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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Summer Cool

Ladies and Gentlemen: Summer is loaded and ready to attack. Soon the long hot days will fall upon us like so many sweaty wool blankets and we will run panting towards the nearest air-conditioned coffee shop to sip ice mochas while engaging in lethargic conversation. You, dedicated hipster that you are, will be looking for ways to maintain your “cool”. And how will you maintain this “cool”? You may, if you are like me, turn to the refreshing solace of good ol’ rock n’ roll.

Pop a good CD into your portable player and you’ve got yourself a personal A.C. (attitude-conditioner), something that’ll make you feel cool even when it’s so hot that you’ve been forced to trade in your vintage jeans for a pair of lame-ass cargo shorts. But you’re also a discriminating hipster and you demand the height of coolness, nothing less. Well, you’re in luck: here are four new albums that are guaranteed to beat the pants off even the most powerful electric fan.

The Hives-Veni Vidi Vicious: Getting hives in the summer is not cool; getting The Hives is very cool. Coming on like the offspring of an illicit union between Ray Davies and Iggy Pop, The Hives have a double retro attack-they are mid-sixties mod melody-makers spiked with more than a touch of early-seventies punk-rock aggression. In short, they represent the garage band attitude at its apex.

If you can ignore the fact that nearly every track plays like a variation on “You Really Got Me”, Veni Vidi Vicious provides a healthy dose of musical adrenaline. A whirlwind of hyperactive vocal antics and buzzsaw guitar hooks wrapped around a super steady back-beat that never quits, the album is the perfect antidote to the apathy of the over-hip scene-no matter how jaded and stylishly-coiffured you are, when you hear a groove as tough and energetic as “Main Offender” or “Hate To Say I Told You So”, you just have to get up and dance.

Gutsier than The Strokes (to whom they must inevitably be compared), The Hives also come across as more sincere-these guys are genuinely all about rockin’ out. Besides, you’ve got to love a band whose motto is: “The Hives are Law, You are Crime!” Fabulous. It’s funny and it’s true.

Wilco-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: Once one of the main proponents of the alt-country movement (along with close kin Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt), Wilco made a stylistic jump towards Beatlesque pop on 1999’s shimmering Summerteeth. That move has been furthered and enriched with the long-awaited appearance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Employing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink (and even that might be buried down in the mix somewhere), lead-singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy has fashioned a complex, genre-crossing celebration of musical possibilities that somehow manages to sound refreshingly relaxed and easy throughout.

Moving from catchy rockers like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Pot Kettle Black” to playful Brian-Wilson style pop oddities like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” to moody, atmospheric tonal pieces like “Reservations”, the record is ultimately hopeful and full of the sense of wonder that truly original art can produce. Sonically, it is a joy to listen to; it might just be Jeff Tweedy’s masterpiece, and it sure as shootin’ is the perfect compliment to the radiant, let-your-hair-down days of summer.

Elvis Costello-When I Was Cruel: Elvis Lives! Returning to the world of pop after his questionable artistic experiments with the likes of Burt Bacharach, Mr. Costello has made a record that reminds us why he was once the King of New Wave Rock.

It is a pleasure to hear that Costello has not lost the sharp edge of his acerbic wit nor the melodic savvy that has made him such an influential tunesmith over the years: some of the tracks on the new album (“45” for example) sound like they’ve jumped straight off such classic Costello records as Get Happy!! or My Aim Is True.

Other songs (like “When I Was Cruel No.2” which incorporates a sample, a fairly new element for Costello) reveal a more mature composer at work, one with a grasp of the delicate shadings of song and one reaching out to expand his repertoire while maintaining that pure pop sensibility and lyrical genius which have always been his signature. It’s great to see Elvis back in the saddle again.

Tom Waits-Alice/Blood Money: Not one but two brilliant new records from the strangest man in show biz. For some years now, the inimitable Mr. Waits has been contemporary music’s mad scientist, charting new territory in the musical world and forging a truly unique vision from…well, from just about anything that Waits can make music come out of.

Released simultaneously, Alice and Blood Money were originally conceived separately as companion pieces for theatrical productions, and an air of the dramatic permeates both. There is something almost baroque in the textures of Wait’s work, which employs an unorthodox array of instruments to create soundscapes that alternately prickle and soothe.

Something like a purgatorial lounge act set to the rhythms of a broken down calliope, and soaked in the rich tones of Waits’ scraggly drunken-Muppet-gone-mad voice, the effect of these albums is both startling and mesmerizing. If you have to choose, Blood Money is the harder hitting of the two, but both are strange, beautiful and just about the coolest stuff out there.

So there you have it, kids: the soundtrack to your summer. Get out there, grab these albums, rock out and, for God’s sake, maintain your cool.