Every once and awhile I go through an agonizing drought where any attempt to make music just ends in a lot of banging my head against the wall. I try to keep a positive attitude about these phases, and just consider them developmental...and I don't think that's unrealistic at all. In reality these phases are just a continuing series of crises- what I want to make versus what I am able, what I can arrange versus what I can imagine, what I can conceptualize versus what I can make concrete, etc.
During these phases I learn a lot of new tricks by dissecting songs I really like, and with each of these phases I try and tackle songs of increasing difficulty and arrange/dissect them. Some songs are so simple that I just have to find out what it was about the production that makes them work so well. This time, Thriller is that song. It's definitely some combination of how cool LinnDrum bongos sound, and that synth bassline. I spend a lot of my listening time in headphones while my wife is asleep. I know a mix is really onto something when I take the headphones out of anxiety that perhaps I've not turned the speakers off and I've been playing Thriller at deafening volume on repeat at 5:45. That wolf-howl sound does that to me every single time. Everything about the mix is layered, compressed, and punched just right. If you take the mix apart by left and right channel you'll be surprised to find that the backing is surprisingly noodly. The only things the stereo image has in the center are the portions that are rock solid in terms of timing, and its careful to only allow one element that stage at a time. Otherwise, the mix stays busy on the outside edges. Somehow this comes out to the absolute perfect balance of funk and precision. This mix is probably only surpassed in my mind by Don't Stop Till You Get Enough. It's a real bummer that the 1979 state of the art sounds so much better than the 2006 state of the art. And don't get me started on how well the drums are recorded. I can't wait to start making a living so I can build a completely vintage hi-fi setup. The deafeningly loud 4 foot tall speakers kind that distorts when you slam it. My uncle had a pioneer rig like this in his garage when I was a kid, and I don't think I've ever heard anything sound better. When I get this, I am listening to every disco record I own.
I've also been working out an arrangement of Love's The Daily Planet by ear and recording bits and pieces of it. Some songs you just hear and you know how to play- (thinking about the Kinks here) and some songs really don't . When I started dissecting this record I immediately realized that its about ten times as simple as I thought it was, and really only relies on the use of simple fingerings and chords in really awkward combinations. I now understand a lot more about what makes this record feel so original 40 years after it was made- its got a really unique approach to guitar, and a lot of the guitar work seems to be built around the limitations of a self-taught(or at least idiosyncratic) guitarist. I had also never thought about listening for the notes that shouldn't be in a chord to inadvertently sound as a technique for trying to sort about what fingering is being used. Dissection of the record has been one epiphany after another...I never knew that the use of a major chord in the right place could sound so... exotic.
Oh yeah and then theres this annoying school in my life getting in the way of listening to records and playing guitar. Teaching a literature group to some fifth graders, its fun and I enjoy it, but I'm trying my hardest to get as good at music as possible...hoping somehow that I can pan it out into something. How does anybody make a living in that industry any more? Even Tower records is dead. Major labels are like a super-morbidly obese patient falling out of bed and screaming furiously at a nurse to pick them up. All I know is that I want to leave some good records behind me, and the way I do anything else begins with a lot of reading, writing, and listening.
I don't know where my next record is going, I don't know when I'll get my head out of this phase, but I've got that feeling I always have about music, that I'm about to do something I'm really going to love.