My Brightest Diamond - Lover Killer
On the one side, I can dream my future
Dream my future
On the other, I can feel my nature
Feel my nature
Before you get nerdy with me and delve into all of the things that make this song not suck, you should really blast it in your living room and dance around like a weirdo a few times. If this song doesn't make you wanna groove, you might not have a soul. Maybe get that checked...
Here we go!
In an interview with Wondering Sound, Shara Worden, better known by her moniker My Brightest Diamond, had this to say about the rhythmic inspiration behind Lover Killer:
I was at a festival with the percussionist Trilok Gurtu. He has an amazing reputation and is an amazing player. I saw him at this festival, and he did this rhythm which was in 7/4 and it was getting the audience to clap like this [claps in 7] two single claps and then a double — and I thought, “Oh, this is rhythmic genius.” It’s this different way of getting the audience to participate so that it becomes a communal experience, but it’s a different kind of rhythm than just beating quarter notes. That was one of the rhythmical itches that I had — I really, really wanted the audience to clap in 7/4.
That clap roots this track into a hypnotic rhythm and continues for the whole song. The second time through the rhythm is joined by kick and hi-hat, the third by bass and doubled vocal "ooo's", and the fourth a doubled vocal harmony to the "ooo's". In the first verse the "ooo's" drop out and Shara comes in singing over an otherwise sparse arrangement. Her voice is bussed to a spring reverb which bounces through the spaces in the section, exposing how open it is. It's subtle, but it stuck out to me that the "ooo's" just had some room tone to them where the main vocal is more lush with a slapback quality because of the spring reverb. There may even be a delay mixed low. Whatever the case, there is a strict economy to this verse, which is made all the more apparent when the chorus comes in in contrast. The second time through the verse, there's a mallet-like synth that joins panned hard right. Then on the pre-chorus a palm muted guitar part kicks in, symmetrically panned hard left.
Gah! Those horns!! The chorus kicks in featuring a horn section with a riff that reads almost jubilant in contrast to the haunting vocals that Shara sings over it. "On the one side", and "on the other" are the call section of a sort of call and response chorus, and the melody is a dissonant minor second (two notes immediately adjacent in a chromatic scale), made all the more unsettling by their legato delivery. The response is "I can dream my future" and "I can feel my nature". The palm muted electric guitar from the pre-chorus comes back and is doubled for this fun little descending riff during the response.
The second verse has these ambient 'verbed out guitars that serve as a sort of pad. It sounds like there may be a synth element in there as well. The mix of the two makes for a ghostly ambience with a lot of texture and it lays underneath the section beautifully. One of the reasons I love My Brightest Diamond is because she uses a lot of real woodwinds and brass. This is something I brought up with the previous post about Son Lux, and one of the reasons I always liken one to the other. Here on the second pre-chorus you hear doubled piccolo which is such a unique thing to add to a song like this, but woodwinds and other orchestral instruments are a trademark of My Brightest Diamond.
Lover Killer has a legitimate 'C' section; something that has really fallen out of fashion in songwriting. It rocks out with a climactic "I AM A LOVER AND A KILLER!" at 2:55 and continues through to the end with distorted bass and a host of ear candy including that filtered percussion bit behind the drums, the panned high oscillator sweeps, and the string pad.
I hope you enjoyed this song a few times through before tearing it apart with me, because it really is a jam. Taking it a part you realize that there's actually a lot of subtle intricacies that make it so. The rest of the record (This Is My Hand (2014)) deserves some time in your life too!
-My Brightest Diamond-
Shara Warden, formerly Shara Nova, is a classically trained musician with a degree in Classical Vocal Performance. In that same interview from Wondering Sound, she talks about the battle between innate music and trained musicianship:
...the composer Kodaly had this belief that everyone can sing, that music is part of our heritage. It’s part of our DNA as human beings that we are all inherently musical. I think that’s the ethos of punk as well. Punk, at the core, is this value that says it doesn’t matter how much you study. You can pick up a guitar, you can play a drum, you don’t need to have an education in order for you to be able to express something. Whereas classical music is all about specialization — it’s about really, really studying and devoting yourself to one very specific thing — like playing a violin or being really, really, really good at an instrument. And I feel like as an artist, I live between these two ethoses.
I think that dichotomy is part of what makes My Brightest Diamond so great. There's this cerebral element where the songs experiment with meter and instrumentation and structure, and then this baser element of accessible and distinct rhythms and melodies that make the songs feel familiar and unforgettable. To me it's captivating.
There's something about her voice and her melodies that brings to mind early disney songs like I'm Wishing from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, or Julie Andrews singing Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins. Check this out:
Now compare it to this:
Do you see what I mean?! Those two songs are even in similar keys, making the comparison all the more convincing. The timbre of her voice is startlingly similar to Julie Andrews.
Anyway, there are 4 My Brightest Diamond studio releases. Each is really special in it's own way. The song Inside a Boy from her sophomore release, A Thousand Shark's Teeth (2008) was the track that first caught my attention, but once I found her I veraciously tore through these records. If you like Lover Killer, I recommend starting with the album it is from, her latest release This Is My Hand (2014).