With the Hummingbird Rotation, we hope to give folks a closer look at the songs that get the most play at Hummingbird HQ. This installment, hear about Dawes, Silver, and Our Brother George.
We’re All Gonna Die // Dawes
I’m on a bit of a mellow downtempo indie kick right now. “Dusty Eyes” by Bedouine, is a wonderful example of the style I’m talking about. A more modernized, genre-fluid example is “We’re All Gonna Die” by Dawes, a mournful, orchestral ballad sitting somewhere between folk, rock, and indie that I promise is (slightly) less of a bummer than the title suggests.
Dawes is clever with how they use sound to articulate emotion. The droning piano bass note in the beginning, so low a tone you can barely hear its pitch, is wonderfully eerie and dark. From this first gloomy note, the tone for the song is set.
Dawes reinforces this tone by juxtaposing heavily distorted sounds with spare, “cleaner” backgrounds. The juxtaposition of sweet, bright violins with grungy, dark, distorted guitar sounds in the breakdown at 3:50 adds dimension and nuance to what otherwise might be a depressing mope session.
Right before the chorus, at 1:23, there’s another gorgeous instance of this contrast. The arrangement fades, clearing the way for a solitary high-distortion electric guitar chord to ring out. The lurching, sputtering sustain, emphasized by the empty space around it, has a uniquely lonely, immersive quality that’s easier felt than explained.
“We’re All Gonna Die” features — surprise surprise — no shortage of morbidity. Despite its title, the existential nihilism has a kind of nonchalant, breezy angle to it. Rather than using mortality as an excuse to give up on everything, it becomes a way to not worry about stuff so much. It’s not “we’re all gonna die” with a wailing, desperate sadness, but rather a little shrug and a knowing grin. Oh, haven’t you heard? We’re all going to die.
Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang // Silver
After “We’re All Gonna Die,” I think we’d enjoy a nice palette cleanser. To pull a whiplash-inducing 180 with the genre and mood, I offer you all Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang,” a gem of late-70s disco-pop.
Before we get any further — yes, I am a huge sucker for the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (Who isn’t?). The moment in the second movie where The Sovereign’s spacefleet of gold people suddenly appears en masse and the exuberant “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang” breaks out is easily among my favorite movie moments in recent memory. The first time I saw it, I ran it back about ten more times (I still sing the “Soup! Soup!” line that Kraglin ad-libs in place of “Ooh, ooh” while he’s eating soup). The song choice would be complete nonsense in an even-slightly-more-serious movie, but in GotG2, it’s downright brilliant.
Without even starting the song, there are strong clues as to what you’re about to hear. Any song titled “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang” could have come from few eras besides the 70s, and few genres besides the disco-tinged pop rock of that time period.
The 70s was, in some regards, a wondrous time (I assume). Music was expanding rapidly, and everything that is now corny or cliche was compelling and fresh. Without the seemingly mandatory guise of irony/detachment looming over this generation’s music, disco-pop’s unabashedly corny spirit thrived in songs like “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang.”
Lots of modern music struggles to be joyous or positive at all without some kind of asterisk or strings attached. This isn’t a bad thing by default — many times, the end product is a more honest, nuanced, and thus relatable work. But there’s something to be said for genuine, straightforward happy music that just tries its damn best to pack as much color and light into the minutes as possible.
Sometimes you just need to boogie around the kitchen looking like an idiot without an ounce of shame. When this is your goal, disco is your friend, and Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang” is a stellar place to find it. So see if your next shitty mood can make it even halfway through this awesome throwback banger. It won’t stand a chance.
Free Cocaine // Our Brother George
Y’all know me. I would NEVER advocate for the use of drugs. Ever. However, my pick this week is from the Southern folk-rock group Our Brother George and it seems like THEY know a thing or two about the devil’s drug: cocaine.
Free Cocaine isn’t meant to be taken literally though. While the substance is referenced throughout the song, they refer to an individual that seems to be an old flame. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fair share of bad relationships with people throughout the years; yet even though I know it’s not in my best interest for me to see them, if I see a “wyd” message from them at 1:30 in the morning, you best believe I’m headed over. This song is for all of us, who even though we know someone is bad for us, we just can’t say no to them.
“I won’t pass you up I couldn’t give you away, you’re my free cocaine. It’s not a good idea causing so much pain, but you’re my free cocaine.”
The song is primarily lyrically driven, with the instrumentation mostly staying in the background, while still allowing for a bit of guitar soloing as well as a jam session near the end of the piece. The whole piece screams modern folk, from the subtle use of distortion in the electric guitar, all the way to lyrics that most mainstream country artists wouldn’t dare touch with a ten foot pole, even though its full of real feelings that you don’t have to experiment with drugs to understand (although it would help, so I’m told).
“Some voices sound like home, and we were tired of being stoned”
So, if you need a song that will make you feel better for visiting that person you shouldn’t, or even a background song for texting your ex, check out this bittersweet folk jam.