The sweet languor of summer days pairs perfectly with the mellowness of indie folk. And when the road beckons — when you roll down the window and taste the freedom in the air — those moments call for sunny, glossy indie rock. This playlist includes some of my favorite albums from the first half of 2014. It starts with shades of folk (Americana, folktronica, folk-pop), makes side a excursion into pop and neo-soul, and closes with ebullient, sunshiny rock. Hope you enjoy.
We Could Stay Gold — Summer 2014 Mix
First Aid Kit • Damien Jurado • Sylvan Esso • PHOX • Vandaveer
Lake Street Dive • Conor Oberst • South Rail • Mimicking Birds • Ha Ha Tonka
Beck • The Rosebuds • Damon Albarn • Hamilton Leithauser
If you like this music, please support the artists by purchasing their albums.
Just click on the track listing to go to the online store.
1. First Aid Kit — “Stay Gold”
The Swedish folk duo’s charming, ambling song may be my theme for summer. It seems so fragile on first listen, but the lilting vocals convey lyrics of surprising heft. To borrow from my favorite Byronic hero: “I did not then know that it was no transitory blossom, but rather the radiant resemblance of one, cut in an indestructible gem.”
2. Damien Jurado — “Silver Timothy”
This song has nestled in my subconscious and refuses to leave. It’s a little bossa nova and a little psychedelic, and it makes me feel like I’m floating on a breeze of melodies.
3. Sylvan Esso — “Coffee”
Sylvan Esso is the Durham, North Carolina folk-electro-pop project of Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn (Megafaun). Meath’s voice is warm and weary as she takes us on fast-forward through the seasons, sketching vignettes: Wild winters, warm coffee / mom’s gone, do you love me / Blazing summer, cold coffee / baby’s gone, do you love me? Sanborn provides the electronic texture — the skittering synths, the chimes between verses. There is something different about Sylvan Esso. Something delightful.
4. Damon Albarn — “Lonely Press Play”
There’s a loneliness that can’t be bridged by our hyper-connected, hash-tagged Internet interactions. Technology and alienation are what Damon Albarn (of Blur and the Gorillaz) explores in this song. The drum machine alternates between a pulse and a shuffle, and the vocals skim lightly over a sea of electronic clicks and bloops. Arrhythmia / Accepting that you live with uncertainty / If you’re lonely, press play. Albarn’s album, Everyday Robots, could be paired with a Philip K. Dick novel. (That’s a good thing.)
5. PHOX — “Slow Motion”
If you haven’t been listening to PHOX, you should start. This six-piece band from Baraboo, Wisconsin melds folk, soul, and pop. And Monica Martin’s voice is so good.
6. Ha Ha Tonka — “Lessons”
The tequila-roughened voice, the wailing electric guitar, the echo chamber effect — think the Replacements meets Kings of Leon meets Avett Brothers. “Lessons” is the title track of Ha Ha Tonka’s new album. Give it a try.
7. Lake Street Dive — “You Go Down Smooth”
This Brooklyn-by-way-of-Boston band first gathered as jazz students at the New England Conservatory. Lake Street Dive’s catchy pop songs reflect their jazz schooling but also draw from soul and rock. Vocalist Rachael Price has a Loretta Lynn-meets-Etta James style that is forthright and captivating.
8. Vandaveer — “Pretty Polly”
In two words: murder ballad.
In four: Vandaveer is deliciously dark.
I may have mentioned my love for Vandaveer once or twice before. I’ll be brief here. (1) There is a darkness where half of my heart used to be; (2) the flawless harmonies and incisive poetry of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin pierce the darkness; and (3) I need Vandaveer in my life. You need Vandaveer, too — you just don’t know it yet.
9. Conor Oberst — “You Are Your Mother’s Child”
You probably know of Conor Oberst as Bright Eyes’ singer-songwriter. The simplicity of this song — acoustic guitar and a narrative about watching his little kid grow up — reminds me of the preciousness of the everyday. It’s sentimental without being sappy.
10. Beck — “Blue Moon”
Beck is back.
11. South Rail — “On My Way”
South Rail’s sophomore album is the perfect blend for summers of self-discovery — there are somber ballads of yearning for friends and homes left behind, and mid-tempo toe-tappers that’s the stuff of road trips through middle America. In “On My Way,” Lara Supan and Jay Byrd’s harmonies are sweet yet heart-rending, and the driving tempo provided by Ben Potok’s drumming reassures us that the road goes on, even past the pain. The fantastic Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) plays fiddle on this track.
12. Mimicking Birds — “Acting Your Age”
If you like Phosphorescent, give Mimicking Birds a try. The Portland-based band** uses feathery-light layers of acoustic and electric instrumentation to create ethereal, understated songs. Lyrically, “Acting Your Age” provides a bird’s eye view of the landscape as a metaphor for life. The words glide effortlessly off Nate Lacy’s tongue and the song is pretty and hazy, like images from a dream that dissolve when you awaken to the morning sun.
13. Hamilton Leithauser — “I Don’t Need Anyone”
I saw Leithauser earlier this month and I’m including this brash number of a love song because it’s fun. (The former Walkmen frontman played the Newport Folk Festival last weekend with his friends Deer Tick. If I can find a link, I’ll post it, but I think NPR records performances only from the festival Main Stage.)
14. The Rosebuds — “Blue Eyes”
For the final song of my summer mix, I went back and forth between this and “In My Teeth.” I decided to go with the sunshiny Blue Eyes. It’s a pop powerhouse, carefree and buoyant, with a touch of Motown in that choir-backed refrain. The world does not need another song about blue eyes, but I’ll take it when it comes from the Raleigh indie rock duo and is produced by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). The Rosebuds’ new album will be released August 5th.
And there you have it, friends: my summer mix. Like it? Then click that button on the right-hand side of the screen to follow my blog. And if you’re feeling super generous with your time, leave a comment below. You’ll make my day. : )
A note on the cover art for this playlist: I used a time-lapse photo of fireflies by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu. The Japanese photographer took a series of eight-second-long exposures and then digitally merged them into this image of the golden flight paths of fireflies. You can see more of his work here.