Summer is a season that demands nothing of its music except that it be catchy, as is demonstrated by the inescapable popularity of “Call Me Maybe.” It’s a season that eschews criticism for intuition, so making a list of its best albums would be entirely off the mark. Instead, here are some of my favorite new releases of the summer of 2012—give them a listen before the first day of fall.
DIIV already have two strikes against them. The first is that they’re a band that has arrived too late, releasing their first album two full years after the Great Dream Pop Revival of 2010. The second is that they sound almost distressingly similar to Wild Nothing and Real Estate, architects of the aforementioned Dream Pop Revival. But Oshin overcomes these early hurdles (as well as the band’s penchant for intentional misspellings) with the sheer force of its appeal. Though they’re the thousandth band to peddle this brand of coastal New Wave indie pop, Oshin raises the bar for the genre. The album first recalls The Cure at their “Friday I’m in Love” most upbeat, before taking a deliciously dark turn and conjuring shades of Bauhaus. A treat, through and through. Remember to check them out live when they play Eclectic on Oct. 11th!
Ty Segall wants to keep you on your toes. Just when we thought we had his trajectory pegged—2011’s Goodbye Bread found the garage-rock purist actually crooning, and further moves towards the pop center seemed inevitable—he surprises us with a release that’s far darker and dirtier than anything Goodbye Bread could have imagined. The ever-prolific Segall (a compilation album entitled Singles 2007-2010 features a staggering twenty-four tracks) has the amazing ability to deluge the market and yet maintain every inch of his charm. He’s impossible to resist.
Ariel Pink definitely isn’t for everyone. While I’m a subscriber to the “eccentric genius” school of thought surrounding him, I totally respect those who think, “Who is this dude, what’s he on, and why hasn’t he taken a shower?” Pink is, after all, the guy who stood onstage at Coachella refusing to sing as his band played on without him, entirely unfazed. But one thing is undeniable: Pink is a talented (and very prolific) songwriter. On Mature Themes, his ninth album in ten years, his love for corrupted ’70s pop is as obvious as ever. In terms of accessibility, however, the work is a step backwards from 2010’s Before Today, recapturing the famous lo-fi sound of his early releases. His signature humor is back as well, as evidenced by mid-album oddity “Schnitzel Boogie.” The standout track is closer “Baby,” a cover of a mostly forgotten 1979 song by an Osmonds-style brother band. It’s beautifully tender. But be warned—this album isn’t for those who don’t want to hear a grown man sing an entire song about schnitzel.
If you missed the return of Fiona Apple, you must have spent the summer under a very big rock. Her new release, whose full title is The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Chords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (phew) is an entirely acoustic effort that’s achingly honest. She slides effortlessly between genres, incorporating jazz vocals and world-music percussion in a way that’s always pleasantly surprising and never feels forced. And though it’s the highly-anticipated fourth album of an incredibly well-established artist whose fans are legion, The Idler Wheel isn’t only for the initiated. It was the first Fiona Apple album I’ve ever listened to, and it served as a great introduction to her back catalogue.
It’s impossible to dislike Kristian Matsson, AKA the Tallest Man on Earth. His music is just too pretty, too appealing to the secret folkie in all of us. His third LP finds Matsson transitioning. The songs are still instantly recognizable as his—who could miss that choked, nasal voice that’s inspired a thousand Dylan comparisons—but There’s No Leaving Now is far more expansive than his earlier efforts, incorporating broader instrumentation and a backing band. It’s a big change for an artist who occasionally sounded like a bedroom musician, but as always, Matsson pulls it off with easy grace.