The songs for the season.

Songs you've got to hear.
July 11 2006 6:19 AM

Dear Summer

Seasonal tracks from Beyoncé, Comets on Fire, Ray Cash, and others.

The Performers
Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label (Numero Group)
Listen to "Mini Skirt."

There is a reason a single called "Promiscuous Girl" will never catch on in the early evenings of December. Such poetics are reserved for the possibility-rich season of summer. Perhaps it is all that skin: the blunt, tirelessly engrossing reward for all those months of layered clothing and sheathed joys. In 1968—apprehended by the dream that their little, rundown Detroit garage-studio would one day be filled with cars, like Berry Gordy's across town—the no-hit wonders the Performers mainlined the splendor of the season by praising the possibilities of the miniskirt. Chugging along with a hectic bass-line swiped from Stevie Wonder's "Uptight," the Performers hold the line for passing pairs of legs. "You over there in the mini-skirt—I love you, gal!" an unknown singer wails, both his name and his conquest's lost in transit. The band twists and shouts, supplying the requisite oohs and aahs to confirm their lead's sentiments. "You know you're looking good/ In that mini-skirt," they shout in unison, before an off-kilter organ takes over and throbs the unutterable bits.

Comets on Fire
Avatar (Sub Pop)
Listen to " Dogwood Rust."

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There ain't no cure for the summertime blues—a reality for anyone who spends summer evenings considering whether life can possibly approach the perfection of lazy breezes and languid sunsets. Santa Cruz's Comets on Fire finds its will to soldier on by producing colorful, all-effacing, and herbals-friendly blitzes of noise. "Dogwood Rust" deviates from their usual sludgy, plodding approach, opting instead for a more frantic swirl. A listener walks in on the band midfreakout, during the denouement of what sounds like a 20-minute orgy of everyone soloing at the same time. Textures are sublimated; a sputtering drone snakes underneath; everyone misses their cues, including whoever is playing the ray gun; and guitarist Ethan Miller does something one rarely hears on a Comets song—he sings. (Then again, one rarely refers to what they do as "songs.") Like a glassy-eyed man possessed, Miller harangues about the sun's rays and providential grace. All around him, the riff factory explodes, over and over.

Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye (Domino)
Listen to " In the Morning."

When dance music today is described as "sounding very '80s," it usually means that it was produced using outdated keyboards; it is rarely a description of affect. Canadian Boys Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus may swipe a synth-pop trick or two from Depeche Mode or Human League, but they also retain their heroes' subtle and deeply sentimental mission: conveying hope, distress, and everything in between using the most modern of technologies. "We're too young," Greenspan sighs, sounding both happy and sad at the realization. Below him tracks a line of stuttering drums and panting breaths, synth traipses and delicate, tiptoeing guitars. Placid but not peaceful, he celebrates the thrills of being young and alive while the world sleeps: "Girl, the night's not over/ We're not getting older/ They can chase forever." Soon, morning comes and the sweet, idyllic melody cedes the point to a fierce squelch of synthesizers. The perfect song for losing oneself on the dance floor, then wondering the next morning what it was all for.

Voxtrot
Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives EP (Cult Hero)
Listen to "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives."

Ah, the vision quest: backpack through the old country, immerse yourself in a foreign language, spend a summer in the park and read by sunlight, etc. A few years back, Ramesh Srivastava formed a band with some friends in Austin, Texas, and promptly left them behind for Scotland, ostensibly to study literature. Instead he spent all his time going to clubs and mastering the ways of Glasgow's finest export: jangling, twee guitar pop. He lashes out, ever so gently, on "Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives," a brilliant assemblage of daring pop hooks, bookish guitars, Srivastava's delicate singing and—most importantly—tastefully swathed reverb. "Listen, I've come to rock the boat," he charges over muscular surges of clanging drums and guitars, yet by song's end his composure uncoils. "We're all just sinking for someone," he half-whispers to himself, uncertain about this love or any other.

Ray Cash
"Bumpin' My Music (remix)." (Columbia)
Listen to "Bumpin' My Music (remix)."

A rapper's hubris is a hard act to sustain; sometimes you just want to be a normal person doing everyday things. Rising Cleveland rapper Ray Cash's breakthrough hit reveals him to be a fan like any other. "Bumpin' My Music" is an ode to the greatest of summer pastimes: windows down, arm out the window, road ahead, humming along to the radio. The original featured Cash and guest Scarface laundry-listing their favorite car tunes over aggressive, rubbery synths. On the remix, the other pages of Cash's CD wallet spring to life: Pimp C motors state-to-state to his favorite "E" artists (ESG, E-40), Project Pat flips between 8Ball (good for the ladies) and Willie Hutch (good for the soul), and T.I.—whose recent album is appropriately titled King—closes the proceedings with an excellent, know-your-roots verse about enjoying the ride but remembering the town in your rearview.

Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
"Déjà Vu" (Columbia)
Listen to "Déjà Vu." 

Christina Aguilera
"Ain't No Other Man" (RCA)
Listen to "Ain't No Other Man."

Summer is a time for shared cultural experiences or, at the very least, unavoidable ones. The early candidates for car-stereo ubiquity come from two likely sources. The lead single from Beyoncé's upcoming B-Day album features strong but unspectacular singing, muddled production and not one but two stale Jay-Z guest verses. It's certainly no "Crazy in Love." Yet, where that single's arresting, almost overwhelming beat nearly relegated her to an afterthought, "Déjà Vu" forces Beyoncé to do it herself. She pretty much succeeds, leading with the spirit and charisma that the rest of the song seems to lack. Then there is Christina Aguilera, the talented, quivery singer vying for yet another makeover. She's off to a good start. Not only has she learned to wear her underpants on the inside, "Ain't No Other Man," the lead single from her upcoming blues and jazz-tinged album, is an excellent bit of throwback funk helmed by mid-1990s hip-hop hero DJ Premier. A fierce Aguilera sets her sights on a guy over an old Latin soul stomp, serenading his ability to shake ass, stay classy, and single-handedly sustain the solar system. Her only weapon: melisma. Consider him—and all of us—helpless.

Hua Hsu teaches in the English department at Vassar College and is completing his first book, A Floating Chinaman.

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