Summer Solstice Sounds
Last summer, I put together a list of songs to give the curious and resourceful among you a soundtrack of new and off-the-beaten-track music for the long, hot months ahead. Let’s make it a tradition. Here are some of my favorite tunes from the past year or so, and one vintage gem for good measure, all guaranteed to put a skip in your step or a smile on your face. (I’ve even included links, if you’re inclined to sample the magic.)
1. Anchor — Alejandro Escovedo, from the album “Street Songs of Love”
A muscular, propulsive anthem reminiscent of Springsteen, but with a raw edge drawn from Alejandro’s roots in the punk rock era. Alejandro consistently produces some of the finest music being made today. His appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman and Austin City Limits are almost as dynamic as his live shows. An artist to ignore at your peril. Watch.
2. Ready to Start — Arcade Fire, from the album “The Suburbs”
This Canadian collective combines charismatic vocals, dynamic rhythms, and a cast of nearly a dozen other peripatetic musicians to mesmerize audiences in concert and on their acclaimed 2010 release, which topped many critics’ “Best of” lists for 2010. Watch.
3. Pumped Up Kicks — Foster the People, from the album “Torches”
This infectious tune may be the anthem of summer 2011. Don’t be fooled by the bouncy cheer—it’s a sinister tune masquerading as frivolous froth. Enjoy, but drink responsibly. Watch.
4. Blue Eyes — Middle Brother, from the album “Middle Brother”
Middle Brother is an improbable “Super Group.” Super in that each of its three members is a frontman in a group of his own: John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. Improbable in that few people reading this column will have heard of Dawes, Delta Spirit, or Deer Tick. But don’t let their relative obscurity prevent you from sampling their easy, laid-back, rootsy sound.
5. Our Hearts Are Wrong — Jessica Lea Mayfield, from the album “Tell Me”
This American singer-songwriter from Kent, Ohio, writes dark, sad songs with a plaintive, minimalist style. Jessica Lea provides hushed haunting sounds for humid summer nights. Watch.
6. Grown Ocean — Fleet Foxes, from the album “Helplessness Blues”
Take Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, turn back the clock 40 years, mix with contemporary alt/rock vibe, add a few long beards, and what you have are Fleet Foxes. The Foxes serve up the richest blend of vocals this side of déjà vu. Watch.
7. Calgary — Bon Iver, from the album “Bon Iver”
And speaking of lush, high harmonies from someone with a beard, the new one from iconoclastic Justin Vernon, who goes by Bon Iver, is a gorgeous delight. Layers upon layers of textured harmonies wrapped around Vernon’s rugged falsetto will envelop you in a dream. Watch.
8. Jesus Fever 192 — Kurt Vile, from the album “Smoke Ring For My Halo”
Spin Magazine says it all: “The Philly singer-songwriter's fourth record is his best yet — an 11-track blur of acoustic psych-folk and plugged-in drones that split the difference between . . . punk, gorgeous Harvest-era Neil Young balladry, and . . . zonked-out slacker rock.” Watch.
9. Bad Blood — Ana Egge, from the forthcoming album “Bad Blood”
Finnegan favorite Ana Egge takes a new path with this new CD, produced by Treme star and hardcore troubadour Steve Earle. With this diverse collection of rockers and ballads, Ana gives new life to the folk genre. Listen.
10. Bluebird — Buffalo Springfield
Okay, so not exactly something new, but with all these young bands emulating CSN-era harmonies, it would be a sin of omission not to include one of the musical events of this or any other summer. The reunion—after 43 years—of Buffalo Springfield, the iconic ’60s band led by Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richey Furay. One of the first columns in this space talked about the origins of that band’s name—it was taken from the name of a steamroller. It’s only right that we end where we started, with the Springfield. Numerous videos, current and vintage, can be found on YouTube.