Diplo dropped his 98-song “Endless Summer Playlist” t0day (Memorial Day). It’s contagiously fun has pretty limited artistic integrity. In other words, it’s perfect for driving around with your windows down, sitting by the pool, day-drinking, etc. If you’re into those sorts of things, this playlist was made with you in mind!
Happy Summer, y’all.
Mike Rugnetta (a brilliant mind over at the PBS “Idea Channel”) jokingly coined the term “modus hipsterondi” to describe the process of ironically, even mockingly adopting cultural artifacts (mustaches, hip-hop) at random to project the notion that you, the adopter, are above it all. This is the opposite of what Vampire Weekend does. When they confront cultural artifacts like Paul Simon’s style, oddball hip-hop references, or in this case, literary biblical language, they do so earnestly, and without pretense. When they employ the same chord progression, the same thoughtful whimsy, and the same instrumentation they’ve used for three albums now, it’s actually quite wonderful. They never pretended to be the zeitgeist of the ever-changing landscape of the hip; they are just some rich kids from New York who write thoughtful pop music in a form that works very, very well. In “Ya Hey,” frontman Ezra Koenig confronts Judeo-Christian religion, quoting the Bible directly, and referencing a number of Old Testament passages. It’s not cheap at all: it’s actually somewhat challenging. He’s caught somewhere between the Zionists, the Babylonians, the Americans, the Motherland, the Fatherland, the faithless, and the zealous, unsure where he fits into the ongoing narrative of Old Testament and it’s place in today’s society. He pleads with God, “Why love anything?” And what’s more is that Koenig and the boys are able to accomplish such a feat without abandoning their form.
There’s a time and season for everything. This is especially true for music, wherein our enjoyment of a particular style or genre is deeply imbedded in the natural cycle of seasons. This explains why listening to albums that we first consumed in winter don’t have quite the same effect when we listen to them six months later. The converse is true, too—bands that release music of a “wintry” temperament in June probably won’t strike listeners’ fancies as much as if they had postponed its release a few months.
All that’s to say, “Weird Shapes” is simply the best kind of music for early spring. Thick with early ‘00s rock music—Green-era Weezer and the Strokes, primarily—this surf jam from West Palm Beach natives Surfer Blood begs you to grab a board, or a beer, or just a light jacket, and go outside. Singer John Pitts even makes reference to metaphorical images commonly associated with the spring season: “I’m shedding my skin, I’m spreading my wings.” There’s even mention of something melting—possibly snow? This imagery also happens to be timely in the context of Pitts’ recent legal trouble. There’s certainly nothing new about this kind of music. Then again, there’s nothing new about spring, either, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying it year after year.
Pop songwriters in love are notorious for reading signs that aren’t really there. Ted Joyner, frontman for indie pop group Generationals, sings things like “I saw a car that doesn’t make a sound” and “When you were 20, I was 25.” That these things have any significance in the eternal sense is unlikely, but once upon a time they seemed sure signs to Joyner that he and lady X were meant for each other. “Lucky Numbers” is all about those funny coincidences and strange happenings that we all point at to justify ourselves in the throes of first love. As poignant as its lyrics, the song’s frenetic synths scurry around like an Of Montreal song bouncing around an 80s dancefloor. The cheesy-sounding bass and open-air electric guitar riffs take a cue from Paul Simon by way of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” (These guys are from New Orleans, too, which makes the whole Graceland connection a little stronger). Looking back on his failed romantic exploits, Joyner’s conclusion is even Simon-esque: “You never know; / There’s just no way to see it coming.” In the meantime, why not write a perfect little pop song?
Don’t get me wrong: this post isn’t really a recommendation, per se. Rather, it’s a post of obligation: it would just be wrong not to bring this to your attention. Snoop Dog is releasing a reggae album later this year, and has recorded several songs with Major Lazer in Jamaica. “La La La” falls somewhere in the crossroads of “not bad,” “probably awesome if I did drugs,” and “wtf?” What’s fascinating to me, though, is that Snoop actually seems to have found his voice in this project. As a permanent fixture in the pantheon of hip-hop, Snoop is essentially safe from harsh criticism, but let’s face it: he’s not a very good rapper. But here, simply singing “You reap what you sow / La la la / Oh yeah” with a lovely back-up vocalist, he seems at home! He sounds, dare I say, good. This song is not phenomenal. But it does have a great instrumental, thanks to Diplo, and it shows us what Snoop should have been doing all these years: comercial stoner reggae. And that’s enough for me to listen to it a few more times this summer.