Song of the summer

Click here to download “Wham City” by Dan Deacon.

Or click here to listen to it in two parts on his MySpace page.

You can also click here to buy Dan Deacon’s Spiderman of the Rings.

Once you’ve listened to “Wham City” at least once (all 12 minutes of it!), but preferably more than once, come back and read this post. Then really do go buy the album.

Prelude: Bridge run

Starting with our move from the seaport up to SoHo last fall, my morning run routine has shifted slightly. I used to head back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge; for a longer run I’d add a loop around the triangular tip of the island. But now my bridge options have multiplied, and so I’ve taken to a loop that begins with a run down to Canal street, east across the Manhattan Bridge, through a small patch of Brooklyn on the outskirts of DUMBO, then back across the Brooklyn Bridge, right on Center, and back toward SoHo.

looking down from floor 110

Like Brooke Maury, I run to music and think about the music I run to. A month or two ago, I started listening to Dan Deacon’s frenentic new album, the beautifully named Spiderman of the Rings, just about every time I made this run. The timing was close to perfect, from the presiding trickster spirit of Woody Woodpecker on the opening track, all the way to intensifying diatonic scales on the album’s closer (is the Sol-Fa System named after another galaxy?), which would carry me through a final sprint into a cool down when I hit my block. Somewhere along the way, though, I became fixated on track 3, “Wham City,” the album’s clear standout number — and what for me quickly solidified its status as my song of summer 2007. That song clung like brand new 501s to the timing and experience of running the Manhattan Bridge. I liked it so much I started playing it again when I’d cross the other bridge on my way back.

Here are the song’s crucial moments, matched with where you’d encounter them if you were running (at my idiosyncratic pace, of course) across the Manhattan Bridge toward Brooklyn:

Initial drone and xylophones — You’re on the Manhattan Bridge pedestrian/bike onramp, running uphill as you begin your ascent over Chinatown’s eastern expansion. A couple old ladies have prepared dishes of eggs and rice and set them out with incense near the entrance to the bridge. Is this an interaction with the dead? Are they peddling the food to pedestrian commuters?

1:51 — Tempo change/more aggressive percussion and keyboards: you’re in the air over Chinatown, admiring rooftop and fire escape graffiti.

2:24 — Appalachian chorus, joined by bass keyboards: running over a baseball field on the edge of Chinatown, you’re approaching the river, still moving uphill, which fits well with the building drama as the song accumulates layers.

3:43 — dance music hits right when you leave land behind: running to this over the water is exhilarating. You admire tattoos on hipster bikers. Some mornings, you catch a whiff of some pedestrian’s wake-and-bake.

7:00 — fade, slower tempo, followed by Carribou-esque drum major percussion and, eventually, a vocoder chorus: You’ve peaked and are running downhill toward Brooklyn.

9:21 — Appalachian chorus returns. This is what you listen to while you come down the Brooklyn side, running in the air over DUMBO, admiring rooftop tennis courts belonging to new, soulless apartment buildings. If you live in a building taller than the bridges in this neighborhood, shouldn’t it technically be called something like ABOMBO? (Above the Manhattan Bridge Overpass?) 

10:24 — Everything drops out except for the Appalachian chorus. You grin at the lyrics while you run down the steps and pause at a traffic light; the keyboard accompaniment resumes and the song ends as you cross Jay Street and run east toward Tillary. Listen to track 4, a gorgeous, electronic chime-laden comedown. Then repeat “Wham City” when you come to the Brooklyn Bridge onramp and make your way home.

First variation: Tahoe weekend

Imagine my pleasure to find, a couple weeks ago on the beautiful shores of pre-conflagration Tahoe — where the water, the sky, and the new pine needles alike take on a fluorescent, almost psychedelic glow — that my good friends and fellow wedding guests Trixie Honeycups and Farrell Fawcett have also been fixated on “Wham City.” One highlight of that terrific wedding weekend, ranking right up there with outdoor lakeside yoga and the Dave B-curated dance party, was listening to all 12 minutes of “Wham City” with Trixie, a two-way splitter allowing us to listen simultaneously through two sets of phones: laughing at the giddy earnestness of the chorus, staring at the snow-capped peaks across the water, watching the breeze push the pines and shake the light-shimmering leaves on the quaking aspens.

shimmery light

Second variation: proposal for a Broadway-inspired indie rock animated music video

Because clearly the giddy earnestness of the chorus signals there’s something a little bit Broadway to Dan Deacon.

