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June/July 2016

by Dixon Nacey

X-Factory: Disclosure feat. Lorde – Magnets

by Dixon Nacey

X-Factory: Disclosure feat. Lorde – Magnets

25-year old Guy Lawrence is surfing a wave of popularity with his 22-year old brother Howard. The U.K. powerhouse EDM duo Disclosure has worked with some big names in pop, from Sam Smith to The Weeknd, to Mary J. Blige. One of these collabs includes our very own pop-princess, Lorde, with the song Magnets.

Released in late September 2015, Magnets has over 68 million views on YouTube and in May sat happily at #3 in the NZ Singles Top 10. In an interview regarding working with Lorde on this track, Guy remarked, “It’s a really big collab, not just like in terms of her singing on a Disclosure tune but the whole thing is a collab, from the drum sounds to the chords. She was involved with every aspect of the song as opposed to just doing the lyrics and melodies and then leaving the rest to us.”

Overview:

Song Length: 3:17 seconds
Meter: 4/4
Tempo: (approx) 92 BPM
Feel: Heavy swung 16ths EDM pop
Key: B-flat minor
Harmonic nature: Diatonic (major scale derived)
Form (bar count): Intro (4), Verse-1 (8), Pre-chorus-1 (8), Chorus-1 (12), Post-chorus-1 (2), Verse-2 (8), Pre-chorus-2 (8), Chorus-2 (16), Post-chorus-2 (9)

x-factory lorde disclosure

The song opens with a subtle layering of three interwoven percussion figures (reverse cascara, woodblock and a soft click) which create a subdued yet driving rhythmic bed. I heard the main part as a reverse cascara pattern. Cascara is usually played forte on the ‘shell’ or outside of the timbale drum, a fundamental propulsive element in Afro Cuban music. Here we see a ‘reversed’ pattern (on the lower staff):

With a high woodblock on the down beats of 1+3 and a syncopated clicking sound disguising the pulse, a faded in kick drum joins at bar 3, giving us the quarter note downbeats. Against all this, a warm synth pad (on the upper staff above) is ‘opened’ and quickly ‘shut’ as if swelled on and then suddenly off, creating more rhythmic mystery. This pad is huge, but made to sound small. I’d guess  synth-layers with a warm Moog-y bass played back through a sampler that uses velocity to engage the sound. This sonic depth is further emphasised by the offbeat placement (it begins on the ‘and’ of beats 1 and 3, but the sound ‘opens’ on the following beat) paired with a subtle portamento effect at the beginning of each note.

These kind of juicy production techniques continue throughout the track in clever and subtle ways, adding colour and contrast. From the use of layering to create dynamic depth (the last four bars of each pre-chorus emptying out so the chorus comes crashing down); the density of instruments between sections; the super heavy swung 16ths in the hi-hats at the chorus emphasising the rub between straight (verse) and swung (chorus) sections; a stark, percussion-less second verse; the heightened post-chorus 2 which has huge, lazy open hats underpinning the repeated chorus hook ‘embrace the point of no return’ – almost frenzied; the subtle differences in programming between each chorus add weight and momentum at just the right points. Lots of clever…

The next thing that piqued my interest was how the music video interacted with the lyrics which begin directly after our short 4 bar intro. First, the opening lines of verse 1:

‘Never really felt bad about it
As we drank deep from a lie
‘Cause I felt melting magnets, babe
The second I saw you through half-shut eyes’

We could assume that the lie is a relationship that is not real, or perhaps doomed – this feeling is intensified by the ‘melting magnets’ metaphor of the following line, surely meaning ‘something between two parties that was attractive, but is becoming less so’. Yet ‘drinking deep from this lie’ means they persisted, and in fact, were wholly committed. Perhaps better the devil you know? Much is revealed by one short scene in the music video (2:07 to 2:08); where the female lead, in a darkened room, stares at her partner with a fraught look, from behind a bruised left cheek. The look he returns is equally fraught and even contemptuous. Examining the fourth line, ‘half-shut eyes’ could now mean bruised and blackened – and if so, a much more sinister tone is suggested.

As the song progresses and the story unfolds, I felt either of these two narratives was possible; the older (actress A) and younger (Lorde) female characters are either the wife and mistress (respectively) or the same person at two opposite ends of the relationship. Perhaps the former is more likely, the lyrics consistent with the thoughts of a wife who once was a beaming girlfriend in a fresh and spunky relationship who eventually discovers her man’s dark secret and now suspects he is cheating on her: ‘You and that girl, she your girlfriend?, Face from heaven, bet the world she don’t know’. Despite my desire to reveal my deep understanding of Lorde’s inner workings to her fans, I thought better of engaging in a YouTube comments-section battle…

Lorde is great in my books, for a number of reasons that are reaffirmed in this track. She knows how to write, her lyrics are clever, metaphoric, layered and open to discussion. She has an incredibly distinctive vocal timbre and phrasing style and uses vocal harmony sparingly but well.

Magnets is a strong collaboration where her writing and producing style has shone through. Lorde is not just a one- (or two-, or three-) hit wonder, after all, Disclosure have built a huge fan-base (close to 200 million views across their YouTube channel video releases) by way of their many partnerships with pop-giants, and Lorde pushed them on this track: “It was like someone challenging us, someone saying, ‘We can get that extra 10 percent.”

Proud of that young lady from the Shore yet?

Dixon Nacey is a guitarist, composer, producer and MD, who teaches music at Auckland & Massey University, Ara in Christchurch, and online at www.jazzguitarlegend.com.