I've already laid out my top albums of the year so far , and while all of those should be on heavy rotation this summer,


My Summer Music Playlist: Motor City Drum Ensemble, Vampire Weekend, Zomby, and More

I've already laid out my top albums of the year so far, and while all of those should be on heavy rotation this summer, here are a few more records, old and new, that I'm feeling for the summer. Enjoy.

1. Motor City Drum Ensemble: DJ-Kicks (July 5, 2011, !K7 Records; plays Decibel Festival Sept. 28-Oct. 5)

This! This is the summer jam par excellence for 2011! I've been rocking a promotional copy at BBQs 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 that 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. From that gothic/nu-romantic-styled 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.

More after the jump . . .

2. Vampire Weekend: Contra (January 2010, XL Recordings)

The album opens with the words "In December..." but don't let that deceive you: This is a summer album. That's not only because its sounds are bright and breezy and its songs bounding with sunlit energy, but because that "in December" is a reminiscence (and even then it's of warmer climes). This is an album about how memory works (no Joan of Arc) as much as it's about anything else--its songs jump around in time and place and frequently look back over their shoulders at something that came before (the line "I had a feeling once..." that opens "I Think UR a Contra" or the coda of "Diplomat's Son," with the song's narrator "Looking out at the ice-cold water all around me/I can't feel any traces of that other place"). So, everything piles up--this summer, last summer, that winter you spent away somewhere warm--and it's sweet and fleeting and feels just like the season.

3. Zomby: Dedication (July 11th, 2011, 4AD; plays Decibel Festival Sept. 28-Oct. 5)

Elusive UK producer Zomby's celebrated debut Where Were You in '92? was a fun, fastidiously dedicated genre exercise and formal experiment: a recreation of early '90s rave using only the technologies widely available at the time (crude hardware sequencers rather than today's infinitely flexible software platforms, for instance). But its limited sound palette of pinging synth arpeggios and blocky breakbeats also wore thin rather quickly. Dedication, Zomby's debut for the venerable 4AD label, finds the producer softening his touch to create an album that's both closer in sound to modern-day dubstep in sound (see the Burial/Four Tet vibes of "Natalia's Song") and yet still very much his own thing--it's an immersive listen (the mood is only briefly broken by the now de rigueur cameo from Animal Collective's Panda Bear on "Things Fall Apart" and even then it's a nice break) that's over too soon, which is fine, because you'll want to replay it immediately.

4. The Avalanches: Since I Left You (Nov. 2000, Modular Recordings)

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.

5. Architecture in Helsinki: all albums (2003-2011, various labels)

Sticking with Australia (and cheating to include an entire discography--with maybe just a few songs pruned off), we have impeccable indie-pop sextet Architecture in Helsinki. Their stuff ranges from tumbling twee pop to ska- and reggae-infused numbers and it almost always has a sunny feel to my mind. Or it could be a matter of association--three of these artists/albums were my go-to soundtrack two summers and one very beachy vacation ago, and they seem to have permanently imprinted on my mind as what summer sounds like.

6. Los Campesinos!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Nov. 2008, Arts & Crafts)

Actually, I'll admit there's nothing much summery about this album, but it's an all-seasons favorite of mine and it seems to have worked itself back into my heavy rotation of late, so ergo it's a summer album now. It's morbid indie-pop mope, blown-out and bratty and self-regarding, ragged and frothing, and I will say this for its summer uses: If you're riding your bike a lot this summer, as I've been, there are quite a lot of raging crescendos here that could be handy to get stuck in your head for cresting some of the city's more sinister hills (the ride back up from Mad beach, anybody?).

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