It’s snowing in Minneapolis (surprise). Overcast, wet, cold. Everyone’s cranky and restless. And even though it’s four months into the calendar year, I’m still taking Vitamin D pills. Because we still lack for enough daylight. Or, sunlight? But as Patrick in The Monster Squad would point out (while defending ways to kill Dracula), what other kind of light is there during the day? So for our purposes they are the same thing, and let’s see if either of these tracks are bright enough to lift our moods.
Aesop Rock’s “Daylight” is an instant classic that opens with an old school hip-hop refrain, a wistful flute-like melody, and then introduces the vocals with a weary “Yo” to prepare us for the rough confessional truths about to come. They are pushed through sharply, almost begrudingly. This is no party anthem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not catchy. Early in the song, Aesop Rock distinguishes himself as both a student of history and a contrarian with the line “I did not invent the wheel/ I was the crooked spoke adjacent.” From there it’s off to the races, in a winding maze of wordplay that demands attention (and if it takes a few listens to get into the groove and sort things out, don’t kick yourself…though this is actually one of the least dense Aesop songs I can recall). When horns are added midway through, the song gains a bit of optimism, and the quality is certainly golden with lines like, “Yeah, the settlers laugh/ You won’t be laughing when your covered wagons crash/ You won’t be laughing when the buses drag your brother’s flags to rags/ You won’t be laughing when your front lawn’s spangled with epitaphs.” The chorus is jarringly simple: “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day/ Put the pieces back together my way,” repeated in fours until the Digital Underground sample is revisited. There are numerous excellent verses, and I’ll mention one more which is the final couplet before the home stretch and provides nice symmetry to the opening bicycle imagery: “This cat is asking if I’ve seen his bit of lost passion/ I told him ‘yeah’ but only when I pedaled past him.” So, any song with this much replay value is a great rainy day go-to pick.
If Aesop Rock is a curved forest path weaving through gnarled branches, Matt & Kim is a wide open city street with clean sidewalks and no clutter. Their “Daylight” kicks off with a carefree keyboard riff that runs through the entire song. Each lyrical verse is delivered in the same inflection as this melody, so the hook is instant and stays in deep. The Matt half of the duo paints a clear summer scene: “We cut the legs off of our pants/ Threw our shoes into the ocean/ Sit back and wave through the daylight.” There is a call-and-response feel to the intonation of the alternating lines, as if there are really two singers taking turns. The drums and keys are a bit scattered but then everything melds for the simple chorus: “And in the daylight we could hitchhike to Maine/ I hope that someday I’ll see without these frames/ And in the daylight I don’t pick up my phone/ ‘Cause in the daylight anywhere feels like home.” The song has a propulsion that barely lets the listener breathe, but they are probably not supposed to (and the line about wearing glasses gets bonus points!). To me, it’s a tune about two things: movement and summer. The opening track from their solid Grand release, it’s the closest to a title track with the lines, “Open hydrant, rolled down windows/ This car might make a good old boat/ And float down Grand Street in daylight.” While not the standout track from the album (that would be “Lessons Learned”) it’s a great opener that invites the listener to float along to in its sunny carefree current.
Winner: A tight match for sure. The Aesop Rock song found its way into the headphones of many college students when the artist was gaining credibility as one of the better underground white rappers. It’s basically flawless. Matt & Kim burst open with Grand and while they’ve put out other similar albums in the same basic style, none quite compare to the one which opens with “Daylight.” And I have to pick Matt & Kim as the victor here. Aesop Rock’s tune is superior if we were to judge on sheer artistry, but we’re judging against that title word instead, and it’s hard to find a more poppy yet listenable summer band than Matt & Kim. I’ll keep them blaring for now while we wait through this cold Minnesota mess.
Aesop Rock – Daylight (2001) – (audio)
Matt & Kim – Daylight (2009) – (video)