Seven Things We Can Learn From Death and All His Friends

This is one of my current favorite songs, by none other than lovely Coldplay. It used to be really cool to like Coldplay, because they were kind of indie, sort of British, and a little bit unknown. They were like a find…an entrance into a club. Now, they’re too popular for you to feel cool if you like them. So now only the mass populus likes them, and most indie kids and musicians don’t. 😉 Hmmm…

But I cannot get over their newest album. It really hasn’t gotten a rest on my car’s cd player. (Yep, you read that right…cd player. Keepin’ it classy since 1996.) And the last song on the album, ‘Death and All of His Friends’ really does (at least for me) what I look for in music and what I try to do with my own music–it reaches in and grabs my soul in a way I cannot explain or fully understand. But I like it.

So, there’s five things we can learn from this song:

1. Sometimes understanding a song technically and cerebrally can take away a bit from the joy of listening to it musically and emotionally.

So that being said, here’s the song to listen to, before going into some things about the writing of it. (One picture……it’s just for sweet, sweet aural pleasure.)

2. Music is Melody.

Just a beautiful song. It lets the overall melodic spine of the vocals, piano, guitars, and loops be the song. The rest is to support it. No style, orchestration, musicians, solos, anti-solos, power, or dynamics, will ever fully make up for a poorly written song. The song and subsequent melody have to come first. (This, of course, from a little guitar player guy who happened to put a blog up, hopes someone will read it, and has never written a hit song……even with himself. hehe)

3. Blend

The piano intros, and then the guitar just melds in with it perfectly. Very nice contrapuntal section…you kind of forget which is leading and which is following, and just let the whole of the passage run its course through the veins of your very being. (Okay, that was admittedly a bit much. 🙂 )

4. Keep it Simple

I wish I could play the first drum beat nonstop for 24 hours for every drummer on the planet. The power of that simple beat says more, in my hopefully humble opinion, then anything else ever could have.

5. Technicality is for the Purpose of Sounding Good; it’s not a Purpose in Itself

You may or may not have noticed, but the last passage, the hook of the song, was in 7/4. What I love about that, is that it helps the flow of the song. It doesn’t call attention to itself as an off-tempo rhythm per se, but is written because that’s what the song called for. And in my personal opinion, it takes a way better musician to make 7/4 timing sound good, then one who plays 7/4 in a way that screams, ‘Listen to me! I can play something other than 4/4!’

6. Escapism, Ambiance, and Soundscape in Music is Back (or so I think)

Now this is purely my own expert (hehe……riiight……) speculation, but the ambient escapism music that kind of takes you to a physical location, is coming back into style. I’m thinking we’re going to see a rebirth of this type of music, mixed with the currently popular folky melodies. It’s almost a new style emerging a bit, and it’d be cool for the church to jump on it now, instead of in five years, which seems to be our habit. 😉 But I’m loving this soundscape stuff right now.

7. Johnny Buckland has Good Tone

Of course, tone is subjective, so this is up for debate; but I do dig his sound.

Mmmm……soul-grabbing music.


16 thoughts on “Seven Things We Can Learn From Death and All His Friends

  1. I’ve still floored by good of an album this is. And I’m embarrassed by how good Buckland’s tone is – especially when you realize he’s using no boutique guitar stuff! It’s generally a Fender Thinline Reissue (not a CS either!) through a Fender Hod Rod Deluxe with some run-of-the-mill pedals form MXR, BOSS etc. At least that’s the last I heard…

    I totally agree with how well they used the 7/4 thing in “Death and All His Friends”. IT FIT! This is one of my beefs with the otherwise brilliant Charlie Hall Band. They’ll often have complicated arrangements or beats that add nothing to the song.

    Isn’t “Lovers in Japan” the same song as “City of Blinding Lights”?

    Unrelated subject: Angus Young’s tone on the first track (“Rock ‘n Roll Train”) of the new AC/DC album is utterly and completely kicking my ass.

  2. Gotta agree with you on this too, dude…although, apart from the actual initial song (which caught me off guard as to how good it was), the last part of it (“…and, in the end we lie awake…) was what caught me…I was literally in tears at the end of my first listen.

