It’s only fitting that we begin our fun ’n’ sun survey with Fitz and the Tantrums, who just unveiled their long overdue third album. Over the last few years, few acts have unleashed as many deliciously euphoric dance party hits (“The Walker” and “Out of My League” are the biggies) as this Los Angeles sextet. Their high-energy blend of retro-kissed soul and electro-pop bounce is the equivalent of tossing Maroon 5, Walk the Moon and Mayer Hawthorne into a blender, adding a half-dozen cans of Red Bull and pressing mix until all that fizzy goodness erupts like Mount Vesuvius.
Fitz and the Tantrums picks up where 2013’s superbly infectious More Than Just a Dream left off: an electric blend of keys, sax and club grooves rounded out with Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs’ passion-drenched vocals and uplifting lyrics, and the band even manages to ratchet up the rich sense of romance and carnality that has always coursed through their music. As singer and founder Michael Fitzpatrick recently told Entertainment Weekly: “This is an album about desire — the desire for intimacy, for sex, for acceptance on your own terms and the struggle not to compromise.”
This time around the Tantrums brought in a trio of top-flight producers to help realize their lofty pop ambitions. Jesse Shatkin, who has previously worked with Sia and Kelly Clarkson, handled the bulk of the album, while Joel Little and Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed worked on “Do What You Want” and “HandClap” respectively. The latter is a funky, dance pop gem that is an early contender for being the ultimate summer anthem of 2016.
“‘HandClap’ is a primal tale of love and lust, a call to arms in the late hours of the night,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s the X-rated version of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ happening on a dance floor.” Perfectly put!### **Rival Sons: *********Hollow Bones***
**Fitz and the Tantrums aren’t the only southern Californians gearing up for a hectic summer. Emerging from Long Beach in 2009, the mighty Rival Sons also have a packed calendar. In addition to securing the opening slot on Black Sabbath’s The End Tour (which lasts through December), the quartet have unleashed their fifth full-length, Hollow Bones. Recorded in Music City U.S.A. with producer Dave Cobb (Chris Cornell, Sturgill Simpson), it’s a big and burly slab of blues-soaked rock ’n’ roll that provides plenty of pummel and loads of swing.
“Each record we’ve made has been part of a distillation toward revealing the band’s essence,” singer Jay Buchanan told Blabbermouth.net. “This record finally is the release of the unapologetic, wild beast that has long lived within the ribs of Rival Sons howling to be freed.”
This self-described “wild beast” perfectly captures all the riff-fueled excitement and mayhem of classic rock’s ’70s heyday, back when shaggy juggernauts like Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and, of course, Sabbath spent their summers lumbering across entire continents, selling out one hulking stadium after another. It was the era of cut-off jean shorts, air suffused with the sweet stench of weed and Coke cans surreptitiously filled with Jack Daniels.
While Rivals Sons certainly would’ve sounded right at home at 1978’s legendary Texxas Jam festival, the album tempers its nostalgia with a sleek and economical sense of heaviness that is uniquely 21st century. In other words, fans of modern rockers like The Dead Weather and Band of Skulls should also consider spending this summer rocking out to Hollow Bones.
****“I’ll bring the chips and the dips and root beer even though dark purple rain clouds are near. When you come around you bring the summer,” croon The Monkees on Good Times!, a joyous and endearing album tailor-made for lazy afternoons at the beach, or in the mountains, or wherever you prefer communing with Mother Earth during the warm weather months.
To say the ’60s pop icons (minus Davy Jones, who sadly left us in 2012) knock it out of the park on their first album in 10 years is an understatement. Released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the band’s launch, it is an immaculately crafted mix of folk pop, psychedelia, garage rock and hummable bubblegum.
“It just came together like an ordinary record, but because it was our 50th [anniversary], we knew it was gonna be kind of a touchstone, so everybody had high hopes for it,” singer/songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith told ABC News. “And then when it came out like it did, it was like, ‘Holy smokes, this actually… sounds good!’ We were thrilled.”
