Summerchime choons

By melissa

I'm writing this month's column in the midst of a heat wave, one forecasters say will probably break records for the highest temperature ever recorded in London, and has already helped this to be one of the hottest summers on record. While this means I work up a sweat by merely walking to the corner store and I'm subsisting solely on a diet of ice cream, it also plays nicely into what I planned to talk about this month - The Great Summer Album.

As I see it, folks are divided into two different camps when it comes to summer music. The first sees the sun and sand, and dusts off their faded copies of Pet Sounds and Reggae Gold, trying to capture a bit of feelgood fun when they're away from the beach (ie: most of the summer). This first group is the reason why groups like Len and Sugar Ray exist, but are also responsible for the more Excellent summer choice of Junior Senior (a worthy summer album indeed!). I tend to go for the other sort of summer music, though - the sort of crisp, cool sounds that trick your mind into thinking you've got air conditioning when really you're just sat in front of a dusty box fan making "oooh-aahhh" noises. I tried earlier to think of a list of good carefree and breezy (ie: Type One) albums made this summer, and to be honest, the only one I came up with was the Girls Aloud album (which is "omg fab!", but not really an Excellent sort of album so I'll not waste my time and yours dwelling on it). This summer has absolutely spewed out fabulous albums of the Type Two, variety, making me very pleased indeed and contributing more than a little to my not melting in the heat wave.

The first such album is a debut by the lively Patrick Wolf. Like the album by his musical friends The Hidden Cameras (no, really - he plays viola with them when they're in town), "Lycanthropy" was love at first listen for me. It's impossible to define his sound with one easy, all-encompassing genre - when a boy is equally at home with his laptop listening to Atari Teenage Riot as he is tuning his ukelele listening to Joni Mitchell, you know it's going to be like nothing you've ever heard before. The difference with Patrick, though, lies in his voice, as he begins the album in a hateful pit of despair, though always determined and brooding, and throughout the course of the album, defeats his tormentors and emerges into a bright ray of hope, not forgetting for one moment his earlier trials. The sum total is that the album fits together perfectly in one of those rare cases where you can't imagine the songs being in a different arrangement, or a single line being changed to become less unsettling or more radio-friendly. For about two weeks I was completely and utterly in thrall with this album, playing it on average four or five times per day (when I woke up, before and during breakfast, after work, in the evening, as I slept. Repeat.). I don't do this with every album, see, and it only happens when I fall in love with an album so deeply it becomes engrained in every activity, in every pore, and I can't escape the songs going around in my head (and I don't really want to). That the album has an undercurrent of the seedier, nastier side of life, and poor Patrick is beaten and spat on without ever giving up gives one a kind of detached, dirty view of the world - a far cry from the usual beach blanket bimbo albums that pass for "the perfect summer hit!", but makes up the Soundtrack To My Summer instead.

In contrast, Broadcast's album "Ha Ha Sound" has more to do with my outward appearance than you'd initially think. Far from being a "fashion record" of any sort, I think it's one of the main contributors to my buying and wearing a huge amount of clean-lined, vintage A-line skirts, coupled with pristine white tops. Perhaps I should explain: When I listen to this album, I am instantly soothed and overwhelmed with a suave sensibility and the penchant to be sitting calm and collected in a corner sipping a Manhattan. In short, I am suddenly Jackie O, and my outward appearance has definitely made the shift towards the cool and crisp this summer in large part to my listening to "Ha Ha Sound". What's more astonishing is that this album accomplishes all this without sounding overwhelmingly retro - no garage rock, no overcooked blues, and no doo-wop (ok, so maybe a little swooning, but still...), yet at the same time becoming the most organic Warp product I've ever heard. "Colour Me In" makes me feet waltz on cue. "Before We Begin" has me swaying in time, smoothing my hair, and suddenly slowing my step to a rather sanguine pace. And in the summer heat, this accomplishes the obvious, because a cool head and slowed feet make it impossible to melt into the pavement, something we're all in danger of in this damned heat. Thank god Broadcast are here to make us stop and take notice of the flowers.

If Broadcast put the cool sophistication back into my summer, then Louie Austen completes the transformation with a slinky move towards the lounge bar. If Frank Sinatra were alive today, he'd have created "Easy Love". Louie had been singing in Austrian cocktail bars for years before being rediscovered by the kitty-yo collective, and, gaining influences from the likes of Gonzales and Peaches, found a perfect compliment to his own style with the squelching electronic beats of 2003. The result is a laidback jazzy album that demands a baby grand with a sultry singer draped atop (though perhaps not Mr Austen himself!). "Danger" is a Rat Pack cautionary tale - "Never fall in love with a stranger" warns Louie, before all hell breaks loose and Shake begins a hiphop breakdown complete with chime interlude. Single "Easy Love" combines a beat that'd be at home in an Ibiza album with the cabaret equivalent of "Don't Worry Be Happy", creating a sound that's equal parts modern and Vegas revival. If I'm half as hip as Louie at his age, it'll be a mean feat indeed. That he's created an essential summer album when most others his age are just settling down to the retirement village is nothing short of astonishing.

From the Vegas strip, we travel to the dance floor with the next summer offering. Though "His X Factor Vol. No. One" is only his debut, Richard X is already a seasoned veteran of expert singles. He created last summer's Sugababes hit "Freak Like Me" (which I voted my #1 single in the 2002 poll and still sounds as amazing as it did the first time you heard it), and this winter lent his helping hand to Liberty X for their "Being Nobody" single. This in mind, I knew there wasn't much chance of my not completely adoring the album, and you know what? I love it when I'm right. What I didn't expect, though, was for him to top the previous singles with the new album tracks. Tiga's "You (Better Let Me Love You x4) Tonight" jumps at the chance to mock every dance cliché overrepresented in the last few years - the audacious drum box, the spoken chorus, and best yet - a tongue-in-Timberlake's-cheek "Drums!" shout. On the other end of Mister X's varied spectrum lies "Into You", which revives the old Mazzy Star indie staple "Fade Into You" with an updated drum loop, and the best lyrical offering from Jarvis Cocker since "This Is Hardcore". It simultaneously changes the tone of the album from one of carefree dirty dance to a highbrow modern classic, and its placement as the penultimate track ensures you listen the whole way to the end every single time. Remarkably, "His X-Factor..." ups the ante for every electronic album hereafter, and thumbs its nose at the staunchest bootleg critic in the process. So there you have the sound of my summer, and perhaps soon, to yours. I've listened to other albums in the past few months, and undoubtedly there will be more to grace my stereo before September draws to a close, but these four have defined my summer 2003 in a way far removed from the usual summer fare. Anyone can adopt a steel drum and sing a beach tune, but it takes a bit more from the Class Of 2003 to make a truly Great Summer Album.


Patrick Wolf "Lycanthropy" (Faith and Industry) (out now in UK)

Broadcast "Ha Ha Sound" (Warp) (out this week in US & UK)

Louie Austen "Easy Love" (kitty-yo/PIAS) (out now in UK)

Richard X "His X-Factor Vol. No. One" (Virgin Records) (out Aug 25 in UK) (listen/remix Richard X)