Greetings, healthy humans. I’m writing to you from Sickville. At first, it was unpleasant here, but I’ve adapted, and in my haze of cold meds, I have a lot of thoughts on instrumentals.
Scratch that. Thoughts are sort of hard right now. I have a lot of feelings about instrumentals — strong, overwhelming ones.
Rather than try to come to some sort of academic conclusion about this, I’m going to share some songs for you to feel. Two notes: I gave some songs with minimal vocals a pass, and I stuck with songs released post-2000. Seventies instrumentals are a rabbit hole best jumped down another day.
LCD Soundsystem, “45.33”
This song has some weird controversy around it. Nike asked LCD Soundsystem for a song to run to, including a warm up and warm down, and this is what the band delivered. It’s more suited for the kind of workout you get on the dance floor, though, and there’s some pretty brilliant stuff going on here. Within this marathon of a song lies the instrumentals for one of the band’s next hits, “Someone Great.” And when the horns come in? They sneak up behind you and punch you in the back of the head.
Sweet Valley, “Total Carnage”
Wavves frontman Nathan Williams and his brother Kynan decided to do a beat project, and wow is it sounding good so far. This track opens with a slowed-down Bay City Brewers sample that carries through the whole song in chopped bits. Underneath lies some Wavves-worthy guitar and a punchy beat. The full album is out Aug. 7.
The Roots, “Redford,” “Possibility,” “Will to Power” and “Finality”
This four-movement suite closes out The Roots’ latest album, undun. First, Sufjan Stevens records a fresh version of his own piano composition, “Redford,” then a string quartet offers its interpretation. In the third movement, drummer Questlove and avant-garde pianist D.D. Jackson bash the hell out of their instruments. Finally, they give way to strings that could be playing a funeral and one final, ugly chord on the piano, left to hang in the air until it runs out of strength. Try not to weep.
Matt & Kim, “Cinders”
So very chipper, so very frantic. Half the fun of this song is picturing Matt bent over the keys, furiously poking out the melody, while Kim pummels her drums. This song is a fantastic example of what the Brooklyn duo does best — tirelessly joyful indie rock.
Phoenix, “Love Like a Sunset (Pt. I-II)”
It starts with some raindrop-like blips, then builds and crescendos into a full symphony of synths. The two-part song sits in the middle of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, an album that found the French band diving headfirst into electronics. It’s terribly trite to say it sounds like a sunset, but it’s also pretty accurate.
Gorillaz, “Glitter Freeze”
You can almost get exhausted just listening to this song. The rave-worthy track starts out pretty intense to begin with, and the energy never stops rising. It’s screaming on the high end and pulsing on the low end, and it’ll make you want to dance til you drop.
Bonus opposite: John Legend, “Rolling in the Deep”
John Legend and his perfect voice covered Adele’s already flawless hit. It’s beautiful.