My Own “Drum Fill Friday”
Matt McMahon | Thursday, October 8, 2015
NPR has a semi-regular feature on their “All Songs Considered” web section that I always anticipate called “Drum Fill Friday.” In these posts, NPR music writer Robin Hilton tests readers’ ears with five-question quizzes challenging drum fill aficionados to identify songs through short snippets of their drum sections. Hilton often gets guest drummers to create their own quizzes for the feature, showing their influences and appreciation for their peers. Being a regular reader, and an amateur drummer, I sometimes find myself thinking of the songs I’d include in a Drum Fill Friday quiz.
However, neither being a famous drummer nor having access to posting on NPR’s website or using their intelligent property, I don’t expect to be compiling one of these quizzes anytime soon. Still, with access to a publication in which I can write, I’d like to use this space to — not unlike Fred Armisen on Rachel Ray’s talk show a few years ago — praise my favorite drummers and their finest recorded performances.
I’ll begin with an intro, like beginnings usually consistent of. On “Race: In,” the first track off of experimental rock outfit Battles extraordinary debut album “Mirrored,” technically-astute John Stanier opens the song holding a quick, tapping riff between hi-hat and snare rim. The alternating syncopated and straight pattern ushers in the rest of the band, crescendoing into a skittering hi-hat rhythm and a mathy melody I still can’t completely comprehend.
Keeping with this pace, I’ll turn next to a piece of supreme drumming that comes in just after its song’s intro ends; “Fake Empire,” the beautiful, piano-led track by indie mainstay The National contains one of the most interesting drumming decisions in music history. Working off of a difficult, syncopated piano melody, Bryan Devendorf fully comes into the track with a quick fill around the kit and establishes a straight disco beat to match the piano. Seemingly out of place, but exactly appropriate for the rest of the song, this piece of drumming astounds in its creativity.
Moving along to the next logical component of a song, I’ll move on to the chorus. In the otherwise standard chorus of the Police’s “Next to You,” Stewart Copeland redefines what the use of the usually rhythmically relegated rock drum can be. Dancing around his kit’s cymbals and toms during the song’s choruses, Copeland leads the song through busy variation and a genius ear for complementary timbres.
Last, of course, is the outro. Christopher Bear, drummer and one-fourth of Grizzly Bear, often exhibits a creativity similar to Devendorf and an ear tuned into Copeland’s distinctive cymbal work. At the end of his band’s biggest hit, “Two Weeks,” Bear changes up his tempo and works a ride cymbal and ghostly snare ditty that almost completely eclipses every other aspect of an already fantastic song.
The final performance in my five-question quiz is hard to neatly fit into the constructs of a song structure, much like the drummer who performs it. It is impossible to pick one moment from Death Grip drummer Zach Hill’s prolific career, but a fill in “Hacker,” off of their critically acclaimed album “Money Store,” is perhaps most emblematic. Hill rapidly flies all over the snare and toms, gaining pace but never sacrificing tightness. This fill, connecting the two halves of the song’s first verse, are so blistering in pace they sound like they could only be executed by a computer, which leads me to believe that Hill is at least part machine.
This has naturally turned into my attempt to be featured — in any capacity — on NPR’s own “Drum Fill Friday;” I’ve got plenty more of these snippets floating around in my head, so hopefully, for my sanity’s sake, you’ll see me there soon.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.