10 Essential Spring Albums

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essential spring albums

Last month, Treble celebrated the downpour of April showers with a list dedicated to songs about rain. And we’re following that up with a list that leans more toward the May flowers. Of course, it’s still a little gloomy outside, so maybe it’s just wishful thinking right now, but Spring sprung more than a month ago, and whether or not sunshine and chlorophyll is here to greet us, we’re ready to jump right into the albums that remind us of spring. Music for particular seasons can be a hard to define. It’s almost always a very personal thing, and in the past, when we made our list of favorite winter, summer and autumn albums, it was almost always defined by a kind of intangible feeling. With spring, it’s not much different — we all have our own idea of what spring sounds like, and in our case it involves a lot of major chords, guitar jangle, strings, horns, lush ’80s production and maybe a little ukulele (use sparingly). So we offer our 10 essential spring albums, for reasons that are sometimes personal, sometimes ethereal. Put ’em on, open the windows, and take a deep breath.

spring albums John ColtraneJohn ColtraneGiant Steps
(1960; Atlantic)

Coltrane’s breakout record as a bandleader (and his Atlantic Records debut) finds the young saxophonist planted firmly in the hard bop tradition, a jazz staple of the time, but showing the virtuosic promise that would lead to his eventual route down more experimental paths. The result is perfect for spring: Fun, formulaic and propulsive but with just enough distinct flavor and improvisation to offer a handful of surprises along the way. Because what’s spring without the occasional impromptu rain shower or random attack of pollen-related allergies? But you won’t let those little things ruin your day, will you? No, you’ve got Coltrane, a poncho and an extra large bottle of Claritin; you’re ready to ease back, relax, and take whatever the season throws at you. – ATB

spring albums Kinks Village GreenThe KinksThe Village Green Preservation Society
(1968; Reprise)

Maybe this one’s a little too easy, just because of the use of the word “green” in the name, and the repeated references to the Village Green — a kind of metaphor for innocence and youth — but The Village Green Preservation Society is undeniably representative of the promise of spring, even if through the lens of a more wistful and nostalgic autumn. At the time, the album seemed oddly out of step with the trends of British rock, its title track featuring lyrics about “protecting the old ways from being abused” rather than playing up the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of contemporaries like the Rolling Stones. Yet the album a bright and intricate maze of greenery that both celebrates youth and laments the loss of it, whether it’s in the bittersweet reminiscences of schoolyard mischief in “Do You Remember Walter” or the surprisingly melancholy themes of mortality running underneath the sprightly and manic “People Take Pictures of Each Other.” Everything some day will come to an end, but Spring is a celebration of life, and so is The Village Green Preservation Society. – JT

Prefab Sprout Steve McQueenPrefab SproutSteve McQueen
(1985; CBS/Kitchenware)

The photo on the cover of Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen sure doesn’t look like spring — it’s a foggy, gloomy, very English-looking scene, to be sure. But the music tells an entirely different story. It’s not always cheery, upbeat or gleeful, but Paddy McAloon has a way with writing songs that just sound so effortless and lush, it’s hard not to be transplanted into a lush and verdant scene with your headphones on and eyes closed. One of the true masterpieces of sophisti-pop, Steve McQueen overflows with slick ’80s production, smoothed-out edges and hypnotic balladry. “Bonny” is breezy and gentle. “Appetite” is sumptuous and stunning. And “Goodbye Lucille No. 1” (called “Johnny Johnny” when it was released as a single) makes the transition from a dreamy, layered opening into a textured and soulful chorus. It’s that first breath of outside air after three months of hibernation. – JT

Talk Talk - Colour of SpringTalk TalkColour of Spring
(1986; EMI)

Talk Talk is more of an autumnal band at heart, their twin masterpieces Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock carrying a sort of sophisticated, slightly dark sensibility that only comes with the most highbrow of the seasons. And in some of the most ornate, art-pop moments of their transitional, albeit no less spectacular 1986 album Colour of Spring, there’s certainly a gothic shadow hanging over their intricate arrangements (see: “Living in Another World”). But “Spring” is in the album’s title for a reason, and in a sense this was the rebirth of the band as something much different than the synth-pop outfit that they were in the early half of the ’80s. And in place of those synths are pianos, acoustic guitars, Hammond organ and children’s choirs, altering their sound into something more palpably organic and soulful. History tends to overlook this chapter in the band’s history, but it’s one of the most vibrant, if not an absolute game-changer. – JT

