The Sounds of Summer 2011

Our box set of songs from the season, from Neutral Milk Hotel to Witch Gardens.

The Avalanches, Since I Left You (Nov. 27, 2000)

I listen to this album and I can't believe it's 11 years old (and still without a sequel). For all the 2 Many DJs and Girl Talks that have happened in the decade since (and Girl Talk has a summer BBQ playlist for you as well while we're on the subject), no album of sample-based music has even approached the Avalanches' magnum opus in terms of cohesion, mood, seamlessness, or repurposing: You could pick these songs apart and dig up samples ranging from Madonna to John Waters, but why would you want to? The Avalanches made everything here their own, building an album very much more than the mere sum of its parts. And is it ever summery—the thing lifts off from Australia and circles the globe, endless-summer style, never letting the seasons catch up. An essential, all-time summer album. ERIC GRANDY

Beyoncé, 4 (June 24, 2011)

The lead single off Beyoncé's 4, "Run the World (Girls)," is less a song than a strange melange of aggressive shouting and bizarre samples, ostensibly meant to encourage females to take control and "run this mother." As a single, though, "Run the World" is deceptive in that it's not very representative of the entire album. More than any of her previous three solo albums, 4 showcases Beyoncé's divine vocals—check out the stunning opening track, "1+1." 4 is a incredibly listenable collection of straightforward, sweet-sounding R&B songs. The album's best tracks—"Countdown," "Love on Top," the swaggering Kanye West and André 3000 collaboration "Party"—are all about fiery spirits and good times. ERIN K. THOMPSON

Jesse Boykins III, Way of a Wayfarer (June 29, 2011)

Straying from the neo-soul leanings he's become known for, one of New York's best experimental soul vocalists (and Street Etiquette affiliate) JBIII's latest FreEP ventures more into the territory of electronica. Light and spacey, Wayfarer is a six-track EP that can easily be played end-on-end—and between the Gold Panda–produced "Back Home (Mermaids & Dragons)" and the acoustic "When Your Ready," it packs enough romanticism to satisfy even my sappy soul. His words: "I create World Soul that marks moments in time. Each time I introduce new music to my fans, I want it to become a defining part of their lives as much as it is a part of mine." NICK FELDMAN

Helluvastate, Adventures in a Helluvastate (March 22, 2011)

Comprising Helladope's Tay Sean (now "Swan Coltraine") and State of the Artist's TH ("Thadwick Tristen Trevor III"), the duo fused the names of their other projects to form Helluvastate and created an exciting connection between two of Seattle's best hip-hop camps in Members Only and Cloud Nice—and turned it into one of the city's best hip-hop releases of 2011. Tracks like "Brain Champagne" and "Fresha Adventure" prove the duo can rap, but the upbeat spaciness of tracks like "Skylife Salutations" and "Up, Yup" are perfect for cranking up with the windows cranked down. NF

Motor City Drum Ensemble, DJ-Kicks (July 5, 2011)

This! This is the summer jam par excellence for 2011! I've been rocking a promotional copy at barbecues and the beach for a couple weeks now, and even with the annoying "This is a promotional copy" robot voice dropping in every few minutes to keep you from pirating the thing, it's by far the best, most mellow-grooving soundtrack for the season you could hope for. Motor City Drum Ensemble is actually one guy from Berlin (rather than a group from Detroit): 24-year-old Danilo Plessow, who has roots as a jazz drummer but now operates as an electronic DJ and producer. Seeing the album's gothic/nu-romantic-style cover, you might expect a bunch of moody heroin house from this DJ mix, but Plessow's installment in the long-running DJ-Kicks series is actually incredibly warm and loose, beginning with Sun Ra and building over the course of an hour and 15 through jazzy breaks, Afrobeat, soulful vocal house, and deep techno. This is going to be on heavy repeat all summer long. (MCDE plays Decibel Festival Sept. 28–Oct. 5.) EG

Protest the Hero, Fortress (Jan. 29, 2008)

I have Canada to thank for one of my favorite albums ever. Whether it is summer or winter, Fortress can be found by my side, emitting its progressive metal delicacies. The Ontario five-piece boasts all the face-melting tendencies of a typical metal band, but singer Rody Walker jumps between soaring, clear-as-day vocals and ground-rumbling screams and growls. The band's most recent album, 2011's Scurrilous, is a definite keeper, but unfortunately fell short of living up to the mark set by this album. My favorite song is "Palms Read," which also has a ballet segment in the beginning of the video. Sexy and classy. JOE WILLIAMS

Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends (April 3, 1968)

I brought the Bookends cassette out to Sasquatch! and I've been spinning S&G constantly ever since. I'm certainly not new to these guys, but for some reason they seem to be resonating particularly strongly with me right now. There's something about the percussive way Simon strums his guitar, and the distinctly urban nods in his lyrics, that are refreshing against the backdrop of so much Americana nostalgia from young, urban songwriters of late. CHRIS KORNELIS

Jesse Sykes, Marble Son (Aug. 2, 2011)

This is a Sykes album you can listen to on repeat. Her vocals have had a tendency to grate after heavy rotation in the past. Blended sparsely here among the guitars during the five- and six-minute jams, her vocals are tastier than they've ever been. CK

WHY?, Alopecia (March 11, 2008)

The Berkeley, Calif., five-piece hasn't left my iPod rotation since my friend showed them to me on a 2 a.m. drive to Walmart. Straddling an experimental genre line, the songs play like indie rock but have the time and flow of rap. Clever and witty lines like "Even though I haven't seen you in years, yours is a funeral I'd fly to from anywhere" mesh alongside the cool delivery of frontman Jonathan "Yoni" Wolf for an entire album worthy of constant head-bobbing. "These Few Presidents" was the album's most successful song, and for good reason. It's like aural crack. JW

Witch Gardens, Alice, Agatha, Branch & Christ (Release show July 23, 2011 at Capitol Hill Block Party)

You've likely seen Seattle's Witch Gardens live; now it's nice to finally have a disc to pop into your car stereo and jam with. Light and insouciant, with the sweetest girlish vocals you'll ever hear, Witch Gardens' songs, as heard on this eight-song release, relate to and revel in youth (haircuts, softball, beaches, parties). The melodies are cool and breezy, the tempos stutter and bop along, the foursome's energy is infectious, and the music is impossible not to love. EKT

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