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    Rhythmic Complexity of Tame Impala's "Elephant"

    Can anyone comment on the rhythmic complexity of the Austrailian art pop group Tame Impala's song "Elephant?" The rhythym seems to be generated  by swing triplets as well as triplets in general and I'm wondering if there is an extra beat added to the phrase which creates a lopsided cycle that reverses as the phrases alternate.  Here's the Youtube link:

     

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    • 6 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • No extra beats.  Straight 4.  But, there is often an emphasis on beat 2 that is preceded by a melodic figure (that sounds like an anticrusis figure) that occupies beat 1.

       

      Charles Ditto

       

    • Also, it's worth noting that, whenever that bass-figure occurs, the changes in harmony occur on the 2nd beat of the measure, and that the bass ostinato is only one beat long--all factors that make it easy to lose track of which beat is which.

      Marc

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      PhD student in Music Theory at Columbia University

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    • Dear Marc, thanks for that cogent analysis.  I find this rhythmic device rather fascinating in that a complexity can be generated in such a simple context and have been very interested in understanding how it is being accomplished.  If the change of harmony occurs on the second beat of the measure is it possible to interpret the (introduction) as 4/4 + 4/5 before the vocal entrance (which is a measure of 3/4)?  That goes back to my original comment on an extra beat in the phraseology.  The first cadence also has this 9 beat structure before returning to the verse.  Could it be interpreted as verse = 3/4 + 4/4 + 4/4+ 5/4?  So in essence different phrase lengths in varying time signatures . . . 

      Carson

    • Thanks for sharing this track, Carson! Your timing was perfect. I'm teaching a unit on rhythmic/metric analysis and next week we're going to be looking at a couple of similar examples in class. You might be interested, by the way, in one of the other tracks that we'll be analyzing: Animal Collective's "My Girls" (listen for the metric shift that starts around 1:26):

      Regarding your question:

      If the change of harmony occurs on the second beat of the measure is it possible to interpret the (introduction) as 4/4 + 4/5 before the vocal entrance (which is a measure of 3/4)?  That goes back to my original comment on an extra beat in the phraseology.  The first cadence also has this 9 beat structure before returning to the verse.  Could it be interpreted as verse = 3/4 + 4/4 + 4/4+ 5/4?  So in essence different phrase lengths in varying time signatures . . . 

      The biggest issue that I can see with switching between 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 would be the lack of parallelism in how the drums are articulating the downbeats. The 3/4 measure, in other words, would be defying the convention of hitting the bass drum on the downbeat and the snare drum on the backbeat. I prefer hearing this--as Charles suggested--in a straight four with a fill obscuring the third downbeat.

      I made a transcription to clarify:

    • Thanks Andre for taking the time to provide a written score for the "Elephant" example.  I'm sure you're implying that the bass line is swung - I hear it as a swung triplet pattern and not straight 1/8s as in your example.  I look forward to exploring your Animal Collective example!  While I certainly do not disagree with you, Marc, or Charles (I'm in fine company here!), I would say that 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 all have a common denominator of "beat" and this type of pulse running through several time signatures seems quite normal in progressive rock history (Led Zepplin, Rush, Yes, etc.).  I've also noticed in my recent exploration of software step sequencers that it is quite interesting and easy to combine varying time signatures with a common denoninator pulse as the quarter note in 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 7/4, etc.  Using a 3/4 measure for the beginning of the verse also eliminates unnecessary information and sqaures the form.  Well, I have a lot to think about and thanks for all the excellent comments!  Also I would add that I notice the bass drum is on the down beat in m. 3 (missing in your example) or in my shifting time signature explanation and that indeed the bass drum is always on "a downbeat"  (except during breaks of course).  Carson