Deep Music Criticism #15 – Katy Perry/Tim Hewitt – Teenage Dream

I’m taking a new tack here – reviewing a cover song. Only because it shows what I’ve often said about pop acts these days: the songs (many of them, anyway) are well-written but HORRIBLY produced. Harmonically, melodically, lyrically – good pop songwriters these days are talented and working in the great tradition of Tin Pan Alley etc. 3-4 minutes of clever and carefully polished a songwriting is routinely coming at me over the radio. But the problem is the sonic pallete the producers choose these days, which is horrible.

Podcast:

By “horrible production” I mean hiddeous sonic choices – especially percussion. The most horrible, fake drum kit samples and other faux-percussive sound effects form the rhythmic staple these days for pop songs. Terrible stuff. The closest thing you get in most pop tracks is a real live guitar, but usually only the vocal track is performed by an actual human, and that is more frequently auto-tuned to death than not. Production is in terrible shape. Record labels apparently have zero faith in the listening public to be shoveling such stuff.

I’ve chosen Tim Hewitt’s karaoke remake of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” to prove a point – that great musicians performing good songs on their instruments is AWESOME. It also proves that these “cheesy” pop songs we hard-core rock/metal guys and gals ridicule really aren’t cheesy or lame. Its their production that’s lame.

Djent

I’ve discussed Djent before, but to summarize again, its a underground little niche of the metal scene that most people say started in bedroom recording studios in the early 00s. These wanna-be web forum trolls who also could shred pretty well started posting instrumental tracks of progressive metal with highly syncopated, groove-focused riffs, most typically performed on the low strings of extended instruments like 7 and 8-string guitars.

Tim Hewitt is in this tradition – a lonely, non-descript lad from the UK posting his Katy Perry tracks anonymously to Soundcloud.

Two of the signature moves in djent, beside the syncopated bass lines, are:

  • Wide pitch bends in the low strings (cause its much easier to do on the looser-strung bass strings of an 8-string guitar)
  • Wide interval leaps in the riffs

Tim Hewitt makes both of these moves in his cover of Teenage Dream. The bend occurs leading into the first verse, after the intro (to dramatic effect). The wide leaps are the core of the verse accompaniment. He harps on the tonic major seventh, which is not only wide but strikingly dissonant. It sets the tone for a seriously fucked up cover.

Groove

There’s no denying that the great appeal of Djent is the ability to lay down the nastiest, syncopated groove. Locking the kick drum with a syncopated guitar riff will produce an infectious, almost dancable groove if done right. Tim does this in the bridge section. It makes you want to bang a head, bang a rang, and do a gay twirl – all at once.

Epic Texture

Tim’s treatment of the chorus is aiming at one thing: epicness. He layers on the rhythm guitars very thickly, with harmonized finger-tapping figures in the left channel, thick strumming to fill the entire frequency spectrum in the right channel. Frequent fan feedback for this section on soundcloud is “chill down spine”. Tim delivers on his aim.

Great track – I do encourage you to listen to all of Tim’s Katy Perry covers, which are all awesome