Living for This
My Most Anticipated Albums of the Summer

I live my life in a state of constant anticipation.

I know each week what I have to look forward to – which new albums and new movies will hit, which TV shows I’ll be watching with which group of friends. Every day I have something to yearn for, something to get me through. When I liked my life a lot less than I do now, that sort of lifestyle came in very handy. It warded off despair. But now, it’s just fun.

I keep a running calendar of new album releases, which I add to nearly every day. (Just today, I penciled in the new Travis album, Where You Stand, under August 20.) There are 39 albums between now and the end of August that I have deemed important enough to write down on this calendar, and of those, I’m really looking forward to about a dozen. These are the ones I’m counting the days for, the ones I’m out-of-my-skin excited to hear.

Yes, I know, it can all go wrong. (See this week’s review.) But this is how I live. I’m eternally hopeful that the next album I buy, the next song I hear will change my life. It could be any of the 39 I have listed on my calendar. (Or it could be a record that takes me by surprise.) I do have realistic expectations, but I like to remain as optimistic as I can.

So, as part of my ongoing attempt to show you what it’s like to be me, here’s a quick look at a few new albums I’m anticipating, and whether I honestly think they’ll be any good.

The Boxer Rebellion, Promises.
Release date:
May 14.
Hopes and fears: I can’t claim to be a longtime fan of this glorious London band. I picked up their third album, 2011’s The Cold Still, on a whim. But its simple, effective songs and commitment to atmosphere blew me away. The Boxer Rebellion is the band the National wishes they could be. Their fourth album promises (heh) more of the same, but when the same is this good, I don’t mind.
The odds: Probably pretty good. This is a band with a fine track record and a superb style. Even if they don’t change much, this ought to satisfy.

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City.
Release date:
May 14.
Hopes and fears: Here’s a classic case of a band with a unique sound, a smashing debut, and a rushed, mediocre follow-up. Some really liked Contra, but I’m glad this band took a few years to craft the unfortunately-titled follow-up. I like their Paul Simon goes Ivy League sound well enough that I can forgive a misstep. But probably not a second one in a row.
The odds: Meh. The songs I have heard from this album have underwhelmed me, and while I’m still interested, I’m not banking on this being excellent. Plus, it’s called Modern Vampires of the City, which is strike one already.

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories.
Release date:
May 21.
Hopes and fears: It’s been eight years since Human After All, this French duo’s mediocre third record. In that time, they wrote a pretty awesome score for Tron: Legacy, and as far as I can tell, spent the rest of their days and nights writing and recording this new album. It supposedly makes greater use of live musicians, as the first single (“Get Lucky,” with Pharrell Williams on vocals) definitely bears out. I expect a late-‘70s dance party.
The odds: Quite good, actually. The list of collaborators is strong, including the great Nile Rodgers, and early reviews have been sparkling. Plus, it’s called Random Access Memories, which is an amazing title.

The Polyphonic Spree, Yes, It’s True.
Release date:
May 28.
Hopes and fears: Tim DeLaughter’s absolutely gargantuan peace-and-love collective stumbled with their third album, the somewhat harsh The Fragile Army, back in 2007. But they’ve had plenty of time to give birth to this new effort, and they raised $100,000 on Kickstarter to make it happen. There really isn’t another band like the Spree, so I’m glad to see them return.
The odds: Not bad. The 11 tracks are reportedly separate affairs, instead of blending into one long listening experience. Still, what I’ve heard has been very Spree-like, which fills me with joy.

Black Sabbath, 13.
Release date:
June 11.
Hopes and fears: Reunion records are always problematic. Despite Black Sabbath’s pedigree as one of the most important metal bands in the world, you’d be forgiven for not expecting much from their first album with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978. I wasn’t thrilled either, until I heard the first leaked song, “God Is Dead?” And well, damn. It’s nine minutes of classic Sabbath, and even ol’ batbiter himself sounds pretty good. So this goes on the “most anticipated” list.
The odds: Have you heard “God is Dead?” Because, damn. If they can keep that up over all eight tracks, this should be one for the ages.

Hanson, Anthem.
Release date:
June 18.
Hopes and fears: Laugh if you must, but Hanson has evolved into a really good soul-pop band. Their sixth album will hopefully build on the musical leaps they took on 2010’s Shout It Out. Plus, I get a little charge out of playing new Hanson tracks for people, and watching their jaws drop. I’m very much looking forward to resuming that practice.
The odds: Very good. The first single, “Get the Girl Back,” is a ton of fun, and it feels like the Hanson brothers have kept on growing.

Sigur Ros, Kveikur.
Release date:
June 18.
Hopes and fears: Sigur Ros might be the most singular band on the planet. They have a very specific style, all pianos and high vocals and crashing dynamics. So when they shake up that style, as they seem to have on the reportedly dark Kveikur, it’s always worrying. The first single was proto-metal, the second a kind of pure pop. Both songs are unfailingly interesting, but quite different.
The odds: Well, Sigur Ros has never disappointed me, and given how much I like what I’ve heard here, I doubt they’re about to start. A different-sounding Sigur Ros album is likely still a Sigur Ros album, and I’m very excited to hear this one.

