundhank – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis
Gary Butterfield – Christmas Wish
Zach Adams – Breakfast Songs
Brayton Cameron – Auld Lang Syne
MISC (originally by M-isc)
NOGGINCRUSH – Tastes Just Like a Milkshake Baby
Alison Dennis – Willow Weep For Me
Fingers Lift – China Master
DEMONS – Big Black Car
Zach Adams – Headache
Gary Butterfield – Amelia
Gary Butterfield – Don’t Let’s Start
Hey, I went and made an album AND I updated my blog. Banner day!
It’s 50 songs, all done in Mario Paint Composer. 49 songs are essentially video game music loops. One song is a 10 minute long prog rock song. I’m really proud of it. Here are some samples:
You can buy the album here.
Please do! If you like the record, please tell your friends.
Also, I’m going to try to do some more updates here. I know I say that each and every time after a long break but this time I mean it?
It occurs to me that people not familiar with my music won’t want to go sifting for gems in all those clunky ol’ zip files in the last post. Zip files? What is this, DOS-SHELL? So, I wanted to upload a few samplers in quick, easy to listen to bitlets.
I don’t necessarily think this is my best stuff, just stuff I’m fond of or that illustrate something about my song writing that I’m proud of.
The Sexorcist – Gary Butterfield So, this is not high art (there’s an line about exploring haunted manscapes) but I like this dumb number a whole lot. When I was still trying to promote Dead Idea Valhalla, I told people who helped get the word out that I’d write a song about whatever they wanted, in the style they wanted. My buddy Mike Kitchell wrote a thing and said, “Crunchy, sex with ghosts” and I think this is a pretty perfect expression of that. There’s a missed snare beat that I couldn’t get right after a dozen tries and was on a deadline, thus that one weird beat in the bridge.
FRANZ KAFKA – Gary Butterfield I don’t often write about stuff I’m actually feeling and instead end up writing about what I’m thinking. But this is probably the song that best expresses the lowest I’ve ever been, which is the first year I moved to Portland. Alone, terrible job, no prospects and early signs of a failing marriage. “Should I be surprised if I wake as something less?” On, “IF THERE IS TO BE A LINE SOMEONE HAS TO DRAW IT.”
Victim – Gary Butterfield I wanted to include one example of linear songcraft and I also wanted something from Occam’s Romance, so here we are.
Expungents & Leeches/The Witch – HiLo From my first band, HiLo. I just remembering that I can be that screamy and angry.
My Terrifying Heartbeats – Justin Bailey The title from the last solo album I did pre-Metroids and the best one. Not anywhere on the blog yet but I’m going to put together a “Most Tolerable of Justin Bailey” mix at some point.
W for Tungsten – The Metroids I only wrote half of this but it’s probably the best pop song I’ve had my name on. From, “The Mad Titan.”
Chicago – The Metroids Solid pop song about being left behind, written before I left people behind. From, “My Fiction Suit.”
Contrasts In Our Hearts – The Metroids Punky, from “Wave City.”
Stay Sane – The Midnite Snax A rare reaction to the real world, a song about the Valentine’s Day shootings at NIU. On, “The Midnight Snacks.”
Never Ever Ever Ever – Gary Butterfield Cute. From, “The Sexiest Creature.”
I’ve been neglecting this thing like crazy. Though I haven’t written much to add to it, I figure it at least needs to serve as an archive of The Metroids and some other music projects I’m proud of, so here goes.
Note, this isn’t everything I’ve done. I’m holding some stuff back because I’m not that fond of how I recorded it or performed it. I’m considering going through my back catalog and constructing albums of tracks I’ve already written, to re-record as new. Thoughts?
The Metroids – Tractor Beams First EP, original line up, innocent young fuck ups.
The Metroids – Wave City First album, Huxleyian Dystopian Concept Record
The Metroids – Sockhop EP Last EP with original line up, somewhat dubious
The Metroids – My Fiction Suit First album with final line up, classic rock
The Metroids – Like a River Single EP surrounding the hot, hot hit
The Metroids – Ride the Snake Tour EP of dubious quality, some goodness
The Metroids – No Caps Lock TOUR EP, FULL OF HITS
The Metroids – The Mad Titan Final album, consistent. Good place to start
The Midnite Snax – The Midnight Snacks Pickup band that lived
Gary Butterfield – The Sexiest Creature Early solo venture after The Metroids started, catchy innocence, naive romance
Hilo – Live Assortment Caveman rock from my first Scratch and Sniff band
Gary Butterfield – Life is an Insane Watching Eye What Strives to Convey Some Messege But Recalls Nothing Save That it Once Had a Message to Convey First Portland EP, informed by equipment it was recorded on
Gary Butterfield – The Master Wrench – First album recorded in Portland. Songs designed to be too short to get sick of
Gary Butterfield – February to Februgary Poorly performed but somewhat inspired songs from my song-a-day for a month thing
Gary Butterfield – IF THERE IS TO BE A LINE SOMEONE HAS TO DRAW IT – Last EP I recorded, contains some reworking of some SWORDS stuff
SWORDS – to plowshares – Everything through a distortion pedal, including the drums
This is an essay I had on the old incarnation of this blog. I’ve revised it, however. Also, the Average Sunset Covers Club stuff is coming (though I think the club itself is dead). It’ll be a grand post with all of the content in one place for all to enjoy.
