It almost seems ritualistic now. I see the email announcing the five finalists for this year’s APRA Silver Scroll Award at 6am when I usually get up. I immediately check them all out, intuitively and analytically searching for both my favourite, and the track that I think will win. Actually I don’t have a particularly good track record of predicting the winner, but I still happily play that game none the less. The top five Silver Scroll finalists 2020 are Don’t You Know Who I Am, written and performed by Reb Fountain, Get The Devil Out, written and performed by Nadia Reid, Glitter written by Stella Bennett, Joshua Fountain and Djeisan Suskov, performed by Benee, In The Air, written by Arapekanga Adams-Tamatea, Brad Kora, Stuart Kora, Joel Shadbolt, and Miharo Gregory, performed by L.A.B, and last but not least Mighty Invader, written and performed by Troy Kingi.
X-Factory will yet again pull apart these finalists in an attempt to uncover hidden insight as to their joint success. Instinctively, I want Mighty Invader to win, the chorus hook is infectious, and perhaps unusually complex, and it grows on you like an old friend, but Get The Devil Out gets me big time too. Those are my intuitive picks, this article will dig a little deeper into all five of course.
Let’s start with Nadia Reid’s Get The Devil Out.
It is the honest subject matter that hits you front and centre. Perhaps fragility found in the human condition often feels difficult to discuss, but the track oozes authenticity in this regard, as Reid’s vocals are so unashamedly prominent in the mix. The rhythmic ebb and flow of the guitar connotes the organic-ness of ongoing self-reflection and discovery, a simple but highly effectual display of prosody.
Its melody contains an unusually high amount of perfect fourths and major sixths, an example is over the lyrics ‘get the devil outta me’ and ‘so that I can breathe again’, occurring at 19s and 32s respectively. I may be reaching here, but I feel that the protagonists struggle for resolve is represented melodically. An elegant string arrangement which is both supportive and provocative, employing cadential dissonance (e.g. 1m48s), adds to the sense of inner struggle, further congruence in the track, and horns heard at 2m59s connotes perhaps a musical ‘call to action’.
Don’t You Know Who I Am is the other folk track in the 2020 top five. Reb Fountain’s song has a blues flavour, but I also hear Dylan and the Travelling Wilburys contained within the song’s lyrical aesthetic.
According to Fountain, Don’t You Know Who I Am is about who we think we are, who we want to be, who we have become and who we have left behind. It’s a rallying cry to rise up, to unite, to fight the good fight. It’s a call to dig deep, wake up, open your eyes and beat your own drum. It bids you to hold fast, pick yourself up and keep on keeping on. Another self-reflective stance, again with interesting melodic features such as hip hop-derived triplet phrasing heard at 1m47s, and extended vocal glissandi passages e.g. 4m02s. This track keeps you guessing.
According to Philip Tagg, a Transscansion is a short wordless motif whose melodic and rhythmic profile closely resembles that of at least two spoken syllables associated with the music in which it occurs. It can be used to re-emphasise a lyric heard in a previous section – an echo if you like. Transscansions are employed in Glitter, occurring after the main lyrical hook, played by the guitar (e.g. 1m10s), causing repetition of the idea ‘glitter’ to be extended in our mind. A powerful tool helping to sustain thematic imagery.
Benee is no stranger to X-Factory, her voice is soulful and her persona somehow accessible. This track provides a welcome change to the sobering introspective vibe of the previous two finalists, it feels onomatopoeically linked to its sparkly metaphorically derived subject matter, a welcome respite, thanks Benee.
In The Air by L.A.B. is another good time track from the only band in the final five, with vocals performed by Joel Shadbolt. His band is fast becoming known for its contribution to NZ pop reggae – smooth, soulful, modern and accessible. L.A.B.’s melodies are often paramount, supported by pure groove provided by the Kora brothers et al.
Last up for analysis, Troy Kingi’s Mighty Invader is big, bold, brash. The four on the floor groove juxtaposed with a lofty horn section and backing vocal combination. Mighty Invader is a track from Kingi’s multi-award-winning album ‘Holy Colony Burning Acres’, a concept album exploring colonisation, and is about Captain Cook. As mentioned above, to me, it is all about the hook in the chorus, equally big, bold, and brash (see figure 1).
For a chorus hook, this is massive! It is rhythmically unpredictable, employing modal interchange by borrowing from Dorian and Aeolian modes (with the use of a natural and a flat sixth), and above all, is catchy as hell!
Perhaps the elephant in the room for these finalists is the battle. Reb Fountain and Nadia Reid are stalwart folk artists on the scene and L.A.B. and Troy Kingi are perhaps representative of Kiwi reggae. So my slightly tongue-in-cheek take on the top 5 finalists for 2020, is that it is perhaps a battle between these folk and reggae giants, with an onomatopoeically named (well not quite, but hopefully you get what I mean) glittery pop song in the middle – a referee if you like, thanks to Benee. A battle of the sub-genre! Having written this my votes are still on Get The Devil Out or Mighty Invader, but perhaps now I am a little closer to knowing why. For me anyway, both have that raw truth about them, both are deep, and finally, via careful use of prosody, their very essence is evident from the inside out.
Dr Mark Baynes is Programme Manager for the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree at MAINZ, Auckland; a degree program that fosters students’ ability to find their own musical voice, culminating with the creation of a capstone project such as an album, film score or music for game audio. For more information visit mainz.ac.nz