'Silly String II' - Individual Song Breakdowns


"Hand of the Giant" (112 BPM, 140 BPM at 3:28, 112 BPM at 4:30)

       The album opener begins with the vestiges of the final melodies in 'Finite', then with the reverb-laden sound effects underpinning a soft acoustic guitar. This briefly gives way to some crashing chords and then we're really into the song. Starting at 1:04 is the first B section of the tune, which is in 11-8 with an eighth-note triplet occurring within the ninth and tenth eighth notes of every other bar; this creates an interesting tension to my ears. The synth bends are something I added since it was impossible to create the same notes/textures with a guitar (it was originally a guitar part, so Adam simply played the 'non-bended' note underneath).

       The first C section at 1:28 provides a groovy contrast to the driving B sections. There's a metric modulation at 1:37 - 1:41, then the backbeat becomes more pronounced. Another A section follows then another B section, with the last bend at 2:28 being the highest to cap off the excitement. Then, a similar C section and onto the D/synth solo section, which is in 4-4/5-4. This part is comprised of the same melody in the A sections, only 'formatted' to fit in uniformly with the triplet rhythm. A dual percussion layer (shaker and tambourine) enters at 2:58 and repeats until the end of the section, the tambourine playing every other hit, falling in different places per repeat. The synth solo sounds like it's drunk or something, haha.

       The bridge starts with a bitchen sub drop accent, also signaling a tempo change. My goal here was to create a stark, angular section with lots of syncopation and jarring melodies/riffs. The rhythmic concept is similar to the bridge in "Vice", on 'Projects'; the drums build in excitement, adding more notes and revealing the pulse. A big accent at 4:02 drops into an aggressively funky drum and bass riff, also contrasting the chaos beforehand with a mere two instruments. Then, a brief trumpet solo occurs with some synth creeping in towards the end, doubling the melodies. After this, the drum pattern changes and becomes more insistent (along with the beard-scratching sound effects, hehe) while the right-channel guitar plays a funky melody in superimposed 5-8 before the whole thing falls flat on its face, smack dab at the A section, also at the original tempo of the song.

       After a final reprise of the A section (with some added twists and turns for variety and dynamics), the drums hit a muted crash and the left-channel guitar plays the main melody of the song. This loops over and over, slowly building into a distorted froth until the melody is lost. Right when we reach the point, it drops immediately into "Snarl".

       I composed this tune while riding from East to West Coast in a bus on the way to kick off the 2014 Rockstar Mayhem Festival with Darkest Hour. We picked up Veil of Maya and their crew along the way. The title is merely a combination of words that populated my thoughts that I immediately deemed 'cool' and 'Mastodon-like', and it seems to complement the vibe of the song.


"Snarl" (167 BPM)

       I composed this tune in the Spring of 2014. The previously-mentioned 'froth' swallows up the ending melody in "Hand of the Giant" and immediately launches into my snarl to kick off the titular song. For the intro, I was trying to channel a fiery sorta Dillinger Escape Plan feel, except less 'blast-oriented' and more so derivative of rudiments and quasi-linear playing--on the drums, at least. Following this is a truncated chordal stab section--something that's revisited a few times throughout--then a groovy section with VST brass and slap bass. VST oboe solos over this for four bars and we're off to a chunky, angular part. I composed this on the drums stream-of-consciousness-style, then everything else after. The bass follows the kick/snare, and the left-channel guitar riffs every three quarters (for the most part); its relationship with the other guitar is interesting.

       This pattern is somewhat retained afterward with some twists and turns and some added, foreboding-sounding, low brass. Then, at 1:36 there's a pattern of 5-4/6-4 with the guitars trading off rapidly. A fast blast sees the melodies rising, then a change in rhythm on the double kick sees them lowering again. More rhythmic deviation and we're into a longer chordal stab section (drum/guitar quintuplet unison at 2:07), followed by another groovy section with more VST oboe soloing. This segues into a reprise of the intro (the length of the notes on the guitar stabs are shortened towards the end for added excitement) and another lengthy reprise of the chordal stab section, which closes the song. This features a bunch of wacky drum solo-ish playing; this whole outro has an aroma of "Lollygag (Clown Nose)" to me. The drums eventually settle into a proper groove, superimposing a 2&4 backbeat over the riff, which places the snare in a different spot upon repeat. However, this concept is almost immediately abandoned, as the guitars and bass conform to the drums from 3:19 until the end, simply resting on the added beat.


