So, a month left until you’re plunged back (or, for Freshers, take a tentative first paddle) into the Oxford deep end. Here’s a reading list soundtrack of sixteen of the best tracks that August 2011 had to offer, featuring everything from ballads to synthpop to Ghostface Killah. Turn up the volume and enjoy – just don’t let it distract you too much from A Very Short Introduction to [Your Degree].
S.C.U.M – Amber Hands
Although they formed without a guitarist, S.C.U.M have layered swooning six-strings all over this shoegaze sunburst, which comes across part-Ride and part-Stooges. It’s the first single from their album ‘Again Into Eyes’ (released 12th September).
M83 – Midnight City
This stadium-sized new wave anthem is a reminder of M83’s infectious pop sense and, as always, Anthony Gonzalez’s enduring sense of grandeur. His sixth studio album, due in October, is aptly titled Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Eleanor Friedberger – My Mistakes
This month’s solo debut album from Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer, represented a surprising return to form for the artist. Opener ‘My Mistakes’ recalls Friedberger’s finest work with The Fiery Furnaces but with a refreshingly streamlined focus to balance her delightfully off-kilter delivery.
Talons – Rowboat
Taken from Mike Tolans’ Song For Boats, a collection of miniatures for guitar and voice which finally saw vinyl release this month, the gentle drift of ‘Rowboat’ is as sleepy and understated as it is utterly arresting.
Active Child – Hanging On
When amateur producer Pat Grossi (alias: Active Child) left the confines of bedroom pop, this August’s You Are All I See was the result. ‘Hanging On’ is surely its pièce de résistance: its pained, drowning catharsis is built through aching vocals and oceanic atmospherics.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Tigers
Pavement’s much-trumpeted reunion last year obscured the solid material still being released by its ex-members, notably frontman Stephen Malkmus. Luckily, the Beck-produced album Mirror Traffic is exciting even those too young for fuzzy nineties nostalgia.
Blood Orange – Sutphin Boulevard
Essex-based Dev Hynes has worn many hats (member of dance-punk trio Test Icicles, indie writer/producer for Solange Knowles et al., solo folk artist as Lightspeed Champion). His latest project is the stylish minimalism of Blood Orange, best exemplified by this atmospheric and sultry single.
Warm Brains – Worried Seed
Slicing guitars meet hypnotic chanting in the latest single by Hynes’ former Test Icicles bandmate Rory Attwell, which shows off his credentials as a highly-regarded producer as well as a top-notch guitarist.
The War On Drugs – Baby Missiles
‘Baby Missiles’ sounds like early Springsteen under a layer of Slowdive-era shoegaze. The unique sound of this Philadelphia quartet is a welcome antidote to the fairly uninspired output of ‘nu-gaze’ and dream pop in recent years.
DOOMSTARKS – Victory Laps
Underground legend MF DOOM is never one to rush a release, and his collaboration with Wu-Tang veteran Ghostface Killah (under the joint name of DOOMSTARKS) has been pending since the first half of last decade. But recent single ‘Victory Laps’ is proof of progress, and the combined swagger it brings to the table is certainly tantalizing.
Princeton – To The Alps
Despite their name, Princeton hail from Los Angeles, and their particular brand of sunny indie pop is a dead giveaway. Featuring some of the tightest instrumentation to be found in the Californian scene, ‘To the Alps’ is a textbook summer jam.
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Memoir
In a particularly well-chosen collaboration with Conor O’Brien of Villagers (who wrote the song and lyrics), Gainsbourg’s recent single ‘Memoir’ is an impeccable guitar-led ballad of alluring warmth.
Cant – Answer
Chris Taylor just can’t go wrong. The Grizzly Bear bassist has produced for the Dirty Projects, Department of Eagles, and Twin Shadow to great acclaim, and his first full-length Dreams Come True – its approach exemplified by the trademark breathy vocals and intoxicating dance groove of ‘Answer’ – is already looking promising.
The National – Exile Vilify
As far as muses go, a video game – Portal 2, to be precise – isn’t the first that comes to mind. But it was inspiration enough for ‘Exile Vilify’, a beautiful and breathtaking composition by The National, whose wholly unique style strengthens with each release.
The Drums – Money
In this ditty, whose bars could be a soundtrack for much of the hemisphere-wide ‘downturn’, The Drums sum it up: “I want to buy you something, but I don’t have any money.” But a little austerity shouldn’t get in the way of a killer hook, right?
Bon Iver – Holocene
June this year saw the second album from Justin Vernon’s folk project and this new single (along with its gorgeous video) is a highlight, with stripped-bare melodies and plaintive vocals bolstered by slide guitar and whispering percussion.
Mixer: August 2011 is also available on Spotify – click here to load the playlist.