I Cannot Breathe

To really go into where this song came from would require me to be very overt about explaining its meaning. Because I feel I was relatively successful in creating lyrics that had multiple interpretations, I’m not going to go into it, but suffice to say that my emotional state was one of feeling angry, frustrated, and helpless.

Channeling these emotional states is one of the blessings of music. It’s a cathartic process that sometimes exorcises the demons. My mom always told me that if I was angry at someone, I should write them a letter and then tear it up or burn it. This is my modern equivalent, though I’m obviously not burning them.1Well, maybe I am. There have been plenty of lyrics in the past that never made it into audio, and there have been countless things that met the Select-All, Delete key combo.

  1. I Cannot Breathe Ray Toler 4:15

I wasn’t really intending to write a song, though it did show up early in the process. I started out with some big loops, then came the bass, then the synths and guitars. The riff started out a bit more complex, and kept getting simpler and simpler, both in the number of notes and the rhythm of it. While I was working out the structure, the chorus showed up in a single moment. The verses weren’t too much of a struggle, either. The main challenge there was making them ambiguous enough to translate to multiple situations.

This Sounds a Lot Like…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It’s almost impossible for me to do a track like this without sounding like I’m trying to be Trent Reznor. He indelibly stamped his mark across an entire genre, in the sonics, the distortion, the rhythm, the scales… Trent’s work from the 90s, along with related acts and musicians like Marilyn Manson and Charlie Clouser, has been a huge influence.

And the worst part is that I’m not all that good at the style, at least from having the production skills to make it sound right. There’s a lot of fiddly work involved, especially in making micro-edits and chops, getting the equalization right to create space for everything to show up, and having a ton of variety in effects.

This is a much larger undertaking than it might seem, and I still have problems with that “create space” bit. Not only are there three massive, heavy, bass-loaded loops, there’s also a full acoustic drum kit that should be driving the whole thing. I’m still learning how to use the incredible FabFilter line of plugins, so my lack of proficiency shows through in a major way when trying to do this carving. The low end is muddy and boomy and cluttered.

But that’s me being self-critical. The overall result is still a pretty decent pissed-off song and, as they say in the real estate industry, it’s got good bones. I don’t know that it’s a good enough song for me to ever release, but it’s probably one that I’ll open up later this year to use as a learning piece when I have the luxury of more time for experimentation and practice.


I breathe the poison you speak
It rots in me by the week
The absurd and the inane
Eating into my brain

I can’t breathe
No, I cannot breathe
No, I cannot breathe with your shit inside me
(Kill to get what you need)

Your cancer continues to grow
Feeding on the weak and the slow
And when you’re done for the day
Bleed me and throw me away

You reek of salt and of lust
A perfumed smog full of dust
Can’t help but wonder at why
To live you need me to die

Copyright © Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.


Instruments & Samples

Omnisphere, Falcon, Phobos, Strum GS-2

Effects, Mixing, & Mastering

Fuse Audio VCL-864U, Nembrini Audio PSA1000 Jr., Decapitator, MOTU Masterworks EQ and Hi-Top Booster, Valhalla Delay, H3000 Factory, Gullfoss, Pro-Q 3, Pro-C 2, Pro-L 2


  • 1
    Well, maybe I am. There have been plenty of lyrics in the past that never made it into audio, and there have been countless things that met the Select-All, Delete key combo.

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