Back to School Playlist

September 17, 2012

It’s always easier to do your homework while listening to some tunes, right? Here are a few suggestions….

Campus/ Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend started generating buzz in 2006 — not long after they formed — but their self-titled debut album didn’t arrive until early 2008. Vampire Weekend also has just a handful of songs that haven’t been floating around the ‘Net, which may disappoint the kind of people who like to post “First!” on message boards. This doesn’t make those songs any less charming, however — in fact, the band has spent the last year and a half making them even more charming, perfecting the culture collision of indie-, chamber-, and Afro-pop they call “Upper West Side Soweto” by making that unique hybrid of sounds feel completely effortless. “Campus” is another standout, with lines like “I see you walking across the campus…how am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?” throwing listeners into college life no matter what their age.- All Music Guide

Rock ‘N Roll High School/ Ramones

Considering that the Ramones did desire mainstream success and that they had a deep love for early-’60s pop/rock, it’s not surprising that they decided to shake loose the constrictions of their style by making an unabashed pop album, yet it was odd that Phil Spector produced End of the Century, because his painstaking working methods seemingly clashed with the Ramones’ instinctual approach. However, the Ramones were always more clever than they appeared, so the matching actually worked better than it could have. Spector’s detailed production helped bring “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” to life, yet it also kept some of the punkier numbers in check. Even so, End of the Century is more enjoyable than its predecessor, since the record has stronger material, and in retrospect, it’s one of their better records of the ’80s.

We’re going to be friends/ White Stripes

The White Stripes turn down the volume, allowing a brief respite from the stomping roots rock that dominates much of the duo’s outstanding third album, White Blood Cells, with the sweet acoustic ballad “We’re Going to Be Friends.” Armed only with an acoustic guitar, picking out a lilting chord progression and accompanied only by a soft time-keeping tape, Jack White takes a nostalgic look back at the innocence of school days with a surprisingly sensitive vocal as he expertly paints impressions of days past with deft economy, “Fall is here, hear the yell/Back to school, ring the bell/Brand new shoes, walking blues/Climb the fence, books and pens/I can tell we’re gonna be friends.” White beautifully captures the gentle excitement of making a new friend and of sharing the simple joys of discovery that are the essence of growing and ultimately become memories that make a lasting impression. The last verse expresses the feeling perfectly, as he softly quips, “Tonight I’ll dream while I’m in bed/When silly thoughts go through my head/About the bugs and alphabet/And when I wake tomorrow I’ll bet/That you and I will walk together again/’Cause I can tell we are gonna to be friends/Yeah, I can tell we’re are gonna be friends.”-All Music Guide

Kids/ Childish Gambino

In the time before this wonderful album named Camp existed, the “actors who rap” proposition would have been all red flags. Brian Austin Green, Mr. T., Joaquin Phoenix, and many others are on the “cons” list, while the “pros” would have been Drake (barely counts, unless Degrassi: The Next Generation was your thing) and maybe AVN award-winner Dirt Nasty. These were the horrible odds Community star and comedy writer Donald Glover was up against when he took the Internet’s Wu-Tang Name Generator to heart and became rapper Childish Gambino, but anyone who right-clicked on one of his 2010/2011 mixtapes can tell you, he beat those odds, and with Camp, indie rap fans won the Lotto.- All Music Guide

We rule the school/ Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian’s first album, Tigermilk, was initially pressed in a quantity of 1,000 on their own label, Electric Honey Recordings. The record was intended to be the end result of Stuart Murdoch’s music business school course, but it became an unexpected word-of-mouth sensation in England, and the LP quickly disappeared from shops. As a result, once the group’s second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, became a hit, there were no copies of Tigermilk available for newly converted fans and it remained unheard by the majority of the group’s audience. Those who have heard it say it is quite similar stylistically to If You’re Feeling Sinister and the songs match that record’s high standard. Tigermilk was re-released in 1999 to the delight of the often cultish fans of Belle & Sebastian.

I love college/ Asher Roth

Sold as hip-hop’s Great White Dope, rapper Asher Roth (“The King of the Blumpkin”) came on the scene with the great “I Love College,” an infectious slacker anthem as simple as “I love college, I love drinkin’, I love women” and with a “Chug! Chug! Chug!” chant in the middle. A hilarious 18-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood’s radio show made him all the more lovable, but Asleep in the Bread Isle is an everyday suburban rap album, if there is such a thing. The promising “Fallin'” pulls the rudder up at the last moment, making one believe the rapper could have made a knockout debut if the meteoric rise of “I Love College” hadn’t hurried things along. -All Music Guide

Alphabet Lost and Found/ They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants have always had a flair for educational songs. More than a decade after its release, the refrain of “Why Does the Sun Shine” (“The sun is a mass of incandescent gas/A gigantic nuclear furnace”) still has a pesky way of lodging itself in the brain. And, as the band’s wonderful first children’s album, No!, demonstrated, They Might Be Giants’ music speaks to kids in a way that few other bands’ work can; they never sound like they’re talking (or singing) down to their smaller fans. Here Come the ABCs makes the most of the band’s ability to teach and reach children, and more than delivers on its promise to “learn ABCs the fun way!” This is still a They Might Be Giants album, though, and the band’s catchy melodies and smart wordplay haven’t been dumbed down. “Flying V,” with its charming, Vince Guaraldi-like pianos and images of migrating geese and electric guitars, is another of John Linnell’s seemingly effortless but brilliant songs, and “C Is for Conifers” offers an extra-credit lesson in botany as well as the alphabet.-All Music Guide

Be true to your school/ Beach Boys

The Beach Boys had two minor single hits — “California Dreamin'” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll To The Rescue” — back on Capitol Records in 1986, and to mark their 25th anniversary, the label assembled this two-record set, adding the new songs to yet another selection of old songs.-All Music Guide

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