We all know how effective it can be to pair happy-sounding music with unhappy lyrics; it’s a great trick, at which pop music is singularly adept. A subtler variation of this is on display in “Funeral Song,” which alerts us to the overlooked and perhaps flummoxing idea that not all uptempo music is in fact happy in the first place. Brisk, expansive movement to a strong beat can embody defiance or determination or some other complex sense of real life being lived. This is an upbeat song but it’s not “happy music”…which would come to think of it be difficult to pull off with a first line like “I just got back from your funeral” anyway.
Not that it’s clear what’s going on here lyrically, actually. Once the space-travel allusions start (metaphorical? or not?), I will admit to being lost. But this then (how convenient!) is another thing at which pop music is singularly adept: taking odd and/or indecipherable lyrics and making something bigger and grander out of them. And “Funeral Song” sounds big and grand to me, in a no-nonsense-rock’n’roll kind of way. The song’s central melodic descent—the three adjacent notes we hear first on the word “funeral”—is a purposeful, grounding gesture and yet also an off-kilter one: it’s used to open rather than close the verse, and the half-time melody (i.e., each syllable of the word stretches over two beats) plays with the rhythmic momentum just when it might otherwise be kicking in. The choral-like harmonies we first hear on this word/motif are used for emphasis throughout and add to the epic yet wistful feeling. As does the oddly long bridge section (1:57), which is fashioned upon the aforementioned three-note melodic descent, strung together in a condensed way that has the feeling of time-signature trickery but remains (I think) in 4/4 time throughout.
“Funeral Song” is from the band’s forthcoming album, Afterlife Blues, which will be their first full-length. An EP was previously released, in July 2010. Thanks to the band for the MP3, which you can alternatively download via SoundCloud.