A Spring mixtape

By Peter Valelly

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve all been infuriated by our temperamental state’s refusal to smoothly transition into warmth, beauty and sunshine. One day everyone is smiling and daylight is soaking the surprisingly green grass, then another we’re back to layering our clothes and scowling at each other amidst grimy hunks of snow. But when?Minnesota finally caves, one thing’s for sure: we’re going to need one kick ass mixtape to usher in the melancholy sunshine that will, in turn, soon tease us towards wonderful summer. Here are a handful of songs that, for one reason or another, struck me as suited to the seasonal change, and which I humbly submit for the approval of anyone who will spend our first sunny weekend toiling on an iTunes playlist.”Angryman” by A Band of Bees
Known in the UK as simply The Bees, this quirky indie psychedelia outfit has never bested their 2003 debut “Sunshine Hit Me.” In many ways, spring is summer suppressed, and A Band of Bees’ lovely but tame harmonies, reggae-tinged rhythms and mild druggy flourishes hint at a pop explosion and never arrive (and are all the better for it). “Angryman” is their masterpiece, furiously funky but retaining a quintessentially English distance from full-bore imitation. Listen to it on an overcast day.

“House of Cards” by Radiohead
Of all bands to appear on a list of springlike music, Radiohead are pretty unexpected. Lush but dour, Radiohead’s music has also gestured extensively at the alienation caused by an exhaustion of possibilities, by frigid solitude – autumn and winter seem to be seasons more apropos of the band’s milennial malaise. The last thing I expected was for Radiohead to reach a point where it seemed like they could do something new again, where they could yet make their masterpiece, but with October’s “In Rainbows,” the band swerved into lovely territory that blogger Marcello Carlin aptly described as “post-pop.” Wonky and obtusely shaped in their rhythms and textures, songs like the expansive “House of Cards” suggest a sumptuous sunlit Sunday after a week of rain.

“Quiero” by Juana Molina
Contrary to punk’s pent-up, post-winter meltdown and the blossoming luxury of pop-reggae, Argentine sitcom actress Molina’s genreless folktronic wanderings actually deaden the pulse, so languid and radiant is their sonic architecture. Her last three records are all flawless, but it’s the heady warmth of sophomore effort “Segundo,” with its static-draped melodies and charmingly plain vocals, that most perfectly evokes that first day of April sunshine. “Queiro” is the album’s quiet focal point, and maybe Molina’s finest hour (though “Un Beso Llega” from 2006’s “Son” might give it a run for its money).

“The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss” by X
For a genre so associated with rage and speed, a lot of older punk today sounds pretty tame – all of the remaining residue from early punk’s explosive furor lies in these tunes’ energy and their electric pulse. Nothing makes the sunshine make more sense than the crooked harmonies of Exene Cervenka and John Doe, the goofy rockabilly drive of guitarist Billy Zoom and the improbable organ contributions from Doors keyboardist and producer Ray Manzarek – yep, X’s 1980 debut LP “Los Angeles” is pretty much perfect, and its anthemic closing track is one of the band’s finest moments.

“Night” by Coki & Benga
For some reason, the whole idea of season-appropriate tunes seems to exclude electronic dance music, but this 2007 dubstep anthem – newly available via Benga’s superb debut album “Diary of an Afro Warrior” – is full of warm synth flickers and cold-rushes of bass energy that locate it alongside spring’s in-between climate. Every time the mini-genre dubstep starts to resemble British rave culture’s ungainly corpse, it churns out something this beautiful, this physical.

“Cyprus Avenue” by Van Morrison
“Gentle Blues” by John Martyn
Van Morrison’s masterpiece “Astral Weeks” is one of the greatest albums of all time. Its emotional intensity resides not so much in its lyrics as in its sound – a sort of organically textured folk-rock entropy at once so focused and so fractured that, for the listener, it verges on physically wracking. The album is essentially a suite, but if I had to isolate one song as a spring anthem it would be “Cyprus Avenue,” dedicated to a tree-lined Belfast street. By contrast, underappreciated folkie John Martyn’s “Gentle Blues” – an initially untitled bonus track on his 1973 “Solid Air” LP – is relaxed, an extraordinarily brief tune whose friendly, beguiling melody and anachronistic use of the synthesizer makes it one of the stranger and more lovely moments from its era.

“Ponytail” by Panda Bear
All Beach Boy harmonies and tribal drums, Panda Bear’s sampledelic sophomore LP was my favorite record of last year, a status which depends largely on its soul-wrenching, sunny effervescence. “Ponytail,” the album’s last track, is perfection – it’s so lulling that you get the feeling that the sounds themselves care for you. Ideal for a May sunset, the moment where spring spills into summer and no one complains.

“Felt Good to Burn” by the Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips were, as far as my 15-year-old self was concerned, the greatest band ever to touch instruments, bar none. I’ve retained little to none of this idolatry, but I maintain that their maligned major-label debut, “Hit to Death in the Future Head” is not only worthy of a listen or two but is in fact their earliest masterpiece. All of this record is rich with sunburnt beauty, but nowhere do its hazy guitars and strings more perfectly evoke youth – a theme which seems to go hand in hand with spring – than on the fragile, bizarre “Felt Good to Burn.” Listen to it on a ferris wheel or stoned (or both).

“Ring My Bell” by the Blood Sisters
Not the disco classic, but a sumptuous reggae cover from the comp “Hustle! Reggae Disco” on the wondrous Soul Jazz label. Reggae is summer music, but this 1979 rendition, rather than evoking the sweaty emotional depth of traditional roots reggae, trades in the pop-friendly shallowness of its traditional disco counterpart. Yet the original’s outwardly bursting warmth is also undermined here, as the Blood Sisters – Londoners who were part of the poppy British strain of reggae known as lovers’ rock – have crafted a track both haunting and sumptuously danceable. Not quite reaching summer’s full-on pop assault, this may leave you both disquieted and gleeful.

“Right Here (Human Nature Remix)” by SWV
SWV (Sistas With Voices) remain one of the indisputable R&B girl groups of the ’90s, and their debut “It’s About Time” is one of those perfectly superficial and supple confections to emerge from the black pop tradition. This remix – which strips the brilliant original of baggage like its superfluous rap verse and restores the illegal sample from Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” – is nothing but relaxed groove and digitally untouched vocals. The sound is something like funky sunshine, and like other spring-friendly R&B gems from the previous decade (see: Aaliyah’s “One in a Million”), it reminds us of a time when R&B was unafraid of rhythmic innovation and real percussive feel.