On repeated listens in recent weeks, running across bridges, on the shimmery shores of Lake Tahoe, and on the road north to Montreal, I’ve developed a narrative to accompany this song. I’m throwing it out there in hopes that some industrious animator somewhere who also loves this song (enough to google it, say) will take me seriously on this proposal.

To me, the song is fundamentally a duet. One side belongs to the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (Listen to the background warble around 1:05 and especially to the bass keyboards at 2:07.) The other side belongs to the Appalachian chorus, which I imagine as comprising all the indie rock bands with animal names: Deerhoof, Swan Lake, Wolf Eyes, Wolf Mother, Wolf Parade, Grizzly Bear, Sea Wolf, Deerhunter, Guitar Wolf, Band of Bees, Frog Eyes, Carribou, and the like. Hell, throw in Los Lobos and Mastodon and Dinosaur Jr. and Super Furry Animals for good measure. Def Leppard even. And Animal Collective for abstracting the trend so efficiently. Oh, and I should note that they’re all wearing animal pajamas with footies, just like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.

what makes the red man red?

When the Appalachian chorus of indie rock animal bands initially comes in, they’re marching across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan, preparing to do battle with the spaceship, which is hovering over the WTC site. (Sure, they really should be marching in from Williamsburg, and double sure, “Wham City” supposedly refers to Deacon’s hometown of Baltimore, but go with me here.)

Suddenly, right when the dance music hits at 3:43, the spaceship pulls back and unleashes this beat. The indie rockers have no choice but to put down their weapons and dance. A closeup to the bubble on top of the spaceship (a little more “My Favorite Martian” than Close Encounters in this scene) reveals that the dude flying the spaceship is, of course, Wayne Coyne.

 Christmas on Mars? Someday, maybe.

Throughout the dance sequence, the duet takes place between Wayne and a couple of the indie kids who’ve brought ham radios, which freak out a little while they try to make contact.

7:04 — song break. They’ve made contact. Wayne realizes these kids want to fight the spaceship. An entire army of spaceships now appears over lower Manhattan. But instead of controlling the animal army with dance music, which was a little too easy, Wayne brings them back down a little and goes for their heartstrings by singing a love song in the language of Atari, Speak and Spell, and Neil Young’s Transformer. The drums in this section are provided by the first animal to flip sides: Carribou, conducting my high school marching band. 9:19 — The kids sing back. They no longer want to fight. We enjoy a perfectly blended duet between spaceship and chorus until, at 10:23, the kids take the whole thing themselves, explaining themselves, putting themselves in the service of the army of aliens, which has come, of course, not to obliterate us, but to move us to love:

There is a mountain of snow, up past the big glen
we have a castle enclosed, there is a fountain
out of the fountain flows gold, into a huge hand
that hand is held by a bear who had a sick band!

of ghosts and cats
and pigs and bats
with brooms and bats
and wigs and rats
who play big dogs like queens and kings
and everyone plays drums and sings

about big sharks,
sharp swords,
beast bees,
bees, Lord!
sweet cakes,
mace lakes,

o ma ma ma ma ma

Lather, rinse, repeat. Put your hand in the hand of the bear. Dance across bridges. And have a great summer.

32 responses to “Song of the summer”

  1. Lane says:

    “of pre-conflagration Tahoe”

    yeah, wow, that was wierd wasn’t it. Think of all the smoke that would have wrecked the view of that lake. Or all the other bad possibilites. Talk about good timing.

  2. Dave says:

    This song and this imagined animation are sooooo great. Marcel Dzama needs to get his squad of unshaven assistants to work on it immediately.

  3. andrej says:

    this song and album are worth our imagination!

