'Finite' - Individual Song Breakdowns
"Cascade" (147 BPM)
'Finite' opens with the same chord that closes 'Projects II', with some added partials. The drum pattern in 9-4 that follows is something that I came up with many years ago. I can't remember exactly how or when, but I used to rip it at soundcheck for Sky Eats Airplane gigs; I'll always remember Zack (Ordway) smiling when I did it, remarking how "heavy as balls" it sounded when the drums were mic'ed up and blasting through the P.A. system, hehe. I always wanted to do something with the pattern, so here it is.
After a brief segue bar following the intro/A section is the first B section, its foundation resting on a permutation of the "Ellis Alley" groove, something I've included in various forms on all of my releases. Here, in particular, it's in two bars of 31-16 with a third connecting bar that varies in time signature per repetition. Cam somehow delivers the goods here (as always!), bringing my wacky bass line to life. The strings enter after one repetition of the section, superimposing straight 8ths over most of the passage, then the synth re-enters after a second repetition playing a solo.
A second segue bar that mirrors the first (although in 8th-note triplets rather than 16th notes) appears and we're off to the C section. This is in a compound time signature, trading off between 7-4 and 8-4. The drums play it 'straight', serving the melodies when appropriate and 'resetting' to follow the time signatures, then it delves into metric modulation land after two full repetitions. The progression also lowers (excluding the bass).
The second A section features a different drum pattern to break things up, then reverts to the previous patterns. The second B section features a 'bouncier', 2 & 4 drum groove with the same bass line in tow, everything now permutated to 4-4 (although with the third bar of the sequence varying in time signatures as before). The synth instead plays the melody that the strings played before, and the strings play a solo; I composed a dual, hard-panned solo here with the left channel playing mostly sustained notes and the right playing mostly 'runs' (listen for the "Buttery Follicles" quote around 2:14). Sophia did a dynamite job 'humanizing' all of this and bringing it to life. After three complete repetitions the drums revert to the "Ellis Alley" groove, yet retaining the 4-4 feel.
The drum feel changes slightly in the second B section, metric modulates as before, then gets a bit fancy before a brief segue bar (unlike the others), in which the chord that closes the song and opens "Whitman's Challenge" smacks the listener in the face with its sudden announcement. Thus begins the D section/bridge, which is based on an interdependent drum ostinato: the left side plays 16th-note double strokes between the ride cymbal and pedal hat while the remaining limbs play figures that complement the other instruments.
The third and final A section features another variance in the drum pattern, this reprise being the most intense with double bass underpinning the first two bars. The excitement ramps up on all respective instruments as melodies are added and minor changes briefly appear (check out the random 8th triplet unison around 3:57) before both segue bars that were previously explored re-appear to close the song. As previously mentioned, the chord that announces the bridge as a transition bar closes the tune, dipping down as the drums play a crazy fill-in; the bass matches the final two kick hits (this little two-note melody appears again in "Whitman's Challenge") and we're off to the next tune. Oh yeah, the title is kind of a reference to the melodies and harmonies in this song seemingly melting and melding into one another, like a waterfall; it just seemed most apt to me.
"Whitman's Challenge" (139 BPM)
"Whitman's Challenge" opens with the chord that closes "Cascade", although with one less partial. This song was based on an old demo that the mighty Zack Ordway composed. At the time, it was intended for Sky Eats Airplane, then after SEA had dissipated it had potentiality in Of Legends (Luis even wrote some vocals for it); because of this, I sought both of their blessings to use it before doin' mah thang.
Zack's original demo consisted of the intro section, A section, and a B section/chorus without a 'ramp-up' (we'll call this the pre-chorus, the first occurs at 0:23). I changed the guitar parts to synth and added bass lines, harmonizing strings, an abbreviated pre-chorus (which is really just the B section riff), an entire new/C section, and gave the whole thing an arrangement/progression (the demo was quite short). And, of course, some crazy drum parts, hehe. The title is based on an inside joke between a couple friends and I.
