I am performing this case study with the purpose of furthering my knowledge of electronic music production, aiding my skills as an audio engineer. "Army of me", lead single from the album Post (1995) written and produced by Björk and Graham Massey, is exemplary of how electronic production methods can be utilised in pop music.
"Army of me" would best be described as experimental pop. This style of music takes some primary elements from pop music (usually structure and chord progression) and stretches the use of these elements. This has been witnessed throughout the history of pop music with artists such as The Beach Boys, Queen and Pink Floyd. All of which added stylistic elements in their music that were considered avant-garde at the time but are normal practice in contemporary music.
Björk is an Icelandic singer/songwriter that is well known for her enchanting experimental style of pop. Often infusing different musical styles such as jazz, rock and electro pop. Originally the lead singer for The Sugarcubes prior to beginning s strong solo career in 1992. A career resulting in six studio albums. The second of which featuring "army of me". Although "army of me" was released in 1995, she (with Graham Massey) actually wrote the song back in 1992 but chose to not release it at the time.
- Key signature: Db Major (C locrian mode)
- Time signature: 4/4
- Tempo: 86
- Length: 3 min 54 sec
- Bar count: 84
Structure / Instrumentation
Björk employs the experimental pop style into "army of me" with use of the classic pop structure (ABAB). This is a repeating structure of the verse and chorus with a bridge in the second half of the song to break up the monotony. This can be visualised below as Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Verse-Chorus-Outro. Repetitive instrumental melodies are added to lay a strong pop base for the song. However, the composition and instrumentation is slightly askew to most pop songs. The use of distorted synths and haunting vocals is an example of this. Also the key of the song could be said to be in either Db major or Bb minor however the melodies resolve to C to suggest that the song is performed in the locrian mode, which is not common place in contemporary pop. The locrian mode is made up of the same notes as the major scale but begins on the 7th degree of that scale, in this case C.
Army of me's instrumentation is mainly electronic, consisting of a drum kit, several synths, female vocals and the occasional addition of distorted noise. Due do the number of different synth patches in use they have been labeled as the following: Bass Synth (BS); Chorus Synth (CS); Bells Synth (BS2); Brass Synth (BS3); Arpeggiator Synth (AB); High Synth (HS); and String Synth (SS2).
Lead In (00:00) - The track begins with a few seconds of distorted noise. Two tom hits announce the beginning of the song.
Intro/PreVerse (00:03) 8 Bars - The song commences with the Drum Kit and Bass Synth. This has been labeled as Intro/PreVerse as it introduces the song and is the same as the verse minus the vocals. The Arpeggiator Synth leads into the first verse.
Verse (00:25) 8 Bars - Distorted noise signifies the beginning of the verse. This verse is the same as the intro/preverse with the addition of the vocals. A single chord is played on the Brass Synth on the last beat of this section as a transition to the chorus. Lyrics: stand up / you've got to manage / I won't sympathise / anymore.
Chorus (00:47) 8 Bars - The Bass Synth is dropped in exchange of the Chorus Synth. The Brass Synth chord sounds at the end of each bar in the second half of this section. Lyrics: and if you complain once more / you'll meet an army of me (x2).
Verse (01:10) 8 Bars - The Chorus Synth ends and the Bass Synth returns. The Bells Synth sounds at the beginning of the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th bars. Lyrics: you're alright / there's nothing wrong / self-sufficience please / get to work.
Chorus+ (01:32) 8 Bars - This section is the exact same as the first chorus with the addition of the Bass Synth. Lyrics are also mirrored however "army of me" is repeated crossing over into the bridge.
Bridge (01:54) 4 Bars - Bass Synth continues through this section. The Brass Synth sounds on the first beat of each bar. The High Synth plays throughout this section. The Arpeggiator Synth sounds at the beginning and end of this section. The String Synth plays at the end of the second and fourth bars. Noise also sounds at the beginning and end of this section. There are no vocals in this section other than the line that crosses over from the chorus.
Verse+ (02:06) 8 Bars - The drum kit drops off except for the hi hat, which plays the beat. All other instruments drop off except for the Bass Synth. The Vocals also return. Lyrics: you're on your own now / we won't save you / your rescue-squad / is too exhausted.
Chorus (02:28) 4 Bars - This section mirrors the first chorus, however is only 4 bars in length.
Chorus++ (02:39) 4 Bars - This section is similar to Chorus+, the difference being that the Bass Synth is only played on the first two beats of each bar.
Chorus+++ (02:50) 8 Bars - This section has the Bass Synth return in full and has the addition of the High Synth sounding in the second, fourth and sixth bars.
Outro (03:13) 15 bars - The Drum Kit, Bass Synth and Brass Synth continue through this section with the Arpeggiator Synth and Noise sounding occasionally. The String Synth sounds in the second and fourth bars. The Chorus Synth returns at bar 73 (03:24). The songs concludes at bar 81 (03:46) with the Arpeggiator Synth and Noise tracks ringing out. The track ends at 03:54.
