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Mix Tape

Sympathizing with the Summertime Blues -- June 2009

The Velvet Underground once posed and answered the question, "Who loves the sun? Not everyone." June marks the first days of summer, and with schools out, warm weather, and the longest days of the year, the season seems predestined for good times all around. Still, all that warmth and idle time can make it difficult not to experience at least a touch of melancholy, and California pop has always had a moodier side in addition to songs about sand, surf, and fun. The following ten tracks offer a little taste of modern bummertime music, drawing heavily from West Coast pop and other summery textures, but often with a hint (or more) that not everything's right with the world.
Mix Tape curated by The Bay Bridged.

Recent transplants to the West Coast, Odawas mix the epic soundscapes of electronic soundtrack music with intimate singer-songwriter melodies. This song employs some tones reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's work on Twin Peaks, where beautiful synth textures contributed to the show's rich dark melodrama. Things don't seem quite as intense here, but, as throughout 2009's The Blue Depths, the melancholy and beauty are unmistakable.

If you've ever seen the Riders' incendiary live shows, which tilt toward the punk side of the band's country-punk-rock, this drowsy song from the band's new album The Perch is initially something of a shocker. Like the band's louder efforts, though, Pete Fraudenfelder's voice carries a sincerity that makes lines like "I've been working my fingers down to the bone" feel real and bleak. I initially misread the album title as The Porch, and this one certainly feels like early evening front stoop music.

San Francisco's Girls have been the subject of buzz for what feels like forever, despite only having released a single 7" and a few tracks here and there over the past few years. The chamber pop-psych epic "Hellhole Ratrace" does little to quell the high expectations for the band's upcoming debut album. Sounding a hint like Elvis Costello, singer Christopher Owens cuts straight to the chase (and to the nerve) with his isolation, as the song around him builds to a triumphant swell. I saw Girls play in a church during South by Southwest, and it felt surprisingly appropriate for this majestic number.

You Can Have What You Want is the fourth album from Jason Quever's Papercuts, just released by Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic's Gnomonsong label. Quever is a studio whiz, having produced and contributed to a number of albums, and this release found him constructing thick sweeping pop with the assistance of Beach House's Alex Scally. Despite the warm organ layers, though, the lyrics offer little comfort: "Don't be scared/Put your fears aside/And strap on the electrodes/If bliss lies beyond/The machine will tell us so." There's plenty of bliss, though, on the album.

I assume I'm not the only one who prefers Bradford Cox's solo project Atlas Sound to his acclaimed band Deerhunter. While the latter is a more traditional psych-rock band, Atlas Sound allows Cox to fully embrace pastiche and ambient tones which add a haunting quality to some really dark lyrics. Although there's a certain mystery to the track's imagery, Cox has said previously that this song draws from personal experiences of violence when he was a boy.

In the hands of a different band -- yes, Weezer, I'm looking at you -- "How We Fade" would be a summer mega-anthem playing in car stereos nationwide. It would also, presumably, be much dumber. In the hands of The Thermals, it's still catchy as hell, but with the less-than-anthemic subject matter of the fear of dying alone. Concerns with death and decay are present throughout Now We Can See, the band's spectacular new album on Kill Rock Stars, but they compliment the group's stripped-down urgent garage-pop.

This song as a whole is great, but it's the bass line and the tambourine that identify New York City's Crystal Stilts as a band that draws from the West for some inspiration. Some of the other tracks on 2008's Alight of Night are a bit more theatrically post-punky, but this one is all fractured, fleeting beauty. Shine shattered shine, indeed.

"Sister" is probably the biggest highlight on Vetiver's latest album, a folk-pop masterpiece that hides plenty of lyrical and musical charms within its rolling melody. Much of Tight Knit tackles slices of personal relationships, and this song is no different, discussing familial discord through fragments and moments, while guitar textures supply a subtle beauty. With Cabic's voice guiding the way, there's a subtle immediacy at work here -- no big hook, but plenty of moments worth revisiting over and over.

Originally by Crooked Fingers, St. Vincent and The National teamed up to cover this song for Merge Records' twentieth anniversary covers compilation. While it doesn't top the original's steady beauty, its rough-around-the-edges feel adds an extra desperation to the central question: "Why won't you fall back in love with me?" This is the song that inspired this mix -- something about two people who seem bound to end up together because they "sleep all summer" just seems so heartbreaking.

San Francisco psych-rock band Sleepy Sun appeal for refuge from a lonely existence on this track from the band's recommended debut album Embrace, just released nationally on ATP Recordings. The group can produce a hell of a fury at their most electric, but this somber ballad gives enough space to allow every instrument to breathe before descending into echoing feedback. There's something optimistic about the narrator's faith, but it's undercut by his stark awareness of his condition: "I'm alone. Lift me from my humble home."

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Please Note: Some songs may contain explicit lyrics.