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Tag Archives: electric guitar

Well this was bound to happen eventually

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:

“Teenage Riot”

 

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”.

 

“The Sprawl”

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).

 

“Eric’s Trip”

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.

 

“The Wonder”

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.

 

Hyperstation

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.

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Bernie: Do Television practice a lot?
Tom: Yeah, we really work out. When we first started we rehearsed six days a week for four months before we even played live; then we still stuck. We were awful, y’know? Now we rehearse four nights a week if we have a job or are breaking in new stuff. If we have a month of no jobs, we might rehearse three nights a week. We have problems finding a place to rehearse, though. If we get some more money… We’ll get some money with this record deal… we probably won’t get a dime after it’s all… ya know lawyers take this, and managers take this, taxes that this, producers take this… and that’s the end of it. Then you buy a new set of drums and a couple of new guitars and you have to go play live for a year.

–Tom Verlaine on rehearsing, from interview available at http://ffanzeen.blogspot.com/2010/06/talkin-with-televisions-tom-verlaine-at.html

Jags

Oh man, I sat down with a Fender Jaguar today at Mr. Music for about an hour and now I want one so bad. It was a new ‘classic player’ model, with the full old-style electronics and the weird strat-with-metal-teeth pickups. Definitely the best sounding electric guitar I’ve ever played, and it was just going through a little Roland solid state amp. My take on its sound is this.

  1. Pickups have crazy extended high end. Not chimey, singing high mids like some Les Pauls do, but airy, tingly GNARL noises (in the >4kHz region?). I found like 5 distinct sounds just by altering my pick attack with the right hand. The gnarl really comes out on the low E. That’s the sound I always thought was a Jazzmaster. Turns out Jazzmasters sound a lot darker, more like a p90 Les Paul (my second favorite guitar).
  2. The Jaguar does sing, in the high mids that is, but the shallow break angle over the bridge makes the fundamentals of plucked notes die off quickly. Result = better rhythm/harmony guitar than one with a lot of sustain (less headache-inducing resonance).
  3. It’s so comfortable to play sitting down. And light weight, so easier to play standing up.
  4. The 24″ scale feels a little weird. But I think that gives the guitar its attack/decay characteristics (much different from a strat, tele or JM). The Jag has a lot more attack in the low mids (“punch”) than a strat or tele.
  5. It’s got two distinct circuits for filtering the sound. First one give you two toggles for PU1 and PU2 on/off, a toggle for this VERY subtle (passive) filter (LPF? HPF? can’t tell), and a V-V knob setup. Second circuit disables all of the controls described, when you engage it with this toggle on the upper horn of the guitar. That one has two metal rollers recessed into the body to control– I don’t know what, really. V-V? V-T?
  6. So clearly the electronics aren’t simple. As someone mentioned, one combination shuts off your guitar completely with the flip of two toggles (the two PU switches in circuit 1). The twin circuit design isn’t just poorly designed, though. What might have gone through the mind of the engineers: how often does a performer want to switch from one pre-set tone to a radically different with minimal attention to the controls on the guitar? Often. Especially for someone who plays clean mostly, who plays a single channel amp. For someone who wants the possibility of a bright, cutting tone and a very dark, resonant tone in one guitar. Now, consider the situation with a clipping element in the signal chain (amp preamp, “clean” boost pedal, distortion pedal). The dual circuit electronics of the Jag still lets you get two very different sounds very easily (once you’ve set each circuit’s controls the way you like them). Say you want to play clean rhythm guitar with the bridge pickup, then play an overdriven lead with the neck pickup. You just kick on the pedal and flip the top switch up. Now you’re on circuit 2, with a dark, neck pickup tone to push the overdrive stage in a pleasing way for lead playing. The main point against the Jag seems to be that it doesn’t overdrive well. “Well” here meaning, “to sound like a Gibson guitar with PAFs.” Granted, the PUs are so bright that distortion or amp overdrive sounds kind of harsh without any high end roll off. And though I bet Fender designed circuit 2 for jazz people (Joe Pass played one for a while! So, I think, did Pat Martino), it works GREAT to put the guitar quickly into a darker tone for distorted playing.
  7. Speaking of which! I have heroes like anybody else, and I immediately figured out how I could switch from this Tom Verlaine thing to this Greg Ginn thing by flipping from circuit 1 to circuit 2 while turning on overdrive. (I was playing “Nervous Breakdown” and “My War” when someone’s baby waddled over to listen). For the first: neck PU, tone full on. For the second: both PUs full on in the darker circuit. The thing even does a reasonable take on thrash metal (I was playing “Killing Is My Business” haha): put it on circuit 2 with just the bridge PU full on. As everyone knows, Jaguars sound like the Ventures and such with a lot of reverb.
  8. What I don’t like about this instrument: Fender chose to retain the sixties style tuning machines, even on the ‘classic player’ models. They go out like Gibson Klusons, unfortunately, and string bending does not help. You have to remove the neck from the body to adjust the truss rod (as usual with “vintage” style Fenders). Some of the toggles seemed to pick up tapping on them over the amplifier, like a pickup does. Might not be great for high volume playing.
  9. What I was really glad they fixed since the ’60s: The bridge isn’t that POS with screw-threaded saddles that the strings slip off when you play hard! They moved the tailpiece slightly towards the bridge to increase the break angle a bit. I’ve heard ’60s Jaguars with almost NO sustain, possible because of the old tailpiece.
  10. The Jag at Mr. Music didn’t have its trem arm attached, so I didn’t get to play with that. I don’t know if I’d end up using it much, but since I bet it’s a shitty slide guitar, and has some tuning problems with hard bending, the trem might be useful.

    So I’m gonna sell my saxophone and probly my Les Paul copy ASAP so I can get one of these and a Pignose 7-100 with some $ to spare. Did I mention that Jags and Pignoses are small & light? 🙂

Dinosaur Jr./Sonic Youth

Listen to 0:57 of “Kracked” on You’re Living All Over Me. Now listen to “‘Cross The Breeze” from Daydream Nation at 5:53. I guess SY weren’t kidding when they said the album was Mascis-influenced 🙂