Two summers and almost exactly two years ago, I began this site. In part, it was to pass time during the long, hot Cairene days that required both cold-blooded resilience as well as ample distraction. Another anaesthetic that provided a great source of respite was of course music, and it was in one of my very first posts that I listed several albums which I believed to capture that summer in a neat, melodic bundle of musical artistry that some of my favourites had created after the careful deliberation I so greatly appreciated both while travelling in the desert and at night, while trying to sleep and drown out the noise of a rattling air-conditioning unit.
After several days of post-nasal drip and fever from flu brought on by London’s sunglasses-and-umbrella weather, I am once more reminded of how volatile the weather can be, as well as how enjoyable it is to just kick back and listen to tracks on endless replay. And with a few old and new releases in the mix, this year’s sounds of summer provide a blend of some of the more obscure, independent electronic and rock (mostly Nordic) talent of recent times, along with a few classics that will always remain on the top of my list. Though there were quite a few more that I would have liked to include here, I reckon mention of them will inevitably come about in due time…:
1 Plat Compulsion
This Icelandic wonder (plat translating to ‘trick’ or ‘hoax’) was a random find, and thinking back now I can’t quite recall how I happened across it. But no matter, because this album is one that has not yet ceased to impress. Released under the Unschooled independent label, it opens with a sound not unlike Portishead, reminiscent at times of Dummy’s dynamic harmonies (‘Pælíng’, ‘Afture’). Warped vibratos can be enjoyed throughout, often with the deep, faint sound of a Barry White-like figure whispering smoothly in the background. Percussion-heavy at times with touches of synthesized xylophone-enhanced melodies, Plat presents a marriage of drone, ambient and trip-hop that sits surprisingly well together. It’s as though a single track formula presides as driving a common theme throughout, undoubtedly with ‘Ástand’ being at the heart of the release — the most poignant and all-encompassing of the Adalsteinsson/Paisson duo’s sound. With a hint of Funkstörung’s early work submerged beneath trills and shifts in pitch that evoke a dimension somewhere between outerspace and underseas, Compulsion is a prime example of what IDT would sound like if the term were to ever exist: Intelligent Downtempo.
2 Lykke Li Youth Novels
For a little while now, I’ve had a platonic crush on Lykke Li, and to be honest it’s hard not to fall in love with the author of Youth Novels: she’s quite lovely. Sweet as candy with a voice that will remind you of Stina Nordenstam (‘Little Star’), this 22 year-old indie singer/song-writer from Stockholm is sure to be a hit with the lovers of Feist, Bat For Lashes, and all those seeking light melodies, a sprinkling of funk, and an overall emotionally uplifting listening experience. It is very fitting thus that her name should sound very much like the word lycklig (happy) and that her love of music and dance is apparent from the very beginning (‘Melodies & Desires’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’). Though not musically complex or lyrically profound (sometimes borderline pop), there’s a space that’s created between her vocals and the accompaniment that lends the album its mellow yet fun feeling, still leaving room to appreciate how well Lykke complements the subtleties of the instrumentation (acoustic guitar, piano, percussion, megaphone…). Among my favourites are ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’ and ‘Complaint Department’, the latter being the catchiest track of the album. And the straightforward nature of her work is what lends itself the ease with which one is able to relate to it: ‘Complaint Department’ is my new personal anthem for the current strife I must endure living with rude, inconsiderate flatmates.
3 Henrik Rylander Traditional Arrangements of Feedback
Henrik Rylander is fantastic live — I simply cannot emphasize this point nearly enough. Last month, I had the great honour of being able to attend a performance he did as part of a culture weekend held by the ICA and the Swedish Embassy (Swedish Outsiders). And it was only then that I discovered how thoroughly impressive this genre of music is when performed live. Bordering between the repetitive and hypnotic, Rylander’s sound proves addictive for anyone who is patient enough to listen to his album from beginning to end in order to fully grasp how very well it all fits together. His musical mastery is less noise (Ø) and more experimental (Seedy) with tribal undertones, an offering that becomes truly evident as the genius of his craft comes to glorious form halfway through (‘Carnivore’). I have yet to figure out how he can keep it going so well, with a rhythm somehow derived from the grinding of sounds utilized in various pitches often in harmonic minor or off-key. Aptly named, ‘Repetition’ is roughly 13 minutes long, and overall, this is a perfect record to listen to whilst on the sweaty London Underground, or late at night in the dark after a long summer day.
4 Xploding Plastix Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents
Xploding Plastix are the quintessence of the tremendous potential of cross-genre musical formation. Characterized for the most part as electrofunk and nu-jazz, this Norwegian duo have brought forth one of the most exciting albums I have ever come across in memory. Amateur Girlfriends Go Upskirt Agents is enough to satisfy cravings for IDM, jazz and downtempo, while throwing in a host of interesting voice samples very similar in style to UNKLE and Forss. An intelligently crafted collection of tracks with fantastic balance between symphony and percussion, the first track alone is enough to pique your interest (‘Behind the Eightball’). I am reminded of Venetian Snares’ Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, certainly not in style/genre but in dynamic complexity. With quirky titles to boot (e.g. ‘Sports, Not Heavy Crime’), there is a slight satirical undertone that fits aptly with the ongoings of this summer’s World Affairs.
