Looking for those grooves to keep you cool all summer? From punk to pop and everything in between, Impact recommends five of the best albums to kick-start your summer listening.
Stay Sick! by The Cramps
When thinking about quintessential summer albums, I immediately thought of The Beach Boys and their iconic album Pet Sounds. But to list anything by The Beach Boys would be painfully banal, and besides, there is more to an American summer than driving to the beach with your surfboard. You may ask – is there a lot of difference between The Beach Boys, with their choir-boy harmonies and head-boy attitudes, and The Cramps? Absolutely, but they are both speaking to American youths looking for fun.
“Their rock ‘n’ roll is fast and grimy and their aesthetic is camp and kooky, as if The Addams Family loved snorting speed.”
Inspired by old rockabilly records and trashy, B-List horror and sci-fi, they have no pretence of respectability – leather clad, lewd, and vampish, Lux Interior was the type of guy who’d say he’s “never understood the word morality” and mimic fellatio with a microphone while wife Poison Ivy picked another riff. As explained on the track ‘God Damn Rock ‘N’ Roll,’ this group delights in the “kind of stuff that don’t save souls.”
This context is integral to The Cramps’ eccentric rock. The album starts with the drug addled ‘Bop Pills,’ which immediately captures The Cramps’ wonderful humour: “I woke up last night and I thought I was going to die – sick!” Why care about danger when it’s fucking cool? Sick! Not only blatant with their humour, the band pays homage to their much beloved low-brow movies. ‘Bikini Girls with Machine Guns,’ and ‘The Creature From Black Leather Lagoon,’ are both fun romps through genre films, with the former merging a jaunty bass line, tinny, thrashing guitar, and an electric riff from Poison Ivy. An album crammed with surfer drum beat, beguiling bass lines and heaving, tremulous guitar, Stay Sick! is not an album for squares.
Wash & Set by Leikeli47
Picture this: you’re walking with cool confidence out of a stuffy exam hall into the summer you’ve been waiting for. Not only this, but you’re walking with poised style and probably listening to Wash & Set. This is a second album that is unapologetically confident and underpinned by an attitude of hard work and firm self-belief. Though she may be a shy and ski-masked rapper, Leikeli47 probably knows the glow of that post-exam feeling tenfold.
“This is an album for serving looks.”
The eponymous ‘Wash & Set,’ where a rhythmic, chanting hair-care anthem meets a thumping bass, is a brilliant and fun finish to the album, extolling the virtues of paying proper attention to your hairstyle. While ‘Attitude,’ which rolls quickly over the intermittence of a high snare and a low bass, and ‘Look,’ are feisty tracks of self-love and success. “Don’t take it the wrong way/ I just wanna be great,” sings Leikeli on ‘2nd Fiddle.’ She’s doing what she loves, doing it well, and couldn’t care less what you think of her.
Leikeli47’s talent for weaving the foreground of her rap and background rhythms and bass is so distractingly good that I fortunately have no time to worry about associating women’s success too heavily with their outer appearance. It’s a recurring talent of hers from start to finish: ‘Miss Me,’ features some high, harmonising male vocals that echo Leikeli’s thoughts, while ‘Money,’ is a smooth, finger-clicking anthem about – no surprise – financial success. A sung chorus, “All my life, I had to grind and hustle,” intercepted by a trio of low vocal notes captures her ethos, making it a stand-out on an assured album.
I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty
Being known for cynicism, existential anxiety and resigned nihilism does not make Father John Misty incompatible with the summer season. A wry dedication to his wife, I Love You, Honeybear is not as conventionally folky as its predecessor, nor as miserable – an adjective used here to describe thinking about topics such as the state of the planet, our inevitable mortality, or general current events – as its successors. Its scope is wonderful: at times tender and romantic, otherwise vulnerable, and often quite funny.
“The album is a romance.”
Though it’s done in typical Misty style, the album is a romance. ‘Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)’ for example, describing the development of Misty’s relationship with his wife, takes the singer’s derision for others and turns it into a romantic tool. Yet, with romantic strings and bursts of trombone, any bitterness is overshadowed by the reverent affection Misty has for actions as small as his wife eating bread and butter.
‘When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,’ a more soulful and contemplative track, is richer and slower, yet still allows Misty to make light of our amorous attempts to really understand other people: ‘You see me as I am…horny mamma’s man-child to boot.’ These warm and lush arrangements make for splendid listening, transforming the panicked subject matter of ‘Strange Encounter,’ into something eerie and intriguing.
