Track By Tracks: Witnesses - Witnesses (2022)


A track-by-track rundown of Witnesses IV isn’t easy if for no other reason there are twenty tracks! But beyond that, this exercise isn’t a natural one for me. I like to leave the mystery to the music. I never want to spoon-feed the listener how to feel or how to interpret the instrumental or the lyrics and singing. To me, that’s boring and can compromise the beauty of art. And personally, I sometimes struggle looking backward. I tend to only hear the flaws and defects in my own work, so I have to build up a certain amount of determination to dig back in. But here goes. Note that I’ve skipped tracks 7 & 9 as they are pretty minor.

1. The First Snow:

The first two tracks aim to orient the listener physically in nature. I guess this is pretty obvious, but the details are important. “The First Snow” is meant to create a feeling of what I can only describe as stillness. Think of what it’s like before it snows. There is a calm in the air. And in the song, that calm is broken up by the gentle tremolo guitar (played by Matt), barely perceptible at this stage, which is something approximating flickers of the snow falling itself. I think at this point we’ve already moved past that treeline in Andreas’ cover photo, and we’re into the woods–perhaps to a clearing within. To someplace where things open up a bit despite the patchwork and threading of branches. Is there a path? What do you see?

2. The River:

And so now we’ve moved on from that clearing maybe and we’re by “The River”. The wind samples are meant to create a rushing sound–the river in this case isn’t still like the fresh snow from before. So we’re picking up the intensity and things are happening. Whatever the story is here is starting to develop.

3. The Hostage:

OK, so now things have truly turned. Relatively, there’s a lot of low ends here for I think maybe the first time on IV. The clean guitars–what do they signify? And what, someone is a hostage now? What’s going on? This is exactly where I want the listener’s imagination to be in full control. And start to build some kind of story in their mind. The brooding pulse of this song is certainly faster than a heartbeat at rest. In producing this I had originally had the drums louder, but towards the end, I decided to bring them down and push them back a bit. I’m not sure which is better in the end. Perhaps if this album is ever remixed I’ll experiment with having them more forward.

4. The Search:

The shrill strings both recall the spareness of the first snow, but this calm is decidedly not settling–it’s the opposite. But why?

5. The Discovery:

OK, we’re around the 10-minute mark, so seems like a good place to start introducing some vocals. In this article, I won’t be discussing the lyrics at all, but for personal and aesthetic reasons it was really important to have some of these songs presented in a Nordic language. These translations were done by MALMØ herself, which was great. And hopefully, for most listeners, who don’t speak Danish, this will only add to the mystery of the discovery itself, and where the story is going–or where you are taking it and interpreting it yourself in your mind. There is also the first appearance of a drum kit, but it’s very restrained and kept in check. Supporting cast, if you will.

6. The Note with the Misspelled Words:

I guess in what happens now it’s hard to imagine that the discovery was a good omen, at least on the surface. The percussive elements, the lows, and shrill highs are bringing us back to some of the more ominous feelings of “The Hostage”. You have to be taken hostage by someone, I reckon, and so that person has left us something here. Note the return of the percussion, indeed, first heard on “The Hostage”.

8. Revenge:

“Revenge” is a fun one; it’s a personal favorite. We introduce a few new players, and the moods are different. You also get some nice eerie stuff in the middle via a few major seconds. I love seconds, but you have to use them sparingly. We also have the nylon string and then some jangly clean guitars I believe I played free time. But, most importantly, the sax makes its first appearance, but what does this new player in the drama signify? You can probably guess my answer: it's really up to you. By the way, is that the river I hear again?

10. The Track Go in Circles:

Jørgen returns here with the sax, and we’re perhaps now in this dizzying sort of state. Maybe that revenge wasn't all it was cracked up to be. There is a lot of what I’d call authenticity in this performance. A lot of breathing comes through in Jørgen’s recording, and I love that. They’re probably elevated a bit by the compression. It’s very raw. The piece moves into something a bit playful with the strings, for me a nice change from the brooding and shrill.

