Summer Olympics season is imminent: Golden rings crop up on magazine covers, newspapers dedicate space to English beverages and foodstuffs, Morgan Freeman’s rich, reassuring baritone returns to prime time in the form of credit-card shilling, businesses all over town announce their own “Olympics Of [Insert Specialty Here].” Tomorrow’s opening ceremonies in London will be full of pomp, even though the Games—almost by design, it seems—are all too fleeting. Still, the sweeping, monument-scale hugeness that accompanies the two weeks and change of action lends itself nicely to classical, modern, and electronic composition. To mark the occasion, SOTC drew up a list of songs that evoke the Olympics’ multinational majesty.
The Orb, “Oxbow Lakes”
At the outset, the mood doesn’t sell or gel; every piano chord rings sourly, if not outright bitterly. Sleigh bells rattle in the background. Somewhere at the center of the mix, a pulsating heart seems to beat louder than a klaxon. Then everything just glides into place, sinews thickening and connections making themselves, and the word “nobility” seems to hover benignly over everything. There’s something inquisitive and just inherently hopeful about “Oxbow Lakes” that brings to mind mad yet well-meaning scientists in 1960s-era visions of the distant future and oiled Olympians hurling shotputs in ancient Greece.
Everyone’s a winner, you know?
Keith Fullerton Whitman, “Generator 1”
If Whitman’s daft, darting gaggles of synthesizer tones on “Generator 1” remind you of schools of fish, you’re hardly alone. Yet in some ways they might be more profitably compared to clusters of distance runners in the way that they collect and separate, overlap and vacillate, a mass of flesh and bone engines flickering in concert around the dull red oval track.
Lindstrøm, “Where You Go I Go Too”
The adjective “mammoth” doesn’t quite do “Where You Go I Go Too” justice. The song is 30 mind-inclining minutes long but feels even longer, capable of encompassing entire solar systems and civilizations and dying stars while somehow evoking flashbacks to the Miami Vice opening credits and lost, youthful Saturdays misspent inside Out Run consoles. In an Olympic context, Lindstrøm’s sojourn becomes an endurance odyssey, a paean to both breath control—get lost in the wormhole and you’ll hear dude’s huffing and puffing—and the almost meditative sense of escape that marathon training is capable of engendering.
The Field, “Sequenced”
The cunning here mirrors an experienced distance athlete’s game plan: start out ever so slowly, then accelerate and complicate your pace such that your adversaries can’t compensate for the ever-increasing intensity you bring to the pool, the track, or the soccer field. Also, if I were a runner, I’d totally choose “Sequenced” for prime placement on a playlist over, say, Faust’s “Kundalini Tremolos”, which is a tortuous intersection of conflicting tempos and exhalations, or Kraftwerk’s “The Man-Machine,” which is to an extreme cardiovascular context what Barry White and R. Kelly are to knocking boots.
Deadmau5, “Aural Psynapse”
Tramping or maybe trampling comes to mind here: hordes of gleaming figures advancing menacingly in I, Robot; armies marching in lock-step; film of charging Olympians gradually slowed to half-speed, then a quarter-speed, then further still. You can head-bob to “Aural Psynapse” all day long, but the song oozes the sort of imperious, encouraged arrogance that experienced gymnastics watchers know to expect from disturbingly cynical floor exercises.
Maja S.K. Ratkje & Lasse Marhaug, “Complaints Won’t Help”
There’s nothing aesthetically pleasing in a traditional sense about “Complaints Won’t Help,” which can be read from an athlete’s perspective as a rejection of all conditions external to pure, unadulterated competition: the pop of a million flashbulbs and snap of a trillion professional camera shutters, the roaring applause of adoring crowds, the monstrous blare of announcers and loudspeakers. Here, all and distracting triviality gets warped and black-hole collapsed into something almost Terminator-esque, lurching and jerking and mewling crazily like a brain-damaged, newborn kitten. Who’s the real enemy? Nope, not the Swiss, or the Brazilians: us.
Elizabeth Veldon, “Gunshots at the Half Marathon”
A bone-saw carves grooves into the screaming ambiance, distortion crushes all available frames of reference, the shit does down: by misfortune, ill personal judgment, or arguable photo-finish fuck-up, the podium’s not in a given athlete’s cards, and “Gunshots” is the sound of failure reverberating in his head for the next for years, or maybe the rest of his life.