Music education always & always looking forward.

Cross-rhythm in The National's "Fake Empire"

Have you ever wondered about songs you hear in commercials or television promos?  When I was growing up and watched obscene amounts of MTV, I always loved the songs I heard in promos or as background noise on shows (The Cure's "Mint Car" was a big one at the time).  As I got older and had more access to music beyond what I heard on the radio, it started to work the other way around.  In college, I loved a little band called stellastarr* and all of their indie dance pop goodness.  And then, out of nowhere, I heard them on every VH1 commercial that came on.  It was a weird transition.

This particular song is one of those, "Wow, I've heard in the background everywhere, but where is it from?"  Of course, nowadays you can easily access an entire Pandora station devoted to songs heard in Apple commercials.  What a world we live in.  

“Fake Empire” - the National

Intro: An American indie rock band based in Brooklyn, The National captured widespread praise in the mid-2000s. This song appears on the album Boxer, which was the album that helped the band attain their highest level of national exposure. A critical darling upon its release in 2007, it was considered by several entertainment outlets to be one of the best albums of the year as well as the decade. “Fake Empire” has been notably used in several television shows as well as in promotional videos for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Analysis: The best explanation for the cross-rhythmic conflict in this song is that it is occurring in 3/4 and 4/4 time simultaneously, otherwise known as polymeter. In a show of strong arranging skills, the cross-rhythmic conflict is first demonstrated using only piano. The left and right hands of the piano first introduce the conflict, and then the vocal line enters, singing mostly in 4/4 and further adding to the conflict. These instruments and the voice are later joined after the first occurrence of the chorus by bass guitar and drums and later by electric guitar and synthesized instrumental sounds. The higher pitched synthesized sounds, imitating what seems to be brass instruments or violins, seem to be moving along with the 4/4 time signature, while the lower-pitched synthesized sounds move along in 3/4 pattern.

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive subject matter or lyrics, although the lyrics are nearly unintelligible. It offers a strong example of cross-rhythm with a great deal of potential for analysis and would be a great listening example for a high school or even college classroom.

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