The intro features some pretty fancy drum 'moves', largely hinging on dual 'stack' cymbal syncopations. I especially love how Patrick made the bass sound in the A sections; the attack and groove of the slap accents sits so well with everything. After two repetitions of the riff in the A section, the strings enter to harmonize. The pre-chorus is a brief, one-repetition-long compound time signature of 4-4 to 5-4--the same compound time sig as the B sections. When I originally wrote parts for Zack's demo, it felt completely natural for me to play a metric modulation (purporting a 6 feel) over it, so I simply added a few extra notes to elongate the second bar of each passage so the 6 feel would fit nicely over everything; obviously, this was retained for "Whitman's". The drum feel changes over the last two bars before a brief 2-4 transition bar wherein the bass plays the same two-note pattern that closes "Cascade".
A second appearance of the intro appears, although with some elements changed: the synth is more percussive, the drum pattern is the one that I composed for Periphery's song "Though", and the bass locks in with the drums. There are two bars of odd time wherein the strings still play the same quarter-note melody superimposed on top. From here, the song basically repeats with the only discrepancy being that the drum feel shifts in the middle of the second B section.
Another one-bar-long 4-4/5-4 compound time sig appears as a transition bar, with the last two unison notes being another drum/bass nod to their previous appearances (at the end of "Cascade" and at 2:02 of this tune), although now phrased as regular 8ths. Thus begins the C section/bridge, which is based on the groove in 11 that appears in "Greasy Mustache"; here it features a 'stack' superimposed in 3-16 on top. At the tail end of the second repetition, a synth lead line floats into the mix. After three full repetitions the drum feel changes, with the open hats occurring every four 16th notes to give it more of a proper groove. This manually 'resets' at the end of every repetition for two occasions then changes again to a china cymbal playing half notes; the other instruments are in tow throughout, with an unfolding progression.
Yet another 4-4/5-4 compounding time sig appears as a different sort of transition bar, then it's onto the third/final reprise of the intro. This time marks the most similar to the first, except I wrote some wicked slap bass lines that lock in with the drums (listen for the effects Patrick applied automating off, inadvertently locking in with the choked hi-hat at 2:45 - love it!). From there, the last A+B Sections are similar to the first, only with a longer pre-chorus. The entire B section is repeated for the song's fade-out, except the drum feel changes to a metric modulation in 5-16; the strings enter here playing a new melody that interacts with the purported feel in an interesting way.
"How to Breathe Rarefied Air" (83 BPM)
This is where the EP begins to take a bit of an unexpected turn, creatively--for me, at least. I always felt this one landed a bit outside of the idiom established in the first two tunes, but held out hope that the same tones and players would marry it all together; I think it worked! This sounds like if CKY set out to write music for a children's TV show, which is then interrupted by a happily demented Meshuggah band. I composed the meat of the A sections and the B sections a few years prior.
Anyway, because I--for whatever reason--felt the A sections resembled a CKY riff, I decided to kick the song off with a drum intro much like "Disengage the Simulator". The drums here feature room mics only, sitting low in the mix, then popping off with a big snare+crash accent; all of the instruments colliding to enter at once, along with the rest of the drum mics/mix. The overdubbed punctuating vibraslap hits kinda drive forward the tongue-in-cheek vibe. It took a lot of experimentation to write the strings solos for the A sections, but I'm very happy with how it turned out (I love Sophia's added glissando at 1:11).
The B sections are based around a metric modulation (3-8 within 6-4) feel, with layered percussion; the tambourine purports to be on the upbeats but it's within the metric modulation. The ride bell marks the actual time relating to the quarter note for a bar, then reverts back. The second B section features the same drum feel as the intro, which is on the closed hats and a bit more syncopated. For this section I wanted a very cheap, almost 16-bit video game OST (Secret of Evermore's "Flying" song is the perfect example--shout-out to Jeremy Soule!) tone for the bass. So, I requested Cam utilize a fretless if he had one, but he had not access; instead, he used an old Squire with ancient strings and pickups. Between the tone he generated, Patrick's further modding, and an underlying MIDI bass I think we nailed it!
The C section is based on a drum riff in 5-16 that I stumbled onto damn near a decade ago, and notated in one of my old transcription notebooks; I sometimes revisit these for song ideas. Once the drums kick in completely, they play a common backbeat atop the 5 feel with a syncopated double bass pattern featuring flams underneath. The strings solo firstly, then the synth, then both together. The final B section showcases the true feel of the section stretched out to 8th-note triplets (with the more common bass tone and automated room mics on the drums for maximum heaviness), which is how I originally composed/interpreted it. I love the synth swells at the end, Patrick's patch sounds awesome.