11. The Freezing Sun:

This is another one where I’m pleased that things came out a bit cheerful. I think we’re in E♭in the beginning at least. Good that I can get myself out of Cm at least sometimes. We haven’t seen the sun yet, but the sun against the snow can be really blinding. I like how the saxophone features on the series of revenge, the swirling and confusing tracks, and now the blinding sun. It’s such a bombastic instrument. Even if it’s used here a bit more mellow, I still feel its effect in this part of the story.

12. The Plea:

I love this song. Another top contender for me. Gabbi’s voice makes its first appearance here, and I love that this type of music gives me the freedom to have multiple singers on the same overall work, yet have it remain coherent. Gabbi is a breathy singer, and I like her voice set against that grimy guitar. The lyrics are of course very literal here. There’s a time and place for that, you know? At this point in the album it's hard for me to argue that the story isn’t painted primarily in dark tones. But still, something about “starting over” in the lyrics here I hope makes things a little bit more complicated. We close with a short ritardando here; there’s something of a resignation happening.

13 & 14. Joy & Need (ᚹ and ᚾ):

Taking these two together, it was important for me to try and make this quick and simple expression in C with “Joy”. Maybe that’s the forbidden key, I’m not sure. But if anything, I probably should have done more with it throughout the album as something thematic. It gets its place here, courtesy of the wonderful samples in Native Instruments’ Noire. The harmonics underneath are cellos. And then we move into “Need”, I believe in F minor, we have Matt’s Ebow and a wonderful drone pad underneath courtesy of the Spitfire Albion series. I take these two as a pair because they are two sides of a coin for me. There is more beneath the surface here that is deeply personal, and a not-so-subtle nod to an influence of mine. Can you spot the latter? You’ll note that if you let it, this song can take you out of the plot. But we’ll snap back next.

15. The Burial:

This song has a finality to it, for sure. I guess either a first or second act is coming to its endpoint. Something is coming to a close in this larger story, and I think you can see a major shift in the song titles from here after–things are less plot-driven. It could be that we’ve returned to that river once more time, but perhaps not? This could be an entirely new place. But despite that “establishing shot”, this song quickly transforms into a meditative and mournful place. This is one of my favorite vibes established on the record. MALMØ isn’t as playful here as before. The character of her voice is really distant and almost prayer-like.

17. The Third, and Final, Snow:

To represent change and the journey, the snow falls again, but the piece is transposed. We’re in a different place now despite the themes coming back. This simple return was something I really wanted to have. There were a few options, I guess. To keep it in the same key but develop it more, or to play the exact same things transposed. I went with the latter, of course, and I’m happy with that call. I think if I had developed a lot of new things on top of what came before the shift may have been a bit much for my taste. The important thing is the reference and return here.

18. Farewell:

This song has some of my favorite plugins and samples. There is deep bass, some nice hip-hop drum samples, and even sleigh bells. Gabbi is on point, here again, her voice is a great complement to the feel. I think this is even a paraphrase of a Dr. Dre loop. I’m not sure, but I think so. It was an accident, but hardly the worst sin, especially when you are flirting with this genre. That wonderful pad in the second half is from Native Instruments. Really great dark and moody stuff. What I’d call a very nighttime sound. Perhaps a bit like a dark city texture and something of an outlier here instrumentally.

19. Through the Trees:

Before there was the snow there were the trees. The steel-string makes its one-and-only appearance here. This piece closes out the references to natural surroundings. Maybe we’re outside of the woods now, maybe back to where it all started, and the winds have something to tell us. With this song, I have this image in my head of how David Lynch will frame wind blowing through trees in Twin Peaks. Something is there that is a bit…beyond.

20. The Healthy and Optimistic Among Us Will Doom the Vulnerable:

This has proven to be true.

I hope you enjoyed this. Congratulations if you made it all the way! I tried to touch on the story elements and some of the music and production–highlighting how those worked together. Sometimes with intent, and sometimes by happy accident. Which I guess is what writing is all about.

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