So it seriously feels like the hottest summer ever. I was playing volleyball last night in 98 degree weather and it almost felt cool. So to deal with the heat and to help make the hot summer nights on the volleyball courts more enjoyable, I made a pretty jammin’ summer mixtape. And as you will soon find out, I have been really into pop music this summer, partly because it goes well with the season, but mostly because I love to dance. So I thought I would share my summer mixtape with you all in hopes that it might enrich your summer barbecue or beach volleyball parties. Hope you enjoy.
It’s been another great week for music. Plenty of new releases worth checking.
This week I’m adding a new aspect to the reaping. While I would love to be able to give you a rating for each album listed, that just wouldn’t be possible, because I rarely have time to listen to all of the albums I will post. But what I am going to do instead is highlight one of the albums in red to signify my most loved ♥ release of the week.
Lead singer Ryan O’Neil and bassist Dan Perdue of Sleeping At Last have started a new blog that I think is worth checking out. So far it has just been some ramblings on their time on tour and random bits of whatever that they find interesting.
Paste Magazine has teamed up with the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival to bring us a free music sampler with songs from several artists that will be performing at this year’s festival, including She & Him, Dr. Dog, Blitzen Trapper and many more. Click here to download your free sampler: 2010 Paste Magazine Bonnaroo Sampler.
Gorillaz have been one of pop’s wackiest successes since “Clint Eastwood” invaded airwaves nearly a decade ago. It’s hard to believe a cartoon band lasted this long, even harder considering the group releases new music about once every five years.
Of course, it’s all the brainchild of former Blur front man Damon Albarn, a challenging and prolific songwriter, and illustrator Jamie Hewlett. The duo stays busy with an endless roll of side projects, thus Plastic Beach, the group’s newest album, comes a full half-decade after the fluke commercial success of Demon Days.
Plastic Beach is a braver record in every way, especially in its bevy of guest spots. Albarn wipes Snoop Dogg of grit and leaves him alone in a sterile soundscape. He employs the influential mutter of former Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed in a barroom piano jam. Veteran rap troupe De La Soul makes “Superfast Jellyfish” the jam of the spring.
It’s worth noting that many of Albarn’s collaborators are washed up music legends. The word here is “rebirth.” He treats these musicians as actors in his giant production, and Plastic Beach proves him a brilliant director – he rouses unexpectedly great performances from almost all of them.
The secret to Gorillaz lies in this pluralistic approach, and Plastic Beach is its realization. It’s as if the shattered pieces of world culture washed up on a beach, and Albarn, with the help of some friends, was there to reassemble them in his own demented way.
Speaking of pollution, the muse is an imagined island, composed of all the ocean’s floating trash. Plastic Beach is as a concept album should be: strange and messy and full of wit. Hewlett’s stylized version of the future is impossible and idyllic. The main characters aren’t cartoon characters anymore – they’re environments.
The result is a great beached whale of an album, one that was really written for sunshine. Albarn has a knack for breezy, winding melodies, as heard in the title track and “Broken,” the record’s best song. Elsewhere, the charming, carbonated sound of the band’s 2001 debut bubbles to the surface. (“Superfast Jellyfish,” “On Melancholy Hill”)
Still, Albarn wrote more than 70 songs for this record, and some of that blubber remains, sandwiched between distinct pop gems. Mos Def’s contributions to “Stylo” and “Sweepstakes” are especially disappointing – the latter sounds like M.I.A. with the cream filling sucked out. Two other songs relegate the funk-cacophony of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble to musical wallpaper.
Regardless, it’s a thrill to hear Albarn evolve from rock star to curator. He’s become a socially conscious prophet and vital pop musician. Plastic Beach is an undeniable success, especially in timing – I can’t think of a better soundtrack for spring break.
The best time for contemplation is on late winter nights, a friend said to me. Sometimes he holes up in his bedroom and while the world sleeps, he thinks.
The cold harnesses the mind and hones the senses. We see divisions more clearly: the geometry of a bedside table, the sharp difference of darkness and light, the separation of communal identity and the lone self. In winter, the watercolor smear of summer is gone and the world has suddenly come into focus.
Winter keeps us indoors for long spans, which is hell for restless people. But more time affords longer commitments, like that of listening to a record in its entirety. Here are some frosty nuggets.
Music Has the Right to Children – Boards of Canada
Music Has the Right to Children is a future-music dream city submerged in murky water and subliminal messages. Melodies dissolve just as they reach boiling point. Many sounds are so subtle they hardly exist, so strap on some headphones. Hazy jams like “Aquarius” and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” loom high, stretching a hip-hop beat and warping it forever past time. If Kubrick made beats…
Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
“All Blues” is the winter song on the jazz record. These alien chord changes don’t ever touch ground, despite heaps of praise. A tense theme for driving home from work at the end of dusk, the song has no peers. Kind of Blue is so unassuming but it demands your attention. This kind of record is extinct; it’s for people that have to wait for things.
Kid A – Radiohead
I remember first listening to all of Kid A in the early morning, on a stretch of highway in Colorado. We passed cranes and incomplete shopping malls, all of it dusted with snow, to the chug of “The National Anthem.” The car coasted around a mountain pass during “In Limbo,” a drugged funhouse mirror. It’s an album, man, and each song is a stream into one frigid reservoir.
Knives Don’t Have Your Back – Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
Haines sets out on a desolate adventure from Metric, the electric-rock group, with nothing but a husky contralto and jazz in the liner notes. “The first three songs all begin with the same note,” a friend pointed out, and he’s right; this is a mood record. The music of a late winter night should be concentrated, sparse and factual. Haines’ path is sad and beautiful.