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Stick Season

by Noah Kahan

As far from thrilling as it is to hear the ghost of Mumford & Sons beating I-V-vi-IV to death (again), I can’t deny that Kahan’s made a workmanlike job of it. We get occasional welcome breathers from the two-bars-per-chord harmonic pattern, for instance, such as the eighth-bar V chord at the end of the each chorus; the two-bar reintro after the first chorus at 1:10; and the one-bar extension that closes out the song at the end of the final chorus. There’s also a good variety of performance techniques that help differentiate the song’s initial sections without having to rely too heavily on adding new instrument layers. So the finger-picking that starts the song gives way to soft-edged finger strumming in the second half of the verse verse. Then the first chorus introduces single accented chords, which transition into brighter, more rhythmic picked strumming eight bars later. All of which assists in creating a continuous arrangement build-up all the way to the start of verse two (almost halfway through the song), while still keeping the kick drum in reserve to inject further energy from that point onwards.

Of course, it’s not just the performance techniques that are responsible for this arrangement momentum, because there’s also a gradual introduction of new guitar and vocal layers as the song builds too. The first half of the verse clearly has only a single guitar, for instance, but I’m pretty sure I can hear a sneaky little doubletrack creeping in underneath it once the strumming starts at 0:21, and the chorus then definitely brings with it proper hard-panned doubletracks that both thicken and widen the mix sonics. The second half of the chorus also adds a subtle vocal doubletrack, a feature that becomes much more prominent during the second chorus, before expanding into a vocal harmony texture in the second half of the third chorus. And there’s the banjo part too, whose strategic entry at 2:03 helps provide extra rhythmic complexity that not only lifts the middle section, but also provides greater contrast with the onset of the the final chorus, when we get that dramatic return to the ‘single chords’ texture of chorus one.

What this all means is that the multitracks here already have plenty of inherent arrangement dynamics, so any further mix-automation work to enhance those dynamics (such as the increase in vocal reverb from chorus one to chorus two) can be icing on the cake rather than having to operate as some kind of sticking plaster. So even if the song’s central musical premise bores you as much as it does me, it is nonetheless a great example of how decent arrangement can make life a lot easier at mixdown.