A lot of people are quick to rip on pop music. Listeners of rap question its lack of lyrical depth, musicians feel underwhelmed by its uninspiring simplicity, and conspiracy theorists believe it’s the Governments way of dumbing down the masses. I like pop for the most part, but sometimes it bores me pretty good on account of one venial sin: Pop music just isn’t really all that cool.
I guess “cool” is subjective, so I’m going to try my best to commit to writing a series of short articles about my take on the word. In each article, I’ll describe a certain moment from a song or album that I find particularly interesting. The first cool moment comes from the criminally underexploited effect that time signature has on song.
Pretty much every track you hear on the radio is in 4/4 time. I’m not going to explain 4/4 time in terms of bars, note values and all that boring stuff, because 4/4 time is really easy to follow along with. All you gotta do is count to 4 and repeat. Rhythmically counting to 4 is as natural and simple as it gets for those of us raised under traditional occidental music. Our minds have had a lifetime of experience breaking every chord, note and every syllable of every song you’ve ever heard into four evenly spaced beats. When you get into alternative time signatures, following along becomes a little less natural because the beats aren’t evenly spaced. In my heavily undereducated opinion, the unequal space between beats is what makes listening to odd time signatures interesting; It undermines that feeling of an even and steady pulse that we know all too well in 4/4 time. Suffice it to say, I find it pretty cool, and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious ass, refreshing every time I hear the drunken, almost limping swing of odd-metered rhythm.
Left to right: Leland Whitty(sax), Matthew Tavares (keys), Chester Hansen (bass), Alexander Sowinski (drums)
Enter BADBADNOTGOOD, a Toronto-based trio-turned-quartet made up of three incredible musicians on keys, sax and bass, as well as a drummer who’s honestly too good. Bad-bad has been one my favourite music groups in the past year. I’m not here to give any music/album reviews, but they’ve been up to some pretty rad stuff. They’ve even managed to score two features from the ever-elusive MF Doom.
Recalling all that talk about time signatures, on the group’s latest album “IV”, a track that immediately stood out like fans at a UCC swim meet, was “Confessions Pt II”. The track features a time signature of a whopping 10/4 (pro tip: keep up by counting to 10 and repeat). Not only does the unorthodox time signature make the saxophone solos all the more impressive, but it’s also pretty cool to see a group of young musicians not shying away from experimenting with everything from their instrumentation to the rhythmic fundamentals of their tracks. On a similar note, it’s awesome to see this kind of experimentation on an album which also features some pretty funky hip-hop tracks, including a spanking verse à la Mick Jenkins.