Week 239: “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso


Most songs about dancing fall into one of two categories:

  • Instructional. These are songs whose sole purpose is to tell you how to do a certain dance. The hokey-pokey is probably the grandfather of instructional dance songs, but many have followed. These songs are great for people who lack confidence on the dance floor, but as songs they often fail miserably. The occasional instructional dance song can be a classic, but generally they range from mildly annoying to genuinely obnoxious to gouge-your-eyes-out awful.
  • Motivational. These are the tunes whose only goal is get you moving. No particular dance style is specified, although participants are usually urged to throw their hands up in the air, and wave them like they just don’t care. These songs are great if you just want to burn off some energy to a solid party jam. They’re plenty of fun, if a little bit mindless.

As you can tell by the lyrics and the video, “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso is a song about dancing, but it doesn’t fall into either of the above categories. It’s more introspective than instructional; more emotional than motivational. I like to think of it as a song that sees dancing as relationships in miniature. The excitement of scanning the crowd for the next partner, the electricity of initial contact, the boredom of familiarity…even despair at the possibility of not finding the right person. “The sentiment’s the same, but the pair of feet change.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I love a good mindless dance song as much as anyone. But I’m glad that Sylvan Esso made a song as exciting to the brain as it is to the feet.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. In the opening twenty seconds, it’s hard to tell where the downbeat is.

2. At 1:17, there’s a tiny woodpecker in your speakers.

3. The words “my baby does the hanky-panky” have never sounded as mournful and meaningful as they do at 3:03.

Recommended listening activity:

Arranging your spice rack so that the labels face each other.

Buy it here.