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May 18, 2010, at 6:03 pm — Arts and Culture | Music / / / / / / /

Simplicity

Soundtrack to this post: “Rise” by Eddie Vedder, from the ‘Into the Wild’ Soundtrack.

Rise

I was having a conversation with my brother the other day about a new record that came out, and it lead to me discovering a problem I’m continually having with albums released in the last couple years. The issue is, for lack of better terminology, too much stuff! A prime example of this is Coldplay’s new record “Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends.” I actually really enjoy this album, and listen to it every now and then, but I’m not in love with it. However, I feel like I would be if the album had recieved a proverbial sonic hair cut before hitting the shelves. Utilizing the analogy of hair being layers of a recording, “Viva La Vida” is quite the shaggy dog. Take, for example, the song “Lost” which is track 3. Here’s the recording on the album:

Lost studio version

Breaking down the layers of the recording reveals that there are three organ tracks, a huge stomp and clap track, bass, acoustic guitar, tambourine, electric guitar, vocals, backing vocals, the list goes on and on… there’s even a pre-made loop of djembe straight out of the mac-standard program GarageBand. I’m not joking, I’ve used that loop before. But using premade loops that the general public has access to instead of hiring a guy with a djembe isn’t the issue here. The issue is more of a question. To convey the message of the song, do you really need all of that stuff? I’m of the school of thought that simple is better. Now check out the acoustic version of “Lost,” performed by Chris Martin on a piano, how it was written:

Lost acoustic

This is personal opinion of course, which i don’t mean to impose on anyone, but I’m going to say the song carries much more emotion and beauty when it’s just Chris alone. I’m not saying the other band members should sit this one out, I’m just saying a little moderation goes a long way.

I’m not trying to give an ultimate rule that stripped recordings are better than layered ones. Some of my favorite records are layered to the max, and being an audio guy it’s extremely exciting to listen to. All I’m trying to do is raise the question of whether or not complicating a song makes the song better. Just something to ponder… and while you ponder it, check out this song as an example of how simplicity can be beauty.

Oliver James by Fleet Foxes

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