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Read Owen Pallett's music theory criticism of Beyonce, Usher, Haim & more

04 June 2014, 12:18 | Written by Luke Morgan Britton

Having already deconstructed why Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” is such a good pop song, Owen Pallett has now penned a new piece for Buzzfeed explaining the strengths of various pop hits.

​Pallett - who recently released new album In Conflict - applies music theory to tracks by Beyonce, Usher, Haim and, erm, his own music. You can out some of the highlights beneath.

Beyonce - “Drunk In Love”:

Somebody could do their thesis, if they haven’t already, on Bey’s amazing sense of rhythm, both in songwriting and delivery. Listen to how elastic these melodies are, alternating between cosmically syncopated shit and rat-a-tat precision. Listen to how her note durations contract as the melodies descend like she’s stumbling around looking for the wine opener. Listen to how lazily behind the beat she gets on ‘We be all night.’ Transcribing these rhythms to score would be impossible.

Haim - “If I Could Change Your Mind”:

How could anybody see Haim as anything other than completely new and exciting? To my ears they are totally brand new and alien. It’s like they took Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors, with all her instrumental and vocal talents, cloned her twice and signed the results to a major label.

Usher - “Good Kisser”:

Usher and his songwriting team use a circle-of-fifths progression as a destabilizing agent. On the verses, everything is about the tonic-note G — the bass loop is on G, Usher sings in and around G, even the agogo is tuned to a G. No chords are implied but the G. Once the chorus hits, the insistence of the G is subverted. Chords: Gm9 C7 Fm9 Bb7. Those chords create this insistent sinking feeling, implying the beginning of a longer descending sequence that never comes. The G becomes somewhat out of place over this chord progression, slightly complicating the Fm and the Bb chords.

Owen Pallett - “The Riverbed”

Well, I like drum beats that never change. I like droning, repeated open fifths, a lot. This song’s first and second verse stick with that fifth, I sing nothing else. The bass doesn’t leave the E-flat root. Like almost all my songs, this is a looped song, and as the violins layer themselves up, chords start to take shape.

Read the full article here.

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