Welcome to the fourth installment of a special series of Changeover Music, where I’ll be writing about my favorite songs of 2012.
A song doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge musical breakthrough to make it to a “Best Songs of Year X” list, although most music critics make you think they should. Sometimes, a song can just be fun and groovy, with all elements working in perfect harmony. The kind of song that always manages to leave a big smile on your face.
That’s what “Origins” is. It’s not a terribly original song. You feel like everything in it has already been done many times before. Alaina Moore’s vocals remind you of a thousand indie voices, and the same can be said for her husband’s guitar work. The retro garage-rock production (Patrick Carney, drummer for The Black Keys produced Young & Old, Tennis’ sophomore album) is most definitely familiar, and it’s not like Carney went out of his comfort zone for this one.
But “Origins” still rocks. All 3 minutes and 28 seconds of it. Why?
Maybe it’s that super sexy intro, with the cymbal-less drum beat, the subtle guitar picking and the funky bass. It’s so cinematic, too – it’s the kind of music that makes you think something pretty cool is about to happen.
Maybe it’s that buzzing guitar riff that screams “Black Keys!” at 0:16.
Maybe it’s Moore’s sexily distorted voice, which makes her sound like she’s barely hanging on. Sometimes it feels like her voice has no depth or assurance, but when the chorus kicks in, those thoughts disappear as she’s joined by some perfect 50’s style backing vocals. She’s still not the strongest vocalist out there, but she definitely owns this song.
Maybe it’s that chorus, which is almost perfect. The lyrics are a little clumsy, but the delivery is not. It’s funny how devastating the chorus is, even though it just adds two new elements and an old one to the already groovy base: the new elements are the aforementioned retro backing vocals -which complement and enhance Moore’s anguished wailing about a disgruntled member of a relationship – and a subtle tambourine. The old element is that killer Black Keys-style riff from the beginning, which is just perfect.
Maybe it’s Patrick Riley’s awesomely tasteful guitar solo at 1:24, marking the end of the chorus. It’s just 17 seconds long, but you feel like he played every single note he had to play, and left nothing behind.
Maybe it’s the second verse, where Moore is only accompanied by keyboards and what sound like maracas. Riley joins midway, and when the drums kick in for two more runs through the chorus, you can’t help wanting to high-five everyone in the band (plus Carney) for the great decision to hold back the power of the drums and the buzzing guitar riff for a little while.
Maybe it’s that wonderful coda, where new band member James Barone goes cymbal happy and Moore joins in with the backing vocalists in full blast for a little bit, before that ultra-groovy guitar riff guides you to the end in the most perfect way.
It’s not one thing that makes this song work so well – it’s all of the things listed above, woven perfectly into each other.
Regardless, when you produce little gems like “Origins”, little sins like a band’s name are quickly forgiven.
Below you’ll see the band perform “Origins” live, in a pared down sort of way (although it seems like this is what Tennis looks like live). A lot of things come to mind:
– Riley’s guitar work is definitely more timid, particularly in that fantastic solo, which he executes rather shyly here. Not sure why.
– Moore’s vocals sound stronger, but you really miss those great backing vocals in the chorus.
– The buzzing riff from the studio album is done by keyboards that you can barely hear. Also, no bass, as those lines get played on a guitarist/keyboardist.
– My conclusion: Patrick Carney had a lot to do with the success of this song. That cannot be underestimated.