"Grimoire" (136 BPM)
The intro/A section for this one is something I composed a long, long time ago; it was one of the original 'Projects' files. I forget the exact rhythm theory behind it, but I believe I wrote a simple riff comprised of 16th notes in 5-4 and superimposed a drum groove 'metric modulating' in 3-16 on top to foreshadow the subsequent part. Said part sees the drum groove changing to a 2&4 backbeat with a china smashing quarter notes, and the riff incorporating a note every third 16th-note (no melody yet). A chord progression peeks through for one repetition--which causes the drums to manually 'reset'--then two more repetitions occur, with the strings fading in with some droning notes. Here, the drums fill in most of the open 16th-notes with snare ghosts for two repetitions of the riff as the strings build, then change again to a 'metric modulated' feel in 3-16; the strings play some fast melodies, complementing the 3 feel. On the last rep of the riff, the strings play straight 8ths (which sound like quarter note triplets against the 3 feel) and briefly delve into some chords; the drums complement a few of the stabs. I decided to apply some effects/filters to distinguish this entire intro/A section for a few reasons: it isn't reprised later in the song, once bypassed it allows for the B section to be far more impactful, and it sounds cool! I came up with a mock-up with some Soundtoys plug-ins and other fun stuff and sent Patrick the Pro Tools session data so he could easily recreate it. The only qualm I considered was its length, but if The Aristocrats can do it with "Boing!… I'm in the Back" then why can't I?
The B section features some big, fat, full band (sans strings) stabs with the drums soloing in between throughout. Cam added some awesome bass licks here to complement some of the drum stuff. Then, there's a brief "Cascade" quote at 1:30 and it's off to the C section. The C section features a heavy riff in 5-4, comprised mostly of 16th-notes; there's one grouping of broken 8th-note triplets and a 16th quintuplet as a fill-in to bring it back around. The second half of the C section features the synths playing chords--changing in subdivision--while the bass holds down straight 16ths, also playing chords; the double kick locks in with the bass, while the ride bell locks in the synth during the faster subdivisions. After four bars, the synth and drums fade out playing a somewhat simple quintuplet figure (although it sure isn't simple with the kicks underneath, haha) while the strings enter, locked in with the quintuplets; this is to highlight that specific melody, as it will occur again throughout the rest of the EP.
Next is a second B section with different drum fills and more of Cam's excellent additions. The second C section features the same riff but with the strings soloing over top. The second half of the second C section is the same as its first appearance, only longer; the chord progression is full realized with the strings in tow. It is resolved at the end, with the note on the strings carrying over to kick off the next tune.
"Good Night, Future Boy!" (109 BPM)
Yes, that is a 'Back to the Future' reference. This is one of the funkier songs I've written. It starts with a simple drum count-off then we're into the first verse/A section. The strings solo here after the four-bar intro, and it took a lot of 'poking around', mistakes, and general experimentation to find the notes that I dug the most; much like my 'process' for writing the string arrangements for "How to Breathe…" haha.
A hint of the beginning of the bridge/C section, then the same four-bar A section intro with some cool synth variations (check out the panning matching the drum fill-in at 0:45), then we're into the chorus/B section. This part sees the shuffle hinted throughout with the synths finally complemented via a simple double bass pattern. Another complete A section follows--the four-bar intro featuring some flashy drum moves--with the synth melody changing and the bass taking a solo; Cam played exactly what I wrote, what a maniac. I also love the effect that Patrick added to accentuate the last bar (1:25).
After a more fleshed-out rapid synth/string trade-off, we're deep into the bridge. This is based on a bass part I wrote when I first began playing the instrument. I always wanted to do something with it, and ended up gluing it together with a bunch of really old drum grooves (diehard Orbin fans may notice one of them from one of my very first YouTube videos I ever posted). The synths are constantly building and releasing dynamically, with the big accents occurring on the first beat of the first and third repetitions and the second beat of the second and fourth reps.
After the bridge is a brief two-bar break wherein the melody that first appeared in the C sections of "Grimoire" is reprised via the strings layered with the synths (again, loving Patrick's patch there and its interaction with the strings), then we dive headfirst back into the second and final chorus. This one is longer, with the last eight bars seeing variations in all of the instruments. First, the strings play chords instead of single notes (on the first, third, fifth, seventh bars) then a melody; said melody is harmonized with the synths on the fourth and eighth bars to cap off the excitement. The drums continue the double bass shuffle pattern, but move to the crashes for the first, third, fifth and seventh bars. The other bars feature an accent cymbal (first splash, then a small 'stack', then a combination) superimposed over every 4th 16th triplet; the snare changes per repeat to build excitement. For the eighth and final bar, the double bass pattern changes to the first two triplet partials (per 3-note 16th groupings)--rather than the traditional shuffle pattern--and a syncopated drum fill is played on top. Pretty tough stuff to get clean!