  4. LP says:

    When I first started listening to the song, before reading the post, I wasn’t really drawn in. About halfway through part 1, I couldn’t wait anymore – I started reading the post, and envisioning the run through New York. This changed everything about the song for me, and for the listening, I followed along in your text, Bryan.

    I find this is often the case with me and new music: I don’t immediately take to new things unless they’ve been recommended and / or given shape and context by others. Most of my favorite albums are those that have been given to me by good friends, or partners. I don’t know what it is about my own habits of listening / hearing that makes this true, but I often wish I had the gift that so many TGW’ers have: of loving the exploration of new music, finding delight in new sounds and aural landscapes as a regular pursuit.

  5. e Tan ate your cookies. says:

    baked.

    oh my god.

  6. LP says:

    ps: Great post, Bryan. I love the way the animated rock opera seems to have presented itself so fully in your mind. Also, having seen you and Trixie with big smiles on your faces while listening on the splitter, it’s nice to share retroactively in that moment!

  7. lane says:

    I’m sorry but this song is too complicated to be a “song of the summer”

    Didn’t we all learn something from Roundabout back in 72?

  8. bryan says:

    lane: you need to be having more dance parties out there in CA!

    yes, this is a complicated song of the summer — it’s this year’s version of 2004’s “chris michaels” by fiery furnaces. when i say “song of the summer” i don’t mean what you hear most on the radio — even if *that* sounds great, like last year’s “crazy.” i mean the song most likely to make your friends stop talking, set down their glasses and shake their butts!

  9. e Tan ate your cookies. says:

    just sing along with the chorus lane. i’ve been doing it for the past 30 min

    wouldn’t this make for a great cover song. richard hawley… yes, he would make this song sound so nice.

  10. bryan says:

    i should just let #9 rest my case.

    but i wanted to add — roundabout’s not a bad comparison. it’s that kind of song. it’s the song you can’t get out of your head. we’ve been singing it in the car driving around boston.

    one more thing: dan deacon is playing at mccarren pool on july 8th — with OCDJ! I wish I could be there. dave and nathan had better report. i can only imagine a whole pool party of dirtie indie kids chanting along with this chorus.

    thanks for comments, dave, lp, and andrej. yes: this song is worth your imagination!

  11. bryan says:

    please watch this

    i’m not sure the girl in the yellow W dress actually knows the song, but it’s fun anyway. hold on for the multiple huzzahs.

  12. Lane says:

    this song is not dancable.

    However, when I made that last smart ass comment I googled Roundabout to get the date right and found myself listening to it and thinking, “wow this song is actually kind of cool.”

    Anyway, I’m just goofing off. The thing that has become apararent about Califonia is we are reminded why we moved to New York.

    THERE’S NOBODY HERE!

    We see people off in the distance from time to time, but basically we never talk to anyone.

    It’s strange. But fun too, for a couple months anyway.

  13. farrell fawcett says:

    Bryan,

    I fucking love this! you are a warped genius. i’d love to see your vision made real as a rock opera or music video. if only you worked in film. and HELL YES, you can dance to this (or atleast parts of it.) And although i know you don’t read pitchfork very often Bryan, my first exposure to the song was from their forcast section back in May when they only posted an 8 minute section of the song. Until the album came out a month later I had no idea what they were saying (being robbed on forkcast of the last minutes when the choral lyrics finally become clear). A week later that NYT review of his show in Brooklyn back in May made me shit my pants with envy (imagining our young-intrepid-carpe-diem-cooler-than-fuck always-in-the-know Nathan was in attendance.) I almost posted something about Dan Deacon to this list back then just to see if anyone else was passing their whole day obsessively humming that chorus sequence. Twasnt till tahoe that i realized Bryan had the caught the same case of wham city fever. Yes.

    This post makes me wish i were a runner living in NYC. God bless you mad professor.

