Some Songs Considered #006: Chance the Rapper, Neon Indian, and Janet Jackson
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (aka Chance the Rapper) – Surf
by Bryce Rudow
I had a nice little essay on Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything” ready to go for today, but as I was inputting this column into WordPress, I got a text from my friend Ben Wormald# comprised of four summer-altering words: “NEW CHANCE RECORD TGIF”
Now to give you some backstory, I have been following Chance the Rapper’s career since the end of 2012, when the momentum of his stellar 10 Day mixtape led to a nice early pickup for “Juice”, the first single off the deservedly-celebrated Acid Rap. I’ve watched him own both a packed club and a festival crowd with a charisma and showmanship that feels superhuman. Ever since I first wrote him about back in February of 2013, I have been as big a Chance fanboy as a somewhat-objective journalist could allow himself to be.
But over the past year or so, it’s been hard for even me to keep up with young Chance. As he frolicked around in post-Acid Rap success, he would pop-up out of nowhere, releasing some one-off demo of a clip with the Social Experiment one week, then starring in a short film about a Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl the next. I was happy to see him enjoying the fruits of his labor, but as a relatively old man when it comes to the music-consuming public, I’ve been absolutely itching for an actual, full-fledged release from Chance and whoever the hell he wants to create stuff with.
Now, finally, we have Surf. And released FOR FREE (on iTunes), no less!
I admittedly am only halfway through the 7th track as I have to hit Publish on this bad boy, and I’m sure I’ll have ALL THE THOUGHTS about this album within a few hours, but for right now let me just assure all you other Chance devotees out there:
It was worth the wait.
Neon Indian – “Annie”
by Charles Bramesco
The denim cutoffs are coming out of hibernation, my bones don’t hurt when I wake up, and the air outside my apartment smells like soil and stale malt liquor instead of just stale malt liquor. This can only mean one thing, which can in turn only mean one other thing: It’s summer, and it’s time to check back in with Neon Indian. And for the first time in what feels like forever, he’s taking our call.
In my crisscrossed synapses, Alan Palomo and his fellow Texans that make up Neon Indian have always been closely linked with the season of warmth and humidity. When I first heard their breakthrough single “Deadbeat Summer,” the lethargic synth waves immediately assigned what might be a random combination of words a very concrete and specific meaning. A deadbeat summer is the sort of night that creeps up on you during the season spent home before your first semester of college, where the night’s plans fizzle out due to a combination of heat and generalized indifference and you and your friends end up in someone’s dimly lit kitchen at one in the morning trying to peer pressure each other into shooting the unspeakably cheap liquor you went to great lengths to procure.
“Polish Girl,” the second single in promotion of 2011’s Era Extraña LP (and the last new material we heard from Neon Indian before the release of “Annie” earlier this week), soundtracked an entirely different sort of summer. The crisp drum-machine hits and light-footed disco swoons of “you, you, do you remember?” suggest a livelier night, where the night air has brought everyone to a cruising altitude, exactly the right amount of drunk. Palomo’s vocals erred closer to glam, dewy theatrics, and the synth grooves had been tightened into place. He was ready for the floor. Then, poof.
And so “Annie” comes to us after four summers of radio silence, in a changed world. Neon Indian’s sound — call it chillwave, if you must, though it has long since crested and divided into other, smaller waves — has been assimilated and all but shat out by the electronic mainstream, his nonchalant grooves tweaked and rebranded by any lanky kid with enough cash for A. the right software or B. a yard-sale keyboard resold at an exponential profit online. Palomo, undoubtedly aware of this, switched the style up.
“Annie” unironically embraces finely-aged (been curdling since the ‘80s, I’d reckon) cheese and in doing so, leaps ahead into the future. Some of the most forward-thinking electronic artists of late have looked back for inspiration. Daft Punk chronoported Random Access Memories in from late-‘70s Los Angeles, and the early rumblings of Disclosure’s ‘90s-styled sophomore record have just begun to quake. The central groove of “Annie” sounds like Neon Indian found it on his latest trip to Jamaica — while waiting in an elevator. It’s tropically earthy yet artificial and plastic, like chewy candy treated with chemicals to taste like fruit. And to be clear, if you don’t see a comparison to Starburst as a good thing, then you have my deepest sympathies for your inability to embrace life’s joys. Be real, be fake, be cool, whatever. It’s gonna be a good summer.
Janet Jackson – “When I Think of You”
by Julian Kimble
Today is the final Friday in May, a month I’ll always associate with college graduations. Granted, I graduated from college at the end of the last decade, but certain times of the year, and certain songs, will always take you back to that period. I was at Rock Creek Social Club’s interpretation of the day party, Grilled Cheese Social, earlier this month, and Jerome Baker lll played one of my favorite Janet Jackson songs: “When I Think of You.” For a moment, I was 20 years old again.
I discovered this gem from her 1986 breakthrough, Control, long before I got to college. It’s been a favorite since my childhood days, looming in the background as my mother played DJ while I begrudgingly did Saturday morning chores. But the real reason “When I Think Of You” presses my nostalgia button is because it was featured prominently on a VH1 special that came out while I was an undergrad.
In 2006, VH1 organized a list of the 100 Greatest Teen Stars. It included some obvious choices (Molly Ringwald was number one; no surprise there), the girls we’ll always be in love with (Lisa Bonet, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Christina Applegate), and people you probably forgot about (A.J. Langer, best known for her role as Rayanne Graff on My So Called Life). For some of the segments, a genius over at VH1 elected to use the instrumental for “When I Think of You” as background music.
After spending an entire Saturday scrutinizing the list’s order while doing homework, I couldn’t get the song out of my head. I remember meeting up with my friends at one of my alma mater’s basketball games later that evening and surveying the gym, absorbing all of the scenery. The stands resembled a mosaic composed of various shades of brown: a collection of young, ambitious minorities all pursuing the same goal. All of my friends were in the same place; none of us were concerned with children, mortgages, or year-end reviews. It struck me that all of this was temporary — we would never be that young again, and no matter how hard we tried to duplicate it, never again would we all be present in that moment.
Now, thanks to some Pavlovian magic, hearing “When I Think of You” makes me reflect on the time when I lived for Saturday night — when the only thing that mattered was getting into something to keep as much distance as possible between that instant and Monday’s first class.
The version of “When I Think of You” that appears in the Julien Temple-directed video is a dance remix of the song, but I prefer the original. Above that, I love when she performs it live, because Janet is a phenomenal performer, and “When I Think of You” is one of those ‘80s, feel-good songs that you kind of have to do the Roger Rabbit or some two-step variation to.
Janet, who just turned 49 earlier this month, is in the midst of another comeback. That means another world tour, which means another opportunity for her to do a medley featuring “When I Think of You.” If that doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t mind Tinashe, a young Janet disciple, randomly dancing to it during one of her shows. But in the interim, I’ll settle for Jerome or another DJ playing it as part of an ‘80s tangent during one of their sets.
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