Summer has always been about driving with the top down, the wind in your hair and the speakers blaring. New albums from old stars like Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full” and Wilco’s “Sky Blue Sky” as well as records from relative newcomers like Bishop Allen’s “The Broken String” and Justice’s “Cross” have found their way into iPods and stereos everywhere, leading the wide array of new sounds that premiered this summer. To help you weed out the good from the bad, check out our list of the top five albums since May.
p. **The Polyphonic Spree — “The Fragile Army”**
The Polyphonic Spree, the Dallas-based symphonic rock group that first gained notoriety in 2004 when they were featured on “Scrubs” and performed at the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, has released their new album, “The Fragile Army.” Though they band dumped its trademark robes in favor of black army outfits, its members continue to improve on their unique and catchy style. Because there are a dozen musicians and 10 vocalists, every song has a quality of group singing that begs the listener to sing along. The sound is driven by additional percussion, lending the songs more of a rock beat (but don’t worry; other instrumentals are still terrific, and the vocals as powerful as ever). The third track, “Get Up and Go,” is exceptionally motivational, and provides some of the heaviest rock sounds on the album. Other notable tracks include “Guaranteed Nightlife,” “Watch Us Explode (Justify)” and “The Championship.”
p. **Editors — “An End Has a Start”**
Editors, an English band led by Tom Smith, has released it’s second studio album, titled “An End Has a Start.” Editors is reminiscent of Interpol, Franz Ferdinand and U2, but is much more than a mere tribute band. The album itself is a sort of tour through the history of rock, especially as songs of all tempos are included, often butting right up against each other. As an interesting side effect, their own youthful optimism provides an odd but charming contrast in songs that otherwise have dark overtones. The first track, “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors,” is a great song for the dance floor, and is worth listening to every second of its five minutes. “Bones,” as well as a handful of other songs, can point their origins to tracks from the previous Editors album, “The Back Room.” “Bones” points to “Munich,” one of the best tracks on the previous album, and has a great opening riff followed by an awesome tune with commanding lyrics. Although “An End Has a Start” doesn’t quite live up to “The Back Room,” it’s still an excellent follow-up with some real treats.
p. **Wilco — “Sky Blue Sky”**
Yes, Wilco, the all-American alt-country band, has sold a few songs off its new LP, “Sky Blue Sky,” to Volkswagen for the car company’s new ad campaign. Big deal. This summer, the band took a lot of heat from fans and the press for “selling out,” but frankly, what’s so bad about a band opening up a little to get more universal exposure? It certainly didn’t affect the quality of the group’s music. “Sky Blue Sky” is a great album, and continues in the band’s trend of tweaking and manipulating its sound from record to record to keep things fresh, interesting and unique, especially within the band’s own catalog. Between the booze-laden “A.M.,” the country twang of “Being There,” the happy-go-lucky pop songs of “Summerteeth,” the trippy, Radiohead-ish “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and the eerie “A Ghost is Born,” Wilco has spread its influences and styles over a well-traveled career. With “Sky Blue Sky,” a post-rehab Jeff Tweedy seems content with the world, and the rocking chair vibes of the album make it perfect or driving on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This may not be the band’s best record, but it certainly holds up next to its predecessors.
p. **Spoon — “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”**
Spoon’s 2007 album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” despite its baby-talk title, is anything but infantile. From start to finish, the latest record from the Austin, Tex., group proves to be the band’s most cohesive to date. The band’s trademark sound succeeds in its ability to simultaneously be poppy and experimental. “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” has a perfect mix of radio-ready sing-alongs and trippy, kaleidoscopic tracks that, when listened to side by side, play off each other. The strange, off-beat tracks end up sounding like misunderstood pop songs and the fun tracks, by comparison, seem gain a level of irony in their niceity. Track two, “The Ghost of You Lingers,” features whirling atonal piano chords and spacey vocals and lyrics. Track three, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” is the most dance-ready rocker on the album. The two songs are entirely different in both style and substance, yet the jerky pull from one direction to the next gives both songs more meaning. Every track wanes both beautiful and ugly, making the album as a whole a wonderful listen. This is definitely Spoon’s best album, which is saying a lot after the vast successes of “Gimme Fiction,” “Kill the Moonlight” and “Girls Can Tell.”
p. **Bishop Allen — “The Broken String”**
Bishop Allen spent 2006 writing, recording and releasing an EP every month. 12 discs and 58 songs later, the group had built up plenty of material with which to throw an album together, and the result was “The Broken String.” Sure, for those of us who heard all the EPs as they came out, parts of the album weren’t as exciting and new as they could have been, but as a best-of collection for those who have never heard of the band, “The Broken String” succeeds triumphantly. The band’s happy, fun and unassuming pop songs are breezy and light, proving to be perfect for hot summer days of ceiling fans and iced tea. “Butterfly Nets” may be the sweetest of them all, as a woman’s voice floats over softly strummed acoustic chords, singing “Armed with this small butterfly net only / I will face the world alone and never be lonely.” The childlike nature of the lyrics and sentimentalities bring us back to the easy bliss of youth.