Sunday, May 13, 2012

On the majestic, bombastic sounds of the summer album...

*I wrote most of this in a one-night creative/nostalgic burst that I had earlier this spring, back when the weather first started to warm up and summertime seemed imminent. I left it behind, thinking it was unfinished, but I read it over and liked it to much not to put it up.

It happens every spring: as inevitably as the blooming of the trees, as sure as that first 60 degree day, where myself and thousands of others jump the gun, throw on shorts and a t-shirt, and roll down the windows in the car, pretending like it's May or June instead of March or April. I am speaking, of course, of my tendency to anticipate summer through music. And it always happens on nights like this: nights where a warm breeze blows through the trees, nights where the ghost of winter finally lifts, disappears, and is replaced by evocative smells and rivers of nostalgia; it happens on nights where my neighbors shoot off fireworks and scream in celebration at two in the morning, on nights where the people on the porch across the street drink beer and shout through their intoxication, and on nights where those things, for whatever reason, don't bother me, where I realize (to quote The Dangerous Summer's "I Will Stay"), "oh my God, it's almost summer."

Summer music is my favorite kind of music: I don't know why that is, but it's most certainly true. Every year, most of my favorite albums seem to drop in the summer (last year, I believe eight of my top ten came into my life between leaving school in the spring and returning in the fall); so many of my favorite songs or records recall glorious moments of summers gone by. And every year in recent memory, it hasn't felt like spring or summer until I've given some solid play time to a few key records. The most obvious is Jack's Mannequin and Everything in Transit, with its whirlwind depiction of a California summer and its power-pop aesthetic. It's a record that has served as soundtrack for a lot of important moments in my life over the past few years, and which has even served as a welcoming committee of sorts for Earth's most flawless season. This record has an interesting connection to the summers that followed my two freshman years: first, when I was fifteen years old, I was a year late to the party (Transit released the summer before), but that turned out to be okay, because the season that it did end up soundtracking instead was remarkable. I still remember long evening runs on the golf course near my house, with the sun setting over the hills and the sounds of that album blasting through my headphones. Andrew McMahon has a lot to say about being young and completely alive on Everything in Transit, and that was a theme that I related to that summer and during every single one after it. The other freshman year, the college one, included probably the most definitive experience I ever had with the album (which, for a record that had been one of my all-time favorites for four years at that point, was saying something). It was two years ago this month, and I'd just wrapped up the last exam of my first year in college. The weather was glorious, with sun streaming down from the sky and the temperature rising. And when everything was packed and I'd checked out of the dorm, I got in my car, scrolled through my iPod, and picked this album out. What followed remains one of my most fondly recalled road trips: the weather, the music, the anticipation to be going home for the entire summer, it all made me feel immortal: it was a great start to what turned out to be the best summer of my life.
But even though it might always be the definitive summer record for me, Everything in Transit is merely one of many that fit that qualification. Perhaps the first was either Counting Crows' Hard Candy or Sister Hazel's Chasing Daylight: I don't quite recall which I snagged first, but I know for certain that both came into my life in the summer of 2004, and both were instrumental in shaping my love for music: they're still among my all-time favorites. Hard Candy has probably the best summer bookend lyrics out there: "Up All Night" and the line "we could drive out to the dunes tonight, 'cause summer's almost here" still drives my anticipation for the season to a fever pitch when the temperature starts to warm up, and the part in "Miami" that goes "the bus is running, it's time to leave/this summer's gone, so are we" transformed the song into my definitive, bittersweet end-of-summer ceremonial for years on end. But after those two came along, there were plenty more to come, and I can still hear pieces of my past in each of them: childhood memories echoing through The Wallflowers' Bringing Down the Horse and Third Eye Blind's self-titled album; a perfect family vacation in the strains of Better Than Ezra's Before the Robots; the angsty remains of my first summer with a job and a car in Safetysuit's Life Left to Go; the duality of the summer that followed my graduation, the balance between victory and uncertainty, unbridled freedom and fear of what my life would bring, and of course, day and night, represented by Mat Kearney's City of Black and White and The Dangerous Summer's Reach for the Sun; the first love that I discovered to the final two tracks of Dashboard Confessional's Dusk and Summer; and, though it seems like it was only a couple of months ago, last summer, completely encompassed in the flow of The Dangerous Summer's War Paint.

All of those records have played a massive role in my life, and each is at least partially responsible for my infatuation with this so-called "summer music," but even after getting the "soundtracks" out of the way, there has still been so much more: the boozy bombast of The Hold Steady's Boys & Girls in America,  the soaring voice of Chad Perrone, on his solo records and on Drawn to Revolving Doors with his old band Averi, which still take me back to the beginning of summer 2010; a slew of classics from last year, from the lovelorn pop symphonies of Matt Nathanson and Mat Kearney, to the dusky jams of The Damnwells' No One Listens to the Band Anymore; from the immaculate midnight atmospherics of Bon Iver's last record, all the way to Butch Walker's The Spade, which played as soundtrack for my farewell from town at the end of last summer, and will do the opposite upon my return for this one. And of course, there's Springsteen: Born to Run, which hardly left my stereo for the entire spring of my senior year of high school, soundtracked my graduation, and remained in constant rotation all summer long, and The Wild, The Innocent, The E-Street Shuffle, which is about as perfect an inaugural summer record as any I know.

When I look back at the summers of my life, I do so through the eyes of the songs that latched themselves onto moments from each and immortalized them. When I hear these records, they take me back to hundreds of reflective late night drives, to every brilliant moment spent outside in the glorious weather, enjoying the company of the people I love, and cherishing every splendid moment. I don't know what this summer will bring: I know that it could very well be one of the last I spend in my hometown, this place where I grew up and where so many amazing moments of my life have played out. If it is the last one, if a big chapter of my life ends in four months time, I can only hope that it's one of the greatest as well. And whatever record that comes along to encapsulate that? It's going to be one that I treasure for the rest of my life.

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