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Strange Overtones

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"Strange Overtones"
A field of grass with the words "DAVID BYRNE / & BRIAN ENO / EVERYTHING / THAT HAPPENS / WILL HAPPEN / TODAY" written on top in a 3-D stylized font with a white face and black background.
Single by David Byrne and Brian Eno
from the album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
ReleasedAugust 4, 2008 (2008-08-04)
RecordedDemoed in Eno's London home studio (2006), finished by Byrne and Leo Abrahams in New York City (2008)
LabelTodo Mundo
Songwriter(s)David Byrne and Brian Eno, with Leo Abrahams
Producer(s)David Byrne and Brian Eno, with additional production by Leo Abrahams
David Byrne and Brian Eno singles chronology
"The Jezebel Spirit"
"Strange Overtones"
"One Fine Day"
David Byrne singles chronology
"U.B. Jesus"
"Strange Overtones"
"Please Don't"
Brian Eno singles chronology
"Baby's on Fire"
"Strange Overtones"
"One Fine Day"

"Strange Overtones" is a song recorded by David Byrne and Brian Eno, written by the duo with Leo Abrahams. It was released on August 4, 2008 by means of free download as the lead single from Byrne's and Eno's second collaborative studio album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (2008). "Strange Overtones" is an uptempo electronic gospel song, and its lyrics explore the themes of humanity overcoming technology that are central to the album. "Strange Overtones" was well received by critics, and was downloaded 40,000 times in its first three days of release.

Recording and release[edit]

While discussing the 2006 remix of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts at a dinner party, Eno suggested finishing some songs that he had written but that did not have lyrics.[1] Byrne visited Eno's studio to listen to the demos and the two decided to collaborate to finish writing the songs. They continued working on the tracks in New York City and London, with regular e-mail correspondence to finish the composition.[2] Multi-instrumentalist and previous Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams performed guitar, percussion instruments, and piano in his London home studio and played guitar with Byrne on one occasion.[3] Abrahams would continue working on the tracks in his home studio through May 2008, with all collaborations being carried on via e-mail.[2]

"Strange Overtones" is the first single off the album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. The track was released for free[4] on August 4, 2008, as a DRM-free MP3 available only through the album's website. This is part of the unorthodox Internet-based marketing scheme the two used to promote the album,[5] inspired by the success of Radiohead's 2007 album In Rainbows[6] and the self-promotional strategies of Nine Inch Nails for the albums Year Zero, Ghosts I–IV, and The Slip.[7] In September 2008, Jon Yeo created a music video for the track featuring the paintings of Eno.[8]

A live recording of the song also appeared on Everything That Happens Will Happen on This Tour – David Byrne on Tour: Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno, released on May 11, 2009. The song was also featured on the soundtrack album to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, along with several other David Byrne compositions.[9]

In 2020, the song was covered by the indie rock group Whitney on their covers album, Candid.[10][11]


Eno has also said the album is about "paint[ing] a picture of the human trying to survive in an increasingly digital world;"[6] themes that are explored in this song. "Strange Overtones" has been described as "a song about writing a song"[12]—the subject of the song struggles to write innovative music, but is overheard by a neighbor using beats that are "twenty years old." In terms of the genre of music, both Byrne[13] and Eno[12] have called it "electronic Gospel"—the backing tracks are the kind of electronic music for which Eno is known, paired with hopeful and inspiring lyrics from Byrne—[14] this song in particular features an uptempo backing track.[4] Eno had been thinking about Gospel for several years,[15] but couldn't write lyrics to hopeful songs.[16]

Eno considers the album "[S]omething that combines something very human and fallible and personal, with something very electronic and mathematical sometimes." And they tried to "make that picture of the human still trying to survive in an increasingly complicated digital world... It's quite easy to make just digital music and it's quite easy to make just human music, but to try and make a combination is sort of, exciting, I think."[17] Byrne considered his job as lyricist to "bring more humanity" to Eno's instrumentals, which can be "cold and academic."[18]


The song was downloaded over 40,000 times in its first three days of availability.[19] One of the earliest reviews for "Strange Overtones" was on the August 11, 2008, episode of NPR's All Songs Considered.[20] The Los Angeles Times called the track "intimate"[21] and Stereogum[22] echoed this by labeling it "warm"; it also received a positive review from Rolling Stone.[23]

Pitchfork Media gave the song several adulations, including a positive review in their discussion of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today[24] and naming the song number 11 track of 2008[25]—including appearances on eight editors' end of the year lists[26]—and placing number 297 on the Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s.[27] Pitchfork also solicited the opinions of musicians for their favorite albums and songs of the year and The Watson Twins proclaimed "Strange Overtones" one of the best songs of 2008.[28] KCMP's Top 89 of 2009 featured the song on two editor's lists.[29] Mark Wheat of NPR named it one of the top 10 songs of 2009.[30]

