Turning up the sounds of summer
A look back at the season’s best in sunny vibes, downtempo darkness
It was a summer of waiting: waiting for the hot sun to go down, relieving us of its unapologetic rays; waiting for noon, only after which is it socially appropriate to start drinking. But most of all, it was a summer of waiting for Kanye West’s new album to come out. Every bit of Yeezy-related news and every .5 second snippet of a new song that leaked only further stoked the burning desire for the return of Lord Yeezus, plunging our hearts into despair despite the wonderful weather of the summertime. Still, we found ways to stem our anguish with the many incredible new music releases that were part of an amazing summer.
Before you say anything; Yes, The War on Drugs’ “Lost In The Dream” did come out before the thousands of students fled Charlottesville for the beaches, but that didn’t stop it from being the go-to soundtrack for long, windy Ray-Ban shaded car journeys across the countryside. The release finds War on Drugs’ frontman Adam Granduciel doing his best Springsteen impression backed by meticulously layered guitars and synths ripped straight out of his dad’s record collection. And though The War on Drugs are very much living in the past here, they employ the currently trendy practice of drowning everything in swirling, sparkling ambience, grounding the album wholly in the present day.
I would call “Lost In The Dream” the sunniest summer album of 2014, but that title unfortunately goes to A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s “Sea When Absent,” a brilliant whirlpool of star-screaming guitar, soft and sweet vocal work and exceptional melodic songwriting. Like The War on Drugs, A Sunny Day in Glasgow seems to channel an artist from yesteryear, this time Irish shoegaze royalty My Bloody Valentine, though “Sea When Absent” sprawls sonically outward in enough different directions to avoid a direct comparison. The record’s oceanic title is mimicked in the structure of each song, with each instrument and voice drifting in and out of the picture as moment of intense guitar-noise gradually explodes upward. The whole atmosphere of each track then quickly slides away like waves crashing against seaside cliffs.
And if you are sickened by the previous two summery albums, the summer also birthed a number of dark, bitter, left-field electronic releases to compliment the sweetness of the season. From the compilation “10.1” by UK bass label Hyperdub, a comprehensive primer on the label’s wonky dance hits, to FKA Twigs’ “LP1,” the first great album in the “Industrial Futurist R&B” genre, anyone who didn’t want to go outside this summer had plenty of albums to stay inside and “get weird” to. A final late-comer was UK dubstep producer The Bug’s second effort “Angels and Devils.” In the U.S., the term dubstep has come to describe a certain branch of big-room electronic dance music featuring abrasive electronic noises akin to Optimus Prime having a burping competition with Megatron in an empty aluminum tank. But in the U.K., dubstep is a far more subtle music, focused on mood, atmospherics and, most of all, sonic progression and originality. “London Zoo,” the first album by The Bug, was a prime example of what dubstep was capable of in its heyday, and his new album is undisputable proof that real dubstep is not dead. Bug employs a dual structure on the album, the first half composed of more-gentle dub-atmospheric low tempo tracks, the second half featuring mostly high energy, high tension and higher tempo bangers. While it’s worth listening to beginning to end, standout tracks like “F**K A B***h” — featuring recently defunct noise rap group Death Grips — and the grimey track “Dirty,” give the album heavy replay value.
It’s been a fantastic summer for music, and upcoming releases by Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus and many more promise to keep the quality strong into the fall. But we’re still holding out for Kanye to drop what is assured to be the best album in music history. The waiting continues, I suppose.