Albums for Summer Survival

I’m just trying to survive my first summer in the Southern Charmed swamp that is Charleston. Carriage rides (and their scent) pervade the city. My house is wilting. All of the mosquitos on the peninsula know where I live. I begrudgingly bought my second pair of shorts and I made the poorly timed decision to cut my bangs, which now glamorously stick to the sweat on my forehead. These are the albums — some recent releases, some old releases I wish I had found a lot sooner — that have helped me trudge past the humidity and get down with the dog days in Travel and Leisure’s No. 1 city.

Desert Center, Guantanamo Baywatch 

If you can’t beat the heat, join it with Guantanamo Baywatch’s sweltering new album for late summer. Desert Center is the spooky late night beach party soundtrack straight out of my dreams. I don’t know about you, but I always get a hankering for Halloween around late July. Guantanamo Baywatch scratches this itch with their surf rock guitar riffs and kitschy imagery. Jason Powell’s vocals tremble and whine from the back of his throat with hints of both madness and nostalgia, specifically with love-sickness on the tracks “Neglect” and the slow-burning “Blame Myself.” Elsewhere twangy guitar and pronounced, clamoring drums take us to the Wild West. “Interlude #1” carries us from “Mesa, AZ” into “Witch Stomp” with a voice maniacally cackling and wishing the listener “Happy Halloween!” The wild Desert Center might be the only album as out of control as Charleston’s heat index.

Mirror to Make You, Natural Velvet

It’s well known that hot temperatures increase aggression. Release your rage to the tune of Mirror to Make You, the third album by Baltimore-based post-punk band Natural Velvet. Personal loss and righteous feminist anger gave birth to this album’s confrontational sound, with reverberating guitars and a powerful drum backbone. Frontwoman Corynne Ostermann’s riotous, screeching vocals capture an essence somewhere between Courtney Love and Siouxsie Sioux. Her lyrics pierce the dense instrumentation like bolts of lightning. It’s angry and ugly, but Natural Velvet is simultaneously pretty with softer tracks like “Kristina,” a sort of love song for a best friend. Unlike the sparse, fast instrumentation typical of classic punk songs, Mirror to Make You revels in its sound and roars. This might be the definition of an unapologetic sound. Reminiscent of brooding ’90s post-punk, Mirror is perfectly fit for both sulking indoors to escape the summer climate and for unleashing your feminist anger at the political climate.

Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner’s second album may be more cinematic and streamlined than Psychopomp, however Soft Sounds from Another Planet retains the experimentation and authenticity of her first lo-fi release. On Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Michelle Zauner has elevated the grittiness of intimacy heard on Psychopomp to cosmic-level reflection and exploration. With airy vocals, sardonic lyrics and plenty of synth-pop, Soft Sounds speaks to life on Earth but delightfully and eerily suggests something beyond. For instance, there are peculiarities lurking beneath the surface of “Road Head,” a hazy, summery track that transitions into the sci-fi narrative “Machinist” with an audio clip of a Juno 6 synthesizer sputtering out, achieving an otherworldly whirring in the process. Elsewhere on the album are passages of distorted grunge guitar, interspersed with purely instrumental tracks. Before you know it this album transports you to another planet. Soft Sounds is all at once silly, self-deprecating, and sublime. “Boyish,” a dreamy, dramatic pop ballad à la Roy Orbison conveys lyrics less romantic than resigned and self-deprecating. Soft Sounds from Another Planet is a beautiful melding of sounds fit for a summer drive to the beach (see: “Road Head”) or for splaying out on your bed under a cacophony of fans, longing for another planet. That being said, this cosmic album coincides beautifully with the eclipse.

Black Origami, Jlin

The second experimental album by electronic artist Jlin is a sonically (and perhaps spiritually) challenging experience, with incisive use of piercing drum machines and vocal loops that simply do not let you rest. Like origami, Jlin folds and layers time signatures, constructing a complicated sonic landscape that is unfamiliar and enticing. The influences on this album are cross-cultural. Jlin hails from Gary, Indiana and achieved initial acclaim for her inclusion on Bangs &  Works Vol. 2, Planet Mu’s showcase of Chicago footwork artists. The speed and physicality of footwork serve as a foundation for Black Origami’s sharp percussion, which is then layered with variations on chanting, including a loop of Baltic folk singers used on the track “Holy Child” (a collaboration with William Basinski). Various sound loops on the album recall a middle eastern zurna, and the entire album was inspired by Jlin’s ongoing collaborations with Indian dancer and choreographer Avril Stormy Unger. The relentlessly energetic and shimmering track “Carbon 7,” according to Jlin’s artist statement, was directly inspired by Unger’s dance moves. Jlin taps into the primal with brutal, military grade percussion on “Hatshepsut,” and the use of shakers and looping tribal chanting on “Nyakinyua Rise.” These sounds build an atmosphere that is both ancient and industrial, a placeless amalgam of humanity.

Voices EP, Madame Gandhi

This EP was released in December of 2016, but electrofeminist artist Madame Gandhi’s Voices is a refreshing synth-pop experiment that makes me want to celebrate during this sticky season. Voices is characterized by steady beats, sharp percussion and intermittent bursts of beat-boxing and dreamy vocals whispering, occasionally shouting, feminist proclamations. It’s the sonic equivalent of diving into an ocean bespeckled with glittering sparks of sunlight. It’s also characterized by yellow: yellow colors Madame Gandhi’s album art, website, and the opening track “Yellow Sea.” It’s a fittingly celebratory color. Voices is a boundary-pushing celebration of femininity, and Kiran Gandhi’s life attests to her art. The former M.I.A drummer and Georgetown University graduate gained some acclaim for free-bleeding while running the 2015 London Marathon to combat the stigma surrounding menstruation. The closing track “The Future is Female” is a declaration and a smart defense of the popular feminist phrase: “To me, ‘The Future is Female’ means that no longer will female / qualities be subordinated to male qualities / I want to live in a world that is collaborative / A world that is emotionally intelligent / A world in which we are linked and not ranked.” If the future is female, I have a feeling the future of music is Madame Gandhi.

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