Episode 118: Song Exploder

A song is a product of design. It’s difficult to create an original melody, but that’s only the blueprint. Every element of a piece of music could be produced any number of ways,  depending on which instrument plays at what time, for how long,  and with what what kind of effect.

The architecture behind a piece of music can be much more involved than meets the ear, and this is what inspired Hrishikesh Hirway  to start a podcast called Song Exploder, where musicians “take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.”

SongExploder7_0Credit (from left): Netflix; Hrishikesh Hirway

This week, we’re featuring Hrishikesh’s Song Exploder episode about the main title theme to the Netflix original series House of Cards, by composer Jeff Beal.

Hrishikesh spoke with Jeff Beal about his collaborative process with executive producer David Fincher, how they found the mood and musical palette for the show and its theme, and how the score changed from season one to season two.

SPOILER ALERT: you may not want to listen to this if you haven’t seen the show through the first episode of the second season.

The Season 1 theme has sweeping violins.

The Season 2 theme loses the violins in favor of a full cello assault, making the mood darker.

You can buy the House of Cards score by Jeff Beal on iTunes here.

The first guest on this episode is Jimmy Tamborello (aka Dntel), who was part of the The Postal Service.

SongExploder1Credit (from left): Subpop Records; Hrishikesh Hirway


Tamborello breaks down “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” and reveals how to spot a loop he accidentally made a loop out of Jenny Lewis’s backing vocals.

Here’s the full Song Exploder episode:

You can purchase “The District Sleeps Along Tonight” on iTunes here.

HH-800pxCredit: Elisha Christian

The Song Exploder podcast is produced by Hrishikesh Hirway (who also writes music as The One AM Radio). Song Exploder is part of the Maximum Fun Network and available on iTunes or wherever you like to explode songs.

15 thoughts on “Song Exploder

  1. “If you don’t already own the lone Postal Service album, you’ve made some poor choices in life. I’m serious.”

    Wow. Breathtakingly presumptuous.

    • We will all of us at some point confuse personal taste with good judgement. (Such Great Heights is a nice track. I found the rest of it a bit neither here nor there.)

    • If you think about it, it is a safe assumption not presumptuous at all. I think everyone has at some point has made some poor choices. Making the occasional poor choice is part of the human condition. Roman is highlighting this with the intention of humor and sharing a song that he values.

    • That’s one of the reasons why I like 99% Percent Invisible. And I’d say the 118 episodes of the show have pretty much established Roman’s authority on matters of taste.

  2. I thought this episode was really fascinating – found myself in complete agreement with Jeff all the way throughout and I enjoyed hearing the reasoning behind each element.

    I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the similarity, but have a listen to Hybrid’s 2003 track, ‘Lights Go Down, Knives Come Out’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS_ev8kyDs4

    It’s certainly not identical, but I do find the same elements very interesting – the repeating bassline ‘call to arms’, strings and trumpet. No piano though.

    It was actually a hidden track on the CD album (you had to rewind the CD from the beginning of track 1 to hear it – really cool!). Every time I heard the House of Cards theme, it ended up reminding me of Hybrid.

    • Ian, I totally agree that the theme song sounds like Hybrid. I just started watching House of Cards and as soon as I heard the theme I knew it sounded like Lights Go Down, Knives come out. I wonder if the composer intentionally wanted it to sound similar. On a side note album five is in progress.

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