The Best Falsetto Word: The New Pornographers, “Crash Years” (2010)

My favorite sort of falsetto moment is a tickle of grace, like when you cross an unexpected breeze of AC on a hot sidewalk.  Thank you, singer and song, for arranging a little escape from the weight and pressure of the flesh!

Gosh, if we took an inventory of great falsetto hooks in rock we’d never get out of the 50s.  I read in The Boston Globe, however, that falsetto is on the upswing now in indie rock.  The most telling quote in that story is from Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts:  “Singing in falsetto comes from a willingness to be unhinged”—and this is how he sounds:

“Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants”

Falsetto is an unhinging and an escape, but when it’s performed by a falsetto specialist it’s no vacation.  It’s difficult and has to be nailed.  It’s a high-wire act, and there’s anxiety in witnessing it.  It wears me out.  Could I just get a little bit of it now and again, slightly surprising, amplifying a song’s argument in a charmingly escapist way?

Could there be a best word to be the site of a great falsetto moment?  I guess there’s a nearly overwhelming argument for “man” on the strength of Frankie Valli’s “Walk Like A Man,” what with the element of gender-bending in the male falsetto.[1]  But “Walk Like A Man” is one of those strenuous physical performances, and the irony hits me over the head.

How about this, though, in The New Pornographers’ “Crash Years”?

“Crash Years”

Always a big part of the pleasure in listening to The New Pornographers is their mastery of the ingredients.  Whatever they come up with, they renew my faith that they’re capable of anything.  If  a bit of falsetto drops in I am sure it will fit beautifully.  And so it does here.  Note the gratuitousness of the phrase “as a rule” (the lyrical flow of the verse doesn’t require it), and then its gently gratuitous repetition.  Note especially the word “rule” as the very vehicle of escape!  The irony is light; my mind floats up there where the voice is and keeps it company for a moment.

And then I get immediate confirmation that something neat just happened, the reward of the glorious whistle chorus.

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[1] This post is biased toward male falsetto, but here’s a showcase of divas singing way high.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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