Your 2021 Summer of Love

Album art by Christian DiMenna

What I want isn’t a “song of summer” (massive yet ephemeral). It’s an album of summer: one that sounds equally good in an I-95 traffic jam heading back from a distant shore and on a back road in Vermont. One that picks up shades of meaning as you listen to it, live with it, drive with it, and come back to it each year.

The Alex Butter Field’s Psychedelipop is my first pick for this new theory of summer songs [Bandcamp]. This 7-song album is part one of a 20-year studio project by Hank Hoffman, executive director of Best Video, frontman of Happy Ending, and person so deeply immersed in the history and present of New Haven’s music scene that I don’t feel quite worthy of commenting on the music. But you, fair reader, are worthy of hearing the music, so let’s proceed. There’s a Spotify embed at the bottom, but you know the drill: if you like it, please buy!

Psychedelipop is psychedelic pop: beautiful, complex, and rich in musical allusions, with a credit list that works as a pop quiz on the regional music scene. It’s a romantic album in the architectural sense: it feels like the moment of discovering Pet Sounds or neo-psychedelics like Echo and the Bunnymen, in the way that memories are sharply more intense than the actual experience and also in the way that memories are shaped around who we are right now. 

The Gardener

The opening riff of this song has the thrill I associate with putting a new cassette tape in the player: you know instantly where you are and that you’re in good hands. I also straight-up love the vocals and vocal production on this album — there’s a retro reverb swagger to it that takes me right back to dark clubs in that glorious early 1990s moment before grunge took over.

This opening track is a major reason I’m defining Psychedelipop as a must-have Album of Summer. In the narrowest, most literal sense, planting seeds is what we do around here when we trust spring will become summer. Obviously, there’s a metaphor going — an invocation to the muses — and after the past 18 months of global crisis, the idea of planting creativity in love and laughter and community is so renewing.

Is it also a metaphor for the cycle of life? It must be, right? The way the musical mood shifts between seasons is lovely in suggesting that. The way the lavishness of the melody and effects unfolds from dark riffs feels like life bursting forth from the earth in one of those massive animated psychedelic cartoons where flowers turn into saxophones.

Candy’s Got It

Every time I put this one on, what I see is an ironically tux-wearing band under swaying lights in the Big E twilight. The distorted-carnival mood feels like straightforward longing-for-a-girl (“oh, Denise, dooby-doo, I’m in love with you”) ran headlong into the complexities of, say, “Eleanor Rigby.” The characterization of what Candy does with what she’s got should be the envy of a few novelists.

The song needs to be danced to, regardless, and if you can find your own thrift-store prom dress or ironic tux, that’s a plus.

Pit of Fire

Some people fall into a burning ring of fire — others march right in. I have a terrible feeling that this chant has as much to do with self-destructiveness as courage, and I’m finding it cleansing in the way that confronting difficult emotions can sometimes be.

I Followed a Shadow

The way the lyrics loop back through their own tropes and imagery is a delight. “I followed the pulse of my blood — it led me astray, but what can I do?” is so meme-worthy. Are you following the shadow or is it following you? I’m vibing to the juxtaposition of well, that went oddly with such a cheerful sound, and with the self-confidence to joke around that’s evidenced by the final instrumental bit. (Not spoilering that! Go listen!)

Radiating So Quietly

The magic of this song is that while there’s an incredible amount going on musically, it feels like it’s radiating quietly. All of the sounds and intensity and yearning combine like a well-designed bouquet — that saxophone riff is the bright accent flower, the whispery openness that matches a lyric is greenery, the layered vocals combine like three shades of roses. If you want a musical metaphor for you’re the world to me, this is it, wrapped in gold ribbon.

Someone get married and figure out how to use this as a first-dance song, please.

Rescue

Just sit and listen to the worldplay as the music builds until it breaks on the question of “Who’s gonna to come to my rescue? Who’s gonna come to rescue you?” The discordant use of a sound very much like the end of “I Followed a Shadow” is among the reasons I think this album benefits from frequent replay.

There’s a whole three-season Netflix series here in the implications of the lyrics about lies and truth, as well as the interruptions from the buzzer.

She’s Part of the Picture

The gentle opening hearkens to the vod-de-oh-doh era, before building to the urgency of “capture the moment, hold it, hold it.” The way the lyrics shift subtly in meaning and feel as the verses go on is part of the magic of this album — at the bridge, it shifts in directions that surprise me every time, because the mood here is beautifully sneaky. 

This song is such an emotionally satisfying ending that I want to sit quietly and contemplate the meaning of things. I remember when that’s what albums set out to do, and there aren’t that many that hit me this hard with feeling we’ve been somewhere and now need to digest it. 

This means that I’m saving the second album for a different occasion (it’s brilliant in related but not identical ways), so if you nab it on Bandcamp now, you can be among the cognoscenti who listened to it earlier than hypothetical other people.

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