Track-by-Track: “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake”

This is somewhat of an odd track (among other admittedly odd tracks) largely because it started life as two separate recordings. The first was an instrumental piece titled “Mellow Pleasant Beat.” I recorded that one shortly after buying some synth plug-ins for Reason. (It think it was “Booster Pack Retro: Digital Sound Vocal Expressions,” in case you’re curious). It was a fairly short and simple recording, but I liked the sound of it, especially the “Ah-ahs.” Of course, it really didn’t go anywhere, so I set the recording aside and forgot about it until I stumbled upon it a few months later.

At that time, the tracks in Thank You for Holding were starting to come together. One of the tracks was called “Spongecake” (which I’ve since re-titled “Spooky Spongecake” to distinguish it from this one), but it was actually stranger than the current specimen under consideration. So I layered in the vocal track (me singing “Groovin’ on spongecake” over and over with a lot of effects on my voice to make it sound old and wobbly like a malfunctioning computer from a low-budget 1970s sci-fi film).

Within the context of Thank You for Holding, this track would close out side one of an LP or cassette if the album were on one of those media. As with “Don’t Let It Go,” I thought a largely instrumental track would work here, though this one reminded me a little bit more of “technical difficulties — please stand by” kind of a message rather than a message you’d hear while on hold, the idea being that the robot from the earlier tracks is experiencing technical difficulties and, perhaps inexplicably, dreaming about spongecake.

I say “perhaps inexplicably” because there actually is an explanation for the spongecake line, but I’ll save that for my post on “Spooky Spongecake.”

Track-by-Track: “Don’t Let It Go”

So far, “Don’t Let It Go” is the track from Thank You for Holding that has gotten the most compliments. Not sure if that’s because there’s no singing on it or because people like the guitar playing… Hmm…

In any case, this instrumental started as a fairly long jam that I recorded with — I think — a loop pedal and a Tascam Digital Portastudio that I was using before I started using my laptop and Reason to record. I’m not sure how long the original track was, but at some point I edited the best parts of my guitar solo together and replaced the bass and drum tracks with a combination of live and sequenced instruments.

Actually, if you listen carefully to the bass line, you can probably hear that the first part of the song is a synth, the middle is live, and the last part is basically a single note that I lifted from an earlier recording of the song and repeated until the end.

The title is somewhat of a play on the title of the Disney song “Let It Go,” which was popular a few years ago. It was the kind of song that I was hearing everywhere and just getting sick of, so I gave this song the opposite name despite the fact that there’s no similarity between the two tunes whatsoever.

I made a couple of earlier versions of this song available on BandCamp a while back — maybe a year or so ago — and I almost included it on Garden Variety, but as with “My Head,” I couldn’t get the sound quite right until now.

In fact, of all the tracks on Thank You for Holding, this one gave me the most headaches and took me the longest to mix because I wanted it to sound “live” as opposed to the exquisite corpse of patched-together performances and sequenced tracks that it actually is. One way I did that was to start the song at one tempo and gradually speed it up as the track progresses.

The main reason I included this track on Thank You for Holding is that I think it has a kind of 1970s jazz-rock sound to it that would definitely be right at home on an elevator or on a telephone hold message. And, of course, I also added the robot’s voice to the end of this one by splicing together a few of his phrases from “Thank You for Holding” to make him sound even sadder and lonelier than he does on that track: “Thank you for holding. Your call is the only life I know.”

Track-by-Track: “Blood Flows Silver”

There was a week in the summer of 2015 when I recorded a number* of backing tracks with the intention of eventually writing and recording lyrics for those tracks. Of course, that was towards the end of the summer, and when a new school year started, those plans had to go on hold.  I called the collection Progressions, and I think the title of this track was “Progression 04” (though it could have been “Progression 09”).

In any case, I put the tracks on my iPod, and every now and then I’d hear one while I was driving to work. This one always got stuck in my head whenever I heard it, and at one point I wrote in my journal that a video for that track would depict a lonely robot rolling around a park trying to make friends. In an odd way, I suppose that’s what’s going on throughout Thank You for Holding, though instead of rolling around a park, the robot is trying to chat up someone who most likely died centuries ago…

The song’s lyrics, though, take a slightly different tack. In some ways, I think of “Blood Flows Silver” as a kind of sequel to “Johnny’s Secret Army” from my Garden Variety EP — but this time around, the army has fallen on some hard times. Like anyone who might have survived whatever imaginary apocalypse rocked my lonely robot’s world, they’re still plugging along and trying to survive, but their numbers are shrinking. I’m also guessing that they’re cyborgs of some kind, which might explain why their blood flows silver.

One of the lyrics I was a little worried about was, “We dream of gods returning/Fiddle while Rome is burning.” My concern was that the allusion to Rome burning (while Nero fiddles) in the second line would leave people wondering what I was talking about, but the same week the album came out, Stephen Colbert used this Tweet as the punchline of a joke on The Tonight Show:Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 2.13.44 PM

So maybe it wasn’t too obscure a reference after all!

Blood Flows Silver

We play this game like no one else does.
We’ve played so long it’s hard to say if
We play the game or the game plays us,
Or even if there’s still a game to play.
We dream of gods returning,
Fiddle while Rome is burning.
The blood flows silver in our veins.

We take the road where the road takes us.
We drift like shadows on the wall.
We live the dream til morning wakes us.
We tell ourselves we’ll never fall.
We chase our favorite vices
With tea and cakes an ices.**
The blood flows silver in our veins.

They hit us hard we hit them harder.
We fight with nothing left to lose.
Each time we chalk up a new martyr,
We shake it off with pills and booze.
We take our daily doses
To ward off our psychoses.
The blood runs silver in our veins.

*That number was twelve.

**Another potentially obscure allusion. Apologies to TS Eliot.