Atlas: A brilliant new composition by Daniel Johns

A couple of days ago, I saw a brief clip on the T.V of the new Qantas composition by Daniel Johns. It was an small glimpse, and I wasn’t immediately impressed.

Cover of "Freak Show"
Cover of Freak Show

Having grown up, listening to Silverchair songs from albums Freak Show and Neon Ballroom, I have never fully appreciated Daniel Johns Pop transition and experimentation. When Silverchair started producing their own albums themselves, their music drifted from its original grunge roots and was allowed much more exploration, particularly by the most influential member, Daniel Johns.

From Diorama, it was evident that Daniel Johns desired a more palatable Pop sound, highly produced but with the clear promise, that it was still Daniel Johns true voice with no artificial pitch changes. The transition has truly been painful as a customer, however I still thoroughly enjoy Johns’ newer stuff, even though I would normally avoid Pop where I can.

It was in the album Freak Show, that we first got our first introduction to Johns affection for strings. The scores highlight his music style, with modal and sometimes atonal chord changes which blended well with the chaotic grunge, now mellowing.

Daniel Johns
Cover of Daniel Johns

See: http://www.theage.com.au/travel/travel-news/daniel-johns-gets-on-board-as-qantas-replaces-iconic-i-still-call-australia-home-anthem-20120720-22dxx.html

After hearing the piece in its entirety, I found the gems of brilliance which are characteristic of Johns. Daniel speaks of wanting something that “sounded international” in sound, and I think he has nailed it.

Intro Phrase

The opening riff, which has the timbre of solitary warm guitar harmonics, give the feeling of time, which instantly associates Qantas with travel and by extension that international sound desired. The riffs have a faint chordal melody. When coupled with visuals of people looking to the sky, I imagine Qantas in the sky, not necessarily an aircraft. A piano is introduced, but is interestingly suppressed (most likely in post-production) playing chords {E, Am, C} on the first beat accented by a tuned drum.

Voice Chorus

After a couple of repeats, this phrase then cuts straight into the vocal chorus complete with harmonies and strings, crash of symbols and a couple of bangs on a deep suppressed drum, with all previous instrumentation abandoned. I found this transition to be quite abrupt, there may have been a softer way to transition, but it sounds right. Such changes are one of my favorite qualities of Silverchair songs, they can change quite abruptly through the song, (making them much more interesting than a simplistic bridge found in typical music of repetitive progression), but as long as they come back to the original theme, the song feels complete and resolved.

I’m glad Daniel used his voice, he has a wide vocal range, but uses falsetto, (and generous reverb) to give a spatial heavenly feel. The key is of the vocal chorus is complimentary to the opening chords played on the piano, and the melody loosely follows an arpeggio form, and descending patterns against contrary ascending patters from the violins. It sounds like some of the other voices are multi-tracking of Daniels voice, but other voices are dutifully added.

Tying back to Temporal

The piano and guitar are returned, with simple chords on the piano (which no longer sound suppressed – probably because the drum is no longer accenting the chords). The guitar is playing a rhythm of a single note per bar, the rhythm fits in with the initial opening riff, sounding temporal. At concerts Daniel often used many effects pedals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieved this sound manually. Keyboard is then added in a high register further strengthening the international temporal effect. It’s now that the cut over to the chorus sounds tied.

ACO Virtual Orchestra
ACO Virtual Orchestra (Photo credit: .M.)

The Completion

This continues with some key lifts and drops, strong spirited builds, some additional instrumentation including brass. Very much rudimentary, but of course effective and required to finish off the song. The final phrase reverts to the original instrumentation of the introduction.

Orchestra

It was notable that the Australian Chamber Orchestra was used for strings, as Silverchair have used many international players and orchestras in the past. The ACO were obviously chosen for being Australian, and they were fantastic. I’ve heard them in the past, having purchased a year subscription to their concerts, and found that I prefer the ACO accompanying Daniel Johns music as opposed to unfamiliar (to me) classical works – although there is nothing like being there, no sound system can compare.

Lyrics

The absence of lyrics is strange. Perhaps he was directed not to add lyrics and suitable vocal melody. There is real potential in this piece to write a lyrical song, one which can actually stand well beside “I still call Australia home’. I might attempt to cover this song one day and add some lyrics to demonstrate the potential.

Conclusion

The quality of this work speaks of a hard working perfectionist. From instrumentation to melody, it seems that Daniel Johns works best when he is given some external direction, something to focus on. It must be difficult for Daniel to have this piece compared to “I still call Australia home’, a very patriotic and accessible song. In this regard, there is no comparison, it has history and culture and resounds with every Australian. This is a brilliant piece and will represent Australia well alongside the classic. I hope Johns continues to accept external influences, collaborating with a broader community of artists and clients, and I can’t wait to hear the outcomes of his many projects to come.

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