Tension and Release

Many fans of electronic music of all types (including me) will often tell you to “wait for the drop.” Because it is the most exciting part of the song and it is what all electronic music is built around, this method of tension and release musically. Remember back to my post about cadences and the”magic of V I”? This plays a role as well as many other things in creating musical tension. For example if you play a scale, any scale, starting at the root then go up stepwise but stop at the VII, it doesn’t sound complete. You are expecting it to resolve, to release. This is a “drop” in its simplest form, a harmonic resolution. Start the first video at 3:17. It is really soft and low, but it gradually gets louder and higher. Then more instruments begin to add in on top of the ones already playing. The notes continue to increase in intensity and pitch until finally at 4:24… The drop The composer plays with your feelings, it fluctuates dynamically, and the repeating line goes up and down pentatonically. It makes me, as a listener, begin to think “come on… come on…I know its coming! Come on!” and then when it finally does it is more satisfying than I ever could have imagined (assuming I never heard it before). Classical composers have been creating sick drops since before Skrillex was ever born.

Right from the beginning this song establishes the melody. I don’t just mean the vocals, the synth line that is going to be used during the drop is introduced to that when we hear it later in full it has a bigger impact. At :09 the vocals start, and the instruments are very sparse and soft. At :24 the cymbals come in to get the beat more in your head. :39 the instruments get louder and more full. At :54, its hard to hear at first but the beat begins to “build up.” Zedd also uses an arbitrary pitch and has it gradually gain volume and pitch to increase the tension. The drum instruments begin to get faster and faster until 1:09 when finally, the drop happens. Notice what Zedd did to create this tension/release effect was the same thing Gustav Holst did in Mars. It starts soft with few instruments, ends loud with many. The rhythmic pattern increasing in speed also adds to this effect, which is something that cannot be done by human performers. This gives electronic music an advantage in creating tension over genres with real instruments. Time for a new drop.

Borgore decides to give a bit more away at the start than Zedd did. The beat starts heavy and full all the way until the build-up section at :55. At this point only a single instrument remains while the “melody” of the drop slowly gains volume. More and more instruments slowly enter as the melody continues to increase in intensity. 1:21 Yup that’s a drop. Again, same effect as the Holst piece from the beginning. The difference between this and the last song by Zedd (besides one being electro-house and one being dubstep) is the prominence of the “melody.” Many dubstep enthusiasts incorrectly call this the bass, but in reality these are the mids. The “bass” is ONLY the kick drum, and the reason it is often called the bass drop is because it is where the kick drum enters in the music to create the “drop” effect. It’s not wrong to call it the bass drop but it is important to understand what it means. Wub wubs do not equal bass. As always, this effect can be found in metal as well

At the start the strings slowly get faster and louder, while introducing the theme for the guitar melody at the drop you hear at :51. To me there is no difference in the effect between this, Clarity, or Mars. Musicians across all genres use this effect to draw attention from their audience. It’s exciting, It’s memorable. Movies get an hour or two to draw you in, to build up drama and tension before the climax. Songs only get a few minutes. For instance, do you remember scene for scene the plot of the sixth sense, or (SPOILER ALERT) the fact that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time? Most likely the ladder, because the movie built up to that jarring plot twist that blew your mind. This is similar to why the drop is such a common tool used in song writing. You may not remember what the song is about, but if they can build up to an over dramatic moment that leaves your face melted on the floor from how amazing it was you will surely at least remember that.

This song doesn’t begin to create tension until 2:25. The singer continually repeats the line “left with no decision, my body falls to the floor, if only I finally found the center, its exactly what I was searching for.” This leaves the listener wondering, what was he searching for? Also the typical techniques for a drop are here, softer instruments getting louder and fuller. The singer then reveals what it he is singing about, “I’m high enough to reach salvation, but I will suffer no more” as the song reaches its climax. During this drop he says “I never hoped for the final glimpse of my life but I will suffer no more.” The person in the story is realizing the only escape from the pain of living is to kill themselves, by jumping off of something very high. The song/album all builds up to this moment, the pain and suffering of the person trying to get through breakups, deaths in the family, losing their job, not being good enough, where they finally just end their life, at the climax of the whole thing. You can even hear the pain, the feeling in the voice of the singer as he repeats “I will suffer no more” building up until eventually he is screaming at the top of his lungs. All that this band did was exactly what all the other examples did to build tension, but in conjunction with the story of the song/album and the lyrics, it is very memorable, even if you haven’t listened to the rest of the album.

This last example, while mostly playing the role of a segway into my next post, has two notable drops in it. The first is right at the start, you hear the drums in a constant rhythm slowly get louder, then drop out for a measure before the first chorus hits like a truck. But the more interesting drop in this song is later starting at 2:41. The beat suddenly becomes more frantic and driving. This continues throughout this section of the song, while the instruments take turns with the vocalist doing breaks, with each section of breaks becoming even more frantic than the last. Finally it starts to spiral out of control and then quickly slow back down to the original chorus at 3:46. Due to the fact that the rhythm is hard to really put your foot to for the last few seconds of it, when the beat comes back into a solid 4/4 time signature, you feel it even stronger than you did before. Because of the tension, you knew something was going to happen to resolve this musical stress. The drop is always the best part of every song, even a Dillinger Escape Plan song.

On that note…

I’m sure many of you who have subscribed to me (AKA best people on wordpress) are wondering why I have said nothing yet about DEP’s new album One Of Us Is The Killer. I don’t want to give anything away quite yet other than the fact that due to my strong bias I am giving the album a VERY thorough analysis before sharing my opinion about it. It already got my money, now I have to give it time. Perhaps my next post, or maybe the post after that, will be an in depth review of it. Until then, enjoy it for yourself and form your own un-biased opinion about it before I trick you into liking it.


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