8in8: Nighty Night

Nighty Night

B+

Like last week’s The Fall, a Gorillaz album recorded purely on an iPad, Nighty Night will be a record forever remembered more for what it is than the songs on it. Created at a conference at Berkelee Music College in Boston by four superstars (Ben Folds, Neil Gaiman, Damian Kulash of OK Go and Amanda Palmer) over the course of 12 hours, Nighty Night stands as a testament to the spectacular imagination of some industry giants, as well as a nice reminder of how fun crazy experiments like this can be.

Regardless of the process behind it, though, Nighty Night is also a solid pop-rock EP. In fact, if you’re not listening too carefully, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it only took 12 hours to compose, orchestrate and record these tunes. The only real lack of polish I detect is in some subtly off-key deliveries from our singers (no, not just Neil!). These are six fully-arranged rock songs; if you thought you’d be getting an album of tossed-off piano/vocal sketches, think again. All told, Nighty Night delivers a group of really enjoyable songs that accurately channel the spirits of their four disparate creators.

Indeed, perhaps surprisingly, this album doesn’t make a great case for gestalt theory. There are songs here that sound like they come from Palmer, songs that sound like they come from Folds, and songs that (kind of) sound like they come from OK Go; never the twain do they meet. What that means is that if you’re a fan of even one of these artists there’s probably at least one song on here that you’ll like. It also means that if you don’t like one of these artists, the collaboration isn’t really going to change your mind. I’m not really a fan of Amanda Palmer’s style of vocalization, and because of that the two tracks where she sings lead don’t really do it for me. On the other hand, as a big Ben Folds follower, I loved his contributions, especially the second track, “Because of Origami,” which is probably my favorite song on the record. It’s written as a duet which casts Folds and Palmer as parents of a runaway child, kind of an inversion of the excellent “That’s Me Trying” on the Folds-produced Has Been from William Shatner.

Thankfully, famed author Neil Gaiman gets to grab some lead vocal duties as well, lending his pipes to the closing song, a lovely English ditty entitled “The Problem with Saints.” If nothing else convinces you to buy this album, you ought to be won over by the fact that the guy who wrote Sandman (or American Gods, if that’s your bag) makes his rock & roll frontman debut.

Also note that this album works on a pay-what-you-want scale, so there’s no reason not to get it. True, you have to pay at least $1, but anything beyond that is up to you, and everything above that dollar goes to charity. I think six songs from these creators are worth the $1, right?

You can download Nighty Night from Amanda Palmer’s website. What did you think of the album? Let us know below!

Nighty Night tracklist:
1. Nikola Tesla (ft. Amanda Palmer)
2. Because the Origami (ft. Ben Folds & Amanda Palmer)
3. One Tiny Thing (ft. Damian Kulash)
4. Twelve Line Song (ft. Ben Folds)
5. I’ll Be My Mirror (ft. Amanda Palmer)
6. The Problem with Saints (ft. Neil Gaiman)

tags: 8in8, amanda palmer, ben folds, Damian Kulash, neil gaiman, nighty night

  • http://twitter.com/DerekStevens Derek Stevens

    Well, up front, I’ll admit that I may be biased as I watched nearly the entire streaming session of these songs being hatched and recorded and the mutations they went through along the way. In that sense, it may just be that after watching multiple takes of each, they’re so ingrained in my head (not just as final product, but also as what they were and what they could have been) that I can’t be objective.

    By way of further disclosure (let’s get the biases all out on the table), I am a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing, but only a casual/sometime fan of Folds, Palmer, and Ok Go (of which Damian Kulash is a member). I think they’re all really awesome, clever, witty people, but musically each of them only do it for me some of the time. There are songs from each that I love, but I can’t say that I’m a fan of the entire catalog of any of them.

    Generally, it’s very easy to tell who was the driving force (musically) behind each song. That’s not to say that other band members didn’t add to them artistically (I saw them do it…the beauty of transparency). Gaiman initiated most of the lyrics (although in many cases they were heavily tinkered with by others) by seizing upon random phrases from the #8in8 Twitter-stream.

    I like each and every one of the songs. But, I like some more than others. For perspective, think about albums you own where the worst song on the album is one that you always or nearly always skip…I wouldn’t skip any of these.

    In brief:

    1. Nikola Tesla–Fun song, I liked it…definitely one of Amanda’s babies. That being said, I’d rank it 5/6 on this collection. That’s not a knock against the song, but merely my opinion that 4 of the other songs are better.

