A splendid marriage of vibe and craft, “Alternative Facts” is not the latest release from Philadelphia’s prolific Work Drugs, but is the one that has stuck with me most thoroughly.
All smooth electronics on the surface, the song creates an understated urgency in a few ways. First, there’s the recurrence of a simple, descending, two-note motif: it’s the notes the vocals start on, with the phrase “Get away,” and it’s repeated in four incarnations in the first 16 seconds. The song goes on to offer neither the comfort of an identifiable chorus nor an obvious resolution. Notice too the rhythmic structure: while the emphasis is the “on” beat (one and three) versus the backbeat (two and four), the beat is driven by a syncopated triplet rhythm with an accented second (oneTWOthree), which keeps the ear unbalanced and forward leaning. The place to hear this most clearly is right in the intro, before the vocals start, but that basic syncopated pulse continues throughout.
One last destabilizing point is how the recurring refrain is a repeat of the phrase “I’m not your happy ending,” articulated so the word “ending” is, ironically, all but inaudible—you have to realize it’s there to hear it. And when you do hear it, you may also notice that it is an echo of the repeated two-note motif previously discussed.
I do hope my efforts to bring some analytical concepts to the aural reality of a song don’t end up sounding pedantic. I’m just fascinated, in a lifelong way, by what makes music good, and refuse to believe it’s all a subjective matter, any more than are facts themselves, to bring us back to the subtle theme.
Work Drugs have been here before, featured on Fingertips in both March 2015 and September 2016. They are the duo of Thomas Crystal and Benjamin Louisiana and, as noted, they put out a rather ridiculous amount of music, as you can see if you wander over to their Bandcamp page. Additionally, if you head to SoundCloud page, you’ll find a nice assortment of their songs available for free download.
Thanks to the band for the MP3.