Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

Kitten – Memphis

Time to take a big sip of coffee and log into AOL (Amnesty On Line)…


Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “Memphis” sounds like reminiscing about love on Sunday mornings, a cup of a tea in hand, your hair a mess, and your bed sheets warm but messy because you’re a “bedroom guy” or “bedroom girl.” The whole song is warm and familiar, like an audio recording of a weekend gone too fast. It’s the hyper-nostalgic conceit of “Cornelia Street,” mixed with the escapist conceit of “Run Away With Me,” sung by someone who clearly was an “Avril kid.” The bridge is where things really take off: lines like “we can choose a house on the hillside” or “I’ll be a loving mom” are clearly romantic comedy fodder, but too sweet to be cynical about. Why not indulge in fantasy every once in a while?

Katherine St Asaph: Generally I like Kitten more when they’re trying to be Metric than trying to be “Closer.” To be fair, “Memphis” is massively better-written, with a few good sardonic lines and a lot of subtext (and Chloe Chaidez has apparently also read that Max Martin interview where he talks about nicking from Prince the trick of making verses and chorus the same). The result is less Chainsmokers than Barenaked Ladies, less Alex Pall than Maria Mena, and I’m thrilled that nostalgia is starting to mine that ’00s pop-rock tract. Though I’m a little less thrilled to realize that a large chunk of the audience for this was born after “Complicated” came out, and well after those modem sounds were commonplace (let alone the Missile Command sample!).

Natasha Genet Avery: In a thorough pan of “Closer,” Katherine noted that The Chainsmokers let “place names stand in for realism and Blink-182 references stand in for emotional depth.” Memphis, like Tucson and Boulder before it, is nothing more than a euphonic non-coastal city, the “wooden fence” fails to avert the cliche of picket fence ennui, and Avril references and dial-up modem noises are an empty nostalgia play. +2 for Demolition Guy and Bedroom Girl, which I’ve claimed as my superhero and villain names, respectively.

Iain Mew: The sound-world of this is so well put together, making connections seem obvious. Chloe Chaidez starts off with diffident vocals and a nagging chiptune riff combined like Neon Indian, but then transform it by running that through an Avril kid’s version of pop-punk. It gives just the right amount of bite amid the whimsy. The dial-up modem noises as texture sum it up: otherworldly, abrasive and nostalgic for a very specific time and feeling.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Oh the crackled fuzz of dial-up: it’s the sound of one modem connecting with another, of new technology interfacing with older infrastructure. “Memphis” finds Chloe Chaidez engaging in the same sort of interactions: she talks of a “bedroom guy,” reflecting on their past and staying hopeful for bright futures. The way the sample blends in seamlessly with the rest of the instrumentation, suffusing it with a soft wistfulness that perks your ears up — it reflects how life can suddenly feel enormously different given the prospects of romance. Things may seem the same — hell, things may actually be the same — but a lover can make you reconsider so much. Soon, even the dullest moments of life — the ugliest of buzzing noise — contain a sliver of something charming.

Alfred Soto: It took a few listens to get past the surface charms until I realized the surface charms were the charms: a “West End Girls” moved across the Atlantic and deposited in a Tucson subdivision where dial-up modems provide an outlet to sounds cooler than the kids will ever know.

Nortey Dowuona: A thick slab of drums is dropped on top of a whirring synth patch with loping bass while shouting guitars are tangled in a mangled crash with whirring dial-up signals and spritzer synths, while Chloe Chaidez gently tells her beau to put her trust in her and never return to a place that holds a weight over them.

Kayla Beardslee: Chloe Chaidez’s vocals are so one-note that I’d expect the song to fall flat, but, thankfully it doesn’t. There’s still emotion in the softness of Chaidez’s voice, the glitching dial-up sample and the guitars crashing around the fringes of the song, all of which work to build a wistful, romantic mood… I think? The dramatic situation is hazy: is this about an ending relationship (“By this time next, you’ll be married,” “And you let go, you are perfect”), an ongoing one (“Let’s run away… We can choose a house on the hillside”), or something in between? And if the central romantic conceit of the track is unclear, how are we supposed to understand “And I/you/we’ll never go back to Memphis” — as bittersweet nostalgia, as happiness over maturing, as relief over a breakup, as general sadness? Ambiguity and multiple interpretations are fine, but the hook, as a guiding force behind the movement of a song, should have some clarity and strength to it, and I can’t find that narrative clarity in “Memphis.”

Will Adams: The scuzzed up track, dial-up noises and Avril nod are there for nostalgia, sure, but what makes it work is the song’s structure. The first two verse-choruses are near identical in lyrics and melody, with Chloe Chaidez’s reflections veering almost bitter. It’s not until the bridge when she drops her guard and turns toward an imagined future, and the swooning violin in the final chorus goes from cynical to sincere. “Memphis” yearns for comfort; its beauty is in realizing that it can be found not just in the past but in facing the present with someone you trust.

Vikram Joseph: I love everything about this — the unhurried, early-summer daydream of Chloe Chaidez’s gently syncopated stream-of-consciousness, the pitch-shifted dial-up modem samples, the serotonin-rush chorus. For the most part, I have no idea what Chaidez is singing about, but it feels unerringly like falling in love. Avril Lavigne gets a goofy shout-out, and “Memphis” would have not just nestled comfortably on Let Go but would probably have been the best song on it.

Alex Clifton: The dial-up tone sample distracts more than it adds, but it does evoke a sense of nostalgia. “I’m an Avril kid” does, too. It’s nice to end the 2010s with a song that reminds me of the early 2000s, mostly because as time marches on I become increasingly aware of how distant my younger self is to my current self. But there’s a part of me that lives eternally in 2003 with Avril Lavigne blaring on my stereo and endless dreams of what my future might hold, and this helps tie me to those memories so they never float away.

Reader average: [10] (1 vote)

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3 Responses to “Kitten – Memphis”

  1. Well fuck me – in a blitz of end-of-year overtime I forgot to check the blurber and missed writing about my own amnesty pick! There should have been a [10] in there from me, but thank y’all for being so kind anyway.

  2. FWIW this would have gotten an [8] from me but I, too, forgot :(. Ian, you should post your thoughts in the comments! We have a long and proud history of producing *nationally-recognized* music writing in our comment threads, as you know.

  3. i LOVE this song