    2. Because the Origami–Although Ben was the main driving force on this, Ben and Amanda’s direction on this one turned what could have been a goofy song into a fairly touching one. Humorous elements remain, but in spite of that, it still works as an emotional song. Having watched the creation the process, I can vouch for the fact that Ben and Amanda were very well aware that they had to walk a fine line between sappy and humorous (and I think they did it fairly well). Tied for best song on the album.

    3. One Tiny Thing –This is Damian’s baby (and not in some sort of demonic Omen: Part 12 way). It works. Really well. Although I rank it as also tied for best song on the album, if there were ever to be a commercially successful single off this project, my guess is that this would be it.

    4. Twelve Line Song–I like this song, I really do. It’s kind of fun, although kind of sad…some things are just like that, I suppose, as do the creators. Thematically, it’s perfect. It’s a song about the suicide of a squirrel…told in upbeat music, yet contemplative lyrics. Yet, despite all of that, I’d rank it as 6/6 on the album. Why? It suffers from “Born in the USA” syndrome…or extreme cognitive dissonance. Springsteen’s hit sounded like a patriotic anthem, until you listened to the lyrics (and all too few did); similarly, this is a fun party song, until you listen to the lyrics. I get the joke and I get what Ben Folds was trying to do here in arranging it (after all, a somber song about the death of the squirrel wouldn’t really be taken seriously (ok, ok…yeah, Michael Jackson got away with a song about a rat with “Ben”, but let’s just chalk that up to a fluke (and I fear I’m mixing metaphors with rodents and fish at this point (and issuing a challenge to any so brave to read this: can you keep up with the parentheticals?)))). The challenge was to create a rough and irreverent song given the corniness of the lyrics. I kind of feel that it went too far (If I recall correctly…and I was drinking heavily, so I may not be…this song either took the longest to iron out or nearly claimed that title), the circus atmosphere of the final song was a bit too much for me. That being said, I still like it and I readily acknowledge the cleverness.

    5. I’ll Be My Mirror–Another Amanda Palmer guided song and it’s fantastic. Ben Folds on the drums providing the backbeat really makes this one work (although credit must be shared with Amanda and Neil on creating lyrics that tell a compelling narrative). While watching the creation of this one, Amanda insisted on some cymbal involvement from Ben (who had been providing the beat on drums sans cymbals up until the point). She wanted a violent, almost orchestral, clash, whereas he preferred a simple haunting beat. I think the compromise they arrived at is perfect for the song, although I would have preferred that the sound mix raise the drum level up a bit in the final product (especially in the segments between verses). Yet another tie for first place.

    6. The Problem With Saints–Neil Gaiman on vocals (doing a wonderfully apropos rhythmic poetic reading in song form (he’s singing, but I get the sense that he’s not fully ready to admit that he has made his debut on song, hence the euphemism)) and Ben Folds on piano driving the song in a semi-ragtimey style. This one really does come across as a Neil Gaiman very short story. Fourth and final tie for first place.

    Bottom Line: A-
    I have purchased albums from bands that I love that I have been mostly disappointed with, despite a gem of a song or two. In 12 hours of recording sessions, 8in8 has managed to produce 6 solid songs and I like them all and love a few of them. Sure, I feel that the lyrics could have been polished in some places and perhaps in a few other places (having watched most of the recording sessions) decisions about arrangements might have been hastily made for the worse. Despite that, this is a fun collection of songs. This project doesn’t necessarily show the future of music creation. But, this project does show that quality art can be created mostly from hard work and very little inspiration (and that’s a lesson to anyone out there who might be waiting for divine inspiration to hit before beginning the song/novel/painting/whatever you’ve been putting off so long…grab hold of a tiny idea, build around it and see where it takes you.)

  • Anonymous

    Damn, Derek. You should write for this site!

    Thanks for responding. I definitely agree/see where you’re coming from on most of this. I did want to touch on the “cognitive dissonance” thing (you said “Springsteen,” my magic word). I actually think a trick like that makes those songs all the better. I’ve read an essay that argued “Born in the USA” accurately represents many peoples’ attitude towards America: anthemic, jingoistic feeling with some sobering truths buried within. Obviously that’s on a little higher level than “Twelve Line Song,” but it’s the same sort of thing. I really like when something sad sounds really happy — doesn’t that make the sadness hit so much harder? It’s why They Might Be Giants is one of my favorite bands (see: “Til My Head Falls Off”). Again, not saying “Twelve Line Song” succeeds as well as more polished examples, but I would hate to categorically rule out that tactic.

