Note: this is one of a series of “lost” posts originally slated to run in late 2011. We will be running these over the next few days as we reboot the site content.
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I realize that for many people reading this, the idea of describing a song as sounding like a deconstructed, funhouse mirror version of Sugar Ray’s “Fly” is probably the very definition of damning something with faint praise, but that’s not my intent at all. I heard “Fly” on the radio for the first time in years this morning and, lifted out of its 1997 context where “Fly” was an overplayed, unavoidable, obnoxious earwig foisted upon a public that became more annoyed by it every time they were forced to hear it, the Sugar Ray chestnut didn’t sound bad at all. It boasted an undeniable hook, a breezy arrangement and lyrics that didn’t make a lick of sense but conveyed a pretty-boy’s sense of self-satisfied cool very effectively but with enough of a knowing, self-mocking wink that Mark McGrath managed to skate by without too many people wanting to punch him in the face.
So anyhow, “Fly” is fresh in my mind today as I sit down to write about Chris Letcher’s “Phone Booth” and that may be clouding my judgment, but I can’t ignore the similar vibe of both songs. “Phone Booth” feels like Letcher (who conceivably may have never even heard the earlier song) disassembled “Fly,” examined each individual part, then reassembled it for today’s indie-rock world, which is populated by any number of mad sonic scientists striving to recreate the pop music of the past with the technology and fractured attention span of the present. “Phone Booth” has the same kind of laconic but catchy groove and a sort-of chorus that pops up occasionally and threatens to become a group sing-along. It feels like Sugar Ray by way of Animal Collective, a good-time tune that’s been cut and pasted together in bits and pieces with all the frayed edges and rough seams showing.
Letcher is South African by birth but resides in London, where he’s a songwriter and film composer. His dislocation from his physical home is reflected in his music, which has a feeling of being not quite all there. With a little tinkering, “Phone Booth” is the sort of song that could have conceivably been a bona-fide radio hit. Instead, like the quickly vanishing subject of its title, it feels like it exists out of time. It’s definitely a product of 2011 indie music, but feels like its heart is in the 1997 top 40.
Click here to listen to Spectroscope on Spotify.