  14. farrell fawcett says:

    The original pitchfork post:

    To an outside observer, Wham City might have seemed like just a Baltimore loft space, like any number of punk houses across the country where kids squat, scribble on the walls, and throw noise-rock shows. But it was more like a surrealist collective crossed with a dance party, something closer to the grand tradition of Jim Henson and Hugo Ball and Club MTV rather than Black Flag or even Lightning Bolt. Wham City’s Dan Deacon is rightfully poised as the group’s first member to make a real splash outside of Baltimore, and while his music can often sound like Jason Forrest’s spastic breakcore if Forrest decided to start crooning in a helium-addled screech, “Wham City” is Deacon’s big leap forward. In it you can hear hints of all sorts of hipster-approved hypnotic beats, from Neu!’s motorik to the minimalist repetitions of Steve Reich’s mallets and Terry Riley’s keyboards and Kraftwerk’s synthesizers. But as a sing-along (or chant-along in this case, one of the catchiest of the year) it’s also bursting with a joyous feeling that’s familiar more from old Sesame Street records than Wire-friendly electronica. If robots made this, they’re toy robots, and if this is noise, it’s the friendliest noise imaginable. In conversation, Deacon mentioned that an abridged “single edit” of “Wham City” makes no sense, and I agree. Wham City is a feeling, and the 12-minute tribute– which will be included on his forthcoming album– is the only fitting response to a group of kids who bring joy to a city that often needs it more than most.

  15. jeremy says:

    fabulous post, bw. we missed you at record club last night. this post almost made up for it…

  16. trixie honeycups says:

    hear hear.
    bryan, i loved this post. i just hope that someone sends dan an email to alert him to it (dave?)
    i am quite certain he would appreciate it. maybe he’ll start attending our parties.
    i read your post early this am at work, kind of rushed, without time to listen to the track while reading. but i felt it. it was better than a double espresso.
    i have to say listening to this song late tonight with fawcett while we reread the post and he wrote his comment that i also have to disagree with lane on the danceability issue. just let it fill you up and move you lane, you will be thrashing around.
    bryan, listening to this with you was a highlight for me in a weekend filled with highlights.
    bless you for your vision about this song. wayne should also be notified that he was involved. he would be thrilled.
    you are a mad scientist unrivaled.
    glad to know ya.
    xo forevah
    trixie

  17. Lane says:

    Yeah yeah O.K. a Bryan hipster lovefest.

    And here’s to Bry, one of the very few people to whom I could say (in reaction to this song)

    “Oh sure, maybe Scott Williams’s song of the summer”

    and he knows exactly what I mean.

    nice

  18. lisa t. says:

    i listened to the song (pretty good), read the post and listened again (getting better), then later watched the youtube link. watching the circle sing the chorus with and around Dan clinched it for me; i wanna go to Wham City.

    btw, did a bit more google search and saw that he played the song at a tiny music/art space in echo park called pehrspace. johns music performance duo ing played there recently too! oh, if only these two were on the same bill…

    i’ll vote: definitely danceable and no doubt a song of the summer.

  19. bryan says:

    wow, thanks for the love, philly! list t too! i haven’t read the pitchfork on purpose. i should add, too, that i first heard DD not on scott’s show but on liz berg’s. she raved about the live performances.

    brian turner was plugging him last summer. Here’s a list of everyone’s who’s played stuff from Spiderman in the last little while.

    Even you, Lane, must admit that’s an impressive roster.

  20. Lane says:

    Well O.K. but he’s still no Johnny Boy!

    http://www.myspace.com/johnnyboyuk

  21. oh, dear. i’m afraid that won’t do. johnny boy has only one good song and that one wore out its welcome fast.

    but i’ll give you that it was a good song while it lasted. i actually bought the CD single so i could play it at record club. did anyone ever see johnny boy live? i can’t imagine they were the all-ecompassing spectacle mr deacon puts on.

    wham city is like sonic crack. i’m at a point where i have to listen to it multiple times a day or i can’t stand it.

  22. Lane says:

    hey come on. I love that song. And in my experience no one single song got as wide spread airplay as that one. It’s funny actually, it’s a good song but a little . . . regular. I don’t know how it ended up hooking as many DJ’s as it did. But it certainly had a moment.

