16 April 2009

Listening in the Sweet Spot

So, yesterday I was driving to the 'Couve for work and the Red Hot Chili Pepper's song "Scar Tissue" came on the radio. I have this weird thing about that band. There is something about the sound--and I think that it is the interplay between Anthony Kiedis's voice and Flea's bass--in particular I think it is the fact that they are both so melodic. Which is not a weird thing to say about someone's voice, but maybe is a weird thing to say about bass lines. Anyway, my point is this. Listening to the song, I started thinking about the musical sweet spot.

I assume that everyone has one. But perhaps you call it something else. Let me illustrate: one of my best guy friends in high school (I won't out him, but Qwanty can probably guess) had this thing about being touched on his neck. He had a very immediate and rather pronounced response to being touched there. (Although I'm not sure how exactly it manifested itself, and I don't think I want to think about it much.) But he would literally jump up and thunder, "DON'T TOUCH ME THERE! YOU KNOW NOT TO TOUCH ME THERE!" when someone did it. Bear in mind that, in those days, I was often in situations that necessitated me sitting behind him (on bleachers at football or basketball games, in the backseat of the car while he was driving), and I did know better than to touch him there, but it was just so tempting . . . Anyway, it was a sweet spot.

Or, if another illustration is needed: you might think about when you scratch an itch exactly at its origin. You have that sense of relief and pleasure all at once. It's a sweet spot.

There is certain music that scratches the itch, or hits the sweet spot, aurally. These are sounds that sort of cause a wave of pleasure (and get your mind out of the gutter--this is not a sexual kind of pleasure. It is altogether different.) and a sort of feeling of goodwill. It's music that sounds like it is perfectly scratching some invisible itch in your ear--an itch you didn't even know you had.

I get this same feeling when I hear:

Any of Jeff Buckley's recordings

Post-Soundgarden Chris Cornell

When Michael Stipe sings backing vocals (like on the Indigo Girls's "Kid Fears" or "Tried to be True" or on the live recording of "Love is All Around" from REM's Unplugged episode)

Ditto for Natalie Merchant (as on "Way Over Yonder . . . " from the first Mermaid Ave. album)

Also, Thom Yorke (on PJ Harvey's "The Mess We're In"--a song I absolutely LOVE, or on some Bjork tracks)

There are basically two categories here. The first is guys who have voices like "pissed off angels" (Kiedis, Cornell, Buckley).* They all have sort of gorgeous and smooth voices with an edge. The other category is made up of people who have voices that I tend to find a little too much when they are singing lead, but absolutely perfect in very small doses.

*I can't take credit for the "voice of a pissed off angel" thing. This actually comes from some guy who has a Clockhammer fan site and used that phrase to describe Byron's voice. I actually don't know if I agree with it being applied to the Byronic Hero--although it's hard to say, since I never heard him sing live.


Old Man Duggan said...

So check out the last comment on this blog entry...


Old Man Duggan said...

Oh, and doesn't it feel like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were reappropriating old instrumentation with new lyrics on that entire "Californication" album? Scar Tissue is just Under the Bridge.

KRD said...

Although I can understand the assertion, I don't agree. Californication, as I see it, is sort of a culmination of a sound that the band had been developing for a long time. It is probably their most consistent (and I don't necessarily mean that as a totally good thing) album, and also their safest and MOST commercial.

"Scar Tissue" has a more traditional pop format than "Under the Bridge"--which is punctuated by the staggered introduction of instruments (there isn't even a bass line for the first verse and chorus, right?) and the changes in tempo.

Um yeah. So I think they are actually pretty different.

qwanty said...

I've been giving this a lot of thought, and now find myself intimidated by your analysis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You little minx.

My real musical G-spot pokings come from specific songs. I may really like a band or some element of someone's music, but there's always a particular configuration that hits the centroid of my musical space. I regularly listen to one (or several) songs over and over again, and sort of neglect the rest of the album. I actually feel guilty about this. Some of the songs are obvious. I mean, who doesn't, when listening to Prince, find themselves now and then listening to Cream over and over and over again? Are there people who don't do that sort of thing? I can't imagine a world of listening that doesn't involving gorging myself on a song.

As for the pleasure in listening part, I will *not* get my mind out of the gutter. Some spots are just that sweet. I know you know this.