The fraudulent promise of summer on a wind-blasted, sun-glazed weekend. When I listen to episodes of “This American Life”, the radio show presented by Ira Glass, it feels like perpetual ‘fall’. There are chance sounds and textures in songs from the past that switch up interchangeably with those of the present.
“And nobody’s coming undone / Everybody here’s afraid of fun.” Spontaneous or not, James Murphy’s lyric in “Beat Connection” is a provocation to those who are too nervy to let go. Good weather loosens us up, a little, as does a sultry funk groove, beneath which bongos gently patter. The way the one-note bass insidiously creeps up on you, pulsating between the cowbell and the shimmering, disco-ball synths, is like a drug of choice allowing you to “come undone”. But it’s still a deeply, self-consciously, uncool song – especially when it breaks down four minutes in, turns jagged and punky, and then carries on for another three minutes.
By contrast, Grizzly Bear sound spacious and restive for much of “Yet Again”, even as Ed Droste laments being “the only ones”, with a meditative, sighing tone. Wordless vocal exercises tinker around the edges, as do Chris Bear’s intricate drums, but things don’t get agitated until the final minute or so, in which Daniel Rossen’s guitar stops evoking the sleepy yacht, and turns into a deranged North Korean battleship. This unhinged coda, skronky and sandblasted, is like the storm the humidity of true summer foretells.
Clinic’s breakthrough album, Internal Wrangler, sounds like it’s at once being beamed in from the far-off future, and yet crackling through the static on a Fifties television set. In its own world, speaking in tongues is acceptable, and so are shuffling drum machines over which jarring guitars crunch and squall. There are rhythmic pulses not dissimilar to Radiohead circa The King Of Limbs, and there are adenoidal Scouser vocals that sound caked with industry and dockyard decay.
Gutsy brass and martial drumming are the brazen components through which Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young” shows it means business. Ezra Koenig squares a niche circle with his meddled-with vocals, taking the exact technique employed to such unnerving effect in The Weeknd’s “Initiation”, but making it sound playful and sultry instead. The burning Saab in the song’s video is the darkest thing about this rampant, tail-wagging dog of a song.
You have to be a Nineties kid to understand the continuing appeal of Jennifer Paige’s “Crush”. That must be why Jai Paul covered it, on his sort-of-but-not-quite album which leaked a couple of weeks ago. Even in its original form, with a tired claptrap rhythm and lazily strummed Spanish guitar, it’s strangely impassioned. That’s what great chords in the chorus can’t be defeated by.
Tina Turner played tambourine on Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart”; Adam Buxton, Joe Cornish and Louis Theroux danced to it in a Brixton flat. It’s a song that harks back to an age when utopian ideals were in vogue (the album it appears on is titled World Clique, for goodness sake)
The yearning, filtered tone of the bass in The Afghan Whigs’ “Debonair” wends its way through octaves in much the same way as Greg Dulli does with passages of the night. There are sheets of guitar, midtone-heavy, and Dulli’s Chris Cornell-aping belting, which sounds truly sorrowful the moment he sings, “This ain’t about regret”.
One of the joys of seeing films in the cinema is the chance to experience the bowel-emptying THX Deep Note. Now, James Blake brings this bottomless pleasure to the hi-fi, in “Voyeur”, which starts in a pensive mood, Blake’s wandering voice fluttering and wrapping round a solitary pulse. But soon, we’re led through a surrealist, nightmarish maze, with clattering pitch-shifted cowbell and a tinkle of car-keys cutting through the mix. And then, two minutes in, those diverging sirens hit you. They groan and pierce, and then groan some more, and then they make you cower at the awkwardness of the interval between them. There is majestic beauty in the most deranged of sounds.
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” sees the band, like the phoenix described in the song, rise from the ashes. As Matthew Perpetua said in a tweet,
And yet we idolise them—perhaps for the way they underpinned a Kanye West hit; perhaps because they were once the future; or perhaps because of a super-savvy marketing campaign. These ruminations aside, the song is infectious, thanks in large part to Nile Rodgers’ signature guitar-work, and a chord progression that awakes memories of Luther Vandross (there’s two names in a row who had a hand in David Bowie’s success). Cut through the hyperbole, and yes, we are a little lucky these friendly robots chose not to abandon us for a rocket-based getaway.
Modern Estival Vampires is:
- LCD Soundsystem, “Beat Connection”;
- Grizzly Bear, “Yet Again”;
- Modest Mouse, “We’ve Got Everything”;
- Clinic, “The Second Line”;
- Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”;
- Jennifer Paige, “Crush”;
- Deee-Lite, “Groove Is In The Heart”;
- The Afghan Whigs, “Debonair”;
- James Blake, “Voyeur”;
- Basement Jaxx, “Bingo Bango”;
- and Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”.