smashing pumpkins 1979

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The track begins with a processed drum loop that sounds almost like clattering stones or the bubblegum card clacking in the spokes of the kid’s bike. Most interesting is the absence of a backbeat in the loop which creates a false rhythm (ie. the impression that the 1 is occurring later) and makes the entrance of the band a surprise.

That entrance consists of muted sounding drums (possibly electronic or even a drum machine) and fairly clean electric guitars playing muted lines – panned to separate them. In this 8 bar intro the main point of focus is a processed vocal sample that is a descending slide in pitch and it is processed to flutter and reverb pushes it a bit into the distance. It continues to repeat every 4 bars, even under the lead vocal.

The lead vocal is somewhat back in the mix for a lead vocal and is hard to tell if it has much verb or delay on it – it seems quite dry. In the chord change under the fourth line of vocal a subtle synth strings fades in as a build to the entrance of the bass and ‘real’ drums, after the first four lines of vocal.

Now we hear a cracking woody snare and more insistent hi hats. The guitars and bass remain indistinct without any really overt riffs as such.

The first chorus is preceded by another synth string swell, and then the chorus arrives with bigger sounding guitar strums. The chorus features some sparkling synth effects that shimmer, whistle and chime in the distance – heaps of reverb creating this effect. This synth sound is neatly fused with the clanging guitar strums and may even be an effect on the guitar – except there is a clear melody line on the synth at one point. There is a subtle lift in the drums too – a tambourine perhaps, a doubled snare maybe. The chorus vocals are supported by a second vocal harmony.

After the chorus the mix drops down in intensity for the second verse, which is much the same as the first but instead of synth strings building to the chorus there is some heavier sounding guitar chugging at the end of the verse, providing that build to the chorus.

The second chorus, much the same as the first, segues into the middle section.

In the middle section the guitars get heavier but also there is an overall thickening of sound. More drum layers and vocal layers.

After the middle section the mix drops down and returns to the muted guitars of the intro – bass and ‘real’ drums drop out for two lines of vocal (the remaining drums sound even more electronic and crunchy here – hinting at the drum loop that started the track) before the bass and ‘real’ drums return for the next two lines of vox.

Another chorus, much the same as the first one. It is important to note that the processed vocal hook that is the main point of focus for the verses is not present in the choruses.

The outro is much like the intro except the ‘real’ drums remain as the final two lines of vocal are sung. The song ends on the final word ‘around’ but as the final chord strums decay we can hear the thin processed drum loop from the beginning is still there clattering away and quickly it fades out. This suggests the processed loop had been going the whole time …

Overall an interesting production that takes the energy of a fairly heavy guitar band and pushes it toward electronica territory. The absence of guitar riffs and solos and drum fills is compensated for with drama being created subtly in the mix. Heavily processed samples and loops become the bedrock of the production, with the guitars playing a more subtle support role.