Minor Fall, Major Lift in ‘Pioneer’

Hello all,

Back again, to do an analysis of some of my own “favorite seconds”: 3:23-3:50 of “Pioneer to the Falls,” off of OLTA.

Looking at this song made me appreciate just how intricate the texture of an Interpol song can be, and also how crucial that texture is to the song’s identity. [By texture I mean the different layers of sound: guitar, keys, drums, bass, vox] Doing a brief harmonic analysis, I found that the harmonic progression for the first two and a half minutes of the song is simply this (repeated several times): G-minor for one bar, D-minor for one bar, F-diminished for two bars, and A-major for two bars. Yet the impression is that so much more is happening during those two and a half minutes; and indeed, texturally speaking, there is more happening than just that harmonic progression, specifically in the realms of melody and rhythm.

But back to this specific part of the song; suffice it to say, both the key (D minor) and the texture of “Pioneer” before 3:23 and after 3:50 differ greatly from the thirty or so seconds heard in between. These seconds find the song in a new key—D major—and have a fuller texture than heard before, as the drums come on full force. I am always transported to a heaven-like place when I listen to these thirty-seven seconds.

The temporary diversion from the “norm” for the song heard in these seconds reminds me of the “fantasy” section I wrote about in my NARC paper, in which a section of the song (like “Pioneer,” found about three-quarter’s of the way through) diverts into new territory, both musically and lyrically speaking. In “Pioneer,” Paul repeatedly sings about a “dirt pile” (which has been cited as indicating a grave) and a “soul,” but in my favorite seconds, he sings a rising line on “alive,” intimating that in this “fantasy,” the person underneath the dirt pile is actually still living. And as with NARC, an aspect of the fantasy section in “Pioneer” persists through to the end of the song, even after the fantasy is over: after a brief respite during which Paul sings alone, the full-force drums return at 4:31 and finish out the song.

One last note: I find it significant that the majority of the song is in D minor (all white notes except for B-flat and the occasional C-sharp), which is a notoriously depressing key in the Classical repertoire, while my favorite seconds are in D major (white notes except for F-sharp, C-sharp), the parallel major of D minor. It’s as if, for the brief life of the fantasy, we are released from the bonds of D minor into a much brighter key-area.

Well, that’s all for now. Up next, another “favorite seconds” entry, this time from friendinmypants about “Not Even Jail” and “A Time to Be So Small.”

Until then,
Much love from,


~ by megwilhoite on January 21, 2009.

8 Responses to “Minor Fall, Major Lift in ‘Pioneer’”

  1. This is my favourite section of the song too, but I hadn’t made the link between this and the similar change in NARC…or that it carries on to the end of Pioneer, which is weird to hear!

  2. Hello All,
    After nearly 40 years in broadcasting as a disk jocky I can tell you that we have relatviely little time to analyze the intricicies of the music–thought that is what we might WANT to be doing. So I will be listening to the music of Interpol with the interest of someone now into the music as deeply as the music is into society.

  3. Hi, Megan!

    I have just found your new blog. Enjoyable! I thought you had finished posting with your old blogger one, I did not found any redirection.

    I have two questions:
    -could you recommend me some book or web page which guides or teaches how to analyze songs? I found it really interesting.
    -do you think NARC´s first riff has some similarity with an argentian tango? the ryhtm, the beginning and ending on the root, I do not know (my knowledge is very limited)

    I recommend you also to follow this blog: http://blog.fixyourmix.com/2009/a-compositional-analysis-of-kids-by-mgmt/


  4. Meg, I enjoy your blog. How can you decide that the section is in Dmaj and not the relative Bmin? My theory skills aren’t able to distinguish.

  5. Fascinating! I’ll never listen to Interpol the same again. But it’s great to be able to divorce myself from the theory and still enjoy this awesome band. Very much enjoy your analysis.

  6. […] Matt commented on my post “Minor Fall, Major Lift in Pioneer”, asking: “How can you decide that the section is in Dmaj and not the relative […]

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