♫♪  Zach Phillips - Recorded in Hell/ “As Teeth”

One thing that really fascinates me in pop music is the idea of proportion. When pop songs are reduced to their most basic formal elements (beyond simply harmony and melody), most can essentially be broken down into 2 or 3 discrete sections (verse, chorus, bridge). It can be really interesting to see how much of an individual section can be proportionally condensed or stretched while still resembling a song structure. For instance, how long does a verse or chorus need to be to resemble a typical song form? Conversely, how much variation needs to occur in order to distinguish one particular section from another? Additionally, what happens to our sense of time/structure proportionally when melody/harmony are embedded within the framing of longer instrumental or noise elements?

Zach Phillips’ music seems to be very concerned with these questions and on his latest, Recorded in Hell, he explores these questions of pop proportion in fascinating ways. Recorded in Hell largely consists of miniature pop songs that are extremely dense harmonically/melodically due to their extremely short lengths. However, it’s through this density that Phillips is able to examine how much a song needs to function and the proper “songs” on Recorded in Hell manage to create wonderfully complete bizarro pop tunes that are often only 30 seconds or less (see “Deer Release” and “A Good Misunderstanding”). Perhaps part of the reason this works so well is due to the bulk of Recorded in Hell’s arrangements focusing on Phillips’ virtuosic keyboard work and vocals which reduce the instrumentation to basic harmonic/melodic function while cramming complex formal structures into small time frames. The effect of proportion within these miniature songs is further complicated by a number of lovely synth driven instrumentals (all of the “2010’s” tracks) that are sometimes 2 to 3 times the length of the song material. This in conjunction with the odd snippets of dialogue that often begin each song effectively blur the listener’s perception of time. As we grow to accept the 30 second-1 minute songs as a normal complete length, the longer (1-2:30 minute) instrumentals feel almost like blissfully epic excursions. Phillips’ manipulation of proportion and how it plays with a listener’s sense of time within the context of pop music seems inextricably connected to Maher Shalal Hash Baz’s work but Phillips is exploring these concerns in very different ways through his use of song forms and instrumental variation.

These ideas also seem to inform the video for standout track “As Teeth”. Despite its abstract appearance at the onset, “As Teeth’s” video invokes narrative form through overlaid shots of a woman’s feet moving backwards and upside down and imagery of buildings and apartments. The video can be read as a visual representation of what Phillips does with form in his music. The transient narrative could even be seen as a direct illustration of the song’s lyric “even that remains a story.” Recorded in Hell and “As Teeth”, are Phillips’ way of playing with notions of form and narrative in accepted forms by both proportionally blurring and reducing their signifiers.

• Zach Phillips: http://www.osr-tapes.com
• Lillerne Tapes: http://www.lillernetapes.com

Chocolate Grinder

CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we’ll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.

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