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Summer tunes from ‘Ye, Jay, and the gang

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

August 27, 2009

<i>PHOTO from Internet Source</i>

PHOTO from Internet Source

Summer music releases are oddly tied to the season; there’s a sense of lightness and fun in the best summer singles, a time of endless days and, for my summer, absurdly large amounts of sunshine.

Summer is also the time of novelty songs, of disposable songs that breeze in with May and fade out with the last gasps of September. The party song displays a shocking longevity. This summer has seen the return of international influences, from Pitbull to Sean Paul. Fabolous coined the “Throw It in the Bag” and Lady Gaga maintained a clear presence on the airwaves with her supposed nouveau pop.

On the thoroughly novelty tip, there’s the electro swagger of LMFAO’s “I’m in Miami Trick” which reads as a low budget hip-hop pastiche of Peaches. This, combined with teen sensations Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, spelled out the fluffiest of summer hits. Like cotton candy, they were sweet but completely insubstantial.

On the whole, this summer was oddly disappointing in terms of new releases. The most anticipated summer singles had to be Jay-Z’s releases off the forthcoming “Blueprint 3.” But first single “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” was dead on arrival. The track had an ironic twist, since Kanye West was producing, but the half-sung hook proved that Jay should stick to rapping.

Even a surprise release from Radiohead, “These Are My Twisted Words,” a single available freely from the band’s website, disappointed. In part this was due to rampant speculation about a full EP, but in part to the slightness of the song, which, though enjoyable, hardly compares to the heights of the Radiohead canon.

The true joys of summer music, as opposed to music simply released in the summer, is that the former perfectly echoes the carefree feel of the dog days of summer while still retaining the kind of substance that’s listenable in December snowstorms.

Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” is a lot closer to that goal, though it ultimately falls a bit short. Rihanna’s hook leads nicely into two strong Hov verses, but it’s Kanye who steals the show with the last verse, from the joking reference to Graduation’s “The Glory” (“I bought my whole family whips/No Volvos”) to audience appeals (“I’m just trying to change the color on your mood ring”). This might just be Ye’s revenge for Jay besting him on “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” but it’s the most rewarding part of the song. Ultimately Jay’s flow remains superior, but the verses themselves lack the same punch that “I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man” had; retirement’s gotten to rap’s most prominent MC.

Kanye has made strong showings for someone with no new album release: name-checking Michael Jackson and playing the distraught Romeo to Keri Hilson on “Knock Me Down,” making oral sex puns with Common on Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say,” and in both cases, turning in rhymes both catchy and clever. Kanye’s willingness to drop the autotune and return to rhyming is coupled with what feels like a renewed sense of fun and joy, perfect not just for the summer but replayable all year round.

The strongest summer album release was undoubtedly Phoenix’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” a set of songs that perfectly embodies summer pop, and one of the most solidly consistent albums released this year. The album distills emotion and music into their purest, crispest forms, and then works through them with catchy percussion and classic guitar pop. Singles “Lizstomania” and “1901” are drops of cheerful perfection, leading into more melodic long-form explorations of “Love Like a Sunset.”

And even if none of that music resonated, in these last few weeks of summer you can always go for the classics, whether it’s the Beach Boys or Will Smith’s “Summertime.”

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