"Coffee Terrorist" (117 BPM)

       This piece is a 'conceptual sequel' to "Watchpork", without employing any direct quotes. It features a complex, rhythmically-diverse drum/piano unison intro and outro that's entirely in 4-4; it's masked at first, then revealed during the outro (just like in "Watchpork"). The glaring difference here is instead of this drum/piano thing 'sandwiching' an even more complex arrangement, it is surrounding a funky/disco-y jam. Why not?

       There are some cool production techniques present during the funky part. Patrick applied a quarter-note-length delay to Adam's guitar and panned it to the right (with the actual guitar being panned left), providing the illusion of a fuller guitar sound. I also love how he utilized reverb to glue the saxophone to the mix, ridding of its initial dryness/harshness and furnishing an almost dreamy quality (he joked about having a vision of the saxophonist from that cheesy scene in 'The Lost Boys' being onstage when mixing the sax). Jeff did a splendiferous job of bringing my nutty, composed-sans-limitations sax figures to life.

       I also wrote this one while on the Mayhem Festival tour. I played it for Marc Okubo and he dug it.


"Overreacting Bad-Karma Boy" (140 BPM)

       The title of this tune is a reference to a portion of 'Think Tank', by Henry Rollins--one of my personal heroes. It has nothing to do with the song, but with a bit of imagination you can kinda envision a mouthy, ornery little kid manifesting itself in Adam's guitar solos in the B sections. This is one of the first tunes composed in the early portion of the 'writing streak' that I mentioned in the EP description of 'Projects II'; it was initiated in early May of 2014.

       Anyway, I set out to write a bluesy song and this came out instead. The time signatures and inferred feel lead the listener to believe it's based in triplets, but such isn't the case. I'm especially proud of the vibraphone solos (which is a VST). In the B sections, I improvised heavily; I ended up doing four takes and comping them. I told both Adam and Cam to establish the part/chord progression but to basically do whatever they wanted on top (uh, freakin' BASS FLAMS, are you kiddin' me?!) and Cam tracked first. After he tracked, I sent my drum mix and Cam's bass DI to Adam so that he could carefully digest and construct his own parts. Although, I did have him punch in the random dissonant chord at 2:23 afterwards, as I played a random china hit (I even panned it totally to the right to complement this, hehe). Overall, I could not be happier with their contributions.

       The transitional section at 1:23 is a quote--on the drum set only--from the first few bars of Zappa's "The Black Page #1", another one of my heroes.


"Inextricable" (137 BPM)

       One of the weirder pieces of the album, composed a couple days after Christmas 2014. Everything was written pretty linearly and in a stream-of-consciousness fashion. Also, I was listening to a bit of Maudlin of the Well, so perhaps that trickled into it. This is one of the first handful of songs for which I ever composed string parts, so they're quite easy and more texture-oriented (as opposed to something like 'Finite'). This is also one of the few tunes without guitar.

       The A sections are comparatively quieter than the other sections in the song to give them oomph and emphasis. The C sections are based entirely in eighth-note quintuplets; I really dig the chord progression. I also love how the bended note at 1:41 hangs over the second B section because of the applied reverb. The drum fades in the beginning and middle of the song don't serve a higher purpose, I just thought they sounded cool haha. When the drums again reach their normal volume level at 2:48, multi-layered percussion enters.

       The D section/bridge was spruced up immensely by Cam's contribution at 3:39--stellar!


"What Happened to the Pause Button?" (159 BPM)

       This piece starts with frenetic 16th-note unison figures between drums, VST vibes and synth in 17-16. The A sections feature heavy guitar work and quirky bass lines, which I believe only Cam could bring to life. These sections trade off between 4-4 and 17-16 and also feature my 'caveman grunt', as Patrick dubbed it, hehe. The B section features double bass in varying tuplets, as those acute feel changes feel very satisfying to me, propped by dramatic synth stabs.