A Spoonful of Medicine
To set terms, when I refer to pop music I don’t restrict myself to Top 40. I mean catchy music that, at least, nods to traditional song structure. In fact, there’s very little in the way of modern radio music I enjoy. Yes, I’m out of touch. Yes, I’m ignorant of an entire sphere of music. But that’s true of just about everyone. Anywho.
I’ve been thinking that maybe an appreciation for pop is elemental, a part of us. The difference is in how we dress it up. There’s just an ineffable thingie to certain chords and melodies. There’s a reason why so many songs rip off Pachelbel’s Cannon. It’s a really pleasing chord progression! It appeals to people who write songs. It occurs to them. As if they came up with it! How can that be an accident?
It applies to so many genres that it’s practically pan genre. Country music is just a form of pop music and it’s never pretended to be anything else. A whole lot of metal is more or less pop music that hates its dad. Almost all indie rock is pop music wearing glasses. If it’s lighter indie stuff, it wears it’s pop roots on its sleeve and if it’s heavy, it’s probably just pop music with a distortion pedal.
This isn’t really an original observation. But the next bit might be. See, I think that one of the strongest tools in the song writers arsenal is the sporadic use of anti-pop. Or maybe a better way to put that by leaving out one or two traditional pop elements, you can make pop truly, well, pop. Here are some examples:
4/4 is the time signature of life. You know 4/4, even if you know nothing about music. 1. 2. 3. 4. If you count a beat, it will be 4/4 unless you’re consciously trying not to. Therefore, it makes sense that almost every song, pop or otherwise, is in 4/4. I bet 90% of modern music is in 4/4. And here’s the thing: you can create a really powerful contrast by playing with the tension of juxtaposing unusual time signatures with standard 4/4.
Listen to this song by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti called Menopause Man. Don’t pay attention to the lyrics. Listen to the instrumental break between the verse and chorus at about one minute and six seconds, but listen to the part leading to it too. It’s important. Now, this part, it’s mathy, proggy and complicated. There are bands that do this all the time and, yes, they’re neat. But Ariel Pink is a student of pop. “Pop music is fun/Just like chewing gum/Pop music is good/It sounds like it should,” he sings in another song. His music is informed by the radio, 70s radio. So when he gets into this polyrhythmic groove, it’s a tool. After spending a little time with this tense, tight little nugget, the song explodes into a soaring chorus. It sounds heroic. And it’s in 4/4. What he’s doing here is teasing us. He’s giving us relief, a refuge. A castle of pop on an island of prog surrounded by a moat of funk. This song is a masterpiece.
Certain musical intervals work as pop and certain ones don’t. An interval is the space between the notes. Not chronologically but how far apart they are on the keyboard. I don’t know the science or theory behind it but I’m confident it’s there. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Memories Can’t Wait by The Talking Heads as an expression of contrast in pop music. The first 3/4 of the song is droning, dissonant and has strange sounds creeping into the periphery like shadows from a candle. I didn’t realize what made this part so tense until I learned to play the tune: the chords are very close to one another spatially. This gives the vocal line and melody a cramped, nervous quality. And then, when it reaches a reverse crescendo of nervous energy (about two minutes and twenty seconds in), the song becomes pop. The chords have traditional intervals, the sound effects cease a bit and everything just opens up in time for Byrne to kill it.
Song structure is another big thing when you’re intentionally deviating from pop best practices. Most songs have a traditional sort of verse chorus verse thing going on with maybe a bridge or key change sprinkled on top. Something I appreciate in music is when these sorts of cliches are truncated or fucked with. Two of my favorite bands come to mind. Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices waffles between more traditional song structures and strange little pop masterpieces that sound like the wreckage of the British Invasion washing up on the shores of some surreal foreign city. Take Gold Star For Robot Boy for example. This is like a segment of a traditional pop song, charging forward with no time to stop and flesh out. It’s audio flash fiction.
Contrasting with Robert Pollard’s impressive fecundity (he wrote 4 songs while you were reading this), is The Unicorns, a band that burned out way too quickly for my taste. They have one perfect album, a collection of tracks and an underwhelming and short EP to their names.
In a lot of ways, The Unicorns write songs that are similar to GBV. The Clap is structurally very similar to a GBV song. Similarly, listen to Jellybones, unbelievably, their lead single. This song is all about contrast between slow parts, fast parts, and contains that subversively, monstrously, wonderfully ugly keyboard squelch right at the beginning. Masterful.
I don’t have any formal training or education in music but I consider myself a student of song and as a songwriter myself, I’m always trying to see the strings. I want to see how they do the trick. I don’t think this is any grand revelation but when it comes to pop music, a spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down.