Music described by a musician for non-musician listeners
Better be clear right away. What you are about to read is not a review, nor do I have in mind to give personal opinions about the song. Since I’m here to write about this it is already obvious that I consider it a great song and its technical and artistic realization has in turn inspired me more than one of my songs.
Now we come to us, prepare your headphones or turn on the speakers, start Weird Fishes/Arpeggi by Radiohead and follow me on this musical journey.
The song begins by immediately showing its decidedly acoustic intent, to the point of making even the drumsticks of the drummer that beats the 4. It is no coincidence that the drum sound is kept as natural as possible (of course it is actually very processed, but in a transparent way). The drum groove is lonely and seems to mean “Listen to me well, because my groove will go on for the whole song!”. It is in this brief moment that you can appreciate all the resonances of the bass drum/kick and the snare, with the feeling of being right there while the musician plays.
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But the title, “Arpeggi”, is already a promise (it’s an Italian word and it means notes played in cycle continuously) and after a grumble of Thom Yorke, an electric guitar plays with a clean sound that starts its arpeggio, while the electric bass guitar punctuates the tonic (the fundamental note of the chord). While this first guitar remains placed at the center of the stereo field, a second guitar is added to the left, with a slightly less “full” sound.
“In the deepest ocean”
In this context Thom’s sings “In the deepest ocean“, with a “plate” reverb effect (a metallic one), delayed by an hundred or more of milliseconds compared to the dry voice. At the beginning of the second verse, while Thom says “I’d be crazy not to follow“, another guitar sneaks, always clean, always in arpeggio, on the right channel. So now we have three: on the left, in the middle and on the right. Notice that the intensity of the guitar in the center is gradually increasing, as does its distortion.
“Turn me on to phantoms”
The intensity still increases on “Turn me on to phantoms“: a reverberating background voice emphasizes the moment with an open vocalization. But it is not enough. To give even more this feeling of emotional growth at the point where Thom pronounces the words “of the earth”, is the drummer who decides to pass the wand he has in his right hand, from the hit hat, as it has been so far, to the ride, also using the crash (another cymbal of the drum kit) to underline the beginning of measure (“Everybody leaves“).
“I get eaten by the worms”
Then something happens. “I get eaten by the worms” and the drum stops, as does the bass guitar. To beat the time is a constant percussion, a “glitch” sound obtained from a synth or a strong audio manipulation, which has been applied a very fast echo effect that smears the “pulsations” both in our left and right ear. And here the arpeggios goes on: a guitar in the middle and two synths, one on the left and one on the right. “Weird fishes“, says Thom, and it adds another arpeggio, more subliminal, while another synth, which until now was submerged by all the other instruments, punctuates the tonic with dry shots of eighths and is pulled slightly up until it becomes audible .
If you like “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi maybe you can try to listen to “Flashback”: I get some inspiration from that song
The suspended moment is over and suddenly the battery starts again with a crash and crash, with the same groove as before, but played harder, harder. And a chorus “ooh” is placed on the left while on the right a slow but inexorable synth comes forward that acts as a carpet. The electric bass is going on and another synth in the middle, and immediately we have some “blows” of agreement with a very elaborate sound full of effects and delays. The delay remains fixed, thus making this sound play continuously. After a while an arpeggio starts again in our left ear: it’s a guitar, but as soon as Thom enters the scene, this guitar is submerged by effects and processing. At this point also other guitars come in subliminal way to fill this “full” moment.
“Hit the bottom and escape”
“I’ll hit the bottom“, Thom sings and we approach the conclusion, while the drummer uses more plates to exaggerate the growth: “Escape / escape” and the music stops suddenly with a stroke of flat, great cash and snare together. Continue to resound one of the many effects of delay that have filled our ears until a moment ago.
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