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(Let’s just open with the fact that referring to things as “records” is still the only way to go. A CD is a physical object; a record is a record. Don’t correct me, Miley Cyrus.)

I had to run an errand over in Park Slope today, and that’s about a half-hour walk for me, which fortunately came on the First Warm Day. It’s not really the first warm day; it’s been warming up for a while. But this was the official First Warm Day in my mind, because it was the first day that I went outside and thought…spring. This means only one thing: the launch of the First Warm Day Collection on my MP3 player. (I do not use an iPod, because I had two, and they both failed within a couple of months of purchase, while my Creative Zen Vision has already lasted a couple of years with no problems.) In no particular order, the First Warm Day Collection.

The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic. There are people who take the position that this is the most perfect pop record ever made, and I’m not sure I’d disagree. Everything about it, beginning with the fact that it actually starts with a guy yelling, “ONE! TWO! ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!”, is defiantly joyful and perfect for spring. If the hooks in “Letter From An Occupant” don’t make you feel good, I suggest antidepressants, because something has gone horribly wrong. (Special Bonus: While looking for a good source to demonstrate the awesomeness of the band by pointing out that there’s more to the wonderful “The Bleeding Heart Show” — not on this record — than what’s been given to you by the marketing department at the University of Phoenix, I came across this fan video, which is awesome in the way some fan videos are awesome, in that it’s so sincere and contains such spectacularly literal matchings of footage to lyrics. See, the lyrics, “It looked as if I picked your name out of a hat,” and Pam picks Jim’s picture out of the teapot! Squee!)

Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw. Okay, perhaps you are one of those unlucky people who only knows Marshall Crenshaw from “Someday, Someway,” which — don’t misunderstand me — is an absolutely spectacular pop song. But it is a sin and a crime that this guy never quite popped as a huge star. He wrote a whole string of stuff that’s infectious and inventive and just crazily catchy, including “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” in which the way the guy is smashing the hell out of the drums elevates a ditty to a sort of soaring manifesto, and “There She Goes Again,” which is a perfectly formed confection that people spend their entire careers wishing they could write. Crenshaw was a guy who had a really good handle on his own appeal, and the Rhino reissue of this album includes a bare-bones cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” that makes a perfect pairing with “The Usual Thing,” which certainly could be a Buddy Holly song, but isn’t.

Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine. This was a hard choice. This is a great warm-weather band — ironic, because: Minnesota — but I was torn between this and All About Chemistry, which I also like a lot. Feeling Strangely Fine is cursed with the fact that it opens with “Closing Time,” which was overplayed to the point of “Unwritten”-like agony, but it also has some great tunes on it, including mix-tape tribute “Singing In My Sleep” and “This Will Be My Year,” which is not summer music, exactly, but it’s ambivalent fresh-start music, which is almost as good. All About Chemistry, on the other hand, opens with the band’s single best First Warm Day song (that would be the title song), but after that, it’s pretty contemplative and mellow, so on balance, I went with the other one. You could argue it either way, though.

Fountains Of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers. Don’t even try it. Don’t even try being a “Stacy’s Mom” snob, because don’t even try it. As a First Warm Day song? It’s unimpeachable, and it’s not even the best First Warm Day song here. It’s probably “Bright Future In Sales,” but I also have a big soft spot for the almost entirely unknown “Hey Julie,” which doesn’t have the breadth of most of my picks in this category but is marvelously light and funny. My Music Stylist and Jane Wiedlin’s Boyfriend have had near-fistfights about this record, partly because late in the proceedings, it gets kind of flabby, but that’s what’s great about taking walks with your MP3 player — you can stop before you get to that stuff. You could make perfectly good arguments for any Fountains Of Wayne album, honestly — Utopia Parkway has “Red Dragon Tattoo,” after all, and Fountains Of Wayne has “Radiation Vibe” — but again, on balance, this is my pick.

John Wesley Harding, The Confessions Of St. Ace. John Wesley Harding is a really interesting, baffling artist, because the songs are brilliantly written, but they’re often arranged in a sort of corny, ’80s-y way that renders them kind of flat. But this particular record is still very effective, and while you’re most likely to have heard “I’m Wrong About Everything” (which was on the High Fidelity soundtrack), the near-novelty “Goth Girl” and the short but sweet “You In Spite Of Yourself” are where the warm-weather brilliance emerges. In this particular context, Harding’s tendency to sound like ’80s radio doesn’t do any harm.

Ryan Shaw, This Is Ryan Shaw. What a really, really, really good record this is. Fortunately, my favorite thing on it — the Jackie Wilson cover “I’ll Be Satisfied” — was the Song Of The Day, so you can listen to it here. Everything on the record is just as lively and irresistible as this, and I dare you to sit still through the whole thing. As the SOTD essay points out, Ryan Shaw knows what so many American Idol contestants do not — if it’s a great song, you don’t need to rewrite it in order to cover it; you just need to be really, really good.

Honorable Mentions. There were a few songs where I really couldn’t justify picking the album, but the individual song deserves mention. Harvey Danger’s Little By Little is not a First Warm Day Record, because it’s way too depressing on balance, but both “Cream And Bastards Rise” and especially “Happiness Writes White” are contenders. I don’t think Elvis Costello makes summer music, but on the expanded version of Imperial Bedroom, there are two little throwaway-ish numbers — “I Turn Around” and “From Head To Toe” — that should be considered. Stars does more thoughtful music than summer pop, but “What I’m Trying To Say” from 2005’s fabulous Set Yourself On Fire, beginning with the amazing line “You look so good in the clothes of a poser,” will pick you up. (The only YouTube representation of the studio version I was able to find was attached to a Veronica Mars fan video, which: absolutely not.) XTC is a little bit hit-or-miss for me, but any list of perfectly formed pop songs has to include “Mayor Of Simpleton.”

July 2018
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