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August/September 2014

by Godfrey de Grut

X-Factory: @Peace – Gravity

by Godfrey de Grut

X-Factory: @Peace – Gravity

I was pretty hooked on this song from the moment I heard it. It fuses lightning-quick-witted lyrics with spicy flavoured jazz harmony and deeply pocketed bass and drums. I’’m not sure if Gravity is actually rap. More like poetry considering the epic grandeur of the subject matter @Peace have tackled – brilliantly and convincingly executed, I might add.
Gravity is not like most other songs because of its extremely linear form. It’’s almost through-composed in that there are no choruses to delineate between stanzas (calling them verses implies some sort of strophic or repetitive structure). How do you capture an audience without giving them the chorus repetition they crave, the endlessly repeated lyric that encapsulates the message of your song (and is usually melodically hooky to boot!)?

In Gravity @Peace have chosen to tease the listener along its entire 3:28 minute length by never looking back, by shifting rhythmic gears up thrice and relentlessly bombarding the listener with, at times, a funny, sad, biting, and above all poignant allegory of existential nihilism (from my limited understanding of philosophy).
@Peace start with a dreamy first person contemplation of time and space and the interconnected-ness of it all via the forces of nature. The spacious musical backing is synths and a Rhodes piano with a closed static harmonic progression Am7-Em7-Am7.
Though the lyrics are initially somewhat inchoate this is offset by the familiarity of the i – v – i progression, which provides a solid and grounded groove on which to build the esoteric narrative. A straight 4/4 simple time back-beat appears next underpinning the songs foundation but dropping out at each fourth measure of the phrase, perhaps designed to allow the listener space to ponder the deepening lyric.
The harmonic rhythm increases at 1:00 in a dramatic shift to 6/8 time with the chords changing each dotted crochet. @Peace keep the underlying pulse at 80bpm – while not technically getting faster – giving the impression of an increase in speed and energy as they squeeze three subdivisions into each beat where before there were only two.
Not only that, they get all ‘prog’ and dovetail the two time signatures by including a polyrhythmic overlay of sung quadruplets (4/4 feel) over the six quaver beat of the 6/8 rhythm section.
Harmonically it gets pretty jazz here, modulating up a tone to a i – VI – II – V in Bm. These intermediate sequences are thick with rhythmic texture driven by a walking jazz bass line outlining the above progression before quickly shifting to a new turnaround section of descending parallel minor 9 chords (Bm9 – Am9 – G#m9 – F#m9). After a brief 4/4 drum break to close the section the band smashes into a 6/8 groove proper, the lyrics now clearly subdividing the compound pulse into flourishes of sixtuplets and dotted rhythms.
The progression from 1:15 onwards is sonically playful with the slower harmonic rhythm (now two 6/8 measures per chord type) being split between Rhodes’ octaves and chords playing the first measure followed by a Wurlitzer piano in the second. These textures call and respond with each other over a brooding Bm9 – C#m9 – D∆(#9#11). (This last chord is very distinctive and is derived from the 6th mode of the harmonic minor scale, Lydian#2.)
The snaking machine gun lyrics in this section expound on the juxtapositions in our lives with the banality of prescribed consumerism and the allure of religion’s empty promises all playfully entertained until the abrupt and inescapable revelation of the great leveller, “I just got cancer today”.”
The last stanza ties things up in a perfectly formed (highly abbreviated) history of the birth of the universe, stars, planets, people, love and offspring with a parting scoff at the concept of fate, this protagonist knows the truth, the only thing pulling our lives inexorably onwards is the immutable force of gravity.
@Peace finish things off with the same Rhodes’ Am7-Em7 progression they started with, perhaps echoing the cyclic nature of star and people-birth so eloquently framed lyrically during the song. Whatever the reason for the brief recapitulation it does bookend the song nicely, and what a song it is! Really clever and fun to listen to… I would love to experience it live.
Godfrey de Grut is a Silver Scroll co-winner with Che Fu, and was MD of the 2013 Silver Scrolls. He is now a freelance writer, arranger and producer, lecturing in popular music studies at the University of Auckland. Follow his musical ramblings @GodfreyDeGrut on Twitter or email g.degrut@gmail.com
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