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Sounds of Summer: Songs for long-distance runarounds

CRAIG HUDSON | Gazette-Mail
City editor Ben Fields shares his music picks for “Sounds of Summer.”

This week’s “Sounds of Summer” comes from city editor Ben Fields.

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As the resident Kentuckian at the Charleston Gazette-Mail, I — like a lunatic — drive every morning from my home in Russell, through Southern Ohio and on to West Virginia’s capital, where I run a newsroom, and then I make the trek home. I do this five times a week.

Like I said, certifiable.

Here’s the good thing about what, for this region, is considered an insanely long commute: I have plenty of time heading in to get ready for everything I think I’m going to face (which will invariably morph into something completely different, but I don’t screw with my morning optimism). And I have plenty of time heading home to completely forget about anything that wound me up during the day.

Of course, music is an essential part of this entire process. And that’s another cool thing about a long drive, I get to listen to plenty of great songs. Unless I’m in a prog rock phase, which drastically reduces the quantity of songs. No matter where you’re traveling, three Yes songs and you’re there.

Anyway, my music choices are seasonal in some aspects, and this time of year I’m generally listening to more upbeat stuff that fits longer days and the sun-splashed green countryside flying by at 75 mph. Not a time to listen to The Cure’s “Disintegration” track-by-track. It’s a time for lighter fare, in tone anyway.

Here are a few of the tracks I’ve been listening to more frequently on my long-distance runarounds.

XTC, “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass”

Two songs melded into one lead off the Skylarking album. “Summer’s Cauldron” begins with cricket and bird chirps that take the form of a rhythm track, eventually joined by a warbling keyboard that leads into a pleasant oddity of a song held together with tinny acoustic guitars, bass that’s all over the place and lyrics rife with naturalistic imagery. The song ultimately builds into a crescendo that launches the pastoral “Grass,” a lazy, string-accompanied romp telling of early, innocent romantic crusades, filled with a little recreational drug double entendre (“It would shock you too, the things we used to do on grass.”) The song winds down into guitar feedback and the insect choir that started the whole journey brings it to its end.

Rush, “Force Ten”

When I saw Rush for the first of what would wind up to be something like 14 times, they opened with this track, which is less virtuoso showcase and more all-pistons-firing propelling the juggernaut Battleship Potemkin, and I’ve loved it ever since. Live versions especially. Make no mistake, the best band in the universe is still pulling out crazy stuff to make this all work, it’s just less showy. It also clocks in at under five minutes, which is kind of succinct for a Rush tune. As it’s basically a song about choices revolving around fight or flight in the face of inevitability, it’s been a great rallying influence lately.

Pixies, “Dig for Fire”

This is another one kind of built for revving up the internal meter for me. It’s not a go-to Pixies tune. In fact, it’s a multi-track studio beast that isn’t really indicative of the band that recorded it. If you’ve ever heard them play it live, it’s either brilliant or a total mess. With the album version, the anthemic build of the chorus and louder than loud drums built around a steady bass hook make for a punchy concoction.

The dBs, “Love is for Lovers”

Don’t we all just love those bands that should have made it but never did? The Replacements? Big Star? The dBs definitely fall into the category of a band cursed by fate at every turn that left a trove of tunes that will have you scratching your head as to why you never heard them a million times on the radio. “Love is for Lovers” is unadulterated, joyous janglepop of the highest order. The lyrics are a little bit more clever than the song title suggests, but not by a huge degree. And it matters not a wit. This is simply sonic happiness that will have you pushing repeat because it’s contained to a burst of just over three minutes.

The 1975, “The City”

Oh my god, we have a pop song on here. And a recent one at that. Well, if you’re 40 like me and most of your musical tastes were forged a long time ago, 2013 is pretty recent. Nasty drums, a gnarled, synth-distorted bass part, spare but well-used guitars and a voice swimming in reverb and delay effects propel this Britpop steamroller. I keep hoping The 1975, which started as an indie rock outfit that attained massive success and now caters mainly to an audience of screaming teenage girls, will turn out to be one of those bands like the Beatles, who eventually appeal to everyone. I don’t know if that will happen or not, so I continue to guiltily listen to the song I can’t help loving while hoping no one will notice. Oops.

Ben Fields is city editor at the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He resides in Russell, Ky., with his wife Jennifer, their son Alex, and three dogs.

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