Summer albums that weren’t a bummer

By Tommy Verdone

Few people, if any, could have anticipated the tones that would shake the world of contemporary music over the course of the last few months. The summer of 2013 brought big-name artists out of their enigmatic shells, and drove some of the most consistent sounding groups in startling new directions.

"Kveikur"-Sigur Ros

Sigur Rós, an Icelandic post-rock group, whose popularity has snowballed in the west in recent years, released its seventh studio album on June 12. The album “Kveikur,” which translates to fuse or candlewick, sounds relatively far off from any other album the band has let out since its inception in 1994.
Sigur Rós has always had a reputation for beauty and dreaminess in some unintelligible and intangible form, with its 2002 album “( )”’s lyrics consisting of nothing but a fabricated language aptly named Hopelandic. The band’s most recent album prior to “Kveikur” would be the critically underwhelming “Valtari,” which was released in 2012. Following this album, the group’s longtime keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, who had been there through some of Sigur Rós’ most recognized work, chose to depart from the band.

“Kveikur” strays from the band’s minimalistic sense of innocence and purity, heading toward something much darker. Possibly due to the lack of a dedicated keyboardist, the band sounds noticeably heavier, introducing harsher drums and an all-around more oppressive tone. It seems that while the rest of Sigur Rós’ albums have been heavily reliant on cutesy, soft melodies, this particular album draws much more out of the rhythm section in a way that the rest did not.

"Tomorrows Harvest"- Boards of Canada

Starting in April, the notorious and somewhat elusive Scottish sibling duo Boards of Canada subtly began hinting at its new album “Tomorrow’s Harvest.” This album is important not only due to the group’s shady evasive persona, but due to the mysterious puzzle that encircled its announcement, which began on Record Store Day on April 20 of this year. The puzzle consisted of codes that were leaked in a series of assorted single records, as well as one commercial, which aired for 90 seconds on Cartoon Network’s Saturday night anime block “Toonami.”

Boards of Canada have always had a nostalgic child-like tone ever since its debut LP “Music Has the Right to Children” in 1998, but something sinister has laid beneath the innocent sense of wonderment since “Geodaddi,” the duo’s 2002 album. Boards of Canada, while blending a staggering amount of electronic and hip-hop genres seamlessly into one simple, yet complex ambient work, have always been a fan of the eerie, never hiding the fact that they are large fans of subliminal messaging and manipulation of the mind. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” keeps the menacing yet virtuous tone that the Boards of Canada are known for, as well as the edgy rhythms and heavily distorted sounds.

While this album does not change much stylistically, Boards of Canada are an important name in the electronic music industry. It seems that while other artists are reaching far out trying to expand its genres, this Scottish duo is just delving further into itself. What is important about “Tomorrow’s Harvest” is that the world knows the Boards of Canada are still there.

"Like Clockwork"- Queens of the Stone Age

On Aug. 3, Queens of the Stone Age released its sixth LP “…Like Clockwork,” further establishing themselves as a band that tenaciously proves with each record it releases that rock is not dead. An album with a backstory as interesting as its sound, “…Like Clockwork” is surprisingly one of the darker albums that the band has let out. The roots of this album started in 2010, when Josh Homme, the founder and only remaining original member of the band, had a brush with mortality and briefly died on the operating table. After four months of being bed-ridden, he became exceedingly ambitious and set off on a nostalgic tour of the band’s first album, only to then head in a new direction entirely.

Queens of the Stone Age albums never seem to sound consistent with each other, as there have been so many collaborators and shifting members, and this album is no exception. Featuring Dave Grohl, once a member of Nirvana and current leader of Foo Fighters, on drums, this album delivers similar driving hard rock rhythms to the earlier project he collaborated on with the group in 2002, “Songs for the Deaf.” However, “…Like Clockwork” does take the sound in an unanticipated direction. While it is certainly one of the group’s darker albums thematically, serving as an especially intimate project for Homme, it is by no means its heaviest.

Though still a hard rock album, a clear indie twang can be heard throughout. The harsh edges that made up the Queens of the Stone Age have been smoothened out for this album, leaving the listener with an interesting new creation.

"Yeezus"- Kanye West

One of the most critically questioned albums of the summer would have to be Kanye West’s “Yeezus.” Released on June 18 and advertised through a number of guerilla listening sessions in which West’s face would be projected on the side of buildings to perform the track “New Slaves” off of the album, “Yeezus” had fans literally swarming with anticipation. West, while a mainstream and commercially successful rapper, has managed to achieve cult status in the last few years and this album is proof.

A collaboration project as much as a West album, “Yeezus” takes a minimalistic and intentionally derelict approach at hip-hop. With influences from soul musicians like Charlie Wilson, and production from the legendary Daft Punk, Rick Rubin and countless others, “Yeezus” takes West’s music in a direction that most pop stars wouldn’t dare to veer in. The album debuted at No. 1 the week of its release on Billboard 200, yet sales diminished immediately, seeming proof that many of West’s fans were put off by the album’s raw, aggressive timbre and drastically different sound.

Tonally, the album is angry and desperate with synthesizers that sound like they’re malfunctioning and scattered skips. “Yeezus” takes its listener on a dark and oppressive journey, only broken up by the occasional somber bursts of light from collaborator Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. While it may be jarring on a first listen through, this is one of the hardest biting records released this summer.

Tommy Verdone can be reached at [email protected]