Jesse Jarnow

“summer turns to high” – r.e.m.

“Summer Turns To High” – R.E.M. (download) (buy)
from Reveal (2001)
released by Warner Brothers

“Summer Turns To High” has lingered on a few summer playlists, and I’ve been meaning to post about it for a while. The season being what it is, though, I figure I better hop to it.

In his most excellent contribution regarding Stereolab’s Transient Random Noise Bursts With Announcements to the recent Marooned anthology, Douglas Wolk made a sadly unattributed reference to an academic study that somehow proved that one hears the most meaningful music of his life at the age of 22-and-a-half. While that makes perfect sense for a discovery of Neutral Milk Hotel (as occurred roughly that month for me), it probably also goes a long way in explaining my undying attraction to R.E.M.’s generally reviled Reveal (which I’ve posted about before).

So many of the song’s sins are circumstantial, like the sterile folktronica washes, which seems a totally understandable type of cutting edge to adopt for guys of R.E.M.’s age and could just as easily be reimagined with a Glenn Kotche-like narrative drumbeat (hinted at, for example, beneath the line “hopes and dragonflies”). Beyond that, it’s R.E.M.: Michael Stipe’s obtuse transformations, and — especially — that twangy Peter Buck guitar fill at the end of the chorus. What makes it compelling is that there is a song in there, like a shape in the shifting heat. What makes it divisive is how arbitrary the production is. It could be set in front any of those backdrops. It’s beautiful, but — for that — feels spineless, musically speaking, only able to be appreciated properly by a 22-and-a-half year old wanting an R.E.M. album of his own.

“Summer Turns To High” hung around in morningtime with me for a good chunk of late summer, and was quite useful, nestled between the Beach Boys and John Fahey. I love the way the drums come in, the baroque arrangement under the verses, the subliminal high percussion part that comes in. And, in the fall, it will linger, too, as if it’d absorbed extra warmth to last as the fall arrives.

1 Comment

  1. Ivy P! says: - reply

    REM has so many good, evocotive summer songs. My fave. is Nightswimming. It’s so hushed and quiet and sense-heightening, muck like summer skinnydipping. Does Nightswimming use crickets, too? I think so. There are other cricket-y REM songs, but I can’t think of them right now.