There’s a certain beauty to isolated vocal tracks. The Internet has made it much easier to bring those tracks to the masses, allowing music fans to deconstruct, share, and critique them, oftens decades later. The podcast Song Exploder, a new show from the Maximum Fun podcast family, is a place where artists can break down their own creations.
For each episode, host/producer/musician Hrishikesh Hirway asks artists to deconstruct their songs piece by piece. The first episode featured the Postal Service’s 2003 hit “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” broken down by creator Jimmy Tamborello. He explains the foundational beat came from a close listening of Björk’s 1997 album Homogenic, and the second half’s sped-up four-four beat was influenced by the electronic band Lali Puna, and his love of Germany’s influential Morr Music label.
The isolated vocals of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, and Tamborello’s admission that he accidentally looped her vocals into a beat at the end of the song, is especially enlightening. Those studio “accidents” are often the crux of a song. If you’re not particularly a fan of the Postal Service, this deconstruction adds a bit of cultural context. Hirway’s links to Homogenic, Lali Puna, and Morr Music add to the music appreciation lesson.
Hirway says the idea came from his own experience as a musician doing remixes for other bands.
“In order to give a remixer freedom to their version of a song, you get the song separated into the different instruments, or stems,” he explained via email.
“Invariably, hearing the isolated tracks like that gave me a whole other perspective and appreciation for the song. It’s part of the reason I love doing remixes. I thought more people should get the chance to hear songs this way.”
The show was the number one music podcast on iTunes the day after debuting on Jan. 1, which was quite a surprise to Hirway. He adds he decided to get meta with the Song Exploder format:
“On tour, on the long drives between shows, my band (The One AM Radio) and all of my friends’ bands listen to lots of music and lots of podcasts. So doing a show about music as a podcast was the only way I could imagine it.”
Hirway couldn’t divulge too much about upcoming episodes, but the next podcast, out Jan. 15, is a perfect one for the polar vortex: The Album Leaf will deconstruct a song he recorded in Iceland with Sigur Rós.
Screengrab via subpoprecords/YouTube