SONG: I Chant


“I Chant” [Download]

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Smithsonian, 23 Feb 2021, “Archaeologists in Egypt Discover Mummy With Gold Tongue,” as used in the post “Mummified with a golden tongue, in order to speak sweetly in death..”

ABSTRACT: This started as a palate cleanser. I was working with a friend on another musical project that sounded *nothing* like this, so to kind of clear my head after some long hours of listening to and thinking about crunchy guitars and thundering drums, I pulled up a folder of old samples I set aside sometime in 2010 or thereabouts. These were some of my favorite sounds. There’s a looped record crackle from a runoff groove. There’s a sonar “ping” from the techno-music library of one of the first versions of Acid (it came on a CD in like 1997 or so). And there’s a pair of beats I made from my daughter’s voice when she was 6. She’s in college now. Her beatboxing, un-pitch-shifted, was last heard on this web project in this song, I think.

So I made a rhythm track out of those things. Then started adding a bass track. It was the week that Lee “Scratch” Perry died, and I’d been listening to a fair amount of his visionary music and thinking about how he invented a whole musical vocabulary. I was not trying to sound like him while doing this, because that would be stupid, but as I started fitting a simple bass part together, I did find myself using some of the words from his musical language. The cello in the chorus was me resisting that. The backbeat was me giving in to that – although it’s built from sampled nyckelharpa run through some simulated amps and not a guitar at all. And then I was like, ah, that was fun, I think I learned something, palate was cleansed, and I put it away. I knew I was not ever, ever going to attempt a reggae song, or rocksteady, or dub. I might have limited self-awareness, but no. Soundtrack, fine – song, nuh uh.

Then I started to think about what kind of song I *was* going to do this month. The only science that really spoke to me was the golden-tongued mummy, the person who went into the Land of the Dead anticipating some negotiations. That’s a pretty good outline for a story, in a goth kind of way. And goth is not reggae, although … although bands like Bauhaus did occasionally dip into the same musical vocabulary, right? With walking basslines and delays going in and out of the drums. And Elvis Costello did that spooky song with the backbeat, didn’t he? That wasn’t reggae … it just had some of the same language.

Lyrics and melody, though. Hmm. I turned it over a few times in my head. This song should be a story, and it should start in the situation of the mummy having died and now facing that final judgement. Death, story-song, chorus like a movie score. Oh, right.

I asked myself what Nick Cave would do. That was enough to kick the real songwriting process off. If only I had that deep voice. Must need more gold on my tongue.

I like the fact that Anubis is never named in the lyric, and that he is jackal-like without literally having a dog’s head, necessarily. He’s shadowy. Can’t quite make out the scales in his hands. I also thought it was important to end on a question. Did the mummy make it? I don’t know. Maybe.


When I rise from my stony bed, the room is lightless
I lift my hand to clear my sandy eyes

CH: And I chant…
I clear my cracking throat for one last dance
Have I bought a final chance

There’s a man in the shadows standing with something metal in his hands
I taste metal in my mouth, but I don’t understand
Until he says this gold will be balanced against my soul

CH: And then I chant…
Wishful words pour out this golden dance
Have I bought a final chance

There’s a glint of a jackal’s hunger in the lamplight in his eyes
Just wait, I say, let’s discuss this man to man.
If make a single stutter, I have a feeling I’ll be damned

CH: But then I chant…
The words persuade, the melodies entrance
Willing a million minutes with each glance
With rhetoric that wrecks his upright stance
And I chant

Have I bought a final chance? Have I bought a final chance?