Same Town, New Story, New Podcast

Hi again everyone! Today I’m going to talk about “Same Town, New Story.” Click here to access my transcription.

This analysis was inspired by a message I received from Maria on Twitter; she says:

Maria Pacheco Amorim‏ @shadesformiles: I sense more urgency, built-in tension in their more recent songs (again so in Real Life) and I’d like to understand it better. Btw, if you could expand more on that (song structure in El P) when analysing STNS, it would be ace!”

So, yes, song structure in El Pintor is very important to the album’s unique sound. Like Maria said, the songs have a strong sense of urgency and tension, and a lot of that is because of the ways the songs are structured.

As I’ve talked about before, the standard song form—by which I mean the way in which the different sections of the song repeat—is basically intro->verse->maybe another verse->maybe a pre-chorus->chorus->verse->bridge->chorus->outro. Structured in this way, we can say that the different parts of the standard song form have a function. The intro functions to set up the soundscape of the song, the verse functions to introduce us to the story of the song, the chorus is the culmination or the climax of the story, the bridge acts as a sonic palette cleanser so that the return of the chorus feels even more powerful, etc.

However, with many of Interpol’s songs, but especially in El Pintor, the song forms are not structured this way; the sections cycle at unpredictable intervals, thwarting our being able to “hear ahead” to what the song will bring. In this way, Interpol takes away any sense of “function” to the songs’ sections. We don’t get a verse that sets us up for a climax, and we don’t get a chorus that gives us that climax. So, what is it that we do get?

We do get sections that repeat, though when they repeat they’re longer than the first time they appear. It was difficult for me to decide how to describe the structure of the song; I ended up using the guitar and bass patterns, along with the patterns in the lyrics to guide me, and came up with:

Intro, Section A at 0:19, Section B at 0:36, return of Section A at 1:10, and return of Section B at 1:44. At 2:33 we get the mini “bonus song” ending that Interpol is so fond of, where they begin a completely new section that is minimally related to the previous sections, and which ends the song (as opposed to, say, Section A or Section B returning and ending the song).

The urgency and tension that Maria mentions partly arise from the fact that we can’t predict what will come next in the song, especially since the sections are all different in length: the A section is 8 measures, the B section is 15 measures (normally formal sections contain an even number of measures), the second A section is 16 measures and the second B section is 21 measures (again another odd number of measures).

Tension also arises from the fact that we can’t really assign “function” to any of the sections (like, “ah this is the verse; ok and this is the chorus”). After I listened to the song the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, was there no chorus in that song?”, and after subsequent listens my analysis is that there is no chorus—that is, there is no culmination section.

The vagaries of the form account for part of the urgency and tension, but—as in all formal structures—the harmonic and rhythmic character of the song play an important role in how we perceive the function (or lack thereof) of the song’s sections.

For example, throughout the first two and a half minutes of the song, Sam strikes the kick drum on every beat of the four-beat measure and maintains roughly the same closed hi-hat pattern. He doesn’t use any other part of the kit, and there are no fills. For two and a half minutes it’s the same one-measure pattern repeated for 70 measures. This is highly unusual for any rock song, even for an Interpol song.

I think Sam’s choice of such a repetitive drum part, especially one that has the kick on every beat, is related to how rhythmically unstable Daniel’s guitar lick is. It took me a while to transcribe that opening lick, which starts on the second half of beat two and has a short-long character that makes it sound like someone struggling to get out a sentence. It’s so complex that without Sam’s striking each and every beat it would be easy to lose your place while you were playing it. (A side note: I think this is why, in the live performance I saw at Bowery Ballroom, Sam started the song playing the kick on every beat, so that Daniel would be able to coordinate himself when he entered the song.)

Having the kick on every beat in and of itself lends the song a sense of urgency, and having no drum fills means that it’s very difficult for us as the listeners to keep track of where we are in the song’s micro-form—usually fills tell us when the end of one phrase and the beginning of another is happening. Having Daniel repeating that rhythmically complex, almost uncertain-sounding, rising, and very high-pitched pattern also makes the first half of this song feel tense and urgent.

At 2:33, the drum part changes. For 12 measures we have an even more tense and urgent drum part, with the kick fluttering out sixteenth notes, before finally—for the first time in the song—breaking out into a normal rock drum pattern, with the kick on beats 1 and 3 and the snare on 2 and 4. This break into normalcy is counteracted by the harmonies, and thus even in the second half of the song we continue to feel that urgency and tension.

Like in a lot of other Interpol songs, the pitch collection in the first half of the song is mostly hexatonic. It’s a G major-ish hexatonic: E-G-A-B-C-D, mostly avoiding the leading tone of G major, which is F-sharp. In fact, when F-sharp does appear, like at 1:03, it sounds like an altered note—hence my calling this G hexatonic even though I’ve transcribed it as if it’s in G major.

However, in the second half of the song, the harmonic character shifts. The pitch collection is still largely G hexatonic, but there’s a noted emphasis on the note C, and F-sharp makes more appearances as part of Daniel’s new guitar pattern. So, even though Sam’s drums have lessened in urgency, this section still feels on-edge because the various musical patterns feel perpetually on the verge of resolution but never arrive there—the last guitar note is an A, and the synthesizer spends the final 13 measures (from 3:34) climbing up from C to C: C-D-E-F-sharp-G-A-B-C, in other words the G major scale but starting on the fourth scale degree.

The El Pintor song forms to me are like the natural outgrowth of Interpol’s earliest song forms, which are a combination of cyclical and through-composed (in some posts from 2008 and 2009 I called this type of form “peregrinated”). There are sections that cycle, and extended sections that are completely separate from the cyclical part of the song. Some day I’ll do a review of all the albums to see how many of these hybrid forms there are in Interpol’s catalog.

Song 1


Section A (8 mm)

0:19, mm.10-17

Same town, new story

They bridged the fated span

He was bound for glory

She found her winning man

Section B (15 mm)

0:36, mm.18-25

That she stood by him

Through it all

Then she stood by him

She was pounding on the wall

0:54, mm. 26-32

She said it feels like the whole world

Is upon my shoulders

Feels like the whole world coming down on me

Section A’ (16 mm)

1:10, mm. 33-41

How many bones were lost?

He just had to play his hand

What is a woman’s duty?

She was always tougher than (same town, new story)

1:29, mm. 42-48

She said who’s gonna save them from you?

(Same town, new story)

Who’s gonna save them from you? (Same town, new story)

I ain’t gonna chase another stake until he’s gone

Section B’ (21 mm)

1:44, mm. 49-59

Then she stood by him

to the law

Then she stood by him

When he was down on his knees

She said we’re still alive

We are still alive

2:08, mm. 60-70

Feels like the whole world

Is upon my shoulders (coming down)

Feels like the whole world

Is upon my shoulders (coming down)

Feels like the whole world’s coming down on me

Song 2

2:33, mm. 71-78

2:51, mm. 79-90

Why I pinch her so slowly

Pinch her so slowly

Why I pinch her so slowly

Why I pinch her so slowly

Pinch her so slowly

3:34, mm. 99-111


~ by megwilhoite on December 19, 2017.

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