       Although brief, the reprise of the intro figures sees the drums settling into more of a groove (superimposed atop the 17-16). Then, a second A section and we're onto the C section/bridge. These are comprised of simple guitar/bass chords and an almost marching-esque drum part in 6 with speedy, fierce VST vibe soloing (I love the bits at 1:28/2:02). This segues into the second part of the bridge, a drum 'n' bass-ish section in 5-4. Adam took my guitar solo here and added that perfect touch of 'humanizing', providing tremendous feel. Another reprise of the part in 6 and we're onto a second B section, which sees the tuplets on the double bass in reverse order. Then, a final reprise of the intro figures and the song ends in a "Big Dogs" quote (same ending melody on the vibes).


"Chucklehead" (96 BPM for the intro, 106 BPM for the rest)

       The idea for the intro to "Chucklehead" came to me while mixing in Florida with Patrick. I got pretty intrigued by sound design/foley work when working on this album, and remembered reading somewhere about how manipulating steel wool can sound like electricity. Also, when we were deciding on synth patches for the bridge, I kinda zoned out and got lost in the chord progression; along the way, one in particular resonated with me (the patch in the bridge is actually a few different ones layered together)--something called the 'Deckard' patch (based on Blade Runner). Both ideas converged and ended up spawning the intro. We imported the synth during the bridge and slowed it down. Then, I rubbed a small piece of steel wool together; it was really some sort of filter for a vaporizer. Patrick also had a bristle brush for cleaning his espresso maker, so we overdubbed me rubbing that against the steel wool. It ended up sounding more like fire crackling rather than electricity, but some post-processing that Patrick applied gave it a bit more of that vibe.

       Anyway, this tune is one of two--along with "Obstreperous Restriction"--in which I attempted to write something in the vein of jazz/funk, composed in May of 2014. My ignorance led to me writing some figures that were out of range for trumpet, so Matthew tracked those with his trusty trombone. Adam holds it down until the second A section, in which I told him to see if he could come up with a tasty solo, and by golly did he deliver the goods!

       For some reason, I thought cartoon noises during the B sections would sound funny and entertaining. When I looked into procuring samples, I noticed that these were copyrighted sounds (and rightfully so, given the work and imagination employed!). Thus, I set out to make my own. I purchased a jaw harp, slide whistle, noisemaker, kazoo, and an ACME siren whistle; I also made some wholly mature sounds with my own mouth. I pitched some of them up to provide variety. I set out to make as many as I could, but I did use an old car horn sample. Also, for the one at 2:40, initially I tried to shoot a large metal washer with a slingshot past some mics--and pitch it up for the 'gun ricochet' effect--but I didn't have a long enough hallway. Instead, I used the washer bouncing off of the tile floor in my bathroom and layered it with the pitched-up sound of a Formula One race car speeding by.

       After the second B section, then a drum/piano unison at 2:42 (16th triplets, 16th quintuplets, regular 16ths, 8th triplets), we're into the aforementioned bridge. The drums sustain a medium-ish overall tempo here with a few fluctuations. The groove is based on the "Ellis Alley" groove, but 'tripletized' hehe. A fairly ominous-sounding trombone enters at 3:02, then some strange piano figures at 3:12. After a drum/bass/piano crescendoed unison figure, we're into the second half of the bridge. Adam played my wacky guitar solo at 4:08 with aplomb. Congas enter with said solo then bongos underlay the trumpet solo, all performed by perfectly by Owen McKinley. Speaking of playing my weird stuff with aplomb, Cam certainly falls in that category for the bass run at 4:27, hehe. Third reprises of the A and B sections, then the drum/piano unison that initiates the bridge closes the song.

       Finally, as for the title, this is one of the few I was having difficulty with until Patrick suggested "Why I Oughta", a reference to The Three Stooges, since the cartoon sounds gave it that aroma for him. I poked around online and couldn't find a single clip of any of the stooges saying it (wtf?), but I did find one wherein Moe calls Larry a 'chucklehead' and I decided right then and there that it was apt.


