The Noise of Summer
What's to Come in the Next Three Months

I had this elaborate idea for a column this week, discussing the new sounds created through interesting collaborations between well-known artists. Yeah, sounds like a corker, doesn’t it? Try not to doze off just yet…

But I had what could easily be termed my worst week ever as a professional reporter, and it’s my birthday on Monday, and I really just need to decompress. So, how about a brief look at some of the new records I’m looking forward to this summer instead? I promise, that lengthy thesis relating collaborations to genetic mutations will be ready to go next week.

Cool? Cool.

So June is a pretty decent month for new tunes. Next week we have a collaboration (imagine that) between Elvis Costello and famous New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint called The River in Reverse, which is already being touted as the best response to Hurricane Katrina thus far from the artistic community. What I’ve heard sounds great. Also giving me a birthday present is Aaron Sprinkle, formerly of Poor Old Lu, who debuts his new band Fair. The album is called The Best Worst-Case Scenario, and for a typically effusive review, check out Dr. Tony Shore’s website.

Things pick up over the next few weeks. Sonic Youth returns on the 13th with the oddly titled Rather Ripped, and the 20th is dominated by Keane’s sophomore release, Under the Iron Sea. Every year there’s an album I look forward to more than any other, and Iron Sea is this year’s. What I’ve heard is just amazing, from the dramatic melancholy of “Atlantic” to the U2-ish rocker “Is It Any Wonder” to the mega-melodic “Nothing In My Way” to the most beautiful tune of theirs I know, “Hamburg Song.” Unless the album completely falls apart in its second half, expect kind words.

Guster returns on the 20th with Ganging Up on the Sun, their second album in a row to feature actual with-sticks drumming. I’m still not sure what I think of that choice – on the one hand, it takes away a big part (perhaps the only part) of their original identity, but on the other, the songwriting hasn’t changed, and the sweet melodies and harmonies were what kept me coming back to Guster anyway. I alternately like and am bored by the songs I’ve heard, so we shall see.

On a related topic, every band on the planet has a MySpace account now, and most will preview selected tracks from new albums before they hit stores. Guster’s does. If you’re interested, you can just replace Guster’s name in that web address with pretty much anyone’s I mention here and hear new songs from all of ‘em.

June 27 sees the new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamental. I’ve heard good things, especially about the last track, “Integral.” The single, “I’m With Stupid,” is funny – it imagines a love affair between George Bush and Tony Blair. I get shit fairly often for being a Pet Shop Boys fan, but they are classic pop songwriters, and every album of theirs has something to recommend it. Technology has changed around them, and they’ve used it to their advantage, but their penchant for hooks and memorable songs has never wavered. You could play just about everything they’ve done on acoustic guitar, and they’d still be good songs.

Speaking of acoustic guitars, Grant Lee Phillips (semi-famous as the Stars Hollow minstrel on Gilmore Girls) returns on the 27th with Nineteeneighties, a collection of stripped-down covers of ‘80s songs like “Wave of Mutilation” and “Under the Milky Way.” His take on R.E.M.’s “So. Central Rain” is fantastic, as is his take on the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” What a voice Grant has. This is going to be superb.

Into July, Independence Day will see the final American record from Johnny Cash, subtitled A Hundred Highways. This is the one Cash was working on when he died, and includes the last songs he ever wrote. I honestly think Cash’s work with Rick Rubin should all be rounded up and issued as a monument to the man – it’s among the best stuff he ever did, a late-career resurgence in energy and creativity few thought possible. I would buy a 10-disc set of all of it, even though I have most of it already, just to put the box on a shelf and look at it.

The July 4 week will also see the release of The Lost Cabin and the Mystery Trees, the 10th album by the Lost Dogs. They’re a collective of some of my favorite songwriters, including Terry Taylor, Derri Daugherty and Michael Roe, and their work is heavily influenced by the aforementioned Johnny Cash. The last few Dogs albums have felt like placeholders, just something to have on hand to sell at the summer festivals, but this one is being touted as the real deal.

July 11 is deceptive – it’s huge, with a lot of new releases, but not much that will shake the earth. Muse strikes back with Black Holes and Revelations, led by the disco-flavored single “Supermassive Black Hole.” Sufjan Stevens issues The Avalanche, a collection of outtakes from Illinois. Thom Yorke releases his first solo album, The Eraser, which by all accounts sounds like Kid A. Phish puts out a triple-CD live album, Strapping Young Lad erupts onto shelves with the wittily titled The New Black, and there’s a They Might Be Giants tribute album scheduled as well.

But perhaps most interesting to me is an album called The Mother, The Mechanic and the Path, by relative unknowns The Early November. Exhibiting more ambition than most bands of their post-punk ilk, TEN has crafted a three-CD, 46-track concept album, each disc relating to one member of a family. The Mother is mostly acoustic, The Mechanic is heavier, and The Path, which deals with their child, is apparently a radio play with songs interspersed. The songs I’ve heard are leaps and bounds ahead of TEN’s other work, so this should be very interesting. And it gets points just for being grandiose.

Bruce Cockburn comes back on July 18 with an album entitled Life Short Call Now, about which I know next to nothing. But it’s Cockburn, so I will buy it sound unheard. The following week sees the new Tom Petty, Highway Companion. And then nothing until August, unless the schedule changes.

The eighth month will bring the new Ani Difranco, Reprieve, which purportedly is her angry response to the hurricane, recorded largely in New Orleans. Could be an interesting contrast with Costello and Toussaint’s record. Also on August 8 is the two-CD solo debut by Matthew Friedberger, the male half of the Fiery Furnaces, and when does this guy sleep? The Furnaces have released four lengthy albums and an EP in the past 33 months, and now here’s Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School, Matthew’s 100-plus-minute side project, which will come out before the three-year anniversary of his band’s first record. And it’s not like any of it’s been terrible. Maybe Friedberger should be the one writing an album for each of the 50 states…

And finally, one of the ‘90s most interesting songwriters, Eric Matthews, will return on August 22 with Foundation Sounds, a 17-song proper album that should more than make up for his relatively weak six-song EP of last year. Matthews’ solo debut, It’s Heavy in Here, is still a template for lush modern chamber-pop, and I’m excited to hear him paint on a larger canvas again.

And that’s my summer, barring any last-minute surprises. Next week, that collaborations column, I hope, and after that, reviews of Sonic Youth, Keane and Guster, among others. And I’ll be 32. I expect to spend my birthday fielding angry calls and getting a headache at work, so I think I’ll go celebrate a bit right now. Thanks for your indulgence this week.

See you in line Tuesday morning.