    But that’s the past.

    Here’s to DD and his crazy song! The summer of 07 is a memorable one indeed!

  23. autumn says:

    I started this post yesterday at work just before I was to leave for the day. I decided I’d head home and listen from the good speakers. once home, I was caught up in other things and it was just this morning while reading the NY times in bed that I returned. I did as I was told. I listened to the twelve minutes of wonder. intrigued, I purchased the full length CD. I had a passing thought about Mike Kelly taking ecstasy at a indie rave. I listened again while reading this article. Now, fully awake with the fan spinning in the window and the sun casting bright shapes across the other room I was propelled out of bed. Coffee on. Comments clicked. I know there will be another play to further my day just as soon as I press add. I agree in full with Trixie about the fever and for the Music Club kids out here in LA…it was the answer to my 24 hour meditation from yesterday so check your email later for more on this months theme.

    thanks Bryan, you continually beam greatness.

  24. autumn says:

    you know, I read my comment in the little window but didn’t catch that error. perhaps it’s better…propelled I was. although I may not be so fully awake. now or then.

  25. hey autumn — thanks for that cool article on the link. i had no idea they actually wore animal PJs on stage! that idea popped into my head probably via the association to wayne coyne, but it certainly seems appropriate. man, i’d love to see that brooklyn show coming up.

    what mistake did you make?

  26. autumn says:

    just the mixing past, present and future in one sentence. I blame sleepiness, but I fear I may suffer chronic abuse. I think the spaceship already got to me.

    p.s. third time through and I’m praying for a sweaty DD show in LA sometime later this summer.

  27. Beth W says:

    wow yeah, I like this DD youtube video.

  28. brooke says:

    Wow Bryan, I love the minute-by-minute description of both the song and the run. I don’t know New York well enough to really imagine the route, though. On that note, you might enjoy this awesome website I’ve been using to clock the distance on various runs.

  29. […] Song of the summer On repeated listens in recent weeks, running across bridges, on the shimmery shores of Lake Tahoe, and on the road north to Montreal, I?ve developed a narrative to accompany this song. I?m throwing it out there in hopes that some … […]

  30. wayne says:

    I love the Appalachian choir’s frantic listing (starting at 9:35). I imagine it accompanies peak runner’s high. And in the end Wayne comes in peace!

    Tomorrow (7/7/7) marks the 1st anniversary of Syd Barrett’s death, and I can’t resist comparing Deacon’s Spiderman with Barrett’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Genre name: trippy childhood? Barrett’s 40 year old classic was named after his favorite children’s book, Wind in the Willows. Barrett had his gnome, space flights, cats. Deacon has his Woody Woodpecker, Batman, ghosts and cats …

    How about Interstellar Overdrive for the Wham City of 1967? (or Astronomy Domine if you want something off Piper with words).

    Song of the Summer 1967? Piper was not released until August, a little late. However, the single “See Emily Play”, an amazing song, did become popular in the UK during the summer of 67. In any case, how can you declare a Song of Summer for 1967? It was such an amazing time for music. Example: Sg. Pepper’s was released on June 1 (It was forty years ago today …). Barrett, however, is the clear choice for the DD of 67.

  31. E. Tan says:

    Composition of the Summer

    August 15th – 19th
    Kaffe Matthews: Viewing 1
    11:30am to 3pm daily, At the World Financial Center (http://www.worldfinancialcenter.com/)

    Viewing_1 is a work for headphones for the World Financial Plaza, New York City. Wireless headphones are distributed from a kiosk at the site, available to anyone who wishes to listen. The headphones broadcast sounds based on sonic triggers from the location, referencing clouds of passing horns and strings. Viewing is inspired by looking up in cities, made by Matthews using a walking and mapping technique she is developing for composition from her recent “Sonic Bed” explorations. Now in residence in New York City, she is recording and mapping daily routes throughout the area, creating a score based on site-specific sounds.

  32. Dave says:

    Here’s a cover of Wham City. It may or may not have been done by Great Whatsit contributors.

    http://myspace.com/danpriest