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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

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My Summer Playlist 2011: Beyoncé, John Maus, Witch Gardens, Washed Out, and More

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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 4 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 Andre 3000 collaboration "Party"--are all about fiery spirits and good times.

*As an added bonus, I like to listen to this song and imagine Kanye West out at a club one night being suddenly struck by inspiration, grabbing a pen, and scribbling his verse--"You a bad girl and your friends bad too/You got the swag sauce/You drippin' Swagu"--on the back of a cocktail napkin.

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John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (June 28, 2011): John Maus has the same stern baritone as Ian Curtis did; the cover of his new album is kind of gloomy. So is its title. But the songs on this record are anything but somber. The shimmering synths and trippy, punchy beats make for music as sparkling and good-mood-inducing as a rare sunny day.

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Witch Gardens, Alice, Agatha, Branch, & Christ (Release show July 23, 2011 at CHBP): You've likely seen Witch Gardens live; now it's nice to finally have a record 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 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, the music is impossible not to love.

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Washed Out, Within and Without (July 12, 2011): Ernest Greene's first full-length has already been the subject of some premature kerfuffle because its sexy cover photo of a naked couple getting busy under the sheets also appeared in a Cosmopolitan article about satisfying sex positions. But even without the helpful image, Within and Without is an utterly sexy album. (And maybe this is me being a girl, but the knowledge that Greene wrote this album for his wife makes the music transcend sexy and move right into purely romantic.) The gauzy songs are blissfully fluid, some have a quickening groove, some are airy wisps of sound, all are best listened to with eyes closed on a warm summer night.

Non-recent summer playlist musts:

Caribou, Andorra

Dum Dum Girls, I Will Be

Electric Light Orchestra, Out of the Blue

Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms

Yuck, Yuck

The Zombies, Odessey & Oracle

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