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 2014.
— the editors of the Talkhouse
Almost everything about the summer is fucked. Suntanning is fucked — I like my skin to remain at its natural shade of “pasty with vampiric undertones.” Swimming is fucked — a deeply ingrained fear of humidity, originating from when my grandfather called me “ragamuffin” every time my hair looked marginally curly, keeps me out of the pool if there’s even a remote chance of me seeing any person I know. Birthday? Fucked. My mom popped me out in July, so I grew up celebrating my “special day” without many (or any) friends. Not even summer lovin’ is up my alley; once flings progress to the handholding stage, they seem too futile and temporal to chase. (I once justified the dissolution of a two-week summer camp relationship by blaming the split on the boy’s newly acquired mohawk.)
So I don’t have the sunniest personality, metaphorically or literally. But I can get very down with summer bangerz. Most of my musical digestion in the hot season is dedicated to Top 40 and r&b; I like pop songs, whether they’re saccharine, twisted, simple, silly, repetitive, dark or vacant…. Actually, the more vacant they are, the better, and if a hooky song is dark and vacant (see: Tinashe’s “2 On”) I will listen to it exclusively. For days.
This summer, the thing I have been listening to exclusively for days is Bluffing. Though it presents as an early-Thingy-meets-earlier Raincoats guitar-rock outfit, NYC four-piece Bluffing is, by virtue of its mission statement, a pop songwriting project: no songs are longer than two minutes. In the course of a 10-song, quarter-of-an-hour album, Bluffing manage to sound saccharine, twisted, simple, silly, repetitive, dark and (less often) vacant — the whole thing is very fun and very hooky and very brilliant.
My poison of choice is “Sheltered,” a slow(er) jam that basically checks off every item on my laundry list of devices I like in songs. We got your good ol’ vocal line that jumps from falsetto to higher falsetto. We got your full-band assault that kicks in out of nowhere after a quiet, contemplative first verse. And that full-band shit doesn’t relent. We got your dissonant guitar riff punctuating an all-oohs chorus, which runs right up against the verse. And the lyrics — these lyrics are like Evil Dead meets The Notebook. A song that opens with “Little girls come out and hold me down/I’m sacrificed among your offerings” and ends with “You’re sheltered, by the way”? Let me get a bite of that, please.
“Sheltered” sounds exuberant, even triumphant. But when you plunge into its deeper level, there’s a narrative full of helplessness, inertia, confusion. The song celebrates until it starts to wonder why it’s celebrating. It’s showcasing a hurt mingled with a melodic optimism, which is the best kind of hurt (and the most honest kind of optimism). Like getting a painful sunburn you know will fade into a really bitching tan. Not that I know what that’s like.