By Darren Snow
I could tell you about plenty of old songs that remind me of summers past, but this year? Man, I just don't know. There's got to be some shared experience involved for a song to be a bona fide Summer Jam, and music and I have had kind of a private relationship lately. That may sound strange coming from a guy who's on the radio for a couple hours a week and spins records in bars a couple of times a month--but they're not the kind of bars where everyone goes "WOOOOO!!" and dances madly when they hear their favorite song. The most I'll get is a thumbs-up from someone across the room who catches my eye--Hey, this guy likes CSS!--or maybe someone will come up and ask me what I'm playing. Otherwise, I'm just providing atmosphere and I don't get a lot of feedback.
Now, I used to spin records at a top-forty club, and I felt some connection to the popular tunes of the times, but that was in the heyday of Nelly and Christina Aguilera. These days, I can usually look at the Billboard chart and recognize maybe three songs in the top twenty. I think I've heard Rihanna's "Umbrella" all of twice, but I have a pretty good grasp of what a huge record it was. (See, that subscription to Entertainment Weekly comes in handy!) However, I don't know Lil Wayne from Young Jeezy, and I have a vague notion that there were recently about six songs in the top ten with "Shawty" in the title but I haven't heard any of them. I try to listen to anything new that Gwen Stefani or Justin Timberlake puts out, because they're the "important" pop stars of the day; the ones it's okay for the critics and hipsters to like. I figure I should be familiar with the records that Stereogum and Pitchfork semi-ironically pinch catchphrases from, right? I'll never take sexy back if I don't know which shit is bananas!
But can I identify a true Summer Jam--mainstream or indie--without sharing it with a crowd in a bar, or singing along with the windows down with at least one other person in the car? I guess I can still imagine potential "soundtrack hits" from an idealized version of my life. The retro-lite-rock vibe of My Morning Jacket's "Sec Walkin" sure sounds like a faded photograph of someone in oversized sunglasses and a big grin; it might as well be me. Music Go Music's Abba-tastic "Light of Love" similarly sounds like a monster hit from summer of '78, delivered thirty years late. The Volume One album by She & Him would be a great summer-lovin' record if only my wife liked it; without a receptive person to project its swoony pop goodness onto, it just feels like I'm mooning inappropriately over Zooey Deschanel by default. The Virgins' "Rich Girls" would qualify as one of the year's great summer singles, but I've been digging it since it first leaked onto the internet in early '07. (The Dandy Warhols' "Welcome to the Third World," kind of an ersatz-Duran to the Virgins' ersatz-Stones, would do in a pinch.) And yeah, yeah, the Ting Tings...what about 'em? I like 'em just fine, I guess, and as I just demonstrated, I have nothing against the recycling of styles past...but I'm not sure I'm ready to be nostalgic for Voice of the Beehive just yet. Or, God help us, Republica. Or, wait! Anyone remember Westworld? But I digress.
Jack and Jen were onto something, suggesting Thao's "Bag of Hammers." (What, not "Swimming Pools"?) The breezy beatboxing, the Mungo Jerry-ish chinka-chinka-chink, the ice-cream chorus--and, yes, the knowledge that I'm sharing it with my peers--it all adds up to a fantastic little summer song, and the CD it's from is still my favorite album so far this year. And if you're reluctant to accept something called "Bag of Hammers" as a suitable Summer Jam, may I suggest Santogold's "I'm a Lady?"
Thursday, July 3, 2008
By Darren Snow