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Sonic Highways Evaluation

In: Film and Music

Submitted By vzsore
Words 2500
Pages 10
Vanessa Zsorey
Dr. McCort
College Comp
11 December 2015
Sonic Highways A band lasting as long as twenty years in the music industry with their original sound not suffering is a rarity. The Foo Fighters, led by the legendary Dave Grohl, are magnificent rockers who throughout two decades, continue to stay relevant in many ways. Throughout these twenty years they have released nine albums, each of which contained some of the biggest alternative rock hits of all time. Though they may not be riding the radio waves constantly or may only appeal to a shrinking audience, their craft has never once suffered. Their newest album, Sonic Highways, is pure proof that the Foo Fighters continuously try to push themselves out of their comfort zones in order to remain interesting to their fans. Sonic Highways was the most recent project the Foo Fighters have put out and the most creative of the past eight albums. The process to create this album was far more in depth and unique compared to the traditional methods. Typically, when a band decides they want to record, they find the closest studio that is in their price range and is the best quality necessary to fit the project. Mixing the recordings has gotten incredibly easy in recent times, where all that is really necessary is the ProTools program. With Protools, any errors can easily be cleaned and corrected, then moved on to the master CD and sent off to be pressed. A decade ago, recording and mixing were not nearly as simple or cheap (Hracs 4). Soundboards prior to this millennium were weighed in at over 800 pounds, and had more buttons and notches than the ones the younger generations are familiar with. These machines utilized tape which placed many limitations on recording artists. Since mixing on these older machines was so tedious, many bands had their product practiced and as perfected as possible before going into the studio to record (Hracs 3). The most important element of them, however, was the sound. Recording to tape allows the music to sound alive and real, far more so compared to anything altered over Protools software. Dave Grohl is one of the biggest advocators for recording to tape, and has done so for the past three recent albums he has put out and it plays such a dire role in the Foo Fighters sound.
The most unique thing about Sonic Highways is that it was not recorded in just one location, but in eight different major cities across the United States. These cities include Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Nashville, Seattle, and Washington DC (Gallant 1). Every city has its own musical history with musicians originating out of them who have affected the industry immensely. The Foo Fighters doing this not only added to the culture of their sound, but also went as far as bringing light to many genres that have, over the years, been forgotten about. Sonic Highways was far more than just an album, it was actually paired with a mini-series documenting the journey. The idea was to travel to each city and learn about how it and the musicians there have impacted the music industry both in the past and the present. Then while in that city, the Foo Fighters would create a song which both melodically and lyrically represents the surrounding culture followed by recording and mixing it in one of the most notable studios in the area (Doyle 1). And this entire process was captured on film then turned into a series that aired on HBO and received various Emmy awards (Strauss 1). The album itself may not be the traditional Foo Fighters album that fans have been used to listening to, but it is by no means terrible. From what I have heard, the band decided to take more risks while creating this. The last thing any musician wants is to be known for putting out album after album that essentially sounds exactly the same as the last. It can make the audience grow tired of their sound and usually even results in the musician getting bored with recording and performing their own material
“Something From Nothing,” was the first single released and one of my personal favorites. Interestingly, having been a long time Foo Fighters fan, I latched on to a far deeper meaning of the song than one that can easily be understood. The intro and versus seem to pay homage to their older song, “Skin and Bones.” It almost sounds like a literal transition from their traditional sound into a more dynamic one. They took a riff from an old song and built a completely new sound around it, one that is louder and stronger than ever. This track was recorded in Chicago and featured Rick Nielsen, a widely appreciated guitarist who played in the 70’s rock band Cheap Trick (Gallant 2). This track offers a very strong start for the album. “The Feast and The Famine,” is the second track and it was recorded in Washington D.C. It was inspired by the punk scene which solely lit a fire in Dave Grohl that pushed him to pursue becoming a musician. “You start untying the hands of the youth, new kids hear the sound of the drumming.” That specific lyric tells Grohl’s personal story of how he felt when he found the punk scene (Fricke 2). Two of Grohl’s former band mates from Scream, before his Nirvana Days, were brought in to work on the track (Gallant 3). The song embodies punk fairly well, it is more thrash-y compared to the other songs and the lyrics are very strong willed but nostalgic. All in all, though, the track just sounds like it belongs to the Foo Fighters. “Congregation,” was recorded in the music capital of America, Nashville (Gallant 4). The song almost sounds like a sort of church hymn because it was inspired by the building they recorded in. “There’s a mystery in this world, then ghosts within these roots, and are tangled deep beneath this southern ground.” This line goes to say that so much of music history can be traced back to Nashville, the roots of many genres originated there. This building was once a church but was since renovated and turned into Monument Records headquarters. This song featured the well known Zac Brown from The Zac Brown Band (Gallant 4). This track was the second to be released after Something From Nothing. It isn’t a song that I would typically expect from this band but is melodically incredible. “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness,” was created in Austin, Texas and focused on psychedelic rock. Featured on the track is Gary Clark Jr. who is a well known for his distorted guitar playing, which is one of the prominent features of this track (Gallant 5). This track is so easy to overlook and maybe even skip over because of the slow beginning and unexpected jumpy guitar riff, however it is so important to give it a chance. The jazzy piano in the background that your ears can sometimes catch, adds a whole other layer of character. Then halfway through the track, there