Gogol Bordello, Pura Vida Conspiracy.
Release date:
July 23.
Hopes and fears: The world’s greatest gypsy punk band smoothed themselves out somewhat for 2010’s Trans-Continental Hustle, but they still sounded great. Nobody could really smooth out Ukranian madman Eugene Hutz, but Rick Rubin gave it his best shot. I’m glad to see them move away from his care, and I hope Andrew Scheps kept the fire burning on this new album. First single “Malandrino” is pretty awesome, once it gets going.
The odds: Not bad. Even if they’re kinder and gentler, I think I’m going to enjoy this.

Travis, Where You Stand.
Release date:
August 20.
Hopes and fears: Travis is one of the most inconsistent bands I know. They seem to lead two lives – the fragile acoustic pop band who made The Invisible Band and The Man Who, and the raucous rockers who slammed out 12 Memories and Ode to J. Smith. This reunion album comes after Fran Healy’s attempt to launch a solo career, so I’m on the lookout for signs of resignation.
The odds: 50/50. The title track has been released, and it sounds like Travis is in acoustic pop mode again. It isn’t bad, but I’m reserving judgment (and optimism) until I hear the whole thing.

Daniel Amos, Dig Here, Said the Angel.
Release date:
Hopes and fears: This is the pioneering band’s first album together since 2001, and while it may seem redundant to say so, it’s been a long time coming. I gladly gave to the Kickstarter drive for this album, just for the possibility of hearing another 10 or 12 Terry Scott Taylor songs. Daniel Amos is a national treasure, and I’m positively giddy at the notion of spending another hour in their company.
The odds: Pretty awesome. The band released a rough mix of a song called “Love, Grace and Mercy,” and it’s great – it’s got that ‘60s vibe and that inspired melodicism that I adore. I physically cannot wait until this thing lands in my mailbox.

There are plenty more, of course, but these 10 are the ones I’m most ready to hear right freaking now. I’ll keep you updated. Feel free to send me your lists as well.

* * * * *

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, it can all go wrong. The problem with anticipation is that when an eagerly expected album disappoints, I have to determine whether I was hoping for too much from it, or if it really does fall short. That usually requires half a dozen more painful listens and a whole bunch of mental slate-cleansing.

If you’d asked me a month ago for a similar list, there’s no doubt that Bankrupt, the fifth album by French synth-poppers Phoenix, would have been on it. Like most of you, I loved their fourth, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The one-two punch of “Lisztomania” and “1901” knocked me out, but the album as a whole, mashing up glittering dance tunes with more progressive moments, was one of 2009’s best. Most importantly, it was one of 2009’s hookiest – the songs were gyrating wonders, bursting with melodies you remembered for weeks.

All of which makes Bankrupt so much harder to understand. If you’re going to call your album Bankrupt, you had better make sure it doesn’t sound like a tired effort by a band out of ideas. Unfortunately, this one does. None of these 10 songs sports a killer hook, none of them displays the lightness of touch that previously defined this band. It’s a ponderous, and ultimately boring effort that wastes the voice of Thomas Mars on meandering, leaden tunes.

The first single and leadoff track, “Entertainment,” is a middling Phoenix song, its Eastern-sounding keyboard riff the best thing about it. Sadly, it’s the album’s best track. The thick-as-bricks synth sounds remain throughout, all but suffocating what melodies are here, so when the band hits upon something promising, like the slight but fun “Trying to Be Cool,” it’s dragged down into the muck. It doesn’t help that this album has been mastered by ramming everything into the red. It’s almost abrasive.

But I could deal with misguided production choices if the songs were good. They’re simply not. A song like “Chloroform” may feel to the band like an evolution, but evolving away from strong hooks into plodding, endless repetition isn’t change for the better. The seven-minute title track may be the most infuriating thing Phoenix has ever done. It’s meant to be a slow build, like Wolfgang’s “Love Like a Sunset,” but it doesn’t actually build. It just sprinkles random synth noises on you for an eternity.

The deluxe edition of Bankrupt comes with a bonus disc containing 71 sketches from the writing sessions, which I guess is so you can hear the lack of ideas forming before your ears. That it’s more enjoyable than the bulk of the main album is just sad. I’ve been trying to enjoy this for weeks, and that particular thrill has eluded me. It saddens me to report that Bankrupt lives up to its title. It’s a cautionary tale about what happens when we expect and pressure a band to perform miracles every time out, and a good reminder to keep our anticipation in check.

* * * * *

Next week, two of the records on this list: Vampire Weekend and the Boxer Rebellion. Leave a comment on my blog at Follow me on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date.

See you in line Tuesday morning.