I’m not really a summer kind of person, but here in Seattle our winter has dragged wearily on, from October until now, with precious few good days over the past 8 months. We are pale. We are sickly. We are in desperate need of some of that heat y’all on the East Coast are hoarding.
Usually, around this time of the year, I pull out my favorite summer records and start bopping around my home or my office in sundresses and large sunglasses. This year, it appears, at least for this first part of June, I’ll have to content myself with imagining warm sun on my wan skin by defying the weather and breaking out my favorite summer albums anyway.
What makes a good summer album for me? It has to feel breezy, inconsequential. It usually reminds me of The Beach Boys in some way, and it’s usually a little kick to it somehow. I could have chosen many albums. Pet Sounds, obviously. Anything from the ouvre of the Beastie Boys (well, I suppose anything by any band with the word “boys” or “boyz” in it). It has to leave you wanting a little bit more, just like the best summer days. On top of all of that, though, it has to make you a little nostalgic, if not for your own youth than for a vaguely defined “better time” in general.
5. Femurs – Modern Mexico
A new entry from just last year, enters my heart and my summer iPod rotation. Femurs were one of my favorite local bands of the last year, and the jangly jangly guitars, along with the slightly juvenile lyrics and the wild, acoustic punkiness of this almost DIY album make me feel like I’m hanging out in some garage back in my hometown, listening to the two cute dudes down the street jam on guitars and drums. They certainly aren’t the most musically innovative or gifted band, but they just seem to be having so much damn fun it’s hard not to adore them. (Plus, they put on an INCREDIBLE live show).
Download Crazy Girl
4. Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap
B&S are one of my favorite bands of all time, but I mostly tend to think of them as autumnal music. The pretty harmonies and lovely strings, Stuart M.’s plaintive voice and the plonky piano all seem to add up to something a little more cerebral than I like my summer music to be. Yet on The Boy With the Arab Strap, we get the title track (a fast-paced, fiercely hand-clapped number that will, I swear, be stuck in your head for DAYS if you’re not careful with its deployment), the Stevie Jackson-sung number “Chickfactor,” which is whimsical, but a little heavy, like a humid summer evening, and “Dirty Dream Number Two,” which is one of my favorite summer ditties. It’s about dirty dreams, which I have often when I’m laying prone and semi-naked in the summer heat.
Download Dirty Dream Number Two
3.Weezer – Weezer (the blue one)
Oh, halcyon, bygone days of youth, when Weezer burst onto the scene with their cute, funny debut album, a nod to another halcyon, bygone era of music with an edgy, hard-rockin’ twist. Released at the beginning of May in 1994 it slow-built its way to the most explosive hit of the summer I was 11. It is the perfect summer album because it combines songs with irrepressible hooks and a beat you can dance to, with humor that slides off the palate like a grape popsicle. Remember “Undone (the Sweater Song),” which was a self-mocking tribute to geeky love come unraveled? Remember “Surf Wax America,” which was about surfing to work and, of course, “Buddy Holly,” which was played over and over at every party I went to the summer between 6th and 7th grades, and still makes me long a little for cake and ice cream instead of the wine and cheese I expect at parties now. More than being simply a cute album, Weezer’s blue debut was – for me – the season of summer wrapped up in a neat little package, all sunny melodies and ever-so-slight overexposure.
Download Buddy Holly
2.Dressy Bessy – The California EP
An unexpected foray into Beach Boys territory by Colorado post-riot grrrl rockers Dressy Bessy, the California EP offers a sunny take on a post-modern sound from the year 2000. The tunes are so catchy, you’ll be singing them for days, and despite being a self-conscious effort at a 60s sound, Dressy Bessy injects their punky roots into tracks like “Hangout Wonderful,” which features the surf-rock guitar over a steady, danceable drum beat, but has truly rock & roll vocals from lead singer Tammy Ealom. The title track, “California” asks with almost childlike desperation “Can we go there / this summer / I’ll wear a flower in my hair / If we go there / this summer / I’ll walk right to that salty air / Can we go there / this summer?” Drenched in the “good vibrations” of summer (oh snap! see what I did there?), you want to take Ealom wherever she’s asking to go.
1) Blur – Parklife
Parklife is one of my favorite albums of all time, but is certainly my favorite summer album. It’s fun, light without being forgettable, includes references to Martin Amis’ book London Fields and features a song (“To the End”) with the gorgeous, sunsoaked vocals of Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier. I like Parklife because it feels like a slice of my life, of being broke and young and enjoying life anyway (this was a theme of a lot of mid-90s Britpop, c.f. Pulp’s Different Class). There is a hint of paranoia on the record, a slight feeling that perhaps summer’s at its end, but the hope of the sunshine is always there, and, on a bittersweet note, there are always more bank holidays in the future, even if we all have to work our asses off to get there. No, this isn’t entirely a rain-free record, but it’s light enough to put a great rock sheen on any summer gathering.
Download Bank Holiday
So those are my suggestions of 5 great summer records. There are more, and about 10 more I can think of just off the top of my head, but those are my favorites. Enjoy!
Tuesday I’ll review The Ting Tings.