As summer winds down and school starts up, it’s a bittersweet time for many. Summer is emblematic of youthful freedom, family vacations, and temperate relaxation. Though Oklahoma currently feels like it may never catch a break from the current heat wave, autumn will be here in no time, and some businesses are already looking forward to the winter holidays. Summers are often the subject of much nostalgia perhaps because of how fleeting they are.
It’s no surprise, then, that these mid-year months provide ample inspiration for many musicians. Here are four recent releases from Oklahoma artists that capture those sunny memories, each in their own way. Whether you prefer rock, folk, or hip-hop, there’s something here to help you send the season off in style.
I Know What You're Listening to This Summer by L-Smooth Mensah
I Know What You’re Listening to This Summer, released last year by Midwest City hip-hop emcee L-Smooth Mensah, is a feel-good nostalgia trip dedicated to those warm, leisure months between school years. Whether he’s remembering the sound of a neighborhood ice cream truck, paying tribute to his favorite car (the Lexus), or just out to have a good time, L-Smooth delivers with track after track of smooth sounds and flawless rhymes.
Like on other projects of his, L-Smooth makes it evident that his muses are hip-hop originals of the 20th century. He’s comfortable to keep it real in the underground while trap stars fight for radio play. Even so, he’s gained more than enough cred and attention to land live performance spots like his recent one opening for Devin the Dude.
All of his artistic traits work beautifully with IKWYLTTS, an album that looks fondly at the past and finds lessons worth remembering, just as L-Smooth does himself with hip-hop culture. Additionally, his laid-back style melds so well with the album’s nostalgic, stress-free mood that it elevates the conceptual angle, and his lyrical workmanship ensures that even his lazy day music is anything but phoned in. As the track “Ottoman” implies, he’s merely in a comfort zone, and that comfort spills over in abundance to the listening experience of this thoughtful and endearing love letter to summer.
First Come, First Surf by Bobby Chill and The Wave
Released earlier this year by Norman indie-surf rockers Bobby Chill and The Wave, First Come, First Surf is a breezy, glimmering debut EP that’s as summery as they come. At a brief four tracks, it flies by the same way summer does, ending too soon and wistfully waiting to be experienced again.
Coastal waves and palm trees come into imaginary view on the first track, “California USA”, which is a sunny, nimble number about being drawn to the Golden State from Oklahoma’s landlocked plains. Though the music is easy-going and delightful, there is a slight note of remorse running through it, captured brilliantly in the line, “Guess I’m leavin’ home.”
The following three tracks continue to provide sweet melodies and mellow performances while offering their own unique takes on the band’s sound. “The Ponder Song” sets a straight eighth drumming style inside a swing rhythm to add a sense of playfulness and levity. “Winding the Clock” masks its harmonized vocals in a vintage-like filter while soft pillows of rock organ add to its retro periphery.
When closer “Every Year” comes through with its sour apple take on seasonal change, it concludes with a refrain that persists into the album’s ultimate fadeout, repeating, “Every year, every year, every damn year.” Clearly, Bobby Chill and The Wave are summer lovers, and even though the band’s debut is barely more than 10 minutes, it’s a swell cup of lemonade that squeezes a good deal of refreshment out of its summer fruits.
You in June by Midday Static
The very foundation of Midday Static‘s music is warm-hued memories, so it only makes sense that the project’s latest album should appear here. Released just last month, You in June is a continuation of Midday Static’s young but sprawling catalogue of mostly instrumental music soaked in sunny, rose-colored nostalgia. This time around, though, there is a bit more narrative, thanks to the titles implying a more romantic angle than on other works.
Though live performances see the project as a full band of late, its studio work still reflects the unfettered vision of the solo outing it started as, with Dylan Boyd continuing to self-produce with electronics, field recordings, and rock instrumentation. Fans of his soft, hazy arrangements will find plenty more to love here.
Tracks like “Meet Me in Montauk” sound made for a movie montage while others like “Far From Home” play more like an end credits sequence. As with much of film, the music strives to capture a time and place, either to preserve it or to grow beyond it. Given the album’s elusive but specific title, it’s perhaps a bit of both.
At well below a half hour, this is one of Midday Static’s shorter albums. It’s marketed as an EP despite having nine tracks, and that’s probably because only four of those are full-fledged pieces, interspliced with meditative soundscapes by the other five. Even so, it feels like a complete project. As an ode to the utter bliss and timelessness of romance, it flourishes.
End of Summer by Heartbreak Rodeo
Summer can have many meanings, and they need not necessarily be about the literal season itself. In last year’s End of Summer, Heartbreak Rodeo bookends its LP with two different title tracks. The opener is a celebratory ditty about living life to the fullest as musicians, while the closer is a quieter piece about farewells. Summer takes on a much more symbolic role here, and it becomes a thoughtful framing device as the album carries the listener through emotional ups and downs.
Like the name implies, Heartbreak Rodeo is a trio that tends to write seasoned songs of vulnerability, using music to get back on the bull of life despite its inherent hardships. Somewhere in the odd space between solo act and full band, the three-piece enlists the help of Norman music veteran Terry “Buffalo” Ware to help fill out a mostly acoustic sound on End of Summer that mixes colors of folk, rock, and country.
The band’s two principal singer-songwriters trade off leading duties, with the other supplying harmonies in turn. Both have distinct voices, and their songwriting is heartfelt and memorable. Though it’s mostly a guitarist affair, piano makes a welcome appearance on “Kaleidoscope”, and various degrees of percussion are added throughout, depending on the level of energy and intimacy each song needs.
While songs like “Love Comes a Lookin'” are certainly upbeat and fun, End of Summer is not a summer album in the traditional sense. It’s far more contextual, setting aside the carefree reputation of summer to reflect on how it relates to life’s other metaphorical seasons. Even so, it remains a warm, laid-back listen full of good songs and heartfelt performances, making it a fine choice for long summer evenings and cool autumn nights alike.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.