Saturday morning was unusually quiet. Not a good sign.
Since the kids have returned, I have grown accustomed to some noise beyond my bedroom door to rouse me on the weekends. Without the rude siren of my alarm clock, weekends usually see me rising to quash some minor skirmish over the last of the Capt. Crunch, the use of the Wii nunchuck or whether another half hour of Spongebob will reign over the Wizards of Waverly Place.
Over the summer, weekend mornings were given to my own slothful rhythms and, unless I’d set my alarm for a day of building at the Hatcher house, I raised my head only to look at the time for an internal negotiation of what a respectable hour would be to finally set feet on the floor. Since the kids have returned, my weekend morning comme il faut is determined by the sum of someone’s hunger, the potential of injury due to swinging nunchucks and all other overexuberance at our dojo.
Not so, this Saturday. I awoke with a start: no screaming, no scuffles, 9 a.m. and all was quiet.
In the world of a parent, undue silence portends almost certain disaster. Someone’s baking a bomb in the oven or dismantling expensive electronics, something’s amiss, doubtlessly.
Throwing on my bathrobe, I made my way to the living room only to find my Pixie (middle child), wrapped in a Blue’s Clues blanket watching the ubiquitous sponge named Bob.
“Where’s your brother and sister?”
“Still in bed,” she replied, her eyes remaining locked on the screen, her hands wrapped around a yogurt cup.
Mister felt warm, his tiny voice reporting a head cold. The same with Eldest, a cranky glare at me as I placed the back of my hand against her forehead.
“You can’t be sick,” I teased, “It’s still summer.”
“No it’s not,” she grumbled. “And I don’t feel well.”
Chilly mornings as a prelude to the petri dish of disease (school) is all we need at my house to force me into the role of Doctor Dad. At least, I thought, it’s the weekend; sick kids during the work week does little to make the boss happy.
As the plague passes through my household, I’m reminded that we have indeed said goodbye to summer and hello to the season of repetitive pandemic.
It’s a transition I do not accept gladly. As the leaves turn and fall, my elbows ache, reminding me of the extension of a shovel that will soon be added to my arms. Scraping ice off the windshield will make me forget why I chose this place as certain as a Texas plate residing on the SUV in a ditch.
The echo of summer sounds is all that redeems this foul mood and duty in my weekend sanitarium.
By far, the best song of the summer — for the summer — a roll-down-the-windows-and-crank-it-up-all-the-way single that perfectly captured the liberating “warm, wet and wild” attitude of a “sun-kissed beach, so hot, will melt your Popsicle” was Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” (her August Rolling Stone cover photo, cranking Dad’s drool factor to 11 didn’t hurt a bit, either).
Although the Snoop Dogg cameo was gratuitous, the song didn’t miss a beat, perfectly portraying what a classic Summer Song is supposed to be: fun, infinitely catchy, and filled with lyrics that scream to be sung with the throttle wide open. In my dotage, “California Gurls” will always be associated with this past summer. No idle boast, “Once you party with us/You’ll be falling in love,” pegged my hormonal overload to a T.
Conversely, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” was a huge letdown for me. Current darlings of music critics everywhere, I found it difficult to find anything to be excited about this album. While “Month of May” rocked harder than anything Arcade Fire has done, the rest of the album lacked the kind of urgency and dark, cerebral appeal of “Funeral” (which featured better songs and more cohesion).
In the months leading up to its release, “The Suburbs” was supposed to be Arcade Fire’s “Joshua Tree,” the great Indie Rock hope that would break the band into the mainstream, paving the way for a new sound. I’ll reserve judgement on how well received the album becomes (I assume the jury is just as patient) but where “The Joshua Tree” benefited from some great songs and the masterful production of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, “The Suburbs” lacks both the depth and emotional power of U2’s opus.
Having waited for almost a year for Arcade Fire to release “The Suburbs,” it was as if I’d asked Santa for a new bike and instead got roller skates. “The Suburbs” is not a bad album but it’s by no means great, underwhelming my high expectations.
Having waited as long for M.I.A. to release her next album, “Maya” not only didn’t disappoint but astounded. Indeed, with every album M.I.A. has grown bolder, more experimental, making music that challenges, excites and points well into the future.
While “Born Free” (released a month or so before the album) generated a great deal of controversy with its violent and frightening imagery, the song also established M.I.A. as a true artist. Breaking her out of the House and Club shackles where she’d be unfairly pigeonholed, the song is pure Punk and Noise, a machine gun rhythm poured over fuzzed out guitars and distorted vocals. It was, for me, the most exciting and vital single of the summer. It was a sledgehammer swung full force into the placid sounds of 21st century radio.
Despite the punk and industrial edge of the album, songs like “The Message,” “XXOO,” and “Teqkilla” rank with Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Robyn as dance floor-friendly fare, the difference being that M.I.A. chooses to engage the listeners minds as she moves butts. The result is, on some level, M.I.A.’s “London Calling,” a pastiche of different forms creating a cohesive whole. But where The Clash nodded back to influence (Ska, Jazz, Rockabilly, etc.), M.I.A. forges forwards, headlong and with no fear.
“Maya” is not just the best album of the year but could well be the best of a decade.
For sheer fun, The Wavves “King of the Beach” mixed ’60s Surf Rock insouciance and harmonies with skate-punk attitude and aggression. While it shouldn’t have been a surprise (the late Jay Reatard’s band laying down the muscle), the album was a cold beer on a hot day — refreshing, bracing and demanding more. It didn’t hurt that “So Bored” was also one of the best singles of the summer.
Finally, although “You Are Not Alone” by Mavis Staples won’t shatter any charts, the latest work by the R&B/Gospel legend will stand as one the year’s best.
Backed by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (who also wrote several of the songs), there are no Roots Rock pretensions of say, a Deertick, Band of Horses or Silver Jews. We don’t just hear the heartbreak, we feel it, the ache and authenticity of someone for whom firehoses and attack dogs are not an abstraction but a very real memory.
The summer brought me some incredible music and although I’m anxiously awaiting some releases this autumn — Kanye West, Sufjan Stevens, Robyn’s third E.P. — and has shaped up nicely with the release of “Wake Up!” by John Legend and The Roots (covers of ’60s and ’70s politically charged Funk, R&B and Soul), I’m helpless to do anything but dub the summer of 2010 as Katy Perry’s playground.