How loud can pop get?

“Turn that racket down!”

Oh, the familiar tropes of pop music in America: it seems like every 50s-nostalgia film must have a scene where the parents-who-just-don’t-understand are yelling at kids to turn down that “rock music.” It’s a trope that has continued through the decades, and hopefully will continue throughout the years. After all, how good can pop music be if it doesn’t challenge our preconceived notions of what can be considered popular? How good can it be if it doesn’t change?

But the issue of volume… where does that play in? Is there ever such a thing as “too loud” when it comes to pop music?

About a week ago, Gabba over at Hardcore for Nerds posted a waveform of “Crown on the Ground,” a potential rip-roaring single by Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells. The duo was a veritable hit at CMJ and their punchy juxtaposition of a full-on noisefest with top 40 pop music is rather daring. But the question at hand is, can a wide audience handle that amount of noise? Can they handle this?:

crown on the ground

That’s the first minute of “Crown on the Ground.” Get past the intro and it’s a verifiable onslaught of distorted noise. And yet, you can hear these wonderful beats made of what sounds like guitars dying in a blistery, fiery and loud crash. And yet, despite this noise, even Alexis’s sultry vocals manage to make their way through, with all the “ah aha ah aha ahs” heard loud and clear.

But is this just plain too much for folks to take? I personally eat this kind of music up – its got a fantastic pop hook, the music’s intensity goes right for the jugular and the sheer volume packs an additional powerful punch. But, I’m hardly a proper representative of popular taste in American culture. (Although, I’m not sure if there ever really was or will be a singular entity that can correctly measure what a majority of Americans will flock to at any one moment. And for that, I’m thankful.)

Still, would it be impossible for kids listening to Clear Channel radio stations to dig this stuff? Something will always make me say yes, but I went ahead and compared the sheer mass of the “Crown on the Ground” waveform with a couple of other songs. Below are a handful of waveforms from songs by loud popular acts and loud underground acts.

My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”:

Only Shallow

Dinosaur Jr. – “Almost Ready”:

Almost Ready

Queens of the Stone Age – “3’s & 7’s”:

3s and 7s

Nirvana – “Rape Me”:

rape me

Oddly enough, the waveform for My Bloody Valentine – often known as the world’s loudest band – was dwarfed by almost every other act included in this “test.” True, this is in no way, shape or form a scientific testing, as factors such as recording quality cannot be taken into consideration (chances are, QOTSA probably had a higher recording budget for Era Vulgaris than MBV did for Loveless.) What’s more, the Sleigh Bells songs in their current form are merely demos recorded by the duo: who knows what they’ll sound like when they’re finished.

Still, it’s interesting to see how these songs measure up against one another in sheer volume. Though the capacity for hitting the red-distortion bar with songs like “3’s & 7’s” or “Rape Me” is not quite as high as “Crown on the Ground,” they do get fairly loud in their own right. And these were songs off albums that did fairly well for the bands in question.

So can the American music-listening public take Sleigh Bells and “Crown on the Ground?” It’s hard to tell at this point. But, if the fleshed out recordings turn things down a bit from 11, and if the M.I.A. comparisons and praise continues to roll in for the band, who knows what’s kids might be bumping to in the next few months.

Sleigh Bells – “Crown on the Ground” (live):

[vimeovid id=”6845583″]


2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Colin Horgan #

    Cool post. Rolling Stone had a good article about this in 2007. It’s here:
    Recent examples of the ‘bad’ include, I think, Day & Age by the Killers… among many, many others.

  2. Leor Galil #

    Thanks for the link Colin – that’s a pretty interesting piece.
    And don’t get my started on The Killers! Let’s just say they’re not my cup of tea…

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