“They say that all good things must end some day / Autumn leaves must fall” laze Chad & Jeremy on the wistful rhapsody “A Summer Song.” So as the dog days of summer grind to a humid halt, hopefully memories of the summer’s warm nights and distant lights can defrost the bitter cold of the coming months. Here are some of the summer’s best albums (by artists lucky enough to get top 40 airplay) to trigger those memories.
Interpol, “Our Love to Admire”: Interpol is a band that relies on mood, and the delicate opening notes of their latest release carefully set the reflective tone which permeates the album’s next 47 minutes: “Pioneer to the Falls,” the opening track on “Our Love to Admire,” begins with the stealth creeping of guitar, the faint plucking distant and chilling. Yet the sporadic glimmer of piano suggests that not all is lost for these four Brooklyn boys. Describing their work as “dark” does not do it justice, and “uplifting” is downright wrong. But it is in their delicate footwork — treading around and between these polar spheres — where they attain the strength and energy to sustain themselves. “Our Love to Admire” pushes farther than Interpol’s past releases, 2002’s “Antics” and 2004’s “Turn on the Bright Lights,” resulting in an album whose journey is a revelatory and satisfying adventure.
Justice, (Cross): Before the release of their debut full-length, French duo Justice was nothing more than a tease. They had released a slew of singles and remixes, altering the works of artists as diverse as Britney Spears and Fatboy Slim — the most famous being the kickass remix of Simian’s “Never Be Alone” — but an entirely independent and complete album was no where to be seen. (Cross) is the album our limbs have all been waiting for; instead of the occasional single or remix, Justice presents almost an hour of can’t stop, won’t stop beats. Comparisons to Daft Punk’s “Homework” are all too prevalent and for good reason — both master and protégé transform dance music into much more than a catchy riff. Though not as strong as its 1997 predecessor, (Cross) builds on and breaks down the work of their fellow Parisians by infusing electronica with hard guitar riffs spliced into choppy accents.
The National, “Boxer”: The smooth baritone of The National’s Matt Berninger hovers somewhere between that of Tom Waits and Stephin Merritt. But whereas the voices of the latter two almost become instruments on their own, Berninger’s is mostly used as a vehicle for expressing melancholy. “Boxer” has none of the confrontation that the title implies; rather, it is a delicately crafted confession of mistakes made and loves lost. Each of the album’s twelve tracks is characterized by an expansive composition, extended by the eloquent violin of sometimes-collaborator Padma Newsome. The album’s penultimate track, “Ada” is also its finest, with the ebb and flow of Berninger’s caressing swirl gracefully riding over a circuitous piano line (thanks to Sufjan Stevens). “Boxer” is an elegant meditation that goes deeper than most love songs; The National has crafted yet another beautiful release.
Rihanna, “Good Girl Gone Bad”: Rihanna’s third full-length opens with summer 2007’s definitive hit. Though the chorus skips like a broken record, the only audible instrument is a cymbal flatly resonating from a drum pad and the video’s choreography is just lame, “Umbrella” had everyone growling and grinding. Maybe the appeal generates from Jay-Z’s blessing. Maybe it’s the seasonal irony. Whatever the reason, this is the great thing about pop — a catchy hook makes what would otherwise be mediocre suddenly acceptable, even awesome. So it doesn’t really matter what the rest of the album sounds like, just listen to “Umbrella” on repeat for the album’s 46-minute entirety.
Spoon, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”: Spoon has carved a distinctive niche for itself in the overwhelmingly streamlined landscape of contemporary pop-rock: the strangely sexy pant and gravel of frontman Britt Daniel, the persistently percussive notes and a much-needed dose of sophistication without pretension. The ten tracks on the band’s sixth studio album, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” are a consistent reminder of the cleanliness of their staccato — not cold sterility, but meticulousness in sound and composition. In many ways, “Ga Ga” assumed the place Phoenix’s “It’s Never Been Like That” held last summer: both are fresh, full of wit and consistently bright, resulting in seamless pop perfection. Album highlights include “Eddie’s Ragga,” with its systematic and successive thwack, and the brassy “The Underdog,” but every track merits an enthusiastic two thumbs up — the album’s polished 36 minutes speed by in a flash.