    Go listen to Paper Route…I think that ambient escapism you were talking about is most prevalent in their music (and they’re Christian). They’ve been heavily influencing all of my new stuff, just like this Coldplay album; it’s fun to lead worship with all the ambient stuff happening to back you. It allows a greater expressiveness and, in my humble opinion, opens the whole worship atmosphere up more than any hymn could do.

  3. Hey, Karl, I wanted to let you know I just found your blog this past week and I think it’s great, keep up the good work, man.

    I just wanted to ask if you’ve listened to any of Jon Foreman’s (Switchfoot) solo work from the past year? I think that some of his worship stuff, “House Of God Forever”, “Your Love Is Strong”, is really awesome. The actual chords and such are really simple, but the way he develops the song musically, the instrumentation, is great.

    Also, I just found a video interview with Martin Smith from Delirious? on; he talks a little about his ideas about writing worship music. Just thought I’d mention it if you want to take a look. He makes a reference to his own adoration of Bono, so you’re not alone in loving U2 so much. 😉

  4. Blogsology–ya!! I’m so loving the album and Buckland’s tone. And he does get some great sounds from stock stuff. Although, he does have a couple TC 2290 rack delays on this tour, and there’s some incriminating pictures of him in the studio with some ’50’s Marshalls and boutique-ish pedalboards. 😉 Again, that’s all heresay. It seems, though, that a lot of the pros go for broke when recording, but on the road, they go with the reliable stuff.

    And +1 on Charlie Hall! I enjoy a lot of his songs, but sometimes it’s like, ‘Ok, what just happened?’

    Ha! I do hear the similarities between ‘Lovers’ and ‘City’. It sounds like what ‘City’ would have sounded like if Brian Eno had been given full reign on the keys in the studio for U2! hehe

    And I’m currently on my way to check out Angus’ tone…online of course, not like, to his house or anything.

    Chinomage–so glad you actually admitted that! A couple parts of this album have made me cry, too. That makes me feel better that I’m not the only one.

    And I’m gonna go check out Paper Route. Thanks for the tip!

    Joel–thanks for stopping by! I really appreciate it, as well as the encouragement.

    And no, I didn’t even know Switchfoot’s frontman had solo stuff. I’ve got to listen to some of that! The fact that it’s simplistic really appeals to me.

    And I’ll check out that video, too. Delirious seems to be one of those bands that I always like no matter what……and now I like them even more if they’re sharing my love of U2. 😉

  5. wow, well I’m getting the the “Vida” album now.

    And yeah, Jon Foreman’s stuff is reminiscent of his song “only hope” as recorded by Switchfoot. But here he has an acoustic and a few ambient effects- on a couple of tracks he used actually coffee shop noise as a backing sound. It sounds very “Dylan-ish”. Nothing you can really sing along to, but bittersweet stuff. His “compliation” best of is on Itunes now, or you can get all 4 EPs (named for the seasons, summer.. etc.. )

    Blogs, good call on the AC/DC… I love the tone too, especially on Stiff Upper Lip. WOW (but thats a few years back!)

  6. Wow, Coldplay does it again. Amazing stuff; I had never heard this one before.

    Another part of a great song is the vocals. Chris Martin has demonstrated this over and over again. It’s not so much matching the melody or having a technically perfect (or even technically good) voice; there’s something more — that’s electric — it communicates as if it were coming straight from the heart. Maybe it actually is coming straight from his heart, which is something we can take a lesson from for worship: if it isn’t coming from the heart it’ll sound like we don’t really mean it. Then we shouldn’t be surprised when the listeners almost can’t help but lose interest.

    The tenor of that song is interesting; maybe this is the ambient escapism you referred to. If we assume the 1st chord of that song is the root of the key, there’s a lot of that 1-to-4-back-to-1 feel, like U2’s “40”. I think the verses are 1 – 4 – 1 – major chord 1 step below the root (sorry, I don’t know the numeric notation for that, but if the key were C I’m describing Bb) – 6. In terms of chords instead of numbers: C – F – C – Bb – Am. They never give us a 5 (G) until much later into the song. Until we get the 5 those verses could go on almost all day. My hat is off to them.

  7. Nice comment!! Ya, I totally agree about Chris Martin. There’s even a live version of this song on youtube where he holds out a note that’s really difficult to hold, and he goes flat a bit. But you can tell by the crowd that it really doesn’t matter, because the energy he’s conveying. And I see myself a little in that role…because I know I don’t have the best voice. So like you said, I had better be worshiping when I’m singing!! Because that will get the message across even more than a great voice!

