Transcription of Bubblemath's "Miscreant Citizen"

Title: Miscreant Citizen
Artist: Bubblemath
Album: Such Fine Particles of The Universe
Bassist: Jay Burrit

"Miscreant Citizen" Transcription (PDF)
Listen to "Miscreant Citizen"
Watch me play "Miscreant Citizen (Youtube)

The music of Bubblemath has such an incredible role in my musical life, both in time and in it's musical content. I first stumbled on this band through Myspace when they only had two songs available to listen to, and I think I listened to them about a hundred times each. They were their “ballad” (hardly), “Be Together, and the opener of the album, “Miscreant Citizen”. I became so intrigued by their bio from their now impossible to navigate Myspace page:

Musically, we are most strongly influenced by stuff we hate. Meaning that while we don’t all agree on what we like, we do tend to agree on what we don’t like. This shared passion for avoidance guides us away from particular aspects of composition that we’ve traditionally been disappointed in. Things like lyrical clichés, overused chord progressions, harmonic typicalities, etc. So we all tend to veto the same kinds of things, and that binds us together. Our songwriting sessions are filled with vetoes. Whatever’s left over gets to be the music of Bubblemath.

We had a pretty diverse portfolio of bands we grew up liking. Ranging from Devo, to Gershwin, to the Beatles, to the Dead Kennedys, to Genesis, to Steely Dan, Men at Work, Dream Theatre... even the Go-Go’s. Yes, the Go-Go’s. Shut up.

Bubblemath is a Minneapolis quintet with a simple mission statement: “To be a Minneapolis quintet with a simple mission statement.” So far, so good.

Philosophically, our mission statement is: “Never give the listener a chance to get bored.” We try to accomplish this by pushing the boundaries of the unexpected in every aspect of what we do. Provocative compositions, visually stimulating stage presentations, politically explicit lyrics, and then we hose it all down with ice cold love. Refreshing!

Pretty much right up my alley.

Stupidly, I put off buying the album until about six years later after continually coming back to those two tracks over and over again (I even ripped them off of their Myspace and put it on my computer for if they went offline). After finally listening to the entire album, it was, and still is, seriously incredible! Having anticipated that moment seemingly forever, it still totally lived up to my lofty expectations, and sated my deranged musical personality with the bizarre ever-changing everything that subverts every possible expectation.

So this song, “Miscreant Citizen”, was my first foray into this insane genus of music and has been stuck in my head ever since. I started transcribing it a few different times in the past, but never buckled down to actually do it. To be sure, this is the kind of music that poses as many questions as answers once it is transcribed. But most pressing to me always is how do they write something like this‽ It baffles me not only in that it was conceived at all, but that it was refined, learned, and rehearsed into it's finished product. Completely ridiculous.

Here are some of my favorite aspects of the song:

  • The lack of a prevailing time signature is what always drew me to the group. There may as well not be any, considering how often they change (see rehearsal mark C2). More importantly, check out the way the various instruments interact within the time; listening to this track while focusing on an individual instrument is like looking at one object in Escher or Dali, in that they theoretically shouldn't make sense, but do anyway.

  • The album is full of stylistic schizophrenia, and this track is no exception. Within the distinct sections are multiple tempos, time signatures, articulations, keys, styles, and breaks. There is absolutely no way to guess what's going to happen except in rare circumstances because these “genres” don't even really follow their own rules.

  • The form of the song I derived from my transcription is this: A0, A1, B1, C1, A2, B2, D1, A3, C2, B3, A4, A'5. I see pretty much no pattern here except maybe the first five sections sort-of-not-really mirror the last, but mirroring is nerdy enough to fit within their “avoiding cliché” guideline in a deep level.

The bass part alone encompasses many of these aspects, but is fairly compelling in itself:

  • Looking at the bar preceding the key change in every A section, the entire band moves forward a beat, but the bass player stays behind; similarly, at the end of each A section, the band adds one more beat and the bass part rights itself again. There were zero good ways to notate this, so I put in the best I could.

  • In every A section (aside from A'5), the bass doesn't change until A4, where the bass goes from a legato articulation to a very short staccato. This articulation change goes back to it's original legato in the 7th bar, which I feel really propels the section's ending higher than any previous iteration. (This was something that I hadn't noticed until I listened to just the bass, and the other instruments have to have their own unique changes that I won't notice until I transcribe them, too.)

The Transcription Process

Transcribing this was weird; I usually work with classical or jazz music and haven't done much with music that is so thick and produced,. The immediate issue I had was just how deep and almost incomprehensible the bass part was in the mix; present, but difficult to discern. The other issue is that the harmonies are so dense that I couldn't just assume the bass note was anything because my guesses were usually wrong. One thing that made this less impossible was to take the track into Audacity and bring it up an octave; this brought the bass part into a much more manageable aural space, and I recommend it for all difficult to hear bass parts.

I also had to restart a few times; I initially transcribed all of the key signatures without listening to the bass part and it ended up almost completely unusable because of the beat-displacement of the bass with the band. This is probably specific to this kind of music, but interesting to keep in mind.

So, here it is: the product of my musically pubescent Myspace snooping and my deep urge to understand what the heck is going on in the brains of Bubblemath (I still don't really, but I guess it's a little bit clearer now).

Check out Bubblemath at their Bandcamp or on Facebook; you can buy their album either at the Bandcamp or on CD Baby. They have a new release coming soon, but sadly I think it's another “Chinese Democracy” situation. If you want more, bug them about it, because I have and I want more, too!

I spent quite a while putting this together and would love any feedback, good or bad. Let me know what you think!

Facebook // Bandcamp // CD Baby // Myspace

"Miscreant Citizen" Transcription (PDF)
Listen to "Miscreant Citizen"
Watch me play "Miscreant Citizen (Youtube)