Ranking 60th for the year, this song was one of several from Everything That Happens Will Happen Today which appeared on The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop singles poll for 2008—"Life Is Long" placed 337, "My Big Nurse" was 350, "Everything That Happens" ended up at 748, and "I Feel My Stuff" reached 942. In addition, a vote was cast for "Strange Undertones".[31]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Byrne, David. " — Everything That Happens Will Happen Today". David Byrne. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Abrahams, Leo (May 18, 2008). "Pie 'n' mash with Brian Eno". Leo Abrahams. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  3. ^ Abrahams, Leo (April 6, 2008). "Unexpected Prog Roast". Retrieved April 22, 2009. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b "Dynamic Duo". Billboard. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
  5. ^ Byrne, David (August 4, 2008). "David Byrne Journal: 08.04.2008: 'Strange Overtones' Available". David Byrne. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Eno: "I've stopped buying CDs"". Yahoo!. August 8, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  7. ^ Fernández Escobar, Ramón (February 21, 2009). "Genios reunidos". El País (in Spanish). Retrieved June 8, 2011. Tras las experiencias de Radiohead o Nine Inch Nails y lo mucho que había escrito sobre el tema, creí que debíamos llevarlo a la práctica.
  8. ^ Dogonaut (September 4, 2008). ""Strange Overtones" video". David Byrne. Retrieved September 4, 2008.
  9. ^ Lapatine, Scott (July 20, 2010). "David Byrne, St. Vincent Collaborate With Bang On A Can's Asphalt Orchestra". Stereogum. Retrieved July 20, 2010.
  10. ^ Whatley·August 5, Jack; 2020 (August 5, 2020). "Listen to Whitney's cover of David Byrne and Brian Eno's 'Strange Overtones'". Far Out Magazine (in British English). Retrieved August 15, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Whitney cover David Byrne and Brian Eno's "Strange Overtones": Stream". Consequence of Sound (in American English). August 4, 2020. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  12. ^ a b Coles, Mark (August 8, 2008). "Brian Eno and David Byrne reunite in the return of the digital masters — Times Online". The Times. Retrieved August 8, 2008.
  13. ^ "Side Dish: David Byrne performs with Paul Simon". Daily News. New York City, New York, United States. April 11, 2008.
  14. ^ O'Donnell, Paul (February 11, 2009). "David Byrne's Spiritual, Not Riveting Albums". Beliefnet. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  15. ^ "The Current Presents: Brian Eno". The Current Presents. Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. October 2, 2009. 47 minutes in. KCMP.
  16. ^ "The Current Presents: Brian Eno". The Current Presents. Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. October 2, 2009. 50 minutes in. KCMP.
  17. ^ "BBC - 6 Music — Eno on Byrne". BBC News. August 4, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  18. ^ "Byrne takes Eno inspiration on the road". The Sunday Star-Times. January 4, 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  19. ^ Pareles, Jon (August 15, 2008). "Together Again in Different Time Zones". New York Times.
  20. ^ "NPR's All Songs Considered: Byrne & Eno, Lee "Scratch" Perry, More". National Public Radio. August 11, 2008. Retrieved August 11, 2008.
  21. ^ Kosinski, T. J. (August 12, 2008). "'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today' for Eno and Byrne". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 17, 2008.
  22. ^ "New David Byrne & Brian Eno – "Strange Overtones"". Stereogum. August 4, 2008. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  23. ^ Hermes, Will (September 4, 2008). "David Byrne and Brian Eno Team Up to Make Superb Gospel for Dark Times". Rolling Stone. No. 1060. New York City, New York, United States: Straight Arrow Publishers Company, LP. p. 70. ISSN 0035-791X. Archived from the original on August 22, 2008. Retrieved April 22, 2009.
  24. ^ Tangari, Joe (September 2, 2008). "David Byrne & Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved May 21, 2009.
  25. ^ Orme, Mike (December 15, 2008). "The 100 Best Tracks of 2008". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved January 15, 2009.
  26. ^ "The 100 Best Tracks of 2008". Pitchfork Media. December 15, 2008. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  27. ^ "The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s: 500–201". Pitchfork Media. August 17, 2009. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  28. ^ Watson, Chandra; Watson, Leigh (December 11, 2008). "Best of 2008". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  29. ^ "Top 89 of 2003 – Picks from The Current Staff". KCMP. Retrieved February 25, 2010.
  30. ^ Wheat, Mark (December 3, 2009). "The Year In Music: The Current Picks 10 Songs Of 'Home'". NPR. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  31. ^ "Pazz & Jop 2008 Singles — All Votes". The Village Voice. January 21, 2009. Retrieved January 21, 2009.
  32. ^ "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today credits". David Byrne. August 18, 2008. Retrieved August 18, 2008.