Musical déjà vu in STEP INTO THE OCEAN

June 9, 2024 ☼ music

One of the ideas I explore on my second album, STEP INTO THE OCEAN, is deja vu - things coming back to haunt you in various ways, and using music to convey or heighten that feeling.Since I don’t expect anyone to analyze the music of a lowly indie artist like me, I thought I’d write a thing describing & analyzing the recurring ideas throughout the album.

(Note: I posted some of this on Threads already, so apologies if it’s a bit of review.)


STEP INTO THE OCEAN isn’t a proper rock opera like my first album, but it certainly explores some central concepts: tension in a relationship, growing older, suffering, anxiety, things like that. The overarching idea is this: life is messy as one grows. Things repeat, sometimes for better, other times for worse, always leading us (and our most important relationships) to grow and in sometimes very complicated ways.

I attempted to convey that a bit through the music of this album, especially through the opening track and final third of the album (though other songs share musical and lyrical ideas as well). Here is a rundown of some examples throughout the album

She’s too good for me”

She’s too good for me,” the album opener, might be the most personal song I’ve written to date. I won’t speak to the details that inspired, but it’s largely about watching someone you love suffer. (Note: while my music is rooted in real life, what’s described below is not necessarily autobiographical.)

It’s a bleak way to start things off. It’s also not a conventional song format, with 3 major parts that build from each other until a final comedown. This is where we are exposed to some core musical themes that serve as a basis for growth from this dark beginning.

The song is also the first part of a suite of sorts, with parts 2 through 6 making up the last third of the album. The songs that follow are meant to be a slow ascent from that darkness - until ideas return later in the journey. Because things are messier than we usually expect.

Head on my heart” + curiosity”

These two songs are intrinsically connected in the writing process, since curiosity” came out of me noodling on possible endings for head on my heart.” (You can actually hear a polished version of that noodling in track 3, the curious prelude.”)

Thematically these songs are connected as well; where head on my heart” is about the unease of communicating one’s love for another, curiosity” expresses an unease about one’s broader life and what you could be doing if not for the things you’re doing now. The second half of curiosity” sees the narrator finally finding a voice to genuinely communicate their love to another (“I love you I need you more than everything under the sun”), but only after several songs’ worth of growth. The aforementioned prelude almost serves as a bit of a digression (the first of 3) after head on my heart” in which the narrator is trying to work through those feelings after a romantic episode, but can’t quite get there until the full song plays out.

belly”

The growth and optimism seen through tracks 2-6 of the album, before returning to the suite, is most acutely seen in belly”. I didn’t write the lyrics to it (my friend Tess did), but it serves well as an uplifting empowerment anthem that sees the narrator work through their struggles (such as not wanting to be idle festering lifeless procrastinating”). However, that uplift does not come without struggle (“can’t feel my legs can’t feel my lungs can’t hear my thoughts can’t stop the push”) and perseverance (“I do believe I can change it”). These are two lyrical ideas that return in altered forms.

trendsetters” + digression”

Trendsetters” is what starts to turn upside down the growth and optimism witnessed through the album’s first half. It’s a song about the anxiety of growing older; that anxiety festers and grows slowly in the extended second half and is probably most acutely evoked in the song’s hook (“I never know when to say it”).

Digression” takes that hook and runs with it in a completely different direction. Once our narrator is anxious again, they spiral outward, lashing out at the systems and authority figures frustrating them. The empowering lyrical refrain from belly” is twisted in that frustration (“they’ll die before I can change it”) before a smash cut–

And exhale.

she’s too good to me / st. alphonsus

Now we return to the suite introduced by she’s too good for me.” Part 2 is she’s too good to me” (obviously a play on the opening song title). It’s a chill lo fi thing that reuses the bass line from the B section of she’s too good for me”, and serves as sort of a palate cleanser after the tense trendsetters” and digression”. I introduce a new vocal melody here, as if to misremember the darkness from earlier, or perhaps as a reprieve from the prior nine minutes of tension.

Part 3, st. alphonsus”, transitions right in & introduces a new riff that pivots in a darker direction. This song is bleak; it’s a musing on self-pity and self-destruction. I reuse this naive sounding vocal melody from the very beginning of she’s too good for me”, which serves up a new instance of the narrator realizing this isn’t what [they] wanted” when their partner isn’t there for a moment.

The song ends with a build from nothing, twisting and tensing up that melody up until a smash cut—

ritual / confession

Ritual” is part of the suite, but also references other ideas. After the self destructive episode of st. alphonsus”, we find ourselves pulled back in by simple love, but temptation outside that love keeps looming. The ritual of sorts begins after the line and you & I collapse into the surreal” - triggered by a key change and a build of looped vocals. This time, the melody from the B section of she’s too good for me” returns, but wordless and cathartic, as if we’re processing and growing.

Ritual” also calls back to we don’t belong,” a song from my first album. A fun fact: These two songs were written around the same time, and an early version of we don’t belong” was originally under consideration for the album that became STEP INTO THE OCEAN; I scrapped it because it felt too optimistic compared to the rest of the material, and revisited it on THROW MYSELF INTO THE BAY instead. That all said: Ritual” was partly intended as a reflection on the narrator’s struggle to belong in society, and thus reverting back to their relationship with the one they love for comfort. That feeling still exists across the two songs, but I feel like the extended narrative across both albums (unintentionally) adds to the weight of this feeling.

Back to the suite: Part 5 is confession”, sort of a coda to ritual” and a poem set to the vocal harmonies of she’s too good for me”. After the previous catharsis, the narrator is able to confess a few last sins” (itself a callback to the worst days of our lives”) suggesting they haven’t fully worked thru the sources of their shame & anxiety, but can at least name them. But at the last minute they question whether it’s easier to keep working or forget.

Forget everything (throw your thoughts into the river)

Forget everything” concludes the album and the suite, and explores the darker what if” of forgetting. Bailing. It’s something I’d never do, but I can’t help the rare dark intrusive thought. This song expands upon the bassline introduced in st. alphonsus” and takes it in an ironically optimistic direction. The song also calls back to the refrain of an earlier track belly”, largely an empowerment anthem, to signify the difficulty of moving on.

The worst days of our lives” as a narrative summary

The only song without an obvious reference to another song on the album is The worst days of our lives.” It stands on its own stylistically in a way (I don’t use nearly as much sidechain compression anywhere else in Kid Lightbulbs’ oeuvre), but I realized it sort of functions as an abstract or summary of the complicated growth that occurs over the course of the album.

Oddly enough, the final section of the worst days of our lives” (signaled by the only major chord change in the song) contains a callback to different song of mine not on this album, Off the rocker.” This is a song I made back in 2012 under the name Sophomores, and it got a little bit of attention online and a few remixes. I never made a song like it again, and I’m not sure it still holds up. But the worst days of our lives” was originally written as a sort of reprise/evolution of that idea meant to signal my development as a songwriter and producer. In a way that could be a weird (and likely overblown) allusion to this whole album concept I’m writing about now. I’ve been sitting with many of these songs for a long time, and somehow they have both continued to reflect feelings I still feel up to a decade after their conception, and have grown with me and taken on new meaning over time.

Art is wild like that.


© 2024 brandon lucas green