The Less I Know The Better by Tame Impala is probably one of the strangest hit songs I’ve heard. There are many smart songwriting techniques in this song that you can apply to your own music. So let’s dive into this song analysis!
About the Song analysis series ‘What I Learned From’
What I Learned From is a songwriting and music analysis series. I analyse music to find techniques and aspects that interest me and catch my attention. I try to deliver this information in an easy and compact way. This way you can easily use all information to create music and not be distracted by complicated music theory.
Video Tutorial: How Tame Impala’s Strangest Hit Song Works
About Tame Impala
Tame Impala is a band fronted by songwriter and producer Kevin Parker. He writes and records all the songs, sings, and is a multi-instrumentalist.
To me, their music identifies itself with strong and pumping rhythms, synth textures, guitars and vintage vocals. It’s a mix of different genres that create a refreshing vintage and electronic style. It’s like a colourful swirl of guitars and beats that you can’t help but dance to.
Tame Impala’s lyrics often talk about emotions, relationships, and thoughts. They are often very dreamy but at other times they pump you up like you’re at a party. One of their most famous songs is “The Less I Know The Better.” It’s super catchy and has a funky groove that makes you want to move. And this is exactly the song we are going to be talking about today.
If you need to refreshen your memory about the song ‘The Less I Know The Better’, then listen to it here.
Songwriting Technique No. 1: Catchy Melodies
Overall the melodies are catchy and easy to memorise and repetition plays a key part in this. The continuation and flow of the melody are strengthened by the constant use of perfect rhyme at the end of each sentence in the verse.
The first verse has 4 separate melodic phrases. Each phrase can be divided into two shorter melodies. Both of them start on the upbeat, which propels the energy forward.
Notice that the melodic contour of the first melody creates a nice arch, while the 2nd phrase starts up and makes its way straight down. The melodies vary in their direction but stay in the same range.
Songwriting Technique No. 2: Great Harmony With Modal Interchange
Nowadays you see more often that producers trade harmonic complexity in favour of a more elaborate production. When you strip down the verse and the b part to their most essential chords, you are only left with two chords each.
The function of the extra chords (G#m and the B major) in the verse is to create more variety in colour and pull towards the chord that comes after them. The B is a fifth apart from E which creates a dominant relationship. And the G#m is a fifth apart from the C#m which creates a minor dominant relationship.
In the B part, a D major 7 shows up. But we are in the key of E and normally it should be a D# half-diminished chord. The D major 7, is borrowed from the parallel Dorian mode. Because the chord on the minor 7th scale degree in Dorian is a Major7 chord.
Songwriting Technique No. 3: Original song form or song structure
What makes the form so interesting is the fact that there is no real chorus in this song. The B part which should be the chorus is not catchy enough and the lyric that carries the song title is only sung shortly at the end and after verse 1 and after that no more.
Another interesting feature is that the song ends with a very long C part that consists of completely new material (lyrics and melody). I don’t call this an outro, because it is simply too long and brings too much new information to the table.
With this song analysis, I tried to highlight all the amazing songwriting techniques that Tame Impala uses in ‘The Less I Know The Better’. I think you can agree with me that this song is a true work of art.
I challenge you to find song structures that are new to you and also experiment with different harmony techniques. Two techniques that I would suggest you try out are Modal Interchange and Chromatic mediants.
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The music of Tame Impala is really something special. I just love how playful, energetic and creative his style is. That’s why today in the song analysis series called ‘What i learned from’ we’ll be diving into one of his more stranger hit songs called ‘The Less I Know The Better’ and for the people who don’t know this song yet, i can already tell you this is really a gem. So let’s get creative!
To me the music of Tame Impala characterizes itself with pumping and strong rhythms, lush and full synth textures, vintage guitars and dreamy vocals. It’s like a mix of different genres that create this surprising electronic vintage cocktail. I’ve been a fan ever since i’ve heard his debut album ‘InnerSpeaker’ which was quite a long time ago already. Apart from this extremely tasty bass riff, which was actually played on guitar…
And the very stable pumping drum pattern which is sometimes interrupted by multiple snare hits and kicks, which is mostly done to pull you towards a new section of a song.
