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Well this was bound to happen eventually
August 26, 2013Posted by on
I’ve been listening to “Daydream Nation”, along with everyone else I guess, since I was about 12 (1996). The record wasn’t all that old yet. I saw them standing on that street-corner at night with all the blue denim and crummy t-shirts, and I wanted to go to that place immediately. The record doesn’t sound old to me in 2013 though, honestly. Everything it dredges up– emotions, cultural imagery, rock sounds & styles– seems more or less unchanged today. My mind has phosphor burn-in from this album like they used to warn you would happen to your computer screen. What this looks like is more like the awesome color-river you can see by putting a strong magnet to the other side of that glass, in synch. with your parents’ horrified eyes and open mouths as they watch you tempt permanent damage. I sort of wish DDN still made parents want to shield their kids from permanent mind-damage (if it ever was in that category).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the actual music on the album for a long time, too. I’m no music theorist, so the following paragraphs are gonna be a mixture of personal reactions and notes on harmony and rhythm I hear on the record. The songs reference aspects of the other songs a lot. It’s no accident that it feels like one whole thing (part of their anxiety about making a double record I’m sure– the post-60s “concept album” dreaded by punks). Anyway, here it is:
Major seconds and major pentatonic scales all over the place. The first three unique pitches, the guitar with chorus on it, are a fifth apart and a second apart respectively. None of it seems to be going anywhere though, just roaming. There’s that rumbling guitar noise far in the background (Lee’s Eventide-processed guitar?), vaguely ominous behind all this. Then a minor third comes in, then a major third. major pentatonic scales instead of minor, but otherwise the standard rock moves (1-4-5), but leans hard on the dom7 of the 5 chord. At least one guitar is tuned GABDEG, which certainly makes the seconds more natural to play on the neck. I don’t know this stuff too well, but that stack of notes in the tuning also reminds me of the harmonic series– the first nine or so harmonics. To me, it definitely feels good to play an electric guitar in that tuning very loud. It reminds me of Rhys Chatham’s stuff a little bit, which has links to spectral ideas in music, right?
Rhythmic figure on guitars during verse comes back as the rhythm of the hook in “Total Trash.” Major pentatonic feel comes back briefly for the “I’m the captive on the rock” bit in “Candle”.
Intro shifts back and forth between a major triad and an implied 9th chord (1-b7-9) which sounds really cool (to me). Common jazz chord but not so much in rock. Maybe I’m just not remembering or listening to the right songs. Neil Young does stuff like this a lot (“Ohio”). Also memorable is the little section in the middle with the Neu! drum pattern where it shifts back and forth between a major 7th chord and a major seventh sus4 chord. Those major 7th sus chords are one of my favorites (e.g., Steely Dan’s “Peg”, part of SY’s own song “Sugar Kane”). I love the lyrics to this song; capitalism delirium (“Come on down to the store”, “that big sign by the road / that’s where it all started”, etc.– culture-industry-managed consumption; “old machines / still and rusting now I guess” – production by manufacturing moves out of U.S. to periphery). I also really dig the title, referring to that mega-city from that William Gibson novel).
The whole thing is very ambiguous, mostly based on just two sus4 chords as far as I can tell. (The demo of the song included at the end of the “deluxe” reissue’s first CD makes this clearer). The fuzz-wah guitar, mixed way too loud on purpose a la Dinosaur Jr., sort of obscures any chord progression. So does the speak-singing vocal. The lyrics, modeled on Eric Emerson’s monologue on LSD from “Chelsea Girls,” just add to the feeling of disorientation.
Rhythmic figure on Thurston’s guitar (I guess) is very similar to the hook from Teenage Riot. Except this time around, it sounds angry and chaotic. Thanks in part to the amp-at-10 sound and the flat 9 interval he keeps throwing in.
The flat 6 interval is what stands out to me here. The hook figure that goes 5-10-11-10-b6-5-1, plus the “tone clusters” (as someone on youtube comments called them (!)) that constitute the repeating background figure of the verse, contains the same motion between flat 6 and major 6. An arpeggio over a minor 9th chord comes in right before the clusters, reminiscent of the 1-b7-9 in the intro. to “The Sprawl”.
I love these last two songs.