"He Slept like a Maniac" (162 BPM)

       HSLAM (whose acronym makes me giggle), composed in May of 2014, is my attempt to compose in the drum 'n' bass idiom--in my own idiosyncratic way, of course--which naturally manifested into the main riff/A section being in odd time. I had Adam track guitar, with the intent of perhaps re-amping it to sound like a sitar. However, during mixing, what occurred instead is we stereo-layered the guitar (with a phaser effect) with the sitar MIDI. I wrote some things that were out of range, so the VST is split between a traditional sitar sound and a hammered dulcimer; I think this pairing sounds magnificent, especially alongside Adam's guitar.

       Following the A section is the straight-ahead B section, which provides a bit of resolution and sees the main riff 'common-time-ized', hehe. The C section follows, with three bars of 4-4 then a bar in a different time signature (this plays with the placement of the tambourine once it enters). There are various explosions with effects/filters/panning present; I yanked these from YouTube, plus there's a hint of plain ol' gunshot MIDI. A second A section (with a layered synth melody) and B section follow; I really like the little bar of 9-8 at 1:54.

       The D section/bridge is based around a DnB-ish groove in an odd arrangement (five bars of 4-4). This builds into a syncopated ride part with speedy, layered shaker, then 16th-note double bass to really ramp it up. The sound design underneath, as evidenced in the video, is just me making random, explosive--but brief--noises with my mouth. I layered these with the snare totally dry.

       The mirror I broke to punctuate the outro of the song belonged to one of my uncles, who no longer had any use for it; it took forever to clean up, haha. The song ends with a fade-out on an elongated B section. As for the title, it's just a silly reference to my oftentimes ridiculous sleeping habits.


"Random Hajile" (115 BPM)

       Definitely the strange wild card of the album, this serves as a 'palate cleanser', jarring the listened with its straight-up MIDI sounds before dropping immediately into the snare+cymbal choke/rapid-fire horns of the next song. The title is a reference to the beloved Sega CD game 'Snatcher' and also its arbitrary nature. This is actually the earliest-composed piece of the album; I can't recall exactly when I started it, but it was sometime in 2010. I think I set out to finish it but now I enjoy its brevity, plus it serves its purpose within the context of the album. I considered replacing all of the MIDI sounds with VSTs and maybe tracking the percussion, but it would void the aforementioned 'palate cleansing' and just sound like a continuation of the album.


"Obstreperous Restriction" (106 BPM)

       I composed this piece in December of 2014 while on tour with Darkest Hour in Europe, opening for Machine Head. I remember playing gigs, loading out, and finishing my duties for the day, only looking forward to getting on a warm bus to pick at the song. The title is a reference to the 'noise break' (explained in a bit), and how it is crazy and over the top, yet contained within a specified amount of bars.

       This is the more ardent of the two jazz/funk pieces on the album. The slap bass is aggressively funky, demanding attention, and the trumpet/sax interplay is wicked; I did NOT make that easy, so hats off! Matthew, Jeff, and Cam handled everything tremendously. The sax solos during the A sections (there are "Hold On" synth quotes throughout), and the trumpet plays the melody during the B sections.

       The 'noise break' is at 2:31 - 2:54. I spent several hours on this and had an immeasurable amount of fun experimenting with various effects/filters and messing with panning. It's comprised mostly of 'home-brewed' sounds captured at a multitude of places over months, but I also yanked some clips from YouTube. Some highlights: Patrick's two kids throughout, me screaming at 2:31, a chair being dragged on the floor at 2:41, a printer spasming throughout, a pitched-down lion roar a 2:38, and coffee being brewed at 2:53, segueing nicely into the bebop section.

       I spent many hours practicing the bebop-ish drum part that follows and getting the 'feel' just right. I'm pretty elated at the piano figures that I wrote there. There's another quote from "Hold On"--the actual theme--beginning at 3:39 (check out the 'Silly String' song breakdowns to learn more). I love the way the song fades out.


