Summer soundtracks come in all shapes and sizes. What sounds great in your car with the sun shining and the windows down might not be the best option for a cozy dinner party at home later that night. With that in mind, we rounded up 20 recent albums that will put you in the mood for the season’s various settings.
FOR THE BEACH
She & Him, “Volume 3” The latest from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward bounces out of the speakers like a beach ball on a sun-drenched day. A mix of Deschanel’s originals and a few covers (including a choice take on Blondie’s “Sunday Girl”), “Volume 3” mines the magic of Deschanel’s winsome vocals and Ward’s quicksilver guitar work. (She & Him perform at the Bank of America Pavilion on July 10.)
Natalia Clavier, “Lumen” Known for her work as a vocalist with the band Thievery Corporation, this Argentine singer-songwriter steps out on her new debut for Nacional Records. “Lumen” is a beguiling mix of slinky electronica, pan-global rhythms, and horn-stoked soul, and sung in both English and Spanish.
Colleen Green, “Sock It to Me” A former Boston resident, Green has a lot of fun scrambling different segments of ’60s music, from Brill Building pop to jagged garage rock, with a bit of ’90s alt-rock dissonance thrown in to muddy the sound even more.
The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, “The Benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius” As a loving tribute to the sounds he grew up with, Thompson re-creates a world where ’60s reggae reigns supreme. That comes naturally to Thompson, an English musician who was the saxophonist and songwriter for the ’80s ska band Madness.
FOR THE BACK PORCH
Pistol Annies, “Annie Up” The fierce combination of country gals Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley leads to some raucous party tunes and down-home ballads on their sophomore album. The opening song says it all: “I Feel a Sin Comin’ On.”
Keaton Henson, “Birthdays” Listen closely, and you’ll swear you can hear Henson’s exhales on this haunting collection of songs that sound like they’re on life support. Dusky and decorous, “Birthdays” brings to mind both Elliott Smith and Nick Drake.
Melissa Ferrick, “The Truth Is” This longtime and beloved fixture on the local folk scene takes a refreshing detour into noirish country on her latest, which she recorded in Boston. “The Truth Is” finds Ferrick working in organic Americana territory, with cameos by Paula Cole, Anne Heaton, and Rose Polenzani.
Dayna Kurtz, “Secret Canon Vol. 2” Kurtz isn’t kidding when she boasts that she looks good in bad on the opening track. A singer of profound emotional resonance and physical strength, Kurtz is her usual chameleonic self here, seamlessly weaving from the blues to jazz to country soul. (Kurtz performs at Johnny D’s on Aug. 9.)
FOR THE ROAD TRIP
Eleanor Friedberger, “Personal Record” While on hiatus from the Fiery Furnaces, the band she leads with her brother, Matthew, Friedberger delves deeper into her psyche on this album that jingles and jangles like a tambourine. I’m officially nominating “When I Knew” for this summer’s official jam.
Jason Isbell, “Southeastern” Rambling and ruminative, the new solo record from this former member of the Drive-By Truckers finds the sweet spot between heart-on-sleeve country heartache and barroom fervor. (Isbell performs at the Sinclair on July 29.)
Hanni El Khatib, “Head in the Dirt” The story goes that El Khatib met the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach in a bar in Paris and after a few bourbons they decided to make a record together. “Head in the Dirt” is their baby, and it’s what you would expect: a guttural blues-rocker that’s filthy, beautiful, and tender all at once.
The Mantles, “Long Enough to Leave” Like a forgotten match-up of the Byrds and the Velvet Underground, the Mantles’ sophomore release takes its time to unfurl over long stretches of psychedelic guitar pop.
FOR THE BACKYARD BARBECUE
Booker T., “Sound the Alarm” Joining forces with neo-soul singers such as Anthony Hamilton and Mayer Hawthorne, the legendary organ player proves he’s every bit as vital and youthful as his guest stars. This is a smoking soul record rooted in the past with an eye to modern sensibilities. (Review, Page 5.)
Disclosure, “Settle” English brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have a penchant for turning electronic dance music into infectious jams that lodge deep in your brain. On their first album for a major label, the beats come a mile a minute and somehow hold steady throughout.
Cassie, “RockaByeBaby” Released online as a free mixtape (Google it), this curveball from R&B singer Cassie recasts her in the context of bass-heavy hip-hop, featuring a supporting cast of rappers Wiz Khalifa, Fabolous, Rick Ross, and Meek Mill.
Pretty & Nice, “Golden Rules for Golden People” The very definition of a summer soundtrack, the new album from these Boston rockers is a sugar rush: buoyant melodies, psychedelia lurking in the vocals, and harmonies worthy of the Beach Boys.
FOR THE DINNER PARTY
Takako Minekawa & Dustin Wong, “Toropical Circle” There’s immense beauty in the multiple colors and textures on this collaboration between guitarist Wong and vocalist Minekawa. His melodies are often undulating repetitions, while she adds a fine sheen with a series of wordless exhultations.
Little Annie & Baby Dee, “State of Grace” Little Annie comes from the old school of cabaret artists who are believable because they’ve actually survived the hell they chronicle in song. On this meeting of the minds with pianist and songwriter Baby Dee, they explore the despair of the disenchanted and offer the most heartbreaking cover you’ll ever hear of Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.”
Cécile McLorin Salvant, “Woman Child” This American-born jazz artist who’s based in France gives a tour de force performance on her latest, which beats with a wild rhythm and summons the electricity of Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan.
Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt, “Night” At the intersection of classical and folk music, the pairing of Americana singer-songwriter Merritt and pianist Dinnerstein is evocative for its grace and minimalism. They’re kindred spirits in search of something sublime.