Defining Soundscape Music

Defining Soundscape Music:

Sometimes you find songs that can seem like movies in how they can pack so many different ideas into one five-minute piece. I’ve always liked to group those kinds of songs into what I call Soundscape music. With this sort of stuff, you can come back to a song time and again and learn something new every couple of times.

You start out soaking in the general vibe of the song, letting your fingers groove — not quite dance — just groove with the song. The next thing you know, you’re picking out the complex arrangements, trying to make sense of what instruments make these unusual sounds. And the lyrics, once you finally get to them, are nothing short of poetry.

So find a comfy place to sit and really listen, put on a pair of nice headphones, close your eyes, and start your journey with these five gems:

"High Hopes" by Pink Floyd:

Released by Pink Floyd as part of their 1994 album, The Division Bell, "High Hopes" is one of the bands underrated gems. In spite of, or perhaps because it never received the same name recognition as “Time” or “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” it is my opinion that "High Hopes" is definitely one of their most interesting, if not one of their greatest, songs ever. The song’s broadest interpretation centers on the band’s early days, and the seeds of discord planted between lead vocalist Roger Waters and guitarist Dave Gilmour following the demise of their legendary early bassist Syd Barret.

The most distinctive feature of "Hopes" is the three-and-a-half-minute slide guitar solo that makes an appearance halfway through and leads the song’s grand crescendo. Gilmour’s guitar seems to part the clouds of conflict brewing throughout the song — an exclamation of pure, unadulterated indulgence that perfectly contrasts the constrained stiffness up until that point. Organized and pure, yet angry and tense, this song is what the soundtrack to an army of marching angels might be like.

"Strobe" by Deadmau5:

“Dude, when I head this song, I imagine the end of a wild night out. It’s 6 a.m, things are winding down, the sun is starting rise, and this is the last song that comes on at the club.”

“Really? When I hear this I see the birth of the universe.”

Most Deadmau5 fans will tell you that the day they heard "Strobe" is the day he went from being a fine DJ to a fine artist in their minds. I want to add to that: the more I’ve heard this gem of a song over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate it as sheer genius. The last track off of 2010’s For Lack of a Better Name is also the coolest.

There’s a smoothness to it. A buildup so gradual and subtly interesting it captivates – which is amazing when one considers its all made from analog synths. And when the drop comes, and it comes late, almost 6 minutes in, it feels like catharsis, even though it’s really just a simple 4/4 if you think about it.

"Maula e Kull" by Abida Parveen:

Released last year as a part of Coke Studio Pakistan, Season 9 Maula e kull is prayer in song form — devotional and loving.

Even when there is no bass or rhythm, this is one of the most searingly powerful songs I have heard. What carries this song through is the voice of Abida Parveen, the Queen of Sufi music. In South Asia, a voice like this will be described as “bulandh,” or incredibly majestic. Comparable to the greatest contralto singers, Parveen wields her voice like a weapon, forcing you to feel the emotion that she imbues each word with. Halfway through, the song turns on its head.

Transitioning from a heartfelt prayer into a rock ballad, "Maula e Kull" flaunts the deft chemistry between Parveen and her backup band, Strings. It is a testament to this chemistry that this sudden flip surprises the listener and yet retains the soul of a Sufi prayer.

For those not comfortable with Urdu, the YouTube video features an English translation, an English port of the Urdu words, and the native Urdu in which the song was written. Listen to this song and soar with Parveen, who is busy calling the voice, the name, the power and the light that we are destined to follow, if unknowingly at times.

"Reverie" by Illenium:

Track number 4 off of 2016’s Ashes, Reverie is the rare song that can completely indulge its genre stereotypes while sounding like nothing you’ve ever heard before. The song has every ingredient you’d expect in a deep house/melodic bass song – the smooth, heavily reverbed female vocals, the atmospheric arrangements, and of course, a humongous drop.

And yet, there’s something about the way these seemingly familiar ingredients come together that make this song much more meaningful that your average rave playlist maker. What is it that makes this song special? Is it the way the eastern sounding synth melody dances over a mountain of bass? Is it the keys and tribal drums that precede that massive drop? Or is it the simple, powerful lyrics that speak of overcoming one’s fears and about companionship? This song has a way of seeming heavy and light, fun and heavy, all at the same time.

"Devi" by Parra for Cuva:

Parra for Cuva has an uncanny knack for the dynamism of a large ensemble, even though he’s just one guy. And nowhere is this clearer than in "Devi", the opening track to his 2015 effort, Majouré.

The song begins the entire record with the tinkling of a harp, followed by what sounds like pitch shifted water droplet samples, before gradually sliding permutations of cool, light layers on and off, always flirting with the idea of becoming a heavier song. It does get heavier, but not how you might expect.

About halfway through the song, rapper Nieve delivers one of the most unusual verses; his delivery is delicate and light-footed, but his lyrics are beautifully layered. They almost beg to be pulled up and read with the song. Here’s a sample:

“It was written in the starry sky
That the universe belongs to the starry eyed
Childlike is the mind, that be burning bright
Still they label us naive and they wanna fight.”