11 November 2007

The Sounds of Summer

I think I found my summer album. Or at least one of them. Or at least a late spring album. Or at least one of them.

This has become an annual issue with me: finding an album that will ease my transition from a ski season into the heat and long dreary days of summer, a ski season that is always too short and a summer that is always entirely too long. And hot.

Past honorees have included Sam Prekop and his first beautiful self-titled solo album; the Kingsbury Manx and their first beautiful self-titled album; the Beachwood Sparks and their, um, first
beautiful lovely self-titled album; and, Gram's first band, The International Submarine Band's first and only 1968 album Safe At Home.

I don't take these things lightly and, in fact, I don't think I've had a summer album for the last year or so. It's been a bit chaotic and awkward. After moving to the bottom of the world spring has felt like fall and winter like summer, etc. I'm just barely starting to adjust. And, typically, these
things don't happen by searching for them. Like true blue loves, these inspired pieces of digital plastic just sort of pop out of nowhere. And so it was with Hercules.

I bought the second Lullaby Baxter album (the first, by the way, would have been a contender for last year's summer album had I not bought it in June--the beginning of the South American winter) and it didn't click like her first album did. I wanted to know why so I started reading about it. On the Allmusic website it referenced a band called Hercules under their See Also section. I clicked the link and voila! A couple clicks later and I owned it.

"Near-impossible to categorize" isn't exactly true. Several parts Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, a few parts Burt Bacharach; a nod or two to the High Llamas (themselves adherents to the Wilson/Bacharach aesthetic); and a whole mess of sweetly 1960s inspired, melancholy pop that beams sunshine and warm, quiet breezes. Not pastoral but not quite hip urban either. Sort of, appropriately enough, suburban. I love it.

The album was released in 2004 and features unlikely appearances by J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne, and the suave vocal stylings of Gordon Zacharias from a band called Fan Modine. Minimal but dynamic. Soft but never lazy. Sweet but not syrupy. What every summer afternoon should feel like.

I have no idea who this Hercules band is and, apparently, few others do either. A coupla guys, Ben Sumner and Peter Baldwin, who play all the instruments and hire out for the other parts. In their credits they thank Lloyd Cole and, though I wasn't keeping score back then, the 1984 album Rattlesnakes was certainly one of my summer, if not entire year, albums. Also, they thank Thom Monahan who is a member of the Pernice Brothers and whose first album Overcome By Happiness should, if not mine, be someone's summer album. So, what was once unknown slowly starts to gel and smooth out and now makes perfect sense.

Have a listen:

Can't Go Out.mp3
It's A Big World.mp3
Let's Go Out.mp3

You like? You buy. Support the troops!
Hercules at Amazon and Insound. Cheap!

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