The Pay Off

You know those songs that are long and winding and take their time getting to the best part? I love those songs. There’s something about having to wait for that moment that makes it all the sweeter when it arrives. I first started thinking about this when I had Deerhunter’s Microcastle on high rotation. I really love title track, Microcastle. It’s a meandering, almost painfully slow and yet wonderfully sweet song with sparse lyrics of perfect ambiguity. The body of the song is great but the end is the by far the best part. The way the chords change from a bittersweet melancholy into a driving, uplifting crescendo is just aural bliss.

I can’t explain why it’s so satisfying to listen to one of these songs. They’re different to the kind of songs that give us the usual structure of verse chorus bridge verse chorus etc or even traditional classical forms. In those songs repetition is king, but these little gems only let us enjoy the best part once. Perhaps it’s because the song takes you on more of a linear journey with a definite destination. There are heaps great rock examples including any number of Pink Floyd’s contributions like The Great Gig in the Sky. Another one I like is Faith No More’s Malpractice which is kind of a reverse version of a climax because it reduces down to a dainty synth phrase that enhances both the beauty of that small moment of respite and also the intensity of the song. But there are no rules here. The song doesn’t necessarily have to be endured or free from structure to be considered a Pay Off song. I guess it’s just one of those songs where there is one moment when it all comes together, brilliant and fleeting. Like all the best things in life really. Some shining examples of instrumental pieces with worthy pay offs are;

Peter Broderick’s A Glacier

Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Elmer Bernstein’s Madame Olenska from The Age of Innocence score. (This piece can be heard in this scene from the movie)

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