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White Noise: Feature: Summer – Top 15 Albums

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Feature: Summer – Top 15 Albums

So following on from those surprisingly successful summer playlists, here I'm gonna present mini-reviews (although I dedicated more space to the top 4) in a countdown of some summery albums that might attract your ears, essentially its what I'm gonna be listening to over the coming months. A combination of review and list, I've put a score to show you my appraisal of the quality of the album but these are my top 15 (and an honourable mention) so whichever ones you like the sound of will likely be a good summer choice. I know it might seem counter-intuitive that some higher rated albums appear lower on the list, but it just expresses my summer preference; quality and appropriateness to summer are two different fields. You might also want to check out my reviews of Memory Tapes and Toro Y Moi, which are both irresistibly sunny LPs. So if you're getting ready for the summer here are some essentials. I put a whole lot of love and time into this list, so make sure you give these albums a real chance, I can promise you it won't make for a disappointing listen. Enjoy!

Didn't quite make the list... Delorean – Subiza

Real Love

Delorean were a straight-laced Spanish indie rock band before this record, where for the first time they brought Ibiza-flavoured synth-pop into their sound in much the same way Primal Scream incorporated Acid and Rave into their rock 20 years ago. The result is an irrefutably glittering summer album which doesn't mask its pop sensibilities, opener Stay Close begins with poppy Beach House-style swaying synths, and quickly develops a low-key rave piano rhythm that sails gloriously under the rocky vocals. The album doesn't let up its summer feel, Real Love's infectious beat and infectious “If we ever / will we ever” chorus will live in your head long after you've heard the track, and Infinite Desert's ethno-techno beats don't relent for a second.

There's also more variation than you'd expect for such a straight album, Come Wander is the most direct club-oriented track with a crystalline four to the floor beat, while Simple Graces' slow piano groove harks back to Hacienda days. It's not a perfect album though. The vocal levels are generally too high and the lyrics irritatingly meaningless when you can catch them (I also found singer Ekhi Lobetegi's voice rather irritating but that's just subjective) and this distracts the listener from the real fault of the album; its lack of depth. Although in genre terms they try a lot of different things here the tracks don't sound very varied as a whole, and after you've heard each track a few times it dawns on you that the compositions are not particularly rich, there are about 3 distinct layers on each track and little enjoyable detail that dance-pop fans will be looking for. It's an irresistibly fun and summery album which is easy to like, as long as you don't look too close.


15. Bonobo – Black Sands


In this album Bonobo, aka producer Simon Green, stepped away from his trip-hop roots and has combined the lazy snapping beats of his earlier work with dub and balearic nuances into Black Sands, a surprisingly consistent album full of lush detail that generally just oozes cool from start to finish. There a great display of range on show here, tracks like Kiara infuse a gorgeous (and expertly implemented) string sample with sharp, chopped up beats and a great dubby throb, We Could Forever is the irrefutable summer star of the album with loose percussion and a catchy jittering guitar, and 1009 is a surprisingly welcome low-key cut with shifting drums and a techno aesthetic packed into a short track.

The album isn't without its shortfalls, I can't help but feel the beats could really pack more of a punch than they do, and the variations on a theme of the soaring strings and beats sometimes goes awry, displaying the album's occasional unfavourable mis-step into lounge territory in tracks like El Toro. But it really is an inexpressibly cool LP, stylish and well-sequenced; just when you're wondering why All In Forms is a little formulaic or why there are three tracks featuring the smoldering vocals of Andreya Triana when The Keeper is clearly the best example of the cool downbeat sound he's aiming for (Eyesdown is a little light on depth and Stay the Same's liquid soft-jazz vagueries irritate as lyrics); a track like Animals or the surprising and beautiful waltz of closer Black Sands comes in to show you there's still more to love. The album may go down slightly too smoothly for real beat-fans (myself included) but otherwise its hard to fault in its gorgeous textures and smart beats, it's a great showcase for a producer still finding his sound, and on a sunny day it'd be all too easy to get lost in these lush and expansive soundscapes.


14. Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

4th Time Around

Recorded at the peak of Dylan's career and consolidating the stellar work on Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde is one of Dylan's sunniest albums and one that also shows some of the greatest variation in themes and songwriting displayed in any of his (enormous) back catalogue. It really runs the gamut of lyricism, the infectious stomp of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 introduces some of the more hilarious turns in his career, the laugh-out-loud bitterness of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (“Honey, can I jump on it sometime?”) and the likes of the satirical take on The Beatles' Nowegian Wood in the brilliant 4th Time Around.

But what makes this one of Dylan's best albums is how much material there is on here, and its consistency. Alongside these lighter tracks are some of Dylan's more poetic love songs, although there's no devastating Don't Think Twice, It's Alright or It Ain't Me, Babe we get the sincere longing of I Want You and the beautiful wordplay of extensive album closer Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (“With your silhouette when the sunlight dims / Into your eyes where the moonlight swims”). I could go on about the elegaic, opulent poetry of Visions of Johanna or the evocative narrative wail of Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, but suffice to say this album is a demonstration of one of the most important men in music at the dizzying height of his career, so let his gravelly tones and sunny bluesy instrumentation guide you blissfully through a summer's day.


13. Clam's Casino – Clam's Casino


No one would think that a free mixtape of hip hop instrumentals divorced from their vocals could be this good. Clam's Casino is currently making a name for himself producing for the likes of Lil B, Soulja Boy and other Bay-area rappers, and while I've got to say these guys aren't quite to my tastes, with the vocals stripped away this mixtape shows itself as a richly layered and gorgeously mastered take on instrumental hip hop. These tracks are absolutely packed full of stuttering looped drums, clipped vocal samples and a very deft sense of building tension and release, the drums frequently dropping away in tracks like Motivation into a melodramatic hysterical absence until they pound back into your ears with more force than you could possibly have predicted.

Beneath the great effects plastered all over these tracks is the beating heart of a very skilful composer, and its a very consistent release, it barely drops off in quality over the course of its 45 minute runtime. The attention to detail is exquisite; Numb's background swooping flute-line perfectly compliment its head-nodding beats and great vocal sample, while the variety of sources for these samples is astonishing: Realest Alive is a messed-around version of Adele's Hometown Glory, Cold War mixes far-off gunshots with Janelle Monae's instantly recognisable vocals, and (one of many) standout track Illest Alive masterfully implements a sample from Bjork's Bachelorette. These beats always snap and drop in the right places, and this set of tunes is a perfect accompaniment to a heavy summer evening.


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