Uh Huh Her: "Explode"
From brainwavez.org's Collection Of Music To Note

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 28 July 2009
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You'd be forgiven if you find you trip over the words every time you try to pronounce the name of the band Uh Huh Her (the band members have the same problem) but don't let the tongue twisting distract you from the subtle musical layers and mesmerising electropop bass of "Explode".

Uh Huh Her: Common ReactionThe purpose of Music To Note is to highlight a track we've found from a band that most perhaps don't know about (this is certainly true in this case - Uh Huh Her is not well known in South Africa) or from an album that we have decided not to review in full but still want to recommend. Ideally we like to point you to a free (legal) downloadable MP3 so that you can listen at your leisure and know what we're talking about as you get into the track but occasionally we might also point at other online resources, such as a streaming audio file or a video, if the track's too good and we can't find any other way for you to listen to it.

Uh Huh Her: Camila Grey and Leisha HaileySuch is the case with Los Angeles-based Uh Huh Her's "Explode", which I first found via its official video that was posted on YouTube by the band's record company, Nettwerk. I was instantly enamoured with both the sound and the visuals, which later led to a discussion among brainwavez.org contributors as to whether one should first experience a song only by listening to it, so that you have a chance to make up your own mind about the sound or the meaning(s) of the lyrics, or whether it's okay to be introduced via a video (and have your interpretation tainted in the process), as that's how most music is marketed these days.

I can't say we came to any conclusion, but it's something to be aware of when you check out this track. My feeling is that you should flip open the YouTube link, switch the video to the HQ setting (for those worried about bandwidth, the high-quality MP4 file is 12.7 MB), let the video load without listening to it or watching it, then grab some decent headphones, crank up the sound, and first just listen without watching (as difficult as that will be).

In fact, you might even want to do that now, then come back to read the rest of this.

As an alternative you can launch the ReverbNation Flash widget (hit the "Launch!" button in the Media Files sidebar on the right) and select and stream the song directly - but if you start playing with the video and the widget you'll notice there's a definite difference in the sound, which I'm going to talk about in this review (the high-res video file's sound is also of a slightly higher quality than the track streamed via the Flash widget - both the bass and treble are better).

"Explode", the second single off the band's 2008 debut album Common Reaction, is indie electropop rock at its best and it will take many replays before you are able to pick up all the subtleties and layers in the audio. The track's intro grabs you immediately with a combination of a fantastic distorted synthesizer base paired with a single-tone treble tubestring drone that pans around the soundscape. The percussion then kicks in as the lyrics for the first verse begin, complete with quite a delayed reverb effect that's most noticeable in the chorus. Bass-guitar notes and a bass drum provide subtle support underneath. At the same time a new syntheziser sound emerges, alternating notes and setting up the foundation for the chords in the verse, that uses a multi-sweep effect that seems to mirror great, crucial points in the lyrics, and gives the song this real passionate, wild, undulating feeling*.

The overall effect of the synthesized bass soundscape paired with the tubestring and percussion completely energises you and blows you away at the same time. (It is, unfortunately, to the detriment of some of the more subtle synthesizer work that occurs later in the song, although this is only the case in the audio accompanying the video as the bass level is more overpowering for some reason.) However it's not that you'll even notice the rest of the synthesizer work at first as, initially, you'll be too mesmerised by the interplay of the bass sounds and the lyrics, which are sung by band member Camila Grey, with a breathy enunciation interspersed with a crisper intonation on some words and a laboured pronunciation on others that just loads them with meaning. (The rest of the roles - synthesizers and programming, backing vocals, harmony vocals - seem to be distributed among both Grey and the band's other member, Leisha Hailey, so I'm not sure who is responsible for what.)

The multi-sweep synthesizer fades out as we hit the chorus, which is catchy and emphasised with simple, isolated, guitar plucks paired with subtle tapping of the hi-hat cymbal and a lovely emphasis on the bass drum before the track hits its stride as the tubestring pulsates into the second verse. It's here that you'll initially miss some of the synthesizer effects if you're listening to the video but if you listen to the streamed track you'll pick up what and where it is. The second verse features some of the best lyrics and vocal work in the song and is over much too quickly. The synthesizers, meanwhile, hit a crescendo as the other instruments take more of a back seat before the track rolls back into the chorus, with more emphasis on the bass drum.

The song then slowly ends with a long outro in which there's a sort of call and response of two vocal repetitions of some of the chorus lines intermingling with a synthesized pizzicato sound*, leading to a slow fade out until we are left with just the distorted synthesizer base paired with the single-tone treble tubestring drone, bringing the track right back to how it started.

Stills from the Explode video, animated by Jodi Sandler

The video, meanwhile, is an interesting story. It's by (briefly South African) animator and graphic artist Jodi Sandler who lives in Toronto, Canada. (You can read the full story of how she ended up animating the video here.) It's a combination of hand-drawn characters (a man and a woman) that have then been animated in Flash and photographic stills of Paris - that provide the background and some of the foreground - that have had filters applied to give them a texture that makes them seem more like paintings. The walk cycles are infused with character and the wind whips their hair around magically. (Dare I say it's a metaphor for inner turmoil? Probably not.) Their facial expressions are also subtle but powerful and achieved with very little change to the drawings. Sandler has since animated a video for Sixpence None The Richer [details here] and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her work in future.

Back to the track. Because the video was my first experience of the song it has influenced my interpretation of the lyrics, which I assume to be the thoughts of a guy that runs into a girl he likes on the street and starts thinking stalkerish thoughts about the encounter as he begins to follow her in the hopes that it might lead to something more interesting. I think the lyrics of the verses are what he imagines she is thinking about him as he projects his desires on her, and the lyrics of the chorus are what he, himself, is thinking. The call and response of the outro interplays these two thought processes of his in a very clever way, leaving you to imagine what happens next, although the visuals, in contrast, give you a definite indication as to the outcome.

But maybe it's not about that at all.

I'll leave it to you to decide.

*Additional notes, including those indicated, by Jase Luttrell.

"Explode" is the second single off Uh Huh Her's debut album
Common Reaction, which was released on 19 August 2008 in the US. The album can be bought at various sites online (see the Shop Online links below). Common Reaction isn't yet available in stores in South Africa but the Uh Huh Her official store will ship to South African addresses.

Listen To "Explode"

On The Internet
Uh Huh Her Media Files: MP3.com | Rolling Stone | Yahoo! Music | YouTube

Shop online Shop Online
Amazon US Amazon.com: Common Reaction (Audio CD)
Amazon US Amazon.com: "Explode" (MP3)
Amazon UK Amazon.co.uk: Common Reaction (Audio CD)
iTunes US iTunes US: Common Reaction (audio download)
iTunes US iTunes US: "Explode" (audio download)

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