“boys (summertime love)” – sabrina (1987)

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It is now August which means Chicago’s dog days of summer are in full swing.  This is when the city sees it’s hottest days and most epic thunderstorms.  These days are also the best time to go to the beach as Lake Michigan will have adequately warmed up enough to be comfortable.  Patio season for brunch reaches its peak and everyone crams in as much fun before school goes back into session and the temperatures start slowly falling into the crispness of fall.

I have stayed really busy during this summer.  For one, I’ve been playing in a softball league on behalf of the radio station I volunteer with and playing against other media outlets in the city.  I had never joined a league before and had a great time, so I am looking forward to more games next year.  I also go for longer walks and find the best places to read outside; neat park spots with lots of character that are otherwise miserable during the winter time.

There is just so much to do.  I am a busy individual between work, volunteering, errands, and everything else that a big city life demands.  I always look towards summer for things to slow down a bit.  However, the opposite happens.  I get even more busy.  And the reason why is that Chicago summers are way too short.  I feel like I must cram in as much as possible so I don’t feel like I’m taking the fleeting summer days for granted.

To get my going, I spend the late spring putting together an annual summer playlist for me to jam to.  This playlist should be a combination of songs that pump me up, motivate me, are great to dance to, and just breathe life into summer.  While the songs change from year to year, there are a few stalwarts that have made multiple appearance over the years as some of my favorite summer jams.

High up on the list of my favorite summer jam is a catchy Italo disco track by Sabrina Salerno called “Boys (Summertime Love)”.  Released in 1987, it has become Sabrina’s most famous song.  The fame behind the song owes a lot to its own video.  In the video, Sabrina splashes around an Italian hotel pool while her bikini top repeatedly falls down throughout the video.  Needless to say, much of the video’s popularity comes from this.  The video was created for a segment to be included in an Italian magazine show.  This explains why the video is more overtly sexual than typical music videos that would have aired on MTV at the time.

When talking about this song, you have to address the video.  It is all kinds of ridiculous and fun.  It is what contributed to the song’s success.  However, the song’s charm and true appeal shines through in the music.  This Hi-NRG track is highly energetic and impossible to not dance to.  The backing track rhythms are prominent and drives the song.  Sabrina’s vocals are also on point in the song.  Her cute accent is endearing.  You actually concentrate on the vocals because it takes a little extra effort to understand what she is saying through the song.  But doing so, you can hear Sabrina’s talent shine through by giving it the attention it deserves.

I do not remember how I came across this song.  It was around five years ago and probably the product of me going down a YouTube rabbit hole.  Usually, I’ll be amused by what I find during those rabbit hole journeys.  But, I’ll quickly forget about what I saw.  That hasn’t been the case with Sabrina’s iconic track.  It has stayed with me to be one of the finest summer anthems I know.  While the song reached number one in several countries, it didn’t make a splash in the United States.  So, I take every opportunity to celebrate and share this song with friends.  While Italo disco may sound quaint to some considering all the modern electronic dance music that sends vibrating shockwaves throughout your body, there is true appeal in the song for its energy and message; just dance, enjoy summer, and have a summer romance.  What is not to love about that?  Until Sabrina gets the respect she deserves from mainstream American listeners, she will always have a spot in my annual summer jam playlist.

“lorelei” – cocteau twins (1984)

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Change is constant in life. We are all bound to the chaotic nature of life. There is a certain comforting madness to the unpredictability of existence. With the right frame of mind, it is something with which we can change the meaning. While we may not be able to control the situation, we can control how we view and react to it.

The weather in Chicago this last year has been unpredictable. This last winter was incredibly difficult on a number of different levels. While I can usually tolerate the cold and find solace in falling snow, the extreme bitter temperatures and pop-up blizzards felt stifling. I was also experiencing some personal issues and being constantly confined indoors was not helping. I live in Chicago and I know the winters can be brutal. I can accept that. I’ve conquered Chicago winters before and I knew I would again, but this last winter was exceptionally hard. I wanted summer. I wanted heat. I wanted an escape.

As the hounds of winter began retreating in March, glimmers of spring appeared rarely and without warning. It was a shock to the system to walk outside and feel winter’s grip loosening when I realized that I wouldn’t need a jacket that day. I knew the warmth and beauty that was to come. I fantasized and fetishized the summer season. The light touch of the sun’s rays on my bare arms was all I wanted. I wanted the sun to be my gentle lover and hold me as we walked through the blooming, dewy gardens together.

As spring turned into summer, the days became heavier and longer. Intense and sweaty, I was engrossed with the passion that comes with the dog days of summer. At times the embrace of the sun became stifling and reprieve was sought in the form of indoor air conditioning and a beer. My relationship with the sun was still there, but I needed some space.