    And good call on the chords. If there’s one thing U2 has taught us (hehe), it’s to stay about from that 5th chord! The 5th can be your enemy because of the stability it gives to the key. Staying away from it creates this harmonic intrigue because your ear is never quite absolutely sure. And when you do go to the 5th chord, to mask it a bit. Make sure it’s suspended note sounds for a while, and then drop down to its third note. I remember Mike Huffman telling me that the point is to mask the chord changes so they doesn’t sound ‘blocky.’ Very U2-ish!

    And then the cool thing about that is, when we want to do a song that’s not U2-ish (read, ‘never’ with me…lol), playing that 5th chord rock solid (like maybe with a 7th note) will have a very cool and different effect.

    Great insight! (Dan’s, not mine…hehe)

  8. Hey, Karl, thought I’d just let you know that if you go to Jon Foreman’s website and scroll to the bottom right-hand corner there’s a flash player where you can listen to the entire compilation album, Limbs And Branches, that he just came out with.

  9. Hey I found your blog through Alex over at BetterThanBlank for the amazing vid of the Starbucks Church. Then I find this post! Subscribing now in my Google Reader and adding you to my Blogroll 🙂
    Ah…I’m in your shoes! Loving Coldplay since they weren’t loved by the masses and I LOVE this CD. And I LOVE this song. There’s not much more to add, you’ve covered it here. I love the simplicity, I love the locked synchronization of the keys and the guitar when it shifts about a minute in! And I’m so glad someone else is saying it: “The music is beautiful!”
    I remember Will saying he was the best ‘non-drummer’ there is! That radically changed the way I instructed our worship team. For like 6 months my mantra was: “Find the spot in the song when you will NOT play!” So often we are afraid of not playing! One of the things Coldplay does so well is layering and ‘not playing’ and the result is some insane music!

  10. Worship City–welcome!! Great to have another Coldplay fan here. Great site, too! I’m adding it to my blogroll, as well.

    And great quote from Will…that’s almost revolutionary. And I’m definitely going to pass on the ‘Find where you will not play’ to my team. Great stuff!!

  11. Yellow is a great song. There’s a nice Irish ache in that one. Wow, I’m not sure I could choose a favorite if I had to. Maybe Yellow, this one, or I’d have to totally sellout my coolness and say the oft-played Clocks. 🙂

  12. Karl, again I’m a little late on this one too, but again you hit the bullseye with your description of DAAOHF/Escapist.
    I remember the first time I listened to that song and being taken back completely by the time signature change, but how subtle it was in the song. After reading this blog, I had to go back and listen to the song again. For a combination Christmas/Birthday gift (birthday in Nov) my wife’s parent’s gave me a set (or is it pair) of Bose QC15 Acoustic Noise Canceling Headphones (my wife said, “I’ve now lost my husband for good” when she saw my eyes light up like a little kid). If you don’t have them or something similar, I highly recommend it. Although, they do cost $300 so they are a bit pricey.
    As I was saying, I listened to that song again with my new headphones. There is something about that song that just evokes a certain emotion in you that cannot be put into words. My wife and I had the chance to see them this summer (my first time seeing them). They closed the concert with that song. I closed my eyes, and soaked up what my ears were taking in. It was epic! That song, out of the entire concert made me tear up. Definitely my favorite on the album.

    Another band for you to check out that you might like is The Helio Sequence. Their songs have an ambient feel to them, with a bit of alt-country, and delayed telecaster tone. Their latest album Keep Your Eyes Ahead is the one that I have. My favorite song is The Captive Mind. I love the bass/drum synchopacion mixed with the 80’s synth sound and opening guitar lead line. Check them out if you get the chance. I think you’ll dig.

    One more thing, when I read your blog I sometimes laugh out loud at your comments. My wife looks at me and says, “you’re reading that guy’s blog again aren’t you?”. I tell her that she is correct and she smiles and shakes her head and says I have a man-crush… huh…. wives……

  13. Bro, that is so awesome! I agree completely. Nice to know I’m not the only dude crying on that song. hehe

    I’m stoked to check out the Helio sequence. Thanks for the tip. Going to youtube right now.

    And man-crushes are actually encouraged on this blog. Well, I have to say that in order to explain to my wife my feelings for Edge. haha

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