It’s the same thing every year. Not long before the last pop and fizzle of fireworks has begun to echo over the waterway on the 4th of July, I suddenly realize: summer is coming to an end.
Yes, I know that’s melodramatic. Technically speaking, the season is barely two weeks old at that point, with much ado to do and look forward to. And yet, standing in a crowd of friends and loved ones, often with one of my kids on my shoulders, watching the chrysanthemums and anemones of firelight bloom and fade (and boom) overhead, I can’t help feeling one of the highlights of the year has ended.
Maybe that’s why I enjoy taking in pyrotechnic displays: they are dazzling, delicate, and fleeting. Like all good things in life — Jiffy Pop popcorn, a grand slam in baseball, your first kiss — there’s a visible build-up, they arrive (or exit) with a bang, and they always leave you wanting more.
Maybe that’s what I enjoy about summer, too. Trudging through a record 3’ of snow just a few months ago, it seemed warm weather would never arrive. And now that “the three Hs” are here, settling their het-up, hefty haunches on our chest, it’s nice to know they will be moving on soon enough.
I guess what I’m getting at, what I’ve come to realize recently is, as any dead poet would tell you, carpe that diem. Whether watching fireworks light the night skies over the Severn River, or sweating out the dog days still rolling over on the calendar, it’s a good plan to appreciate each moment, the spectacular and the exasperating. And, yes, I know that’s melodramatic, too. But, as they say about the weather here in the middling Mid-Atlantic, whether you like or loathe what’s happening — just wait, it’ll change.
And the best way we at Scribbleskiff know how to A) sidetrack ourselves from saltation, or 2) savor every second, is to listen to a little new music. To that end, we have collected 18 songs, released over the past few months, that are sure to make your summer days (and nights) crackle and pop. But rather than shower you with them all at once, like a Roman candle, we’ve decided to make the fun last a little longer — like a tropical heat wave. We are posting six of our picks below, along with some commentary. You can listen to the rest for free (and opinion-free) at 8tracks.com (just click this link). Enjoy!
(If you are receiving this via email or Facebook and do not see the flash music players below each song, click here to listen in full on the blog site.)
“No Clouds,” Norman, Hay, Hay, Make a Wish and Turn Away. A lot more than one letter separates Norman from “normal.” In fact, there isn’t much that’s typical about this folky five-piece from Portland, Ore. With a sound that swings from rootsy jam-band (enough to wake The Dead) to lush baroque-pop (a la Fleet Foxes), and lighting on a litter of other influences in between (blues, country, and gospel, for instance), “No Clouds” will have you wishing its sunny disposition would linger a little longer.
Listen to “No Clouds” (mp3)
“Heat & Hot Water,” ARMS, EP. If this song is any indication, the arms of ARMS (the full-time side project for Todd Goldstein of the late Harlem Shakes) are open wide. Incorporating all sorts of musical styles and instrumentations — everything from lo-fi wood block knocks and hand claps to pulsing basslines, fuzzy jangly guitar, and crashing drums — “Heat & Hot Water” may be one of the coolest songs I’ve heard in a long time.
Listen to “Heat & Hot Water” (mp3)
“What’s In It For?,” Avi Buffalo, Avi Buffalo. If you’re looking for new talent, you can’t get much more fresh-faced than Avi Buffalo: three of the band’s members just graduated from high school. But these kids from Long Beach, California, must have old souls. In fact, it’s the other-era touches — Frankie Valli vocals, stringy VU guitar licks, Green on Red organ trills, etc. — that make this song sound sophisticated and, well, all grown up.
Watch the video for “What’s In It For?” (mp3)
“20 Miles,” Deer Tick, The Black Dirt Sessions. It may be old school (that’s a nicer way of saying “old fart”) to name-check REM these days, but the chorus of this song reconstructs the Stipean howl from “Talk About the Passion” so accurately that it stops me in my tracks every time I hear it. In a good, geezery way. But don’t let my oldfangled ear-brakes keep you from enjoying the ride with one of the best songs by one of the best roots-rockers recording today.
Listen to “20 Miles” (mp3)
“King of Spain,” The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt. He may not really be the lankiest person on the planet, but this Swede sure has high hopes. With a galloping acoustic guitar rhythm and a ragged, pinched vocal style, Kristian Matsson is attempting to carry on the troubled troubadour/tramp tradition made famous by Mssrs. Dylan and Kristofferson. Sure, it’s been tried again and again, with limited success. But sometimes achieving something so simple and artful isn’t always such a stretch.
Listen to “King of Spain” (mp3)
“It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama),” Phosphorescent, Here’s to Taking It Easy. I first heard these guys in early 2009 with the release of To Willie, an alt-country-esque yet faithful encomium to country music’s most famous (though now former) braidsman. And now that they’ve weathered their wooly ways, they’ve begun to grow their sound, adding new textures (like an apropos Memphis horn section), and generally sounding more mature. If nothing else, this song is proof that (to my ears, at least) you can’t have too much pedal steel guitar.
Listen to “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” (mp3)
So, there you have it, one-third of our mid-summer fun pack. But don’t wait too long before giving these songs a listen — they will be gone before you know it. And don’t forget to check back soon for the next installment.
As always, tell us what you think. Have you heard any of these new cuts yet? If so, which is your favorite? Or are there other summer songs that you think everyone should be listening to? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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