So apart from this i cannot dive into the music production of this song because simply the video would be too long. There’s just too much to mention!
Today i want to focus on highlighting some songwriting techniques that we can learn from and also use in our own music. So first up the melody.
The song ‘The Less I Know The Better’ takes repetition to a whole nother level. The verses main melodies are almost literally repeated and to increase the flow, this repetition is strengthened by constant perfect rhyme at the end of each line. Just listen to these words for example: Together, Get her, Trevor, Ever, Better.
The Verse melody is very catchy and singable and when we look at one phrase, we can see that it consists of two smaller phrases or melodies. And both of them start on an upbeat which already propels the energy forward. The relatively easy rhythm and lyrics make it extra catchy and memorable. And when we take a look at the melodic contour we see that the first phrase has a nice arch shape, while the second short phrase starts up and makes its way all the way straight down. So they have variation in which direction they go but both of them stay more or less in the same range.
So what makes this song such a strange hit song? Before we get to that let’s take a look at some interesting things that are going on in the chord progressions. Let’s dive into the harmony.
When you strip down the verse and the B part, -which we should actually call chorus but that does not make any sense which you will see later on. If we strip them to their most essential chords you are only left with two chords each. Just listen to the Verse and it still sounds good with the other two chords left out.
With artists and producers like Tame Impala you see this more often, they trade harmonic complexity in favor of a rich production.
If i look at the harmonic complexity of let’s say Gotye you often see that he switches between only two chords. And do these two chords ring any bells?
So what’s the function then of the G# sharp minor and the B major in the verse? Well they create more variety in color and they also create a pull towards the chord that comes after them. The B is a fifth apart from E so that creates a dominant relationship and the G# sharp minor is also a fifth away from C# sharp minor, so this creates a minor dominant relationship. The key of the song is E major or C# sharp minor and this depends on where you look and who you ask.
So how does a D major 7 chord, which is not part of the key end up in the B part? This chord is borrowed from the parallel Dorian mode because the chord on the minor 7th scale degree in the Dorian mode is a major 7 chord. In our case in E major we have a D# sharp half diminished chord and the only thing that we have to do is lower the D# sharp with half a step to D. And then voila! We have our D major 7 chord. So we only change one note with half a step.
So now let’s get to the exceptional part: The structure or as we can call it the form.
While listening casually to Tame Impala’s song ‘The Less I Know The Better’ i actually never noticed how interesting the song’s form actually is. First of all when we look at the lyrics we see that there’s some interesting dialogue going on between the A section and the B section. The song starts with an intro and two verses which is quite standard but it’s only after the second verse that we hear the lyric that carries the song title in it.
And after that the title is nowhere to be seen or heard again in the song. Then if we continue you would expect a chorus of course. The only thing is that in the B section we don’t really have lyrics that are super memorable. Which you would expect from chorus. And there’s no real repetition of any important lyric in it. So can we then call this a chorus? I don’t think so.
After this we have another verse and a B part but they are twice as short, just to keep the pace going.
This is also quite standard, this happens in a lot of songs. But we are not finished yet. After this is a very long outro or what i prefer to call the C part, because i find that the identity and size of this part is just too long and too strong to be a mere outro.
Especially when you look at the fact that this song has no real Chorus and it ends with a large part that did not really have anything to do with the previous sections, then you ask yourself the question: How could this have become a hit? What is its secret power?
Personally, i think it’s because of the great bass riff that you hear throughout the song,
catchy and repetitive verse melodies and the lush and beautiful production. This is all accompanied by a very strong and stable drum beat that keeps you locked in till the end.
And of course these are just my words but what do you think, do you agree? Or is there something else that really attracts you to this song? Let me know in the comment section below. And as always the cheat sheet of this episode will be available via the link below.
And if you enjoyed this song just as much as i did then don’t forget to give this video a thumbs up!
And for now…
See you next time!