Well-crafted, sample-forward tropicalia
Speaking of trumpets (see previous post), here we have that trusty brass contraption contributing to an entirely different aural universe. The trumpets on display here evoke the tones heard in Latin horn charts, while tracing a languid melody, against a swaying beat, that sounds like shade on a sunny beach day.
This is music as constructed collage; Havana Swim Club mastermind Dan Koch utilizes samples from vintage and/or global vinyl to create what he labels “nostalgic instrumental dream pop.” However digitally manipulated it is, “Lagoon” flows with a well-constructed sense of purpose and a gratifying feeling of space. One of the savvy things Koch does is reveal the song’s principal melody only once near the beginning (0:34-0:54) and once near the end (3:04-3:27). The rest of the song functions as variations to the main theme: there’s the theatrical introduction, itself a riff on the second half of the primary melody; there are dream-like snippets of the main motif, offered in minimalist segments; there indecipherable voices, shimmering sound effects, and subtle countermelodies and electronic flourishes, all nodding in the direction of the primary theme without delivering it. In the song’s second half we are teased by the return of the introduction (2:00), but the central melody remains withheld until just past the three-minute mark. At this point, the returning trumpet solo sounds luxurious and triumphant, and yet doesn’t overstay its welcome–one simple pass through the melody and the song shuts itself right down.
The evocatively-named Havana Swim Club is, as noted, the project of the Seattle-based Koch, who is a founding member of the indie rock band Sherwood. “Lagoon” is a track from the debut self-titled Havana Swim Club album, which was released last week. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy a digital copy, via Bandcamp. MP3 via the artist.
Answering the question no one was probably otherwise asking: “What would Tears for Fears sound like had hip hop existed in the early ’80s?”
With a groove slow and fat enough to lose yourself in and glitchy enough to sound of the moment, “Give It Up” manages to answer the question no one was probably otherwise asking, which is, “What would Tears for Fears sound like had hip hop existed in the early ’80s?”
And if that sounds facetious I don’t mean it to be. First of all, I kind of like Tears for Fears. Second of all, while I like authentic artistic expression as much as the next guy, I also like a good pop song (in the traditional sense of the word, not necessarily meaning that I like what is currently played on Top 40 stations). And at the risk of pointing out the obvious, there is almost nothing about a good pop song that can be rightly called “authentic.” Good pop songs have always been shrewd constructions, built from any given era’s available materials. (This is no excuse for Auto-Tune, by the way, but that’s a separate post.) So, here we have a British duo that blends sampled and/or synthesized strings and horns and all sorts of elusive electronic effects into something that sounds both super constructed and super attractive. And also—I like this part a lot—connected to its own history. When Robbie Furze sings, “It doesn’t have to be/So hard,” switching from falsetto to normal register for that last phrase, I feel myself in the presence of a huge interconnected wave of pop that arrows back not only through the early ’80s but straight into the birth of pop music with a groove, which happened on soul records some time in the late ’60s to early ’70s. The sample here—apparently taken from Memphis soul singer Ann Peebles—is telling. I’m not sure precisely what’s been sampled—horns? strings? vocals?—but that never seems to be the point here in century 21. It’s all about the final collage, and if the collage pulls me in this smartly, I’ll happily go along. Just steer clear of that Auto-Tune.
“Give It Up” is from Future This, the band’s second album, which was released in January on 4AD Records. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.