Clash's in-house music boffin is Alex Hills, a composer and lecturer in the Department of Academic Studies at London's Royal Academy Of Music. Here he blindly reviews the compositional merits of four songs.
This month can he guess the theme of our four songs, Dave And Ansell Collins ‘Double Barrel’, Death Grips ‘Double Helix’, Malcolm MacLaren ‘Double Dutch’ and Emika ‘Double Edge’, chosen to celebrate our double issue of course.
1. Dave And Ansell Collins ‘Double Barrel’
There are a lot of interesting little musical fragments here - the little ascending piano phrase and its descending answer, the Hammond organ chords, the very rhythmically stiff chants. Once they are defined they move around in very simple ways, answered in new instruments and so on. The song doesn’t really do much, and it certainly doesn’t have any sense of narrative story-telling, but there is just enough variety in how the materials are treated to keep it fresh and interesting.
2. Death Grips ‘Double Helix’
I quite like the dense, fuzzed out, bell-sounds of the beginning. Once the vocals get going it gets a bit too static as sound for me: there are interesting layers at first, but it takes too long for new things to happen. Later on there are a couple of really rapid shifts, which are very interesting, but they are incredibly short and don’t lead anywhere. I need a bit more space in this, it all feels a bit claustrophobic.
3. Malcolm MacLaren ‘Double Dutch’
The beginning of this really messes around for far too long before the song actually gets going, and when it does I rather wish it hadn’t at all. I can’t tell if this is ironic hipster-happy or just really really dumb and smiley. Neither of them do it for me. Musically there really isn’t much to say about this; it is what it is - a silly dance anthem - but it really could try a bit harder.
4. Emika ‘Double Edge’
This is much more ambitious, and is quite varied - it seems narrative in the sense that none of the others are. Some of the sounds are really rich, combining fairly typical electronica sounds with more instrumental ones, and this gives a certain unpredictability to offset the extremely repetitive vocals. I think this creates tension in an effective way, but although this seems like a journey, I don’t really feel like it has actually arrived somewhere by the end - it doesn’t accumulate.
These are songs about double-things, although that doesn’t seem to have a huge effect on the music. The only one I will pay money to never hear again is the third, which just seems a bit cynical - ‘let’s write something really happy but not try to actually make it good’. All the others have interesting moments, especially the first and last. The last song has the most original sounds, but it gets a bit stale by the end, whereas the first keeps its materials fresh and knows when to stop, so that’s my winner.