I've spent a lot of time listening to and learning about music, so I talk about music a lot. It's not healthy to keep all that otherwise useless knowledge pent up (really, it's just not). In terms of the company I keep, I gravitate toward musicians and people whose tastes are similar to mine simply because I'm more comfortable around them. People who say things like "Oh, you know, I listen to whatever's on the radio" or who don't know what the "emo" genre really sounds like or who HAVEN'T gone through a High Fidelity-esque stage of sneering, self-important musical elitism are people I have a hard time relating to. I don't understand not having a favorite band or an intricately labeled favorite sub-genre. This is the shit that matters to me.
Fact: All music has a season in which it's best enjoyed. Jimmy Eat World's perfect gem of an album, "Clarity," (which, while we're on the topic, is, as an absolute truth, both the band's crowning achievement and a national treasure) smacks of winter to me; The Prom's "Under the Same Stars" (or the greatest album you've never heard, which is just criminal, y'all, because it's Shakespeare the way piano indie-rock/indie piano-rock was meant to be played) is palpably autumnal. These correlations exist for achingly personal reasons; usually, they're the result of listening to an album excessively during a certain season. I enjoy few things as much as I enjoy self-indulgently devouring an album at the absolute right time. If I ever have the opportunity to see it to fruition, one of my more obsessive goals involves organizing my CD collection not autobiographically but chronologically by way of seasonal relevancy.
So, my need for languid pontification having been satisfied, I present to you, for no other reason than the way my completion of this year's Summer Burn has left me feeling entitled to impose my musical taste on the innocently unsuspecting, my five most summer-appropriate albums. There are a lot of runner-ups (Recess Theory's "They Would Walk into the Picture"; The Hush Sound's "Like Vines"; any live recording of Janis Joplin's; Guster's "Parachute"; all of Dashboard Confessional's pre-fame or straight-up acoustic stuff) but the following five selections are the best examples of what summer sounds like to me.
5: Pink Floyd, "Meddle"
I like classic rock best once warm nights become a regular occurrence. Stuff from the '60s and '70s just feels like the most appropriate soundtrack to summer for me. I don't know if this is because my younger, most impressionable self had ample time to discover music during summer vacations or because that whole era just sounds pleasantly like hot weather and humidity to me, but it's a resolute connection. Whatever the reason, Pink Floyd's rather psychedelic offering is an album best enjoyed outside. The melt-your-face-off crescendo of "One of These Days." The hazy, front-porch vibe of "Seamus." The overt sentiment that "San Tropez" is best enjoyed in a hammock while nursing something embarrassingly fruity and garnished with an umbrella. And, as a local radio station has realized, long days and longer weekends are best complemented by songs so long that they comprise the entire side of a record, of which "Echoes" is a most ambitious example (it runs a not-a-second-too-long 22 minutes and 39 seconds). While I always thought "Meddle" was a summertime treat, it took me about 10 years of owning the CD to truly appreciate what a damn fine album it is. This is a solid collection of individual songs, it's a shining example of how good Floyd is at crafting a cohesive album with songs that set out to do different things, and, most importantly for my immediate purposes, the whole thing drips with all the things that summer makes me feel.
4: Michael Franti, "Songs from the Front Porch"
Back when I was traversing three counties to get to work every day, I had a metric shit-ton of time to listen to music. And there was a period when Silver Fox was young and would let me play my iPod through an unabashedly ghetto arrangement of varying technologies. This era spanned the summer when all I listened to was Franti (which was flanked by the spring and fall when I also listened to little else but Michael Franti and his band), which, combined with the fact that his music is so optimistic that it echoes the warmth of summer (as a general sentiment, not the oppressively dank Jersey version of the season that everyone but my sick ass seems to hate), is probably why I most associate this album with summertime. It helps that most of the times I've seen him live have been in hot weather. Yes, Franti writes left-leaning, politically charged songs, which I love but can recognize why that's not everyone's cup of tea. But the catchy tunes, acoustic flavor and intricate beauty of the lyrics remind me of long early-morning drives, and there's just something about summer mornings that tickle all the right parts of me. Songs that can evoke that same feeling are doubly loved.
3: Grateful Dead, "American Beauty"
I only started listening to The Dead a few years ago -- during a summer, obviously, not that long before I saw the Allman Brothers Band with a gaggle of modern-day hippies. It directly related to how often hubs and I were spending time with a much-loved mutual friend who greatly influenced an unexpected shift in my personal and musical tastes. Her house has a distinctly summer feeling in the first place, what with the countless two-a.m. July bonfires and balmy evenings spent traipsing through her woods and cigarette-illuminated back-porch conversations that stretched comfortably past dawn; any classic rock tunes discovered in those circumstances are especially warm-weather appropriate. This is the first Dead album I purchased, and it's my favorite because no song has ever moved me like "Box of Rain" can every time. I have a distinct memory of that song that involves '60s-documentary-style dancing barefoot in dewy grass somewhere on the aforementioned friend's property and everything just being perfect in those five minutes. If there is an album that perfectly and simultaneously captures both a summertime road trip and the freedom of summer nights that go on forever, "American Beauty" is it.
2: Any live recording of a Dave Matthews Band concert
I've loved this band for years prior, but my husband and I road-tripped to Virginia back in the summer of '08 because Michael Franti & Spearhead were opening for DMB. That was the physically closest show of the tour that had both acts; it came with the bonus of meeting up with a coworker whose company I enjoyed, who was attending that same concert because his college friends all lived in the area. We had all the makings of legendary pre-concert pre-gaming, excellent company to enjoy great music with, and a guaranteed after-show party (it was essentially 20 hours of nonstop drinking and enjoying every inch of all the good things life has to offer). We went because I'd spent the past few months introducing hubs to the DMB stuff you won't hear on the radio and because I thought he'd enjoy the kind of concert the band puts on. I'm glad we made the trip because it was one of the best concert-going experiences of my life, and because it was the last show the band's saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist, LeRoi Moore, would play. That concert was ultimately released as a live recording, and, like every other live album the band has put out, embodies all the things I love about summer music. Personal anecdotes aside, jam band-like incarnations of songs are what outdoor, summer-night concerts were made for. And DMB's shows are the closest thing to bottled summertime that you can buy.
1: Led Zeppelin, "Physical Graffiti"
I have a soft spot for this album for myriad reasons. It was my introduction to Zeppelin, yes, but it also has the dubious honor of being both the first record and the first CD I've ever purchased. I didn't have a car until after college, so the rare occasions I got to drive myself to work in high school happened during the summer because there was no one around to do it for me. And I wrung every drop of freedom I could from those instances, which necessitated filling the car's six-disc CD player with an agonized-over selection of music. Inevitably, "Physical Graffiti," especially its second disc, became an on-the-road staple. The song titles alone suggest the infinite nature of summer vacation in high school: "In The Light," "Down By the Seaside, "Night Flight." No two songs on the album sound the same. No two songs stir up the same emotion. But they all create a little slice of summer that needs to be enjoyed outdoors, ideally as softly played background music, the soundtrack to the ride, or as one's 90-minute focal point. I welcomed this year's warm weather on my balcony as the strains of "Ten Years Gone" floated outside, and there's no joy in the world quite like that.