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Charcoal grill, summer's last stand by Kris Wade Matthews

5 Songs for Labor Day, Summer’s Last Stand

written by: on September 5, 2011

Labor Day. An introduction to fall. The onset of cool nights. Summer’s last stand. Hang on to summer just a little bit longer with these five tracks:

“She Was a Vision” – Active Child, Curtis Lane EP (Vagrant)

While New Wave and choir music are two genres that, upon first glance, probably shouldn’t go together, leave it to former choir boy Pat Grossi to instantly change your mind. On “She Was a Vision”, Grossi effortlessly blends the two seemingly disparate genres with the hand of an electronic music veteran and the devout intensity of a weary clergyman. Icy handclaps bounce off of Grossi’s angelic vocals, which reverberate across layer after layer of eternal sonic depths. “Don’t go!” he cries over a somber organ note. The songwriting, which largely serves as an instrument to bring Grossi ever closer to the Divine, concerns a man who has encountered a supernatural presence, only to be abandoned by it. Though searching for redemption and transcendence is certainly tired thematic territory, Grossi makes it new again with his otherworldly delivery.

“French Exit” – The Antlers, Burst Apart (Frenchkiss) 

From the first guitar lick, it’s hard to believe that this is the same band that broke your heart two years ago with an album about terminal illness. The epic crescendos, whispered vocals, and sparse instrumentation of the emotionally devastating Hospice have given way to a decidedly more upbeat mood on ambitious follow-up Burst Apart. Energetic keyboards and groovy bass lines carry a bolder and revitalized Peter Silberman. “Come on,” he beckons. This isn’t to say that Silberman has gone optimistic overnight; “Everyone I loved kept me tangled in my heart,” he notes. As the song gracefully unfolds over his compelling falsetto, tasteful experimental flourishes flicker and weave throughout. Though the songwriting may not suggest that Silberman has moved on from the events of Hospice entirely, this track reveals the handicraft of an artist who is ever moving forward.


“Amor Fati” – Washed Out, Within and Without (Sub Pop)

Coming to a Gap clothing store near you, “Amor Fati” finds Ernest Greene at the height of his powers. Pulling from the no-holds barred bliss of earlier favorites such as “New Theory” and “Feel It All Around, this Within and Without highlight takes off the ground running and never looks back. Chillwave still exists in this dojo, but its presence has lost its prominence. With Sub Pop behind him, Greene opts for bigger budget sounds outside his MacBook. While his signature presence of shimmering synths continue to provide framework, organic drums and the colorful presence of a guitar add dimension and warmth to the glacial atmosphere of past Washed Out tracks. Even Greene’s ghostly vocals sound muscular where they once sounded limp and detached. “Amor Fati” is a summer jam, plain and simple. (For those of you who actually know when autumn begins, the season doesn’t start until tomorrow.)

“Measurements” – James Blake, James Blake (A&M)

On “Measurements”, the listener does not merely find the bare-bones bravado of reinterpreted Feist single “Limit to Your Love”, or the gorgeous digital soundscapes that paint “The Wilhelm Scream.” Here, James Blake mends the two approaches into a brilliant, cohesive whole. Long before Blake commanded the shuffling bleeps, erratic clicks, and buzzing whirs that would one day become his trademark sound, he was a classically trained pianist. And it shows; this touching album closer takes a carefully arranged set of notes and runs away with your heartstrings. Interwoven with gentle chiptune minimalism and a collective of vocal layers that can only be described as modern gospel, Blake leaves the listener with a song that is as spiritual as any dusty hymn you’re likely to hear on a Sunday morning.

Measurements // James-Blake by Lucy vs. the Globe

“Beth / Rest” – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)

Is there anything that hasn’t already been written about this song? Infamous for its ability to turn off even the most rabid Bon Iver devotee, this controversial closer to Justin Vernon’s critically acclaimed Bon Iver is rife with Bruce Hornsby-flavored keyboards, Steve Winwood-inspired production, and searing sax sections. Paradoxical in its ability to evoke eighties nostalgia while sounding altogether timeless, this aggravating modern classic is the perfect background music for your Labor Day cookout. It’s probably the only song that will capture the attention of your relatives, but for reasons that you may not initially expect. “For me, I didn’t think about it that much when I made [Beth / Rest],” Vernon recently told NPR. “When I made it, I was like, ‘I love this song. I really needed to write this song.’” Cheese or no cheese, Beth / Rest is a labor of love.