The idea of calling a set of songs the soundtrack to a certain time of your life is pretty interesting to me because of the sense of mediation it implies. I don’t think anyone really thinks of this when they say it. I know I haven’t for the most part, because it really just means you listened to a bunch of songs a whole lot for a summer. Still, I can’t resist filtering an innocuous figure of speech through my overly-analytical bullshit. Because when you think of a soundtrack, it’s hard not to think of film. When film is invoked, so are a million other things: the director’s keen eye, the editor’s deft hands, actors puzzling over the best way to convey an emotion through pre-written lines, the lens of the camera. All these things require a position of reflection and retrospect, and tied up in these is memory and certainly an amount of manipulation. Perhaps music and how it affects our sense of self is largely the same.
I think anyone who’s listened to Red House Painters just to feel that special kind of healing misery and ruin your fucking day or blasted “Call Me Maybe” to experience the familiar elation brought on by its sugary sweet chord progression and staccato strings would agree with me. A soundtrack for a film sets the tone and in many ways frames it, and in the same way I think we can cement a certain period of our lives by framing them with music. Memory is a tricky thing – have you ever thought you remembered something clearly and then found out everybody else remembers the event completely differently? Music can help us bring these experiences out of the murky ether of memory and give them body. If our identity is the culmination of what we remember as our past experiences, then by filtering them through music we form our sense of self, or at least colour our recollection by imposing the tone and mood of those songs on it.
Is this problematic in the case of pop music? Louis Althusser would say that internalizing the form of pop music reinforces capitalism’s work ethic and that the industry’s purpose is to placate the masses. This is maybe true, but right now I’m more inclined to say “who the hell cares?” because a lot of pop music is really awesome. Have you heard Taylor Swift’s new single? It’s good. Who knows though, it could just be me enjoying the ride as pop culture in late capitalism continues to shit itself over and over in an ever-accelerating vortex of compressed time and space. In a lot of ways music critics have been forced to come to terms with Top 40
music lately – something that’s been largely shunned and deemed “immature” by Super Serious Music Lovers™ or even socially degrading by Althusser and his ilk. Despite this, contemporary R&B is probably one of the most important genres of recent years by the breadth of its influence, James Brooks of Elite Gymnastics is hyping Sky Fierra’s new record (and remixed “Red Lips,” injecting some feminist critique in the middle) and “Gangnam Style,” and Grimes loves Skrillex – something I’m sort of convinced is some kind of weird backlash-backlash. Call me ahead of the times, but I’m already in the Skrillex backlash-backlash-backlash stage because I still think the guy’s music sucks no matter what Grimes or Unicorn Kid say.
Now I’m going to share some of the tracks I’m consciously or unconsciously imposing on my murky recollection of experiences for the past few months – or, said simply, listened to a lot. What were your favourite tracks of the summer? Let us know in the comments.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
I’m sure some of you will hate seeing this here, but it’s kind of undeniable. Instead of boring you with the song itself, though, here’s a mashup with Annie Lennox by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij that’s been on repeat more than a few times.
Finally Boys – Lunar Lovers
Finally Boys’ Feelings EP is really striking. I know “striking” is an especially terrible way to describe music, but just listen and maybe you’ll agree. The airy rave strings hooked me instantly, and they definitely know how to pick a vocal sample. For a basic production outfit, Finally Boys know how to convey pretty intense – here it comes – feelings through their songs.
Poolside – Slow Down
Poolside’s moniker might tip you off to the best listening environment for enjoying his geeky white falsetto chillwave. It’s dead simple but I couldn’t stop listening. There’s also a killer “Harvest Moon” cover on the record and it works, believe it or not.
Lil B – Oakland Tech
Lil B dropped his best mixtape since God’s Father this summer, Obama Basedgod. The whole thing from start to finish is straight fire but this song stands out as a summer jam to me because, I mean really, try not dancing.
Elite Gymnastics – Andreja 4-Ever
Elite Gymnastics has been killing it for a long time now, and this song gained him some Pitchfork love with Best New Track status. The lyrics are top-notch as usual, and it sounds like a love song but really that’s only true unless you count it as a love song to the late radical feminist author and activist, Andrea Dworkin.
Blood Diamonds ft. Grimes – Phone Sex (Unicorn Kid Remix)
I have mixed feelings about Blood Diamonds – I can’t help but feel the guy’s just riding a wave – but Grimes and Unicorn Kid collaborated on this and the art was done by Elite Gymnastics, so it was pretty much destined to be great. I don’t know how the kid – and he is a kid – does it, but Unicorn Kid just keeps coming back with amazing, anthemic rave jams. Who would have thought that the 90s would creep into popularity by way of rave culture nostalgia?
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti – Symphony of the Nymph
The infamously erratic Ariel Pink released Mature Themes this summer and it’s been on a pretty constant rotation since. Hooky, off-kilter pop with really warm, vintage production. Even the four and a half minute-long “Schnitzel Boogie” – easily the album’s oddest track with an endless refrain of “schnitzel” – is an enjoyable listen, and that’s saying something of Ariel Pink’s songwriting skills.