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Monday, August 18, 2003
Starlight Mints - "Submarine #3"

There's an indication of how good this track, the first off the Mints' first album, is going to be right at the beginning, leading off as it does with a violin-and-cello fanfare. It then leans into its great little dance of melody and counterpoint disguised as hooks, producing a perfect mix pleasurable partially because of the individual elements, but far more because of the arrangement, which at times goes beyond the well-trod Beach Boys symphonies to a more precise chamber music kind of feel--and I mean actual chamber music, not the kind of pop that's gotten tagged with that particular adjective, like The Divine Comedy or Belle & Sebastian (both of whom I love to death, but still)--even moreso than Momus, who strikes me as more specifically Baroque. (And then a lot of the artists who do get listed as Baroque Pop like Scott Walker or Nick Drake or Burt Bacharach sound more Romantic to my ears, but that's enough of that tangent.)

Anyway, theory-nerdishness aside, the real heart of the song comes after the end of the first chorus, which goes:

If you pull me apart
I'll swallow my...

And then there's a pause, and then they sing the word you'd expect them to. They go for the obvious rhyme, but one of the cool things about pop music is that sometimes they go for the obvious rhyme not because it's the only thing they can think of to put there, but because it's the best possible thing to put there--they take the obvious rhyme and make it evocative, or powerful, or referential, or funny. Or, as the Mints do here, they go totally over-the-top with it, embrace and celebrate it as something obvious and overused because it's just so damn good.

And so there's a pause, and they sing "heart," the obvious rhyme, and there are two bars of that great arrangement, ending with a natural fall to the tonic, and this girl's voice, sounding distorted, yells "HEART!" and there's a great whanging guitar noise for no particular reason whatsoever, a perfect little pop touch. And it's such a great little turn, following the sort of resigned tone of the chorus to make you think, "Well, that was the obvious rhyme, but I guess it makes sense thematically, and..." and then the girl yells the word again and there's the whang and you go, "Yeah, fucking right! Heart! Goddamn!" It's such a great little contrast and turn that it changes your whole attitude. People talk about the complexities of hip-hop recontextualizing other people's music, but what some folks miss about pop is the way it's forced to continually turn the familiar into the exciting and semi-new, and the minor miracle in it somehow continually doing that. Maybe it's because of the (beneficial?) absence of memory in pop, but it does manage to keep on keepin' on, and it's really neat to see moments like this, when enthusiasm overwhelms cliche.

Another nice aspect to the song is the way, after this first "heart-HEART!" turn (at around 0:47-0:54) they then manage to hold off on doing it again for almost the whole of the rest of the song, although the nice moves of the distorted female voice and guitar whang float back in during the bridge. But then it's reprised, chamber-music-like, at the very end of the song (1:40-2:00--also nice that this gem gets in and out under the Beatles-limit), with the female voice doubling the male in a much harsher tone. It's a different model of soft-loud contrast from either Nirvana or, say, Deerhoof (about whom more later, maybe), but I like it.