December 24th, 2018
This winter break I am visiting my grandparents on the west coast. Often when I come here, I eagerly bring music with me. I spend days showing my grandma all of the songs that I've discovered over the months or years since I've last seen her. This time, when trying to bring to mind a song to show her that I've discovered in the time since my last visit 2 years ago, there was one that was especially memorable.
Below is a short essay of sorts that I was asked to write for a class that I took in the spring semester of this year. The prompt? What is your favorite song and why.
Please listen to it before or during your reading. I hope you enjoy.
8 Feb 2018
Sound and Color- the Alabama Shakes
One of the many songs that I could argue are my favorite is ‘Sound and Color’ by the Alabama Shakes. Being an avid music lover and listener, I cycle through many ‘favorite’ songs in any given period, ranging all genres and styles. Despite this fact, ‘Sound and Color’ continues to be high on the list. The overall effect of the piece is somewhat relaxing, and inspires contemplation. The lyrics, though few, are poetic and multi-leveled. The grammar does not always make sense, but in this way it is open to some interpretation from the listener, which I appreciate in any work of art; visual, musical, poetic, or otherwise. In this way the art is for both the creator and the spectator. I do not know what other people may think when they listen to the song, but among other things I use it to clear my mind and remind myself to reflect on the simple yet vast and complex beauties of everything around me. I have many other interpretations of the lyrics that I could go on about, however I would like to take this time to analyze the musical and stylistic elements that make this song great rather than the lyrical ones.
The opening chords are sounded by bells, sonorous, harmonious, and resonant. These are accompanied by single bass notes. Soon after they are joined by voice and rhythm. Throughout the piece the bells continue to sound in a motif, adding dimension to the otherwise typical voice, bass, and drum ensemble. The rhythm section of this piece is provided by a drum set, playing in a way that resembles a cajon, a percussive instrument that originated in what is thought to be Peru. Personally, I prefer cajon over many other percussive instruments. This is primarily because I am part of a salsa ensemble in which there is a cajon, so I have that personal connection to it; the other reason being that the very bass-y quality of its sound and typical rhythms that are played on it are almost heart-like and have a very human quality to them. Thus, the utilization of the cajon rhythm in this song accentuates the lyrics as well as the almost ethereal sound of the harmonies. As for the bass, it is used sparingly, and alternates between being in conjunction with the voice and being in conjunction with the drums. It is usually in inversions from what I can tell, making it more interesting than a root position bass line. This is well planned because as I mentioned before the overall structure is not too complex. The simplicity of the song allows for the contemplation it inspires, and goes well with the solitary, desperate, contemplative self which the lyrics depict.
In the bridge, the harmony complicates with the addition of stringed instruments. Bass, cello, viola, and violin can all be heard weaving strange harmonies with one another over the original voice, bells, bass, and drum line. The voice diverges from the harmonic progression with them, mirroring the spiral of the narrator’s thoughts. The further into the bridge we progress, the greater the distance between the upper and lower string voices. In the music video for this song there is a man who wakes up alone on a spaceship, far from home and far from his destination; without anyone awake with him or any way to contact earth. The string parts in the bridge are like a musical representation of his situation; he gets farther and farther from home and hope. Space, however, is still so vast, serene, and lovely- which explains the wonderful yet haunting sound at the culmination of the piece.
All of the above mentioned aspects of this piece are undoubtedly admirable. It is obvious upon deeper consideration that, although it may at first glance seem like a simple harmony just for the ease of it, each stylistic element was utilized for a specific purpose. That is what makes this song great. Music made not simply for the sake of music, but made for the sake of the love of music. It is something larger and more beautiful than ones self, that touches every person that hears it uniquely.