While the show has introduced me to some great artists, the extent to which you appreciate a given episode of Song Exploder depends to some degree on how much you like the song it deconstructs. As someone who has gotten a lot of mileage out of Sharon Van Etten‘s Remind Me Tomorrow, a dissection of its marquee track pushed it to the top of my podcast queue.
On Song Exploder, artists track the progress of a song from its genesis to the album version. Listeners hear snippets of demos and individual tracks (the guitar, the vocals, the drums) isolated from the context of the song. Rather than diminishing the art by revealing the magic behind it, Song Exploder often deepens the listener’s appreciation of a great song.
“Seventeen” is no exception. An early demo recording reveals a loping, country-influence song that Van Etten almost left off the album because it felt out of place, but producer John Congleton — known for his work with St. Vincent — reworked the song and turned it into the album’s beating heart.
Van Etten explains how co-writer Kate Davis helped her see the song, initially viewed through the eyes a jaded New Yorker upset with how her neighborhood has changed, from a younger perspective. And in a moving moment toward the episode’s end, Van Etten talks about singing to her younger self and feeling a connection to her mother during the song’s emotional climax.
Host Thao Nguyen, who took over for the show’s creator Hrishikesh Hirway this year, introduces a new segment at the end of this week’s episode. In “Instrumental,” artists discuss their favorite instrument. This week, Van Etten discusses her love of Michael Cera’s Jupiter 4 synthesizer. A song on the album bears the instrument’s name And yes, it’s that Michael Cera, here’s a track the two worked on together.
New episodes of Song Exploder appear every other Wednesday.