tremble clef

Friday, January 13, 2006

Johnny Boy, "Johnny Boy Theme" (2006)

I'm always been mildly amused by how instantly gratifying I find Wall of Sound records, despite the fact that they are all done with smokes and mirrors. It's like being in love with a mirage. You know the drill: an echoing drum hits, and immediately the record soars, sounding huge and uplifting, and your eyes fill with a million stars. With Spector, some of that size comes from the way he did use real orchestras of musicians (and not just musicians you would normally only find in orchestras. I like the idea of trying to direct four or five guitar players in a studio. Do you think they take turns smashing each other over the head?). But of course Spector also utilized an echo chamber, and the reverb probably does way more to create the signature vastness of a Wall of Sound record than the real life musicians. It's a Cecile B. DeMille movie with an actual cast of twelve, a crowd scene created by CGI.

You'll be hard-pressed to find any writing on Johnny Boy that doesn't mention "Wall of Sound." Quite rightly. The band that made everyone shout "yeah! yeah!" in 2004 with its "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve" obviously does take a cue from Spector, and on that record, did so just perfectly. (If I were Fluxblog's Matt, who I think broke the song in the "blogosphere," I would consider having on my tombstone the inscription: He introduced us to "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes," and so has gone to heaven like he deserves.)

"Johnny Boy Theme," which first appeared as the band's debut 7", but now closes the upcoming and long-awaited album by the group, tweaks the formula a little. One thing about much Wall of Sound -- and the one that does the most to disrupt my illusion about the number of people in the room -- is the way that, delayed reverberations notwithstanding, everyone is essentially playing and singing along to the same thing.

"Johnny Boy Theme" works the illusion harder. Here, I can better imagine that there are indeed a million people contributing to this record, because they pretend they are all busy doing their own, different things. And yet their own things are also, miraculously, one thing. The chopped-up vocals in the background -- they may in fact be samples (especially on the 7", if not the album version) -- sound like they're following five different pieces of sheet music. It's a Wall of Sound Collages (one reason why The Go! Team may also pop up as a reference point). At points they even sound like sessions musicians practising scales on their own. Ah-ahhh! Ae-eeee! Another moment several different melody lines float by. And yet it all blends together, most beautifully in the middle eight: the drums drop down a notch, yet another new melody surfaces, and all the parts gets shouted, sung, emoted, and it all fits. In the movie version of this song, this would be when all the traffic noises, all the kids shrieking in the streets, all the different women on balconies humming, all come together, and then, as now, it has and will have the effect of squeezing my heart really, really tight.

Ah. I see that Fluxblog and Greenpea-ness both have "Fifteen Minutes," another track from the album, up. Aren't you lucky.


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