The drums consist of a kick, snare, hi hat and crash cymbal. It is rumoured that the drums were actually sampled from the Led Zepplin song "When the levee breaks". While attempting to recreate some of synth sounds from this song (more on this further on), I decided to test out the drum sample theory. For this I took a 4 bar sample featuring only drums and as the original song is in a slower tempo I used flex time to alter the sample into 86 BPM. This can be heard below and compared against the original track.
Although the two sound similar, it is clear that the Army of me drums have not been sampled. The kick is playing a different rhythm to the Led Zepplin track. Also some of the timbres are different, such as the hi hat, which features bright high frequencies while the Zepplin hats have warmer high mids, with no presence of highs (consistent with recording to tape).
The initial energy of the track comes from the Bass Synth, which appears to wind its way around the drums and vocals. The synth has the distorted qualities of FM synthesis. There is also an LFO manipulating what is most likely a low pass filter, which creates the effect of the synth repeatedly coming to the front of the mix before retreating to the rear and so forth. There appears to be a low end boost probably from the use of a low shelf. I have attempted to recreate this iconic synth using the ES2 plugin in Logic Pro. This can be heard below (AOM Synth 1).
I used a sawtooth wave oscillator running through a low pass pass filter. I added a detuned sine wave to fatten the sound. The harmonics created by this wasn't what I was after but was able to counter this by tuning the sawtooth wave up. I then turned up the FM knob to create the distorted tones that are clear in the original synth. I then use a sine wave LFO at 0.35Hz to control the frequency of the low pass filter to shift up and down.
The synth that drives the chorus also appears to have the distorted qualities of FM synthesis. This synth differs from the Bass Synth as it is more concentrated in the mid frequency range, where as the Bass Synth is more concentrated in the bass and sub frequencies. Also some subtle white noise can also be heard with this synth. The performance only seems to be three notes repeated over. There is also a slight wobble in the sound suggesting perhaps an LFO manipulating the pitch of the oscillators. This synth carries a lot of power despite being musically simple and quite low in the mix. This is as it has been EQ'd to 'hug' the vocal. The lower mids below the range of a typical female voice have been brought out and also the high frequencies of noise within the synth also aided in defining the synth within the mix.
The bell that sounds in the second verse is a synth comprised of a couple of sine waves tuned away from each other with a sharp attack, little or no sustain and a medium release. There is also a delay with a long tale giving it this illusion of ringing out. This synth seems to represent time as though a clock is ticking, ready for something to happen.
The brass instruments that sound during the choruses could by all means be real trumpets recorded in a studio. However, the envelope of the sound, along with the electronic nature of the track, would suggest that it is in fact a synth. It features the sharp attack of a trumpet but such a staccato note played on a trumpet would have a much shorter release time. This synth does well to add tension to the angry lyrics of the chorus.
There is a dreamy sounding synth that sounds just before the first verse, almost as if to signal that the body of the song has arrived. The synth has a very pure tone but has a bubbling effect suggesting the use of an arpeggiator.
A high pitched synth sounds throughout the bridge of the song. This appears to be a simple synth patch most likely made up of a couple of saw tooth waves in parallel.
The other synth that features in the bridge the long attack and sustain qualities of a bowed string instrument.
There is also a track that is compose just of distorted noise, which both introduces and concludes the track. It also gives the song a much grittier nature to complement the angry lyrics.
Sitting on top of the mix is Björk's vocals. The singer has an iconic voice featuring smooth high mid frequencies. There is also a gritty sound that she adds - similar to that of clearing one's throat - which adds a passionate tension. She tends to break the conventional rules of pop singing, such as softly singing an angry lyric rather than shouting it. There is no low end frequencies in the vocal, which leaves room for the other instruments to emerge. The vocal is seperate from the electronic elements further with the use of a subtle delay and very long reverb tale.
Overall Spectral / Dynamic Content
Army of me is not a dynamic track. The only section where the level drops is in the final verse. If there was no dip at this point the final chorus would seem too repetitive. The drop in energy gives the illusion of the final chorus having more energy.
Across the stereo field the instruments are mostly centred apart from the noise track and some of less frequent synths are panned out to either side. This can be visualised below.
The track has fairly consistent frequency content over the low and mid ranges. There is not a lot of high frequency content as the synths that occupy this range sit at quite a low level in the mix.
Army of me is a very powerful song full of intense energy. Incredibly the anger within the track is made clear through quite delicate mediums. Throughout the entire track Björk's vocals are soft and have barely any sign of tension. As if being told to straighten yourself out by your grandmother. Björk has compared herself with a polar bear when asked about the track: "They're [polar bears] very cuddly and cute and quite calm, but if they meet you they can be very strong" (Savage, 1995).
Sicksushi. (2011,April 10). Björk - Army Of Me (Sucker Punch Sountrack) [video file]. Retrieved June 20th from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSEwzFOYFNw
Björk [Image] (2015). Retrieved June 20th, from http://www.stereogum.com/1807804/post-turns-20/franchises/the-anniversary/
Savage, J. (1995). They Always Uncjorked Björk! Retrieved July 1st, from http://bjork.fr/Interview-1995,982
Pro Tools 12 [Image] (2015). Avid. Retrieved June 20th.