5 Datarock Datarock Datarock
Another fantastic group from Norway, this was actually the first album that crossed my mind when thinking about this year’s ‘sounds of summer’. To be honest, there’s nothing extremely wondrous or breathtaking about this record: simply put, it’s pure, upbeat fun that survives constant listening. One of the catchiest aspects of the sort of rock that Datarock provide is that Fredrik Saroea’s voice is so incredibly catchy. The lyrics are often funny, with their own special takes on aspects of the maintream such as Grease‘s iconic ‘Summer Nights’ (‘Computer Camp Love’) and the ‘Maybe it’s Maybelline’ advert campaign (‘Maybelline’). The wordplay works well with their versatility in sound, leaving something to like for everyone. Though lacking a certain depth that most of the albums in this feature have, Datarock provide much needed relief from all things serious and thought-provoking in order to survive the long summer ahead.
6 Wildbirds & Peacedrums Heartcore
Also present at the Swedish Outsiders gig, I was quite taken aback by the sound of the Gothenburg duo Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin. Luckily arriving in time to see them perform, there is no doubt that they are extremely talented musicians. And this is a peculiar point as the group’s stylings consist mainly of vocals and percussion. The overall effect is simple, heartfelt and dynamic. Wallentin’s voice very much reminds me of Björk, Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, or Dani Siciliano in levels of pleasant originality. Hauntingly unique, the songs on this album have a folksy, blues feel, with a structure complemented by an underlying similarity to the original melodic patterns of traditional African music. For anyone that appreciates percussion or likes to sing a capella, this album is a gem in the middle of a sea of some of this summer’s monotonous releases. Debuted in the UK back in April, Heartcore is a vital addition to any musicphile’s collection, even if just for the tracks ‘Doubt/Hope’ and ‘The Battle in Water’.
7 Does It Offend You, Yeah? You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into
If you like Digitalism, Familjen, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, or even just Electric Six’s ‘Danger! (High Voltage)’ track, this album is for you. Invariable rivals to Hot Chip this season, this album is an eclectic mix with very original titles throughout (‘Attack of the 60 Ft. Lesbian Octupus’ makes for good example). Hailing from Reading, the combination of electro and rock makes this band’s debut a memorable one. And though critics may have likened it to the host of countless others that straddle the line between britpop and indie rock with emo hair and synthesizers, Does It Offend You, Yeah? provide great and thoroughly enjoyable listening that will capture you from the very beginning with ‘Battle Royal’.
8 Four Tet Pause
Less sugar-coated than Nathan Fake and more grown-up than Efterklang, Kieran Hebden’s interesting sampling style and adept musical structuring abilities make this one of the more spirited albums I’ve encountered to date. Beautiful and lingering, this is at its heart an album for the summer. With many messages hidden beneath Pause’s melodies and overtones (‘Leila Came Around And We Watched a Video’), there is always something new to discover while listening through the record time and time again. Very much on par with Border Community’s level of caliber, Hebden’s technique and ability to fuse his songs with such complexity ultimately comes together to create a powerful affect. Bring this one with you to the park on a sunny day, and hours of listening whilst basking in the sun will surely follow. ‘No More Mosquitos’ will be enough to get you started.
9 Miles Davis Kind of Blue
This album is and forever will be classic Miles in all his sheer musical genius. Along with Sketches of Spain, Kind of Blue is one of my favourite works by him and tops my list of preferred jazz records of all time. If you are not familiar with ‘Flamenco Sketches’, I strongly urge you to have a listen at once (if you like jazz), and what you can expect is extremely sexy evening music that calls for a glass of red wine, a balcony overlooking a beautiful skyline and a cool summer breeze (I urge you to do that, too). At once eloquent and elegant with some lighter, upbeat Gershwinesque relief in between, prepare to be transported back to the ’50s and thoroughly enjoy a timeless, musically-inspiring (and inspired) experience.
10 Jacqueline Du Pré Les plus célèbres Concertos pour Violoncelle
An impressive compilation of the greats, Du Pré plays with great dexterity and soulful expression. With a personal fondness towards strings accompanied by keys, I have found this record to be a cornerstone in my classical repertoire. Quite a number of tracks (Bach, Brahms, Handel et al.) will have been heard before. But several are tucked away in between that instill a certain awe in the listener that elevates an almost newfound appreciation for such classics. Fauré’s Elegie in C Minor is deeply moving, as well as Franck’s Sonata in A (although I must admit I have a soft spot for the French Romanticists). With a generous offering of Elgar, Schumann and de Falla, it is certainly worth your while. And with its different periods and styles, the word ‘favourite’ would be innadequate to truly describe the list of pieces in Favourite Cello Concertos. A suitable element to add to your summer reading endeavours…
– Sarah Badr
© 2008. S.H.Badr, All Rights Reserved.
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