Music

The Best Music for Summer

PopMatters writers offer up their favorite songs and albums for summer. From the transcendent vocals and trumpet of Louis Armstrong to the contemporary beats and rhymes of Kanye West, our picks traverse the cultural landscape, picking out summery tunes from every era of popular music history.

PopMatters writers offer up their favorite songs and albums for summer. From the transcendent vocals and trumpet of the incomparable Louis Armstrong to the contemporary beats and rhymes of superstar Kanye West, our picks traverse the cultural landscape, picking out summery tunes from every era of popular music history.

 

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)

Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire won best album at the 2011 Grammy Awards for their third album, The Suburbs. Vocalist Win Butler calls the instrumental album a letter from the suburbs, which is a very good description considering most tracks, like "Rococo" and the title track, are evocative of long warm evenings in neat back gardens beside a smoking barbeque. Others, like "Ready to Start" put the listener in mind of summer nights driving along a coastal road with the top down, accompanied by a sultry breeze, 100,000 stars, and the laughter of friends anticipating a good night. Watch the fantastic music for "The Suburbs" by Spike Jonze to put you in the mood. Sally Fink

 

Louis Armstrong - "Lazy River" / "Georgia on My Mind" (1932) from Hotter Than That

Released as a single in early 1932, these two Hoagy Carmichael songs were ideal nap-in-the-backyard cuts from the beginning. Armstrong's arrangement retains the brassy culmination at the end, but also keeps the entire thing unpredictable (in classic Armstrong fashion) by letting the piano provide a lounge-y lead-in to it. Even though you might know what's coming, the light tap of percussion and the twinkling piano beforehand -- not to mention his scatting, taking on a near-flinty tone by the end -- doesn't quite prepare you for the fanfare of brass that arrives with his solo. The B-side, meanwhile, is obviously familiar to all no matter who sings it, but the staccato chop that pushes it along seeps fluidly toward ambling harmonies and a relaxed guitar strum by the end. Both songs are rustic in sentiment and equally inventive in summer shade or sun. Nathaniel Wisnicki


And yet another great Louis from New Orleans on the tune...


 

The Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000)

Plenty of albums can summon up spirits of summers past, but it takes the special magic of the Avalanches to recall summers that never happened. In their sun-baked Aussie hands, the passable vocals of dusty pop vinyls become nothing less than beatific, evoking without strain the lovesick pursuit of a girl around the globe that was once their one-and-only release’s guiding concept. That journey, abstractly but luculently bittersweet, unravels against a big beat backdrop of leggy stewardesses and plastic suitcases, chattering tourists and disembarking cruises, crowded nightclubs, squealing sirens, braying stags, combative spaceships, Madonna’s “Holiday", Divine in Polyester, Raekwon in “Glaciers of Ice", heaps of delay, strings and choirs galore, and the Osmonds. Since I Left You is, above all, versatile in the way this season requires: generously danceable, rock-opera-smokeable, and ceaselessly likeable; as much for June looking forward to higher temperatures, as for August, looking back at June. Benjamin Aspray

 

Basement Jaxx - "Romeo" (2001)

If Basement Jaxx are to be trusted, it's not so bad to break up with someone just before summer begins. Damned if it doesn't sound like the protagonist in "Romeo" is having way more fun than should be expected from someone getting the "hold up", from a now-lackluster lover ("When we get it on it's so-so / You used to be a Romeo"). The chorus is a liberating anthem in the tradition of the best disco and pop divas, from "I Will Survive" to "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" -- "let it all go" becomes a mantra for the fun side of rebounding, bathed as it is in tropical synth tweets. Like many songs on its accompanying album, Rooty (2001), there's a distinctly raw quality to the vocals on "Romeo". This is someone who's ready to truly let it go, and then head somewhere warm and breezy. Not a bad way to start the summer. David Abravanel

 

The Beatles - With the Beatles (1963)

Though some hippies claim Sgt. Pepper's as the ultimate Beatles summer album, for me it's their second, With the Beatles. From its odd movie-credit title and cover photo of the Lads emerging from some serious blackness (so much cooler than Sgt. Pepper's), to its kick-in of "It won't be long! (Yeah!) Yeah! (Yeah!) Yeah!", this is much more than merely the greatest sophomore record of all time. Though their first, Please Please Me, has a one-take immediacy, it still feels like the Boys trying to learn the studio. It only took them one album. With the Beatles is bold, wild, and super-melodic, boasting strong covers ("Roll Over Beethoven", "You Really Got a Hold on Me") and better originals ("All I've Got to Do", "All My Loving", "Don't Bother Me"). Roll down the windows and turn it UP. With the Beatles is perfect driving music. Guy Crucianelli

 

BeauSoleil - Bayou Boogie (1987) / Cajun Conja (1991) / La Danse de la Vie (1993)

With a name that means "beautiful sun", BeauSoleil are about as built for summer as one can get. It helps that they specialize in upbeat, bright, Cajun music capable of producing an instant party mood from the first few joyous notes of Michael Doucet's violin and Jimmy Breaux's accordion. In fact BeauSoleil pretty much single-handedly saved Cajun music from obscurity within the larger culture, spearheading a revival moment from their formation in 1975 that continues strong to this day. Cajun music is on heavy iPod rotation for me during the summer months and BeauSoleil is pretty much my favorite currently active band on the planet. The level of musicianship this band displays is simply staggering, especially in a live setting. An hour into a performance, Doucet seems to hit some sort of transcendant groove where the notes from his violin spiral into cascades that evoke the most complex forms of jazz, while simulaneously keeping the whole floor dancing. One album recommendation? Nah, I'm giving you three. Three of the best albums in American roots music, period. Each one of these is essential, so "eenie meenie minie moe" in picking one if you must just select one. Sarah Zupko

 

The Very Best of Bob and Ray: Legends of Comedy (2010)

I am so not recommending this five-CD set because I wrote the liner note essay.... at least, *ahem* not entirely. Besides inspiring -- now that I think of it -- really quite decent essays, radio comedy team Bob & Ray built a legend out of keeping it simple. They merely zeroed in on the madness of the mundane in American and/or life in general, delivering their hilariously razor-sharp satire wrapped in rambling, gently inconsequential drollery -- which makes them the perfect philosophers to take along on a lazy summer's day. Hey, even the darkest of cynics need brain candy when the mercury hits 90F in the shade. This comprehensive compilation works well either as a gateway to Bob and Ray's 40-year career, or a way to keep all their high spots in one place. Plus -- gosh, it's undeniable, honestly -- awesome liner essays, of course. Kerrie Mills

Next Page

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image