What pushes Good Times! over the top is its exceptional songwriting. Reaching out to many of the best tunesmiths in modern rock, The Monkees received contributions from Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge of XTC and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. They even hooked up with British icons Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller, whose “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” was transformed into a reverb-drenched commentary on their own legacy, one that would sound right at home on their 1968 cult classic Head — or right alongside the new Weezer record.
**“It makes me angry that [Why Are You OK] doesn’t come out in autumn because it’s a perfect record for that season,” Ben Bridwell revealed to the Binaural blog last year. “Strange to think that it will come out in a time when the weather comes alive.”
It’s a curious comment, seeing as how the singer/songwriter behind veteran indie rockers Band of Horses ultimately went with cover art of a blissful beach scene replete with barely clothed bathers totally screams summer. It’s entirely possible Bridwell had a change of heart. After all, Why Are You OK sways, ripples and dips like warm, lazy breezes coming off the South Carolina coastline; sublime music that hovers in that liminal state between sound waves and sticky atmosphere.
The Charleston-based group, who released their debut in 2006, have long been purveyors of dreamy indie rock. And on their latest that dreaminess reaches whole new levels of sonic splendor, thanks in large part to producer and mega-fan of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, Jason Lytle. If you’re not familiar with that name, he’s the wizard who co-founded Grandaddy, easily one of the most cosmic and blissed out alt-rock bands of the last 20 years. He brings his trademark spaciness (check out 2000’s The Sophtware Slump) to Band of Horses, who in turn sound downright Floydian on damn near every cut, but especially “Dull Times/The Moon” and “Even/Still.” Both contain echoes of vintage Bridwell, yet also find him sounding utterly refreshed and ready for another 10 years of making killer music.
**Paul Simon: **Stranger to Stranger
It’s hard not to slip into superlatives when discussing the critically lauded Stranger to Stranger. It’s truly a summery blend of folk-pop melodicism, bubbly world fusion and subtly shaded electronics diehard fans have been craving from Simon since the days of Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints.
Make no mistake: the icon certainly has churned out some very good music in that time. So Beautiful or So What, from 2011, was especially vibrant, and even featured a collaboration with hip indie rockers Grizzly Bear. But for as ambitious as that album was, Stranger to Stranger finds the singer/songwriter pushing himself even harder.
“There are a lot of preconceptions [about my new work] because I have been familiar to the public for 50 years,” he told Rolling Stone. “They go, ‘Is it going to be Graceland? Is it going to be ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard?’ Simon and Garfunkel? The Capeman?’ To get people to listen with open ears, you have to really make something that is interesting because people are prepared for it not to be interesting.”
Simon isn’t just sonically adventurous — he’s sassy as well. The lead single, “Wristband,” chronicles the story of a musician who can’t gain entrance to his own performance because he lacks the proper wristband. His delivery, though playful, totally drips with indiginancy. When he rails against a doorman who acts “like Saint Peter standing guard at the pearly” what he’s really railing against is the very notions of rules, enforcement and people who think they can tell him what he can and cannot do. Clearly, this child of the ’60s has lost none of his rebelliousness.### **Sumac: *What One Becomes***
Summer is the season of scorching heat waves, so Sumac’s brain-battering slab of post-metal should fit in well during the coming dog days when you’re absolutely hating life and soaking your coach with slimy sweat that an album like What One Becomes and its blizzard of hateful vibes, vile grunts and filthy riffs becomes absolutely essential.
Initially consisting of former Isis singer/guitarist Aaron Turner and drummer Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists, the supergroup hit the metal scene with 2015’s The Deal. It was a brutal onslaught of skeletal sludge and gritty, high-decibel droning parts. For What One Becomes the pair opted to turn touring bassist Brian Cook (of Russian Circles) into a full-fledged member. His presence gives this already solid music even greater density and depth.
Moreover, Cook’s arrival allows Yacyshyn — who counts Dave Grohl among his many admirers — greater space for his thunderous attack. If you dig hearing drummers with ungodly skills and heft, then What One Becomes is the album for you. “I think the drums do so much to define the way [the] band sounds,” Turner says.
But despite all the hellish fury this trio unloads, what really sets them apart is their knack for heavy, hypnotic groove work. It’s the kind of mind-altering chug that’s powerful enough to cut right through the thickest summer air.