Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Tuareg Dancehall” by Highlife from the 2010 EP Best Bliss, released on The Social Registry.
Highlife is the project of “Sleepy” Doug Shaw, who is also a member of the New York band White Magic. Closely associated with fellow New York bands such as Animal Collective, Highlife play indie Afro-pop, but instead of embedding subtle African influences into more “traditional” indie rock, Highlife might be more appropriately considered as an Afro-pop band (minus the Africans, of course) who happen to be contained within the American indie scene. In fact, the name Highlife is taken from a specific style of African music that centers around the kind of nimble guitar work characteristic of Best Bliss. Think of Highlife (the band) as working to bring highlife (the music) to Western audiences.
“Tuareg Dancehall” is a six-minute, fifty-one second tour of Shaw’s take on African highlife. It is full of spindly guitar lines moving every which way, cascading, oohing and ahhing vocal harmonies, and little percussive tings and dings peppered throughout. The music is multi-layered, intricate, and complex, and yet is able to leave the listener with a finely rounded-off impression -- it’s as if the song is a beautiful instrumental recreation of the sounds of a jungle or some other tropical scene teeming with life.
In contrast to all of the instrumental flourishes, Shaw’s lyrics are more related to the listener rather than sung; he seems to be concentrating more on enunciation rather than vocal projection. This is certainly not a bad thing, especially given the instrumental context. The song contains countless verses of rich, image-inducing lyricism, with Shaw singing of deserts, rains, cool-colored waters, horses manes, and the searing sun. At the center of it all, however, is “shaking the good love at the Tuareg dance hall.”
We might have to wait a while for Highlife to come through the Northwest. According to their MySpace page, their only scheduled show is in the UK with Animal Collective on May 13. So if you happen to be in Southwest England around then, I’d recommend this show. Here’s a video of Highlife playing live in London in 2008: