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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gotye "Somebody That I Used To Know" Song Analysis

There aren't that many songs that can be classified as a true #1 hit around the world, but Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" (featuring Kimbra) is one of them and it's the song analysis for this week. The song is the second single from his third studio album called Making Mirrorsand was a recent #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, a rarity for an Australian artist. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Somebody That I Used To Know" has an interesting song form in that it doesn't really have a bridge, yet contains another section that almost acts like one. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, B Section, Chorus, Outro

What happens is that the first two verses are 16 bars each, but the third verse that Kimbra sings is 8 bars with another 8 bars that you can classify as either a B section or a bridge. Regardless of how you look at it, changing the 2nd half of the 3rd verse is very effective and definitely heightens the interest and raises the energy, which is what a bridge does.

The Arrangement
On the surface this seems like a simple arrangement but it's really quite deep and sophisticated. There's a lot going on, but without an instrument really playing a big wide chord.

  * The Foundation: bass and drum (mostly tom) loops

  * The Rhythm: acoustic guitar

  * The Pad: the background vocals during the chorus

  * The Lead: lead vocals, synth lines in the intro and chorus

  * The Fills: guitars in the verses, background vocals in the chorus and outro

As with almost all hit songs, listen to how the arrangement develops. It starts off sparse, gets a little bigger in the intro, then backs off again during the verse, then gets large during the chorus, then back down again into the interlude and so forth. That's the essence of a good arrangement in a pop song.

The Sound
The sound of "Somebody That I Used To Know" is fairly sophisticated, with lots of effects layers. First you have the acoustic guitar that's completely dry, while every other instrument has some degree of ambience. Most of the synth lead lines have a long verb that sounds really good as it blends into the track well.

During the second verse there's a guitar that enters playing fills on the left side that has a nice repeating delay. That also brings up the issue of panning, which is used pretty as you have fill and rhythm guitars and mono loops entering on both right and left, which keeps the mix interesting.

The vocals are also layered with the both Goyte and Kimbra's lead getting a long verb, but most of the back ground vocals being pretty dry. You can really hear the sound of the reverb itself at after the hard ending. Take notice that the chorus lead vocals are doubled, helping to give the song a thicker more dynamic sound at that point.

There's a spot in the song where the background vocals distort a little (at around 3:10), but otherwise it sounds pretty clean.

The Production
I love the production on "Somebody That I Used To Know." Gotye (Wally De Backer to his friends) has a distinctive way of putting the song together that's sparse in the fact that virtually nothing is playing big chords, yet it sounds big and dynamic. The loops really work without sticking out as "loops," and the background vocals on the outchorus are excellent as they weave back and forth; sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes just Gotye, sometimes just Kimbra, sometimes both. Most excellent.


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Mat (The Laughing Bard) said...

Good song analysis. I believe Gotye is incredibly talented in a unique way. He writes songs that avoid being generic but that are also incredibly catchy, AND powerful. "Heart's A Mess" also has that sparsity but doesn't sound empty.

Damn you Gotye, why you so awesome?!

Anonymous said...

Great work as per usual Bob! Any word on where this track was recorded? Good to see an Aussie get recognised

Bobby Owsinski said...

It was recorded in his parents barn in Victoria. I'll post the "making of" video next week.

Luke said...

Great Work! Thanks for sharing!


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