"The Adventures of Nerd Wolf" (112 BPM)

       One of my very favorite tunes on the album, this was initiated on Christmas Day of 2014. The constant bend/release melody on the VST string ensemble was greatly inspired by the first bits of music in the NES game 'The Adventures of Bayou Billy' (thus the title; the 'wolf' is a reference to the somewhat howling-ish nature of the melody). After the intro, there's a "Desensitization" quote (I even used 12" hats on my right side, hehe) then the driving, straightforward C section.

       The D section is based around 11-tuplets, which purports to a tempo increase; I love little rhythmic tricks such as this. The E section revolves around bars of 5-4/19-16. The guitar here was supposed to simply play palm mutes, but Adam instead played a downbeat emphasis, making the rhythmic relationship more exciting and interesting. After second C+D sections (with some additional VST string ensemble melodies and swells), the outro plays us out, with the drums+VST fading out while the guitar+bass hold steady.


"Fleshier Glitch" (107 BPM)

       Here's one of the more overall aggressive tunes on the album, originally composed in June of 2014. This one starts with a rapid 'linear singles' drum pattern in 7-4, ramping up in intensity until exploding into a straightforward groove with punctuating bits of 16th-note triplet double bass that shyly peek over the bar line (complemented by both guitar and bass). After a groovy one-bar segue that features drums+synth in super-quick 16th-note septuplet unison pitted polyrhythmically against the guitar playing regular 8ths, we're into the B section.

       The B section is in 4-4, yet based around a superimposed melody in 7-8; four repetitions of this, then an ending tail of 2-4 comprises two bars of 4-4. The melodies rise and fall then we're off to the wacky 16th-triplet-based segue bar. Is this a pre-chorus? Who knows. The guitar/bass interplay is key here, as it keeps it rolling (the guitar locks in with the snare, while the bass is with the kick). The synth plays a wild melody. After this, we're into the C section/chorus, which is quite dance-y, bouncy and fun. Perhaps all the electronica music I listened to in the 90s had a subconscious effect?

       A second B section (with melodic and rhythmic variations), another triplet-segue bar, and we're to the second chorus. Then, the grooviness is suddenly interrupted by a sequence of wacky, disparate melodies--a 'musical troll', if you will. This brings a smile to my face. The A section plays us out, with an absolutely spellbinding guest guitar solo by Ben Eller superimposed atop everything. The title of this one is an inside joke between myself and Carl King.


"Napent" (102 BPM)

       This is another piece I composed whilst on tour with DH in Europe opening for Machine Head, originally initiated in late November of 2014 after a gig in Austria. The concept here was to write two disparate sections, one being synth-heavy and the other guitar-heavy. After Adam tracked guitars, the idea for a little theremin action came to me (maybe I was listening to too much Beach Boys), so I approached 'someone' about laying it down. You can probably deduce who it is via the liner notes, hehe. I like how it sort of announces when the actual pulse is revealed.

       Anyway, the A sections are a big metric modulation (mostly in 3) with random chunks omitted, placing it in various time signatures. This concept was introduced to me by my pal Adam Edgemont, of all people! He first experimented with it in the Ruemora song, "Phoenix Odyssey". Anyway, after each A section, the beginning of the B section is another big metric modulation, but phrased within every eight 16th-note triplets--another purported tempo deviation.

       The C section/bridge features quotes from "From Riches to Rags", both on the bass and in the guitar solo (which is harmonized differently towards the end). A third A section closes the tune, with some variation from 4:23 - 4:33; the main pattern is retained, with a quarter note getting sheared off every bar until it's just 1-4, cycling backwards in subdivisions. "Napent" is another reference to a Sega CD game, this one being 'Rise of the Dragon', although the 'vibe' of the tune seems to complement what the substance does, in some strange way.


"A Slightly Unfinished Sound" (78 BPM)

       Tucked away within all this madness is ASUS, my first attempt to write in the jazz idiom. I began composing it the day after I started "Coffee Terrorist". I wrote the 'form'/main melody/unison figures, but purposefully left 'pockets' open for each soloist to do whatever they wanted. Everyone tracked at different times, separate from one another. I later comped all the takes (except for the bass solo, which is one solid pass) while mixing with Patrick.

