During certain periods in the development and evolution of music into various specific genres, there often emerges a musician or musical group(s) that end up creating a whole new style of music or enforce existing nascent ones. More often than not, these genres happen to come from popular works of music such as the Free Jazz sub-genre that originated from the artistry of Ornette Coleman and his 1960 album going by the same name. Similarly, the Rocksteady genre got its name from after Alton Ellis’ 1966 single going by the same name and in essence strengthened this new musical form. For this research paper, the analysis will be on The Chainsmokers, an American producer/ Disk Jockey(DJ) group made up of Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart. The duo is one of the pioneers of the Electronic Dance Music(EDM) movement and first gained popularity after their 2014 single #Selfie became a top twenty song in a number of countries. The Chainsmokers have experienced relative success in their musical endeavours; their single “Roses” off their debut Extended Play(EP) dubbed Bouquet was able to secure a spot at the United States Billboard Hot 100, won a Grammy Award in the “ Best Dance Recording” category courtesy of the track “Closer” during the 59th edition of the awards, with an American Music Award(AMA) under their name and finally being awarded the iHeart Radio Music Award on five different occasions (DE 5). Furthermore, this paper will offer an in-depth evaluation of this EDM-pop duo, from their origin, their musical instruments used in their works, with a profile of their April 2017 album by the name Memories…Do Not Open to demonstrate their musical strengths.
The Chainsmokers profile and Musical Style
Alex Pall and Andrew Taggart make up The Chainsmokers and are the epitome of self-taught musicians who made in the music industry. For their music production, they use gear such as M-Audio Axiom Adanced-61Key(a US made MIDI Controller), plugin software(such as Spectrasonics Omnisphere, reFx Nexus 2, Nick Romero Kickstart or Lennar Digital Synthesizer), Ableton lives 9 and the V-MODA Crossfade off the M-100 edition as studio monitors. They produce all their hits themselves be it on a plane, studio or at home, perhaps the main reason why their music has an air of an independence in artistry. The fist time they decide to delve into the EDM scene, they first bought software. (BLO0MBERG-RISSMAN 2929) The surprising bit is that they did not know how to use it and learned everything that they know now about using the software from Youtube tutorials. From there the group perfected their art of music production to a point where they could release records that became instant hits in many musical circles.
The Chainsmokers duo made their first appearance to the world of music on American Idol where they were slated to have a guest performance.During this time, the group the DJ duo only had one hit single to their name, #Selfie, but still saw it fit to appear in this singing competition, donning leather jackets before displaying their new eccentric style to the audience(Metcalf 184). Many would later term this as a cringeworthy performance, with fellow musicians lambasting them as a depiction of what was wrong with the budding Electronic Dance Music(EDM) industry (Mash Up Mix Edm). It was from this first mishap and the controversy that followed that the group decided to build their career by correcting those mistakes that they had made during their formative years as rookie musicians in this complex industry. Most of what they have learned from their experience in music is that it is a universal art that should not be divided through classifying music into genres. Moreover, a majority of the first experimental tracks that they did were covers or remixes of indie bands in their quest to bring these two genres together. Both individuals are convinced that their music is capable of changing the lives of those they come into contact with due to their unique style composition. They make use of digital composition, no longer being relegated to only use linear notes and is now firmly ensconced at the center of pop music. It is important to note that they have benefitted most from this cross-pollination of genres with a wide array of collaborations that feature crooners, rappers, and dance-pop artists enriching their music.
The Chainsmokers describe their musical style as one that seeks to blur the lines between pop music, indie, hip hop and dance music. One of their greatest influence is Pharrell Williams who they say inspired them to follow their dreams and in particular this new style of music that many were not familiar. It is also important to acknowledge that in 2016, the duo became the subject of a new genre, future bass which they now try to popularize through the songs that they write.The first future bass song that they released was “Roses” which became successful worldwide. As a first in this young genre they were nurturing, “Roses” became very popular, even with the simplicity that the musicians used to compose it(BLO0MBERG-RISSMAN 2929). The song consists of an open arrangement that makes use of the synthesizers in a clever fashion. It is written in the key of E major and has a tempo of 100bpm, typical of pop songs. The artists have made good use alternating chords with the song revolving around Esus2 and E(E, F sharp, B) with the vocals ranging from B3 and B4. The future bass genre features only a kick, clap and snares with high hats permeating in the song, as is the case in “Roses”, which for a moment makes the song similar to the trap sound ( a Hip-hop sub-genre). Another important point to underscore is that in this song the recordings of the clap and finger sound were done using a microphone. The result of this musical experiment was the production of a natural sounding reverb, bringing a new dimension to the song and complements the electronic drums. The very distinct kick drum sounds are evidence that they this genre has borrowed a lot from others as shown by the of the 808 drum sound. During production, all oscillators are independent as one of them is a sin standard 50hz wave and the other a sin 95Hz wave.
