Welcome to Detours Picks!
To celebrate one of our favourtite days of the year, for this month we’ve decided to spotlight songs from albums with green artwork!
In keeping with our green theme, my pick this time is Siberian Khatru by Yes, from an excellent and very green album: Close to the Edge. Alongside Rush, Yes are a personally important band to me, being my other majour introduction to the prog rock genre, and this album in particular stands as one of my favourites of theirs. I actually found it a bit of a challenge to pick an individual song to highlight from this album, since it’s a very interesting, cohesive experience when listened to as a whole. That said, of the three tracks, I think I like this song the best when taken as its own standalone listen.
As a great example of classic prog, this track has a variety of different sections that keep it engaging throughout its nearly nine-minute runtime. You can see that variety in the tone and instrumentation too: This song makes use of a diverse range of sounds, including electric organ, guitars that range in style from acoustic to a twangy, almost sitar-like pedal, and for one brief segment, even a harpsichord! When they all come together, it creates a sound that’s unmistakably ’70s, and I love it.
Siberian Khatru flows between active, rhythm-heavy verses and more drawn-back, atmospheric sections, all the while keeping the drums and bass riffs intricate and exciting to listen to. And it wouldn’t be a true prog song without some neat, unconventional rhythms, and this track is no exception with a syncopated breakdown at 7:00 that kicks back into an awesome guitar solo to end the song.
When we decided that for the month of March we would only pick songs from albums with green covers, a few albums came to mind. Kendrick’s Untitled Unmastered, The Antler’s Burst Apart and Yes’ Close to the Edge were all albums I considered, but American Football’s first self-titled LP was an obvious choice for me. I’ve been a fan of this band for a long time, and this album has been a soundtrack to many good memories, but picking just one song was tough. I ended up choosing Honestly?, mostly because the instrumental section is probably one of my favourite moments on the whole album.
The song has a really interesting first section, starting with the bass laying a groove on its own. Suddenly the rest of the band drops in, and the rhythm of the band shifts the implied rhythm that the lone bass had at the start. This rhythmic complexity is very common for American Football, who often use polyrhythmic multi-layered riffs that come across both laidback and intricate. This is one of my favourite aspects of their sound; how they can write super involved and layered parts, but still capture a breezy and easy-to-listen-to quality.
They apply this same technique to the instrumental outro section I mentioned before. This section is built on a repeating jangly guitar part, which they layer some more guitars on, and a bass with a sweet envelope effect on it. The drums contribute with bouncy toms and a steady ride cymbal. Top it all off with a sweetly discordant lead guitar melody that devolves into some noisy rattlings with lots of reverb and delay. They really capture the ending of summer vibe with this section, and with the whole album really. If you’re looking for a laidback but still interesting listen, I definitely recommend this album.
We knew March was gonna be a fun one, this month we decided in honour of St Pats to pick green album covers across all band members. For me as soon as I did a quick google of green covers to refresh my mind, SZA’s CTRL drew me in instantly.
SZA’s 2017 album opened my eyes, it opened them to not only her as an artist but the possibilities of the modern album. Concept albums are a dying art. They take a intimidatingly large amount of work in planning and solid groundwork so they have a continuous flow that makes everything really come together. CTRL might not be a typical or even surface level concept album, but it does things no one else I feel has achieved in the last few years. I could go on about all the amazing features and tracks such as 20 something or Drew Barrymore instead I want to focus on how this album opens.
When I first heard Supermodel it blew me away. The way SZA really lays out what the rest of the album will be like. Starting with an audio clip from an interview with her mother, talking about the importance of control as a concept, to quote “if I did not have control or lost control, it would be fatal”. This presents the mood and understanding for the rest of not only the song, but the album; that one should never not have control over ones life, relationship, or piece of work. I think SZA uses her mother’s voice as a place of familiarity, support, and comfort, allowing her to talk about her journey striving towards equality in these areas.
Musically, Supermodel starts with the bare bones of a single guitar and SZA’s voice, it’s a bold and beautiful choice that I think really pays off, allowing the listener to really take in the lyricism. She continues on with such flow and ease, phrasing her conversational material in such a way that is almost like velvet as it pours over the guitars delicately played tones. 2 minutes into the 3:01 song we hear a crescendo as the cymbal swells in to give the hook of the song “I can be your supermodel if you believe” creating an impact. After that the full beat comes in at around 2:10 and in the last 50 seconds she gives us what would be a full band playing under. The groove that she layered the groundwork for just takes off to her stellar performance.
Again, I wish I could write about nearly all 14 of these songs cause SZA really did not miss the mark on this album. It’s an amazing, powerful piece and I think not only does she speak with such honesty but also power that it truly impacts the listener. This is the type of album you come back to and listen to. These messages of staying strong and true to yourself are so important, never losing control and never letting someone take that from you.
My pick for March and the green album cover theme is Morning and Allison by Nate Smith and Amma Whatt off of the album “KINFOLK: Postcards from Everywhere”. Out of so many great tunes from this release, Morning and Allison stands out to me. I’m a sucker for a good groove, and the way they sneak a little extra bar of two in the middle of the phrase has such a cool effect, propelling the song forward and giving the chord progression an unconventional but really pleasing timing. The piano solo out of the beautifully grounded chorus weaves through the movement of the A section through to the chorus again staying nice and deep in the pocket. Kris Bowers plays really melodically, with a lot of rhythmic and phrasing inspiration from Robert Glasper: jazz-informed but very open to the compositions of R&B and pop, as well as folk and fusion.
The instrumentation is pretty barebones on this track, drums, bass, guitar, keys, sax, and vocals. Everything is mixed so it feels like it’s going on very closely around you, with a very live feel, as all of the rhythm section tracks are recorded from a live session. The vocals are smooth and and when they need to sail up, there’s no strain or distortion, just a timbral shift and there they are. The drum groove being played between the floor tom and open snare with a tambourine is a really interesting choice, giving a very woody feel to the percussion, and it’s able to sit back in the mix. Without a crack of a snare in the A section, the vocals can take the front seat, and once the instrumentals kick up, on go the snares to lead the way to the incredibly funky middle section. The choice of an ethereal, live faded ending is perfect for the tune, letting the rhythm instruments float away and the sax harmonies take the last notes. There are a couple of great live versions of this song floating around out there, and honestly this whole album is worth a listen, top to bottom. The mix of instrumental tracks and more vocal driven ones, as well as the time signature shifts and unconventional compositions is such a cool ride to go on.