Our Favorite Springtime Albums
Here in Evanston, even as we stumble our way through far too much clouds and rain, we can still often smell the mulch and feel the sun. And in these pockets of spring, these glorious gulps of fresh air, this is what we like to hear.
Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves
If the video of the Jonas Brothers grooving on a boat to “Golden Hour” in Hawaiian shirts didn’t prove it to you, I’m here to confirm that Golden Hour is a beautiful accompaniment for the first warm day of spring when you’re lying outside and letting the bright sun shine on your vitamin D-deprived face. Even the titles of some of the songs (think “Oh, What a World,” “Butterflies,” or “Rainbow”) remind me of flowers blooming and birds chirping. Lyrically, “Oh, What a World” epitomizes the magical feeling that comes along with the ethereal beauty of spring, with Musgraves singing about “plants that grow and open your mind” and appreciating the wonder of nature. The combination of Musgraves’ smooth, clear tone and the dreamlike quality of the guitar-focused instrumentals is like a breath of fresh air. The raw simplicity of the experimental country singer’s voice is brought to life in front of subtle drums in “Happy & Sad,” while “High Horse” is a mix of pop, electronic, and country in the best way possible. The entire album is a fresh blend of calm acoustic tracks and upbeat electronic ones, creating the perfect playlist for the ever-changing weather that comes along with spring.
Heavy Weather - Weather Report (1977)
Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather’s smooth, slow-burning instrumentation sounds like flowers blooming. The upbeat positivity across the whole album creates a comfortable sonic supplement to the springtime weather. Opener “Birdland” is an alluring piece with raring horns and a moving percussion groove, similar to later tracks “Teen Town,” “Rumba Mama,” “Palladium,” and album closer “Havona.” The smooth brass and bass playing, along with the fast-moving percussion, result in a compelling jazz fusion style that contrasts with much of the bands other work. Meanwhile, “A Remark You Made” and “Harlequin” are slower pieces that help settle the album into smoother territory, more focused on the slow building of individual soundscapes. “The Juggler” is a mix of the these two modes, with rhythmic percussion and a slower tempo. Taken as a whole, the album’s sound perfectly emulates the blooming variance of the spring.
Cuz I Love You - Lizzo (2019)
Lizzo’s first major label album, Cuz I Love You, sparkles with the brilliance of the springtime’s thematic growth and empowerment. Opening with the roaring vocals of the title track, Lizzo crosses genre, mood and subject matter in an energetic soul-pop fusion. Spanning decades of musical inspiration, in songs like “Better in Color”—the 2019 adaptation of Michael Jackson’s iconic “Black or White”—every lyric and music note sharply vibrates with a frenetic energy of honesty as Lizzo brings her own twist to her subject matter (and sounds like she is having a wonderful time doing so). Fully flexing her skills across genres, she creates a body-positive club track featuring Missy Elliot in “Tempo” and captures the power of ditching a disappointing lover in the slow, ballad-esque “Jerome.” The racy and rich “Lingerie” that closes the album feels like a call to embracing sensuality. As springtime approaches, and with it the perils of less and less clothing, the message of body positivity in particular speaks to the deep kindness Lizzo models for herself. Cuz I Love You captures a mood for every aspect of springtime, from wild activity, to reflection, to unapologetic body positivity—and each flows into the other in a perfect summation of how to practice self-advocacy and growth in this upcoming spring while having an incredible amount of fun.
Miss Universe - Nilüfer Yanya (2019)
Rarely do debut albums sound as mature as Miss Universe. But helmed by London songwriter Nilüfer Yanya, the album manages to subvert first-album expectations and delivers a brilliantly sequenced, relentlessly catchy set of 17 tracks. Much of the triumph of Miss Universe stems from the overall feeling of restlessness Yanya imbues into the project. Though her lyrics focus on feelings of pain, yearning, anxiety and liberation, she uses a throughline of five satirical skits involving a wellness hotline called WWAY Health, which serves partially as a segue between songs but also as a source of bittersweet levity during the darker parts of the album. Her voice, sultry and impassioned throughout, is countered by touches of saxophones on “Paradise” and “Melt” and searing guitars on “Paralysed” and the album closer “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.” Rather than box her music into the confines of one genre, Nilüfer Yanya draws inspiration from R&B, Jazz, Pop, Indie Rock and Blues, swerving in and out of each from track to track. She widens her sonic diversity even further by using live instrumentation on songs like “Angels” while mixing in drum machines and synthesizers on song like “Tears.” If you’re looking for a bold new genre-defying voice in indie rock this springtime, check out Miss Universe!