In “Roses”, The Chainsmokers similarly make use of a new technique that lets the bass appear below all the other sounds making it extremely full and fat. The boosting of the low frequencies also creates a unique merger with the saw wave creating harmonics that make for a catchy tune. The bass also has a warm tone parallel with the sonic temperature as a result of the fast attack then fast release technique that they utilize ensuring that the bass sits perfectly at the back, coming forward only when the male vocals are featured. As a result, at no point is it overpowering or overbearing, and in effect enabling the vocal glitches to become prominent, which according to me, is the highlight of this meticulously produced song. All through, the song commences rather eerily with the Riff synthesizer that features high reverberations in the synthesizers which sound very low. The tone of the song is set by the synthesizers due to its hollow sound with an abrasive tonal quality. Vibrato also features highly in this synthesizer which ensures that it brings out the unique quality of the song as it only begins with a riff. Later on in the song, the riff slowly disappears to give way to other “interesting” sounds. In doing so, there is the creation of a perfect sound stage that seems to have its place without negating the other frequencies. The overall sound of the song is digital, but it is the reverb and vibrato that do a superb job ant maintaining its warmth.
The main synthesizer that accompanies the chorus contains waves with an aggressive nature and many harmonics as it often plays in the key of E major, A major and G sharp major. It is also detuned, a factor responsible for giving the song the unusual hum. It has also been a process of widening it as the songs spread throughout the mix. Roze’s voice sits in the center of the mix and extends all through. The track is given more width when Andrew Taggart joins in, singing an octave lower and being accompanied by the bass sound and essentially making the sound full. The reverb that can be heard in the song perhaps suggests that the song was recorded live in a room that had wooden floors. Traces of top artists and producers are seen with the warm sounds that always suggest that the spaces that were available during recording were utilized to reduce mids and in effect extenuate the highs. Two contrasting glitches can be heard in the song complimenting Rozes’ voice that is very large and dynamic. The sound becomes very metallic and quite high in pitch indicating a period of modulation. It is also noteworthy that Rozes voice sounds airy, even ethereal, evidence that chances are the song was recorded up close using a pop filter. In describing the song during an interview with Breathe Heavy Taggart was very vocal in stating that this song was a representation of the inherent change that people experience urging them to head towards the right direction and the end of a period of transition. The song hence represents the fact that they were successful in coming full-circle, a reflection of their personalities and a reflection of their current state musically.
Memories… Do Not Open
As a debut 12 track album, Memories… Do Not Open is a collecting poignant emotional tales from the duo. It is a somber departure by the duo from those days when they would play the EDM sound and now that they have matured musically. With this anodyne pop record, the artists basically wallow in feelings or regret, nostalgia, and narcissism. Commercial EDM has been known to thrive on the sheer triumph of the artists found in this new genre and the success of this high-quality album was bent in changing the musical landscape. It is their emotional and stylistic maturation that seems to be the main topic of conversation in almost all the songs on the album. A suspicious sounding Taggart opens in the first track with an apology that makes him sound less like a superstar DJ and more like an emo singer (Merrill 3). The brooding tone of the opening song sets the mood for the for an emotional album filled with tales about breakups and betrayals. Well processed vocals and a slower tempo for most of the songs in the album. Furthermore, the album features a vast array of slinky melodies, controlled tempos, and emotional songs about those with bruised feelings. The album does not feature any concussive drops, big-room banger or those shared vuvuzela synthesizer riffs that were common in their previous songs. A few exceptions of a peppy pop-rock song such as “Break Up Every Night” or “Last Day Alive” that also features Florida Georgia Line.
The album also features singles that were part of their previous releases that also topped the charts. On their hit song “Closer”, its initial success and the mere fact that it was in the spotlight for being a hit perhaps encourages it more to take the spotlight. Taggarts voice is deep, capable and boomy making the song more catchy. His ability to reach the lower register comfortably also works well for him as it complements the thick bassline in the song. The song contains drabs with a cyclic pattern that is bound to make the song bigger than it actually is in terms of popularity for EDM lovers. Generally, the album’s themes are those of experiences that are somewhat relatable such as “Don’t Say”, “Something Like This” meant to show their fans what’s really in them. On the flip side, songs such as “My type” and “Young” seem to contradict their efforts as they appear artistically deep. They bring a new definition to what people refer to as “deep” music, as their works feature the reminiscing of nostalgic times filled with romanticizing about toxic relationships and wrecking cars. The whole album is a reiteration of what the duo has been able to contribute musically. The group has also made it a point to acknowledge the importance of pro-social content, evident in “Something Like This” that also features Cold Play. Chris Martin, Cold Play’s frontman is pondering about a litany of heroes and legends that include Spiderman, Achilles, Hercules, and Superman. Conversely, all his partner wants is someone who is ready to give and receive true, unadulterated love. “ Paris” on the other hand provides motivation to young couples that are struggling to male relationships work.
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