However, this is not a sopping, sentimental album, and Misty doesn’t fail to bring his ironic wit. ‘Bored In the USA’ an insight into the ennui of the average middle-class American, never fails to make me laugh with Misty’s urgent cries of “save me white Jesus!” or, later, “president Jesus!” ‘The Night That Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment,’ is a particularly cruel caricature of a woman Tillman presumably dated who seems to remind him too much of himself. Masking his merciless writing with folky instrumentals, sweeps of strings and breezy vocals, Father John Misty can be listened to or really heard depending on how cynical you’re feeling.
Zanaka by Jain
Remember that Levi’s advertisement where people danced in circles in their jeans and had a generally great time? If you’ve seen that advertisement for Levi’s™ – please be aware that I earn nothing from product placement – you’ve probably also heard Jain’s single ‘Makeba,’ an internationally influenced electro-pop track that is almost impossible not to dance to. Though I may not be wearing Levi’s™ jeans, they got Jain completely right: her music is sunny, upbeat, and probably inspired by the singer’s love of having something to groove to.
“Jain captures scenes and moods well enough to construct portraits in her work.”
Aside from the more well-known ‘Makeba,’ ‘Come,’ is another foot-tapping track led by a cheery acoustic guitar and just a shimmy of maracas, leading listeners into wanderlust fantasies. While tracks such as these draw upon Jain’s travelling childhood and are inspired by African and Arabic rhythms and drumming, there is also some distinctly European electronica thrown in the mix – the type of stuff that takes off on the continent but never quite translates to an Anglophone audience. ‘Hope,’ for example, mixes synth and a simple beat with a more complex, rumba rhythm, espousing optimism all the while: “Try to make it better, better together.”
If you’re looking for intricate lyrics, Jain is admittedly not the artist for you. These are French-accented and uncomplicated lyrics, with words often mere notes to play with. Nevertheless, Jain captures scenes and moods well enough to construct portraits in her work. ‘Hob,’ is a lovely, affectionate ode to a lazy-morning with a loved one, evoking the comforts of fresh coffee and breakfast in bed, while ‘Lil Mama,’ draws upon urban loneliness and confusion. There is even a break-up track on Zanaka, ‘You Can Blame Me.’ With a sparser, slower instrumental and touches of blues guitar, the track highlights Jain’s capabilities as an intriguing vocalist without her talented ear for sounds, beats, and harmonies.
Be My Baby: The Very Best of The Ronettes by The Ronettes
The sound of The Ronettes, characterised by dense, cloying arrangements and sweet romantic narratives, is a sound for blue-skied summer. Originally rising to fame with ‘Be My Baby,’ in the August of 1963, which starts with the iconic snare-beat of the drum, The Ronettes still make for great summer listening and hugely inspired the legendary Beach Boys. With drumming that rumbles through tightly packed arrangements alongside the strong, yearning vocals of lead-singer Ronnie Spector, the girl group balances a variety of sounds and harmonies to create masterful, and now much covered, pop music.
As a 60s girl group, much of this album is optimistic, if at times slightly angsty, romance. The first track, ‘Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love?’ mingles a heavy guitar with doo-wop vocals as Spector laments adult interference in a relationship: “Why do they laugh at what I feel in my heart?” As with many 60s singers – Dusty Springfield and her ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’ springs to mind – these earnest lyrics have aged quaintly and now seem endearingly in their naivety. But these are not all songs about wishing and hoping; there is a powerful attraction behind a number of tracks. ‘Baby, I Love You,’ for example, which was later wonderfully covered by The Ramones, is swept along breezily by Veronica’s vocals, leading to a chorus sung by the whole group and a gorgeous string bridge.
“The girl group balances a variety of sounds and harmonies to create masterful, and now much covered, pop music.”
There are also simpler, lighter tracks on the album. The Ronette’s cover of ‘I’m So Young,’ uses backing vocalists Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley to create a melancholy hum, similarly to more old-fashioned ballad ‘When I Saw You,’ which foregrounds Veronica’s haunting voice over ethereal, vocal harmonies. Blending the sounds of the 50s and 60s, The Ronettes are a nostalgic, feel-good listen for this summer.
Featured image courtesy of Tore Sætre via Flickr.
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