Summer Listening List
During the season most of us love to hate, it helps to set the hellacious days and stifling nights to music. A poor substitute in lieu of air conditioning, perhaps, though these recommendations are designed to distract you to the point that you forget about the pool of sweat collecting in the small of your back, the clamminess behind your knees, and in some isolated cases, even the phantom feeling of wearing woolen underpants.
Someone Elses Party (Artful Records)
Vini Reilly is punk's very own Debussy, climbing from the same gene pool as the Sex Pistols, the Smiths, and Joy Division but making neoclassical music that only occasionally touches upon rock. Someone Else's Party brings together every element he's crafted over the past 25 years of the Durutti Column. His spiky finger-plucked arpeggios have never sounded more effortless and relaxing. Vocal samples (like the Spanish version of Roy Orbison's "Crying," from the film Mulholland Drive) are impeccably selected and placed. Possibly Reilly's most personal record, it's dedicated to his recently deceased mother and, on the powerfully honest "Somewhere," even addresses his long battle with anorexia nervosa.
Yol Bolsin (Real World)
After seeing Nazarkhan open for Peter Gabriel earlier this summer -- she even joined him on-stage for his concert favorite "In Your Eyes" -- I've been captivated by the Uzbekistani pop star. While Yol Bolsin may be too polished and produced (read: Western) in spots, it's a magical album, showcasing Nazarkhan's exotic acrobatic voice and her signature instrument, the doutar -- which sounds like a dobro from the sand dunes.
Hybrid (Jagged Halo)
A blatant attempt to make Gary Numan just as ornery and nihilistic as Trent Reznor, Hybrid kidnaps his back catalog, orders it to strip, then dresses it up in combat boots and a leather straitjacket. But it actually works. Thanks to contributions from pals like Flood, Curve, and Alan Moulder, tracks like "This Wreckage," "Down in the Park," and "Everyday I Die" are tortured into tighter, leaner, and meaner shapes, so you can scream along the next time you're stuck in traffic and the a/c quits while not feeling the least bit British or wimpy. As Scary Gary says, it's the only way to live -- in cars.
A Day in New York (Sony)
As a slow soft segue into dawn -- when it's already 90 frickin' degrees outside -- A Day in New York currently occupies the early-morning spot in my CD changer. A collaboration among Brazilian masters Paula Morelenbaum (vocals) and Jacques Morelenbaum (bass) plus Japanese soundtrack wizard Riuichi Sakamoto, the unlikely threesome explores the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. With enough froth atop your coffee cup and lime-green streaks of parrots in the sky, the bird calls and waterfall sounds scattered throughout this recording come to life. Of course, a Jobim record would hardly be complete without his moody "Insensatez," which has already been done to death. But if you haven't heard it under a palm tree on a beach at twilight, well, you probably haven't heard it the way nature intended. Mm'kay?
More bossa nova, only this time it's as smart and tailored as a gray flannel suit. Mosquitos is actually a Lower Eastside Manhattan trio (led by sexy singer Juju Stulbach) with an acute Sergio Mendes Brasil 65 fixation. The results of this brilliant debut are so pleasant and refreshing, every single song seems to explode into uplifting plumes of melody. Sometimes Mosquitos seems to say "late-night art school" more than it does "samba on a sunny beach," but that's probably because I don't speak any Portuguese.
The Sea and Cake
Glass (Thrill Jockey)
Not nearly as rich, creamy, and silky as the band's last two albums, Oui and One Bedroom, this extended single (with a cool video you can watch on your computer) may give completists a boost but would be an awful introduction for newcomers. Perfect for those moments when you need something faux-tropical and slightly jazzy for chilling by the pool with one or two or three of them fancy umbrella drinks or maybe a cold mojito in a tall frosted glass with real hydroponic mint and añejo rum. For summertime drinking, you could do a lot worse than the Sea and Cake as your backdrop.
Feel like sticking your head in an icebox? Try this as a sonic substitute. Like (), this Icelandic quintet's 2002 effort, the four tracks on Sigur Rös' new single stand completely nude, helpless, and untitled. So if the oppressive summer heat has you seeking a 20-minute helping of nameless, treeless, glacial grooviness with plenty of weird wordless lyrics and sounds that could be made by stunted lawn gnomes, look no further then this three-inch platter right here.
The Ownerzz (Virgin)
A South Florida summer wouldn't be much without hip-hop. Naturally, most of the season's "urban" music pretty much remains in the public's domain, issuing forth from radios and open windows everywhere, making underground jams like this all the more worthwhile. Kicking both old and new school back to the blackboard, The Ownerzz takes Gang Starr back to the beat-box basics. What makes it this season's indispensable hip-hop choice is all down to rapper Guru -- even though this album is too long and includes stupid skits (like every other hip-hop album from the past decade), anything he touches is golden. You won't hear this on the beach unless you bring it. For snapping free from the chains of commerce, Gang Starr is to be duly commended.
You can count on every Eels record containing a good song or two, and Shootenanny is no exception. The fifth outing from Mark Oliver Everett, a.k.a. "The Man Called E," is manic-depressive in the extreme, with pedal steel guitars gently (and not so gently) weeping all over the place. The sad 'n' lonesome piano line in "Numbered Days" places a cloud in front of the sun until the string-laden finale, "Somebody Loves You," comes along and dries the rain.
Guided by Voices
Earthquake Glue (Matador)
The same day the new Guided by Voices album came in the mail, it was followed by something new from the Who: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, a three-disc package featuring all kinds of cameo appearances from guests like Eddie Vedder, Noel Gallagher, and Bryan Adams. Of course, Guided by Voices' short shrunken-down stadium songs are often compared to the big-league anthems of the Who. Whatever -- on Earthquake Glue, the 14th GBV album, the band sticks to its lo-fi guns, clever song titles ("A Trophy Mule in Particular" and "I'll Replace You with Machines," for example), and the brevity of wit. Making a choice between the two discs in terms of appropriate summer companionship was simple: With apologies to Robert Frost, I took the one less traveled by Bryan Adams, and that has made all the difference.
To Watch the Storms (Camino)
Guitarist Hackett remains the most prolific ex-Genesis member, releasing an album a year since he quit the group in 1978. His newest is full of 12-string madrigals, big crashing crescendos, gratuitously bombastic instrumental passages, and quaint Canterbury tales -- no doubt about it, this is progressive rock. But while bands like Yes and King Crimson never displayed a whit of a sense of humor to match all that instrumental skill, Hackett easily excels at both. A nice accompaniment to those afternoon thunderclaps.
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