Layered throughout the entire piece are some random clips of fast cars that I found online. When I was composing this, a car sped by my house and I rather liked how it sounded under the tune, hehe. After some searching I found three different clips, then cut out various parts and experimented with placement; I also added some effects and cool panning tricks.
"Extirpate" (87 BPM)
Ah, the epic closer! I'm pretty certain that this is the longest song I've yet composed, even as I'm now writing this (22DEC16). "Extirpate" opens with fade-in chords comprised of every note that's in the main riff that propels the song, along with one unrelated partial; this partial changes on every fade. The first appearance of the aforementioned main riff then comes crashing in, and it's based on a 9 against 2 polyrhythm--something I composed several years ago. Every time this riff is reprised, something is altered (added synth notes, drum feel, etc.).
The angular 16th-triplet-based riff that follows (1:02) was a part of one of my original 'Projects' files, so it's also quite old; I added the string arrangements most recently. The riff begins with an angular, accented feel, then sees it laid out with some proper timekeeping: first with quarter notes on a china, then 8ths on the open hat (accenting the downbeats), then a metric modulated feel on the crash (4 feel within 16th triplets).
After a reprise of the main riff, at 2:06 the synth briefly quotes "Zombie Tyrant" phrased in 16th-note triplets, then a drum solo is initiated. Said quote is maintained throughout but phrased as straight 16ths. At first, the bass slaps dead notes alongside and there are effects/filters present on the entire mix (the same as "Grimoire" to provide a slight conceptual tie-in), then it locks in with the synth--this is when the effects/filters are bypassed to provide impact. After four bars with the bass/synth, the violin enters playing an evil-sounding melody, pizzicato style. After one bar with the violin, the drum 'moves' I utilized were based entirely on some improv that I filmed then later transcribed. The tempo at which I was soloing was unrelated to the tempo of this piece so the phrasing changed, but it's interesting to hear how it all interacts in context.
Following the drum chaos are a few accents (check the 'whole mix crescendo/decrescendo' at 3:06 - 3:08), then we're off to a tricky breakdown based on 32nd-note displacements. The double bass foot pattern here features 'broken singles' that turn around 'footing' every grouping (RLR LRL). This is another old, resurrected riff with some new minor arrangements.
Another main riff reprise follows, and we're into a synth solo (4:05). My goal here was to create a harmonically dense, weird/tense environment; the bass is playing chords and the violin single notes, fading in. The drum groove that is initiated is a shortened version of what it is fleshed out to, phrased firstly in all sorts of odd tuplets: 9, 11, 5, plus straight 16ths. Then, it's fleshed out and played briskly in straight 32nds; various fill-ins flare up to create excitement. The synth plays some pretty 'out' melodies/harmonies, then at 4:42 - 4:51 is a quote from the first solo that will appear on my very next release.
Next is a reprise of the angular, 16th-triplet-based riff with some drum variations. The last bar of the reprise is elongated by a quarter note, in which I'm blasting 32nd-note triplets. After, an abbreviated reprise of the main riff appears with the melody that was initiated in "Grimoire" and briefly flirted with in "Good Night, Future Boy!" superimposed atop. A transition bar appears at 5:36 and we're off to the EP outro.
The outro features the same main riff, but stretched out to regular 8ths/16ths rather than 8th and 16th-note triplets, making it 9-8; the melodic theme that showed its face just before is again stated, now following the rhythmic deviation until the end. A lot is happening here. The drums feature room mic volume automation, gradually rising to become more and more boisterous. I recorded my girlfriend screaming and threw that in in certain spots with various effects/filters. I also recorded this dryer in my mother's grooming shop; it had a piece of tape over a hole that broke and air was rushing through (check out the audio I cut out to lock in with the drums at around 6:23). Patrick took all of this and 'did his thang' with it, adding reverb and decay and whatever else. I especially love how the dryer noises continue at the end, now sounding like an alien being birthed and a giant hydraulic drill or something, haha.