Summer 1984: Thirteen-year-old Brooklyn girl takes babysitting money uptown to Tower Records, finds Heartbeat City on cassette. Drawn in by slightly racy cover art, unnerved but fascinated by lead singer’s punchy warble, she finds herself defenseless against intricate layers of pop hooks. Bounces album from Walkman to boombox and back until tape is destroyed while dubbing for best friend. More babysitting follows.
Nothing in the music of Kris Delmhorst immediately suggests a deep affinity with proto-punk new-wave masters The Cars, and yet a dozen years into a career at the nexus of folk, indie-pop, and Americana, Delmhorst has taken a brief vacation from her own literate songwriting to record Cars, a collection of songs by the band that defined an era.
Balancing classic hits and deep cuts, Delmhorst has painstakingly deconstructed every hook-laden arrangement, every unforgettable line, creating a sonic palette inventively recast: Ric Ocasek’s herky-jerky bravado is replaced by the amber warmth of Delmhorst’s luminescent voice; the processed, synth-heavy aesthetic of the originals is reimagined through a startling array of organic instruments that includes fiddle, accordion, upright bass, suitcase drum kit, mandolin, clarinet, penny whistle, and harmonica. And in a twist of serendipity, mutual acquaintances connected Delmhorst with Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who signed on to add ukulele on a number of the tracks, bringing the project full circle.
Cars represents recreation in both senses: a joyful lark partnered with serious interpretation, the uncomplicated love of youthful fandom paired with a deep attention to and respect for craft. Kris Delmhorst offers up an exuberant and moving dream of the summer of 1984 painted in new colors; roll down the window and turn it up!