The bare song is not inherently linked to a folk or acoustic style of arrangement. One of the first songs that comes to my mind when I think of a bare song, where the song itself draws the listener’s entire focus, is the Outkast song “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)”:
The song consists of a single extended verse which moves from one digression to the next. The beat is relatively static; a meandering melodic element providing variation doesn’t impose sections or divisions onto the song. This song feels bare to me because it doesn’t have the elements of a typical Outkast song – a melodic hook, pop song structures, multiple vocalists performing verses, often with contrasting approaches to the song’s themes. “A Life in Day…” suggests (unsurprisingly) that, if you want to look for the complexity in an Outkast song, the verses are a good place to start.
Listening more closely to songs and their possibilities doesn’t have to mean listening to simple arrangement or acoustic songs. What the constitutes a bare or unobscured song varies dramatically based on the way that songs are created and conceived. But many genres of music do have a performance mode that, in contrast to more typical or elaborate modes, attempts to present a song in an unadorned way. Another example might be Coleman Hawkins’ “Picasso”, an early solo saxophone recording:
If the sax solo is where the meaning of Hawkins’ music is concentrated, isolating it does more than just focus the listener’s attention. It liberates the solo to follow its own logic, rather than that of a pre-determined arrangement.
Do songs need this kind of liberation? I think that in some cases they do. I know that I often fall back on or restrict myself to familiar song structures, ignoring possibilities that might produce something surprising and new, but which might also make the song more difficult to listen to, perform, or record. But the reason I am interested in writing about songwriting is to look for ways to embrace and really listen to these more difficult songs.