Ear-Tickler: “Gato”

Gonna try to keep a steady blog going, focusing on little bits of music that catch my attention. Here’s the first one…

One of the things most prevalent in my own music is the use of rhythm. Some of the compositions come out of elaborate attempts at rhythmic interaction, but they’re often just the result of taking a simple concept and seeing what can be done with it. This mostly stems from my interest in certain progressive rock acts, such as King Crimson (who uses a lot of rhythmic interplay very effectively… I will probably write about them in the future). One of my preferred acts on the current scene is Canadian vocalist/guitarist Devin Townsend, whose Devin Townsend Project released a series of four very distinct and exciting records between 2009 and 2011.

The DTP’s first record Ki features a song titled “Gato” which is based around this idea, a simple 7/8 figure which repeats over a 4/4 backbeat (Figure 1).

Figure 1. “Gato” groove, m. 16-20.

The way that the guitar figure inches forward by an eighth note each bar creates an interesting rhythmic rub, often obscuring where “1” falls (especially when the figure begins on a strong beat like in measure 18). Structurally, it also creates some interesting turnarounds (creating a bar of 2/4 at m.16, a bar of 3/4 at m.30, etc.) and displaced phrases, disguised by the consistent backbeat. While Devin’s vocal melody mostly plays off of the accents of the 7/8 rhythm, it occasionally lends its own rhythmic counterpoint creating a certain confusion in the music (i.e. m.22-25).

Also, the decision to include session drummer Duris Maxwell for the Ki sessions, rather than Devin’s usual metal companions, adds a lot of life to the record (especially on grooves like this which could otherwise come across as too calculated). He’s just here to hold things down and keep it nice and relaxed. The ghosted snare hits throughout the groove and overall laid-back feel give it a nice human element, and reflects what I feel are the overall themes of Ki: patience and restraint. For nearly the entire first minute of the tune, Duris stays on the hi-hat, and when he accents a hiccup in the groove with a cymbal in m.24 (Figure 2), it has a bit more impact and weight.

Figure 2.

This idea of patience/restraint is echoed through much of this tune, with the bass and second guitar not entering until m.31, just past the 1-minute mark. There is also a noted absence of distorted guitar until roughly half-way through the song, instead focusing on tone and added instrumentation to add weight to the music.

Overall, I just really like the way that Devin uses a relatively simple concept so effectively, and the way that the drums really hold it together and make the riff “pop”.

Check out my transcription of the first bit of the song here.