This week, the first signs of fall were present. The temperatures in Chicago were as low as 61 and people on the train were prepared with their sweaters. I knew the sudden change in weather was fleeting. Those hot days would be back. Though when they do eventually come slinking back, it won’t be the same. Summer will end and I know where those hot, sultry days will go. It is almost the end of August. It is a month of change and transition. There are no holidays in August to distract us or to celebrate a historical moment. The celebration and appreciation of life in August is more internal and unspoken. Fall is coming with its muted, auburn tones; a dark-haired beauty that is inviting with tinges of a chilling independence. This love affair with summer is ending, so we make the most of it.

“Lorelei” by the Cocteau Twins is one of my favorite songs for this time of year. The ethereal mouth music of this Scottish band offers a wispy intimacy. It is an exciting blend of light touches and passion that throws you into the arms of ecstasy while standing on the edge of oblivion. It is the sound of dancing on a tightrope; hold tightly to each other or you will fall. There are these strong moments of living in the present but the beautiful sadness this love affair will end.

The Cocteau Twins are known for their musical style. “Lorelei” on a musical level is deep with reverb echo, and muted instrumentation. The drum beats are intensely driving the music but the production keeps them in the background and softens their impact. Strewn throughout are twinkly piano chords, a deep bass, and a wavering guitar that draw a curtain across the track. They add a textural value while distancing the listener from the band. When we look at the curtain, who we see on the other end is obscured. This blurring of the musical arrangement emphasizes the ethereal tone and lilting voice of lead singer Elizabeth Fraser.

When I visualize “Lorelei,” I visualize a crisp summer day as seen through a filter not unlike one on Instagram. I’m looking at the picture of a young woman with a loose sweater, wide-brimmed hat, and striking red lipstick that separates her mouth from her soft, pale skin. Green leaves on the trees with some hints of lime green and yellow poking through signifying a visual change.

Lyrically, “Lorelei” is an intensely intimate song. It is about two lovers coming together and succumbing to their desires covered by sacred fire. They make love with a sense of finality. The partners feel guilty cannot help but fulfill a carnal need that is so sacred to them that is a divine act. Could this be their last moment together before the sun goes down on the love they shared? Possibly. They make love and they can go, as Fraser sings

This song goes deep for me as it offers an escape. Like the lovers in the song, it is about enjoying the here and now; a moment that chisels a permanent spot in the mind and heart. It is a treasure to be enjoyed forever. While you may not enjoy the benefits as if it were the first time, it is something to look back on fondly during the difficult times. And it will never be the last time as long as it lives inside you. Even then, new memories with new people will come. Winter is coming, but spring will be back again someday. It is still sunny and warm out, so enjoy it while you can. Live in the moment and find solace in the finality of a singular moment, but the lasting nature of a memory.

“shake & tremble” – django django (2015)

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Summer is on its way. In Chicago, that means hot sun, sweat, and swimming. While Lake Michigan may not come to mind for many when it comes to beach bummin’, but I love it just the same. It’s what I have and that’s enough. I love the vibrancy of summer as the light shines on my skin. Incredibly transformative, my senses are heightened. When your winters are long, it is smart to enjoy any opportunity available to play outside in the summer.

Along with summer weather comes summer music. Mood music is incredibly important for me and varies from season to season. During these sweltering times, I want indie pop and surf music. I typically cannot find a way to enjoy both simultaneously. I only have either one or the other. Won’t some hip, young band come satisfy my thirst for surf guitars and harmonic choruses?

As luck would have it, the latest from Django Django entitled “Shake & Tremble” does the trick. Busting through with an oscillating guitar intro a la T. Rex, the band unleashes their sleigh bells and jangly guitars in a sonic homage to surf music of the past. The backing track has all the appeal of surf rock icons of yesteryear while staying fresh. The train rhythms and pounding percussion are carefully driven but chill as well. It presents a careful balance of the relaxation that comes with the dog days of summer but pulsates with youthful energy.

The group harmonizes throughout the song similarly to early Beach Boys while managing to keep a contemporary indie pop flavor. The lines are quick and undeniably poppy, but are catchy. I also love the storytelling and the juxtaposition of the lyrics against the backing track. While vague and misleading, the lyrics convey a sense of darkness and fear. Something is happening here, but what? Smoke. Hidden eyes. Pitch black darkness. All the ingredients of a spooky nightmare are there. You shake and tremble as the environment closes in on you. The setting presents some humor by relying on unclear intentions against a cool, crisp surf backdrop. It adds a sinister element to the music that is very tongue-in-cheek. Something is about to crash this surf party.

I cannot wait for summer. Beach bummin’ and fro-yo! Chicago carries an entirely different energy when the heat is on. It becomes more lively and energized. You fall in love with the city again when you go out walking along the lake, and then duck in some random store or restaurant to get a break from the heat; a great way to discover something new. Get out there and live.