Top 20 Summer CDs

Summertime is here! It’s hot, it’s sunny. Now if I could only be on vacation, that’d be great.

As was the case the last time, with winter, I found it harder than expected to figure out what summer actually “sounds” like. And to my surprise, it’s not all about reggay.

About that… funny story : at the beginning, I had two or three ideas at best for this list, and it was pretty much all about reggay, but now I can barely fit all of the albums I thought of in there. The list ended up being a lot more eclectic than expected.

I hope you’ll find some nice musical inspiration here while you’re probably also waiting, at work namely, looking out the window, irritated… waiting for the day when you can say so long y’all, I’m going for a sweet mohito on the terrace of a restaurant right in the middle of this beautiful sunny day.

 

Runners up : ZZ Top, Greatest Hits &  The Dead South, Good Company

These well-known bearded guys from Texas can certainly play some nice blues rock. But come on, forget about ZZ tops!

This folk bluegrass band from the Canadian Prairies, Mumford and Son’s Evil Twins as they call themselves, created the strangest addictive cool summer song.

20. Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club

Named after Havana’s lost mythical night club, this album is a summer classic. I drank so many coffees listening to this music on late Sunday mornings.

19. Ben Harper, Fight for your mind

Enjoy your Summer mornings with Ben Harper’s slide guitar and his classic 1995 album Fight for your mind.

18. Elevator to Hell, Part I to III

Moncton’s indie low-fi psychedelic rock band Elevator chose to illustrate its album with a wintery picture, but paradoxically, it is a great listen in the summer.

17. The XX, The XX

I didn’t know about this London indie electronic pop band until recently, yet I feel this music has been flowing around everywhere since forever (on TV? in the wind?).

16. Ani DiFranco, Dilate

Ani’s critically acclaimed seventh studio album remains a personal favorite, with her signature rapid fingerpicking, crazy guitar tunings, and overall intensity.

15. Lhasa De Sela, La Llorona

Lhasa’s deep voice warms up any atmosphere. Her first album La Llorona is all in Spanish, and it’s such a pleasure to listen to in the summertime.

14. Gotan Project, Lunatico

Argentinean tango blended with electronic music is a strange but cool mix, and Lunatico is certainly a nice atmospheric summer album.

13. Sublime, Sublime

Sublime’s classic 1996 eponymous release may be the sunniest of all punk-ska albums. There is some dub, reggay, and hip hop music in there as well. A joy to rediscover.

12. Mano Negra, Best of

Alternative rock salsa ska punk (really, how can I describe this band?) Paris-based La Mano Negra, “The Black Hand” in Spanish, produced this sunny, energetic and eclectic “best of” after they disbanded. I wish I could have seen them in concert.

11. Zebda, Essence ordinaire

Zebda’s third studio release is a festive yet socially-charged album. These guys (of French and Arab descent, among others), who all grew up together in Toulouse, tell authentic and compelling stories.

10.  Jean Leloup, L’amour est sans pitié

This album tore the place down in Québec in the early 1990s. A young Jean Leloup teamed up with La Sale Affaire and lived, played, and sung at a freaking crazy pace, about urban life, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And summer in Montréal.

9. Janis Joplin, Greatest Hits

Many times, I heard someone say that this person or that person is “the Janis of the 80s”, “of the 90s”, “of the 2000s”, … but in the end, it never stands the test of time. Beautiful soulful Janis… you just rock. And as I listen to your music, I’ll always think of you standing on the stage of the Monterey Festival on that sunny day.

8. Jimmy Hendrix, Are You Experienced?

I don’t know if I’m experienced, but I’ve definitely listened to that album enough times that I know and appreciate the Jimmy Hendrix Experience. Even the colours chosen here for the cover amplify the warmth of his voice and music.

7. Tryo, Grain de sable

Tryo’s signature reggay and folk guitar rythms are a great fit for your summer afternoons. Like their peers Zebda, Tryo knows how to be socially-engaged and festive at the same time.

