Talkhouse Contributing Writer Norman Brannon is a musician, writer, and educator in Brooklyn, New York. Best known for his work in bands like Texas Is the Reason, New End Original, 108, Shelter, and Ressurection, Brannon has also maintained a steady, albeit whimsical career in music criticism, worked as a TV presenter on a gay cable network, and has been recognized by his music-loving students while working as a university lecturer. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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
A few years ago, I heard this track called “Bury it There” by a London songwriter named Kimberly Anne and I went on one of those benders where literally nothing else interested me. I listened to that song with the kind of reverence you save for Beatles songs or Werner Herzog films. It had literally everything I look for in a song, not the least of which was Kimberly Anne’s own voice — weathered but not worn, elegiac in its approach, but cautiously optimistic. For me, this is a salient point: pop music is all about contrasts. I seek it out to be miserably happy or happily miserable.
I’ve always felt that disco and house music were incredible vessels for this kind of hybridization of sentiment, so much so that its proper execution is almost bizarre. The lyrics to Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (1976) shouldn’t really start any party. Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” (1984) is borderline morose in its self-pity. And have you ever actually read the lyrics to Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” (1990)? This is a song that starts “I’m tired of giving my love and getting nowhere” and somehow ends with a room full of people smiling and waving their arms in the air. That all of these songs are anthems is perhaps more telling about their listeners than their performers. We might call house music nights “parties,” but if we’re being honest, these are spaces in which, historically speaking, we grieve as much as we celebrate. When you think of the incredible conditions under which disco and house music first emerged (or at least truly crystallized) — in some of America’s harshest inner cities, often among poor, young and queer people of color, decimated by racism, Reaganomics, repression and eventually AIDS — then you likely understand why these songs are more often than not bittersweet. The club is where we are free to be, but the reality of life outside will not stay outside for long.
With the so-called ’90s house revival nearing its peak, it is perhaps inevitable that we be inundated with unnecessary cover versions of club classics before summer ends, and I am anticipating some truly awful stuff. But Sam Feldt’s take on “Show Me Love” — with Kimberly Anne on vocals — smartly dodges that category altogether, and that’s largely because this interpretation understands the stark emotional contrasts of house music. If Robin S. set out to sing the happiest song ever about being unloved, then Feldt and Anne are determined to set the balance. Their version is more like some kind of Balearic break-up story, with Kimberly Anne’s delivery as affecting and nuanced as it was recently on “Bury It There.” This is not the song you’re going to hear at 1:00 AM when the molly kicks in and you start feeling like love is the law of the universe. No, it’s the song the DJ plays at 7:00 AM when you realize your date left with someone else, you’ve got no one to call who wants to hear about it, and the bouncers want you to get the fuck out.
When we talk about “songs of the summer,” we generally talk about songs designed to make us feel good or remind us of that picture you posted on Instagram that got over 100 likes. But I think that’s a mistake. In my life, summer has meant a lot of things — counting the days until school starts to the point where you can’t enjoy your days off, being miserable on tour in a van with no air conditioning, dealing with body image issues at the beach, always wishing you wore an undershirt because your shirt is soaked in sweat — but it has never, ever been about having the time of my life. Truthfully, it’s about time the other half got our own song of the summer.