I can’t lie—I’ve been accused of wallowing in depressing music more than is probably healthy for a (moderately) well-adjusted person. I consider myself both happy and positive (when I’m not reviewing a terrible movie), but my thirst for drama in music is often sated by tortured romanticism, sepulchral synths, self-paralyzing lyrics, the works.
But it’s my favorite month of the year, thanks largely to the mood enhancers of the NBA Playoffs and weather that no longer makes me feel like someone furtively plopped me in Chicago. And it’s the first weekend of the summer, so feh to all that drama; instead, let’s highlight 10 awesome summertime albums. Forget the rainy days and lonely nights; these tunes are suitable only for convertibles and sunglasses, grills and pools, freedom and openness. No melancholy synths allowed.
Move Along, All-American Rejects
Pop-emo fun/angsty high-school pop/rock just doesn’t get any better than this. Drenched in color, vitality, and melody, the Rejects’ high-water mark is prettier than their debut, but still sturdy enough to withstand repeated playings. Unlike many of their contemporaries, who toss off quick and forgettable pop-punk ditties, the Rejects pile on the drama left and right—with quiet starts that become huge choruses, violins and synths and children’s choirs, that expressive voice of Tyson Ritter’s that soars and dips and sails through the wind as the key instrument, and an earnestness that stamps them as tremendously un-cool.
Released in 2005 (when Tyson was just 21), Move Along already feels a little nostalgic now—it’s too sincere and intense for the 2010s, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. Don’t try to pretend you didn’t have your own dirty little secret.
Key track: Dirty Little Secret
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
Just a deliciously decadent album, The Stone Roses deserves every single accolade it’s ever gotten (and that’s saying something). Pioneering the British ‘Madchester’ scene that fused dance with pop, Stone Roses bursts with endlessly danceable rhythms and vibrant guitar lines underpinning anthemic cries. ‘She Bangs the Drums,’ frankly, might be the best pop song I’ve ever heard, a mood-enhancer so reliably uplifting it oughta be illegal. Elsewhere, the swaying grooves and absurd melodic grip of ‘Elephant Stone,’ ‘Made of Stone,’ and ‘I Am the Resurrection’ sound just too good to be true. I’m already in a better mood just writing about this album.
Key track: She Bangs the Drums
Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World
OK, to be fair, I’m a little biased on this one. My first exposure to Bleed came during the summer in Los Angeles, as my grad school roommates and I hung out on the rooftop of our apartment building, grilling, drinking, and playing this album without a care in the whole damn world. But it does fit perfectly—Jimmy blitz through their pop-emo with more verve than anguish on the record where they sound the most alive. ‘A Praise Chorus’ and ‘Sweetness’ are perfect summertime uppers, but even the ballads (like ‘Hear You Me’) sound free and airy instead of dark and claustrophobic. ‘If You Don’t’ does have personal and fairly negative connotations for me, but let’s not go there, yeah?
Key track: Sweetness
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Oasis
So face-smashingly obvious that I feel like I’m cheating on my own list here. Not merely the apotheosis of 90s Britpop but also basically the purest distillation of guitar rock around, Oasis’s second album—their best one, and I won’t hear anything to the contrary—just begs to be listened to on full blast going 70 miles an hour with the roof down. The Gallagher Brothers were never much for sublety or restraint—which is outstanding here. Fiery, propulsive cuts like ‘Roll With It’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ make everything in the world seem OK, and then there’s that one called ‘Wonderwall.’
Key track: Roll With It
Speaking of a lack of subtlety…I’ve never really agreed with that charge against U2, but there are times when it holds. Bono and co. do love themselves some grand gestures and powerful rock, and War, their most fearsome entry, cranks the energy up to 11. I couldn’t decide between this one and Joshua Tree for this list, but JT is a lot more introspective than many realize. War might not be as fun, per se, as some others here, but cuts like ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and the grossly underrated ‘Like a Song…’ will get you moving, no matter what you’re doing.
Key track: Like a Song…
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys
One of my favorite bands, the Arctic Monkeys have veered from excellence to excellence throughout their still-brief career. But for as good as songs like ‘Teddy Picker,’ ‘ Crying Lightning, ‘Cornerstone,’ and ‘Love is a Laserquest’ are—and they’re extraordinary—no AM album has the start-to-finish brilliance of their frenetic debut. For 18-year old me, in love with a girl who looked quite at home on the dancefloor, this was catnip.
Forever the disaffected 20something, Alex Turner broods about the girls and clubs he can’t get into—but I haven’t really broken my ‘no angst’ rule here. You won’t even know he’s complaining, since he does so with such an astonishing grip on wit and melody and because the band plays with such a blitzing, high-on-life panache. It’s all jacked up too fast and too loud (the album became the poster-child for poor dynamic range in modern music), but that’s only if you really care about that stuff. Here’s betting that, after one spin of this, you won’t.
Key track: I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
London Calling, The Clash
The narrative holds that The Clash wrote the definitive punk album by incorporating elements from a host of other genres (from reggae to ska to jazz). That’s all well and good, but in the end, this 19-song extravaganza of passion sizzles because of its punk ethos. Firecracker ‘Death or Glory’ practically birthed the 5th entry on this list, whereas others like ‘Spanish Bombs’ and ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ pair melody equivalent to their energy, which is an unbeatable combination. ‘Train in Vain’ still blows, however.
Key track: Death or Glory
The Bends, Radiohead
One of my favorite Rolling Stone lines came in their Album Guide entry for Radiohead: “U2 would have sold crack to nuns to make this record.” Indeed, The Bends strikes you as their Joshua Tree—the emotional, guitar-driven rock gem that precedes experimentation. This is RH without the bullshit, the only of theirs that could be considered even remotely fun. Oasis must have wet themselves upon first listen to the explosive climax of tunes like ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and the title track. Elsewhere, “Nice Dream” and “Street Spirit” are gorgeous and laid-back lamentations, Thom Yorke’s archetypal voice birthing Coldplay, Muse, and so many others.
Key track: Fake Plastic Trees
Calling the World, Rooney
Defined by the first band to use The O.C. as a career trampoline, the summer of 2008 will always hold a special place in my heart. It felt like it was 120 degrees every single day (may not be true), and I think I listened to CTW on every single one of those (may be true). Thankfully, these throwback pop/rock cuts have the tunefulness (‘When Did Your Heart Go Missing’ is every bit as catchy as Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’) and snarky attitude to avoid sounding passive. ‘Tell Me Soon’ implores the girl to “save all your tears for some other guy,” while stand-out ‘All in Your Head’ reminds her that if it’s a fantasy world she wants, look elsewhere.
Key track: All In Your Head
AC/DC Live 1992, AC/DC
During my last two years of high school, my friend and I played this album every day on our drive into school. It’s so good, it has made me completely incapable of listening to the studio versions of the tracks played during this performance. ‘Back in Black’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ positively erupt out of your speakers, all fire and metal riffs and libido, as some of the best hard rock ever written benefits from the enhanced machismo and crowd reactions. By the time you’re done with it, you’ll feel like you could take down a tiger with your bare hands, ask out Mila Kunis, or deal with a day of high school.
Key track: You Shook Me All Night Long