Friday, April 30, 2010

The Unreality of Alice in Chains' Own Hell

I was listening to "My Own Hell" on the way into work today - and really, for a song about isolation, can there be any better way to listen than with a pair of headphones? - and much like with my post on "Cancer" yesterday, I was struck by the effective use of aural imagery to underscore the problem of feeling alone when surrounded by others. The song achieves this feeling with two techniques: first, the instrumentation suggests someone isolated by a mental wall: the guitar sits up front in the mix, a stream of conscious thought sharpened with reverb, but the other stringed instruments - the bass, the cellos - seem shadowy; the cellos sit far to the right of the mix and the bass floats beneath a secondary layer of fuzz. You can hear both instruments if you dig, but much like someone struggling to engage would feel, they seem half-heard and dreamlike. Second, the minor interval used in the verse vocal harmonies both conveys the stereotypical connotation of minor as "sad" and makes it impossible for the listener to fix on a true vocal melody, heightening the song's feeling of unreality.

The effect is more profound in the verses - the choruses are far more conventional, opting to offer up a sing-along hook instead - but the whole effect is so hypnotic that I can't help but hit repeat every time I listen.

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