The art of spotting a sample has faded to technology. Now all a good ear has to do is a quick google search or peruse a blog to reveal the mystique of an eloquent beat. But an infectious hook, loop, and vocal can haunt me for an afternoon. Or a few days. Or this past week. Red Pill’s 2015 release Look What This World Did To Us has been on regular rotation on my Spotify feed. Rum and Coke especially speak to my Friday nights’ struggles between a girlfriend, a graduate student’s bank account, and a bar tab. Yet that’s not what this post is about. On the self-titled track “Look What This World Did to Us”, Red Pill tells a Bukowskian tale with an acerbic tongue. Familiar to early Atmosphere, the track speaks of a guarded regret singular to the loss of youth.
Simple yet infections, the opening chords felt all too familiar. Compared to Red Pill’s larger projects with Apollo Brown and Ugly Heroes, the production on this piece is incredibly bare. A quick jump onto whosampledit and it hits me.
“Your picture is still on my wall, on my wall
The colors are bright, bright as ever”
Daniel Johnston’s child-like vocals oscillate over a minimalist piano accompaniment to expose the enduring impermanence of love in his song’s final verse. “Some Things Last a Long Time” is brilliantly joyful yet sonically dissonant. As are Johnston’s words raw and pure. It’s a hymn to a moment not yellowed from time. Both works capture the illusive element of a generation obsessed with post-adolescence, when we must excuse the exhilaration of youth and accept the awkward transition into maturity.
For those unfamiliar, Johnston’s music is mired in such complexities. Perhaps this is why “Some Things Last a Long Time” has been so articulately covered. From Beck to Beach House, and most recently Lana del Rey, who re-recorded the song to promote a documentary about Johnston’s battle with mental illness through art, all versions seem to capture the essence of Johnston’s original. Love, while impermanent, lingers. Whether it was Red Pill’s intent to invoke Johnston’s manta through his subtle sample is up to the listener’s interpretation. As Johnston says best, “It’s funny, but it’s true / And it’s true, but it’s not funny”.