       As for the drums, up to the trumpet solo is planned-out, as is the drum solo; everything else is improvised. Preconception is pretty antithetical to the spirit of jazz, but jazz is rebellious in nature so this is allowed. Or did I just contradict myself?

       I am deeply satisfied with what everyone contributed. My favorite moment might be during Ben's piano solo. The time there is 'metric modulated', purporting to an increase. I made a custom click track--again, jazz played to a click, WTF man?!--that accented every four 16th-note triplets and improvised within those parameters. The final chord in this melds with/blends into the opening chord of "The End of an Error". I thought it'd sound interesting to hear the same chords back-to-back with completely different instruments/timbres. Finally, the title--if memory serves--is something Brian Wilson said in his autobiography, 'I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir', although I can't recall to what it was pertaining. It also seems to complement the nascent, inexperienced nature of my first, ahem, meddling with jazz composition.


"The End of an Error" (110 BPM)

       The last song on the album was composed with said notion in mind, which isn't always the case. As mentioned above, the chord that ends ASUS is the same that starts TEOAE. I also layered some MIDI sounds and locusts that I captured buzzing in a park atop this fade-in.

       I enjoy the playful rhythmic pattern present in the A sections, with the snare placement seemingly on the downbeat, but actually on the 8th-note upbeat. There are fast 16th-triplet unison figures split between guitar channels with a mean bass chord punctuating a random drum accent, then we're onto the B section. The pulse here is based around 16th-note displacements. I wrote the self-deprecating script for the phone conversation, which was actually recorded separately by two people that don't even know each other, haha. Patrick was originally supposed to do it but got caught up in mixing, so he recruited his brother Jason (with whom I've recorded for in the past) who did a hilarious job, perfectly complementing Elliot's performance. This section features an over-the-top explosion and computer-like bleeps and bloops.

       The C section is also based around 16th-note displacements, with bits of 8th-note triplets interspersed. My goal here was to create a 'non-pulse', masking the fact that it's in 4-4. Skipping ahead, there's the D section at 1:32, featuring a triplet-heavy drum part in 7-4 with crescendoing tom-toms. This changes to a metric modulation (every fourth note accented), furnished with swelling synths.

       At 2:28 we have the bridge/E section. I can't recall when I came up with this drum pattern, but it's based around two quick kick drum notes in rapid succession within a 16th-note triplet frame; the sticking is orchestrated on various cymbals. This builds into a crashing, chord-heavy section with a guitar solo that took a fair bit of time to compose. I'm very happy with how it came out. I layered a bunch of random frog sounds and some field recordings throughout this section, an allusion to its original, tentative title (more later); these were either captured in person or yanked from YouTube.

       After the guitar solo, the synth seems to fall over itself then straighten out at 3:44, then we're back to the C section with the drums revealing the pulse (which turns out to be quite groovy, hehe). Another A section with variation and the tune ends with the same explosion FX and bleeps/bloops as the beginning.

       This was composed in early January of 2015. The title is an amusing play on the phrase 'end of an era', nothing more. The tentative title was 'Frog Metal', an allusion to the frog-ish-sounding bass line in the bridge (which didn't sound as froggy when played by the real thing).


       1: Hello?
       2: Hey man, what's up?
       1: Yo, not much, not much. What're you doing? How you been?
       2: Good, good. Y'know, same old.
       1: Dude, did you hear who's making a record?
       2: No, who?
       1: Travis Orbin, haha!
       2: Oh god, no, haha.
       1: Yyyyep, yep, yep. So I guess if you like nonsensical rhythms that only
           drummers' drummers will grasp, complementing equally stupid melodies--
       2: (interrupting) -- with zero emotion? Haha.
       1: Yeah, totally. God, why does he even try?
       2: Who knows. He should stick to what he's good at, playing robotic metal.
           Anything else is just a toss in the wishing well, with no chance of success.
       1: Dude is throwing his LIFE down a wishing well!
           (laughter together)

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