When listening to music we absorb it on a moment by moment basis. In those moments, large and small things happen that catch your ear and tell you to keep listening. As we take songs in, we constantly anticipate them to evolve and change. Through that evolution and change, the song is given life. At some point, we also fall in love with those changes, both large and small. In this post, I want to focus on the small changes.

The perfect examples I can think for this is in Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘Untitled’. When he played it live on Stephen Colbert, I loved the whole performance. However, every time I came back to the song, I was listening out for one thing: a series of Anna Wise vocal parts that lasted a total of three seconds. For some reason, I was caught off guard in that small change. Maybe it was how quickly it came and went or how sweet it sounded to my ears in particular, but regardless of how or why it happened all the same. In that seemingly minuscule moment, something big happened that was enough to solidify this tracks position at the top of the charts in my head. It helps that the whole song is great, but I don’t think many people are coming back to it specifically for those few vocal riffs. If you want to check out the part I’m talking about, it’s 1:41-1:44 in the video below.


I think we’re focused so heavily on the bigger details that we miss a lot of the small stuff that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. As someone who reviews music, I’m guilty of trying to analyze it as part of a bigger picture instead of looking at each track as an individual piece of music that has its own set of unique movements and quirks independent from what an album as a whole is shooting for. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, when in fact it’s the various etchings in their bark that gives the forest life and personality. In those moments when all you’re afforded is a vocal run or a particularly tasty bit of distortion, that can be enough to make you fall in love.

If you have any small moments like the ones I discussed above, I would love to hear them. I’m sure many people do this and I’m curious as to what small sounds keep you coming back for more. Be on the lookout for the followup post to this in which I’ll discuss some of what makes the large details worth paying attention to as well. Hopefully by the end of it all, we can have a healthy balance between the two and meet in the middle as music lovers who just can’t get enough of it on a large or small scale. Until then, I’ll be listening to Anna Wise croon in my ear in three second chunks.


3 Responses

  1. Kit Brown

    Here’s five good ones that I can think of off the top of the dome.

    1. Opeth’s stankiest riff ever (see: The Leper Affinty at 3:20)
    2. The way David Gilmour says “you gotta have a real need” in the song “Dogs”
    3. When Devin Townsend does this quiet (also terrifying) grunt before the second verse of “Disruptr,” which is probably my favorite song ever.
    4. The last breakdown of Botch’s “To Our Friends in the Great White North”
    5. The final riff of Converge’s “Grim Heart/Black Rose”

  2. Eden

    The riff on About To Crash (Reprise).
    The unwinding of the guitar on Opeth’s Burden.
    “In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees”

  3. Alex

    Protest the Hero and BTBAM are full of these, like the cat yowls in Fortress and everything in every BTBAM album. In other genres, Animals by TTNG has some fantastic details buried in the chaos, and Essaywhuman?!!!??! by the Roots is full of these, being a live call-and-answer song. I think however that I listen out for these moments more than others, so see them everywhere. Oh, and how could I forget the vocal line in the opening of The Tragedy by The Pax Cecilia.


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