Two weeks ago, Consequence of Sound asked its readers to join them on a quest in finding The Greatest Summer Album of All Time. As expected, thousands submitted three top contenders for the title, which offered one lively afternoon for our intern, who tallied them up, trimmed the fat, and put together the appropriate bracket below. By the way, that intern’s name is Stevie Dunbar, so if this all goes according to plan, you can thank him later as you’re listening to whatever album wins.
Similar to previous tournaments, we’re going to ask you to vote on each matchup to take us to the next round. That means you’ll have to decide between Animal Collective or Kanye, Arcade Fire or Queens of the Stone Age, and, yes, Vampire Weekend over Paul Simon. It’s an arduous task, no doubt, but by the end, we’ll finally know which album to wax nostalgic over. If you need a little sunlight to find the right answer, perhaps you can spark a discussion in the comments below. As always, be civil.
Pet Sounds vs. Forever Changes
Pet Sounds could be, from my perspective, the greatest album of all time. The fact that its lush sounds fit in the summer is simply a minor point of reference. However, there’s a sunny tilt to Brian Wilson’s masterpiece. It’s a compendium of raw emotion: happiness, longing, confusion, frustration at the nomadic way life unfolds. But you never doubt for a second that its existentialist musings come from anything other than a place of unequivocal love for the weird world around him. –Dean Essner
Forever Changes doesn’t exactly approach summer romantically or treat it as the temporary heaven-scape that your prototypical “summer album” probably paints, but more in the way that summer can seem in places that don’t reap all the transitional satisfactions of true springs and falls: an unsettling limbo. It’s a summer album by way of being such a Los Angeles album. If anything, the closest that we get to anything resembling laid-back appreciation is a perfect sunflower of a guitar solo halfway through a song that’s called “Bummer in the Summer”. Altogether, the album is a nuanced portrait of what it meant to be young, scared, and horny in Los Angeles in 1967, but also how everlasting sunshine will make you long for the changes. –Steven Arroyo
The Suburbs vs. Songs for the Deaf
The vision of bored teenagers’ hair flying in the wind on hazy summer days throughout all of suburbia is something that’s had no shortage of representation in American pop culture, from film to bad reality shows. And at times, The Suburbs is mistaken by the undiscerning for another celebration of middle-class ennui. However, Arcade Fire’s acclaimed LP is actually about the schisms inherent in the most nondescript parts of America, the angst laying beneath the dreamy listlessness and always similar houses. If Win Butler sang of how “I don’t wanna live in my father’s house no more” on Neon Bible’s “Windowsill”, The Suburbs is about the pain of watching year after year pass without ever actually getting out. –Dominick Mayer
Whereas “summer albums” are often toothsome (i.e., sweet-sounding), the Queens’ third album has fangs. More-than-heavy guitars and grim vocals abound, but if that doesn’t sound like cheerful road trip material, there’s the fact that it’s literally a road trip album, buckling the listener in shotgun (or maybe roped-up in the trunk) on a drive from L.A. to Joshua Tree. Following “The Real Song for the Deaf”, aka “track zero”, a car turns on, the driver twists the radio dial, and with Nick Oliveri’s opening screams on “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”, the rest is a whole lotta leadfooting. Torque comes from the riffage of Josh Homme as well as guests Brendon McNichol and Dean Ween, while Dave Grohl’s drumming hits as hard as anything he did in his stool behind Kurt. –Michael Madden
Since I Left You vs. Sound of Silver
Over an estimated 3,500 vinyl samples, the international decadence of Since I Left You shifts between sounds that tickle the mind, body, and soul of any adventurous listener. The Avalanches originally orchestrated the hour-long masterpiece to be a concept of sorts, “an international search for love from country to country,” and while that idea was abandoned, the global gallivanting comes across in the way the samples shift from The Mamas & The Papas to Edmundo Ros to Richard Pryor to Françoise Hardy. The album’s seafaring cover, tracks like “Pablo’s Cruise” or “Little Journey”, and even Prince Paul, who repeatedly insists he “had to book a flight tonight,” all make for an aggressive push to get out of the house and into the world. What better time for that than the summer? Fuck Rick Steves, you got this. –Michael Roffman
Sound of Silver is a highly nostalgic record. On “All My Friends”, James Murphy famously longs for the social life of his teenage years, when spending time with people wasn’t at all about ending a streak of loneliness and solitude. Summer, similarly, is about looking backwards. As you get older, certain aspects of the beach suddenly become a nuisance: There’s the traffic, the crowd, the noise. You need to plan. Sound of Silver is all about wishing that we could stop micromanaging our fun to instead try and live again. –Dean Essner
Merriweather Post Pavillion vs. The College Dropout
Animal Collective’s pinnacle, frontier-penetrating album Merriweather Post Pavillion was designed, written, produced, arranged, and even named to translate the most precise details and strongest sensations that come from lying out in the summer-baked grass. Somehow, that they couldn’t wait for its spirit season to have us hear it and dropped it in January served that mission even better; just as Die Hard went down forever as a “Christmas movie” in July of ’88, Merriweather’s clunkily timed birthday became a testament to its evocative power. Not even a week into 2009, three ritualistic daydreamers delivered us a 55-minute sneak peek of our futures in six months and made them sound impossibly bright. –Steven Arroyo
Much of Kanye West’s music doesn’t really fit with beaches and warm weather. On 808s and Heartbreak, West mournfully sang about the “Coldest Winter” through icy Auto-Tuned filters and deeply personal lyrics. Yeezus too was barren and cold enough to evoke anything but the summertime. However, with his earlier material, there was more than enough sunshine and humor to brighten things up. The College Dropout marked everyone’s introduction to Kanye West’s good kid in a mad city persona, and his characteristic soulful productions. Kicking off the summer with a skit about a graduation, West raps on “We Don’t Care”, “This is for my niggas outside all winter, ’cause this they ain’t finna say: next summer I’m finna.” –Josh Terry