6. MC Solaar, Prose combat

If you don’t speak French, it’s a dang shame, because MC Solaar is a poet rapper who plays with words like no other. In any case, you’ll still move your head to these suave rythms.

5. Morcheeba, Big Calm

We loved that album right away when it was released. English trip hop electronic band Morcheeba, with its cool beats and jazzy musical exploration, is a nice album to chill out to. Pretty much like the cover implies.

4. Amadou et Mariam, Un dimanche à Bamako

A couple of musicians from Mali, who both became blind in their youth, conveyed their beautiful positive music and immense talent to the world with this classic album. This CD is loved by people of all ages (seriously, my parents have this album, I have it, and my kids love it).

3. Manu Chao, Clandestino

After La Mano Negra and other musical experiments, Manu Chao produced the stripped down Clandestino. With this, he intended to smoothly end his musical career. Ironically, this album, blending traditional latin music, reggay, rock, bresilian rythms, with a hint of chanson française, was a whopping success.

2. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire & Bob Marley, Uprising

It’s not cheating (too much) to have two Bob Marley albums on a Top Summer CDs list. I still listen to Catch a Fire often, but I had forgotten the sunny, upbeat and very catchy Uprising. I’m glad I rediscovered it.

1. Billy Stewart, Summertime

Janis’ version of Summertime is magical, but Billy Stewart’s is… just… mindblowing. Forget about Despacito (seriously, forget it)! THIS is the ultimate Summer song!

 

Summery fun fact : there are three (awesome) versions of Summertime in this list.

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Top 20 Winter CDs

Only a month left until the end of Winter. It’s been a strange one : the temperature went below – 20 Celsius almost every day during Christmas holidays, then it rained for a few days, then – 20 again… But we’ve had lots of snow, which is great. And the sparkling snow of the last few days has inspired me…

I find that the overall atmosphere, my mood, and the music I listen to are often linked. That’s when I get most into it at least. My spouse and children on the other hand don’t appear to crave that same kind of serenity and often go for the complete opposite : they happily try to break the mood as brutally as possible. I was enjoying a mellow wintery Sunday morning vibe when “I got it from my daddy” from Gangnam Style’s illustrious Psy threw me and my coffee out of the chair. So much for feeling one with the universe.

And so I retreat here to share my spontaneous top 20 list of CDs for the Winter season. It’s too bad that I wasn’t inspired before, because the indie folk person that I am would have found it a lot more natural to start with Fall. But it’s a nice challenge.

What makes a good Winter CD is still a mystery to me at this moment. I think it has a lot to do with sensory perceptions : what the songs feel like, sound like, what images pop up when you hear them. Good Winter albums should be atmospheric albums that make you see and hear the evening snow falling down. They might feel a little Christmassy too (with piano music that sounds like bells, for example). Will finding the recipe kill the magic? Let’s see when I’m done. 😛

Since this is my third top 20 list, I’ll give it a new twist. I’m leaving the last spot open… I wonder if you all out there have completely different music genres in mind for Winter.

20. …?

19. David Usher, Little Songs

David Usher’s first solo album is a hit and miss, the songs are uneven, but there are a few very strong ones (ex. Saint-Lawrence River). I usually end up listening to the same four-five songs, but still, there is a nice atmosphere, a bit wintery, like an early Winter in late November. I never heard his other solo albums but I should, there was potential there.

18. We are Wolves, Invisible Violence 

I’ll bet that these guys listen a lot to Ozzy Osbourne. The singer sounds exactly like him, but he’s backed by an indie electronic rock band. A strange mix. We are Wolves’ third album is harder and louder than most albums on this list, but the electronic and rock atmosphere inspire the vision of an open snowscape (and after seeing the memorable Blue video, that image is kind of ingrained in my head).

17. Lamb, Best Kept Secrets

Lamb is a nice little mix of electronic, trip hop, and drum and base, with a jazzy twist. This “best of” album gathers very different songs (many of them singles, hence the need for a best of), but Lou Rhodes’ jazzy husky voice ties them all together. The drum and base element is also a strong point. It’s nice to listen to this while casually working on the computer, in front of my snow covered window.

16. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

Another trip hop album… This feels right, yet contradictory. I definitely see some kind of snowy scenery, but am I trying to warm myself up ? Am I in a cabin with a fire burning (no, but I should be)? In any case, I just had the most intense flashback of the late 1990s. Perhaps this reminds me of chilling inside with friends when there’s a snowstorm outside. The sound fills the room and some of it escapes outside in the night, into the storm, and brings the vibe… to no one. Trippy.

15. Lhasa De Sela, The Living Road

Another hot-cold paradox. Lhasa De Sela has a deep and warm voice. She mixes different cultural influences into her music, and her songs are in Portuguese, French, and English. So, how does this one work?… Let’s see… nature unleashing its wrath, wind sweeping the snow away, and this woman with a broken heart is still standing, sharing her emotional stories with outstanding aplomb.

14. Patrick Watson, Close to Paradise 

On Patrick Watson’s first release, vocals and piano are upfront. Some songs do stand out, like Luscious Life, but overall, the album sounds like endless string of magical sparkling piano sounds.

13. Portishead, Portishead

The haunting songs on Portishead’s second album work quite well for the Winter season. Incidentally, they make me think of walking around downtown during Québec’s 1998 ice storm. For weeks, several cities went without power. In Montréal, they called in the army to help cut down frozen branches that came crashing down. It was chaos all over, but people were really supportive of one another. My best friend lived in the smallest apartment downtown but she had heat, and I stayed with her for a few days. All day, we’d listen to music on our CD players or radios that could also function on batteries. When you’re 18, that works out just fine.

12. Malajube, La caverne

Malajube’s third release is as innovative as always. These guys are great composers and musicians. One of the signature moves of this band is to turn up the sound of the instruments and to lower the sound of the voice. That way, the voice (whisper) just blends in and adds to the atmosphere. The unexpected melodies and hooks make the Winter days feel pretty darn cool.

11. Nina Simone, Jazz Masters 17

I couldn’t find the cover of the Jazz Masters album… Too bad, it still makes the cut. Nina Simone is one of the most amazing one-of-a-kind voices that has ever been, and her unique bluesy style is the best thing to warm you up on Winter evenings. This CD is a great way to start if you’re unfamiliar with her work : Work Song, Love Me or Leave Me, Pirate Jenny, Mississipi Goddamn, Little Girl Blue, Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair… You’ll want to know more for sure.

 10. Bjork, Post

Perhaps it’s because of the song Hyperballad, but when I listen to Post, I always think of Bjork on the top of a snowy mountain in Iceland, happy and serene in front of a sparkling white open and windy scenery, screaming and wondering if her voice reaches the other side. For some reason, the image I have of her is in a simple white dress with no shoes… yet she’s not cold at all. Bjork’s voice is amazing enough that it doesn’t have to be warm at all, because it’s… celestial, perhaps? Flying upwards over the icy moutain.

9. Dustin Tebbutt, Home

I like Dustin Tebdutt’s album covers. This artist indeed crafts beautiful album covers, as well as clever and soothing melodies, and the imagery lifts your head up to the stars. It feels beautiful and a bit lonely, just like a silent Winter snowscape. But the colours, especially the contrats of colours, are always very stark in Winter.

8. The Cure, Disintegration

The Cure’s mellow melodic, melancholic and introspective songs flow perfectly from one to the other on this album, which is important for the atmosphere to build up. And so it builds up, like sparkling snowflakes pilling up little by little. Speaking about things flowing, Robert Smith’s voice flows perfectly over the music. It appears out of the mist, and disappears in the same manner.

7. La bottine souriante, La Mistrine

La bottine souriante is traditional music in Québec, especially for those who are of French descent. Generations of people played and listened to this kind of music when they took a break to celebrated the holidays together. I heard there was always one or more people in families who played the violin, the accordeon, or who could drum with their hands and feet like there was no tomorrow! La Mistrine was the first album my sisters and I would put on Christmas night when we were kids. When the first song Le reel des soucoupes volantes started, we knew the party had begun!

