The Sounds of Summer

A buddy of mine recently proclaimed the 2010 releases by Arcade Fire and The National as the soundtracks of this stiflingly difficult year.

A buddy of mine recently proclaimed the 2010 releases by Arcade Fire and The National as the soundtracks of this stiflingly difficult year. Facing economic, environmental, social, and political crises at every turn, we may very well need to lean on a “dour opus” now and then. I know I do. However, there are also some new CDs out that offer glimmers of not so much hope, but of satisfaction, in various forms.

Arcade Fire (totally ripped this review from because I couldn’t write it better)
“On The Suburbs, the mezzo-fortes are meted out sparingly. Instead, the bulk of the record operates at a steady chug, Win Butler trading his pained skyward yowl for low, earthbound moan. If past outings had a tendency to overstate their existential agony, what strikes most about The Suburbs is its protracted sense of sadness. It’s remarkable to hear a band that focused so much of their early career on epiphany now be equally consumed by the lack thereof. The record goes on, but Butler and Chassagne never get any closer to the exit.”

The National (see above)
“They don’t engender indifference; instead, they cleanly divide those who’ve heard them into two camps — those who pledge rabid devotion and those who are baffled by their success. In a way, that’s because the National can be subtle to the point of being almost undetectable, and anything short of deep, focused listening is going to render their success a particularly curious mystery. The reasons people grow obsessed with this band have less to do with hooks and choruses as it does emotional resonance — the ability to see themselves in the band’s lonesome, loping music. Fortunately, the group still excels at deep-focus song construction, and High Violet is packed with moments of masterful craftsmanship and devastating beauty.”

Crowded House
Here’s one of the afore-mentioned flickers of light. Few pop music craftsmen can match Neil Finn’s talent, especially not on his best days. While Intriguer lacks an instant classic along the lines of “Weather with You” or “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” this is yet another solid offering from one of my favorite bands of all time. No, they don’t have the prolific consistency, indie cred, or chart-topping success of U2, Radiohead, or Coldplay; but every time Crowded House goes into the studio, magical musical goodness emerges. If Tori Amos can’t be friends with those who don’t believe in faeries, then I can’t be friends with those who don’t dig Crowded House. That’s just the cold, hard truth.

Tracy Bonham
The last studio album we got from Bonham was 2005’s Blink the Brightest and it was a revelation. Filled with mesmerizing melodic progressions and sardonic lyrical snapshots, the set made it clear that the artist saw the world through Tracy-colored glasses and, in her compassionate generosity, was letting us peer through her eyes, too. Masts of Manhatta follows on that trend in fine form. Though not as bold as Blink (or, perhaps, not bold in the same ways), Masts uses a similar, fantastically fractured lens to look at life in all its fragmented glory.

These United States (another rip)
“There’s something to be said for groggy intensity, the sound of passion and heartache colliding with a day of drinking in the sultry sun. With their latest release, What Lasts, These United States have mastered that buzzy state between deliberation and lethargy. Along with summer tour-mates the Fruit Bats and Deer Tick, These United States prove that quiet contemplation can feel urgently, vibrantly alive.”

Sheryl Crow
We all know how deeply I love Sheryl Crow. However, I do not deeply love her new 100 Miles to Memphis. I also didn’t love her last collection, Detours. Sure, there were some things on that one that I liked a lot, but it didn’t even come close to The Globe Sessions which is the bar she set in my heart. Maybe it’s the stylistic insistence upon a Memphis soul sound that rubs me the wrong way. Certainly it’s her inclusion of three cover tunes. While wisely chosen in terms of being great songs, the original versions were all nearly perfect and I have a thing about messing with perfection. The cuts in question: Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name,” Citizen Cope’s “Sideways,” and Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back.” On the first two, Sheryl at least took some liberties and made the songs somewhat her own; not so on the latter — it’s an almost spot-on recreation of MJ’s version and that’s not cool. Sorry, Love.

Indigo Girls
Staring Down the Brilliant Dream is the new live double-disc offering from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Culled from hundreds of performances, the collection includes guest artists like Brandi Carlile, Trina Mead, and Jill Hennessy. (Yes, the Law & Order/Crossing Jordan actress.) Though I’m not generally a fan of live records because they often just don’t sound good and almost never actually capture the vibe, somehow the Girls manage to pull off both in decent measure. Maybe having 25+ years of playing together has something to do with it. Maybe it’s that they are just that good.