Fuming through the dog days

Five new albums to soundtrack a passive-aggressive summer
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  June 18, 2008

Ever had a bad summer in Maine? Probably not. Well, some of us have. You’re probably the person who invites us on camping trips every weekend with people we don’t like. Or asks us to go on super-fun bike rides when our bikes are broken and we can’t afford to fix them. Or don’t understand why sometimes we just want the damned sun to go down so we can make some dinner without sweating all over it.

You’re the kind of person who thinks we’re no fun. We’re the kind of people who think it’s weird that 20 degrees and an extra hour of sun can suddenly transform you into a ball of energy who still thinks listening to Sublime in the summer is cool. We’re the kind of people who see unattractive shirtless people in the Old Port and call a pox on summer in Portland.

In preparation for another three months of endless days and sweaty nights, here are five new albums — some soothing, some head-spinningly dense, some fist-pumpingly awesome — that feel your pain, and may just help you get over it.

Portishead, Third (Island)
Typical lyric “I’d like to laugh at what you said/But I just can’t find a smile” (“Nylon Smile”)
Recommended environment A foggy night drive, or after a sudden breakup
Every bit as fluid and gorgeous as the storied trip-hop group’s previous albums, Portishead add unexpected layers of texture — both organic and industrial — to their quintessentially miserable sound on this latest album. Muffled tribal drums and tremulous strings mingle with baritone surf-rock riffs on album opener “Silence,” and on “Deep Water” Beth Gibbons sounds like Joanna Newsom with a ukulele and a fatalistic streak. Third’s all but guaranteed to be the year’s most striking example of artistic reinvention.


Islands, Arm’s Way (Anti-)
Typical lyric “Right from the start, I was stabbed in the heart/Didn’t know I wasn’t breathing/Didn’t know I had been bleeding” (“Creeper”)
Recommended environment Seething next to an overheated car
Fans of the band’s previous work (2006’s summery Return to the Sea; previous incarnation Unicorns) will initially be put off by this hyperactive, lavishly orchestrated effort, but second chances reap great rewards. For their second album, Islands have largely dispensed with their Afro-pop and hip-hop influences and embraced the rock opera: string arrangements, synth-heavy prog, and lengthy multi-movement suites adorn the album. Nick Thorburn’s lyrics are obsessed with death and decay, but he has a good sense of humor: in an album taking cues from the Who, he breaks into the band's “A Quick One While He’s Away” for a few minutes of “In the Rushes.” It’s an exhilarating ride.


Subtle, ExitingARM (Lex)
Typical lyric “What would you say in the face of famous?/When you’ll crash, you’ll know where your plane is” (“The No”)
Recommended environment A shade-drawn room, hiding from the sun
Another vortex of double-meanings and post-hip hop rhythms from the Bay Area’s most ambitious underground rap collective. Genre labels are as arbitrary and meta as ever on Subtle’s latest release, another episode the ongoing tale of Hour Hero Yes, a warrior against consumerism and apathy (the villain being “the Great Nothing Much”). In this installment, Hour Hero writes subversive pop songs that are intended to capture mass appeal and deprogram a brainwashed populace. It’s an ironic statement — the band’s most pleasurable album is too dark and oddball to find a home on the radio, even if they’ve never sounded more like TV on the Radio — but you could spend weeks decoding Subtle’s formidable mythology and elaborate compositions.

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