Laid-back drums, a deceptively clever melody and a sample from a classic Mariah Carey power ballad. Dave Clews breaks down Axel Boman’s ’emo house’ jam.
Swedish art school graduate Axel Boman emerged onto the scene in 2010 when his Holy Love EP was released on DJ Koze’s Pampa label to much acclaim. Operating out of the Stockholm-based Studio Barnhus, a creative basement space filled with computers, keyboards and IKEA bookcases rammed with vinyl, Boman continues to output headnodding house grooves with a playful, adventurous twist. A prime example, ‘Klinsmann’ is the final track featured on 2013’s Black Magic Boman EP, released on the Hypercolour label.
A relaxed, warm and languorous groove at an unusually slow tempo for house music – 113 bpm – the track starts out with a minimal kick drum track supporting a repeating bass synth figure that loops around in an unorthodox time signature, which appears to be 7/4. This effectively means that if you count seven kick drum beats, the pattern starts from the same note again and repeats the cycle.
This discrepancy in the pattern’s loop length has the effect of shifting the pattern when overlaid over a conventional 4/4 beat, so that for every bar the downbeat is occupied by a different note in the sequence. It’s clever, ear-catching stuff – the pattern itself never changes, but the continually shifting offset between the 7/4 sequence and the 4/4 drum pattern is enough to keep it interesting, with the added effect of lending a dreamy and hypnotic air to the track.
Here’s how the sequence would look in the piano roll display with a 7/4 time signature. Note how it repeats every seven beats:
And here’s how it appears superimposed over the 4/4 kick drum part (shown in green):
Note how the sequence appears to start on a different note at the start of each bar when this time signature is applied.
Key-wise, ‘Klinsmann’ is a tricky one to pin down. A non-committal Ab droning sound provides a contextual backdrop that’s neither major nor minor, and a gradually encroaching Ab sostenuto synth has been subjected to some LFO filter modulation so that the drone maintains some rhythmic interest. As the track begins, the notes in the sequence Eb, Ab, Gb and high Ab octave suggest a key of Ab minor – this is thanks to the presence of the flattened 7th (Gb). Every so often, the bass sequence shifts up a fourth to play Ab, Db, B and high Db for a few bars before returning to the original key.
The vocal line is sampled from an acapella version of Mariah Carey’s 1995 smash hit power ballad ‘One Sweet Day’, although she’s not the one doing the singing on the sample. Since the original track is a duet with Boyz II Men, the vocal line is sung by her male counterpart on the track, Nathan Morris, who provides the intro. Draped in reverb and delay, the sweet melody is effectively pitched against the minimal backdrop.
It’s ear-catching primarily because of the fact that we’re expecting an Ab minor melody because of the bass sequence, yet the melody is in a major key – Ab major, in fact. This is first indicated by the C natural on the word ‘won’t’, followed by the high G natural on the word ‘be’ in the line ‘I won’t be afraid’ – C and G being the third and seventh degrees of the Ab major scale. This comes as something of a surprise the first time you hear it, but the contrast between major and minor is easy on the ear.