“Life Before Aesthetics” – Denison Witmer
     Fleet-footed and amiable singer/songwriter pop with a dreamy ’70s patina. It’s a mellow toe-tapper–half Jackson Browne, half Sufjan Stevens–but it manages to vibrate with something extra that, to me, separates it from the kind of song that may come to mind when you think “mellow toe-tapper.” And what, precisely, is that something extra? Well. Let’s see. Hmm. He says “modern furniture” in the first line, but that’s probably not it.
     Okay, here’s one thing: check out how the verse has two interrelated but distinct melodies. You can hear the first one beginning at 0:14, the second one at 0:29. The first part is a downward-trending melody, the second part leans upward, with two effects. First, Witmer gets to show us his impressive vocal range; singing sweetly and easily, he takes us from a low D to a high G without breaking a sweat. Second, this straightforward song now feels much more interesting and substantive. Witmer doesn’t provide us with a 16-measure melody–a rare animal indeed in the indie rock world–but he does offer two back-to-back, repeated eight-measure melodies, which is a deft way of adding complexity without overtaxing either the listener or the songwriter. And then the chorus delivers simplicity itself: a slower-moving resolving melody that consists primarily of two notes, describing harmony’s most basic interval, the third. The instrumental accompaniment maintains the faster rhythm of the verse, with the added texture of an organ playing a new countermelody. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the song would not have succeeded as well as it does without that organ.
     Denison Witmer, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has been recording since 1995. “Life Before Aesthetics” is a song from his new CD, Carry the Weight, his eighth full-length studio album, released earlier this month by the Militia Group. MP3 courtesy of Insound.




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