Hey, June: A Playlist of Summery Songs to Snap Winter's Icy Grip

January 27, 2010

in Musical Musings

You would have to have “a mind of winter,” as poet Wallace Stevens once remarked, to look around at all the snow, ice, and cold, cold rain that’s poured down on much of the country this January and not be affected by it all somehow. Call it the Modernist’s remedy for SAD.

But this winter — which could be one of the coldest in 25 years — has instead inspired me to develop a mind of summer. When I glance at the pine-tree boughs “crusted with snow,” for instance, what I see (or tell myself I see) are beaches frothy with sea foam. The leaden, gray clouds stretching from horizon to horizon are not the harbingers of a sleet-storm but simply the remnants of a summer squall, warm and gentle and fleeting. Or so I believe. And the cracked, itchy skin stretched across my hands and face is the byproduct of sunburn, not windburn. Right?

Take a bite out of winter with new music from Surfer Blood and others.

Well, no. And unfortunately, as it turns out, my imagination is the only destination getaway I can afford these days, warm, warped, or otherwise. So I’m going to have to discover (and learn to love) the advantages of a mental “staycation,” for the foreseeable future. Luckily, though, I know the single, most effective and enjoyable mode of transportation for such a trip — music. Nothing like a few hot licks and a steady back-beat to shake the snow from a wintry state of mind. James Taylor and The Go-Go’s know what I’m talking about.

So if, like me, you are unable take the vacation of your dreams any time soon, then let Scribbleskiff carry you away to a vacation in your dreams, instead. For a little while. Following are 10 new songs that are sure to snap winter’s icy grip — on your psyche, at least — and free your mind to think of warmer days to come.

Be sure to click on the links below to sample the songs (open each as a new tab or window), and then follow the threads to find out where you can download them. Or you can listen to the playlist in its entirety at the Scribbleskiff page on the 8tracks Web site. Just click HERE, open as a new tab or window, and let the music play as you read along. Enjoy!

“Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig),” The Very Best, Warm Heart of Africa. The title of this song says it all: If the swelling Afro-Cuban rhythm and burbling guitar lines don’t heat your innards, and the fact that the featured singer is the frontman for Vampire Weekend doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you must be made of snow.

“The Rain Becomes the Clouds,” Emanuel and the Fear, Emanuel and the Fear. With its evaporation-themed title, lush instrumentation, and undulating, sparkly dance-pop beat, this catchy single by an 11-piece “orchestra-rock” band from Brooklyn is as beachy as they come. Download it and let it wash over you like a summer shower.

“Floating Vibes,” Surfer Blood, Astro Coast. Angular, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, an uptempo beat, and melodic harmonies — these are the makings of a hit for any number of amped-up indie bands. So, if you like The Shins, for instance, then you should like Surfer Blood. But beware, they will change your life, too.

“C’mon,” The Soft Pack, The Soft Pack. Sometimes all it takes is some bright, slightly raucous, three-chord rock like this to coax my keister off the couch, throw the “wild” Snuggie onto the carpet like a beach blanket, and make me dance like Frankie and Annette (or Frank Black). You? Aw, come on!

“Wishes and Stars,” Harper Simon, Harper Simon. Some famous offspring hide their stellar lineage (think Emilio Estevez), while others embrace their name but distance themselves sonically (think Jakob Dylan). But a glance at the surname and one listen to the deft finger-picking and near-falsetto vocal harmonies here will reveal whose kid this is right away — think “59th Street Bridge Song” meets “I Am a Rock.”

“These Roads Don’t Move,” Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard, One Fast Move or I’m Gone. This is somber summer “road music.” The song is part of a collaboration between the leads for Son Volt and Death Cab for Cutie, respectively, for a documentary about the harrowing events in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. Which explains why the upbeat, syncopated guitar strumming — like car tires clacking over tar strips on an open highway — never outruns the mournful, this-trip-ends-badly mood of the pedal steel.

“Lives of Strangers,” Friday Mile, Good Luck Studio. Ever attend an outdoor summer concert of your favorite band and wonder, who are all these strangers and what are they doing in my backyard? If not, then maybe you’re just curious to hear what a mash-up between Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and R.E.M. — with a mariachi horn section — might sound like? Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

“Generator^Second Floor,” Freelance Whales, Weathervanes. Any rocker that starts with not one but two near-dueling banjos is always a deliverance. Add in a xylophone, a droning guitar, some group singing, and a big bass drum, and you have the fixings for a baroque-pop classic, similar to what Sufjan Stevens or Arcade Fire churns out. But these young New Yorkers add their own spin, including life-affirming, hopeful lyrics about rebirth. Isn’t that what you need in the dead of winter?

“Coffee Spoon,” Cold War Kids, Behave Yourself EP. Not only is this my favorite song by this smart, sophisticated Long Beach, Calif.-based quartet, but it also might be my favorite song, period. For now, at least. Its groove is bluesy and soulful, comfy and intimate enough to serve as the ideal excuse for a late-day swing in an old hammock. Hold the coffee, though.

“Blue Skies,” Noah and The Whale, The First Days of Spring. Charlie Fink, the lead singer for this alt-folk foursome from London, begins by intoning, hopefully, “this is a song for anyone who can’t get out of bed.” And though he’s speaking to the brokenhearted, it seems like a fitting call to action for anyone suffering any malady — such as cabin fever. Don’t despair, he soothes, “cause blue skies are calling.” And he’s right, dear reader, they are.

So, there you have it, a ten-spot of new songs to keep your mind focused on what lies beyond your frosted windows and frozen lawn. Namely, the other months that begin with “J” and that, though comprised of four letters, don’t inspire four-letter words.

As always, tell us what you think. Have you heard any of these songs before? Or are there other summery tunes that help take your mind off winter? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

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