Yesterday we ran a piece in which, among other (legitimate complaints), we knocked a band for being “repetitive.” But we want to make it clear that “repetition” itself is not necessarily a problem in music, and in fact in many instances can help enhance a song. For example, repetition can help create a rising tension in a song, as the listener patiently awaits any change that would signify a resolution to the chord progression or drum pattern to which they can finally experience some relief. With “All My Friends”, LCD Soundsystem accomplished this by expertly employing a simple progression of two chords and a relentless drumbeat to keep the listener’s attention over its seven minute running time.
Low also uses repetition in their song “Nothing But Heart”, a highlight from their stellar album C’mon, but in a manner that differs slightly from the traditional purpose outlined above. Musically speaking, Low uses a single descending progression repeated several times over the course of the song, but uses this as a foundation on which they can layer on top several other instruments and melodies and musical ideas. That sounds similar to what most other bands do, but the added wrinkle is that Low also does this through repetition in their lyrics. The entire song is only four lines, with the last line repeated endlessly.
I would be your king,
but you wanna be free.
Confusion and art–
I’m nothing but heart.
As the listener realizes that the band is not going to deviate from this pattern and instead have fallen into a sort of endless loop or repeating this last line, the phrase “I’m nothing but heart” begins to take on different meanings. It at first appears to be a sort of mantra, but as the repetition continues without fail, the phrase begins to take on different tones. The band plays this up with their vocal performance, embellishing it with different dynamics and points of emphasis. As a result, the band is able to convey several different meanings from the same phrase–over the course of the song, it appears to be hopeful, conciliatory, regretful, bitter, even defiant. Though the band sings the line over thirty times, one can sense that with each utterance that Low intended the listener to feel a different emotion each time. It’s an extremely powerful performance.
Oh, and it allows the band to really rock out with some gorgeously jagged guitar solos over the top of it as well.