Monday, March 26, 2018

How We Can Listen to the Same Song and Hear It Differently

Recently, it has fascinated me how two people can listen to the same song and come away with wildly different perspectives. Zackary Kephart, who runs the blog The Musical Divide, was kind enough to indulge me in proving this.

I chose Dorothy’s latest album 28 Days in the Valley for this experiment. Both of us wrote about it on our respective blogs and both liked it. With a few exceptions, we did not exactly line up on which songs we thought were the strongest.

Zack is a 21 year old New Yorker (not NYC) whose main focus is on country music, go figure. I’m a Texan in my 40s who grew up listening to George Strait and Guns n’ Roses, Alabama and ZZ Top.

While Zack’s blog is primarily country and Americana, he has legitimate rock bonafides, thanks to his mother and the game Guitar Hero. While he mostly writes about country and Americana, he also covers rock sporadically.

Since you’re reading this, you probably know what I write about, so I won’t go into detail.

So, we each listened to 28 Days in the Valley and wrote down/typed up one, two, three sentences on each song. What follows below is our reactions to each song while listening through the album. I mixed up the order of the responses, but you can figure out some of them. Others, maybe not.

Know that we have both listened to the album several times before. This is not initial reaction, but yet just an experiment in how people can listen to the same song and hear it differently.

Reminds me of early 90s Sheryl Crow musically. That kind of lilting, laid back rock vibe. Lyrically, people thought she was flawless as she was broken, now that she’s in a better place, she’s gonna own that term.

I don't like these types of meaningless empowerment anthems that are made to sound like well … empowerment anthems. It comes across as cloying and cheesy. I don't like this.

Who Do You Love
This track is a bit too heavy and compressed to really click for me, especially when she's shouting meaningless one-liners during the verses. It's a lot of flair for nothing much.

This is an homage to late 60s/early 70s semi-psychedelia. Starts out as a hard driving rocker then the break down comes and serves up, what we used to refer to as the “pot smoking section”, though much shorter than those songs of that era. It just has that vibe before it ramps back up to the finish.

Pretty When You’re High
Just a laid back California rock song about some surfer dude who, probably, lives out of his VW van and looks pretty. When he’s high. No deep meaning, just a fun song.

Beyond the really odd hook (who says someone is pretty when they're high?), I do like the swampy, electric blues feel to this. I just wish that guitar that creeped up after the uttering of the title was louder in the mix.

This is the first glimpse we get into the spiritual themes of the album. Almost gospel-like at times.

In my own review, while I did like this, it wasn't something I loved. I still wouldn't say it's something I love actually, but for some reason it clicked a lot better on another re-listen through this album. The gospel tinge to this coupled with the group harmonies give this a nice, lighter feel. This one seems to be the most Southern-Rock influenced track to me.

From this point on it really clicked with me outside of one track. Everything just gets darker, heavier, and more groove heavy, and this is no exception. It's got a badass, punchy solo to it.

This is first time that the album shows that Southern Rock tinge. It’s more Allman Brothers than Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it has the Southern Rock vibe. Maybe throw in some Edgar Winter in the breakdown.

White Butterfly
I liked the group harmonies on “Mountain”, but I love them here. It's almost got a psychedelic feel to it, and I like how sinister the harmonies sound here. Another good element of this latter half is that the bass lines are more prominent and stronger, including here. I also enjoy how the track sort of slows down to catch its breath before coming back full throttle.

This one is hard to pigeon hole. The first part sounds a bit grungy. Then it goes into a Pink Floyd- like interlude. Not one of my favorites, but a good song nonetheless.

28 Days In The Valley
This short song just sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Western. It sounds like tumbleweeds and dust.

There’s not much to say here given that this is more of a transitional track, but it's dark, dusty, and cool.

On My Knees
This song is about is about sex, pure and simple. It’s KISS meets 80s sleaze rock, from a woman’s perspective.

This one has a heavy Heart influence to me, and while I can rehash why I like this, again, everything is just darker, edgier and more alive from here on out. Yeah, it's nothing more than a sex song, but frontwoman, Dorothy Martin's delivery is incredibly fierce and well-executed.

Black Tar & Nicotine
I honestly don't know what to say about this. It's not bad, but it's not a favorite cut here.

The Stevie Nicks is strong in Dorothy. This is first time we really hear it. Not much in voice, but in style. The strongest song lyrically, in my opinion. It’s a dark song full of alcohol and drugs and addiction.

This is prime early MTV. Evokes Bowie, Blondie. But also has some Doors vibe. Or maybe Fleetwood Mac, especially on the chorus, channelling her inner Stevie Nicks again.

While the second half is known for being darker, edg … oh nevermind, this track takes things in a different direction by being spacey and more alluring. It's my favorite track here for sure. Dorothy's frailer vocal performance helps to add a creepy, ominous mood to this. Plus, that chorus is a dang earworm.

Ain’t Our Time To Die
This is the one track in the second half that I don't like, mostly because if you strip away the sound and leave only the words on paper, it reads out like a bad Country song, like say, The Band Perry's “Live Forever.” Again, there's nothing wrong with fantasy, but it's trying to be badass and ends up being about nothing.

The song has a strong Tom Petty vibe to it with Grace Slick on vocals. Wouldn’t that have been a good combination to have heard?

Honestly, this track is hard to dislike, and you really don't need to say much else other than it's fast, fun, punchy and overall a nice upbeat change of pace for the album. That recurring riff that crops up everytime they repeat the title is a treat for the ears.

I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s alright. A fun song. High energy. I won’t skip it when listening to the album.

We Need Love
If you’re a fan of early Heart and/or Jefferson Airplane, this song. Love. If you take nothing else away from this album, take this away: We need love. Love and healing is what this album is about. Well, there’s the sex and fun, but you know.

What I love about this album is that it's a love letter to classic Rock, but it's a love letter that pays homage to literally any kind of Rock you can think of. Here, we have a cool Surf-Rock inspired track that ends things off on a high note. This album also has a thing for implementing cool riffs after they sing the titles. I dig it.

"Flawless" is probably where we had the most differing opinion:

And finally a live version of one we both really liked, "Freedom". Also just to show that there are no studio tricks on the album. Dorothy is the real deal.


  1. Interesting! I like this idea. As someone who also reviews, I always wonder if someone hears or discerns something completely different than what I get out of an album or song. I guess that's the beauty of music, it's up to interpretation, and can be whatever the listener needs it to be. Great post! (I'm pretty sure I was able to pick your takes out on most of them!)

    1. That's the reason I wanted to do this. I'm convinced that each person hears each song differently. How could it be any other way? And I specifically picked an album we both liked to highlight the fact the that we can hear an album and both come away with a positive feeling, but for much different reasons.