A new playlist is emerging – give it another week or so to cook down. Here’s one I just can’t stop obsessing over the complete genius of:
“Danny Nedelko” by IDLES
Yes, it’s a pro-immigration anthem with a British perspective. No, this is not just reheated 70s UK punk. Yes, they carry the metaphor through both the lyrics, the dynamics, and the melodic and harmonic choices. In other words – this is goddamn classroom worthy art that deserves to be studied.
1. Solo vocals in the verses, gang vocals in the chorus, illustrating the Individual-community dichotomy contained within the borders of the song. Keep the verse/chorus/bridge segmentation in mind as well as the passage of time over the course of the song.
2. The verse lyrics contrast labels (immigrant, alien, etc) with regular non-country specific jobs (mother, butcher) with famous people (Freddie Mercury, Malala, etc.). Labels make us different, but we share so many commonalities as humans, including our celebrities. Plus, they’re drawing attention to success stories who also emigrated across borders.
3. The chorus lyrics reflect a slippery slope argument where emotions about immigration devolve from fear to panic to pain to anger to hate, followed by a delightfully indifferent “yeah, yeah, yeah…” and ending on the subject matter – Ukrainian immigrant to the UK music scene, Danny Nedelko himself.
4. Melodically (and I’ll keep this 101, but we can sit down at a piano on this someday), the verses make use of an intensely close harmonic tension by moving from the home (tonic) note to a half-step below (major 7th) before resolving down to the more stable feeling midway point (5th) of the scale. Imagine Jaws-theme tension as you listen to the beginning of the verse. Note how the end of each line is structured down into stability (201 bonus: the guitar skips up to the major 7th, and then the tritone after each full line is money).
We can map this back to the lyrical content too. The highest note / peak of the songs melody always highlights key points (ex. the word “unity”), plus it starts the chorus where it slides down the aforementioned slope, and it puts the “yeahs” on a happier sounding part (major 3rd) of the scale bringing to mind maniacal laughter at the madness of the situation. They build these cycles in the vocal melody, the guitars, and the bass if you listen closely.
5. The bridge ties the whole song together by literally spelling it out for us. Nedelko is representative of the diversity within their musical community. If you don’t agree or understand, well, they spell that out for you too. Note that they never say “the word,” an indication of their personal restraint in the face of no restraint from others. This is subversively powerful.
6. The dynamics (loud/soft or loud/louder here) follow the lyrics too. Obvious, but important. I particularly like how they use it in the bridge to wrap several of these concepts together with the harmony, lyrics, and dynamics building towards the end of the song. The punk aesthetic of talking or shouting works well for the message.
7. When we consider the whole piece in time, it progresses through the continuing build and release of tensions, only to land on the reality of the maniacal acknowledgment of the situation, with a positive feeling resolution. It’s bookended well, making their frustration with the current political situation very clear in a genre-specific irreverent way, but still containing a feeling of hope.
This is not just another punk song. Maybe (probably) they didn’t write this thinking it through this way, but it’s still all there.
Give it a shot.