Playlist: The Perfect Production of The J. Arthur Keenes Band

By Tom Loughney ’16

The J. Arthur Keenes Band will forever be one of my deeper pulls, a Canadian one-man-“band” that’s written and produced some of the best music I’ve ever heard. Dan Mclay’s structural blend of pop and chiptune mesh in rich, unique arrangements. He’s the undisputed king of the genre – in my eyes, at least – and I hope you find his music as enjoyable as I do. Here is his bandcamp. Give him your money – he’s earned it.

Monsters

Mmmmmmmmmm. Mellow incarnate. Smooth. Listen to those vocal harmonies – especially on the chorus. This man is the reverb God King, he knows what reverb to use, how much of it to use, and which audio tracks to use it on within a given song. It’s a subtle way to add a little diversity within his arrangements, which circumvents the stale, same-y sounds that much chiptune falls into. Pay close attention to how gently he ramps up the arrangement as well – so good.

Plea Bargain

The opening track on the – largely – strong Mighty Social Lion. Again, I want to highlight the vocals, but more as an example of how he transitions texture from one audio track to another. As the song progresses, that baubled distortion jumps around from vocals to instrumentals and back to vocals in a seamless dance. Mclay is one of the best when it comes to utilizing a sound, especially within a single song. There’s so much going on in this track, I could talk about it for hours.

But I won’t. Listen to it, it’s good – I’m a particularly huge fan of that outro.

Low Tide

One of my all-time favorite songs. This hails from one of Mclay’s earlier works, Computer Savvy, when he had a stricter focus on chiptune music. Haunting. Textured. Beautiful. Listening to this song gives me chill to this day – even after 4 years of regular listens. The 2:55 runtime flies by – with waves of spooky electronic sounds crashing around your ears. Let it wash over you.

Cardboard Box

“Cardboard Box” hits a lot of the same tonal notes for me as “Low Tide,” though the emphasis on the vocal arrangement gives this track its own distinct identity. It’s almost an a cappella song at points, but it keeps the door open to percussion and light instrumentation – making the grand swells of the climax cathartic, rather than jarring.

Lucky Break

Off of the excellent collab album Mclay did with Squiggly Lines, Songs for Camila/Songs for Squares, “Lucky Break” delivers some positively Beatles-ian energy. The melodic progression, the arrangement, the percussion – everything screams Beatles, and I dig the hell out of it. Also, it’s not often that the bass gets to act as a song’s driving force, so it’s really nice to hear that “dum-dum dummmm, dah, dum-dum dah dum dahhh” taking center stage.

Groovy.

Trying Not to Hide

That drum break thooooooooooooooo. It comes in at 0:47. Listen to it. Love it. The percussion completely changes the tone and pace of the song, and then leaves as quickly as it comes. Mclay’s percussion always toys with the character of his music, and no song exemplifies that better than “Trying Not to Hide.” Another wonderful outro as well.

Worth Keeping

Something you likely notice about all these songs is the way how few of them follow a verse-chorus-verse pattern. This is no accident – Mclay’s flagrant disregard for traditional pop structure is something I like about his music, and “Worth Keeping” is a prime example of this. It starts slow – methodic – and then it explodes into a driven, captivating final 3rd.

It’s a jam. It’s a head-bobber. Have fun trying not to lose yourself in the music. I dare you.

Channel Two

Hey remember what I said about Dan Mclay producing some of the best music I’ve ever heard?

This. This song right here. This song changed my life.

The production is perfect. The arrangement is perfect. Everything is perfect. “Channel Two” is the metric by which I measure my growth as a music listener – every time I feel like I may have improved my listening capabilities, I go back to this song. If I’ve actually learned more about analyzing music, I always find something new. Hell, after years of adoring this track, I still find new things to hear and pick apart. I’m sure I’ll hear something new the next time I take a listen – and I look forward to that day.

Dispatch

This song was my introduction to The J. Arthur Keenes Band. It’s the intro to the continually insightful Run Button podcast[1], and has one of my favorite melodic progressions of all time. It’s one of his Mclay’s earliest, and roughest, tracks, but there’s enough here to love that I’d recommend checking out the rest of the excellent Pampelmousse EP.

The Doors

Not much to say here that hasn’t already been said before. Great arrangement. Great production. This is easily one of the best tracks off of the Mighty Social Lion album. It’s another great example of the way Mclay twists tone – taking the happy, upbeat refrain, and implementing it in a slow, almost morose manner during the finale. Check it out.

Expelling Bee

We’re approaching the end of this playlist, and I’d be remiss to close out without including this track. It’s an instrumental, but don’t let that dissuade you – this reggae-inspired tune has one of the best transitions of all time. The reversed chiptune that comprises the entire second half of this song has some of the most beautiful, mournful sounds Mclay’s ever produced. Legitimately brings tears to my eyes. I love this song as much as I love The J. Arthur Keenes Band, and that’s saying something.

Let’s Go to Tokyo

To close out, I’m throwing a song that’s not particularly dense, unique, or interesting, but it’s damn pretty. I listen to this when I’m in the mood to cry in a good way, and make my heart swell. I listen to it when I want to feel hopeful. Maybe it won’t have the same impact for you, but maybe it’ll at least make you feel happy.

And, really, that’s all I want.

Enjoy the music.

 

[1] By which I found J. Keenes’ musical gems

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