  • Marc

    I’m with you I guess. Palmer doesn’t do much for me. Nor do I consider her a “superstar”. That being said, I dig it.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    I agree with the sentiments above and below that it is extremely easy to pick out who “captained” each song. I was kind of hoping for a more “band” vibe here, but I do dig what they came up with for the most part. But essentially you just end up with 8 songs that, while i think they are pretty cool, won’t keep me returning to this album over and over again. I can’t invest myself emotionally in a song that i know was just written for the heck of it on the fly.

  • http://twitter.com/DerekStevens Derek Stevens

    Oh, I wouldn’t categorically rule out that tactic at all. A recent song that immediately comes to mind in which it was used to brilliant effect (in my opinion) is Sarah Fullen (of Gregory Brothers fame) singing “Always Summertime”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT_4YytbF-w&feature=player_embedded#at=67

    With respect to “Born in the USA”, I love the song, I just always felt that Bruce’s acoustic versions of the song conveyed his message much better. That being said, I can see how there’s an argument that the internal contradictions of the album cut probably mirror the internal conflict that the persona singing the song feels about the country that abandoned him. In that sense, it’s a slightly different message conveyed. The acoustic versions convey a purer message of despair and resentment while the album cut could be interpreted to convey the same emotions, but mixed with some conflicting pride and hope about a place he still calls home.

    With respect to the squirrel song (and yes, we are totally over analyzing a silly song about squirrel suicide, but that’s what the internet is for (well, that and naughty pictures of lolcats getting it on…or so I’m told)), I would have preferred that the circus atmosphere be slightly toned down. I was about to say that an arrangement like that would have made me take the song more seriously…but I can’t with a straight face. It’s goofy fun in any permutation of the various versions the song went through before its final release. I think it’s really just a question of which arrangement resonates best with any individual listener. I think I liked it better before the final “doot doot doots” were added, but now I’m even second guessing that.

  • Anonymous

    Re: “Twelve Line,” you’re right, it totally comes down to personal preference. I had somebody tell me the “doot do do doos” were their favorite part of the album. Go figure. :)

  • Phoebe

    I loved this album. My dad was the one who told me about the event because we both love Ben Folds. I was disappointed to see he wasn’t the main singer, because came to find I’m not too much of a fan of Palmer….I did love Neil’s song and Damian’s is quite nice also. Ben’s are my favorites, though. And, you can definitely tell who was the brain on which song..but since I was looking for more of Ben, I kind of enjoyed that I could have a few songs that were just his and not a bunch of songs jumbled up with parts of Amanda as well. No offense to her, I do enjoy Mirror and Nikola is a cute song. The few pitch issues didn’t really bother me too much…probably because Ben doesn’t really use too many programs on his voice normally, and he was the only one I’d heard sing before. I didn’t think Neil was too bad! I don’t know why you picked him out, he parred up there with the rest in my book.

    I really loved the short story like aspect to a few of the songs like Mirror and Saints. There is a good mix of styles and types of songs, which I think is great. I think that’s what makes this album so great. There’s everything for someone and something for everyone.

    The twelve line song would definitely be my favorite if not for those darn doos…they aren’t too bad but do get old fast. It is happy but sad at the same time, and I love a song with a chorus like this. I don’t know what ‘this’ is yet, I’m still trying to find that out. It’s the same with ‘To Show You my Love’ and ‘Dear Me’ by Mike Schmid. There’s just something about the chorus that makes me happy, no matter how sad yet silly the lyrics may be.

    All in all, I did really like this album and it was a fun experiment to watch. It’s neat to see the different personalities come out. I’m glad to have bought it.

  • Anonymous

    Aw, I wasn’t trying to pick on Neil. He’s actually an alright singer, though I agree with Derek below that his delivery seems a little more like poetry than song. I’m just having fun with the idea that he’s not a pro musician like the others.

  • http://twitter.com/realgonereviews Real Gone

    Some pretty cool stuff on this EP, especially ‘ Twelve Line Song’. Read my full review here: http://realgonerocks.blogspot.com/2011/05/8in8-nighty-night.html

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