Song Exploder podcast tile and The Courtneys II album cover

The Office Playlist exploded this week with Song Exploder telling us the tales behind our favourite songs and power pop 3-piece The Courtneys rocking us Kiwi-style from Vancouver.

Song Exploder

I once declared that I wanted to have my whole music collection exploded.

Song Exploder lets us hear from musicians about how they created one of their songs. It’s simple and so much fun to listen to.

My favourite episode of all time featured Rivers Cuomo from Weezer explaining the creation of ‘Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori’ from the band’s self-titled 10th album. The song didn’t excite me (not that it was bad), but it was the window into Weezer’s song writing process which was a highlight.

Apparently, Rivers begins by locking himself in his study with a recording device, to collect the sounds he makes while jumping around playing air-guitar. He then takes that recording and recreates his favourite ‘air’ licks on an actual guitar. Talk about reverse engineering! It’s weird to think that the ultimate goal is to get kids air-guitaring to that song in their own locked bedrooms.

The Weezer fun doesn’t end there. Once they’ve recorded the song, they play it through in the studio while all the members of the band are in front of a microphone – then they make noises to add to the song. The best noises stay and become part of rock history.

Now every Weezer song makes more sense.

Song Exploder was created by and is hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway. A musician who lives in Eagle Rock in LA. I know! As if his life wasn’t cool enough already.

He got started with Song Exploder in 2013 and has polished the presentation over more than a hundred episodes.

Hrishikesh usually gets out of the way and lets the musicians tell their story without his questions included in the final mix. He edits each episode like a composer, bringing in relevant sounds from the stories

One of the most special things about Song Exploder is the recordings from the phones and bedrooms of the artists. Many of them record an idea into their phone, making the sounds of instruments with their mouth. Some have an early demo recording which highlights the beginnings of the song.

On the 20th anniversary of his breakthrough album Endtroducing, DJ Shadow revealed that the voice at the heart of the song is his wife, talking about her expectations of life in America before she arrived with her family as a child. “Then I came to America, saw Xanadu, and that’s all I wanted to do – roller skate.” It’s almost inaudible in the song ‘Mutual Slump’, but as the song is exploded, we get to hear parts of the original recording which was made in the most extraordinary way.

French duo Ibeyi explains the weird time one of them was racially profiled by a police officer at the age of 16 in Paris, who thought she was on drugs. The encounter angered their mother, highlighting to them how wrong the experience was. Several years later, the exact words of the interaction became part of their song ‘Deathless’.

Remember ‘Young Folks’ by Peter, Bjorn and John from Sweden? That song was written for the female singer without checking the key that she sung in – so it was supposed to be a much lower key. They had to raise the pitch, which raised the pitch of the whistle, which changed the sound of the song. Then, before they had even performed the song live, they performed it on the Conan O’Brien show in America. The rest is history!

The most fun part of Song Exploder is listening to the song in its entirety at the end of the episode. After hearing the story, you know all the intricacies of the songs development and you can listen out for them, which makes for a rich listening experience.

I still want every song in my music collection exploded. Hopefully Hrishikesh will get around to them all eventually.


The Courtneys – The Courtneys II

The Courtneys are a band from Vancouver who appear to be obsessed with the sound of New Zealand bands of the 1990’s. With the importance of the long-tail, particularly in SEO, you might as well have a niche right.

It’s definitely working for them. Apparently, they are the first band from outside New Zealand to be signed to the record label Flying Nun – home to their heroes The Clean and The Chills. They’re also big fans of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star.

I just want to invite them over to my place to play them my otherwise dated record collection! We’d get on like a house on fire. There’s something about their fuzzy guitar, bass and drums sound that seems to come right out of 1992.

The all-girl band of three have only one Courtney among them – guitarist Courtney Garvin. Sydney Koke is on bass, while Jen Twynn Payne is the singer/drummer. How great is a singing drummer!

There’s a very democratic sound to the band with each player being vital, but none sharing the limelight over the others. It’s similar to other three-piece bands like the Dirty Three who create a cacophony together that is greater than the sum of its parts – while each part is a vital element.

The Courtneys II appears to be their second album (I’m not sure what gave that away!). It rolls on nicely from their first album, The Courtneys, with fuzzy, urgent pop songs about young love.

I’m often surprised at what I can get away with on the Office Playlist and this is one of those times. There’s something about the constant sound of this band which doesn’t startle the horses. They rock with a comfortable warmth.

The Courtneys II begins with the line “The day is getting shady”, which sounds like the end of the day, but I think it’s really the beginning of the night. This is a song about love that could be unrequited or not – it doesn’t even have to be about a person. “Aint nothing you say, aint nothing you do, to stop me from thinking about you. Doesn’t matter if it’s right, you’re just the one I like.”

Oh, and it snaps off at exactly three minutes. Perfect pop song? Possibly.

Side 1 of The Courtneys II (event though I’m listening to Spotify, I like to imagine that this album has two sides) ends with Lost Boys, a song about the vampire movie from 1986. It’s a weird fantasy about Keifer Sutherland being a vampire teenage boyfriend who looks the same 32 years later – cos he’s a vampire. He’s never gonna die.

Apparently, they used to do a cover of U2’s “I will follow” in their live shows. Unfortunately, the internet didn’t catch it, so I can’t be sure if it really happened. I would really like to hear that!

As every song begins it reminds me of another classic from the 80s or 90s. I feel slightly guilty for looking backwards for new music, but The Courtneys are so much fun that I can’t help myself.

And the best part about falling in love with this album is that you can then go back and discover their first self-titled album which is the perfect bookend to a great collection of power pop.

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