is a key change where the jumpiness is slowed down into a powerful ballad. I definitely had to listen to it a couple times and be open minded but it is slowly but surely becoming one of my favorite songs off this album. “Outside,” featured Joe Walsh, most commonly known for having what is considered the best guitar solo of all time on the Eagles hit, “Hotel California.” This track was recorded in Los Angeles at the Rancho De La Luna studio (Gallant 6). The sound attributed to this area is one that musicians claim was affected by the surrounding desert terrain (Doyle 2). “Your sound echoes through the canyons.” The Foo Fighters do an amazing job at capturing that old rustic, western, sound in their riffs while not letting it stray too far to the point that it seems it doesn’t belong on the album. “In the Clear,” is the sixth song on the album and the very first one on the LP that I gave a great chance and absolutely fell in love with it. It has a quality that sets this song apart from anything else they have ever made, but it still works so well. This song was created in New Orleans and focuses on the jazz culture. In the bridge, they lay down some horns that were actually done by the city’s Preservation Hall Band. Along with that, the lyrics are so meaningful in which it mentions hurricane Katrina and the people’s undying culture.”When the rains starts comin’ down as heavy as the air, you can find me dancing with the spirits in the square,” is a line that just embodies New Orleans so well. “And if I should drown, may this be the sound to wash me out,” then this lyric goes on to slyly mention pay homage to the cities past tragedy which was hurricane Katrina. “Subterranean,” was made out in Seattle, which is a place Dave Grohl knows extremely well being that is where Nirvana originated out of. The lyrics follow quite closely with Grohl’s Seattle experience in joining Nirvana, then the loss of Kurt Cobain, and how Grohl still found himself back there continuing to create music (Fricke 2). The line, “how low the sky,” is closely tied to the lyrics in Smells Like Teen Spirit, “Hello, hello, hello, how low?” Throughout Sonic Highways, you will find that not only is it a musical journey venturing through many genres as well as the past and present, but it is also a very personal venture within for Grohl. “I will start again, subterranean,” relates to the year after the loss of Kurt Cobain and the struggle between the necessity to make music and the hardships of getting back into it again. I love the meaning behind the deep and true meaning behind the track, but can’t help but feel that it is one of the weakest songs on the album. “I Am A River,” being the last track on the album, therefore the last stop on the musical journey lands them in New York. They brought Anthony Visconti on the track, and he is known for producing and performing on many of David Bowie’s albums (Gallant 7). This song is about the city and river that runs underneath Manhattan. In an interview with Emily Tan from Diffuser, Grohl opened up on the meaning behind this track saying, “I thought it was a beautiful idea that there’s something natural and prehistoric that runs underneath something as monolithic and futuristic as New York City. And maybe we’re all connected by something like that.” This song builds into what sounds like a cinematic, orchestral pinnacle and ends the album beautifully. Personally, I believe it is the strongest last track compared to the ones in their past. It was crafted in such a way to be a grandiose conclusion and it is so well done that I would be content if it were the last song the Foo Fighters ever created. Statistically speaking, this album did pretty well compared to the Foo Fighters past albums. Sonic Highways debuted at No.2 on Billboards Artist 100 chart. The only No.1 slot the Foo’s were able to hold was with their previous album, Wasting Light. Prior to then, they’ve only ever debuted in the Top 10. However, Sonic Highways did manage snatch No.1 on Billboards Top Rock Albums chart with the album successfully selling 190,000 copies in its first week (White 1). For a risky project like Sonic Highways, it did very well in sales. While this album has been critically acclaimed, there has been a sort of backlash from the fan base. Many opinions is that the Foo Fighters lost an edge that made songs their own by making the recording process more difficult than need be. However I believe in each song, though so heavily influenced by many other genres and their changing surroundings, they so eloquently managed to incorporate new aspects but make it their own in the end. There was not a single track on the album in which I listened to and thought it didn’t belong somewhere on their discography. What many people fail to realize is that the Foo Fighters do not strive to stay closely connected to their sound, it will be present in anything they create whether they try or not. They make their music not for the fans and the critics, but for themselves, just as any good musician does. They love the craft and are excellent at it and have devoted their lives to it. Dave Grohl’s goal of this series and album was to create a lasting, “musical map of America,” and it accomplishes that and far more. The series is so in-depth and informative, giving so many views on our music industry, the roots of it and what it is coming to currently. We are taken on a visual journey where the lively music culture in each city is captured so perfectly. The album just translates the whole journey into something we can hear, it brings hundreds of genres together in such an organized manner.

Works Cited
Doyle, Patrick. "Foo Fighters Sonic Highways Album Review." Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. <>.
Fricke, David. "The passion of Dave Grohl." Rolling Stone 2014: 62. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Gallant, Mark. "Story Map Journal." ArcGIS., 29 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. <>.
Hracs, Brian J. "A Creative Industry In Transition: The Rise Of Digitally Driven Independent Music Production." Growth & Change 43.3 (2012): 442-461. Business Source Premier. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Strauss, Matthew. "Foo Fighter's "Sonic Highways" Wins Two Emmy's."Pitchfork. Pitchfork Media, 12 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2015. <>.
Stuart/HBO, Andrew. "Foo Fighters Take 'Highways' To No. 1 on Top Rock Albums Chart | Billboard." Billboard. N.p., 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. <>.
Tan, Emily. "Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl Opens Up About 'I Am a River'"Diffuserfm. Diffuser Network, 30 Dec. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. <>
White, Emily. "Foo Fighters Take 'Highways' To No. 1 on Top Rock Albums Chart | Billboard." Billboard. Billboard, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <>.…...

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