My daughter turns three years old today. Unbelievable, really. I find this particularly unnerving because my first concrete memory comes from my third birthday party. Up until now I’ve been living under the assumption that if I screwed something up, she wouldn’t remember it anyway. Now, I’m in danger of going on record… and while I’m sad that another year has passed and she’s developing that whole free will thing, I’m excited to finally, hopefully, start to make some lasting memories that she’ll remember when she’s 33 and reflecting upon her own childhood. Hopefully, she’ll remember this summer and maybe even the summer jams of 2012 (with some fondness), just as I remember the summer of 1981 and the timeless Hall & Oates track “Kiss On My List.” This track sticks with me and immediately recalls those early memories. Anyway, my memory, if you’re curious, is of finding a massive and wrapped box on the lawn and subsequently opening this beautiful beast:
…and now for the jams…
The Walkmen – Heaven
No recent album requires an open window and a cold beverage more than this one. You’re outside on the patio sipping a margarita? Pump the Walkmen through to the outside. Maybe it’s evening. You’re inside with the windows thrown open with an uncoastered mojito leaving a sweat ring on the end table? The Walkmen, on simmer in the background on repeat. More understated than prior albums, Heaven might underwhelm at first, but give it another chance to creep in under your skin and induce instant mellow. This isn’t a sad sack record for sad sack indie worshippers. This is a laid-back record with something for anyone. It’s good enough to force a pause, to take a moment so that you might listen more closely to the music.
Quakers – self titled
The Quakers are a full-frontal assault. If you don’t dig the Quakers, you don’t dig hip-hop. And that’s cool, but goddamn you’re missing out on some exciting new music. The Quakers redefine the term supergroup. The collective consists of 35 different members, summoning powers and talents from artists as varied as Portishead, The Pharcyde, Aloe Blacc, Prince Po and Coin Locker Kid. These 35 artists turn 40 tracks into a brilliant and cohesive record. Impossible, you say? I thought so too. Rumor has it that the three producers of the record, Fuzzface (Portishead’s Geoff Barrow), 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst, had all grown disillusioned by the state of modern hip-hop so they set out to create a record they’d want to listen to. As it turns out, it’s a record we all want to listen to… with the windows down, hoping the kid in the back isn’t realllly paying attention to the lyrics.
John Foxx – Garden
My classic jams list could never be complete without a rediscovered classic sneaking into the countdown. I’d always been a fan of the Foxx-fronted Ultravox. “Reap the Wild Wind” is a timeless charmer. But rarely had I ever heard any solo work by John Foxx. During my regular record-crate diving, I came across a sealed copy of John Foxx’s Garden for $4. An easy purchase. A pristine, unheard solo LP from an 80’s (near) icon. I expected to enjoy it, but holy hell was I surprised. John Foxx deserves more respect. Garden is more smooth Ultravox than John Foxx’s prior release: Metamatic (a stiff, cold offering). If you don’t know John Foxx and/or Ultravox, there’s never been a better time to discover one of the 80’s forgotten gems.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads
Somehow, Hot Chip has merely skirted big-time recognition. In Our Heads represents their fifth full-length album, and if this doesn’t strike a chord this summer, I’m not sure there’s any hope for civilization. Hot Chip creates electro-lounge-pop with a beat. And if you get caught up in the bounce, it’s very danceable. My now 3-year old can attest. The album drops next week but after having heard the album stream online, I believe quite strongly that there are a few tracks on this record that are among their most infectious. Hot Chip just understand the groove. No more self-conscious use of the world jam regarding this record. It’s a legitimate jam at the intersection of dancehall, indie and electronic music. Indiepoptronica, perhaps.
2:54 – self-titled
Named after a specific moment in the Melvins’ “A History of Bad Men,” this sister-duo made a splash with the Scarlet LP and have carried that promise into their full-length, self-titled debut. They’ve been dubbed nu-gaze (a sub-genre of my favorite non-genre “shoe-gaze), but if you’re looking for a definition that means something they’re PJ Harvey and Warpaint with an extra dash of 90’s-era guitar fuzz. Frankly, I shouldn’t like this… but it works. And I can’t stop listening to their radio-friendly single “You’re Early.” Plus the band has still got that anonymous quality that makes you feel like you’re one of the first in on the ground floor of something big.
Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne
I didn’t know I needed another St. Etienne record but there it was and I had to listen after catching a few tracks on XM. Sure it’s vintage St. Etienne, bouncy, synth-laden electro-pop with pristine Sarah Cracknell vocals. Words and Music is a return of sorts. Though I’d never taken a moment to wonder: Saint Etienne where have you been for seven long years? That begs the question: did we even miss them? Yes. I guess. I dunno. I’m so conflicted. I always thought they were cheesy. Did I change or did they? Because I like this album. I like it in the way that I can leave it on and not notice it’s there. In and out of the house, here and there, pick up where I left off. Did I miss something? It’ll come back around. So if these albums are the soundtrack of my summer, Saint Etienne must therefore be the score because I don’t see Danny Elfman around anywhere.
Dry the River – Shallow Bed
If you listen to one new band this month, make it Dry the River. I’ve been plugging this band on Twitter and I just can’t help but give the UK quintet another chance to win over one, maybe two new fans. I have serious pull. What can I say? Think Mumford & Sons, but distinctly British. Though they have energy in their repertoire, Dry the River’s ballads display remarkably lush musicality (given depth by a pervasive violin) and restraint. There’s nary a pinch to be found on the entire record. And even though Shallow Bed has been out for awhile now I still keep going back to it. The sign of jams that aim to set the mood for the coming season.
Pylon – Gyrate
This band always reminds me of summer. Every year I seem to put Pylon on the speakers and let it ride. I have no reason to associate it with summer any more than the next fellow. But something about these post-punkers reeks of warm weather, beer and doing stupid shit that one might possibly do during the summer and regret during the winter. Is it just me or does Pylon not get a lot of buzz anymore for just being a great rock band? People think Athens, GA, they think R.E.M. Not me. I’d rather have a beat, some creative shredding and Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The albums have all been remastered with extra, previously unreleased tracks that are actually very good. Bonus bucks.
Oh, and P.S.