Geography - Tom Misch (2018)
When Tom Misch dropped his debut album Geography in April of 2018, winter was making a slow yet certain transition to more tolerable springtime weather. That’s why, nearly a year after its release, the clean vocals, intricate guitar, and tasteful production of Geography never fail to remind me of the revitalizing feeling of moving into a new season. Misch’s jazz background crosses over with his expertise in producing and composing to capture a variety of moods while still maintaining a cohesive collection of songs. Misch’s strong storytelling ability is front and center on tracks like “Before Paris” and “Movie.” The former opens the album with a clear spoken-word portrait to give the listener an idea of the musical passion that lies within Geography, before breaking into about a minute-long instrumental jam. Lush string arrangements are showcased on “South of the River” and at the end of “Disco Yes.” There’s even a nod to Stevie Wonder with Misch’s guitar-only cover of “Isn’t She Lovely.” As a debut album, the tracks successfully highlight Misch’s complex musical vocabulary. Laid-back beats, slick guitar licks, and clever lyrics build the backbone of this record. In fact, its maturity and intricacy say anything but “debut album.” Geography’s overall feel-good vibe and sense of merriment provides a listener with a solid springtime soundtrack.
Rainbow - Kesha (2017)
If I learned anything in my high school English classes, it’s that spring equals rebirth, and Kesha’s 2017 comeback album Rainbow is exactly that. Intense legal battles stemming from abuse from her former producer Dr. Luke left the singer unable to release music for five years, until a settlement finally allowed her a chance to start fresh. What made her comeback so powerful, though, was how she chose to return to the music scene not by taking revenge, but by taking the high road, as evinced by the lead single “Praying.” Instead of wishing her betrayer the worst, she sings about how she hopes he finds his peace, and this mentality really sets the tone for the album. The sentiment carries over into the next track, “Learn To Let Go.” Songs like “Bastards” and “Hymn” preach a message of encouragement and not letting other people bring you down, but she still claps back at the haters with songs like “Let ‘Em Talk” and “Woman.” However, the overall message of the album still prevails in tracks like “Rainbow,” which reminds us all that something beautiful can come at the end of something so awful. Kesha’s fourth studio album came with major changes, including formally removing the “$” from her stage name, but the most striking is her new outlook on life. In some ways, it almost seems like a completely new artist, but isn’t that what spring is all about? Coming back from the depths of despair, starting out fresh, and blossoming? If so, Rainbow encapsulates spring perfectly.
California - Mr. Bungle (1999)
It might be a while before we come across a band as shamelessly and brilliantly eclectic as Mr. Bungle ever again. They experimented with heavy metal, ska, funk, doo-wop, disco and avant-garde jazz, and this bold blending of styles culminates to an otherworldly peak in California, the band’s final album before they disbanded. California is a ride through the sunshine, then it’s an expedition through wind and rain; it’s an ever-changing entity within itself. It opens with “Sweet Charity,” a bluesy number with ragtime piano motifs and trembling basslines. “Retrovertigo” is a haunting ballad that swells and grows with sadness, before coming back down like a shuddering sigh. “Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy” is something that I can only describe as the funk music that robots will dance to when they take us over in the apocalypse. Every song on this album has a personality, like they are different characters in a movie with monologues that they are crooning, screeching and humming to you. Most of California’s stunning versatility and variety in textures and moods is thanks to vocalist Mike Patton, who demonstrates his famous vocal range (the widest in all popular music) and ability to shapeshift his voice. He shines brightest in “Pink Cigarette” and “Vanity Fair,” dreamy jazz-like numbers that see him go so low that his voice buzzes in the back of your head, but also soar above you like a wisp of a cloud. California’s role as a “Springtime album” doesn’t seem to be obvious nor apparent, but I’d argue that it reflects the new beginnings, new experiences and new relationships that spring up during this season of unpredictable change. This album reminds you of a road trip with the top down, a night spent with a half-empty bottle of wine and a friend to listen to your grievings, the first time you saw blooming flowers out in your yard after the hardest winter of your life.