Songs of the Summer 2015: Adam Schatz (Landlady) Talks Shamir’s “Call It Off”

It's really hot out, and Scott the Minivan is turning into a swamp, but when our writer hears "Call It Off," his body dances and his soul pops.

Every summer, there’s that song — the song that defines those sunny days and balmy nights, the one you’ll forever associate with a specific time and place. This week, Talkhouse writers talk their song of the summer of 2015.
— the editors of the Talkhouse

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There’s a problem with the car, a 2004 Toyota Sienna that’s been around the country a few times since I got it from a family in Queens who never drove it. The car has a name, Scott. And he’s leaking A/C condensation all over his floor on the front passenger side. This has been happening for a few days now, and the whole scene has gotten a bit marshy. I hope that tomorrow a mechanic in St. Louis can clear the clog, drain the thing and dry the guy out, but for today I must consider a fan-boat conversion to get through the damp reality that is now home for my band and me.

In childhood, desperation was relieved by the dawn of summer itself, a season of freedom that couldn’t come quickly enough and disappeared too soon. But after we age out of school days, the hot months don’t hold quite the same release. Once we’re burdened with responsibilities, once work doesn’t slow down as the mercury races up the Fahrenheit rungs, once we recognize that the gradually increasing heat is a result of our self-imposed global slow-cook, then the calendar pages alone can’t bring the joy.

Stereotypically, the ocean does it proper: proximity to the waves, head in the salt, and hermit crabs beneath toes give the release that had once been granted by the opening of the doors on the final day of lower or higher learning. That’ll do the trick ’til the lights go out. But you can’t always be near the ocean, and some people probably hate it there anyway. As we push through Arizona and Texas and Arkansas, the ocean smells one hundred years in the past and my song of the summer is the only tidal pool (besides the one growing below Scott’s floorboards) in my present tense.

The introduction of the song bends the space around it, with a pitched-down voice spelling out that it’s not time to get started — it’s time to call it off. Enter the punchy drums and focused synthesizer, a moving vehicle that didn’t need to start its own engine. It all just happens. I want it to keep happening, and it does.

I forget about my mobile swamp and I start dancing. This is my reaction every time I press play on “Call It Off” by Shamir, an increasingly frequent activity. I am made a remora on its fin as the jam courses through the ocean I didn’t know was there.

Being moved matters the most. That sort of definitive statement may be subjective and off-putting, but for me it comes easily with the tunnel vision that heat tends to bring about. The defining trait of the song of the summer is that no matter where you are, it can be the sand that won’t come out of your hair, the reminder of the bigger and the smaller, and the ultimate catalyst for physical and mental gratification; despite 100-degree weather, the body dances and the soul pops. “Call It Off” does this for me. The song collects my molecules and the juices they float in and brings them all into focus. It feels like magic.

I can’t technically explain what makes me love this song. Technical love is a boring love anyway. But these synth sounds do move me. There’s a cut to them, repeating with force but not assaulting with abrasion. The drums match with a punch, and the voice of Shamir cruises throughout. His voice is imperfect and doubled on top of itself — at times sexy, at times alien. It pops out from the void that Auto-Tune usually fills on the radio this time of year.

And the subject matter is imperfect. This is a break-up song, a road danced by many an artist since the dawn of time. Shamir is not even 21, and starting from such a routine place could potentially take things straight down to bland-town. But there is magic here, and it lies in the honesty. Even though he’s young, Shamir’s voice in this song ends up as the advisor. And yet there isn’t a cockiness there, the cockiness I know I had when I was his age, thinking I knew more than I knew. I don’t know what Shamir thinks he knows, but when I hear him sing “Call It Off,” I don’t detect arrogance or even an unnecessary forcefulness. He’s just telling us, “It’s time.”

Shamir is from Las Vegas, the promised land of hopes where sheen meets imperfection. And on my song of the summer, those elements collide and get me through it all. I don’t expect my words to convince you, but this experiment might. Buy the song and put it on your phone, iPod, Pono, Zune, Starbucks Gift Card, MP3 CD, CD-RW, Walkman, Talkboy, Betamax or whatever you use to save you from the circumstances at hand. Then walk out into the heat. And stub your toe. Or spill coffee on yourself. Or get bitten by a crab. Or step on a rake. Or hold in a sneeze. Or fight with your mom. Or pay $13 for a bad sandwich. Or realize you can’t afford a $13 sandwich. Or pass out in the desert and have a scorpion waltz into your mouth. Or have water fill up your minivan. And in those crucial moments, when you realize it’s time to call it off, press play and get moved.

Adam Schatz is a musician. His band Landlady has just released the album Upright Behavior on the Hometapes record label. His saxophone and keyboard sounds have appeared on albums by Vampire Weekend, Those Darlins, Hospitality, Sleigh Bells and Quilt. His previous published works consist solely of a column about donuts and not-donuts for Brightest Young Things. You can follow him on Twitter here and hear Landlady here. (Photo credit: Sasha Arutyunova.)