Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
The word you're looking for is incandescence. Oh, I'm pretty sure that's the word you're looking for, kind sirs and good strangers. It's between inauspicious and incognito, zooming out, it's between crescendo and shimmer, zooming further out, it's between air and waves. Where you'd stick the push pin on the big map of "What's this feeling the Harlem Shakes lure into me bones?" is in the hot throbbing heart of incandescence.
We can't actually make electricity, or at least the us that matter here - you and me and the other guy - can't actually make electricity any more confidently than we could make gold. We find gold. We find electricity in the hog-nosed outlets in all of the places we frequent and live and fight. To actually suggest we could do it is to make it seem as simple or as plausible as giving birth to centaurs or sweating kryptonite. The same goes for making light. We have methods to bring it - a matchstick, a lightbulb, etc. - but that's just cheatery.
Making light - for we the hopeless -- is statistically impossible and yet, this, in an overblown, exaggerated way is sort of what Brooklyn's Harlem Shakes do with the music from their lone EP, Burning Birthdays, and the tunes that they've made since. The music feels newly lit or lightly lit, as if the room or the ear canals are bathed in the weak yellow from an oil lamp of the 1800s, the kind little Abe Lincoln may have read by in his log cabin. It's squeezed (not to be misconstrued as forced or unnaturally provoked; in no way ill-advised) light, but earned light, special in that it's appreciated because it feels like it could go away at any second. Shakes lead vocalist Lexy Benaim's high-pitchery is a feathered thing and those all-join-in-by-the-gang backing vocals are free and autumnal. There's a sense of crisp air and leaves turning red and brown, falling to the ground to join their detached apple brothers, just days short of their cidering and the finding of human gullets, with their warm dance down the throat.
*The Daytrotter interview:*
*Have you ever been frightened of something you've written?*
Lexy Benaim: Yeah, a press release I wrote for a Bob Seger album. Some argue that I don't understand Bob Seger. I think the problem was that I did.
*Can you dance?*
LB: Jose dances salaciously and well. He seduces women by challenging them to dance-offs. All of you ladies who can pass for Sufjan Stevens' backup singers, beware!
*Best completely strange thing Deerhoof did for you guys? How much do you heart them? What did they teach you?*
LB: Man, they taught us so much, it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, John said this in an interview: Are any of you especially political/passionate about specific causes?
A: If politics is about envisioning a new, better world and trying to create it, then I feel that we are political. I feel like we're doing our best to describe possible worlds that we would like to live in, ones which don't limit people's possibilities to imagine or oversimplify the complexities of the universe or make one person better or more important than anyone else.
Secondly, they play so ecstatically, joyfully and fearlessly that it's hard not to be inspired -- even playing with them every night. There's such an incredible sense of wonder about their music. They taught us a lot about musical humor. The best strange thing they did for us was play along with us at the end of our sets. Greg would literally set up a drum set onstage and play. Also, Satomi lent me an in-ear monitor that worked like a charm. We love them more than any other band. Truth is, we did before we toured with them too. I think you'll hear their influence (by far) more prominently on our upcoming record. We were also out with Caural and Busdriver on that tour, two very talented and inspiring individuals themselves.
*Give me the best drunken story involving you guys and The Subjects.*
LB: First of all, Jimmy's nickname is "Cobra." I won't get into specifics, but drunk or sober, the next time you see the Subjects, ask Jimmy if you can go through his text messages. Actually, first prove to him that you're 18+, and then go through them.
*What movies have you seen while drunk?*
LB: "Maria Full of Grace." I'm unwell.
*What piece of literature has inspired you more than any other?*
LB: Man, that may be too tough to answer. Maybe The Ghostwriter by Philip Roth. I'm reading Herzog by Saul Bellow now and find it super-inspiring. I like this Kafka parable about this pet he gets from his father called a Lamb-cat. Lately, I've enjoyed poems by my friend Alex Nemser, the book Fires by Nick Antosca, and Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart. Ant Farm by Simon Rich. The Book of Job. Too many to name!
*Have you seen many of those Pool Parties this summer? What's the atmosphere like?*
LB: A bunch of the guys went and saw Man Man. They said it was lively and communal. Just great, basically.
*What are you a champion of?*
LB: Man, a lot of things. Lately I've been championing my friends' bands The Fake Accents and Beat the Devil. I go see both of those bands every chance I get. David Milch TV shows. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow -- it's like Bellow-meets-the-Marx-Brothers sending Herzog to Africa. Laughably earnest, serious (grandiose) conversation. Pick-up basketball. Jose champions burritos, that Red Sox first basemen who walks a lot and abstruse urban planning theories. Brent champions Scott Walker, affectless girl singers, Bruno Schulz, and desert food. Todd champions music in general, the book Eat the Document, Get Him Eat Him, and well-crafted sandwiches. Kendrick champions revenge-fantasy comics, Harold Pinter plays, Loner with a Boner, Full-Blooded American Indian, and his woman.
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