The swift and confident “As If The Choice Were Mine” is at once fuzzy and jangly, teasing us with whiffs of the ’60s and hints of rhythmic trickery. Front man Jonathan Byerly has some of Matt Berninger’s portentous grumble, but cleared of any pontifical mannerism by the song’s underlying vim, as well as the three-part harmony he sings as part of from start to finish. The song is chorus-free, with one eight-measure melody repeated three times, around instrumental breaks. This is part of what gives the tune its light-footed momentum, this not having to reorient itself for something sing-along-ier.
But it’s also the nature of the melody itself that gives the song its appeal. Listen to how it begins, unusually, on a heavily accented first beat, which both grabs the ear and kind of knocks it off kilter. It is an eight-measure melody, mostly but not completely in 4/4 time, expanding nonchalantly into 6/4 time in measures five and six (from 0:26 to 0:32). For no reason I can discern except further slyness, the introduction, which recurs as the first instrumental break, comes with 6/4 time in measure seven as well, while the second instrumental break, a different thing entirely, is but seven measures long, all in 4/4 but the seventh, which is in 6/4. And yes I’m kind of fascinated by time signature tricks and changes, so there you go.
Meanwhile, what about that title? It’s a hall-of-fame song title, with bonus points for proper use of the conditional tense, and packing so much meaning and subtext into its six words that it hardly requires any further embellishment. And in truth we don’t get much—beyond the repeated opening gambit “As if the choice were mine/And not some fated thing,” the lyrics are both sparse and elusive; after many listens, I still can’t quite make out what the “hollow angels” are doing.
Plates of Cake are a Brooklyn-based foursome with one full-length album to their name, released in 2010 on the All Hands Electric label. “As If The Choice Were Mine” is a digital single, to be officially released later this month. Go to the band’s page on its label’s web site and you can download a couple of free and legal MP3s from the debut album.