Look at this band full of handsome folks. Their bio reads, “The Online Romance is a co-ed vocal group from Portland, Oregon. Blending baroque melody, girl group-inspired harmonies and folk storytelling, the music is imbued with a Pacific Northwest melancholy. ” Today, a new song from their forthcoming album will be dissected in a new feature here on Heartstack.Org, “Headphone Listen“…
A post on Muzzle of Bees came down the ol’ RSS pipeline around the new year announcing a new song and eventual album, and it reminded me how much I’d loved The Online Romance song “Hey, Abraham” a few years ago. Minutes later I found myself dropping the $4 (including shipping!) to purchase the “Hey Abraham” 7″ vinyl record from the Recursive Delete Audio/Visual Ministries website. The record came promptly across the continent complete with meticulous layout, perfect typesetting and pleasing aesthetic. I especially appreciated the handwritten note on a postcard with the image featured above.
Upon listening to the new song “Ladybug, Don’t Smile”, one can hear the fairly complex yet breezy melodic riff that abuts the verses and choruses of the song. The verse melody is infectious and the harmonized chorus is a beautiful example of blending female and male vocals to make a completely new collective voice. “Hey Abraham” and “Ladybug…” share a few similarities; simple, yet informed rhythmic guitar strumming that lays effortlessly with the drum set parts, spry male vocals from Jack Saturn (on “…Abraham”) and Mike Larson (on “Ladybug…”), and a knack for making commonplace lyrical topics sound endearing and important.
My version of listening to music most often occurs in the car with a half-broken (ie. usually left channel only) iPod radio transmitter. What a surprise when I clicked on the “Ladybug, Don’t Smile” during a recent exercise bike workout and heard it through some decent headphones!
The difference between The Online Romance‘s earlier recordings and new works-in-progress is subtle but drastic when pin-pointed. Their band formula and songwriting foundation remains true, but the method and delivery of production has advanced and matured in an extremely pleasing manner.
Take a moment to dissect the song form:
Intro Riff > Verse 1 > Intro Riff > Verse 2 > Intro Riff > Chorus > Intro Riff > Verse 3 > Intro Riff > Chorus > Intro Riff
Pretty basic form, right?
Well, what got me from the headphone listen was the fanatical attention to arrangement and layering within this very “basic” framework.
Check it out:
Each “Intro Riff” features drum set, acoustic guitar, electric bass, (what sounds like) vibraphone, organ, full string section, chimes, xylophone, trumpet, and more brass…
Now, the Verses are where the innovation comes in…
“Verse 1” features drum set, acoustic guitar, electric bass, (what sounds like) rhodes piano, (a slightly vibratoed) electric guitar holding chords out on the beats where they change – panned right, and bongoes also panned right. This verse remains fairly spare, allowing the vocal melody to take the forefront.
“Verse 2” features drum set, acoustic guitar, electric bass, more rhodes playing simply at first, then in the second half of the verse matches the electric guitar which plays chops on the “2″ and “4″ beats throughout. What sounds like cellos enter on that second half of the verse playing sixteenth note motifs that mimic the “Intro Riff”; very effective for moving the pulse of the song along. A male backup vocalist comes in at the end of the first half of this verse, harmonizing and therefore punctuating the last line excellently. In the second half of the verse, a female backup vocalist enters and changes the timbre of the occasion by harmonizing the rest of the verse. Brilliant.
Both “Chorus” sections kill with what I’d guess to be the whole shebang including some awesome parts mimic’ed by brass on the right, and strings on the left. I’m also hearing what I’m guessing could be a clawhammer-style banjo part that’s panned just a little left of center. Very cool usage of what would probably be considered an “out-of-place” instrument in orchestral pop.
“Verse 3” holds its genius in its use of legato strings throughout, the delay of the acoustic and electric guitars entry until the second half of the verse, the brass following the melody on the right in half one, and a pizzicato stringed instrument imitating the vocal melody’s rhythm on the left side during half two of the verse.
It’s quite particular and awesome to hear these differences upon repeated listens and makes me wonder if at the place where they are recording there’s a giant white-erase board with these details written out for this song ALONE. Hopefully, a project this detailed will sail swiftly through the recording and mixing process so that it can be released in a decent time frame. I look forward to hearing the entire album later on in the year!
( Note : the band claims to be recording this album on a Sony 2-inch 24 track analog recorder. Awesome! )