6. Belle and Sebastian, If you’re feeling sinister

If you’re feeling sinister is exactly the CD I had in mind when I thought of writing this post : a soft moody album that makes you want to curl up on your comfy chair with a book and a glass of wine on the weekend, around 4 or 5 PM, when the light changes outside and the evening sky becomes blueish. Yeah, I’ve done that quite a few times with this CD on, and it never disappoints.

5. Tori Amos, Under the Pink

A young girl at my highschool played Winter on the piano once at some ceremony or something and I thought that was the best thing I had ever heard, so I bought Under the Pink and discovered Tori Amos. This feels like a very honest album and it puts the emphasis on the piano melodies and the soothing vocals. The songs go straight to your heart, and your mind gets lost in Tori’s very personal and evocative imagery.

4. Radiohead, Kid A

Ice age coming! Kid A is a wonderful album. Radiohead experiments with various sounds and effects, and all we can say is that these guys definitely have an ear for music. It’s amazing how well this album has aged. These sensitive lyrics, backed by the perfect soundscape, can almost bring you to your knees (as the overwhelming How to Dissapear Completely does).

3. Yann Tiersen, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain Soundtrack

One of France’s biggest movie successes also brought Yann Tiersen’s music to international fame (ironically, Tiersen said he wasn’t satisfied with it), which is not that frequent for instrumental albums. The story of Amélie Poulain does not take place in Winter, but the music, the accordeon, the little bell sounds, the rythm, it has a lovely “Christmassy” feel.

2. Vince Guiraldi Trio Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special

The joy of getting or the joy of giving? Not many Christmas specials have been as good as the original 1963 Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It had everything : social comment on consumerism, glitter vs substance, alienation, … And for one extremely rare moment, everyone rallies around Charlie Brown at the end to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. That being said, this album is classy all on its own with cool jazzy versions of Christmas favorites. This is one of the rare Christmas albums I never get tired of.

1. A Message to Bears, Departures

The beautiful atmospheric Departures fits really well on a melancholic snowy day. The album doesn’t necessarily lift your mood, but it certainly accompanies your moody self on your moody journey and delicately expands your horizons. This is an enjoyable musical exploration, courtesy of English multi-instrumentalist Jerome Alexander. Now, does the message reach the bears, have they replied, and what did they say?

 

Party Time with Bran Van 3000

Bran Van 3000 is a Montréal electronica-rock-funk-hip hop music collective, led by creative genius James Di Salvio. This collaboration of about 20 singers, musicians, producers, and friends resulted in Bran Van’s first album, the unique and surprising “Glee”. This album fits well in the mid-late 90’s, it has a cool indie pop rock / trip hop feel to it. “Glee” was both critically and commercially acclaimed, and the album won best canadian alternative album in 1998. Bran Van went on to make three other albums, and to collaborate with numerous artists like african singer and international star Youssou N’Dour, and american rapper Big Daddy Kane.

The name Bran Van 3000 might not ring a bell, but you have most likely heard a few of their songs (their first single “Drinking in L.A.” was playing everywhere at the time, and several other songs ended up on movie soundtracks; for example, “Go Shopping” was included in the soundtrack of Alfonso Cuarón’s great “Y Tu Mamá También”).

There are a dozen people on stage when they perform live, and it really feels like a huge party.

The Music of Lamb on Soft Winter Days

Lamb is an English electronic band, with a touch of trip hop/drum and base. I’ve been listening to this group a lot these days for some reason. Not to any particular album, just to random songs here and there from their 1996 first releases to their newest ones. This music fits the current atmosphere somehow, “trip hop” reminds me of soft winter days. Although, as I said, it’s not necessarily your typical trip hop band (by typical, I mean Portishead, who started it all). In any case, Lamb is a nice little find, so I’m sharing.

Here is a live taping of Gorecki, as well as the song God Bless, and Heaven.