Fun to read Sound on Sound’s behind-the-mixing-board analysis of what made “Somebody That I Used To Know” so darn catchy – even though it breaks some Top-40 rules:
The song’s mixer, François Tétaz, had a vision for it from the beginning. He also thought long and hard about aspects of the mix that are likely to have greatly contributed to its appeal, like the way in which the dynamics of the song are shaped, with the intensity increasing at several points, his refusal to engage with the loudness wars, the imperfections that he retained in the vocals, and the way he managed to make the track sound modern without losing the idiosyncratic character of the many lo-fi ingredients of Gotye’s arrangement. Tétaz was and is inspired by two books written by neuroscientists, This Is Your Brain On Music by Dr Daniel Levitin and Sweet Anticipation: Music And The Psychology Of Expectation by professor David Huron (both published in 2006). His main focus, and that of Gotye (who was assisting him with mixing the entire album), was on feeling.
“My approach to music in general is very practical: it’s about whether you can hear the story. And does it grab me musically? Sweet expectation, which is the title of a book by David Huron, is fundamentally what music is about. So I’m trying to work with what I think are people’s expectations about what’s going to happen, and then twisting them into something new that you didn’t expect but that grabs you and gives you a new feeling. ‘Somebody’ is all about the chorus and the story is kind of creepy with tension and then release and celebration. In his book This Is Your Brain On Music, Daniel Levitin, who was a musician, engineer and producer before he became a neuroscientist, talks about this being nothing to do with a pop sensibility but everything to do with general musical sensibility.
“Of course a song has to have hooks and changes and melodies and bits and pieces, but really it is about you wanting to be thrilled when listening, and wanting to be fulfilled on many different levels, and being grabbed emotionally when listening multiple times.”
I’d thought it was all home-recorded, but I guess not. I didn’t know it was all built out of samples, either.
Oh, and if you want to read the full article, it’s also published on Performing-Musician.com. Including, for you recording types, a track by track breakdown of the song.