Must Peep Monday #17

Hot Heavy Summer // Ben Howard & Sylvan Esso

“Hot Heavy Summer” is, as the title suggests, a song about summer. A lot of summer-themed music chooses to lean into sunny, bright melodies and upbeat tempos, but “Hot Heavy Summer” is a different slice of summer — a bittersweet, sentimental, somber moment that is beautiful yet subtly mournful. Most summer music is a mid-July day at the pool; “Hot Heavy Summer” is more like a late-August evening in the dying days of summertime, with a blood-red sunset and a change of seasons on the horizon.

The arrangement is open and atmospheric, making heavy use of rhythmic echoes and reverb-washed swells to create a textural, drifting ambiance. The main guitar riff bounces overtop of itself, creating intricate patterns as the repeats fade into the dreamy bed of sound laid by drifting, pulsing drones. If that one song by The xx or Lord Huron’s music appeals to you, “Hot Heavy Summer” is what you’ve been looking for.

Its sparse instrumentation clears space for the focal point of the song: the interplay of Howard’s and Amelia Meath’s incredible harmonies. Meath, the vocalist behind soft electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, has a precise falsetto that floats over top of Howard’s steady, warm baritone. As a pair, to put it simply, they’re downright gorgeous. Meath and Howard spend most of the song locked in simultaneous harmony, and the result doesn’t immediately sound like two separate voices, but rather one full, lush super-voice.  

Lyrically, “Hot Heavy Summer” is abstract yet evocative and maintains a tangible subject matter despite its hazy, poetic language. Lines like the finale, “One last gasp / against a long hot heavy summer,” rest on the more vague side of things, but lose no emotional weight despite their ambiguity.

In its more descriptive moments, “Hot Heavy Summer” uses images of life in Nowhere, Suburbia (“Where the mothers can’t stand / the sight of each other”) to explore routine, complacency, and the beauty of rebelling against these forces; the choice to, as Howard so eloquently puts it, “dance past the Tuesday morning supermarket crowd.”

Few artists have the poetic instincts to draw emotion and metaphor from things as bland as national security and garden fences. Ben Howard is one of them. Using both to represent how many of us shield ourselves from challenge and uncertainty, Howard paints the struggle to live spontaneously and passionately in a world with little time or space to do so. We all, to some extent, “sleep through our days,” forced to steal little instants of joy and meaning, each all too brief and rare.

“Hot Heavy Summer” is a lullaby in a lawn chair that floats in on a cool, gentle breeze and leaves just the same. It’s a quiet bonfire under a lavender sky, watching fading sunlight sear the bottoms of the clouds with nectarine hues. It’s a lot of things at once — the hallmark of great music — but it’s not your standard summer song. It is, however, definitely a gorgeous one.

-Jonah Bird


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