Go Betweens Spring albumsThe Go-Betweens16 Lovers Lane
(1988; Capitol)

The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane isn’t the album that begins with “Spring Rain” (that would be Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express), but their 1988 career-peak is the one that feels the brightest and most vibrant. In contrast to their earlier post-punk records, the sound of 16 Lovers Lane is simultaneously more radio friendly and more ornate. Leadoff track “Love Goes On!” may well be the catchiest song the band ever wrote, and yet in place of a dreamy pop sound, there are traces of flamenco running through its acoustic-heavy college rock. “Streets of Your Town” is the song that sounds most like a drive through actual spring rain (and The Smiths, if we want to bring that up). Even the most post-punk-sounding of the bunch, “Was There Anything I Could Do?” leans less toward the darker side of 4AD and closer to the organic big-music sound of bands like The Waterboys. Grant McLennan and Robert Forster’s lyrics don’t always depict such a rosy picture, the closer you listen, but the music sounds like a celebration. – JT

spring albums magnetic fieldsMagnetic Fields69 Love Songs
(1999; Merge)

An album as long and all-encompassing as Magnetic Fields’ concept triple-album 69 Love Songs is hard to narrow down to just one season. It covers a lot of ground, and reflects all of the various aspects of love, good or bad, joyous or melancholy, slow or upbeat. And yet, there’s something about Stephin Merritt’s songwriting that seems so directly tied to spring, as is the excitement of new love itself. (Spring begins only about a month after Valentine’s Day, after all.) Merritt’s songs are funny (“Chicken with its Head Cut Off”), sad (“Epitaph for my Heart”), clever (“Love Is Like Jazz”) and romantic (“Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing“), and stunningly arranged, even when kept to mostly simple structures. Plus he also makes good use of a ukulele, which is a rare delight in itself. Whether you’re pining, intoxicated by a new love or mourning its loss, pressing play on 69 Love Songs, stepping outside and seeing new life bloom is a great way to enhance the experience. – JT

best belle and sebastian songs dear catastrophe waitressBelle and SebastianDear Catastrophe Waitress
(2003; Rough Trade)

An illustrious, office-based power couple, a wildly discontent restaurant employee and an often-picked-on bookworm named Tony find themselves caught in love and frolic away until they eventually find themselves asleep on a sunbeam. That’s not technically the story arch of Belle and Sebastian Dear Catastrophe Waitress, but it’ll do. For the band’s fifth studio effort (sixth if you count the semi-soundtrack record Storytelling — I don’t), the Glasgow-based indie-pop group decided to focus a little more heavily on the “pop” half of that equation, resulting in a beautiful marriage of the band’s earlier, story-based songwriting and a sixties-pop sheen reminiscent of the more baroque-pop moments of The Beatles’ catalog. It’s an upbeat, sunny affair, with just enough whimsy to carry you away on a delightful spring afternoon. – ATB

spring albums modest mouseModest MouseGood News for People Who Love Bad News
(2004; Epic)

Cynics love the springtime too. After all, is there any better time for Isaac Brock’s sour meditations on death, deception and modern society than when surrounded by the stark contrast of blooming buds and sunny pastures? And, out of all of Modest Mouse’s albums, Good News for People Who Love Bad News is definitely the springiest, diversifying the band’s sound with upbeat horn sections, and a knack for solid, sing-along hooks that was missing from the band’s first several go-rounds. For many listeners, it’s easy to overlook the record as the basic blueprint for the band’s next two efforts — We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and Strangers to Ourselves; efforts which many found to be subpar. But, viewed in its own right, there’s an edgy-yet-accessible beauty to Good News’ Modest Mouse that shows the band at their very best, and you can’t blame Good News if that formation’s winning streak eventually came to an end. After all, would we appreciate spring so much if it never passed? – ATB

Bon_iverBon IverBon Iver
(2011; Jagjaguwar)

Fans of Bon Iver hardly knew what to expect as a follow up to the subdued For Emma, Forever Ago, an album that was written by a despondent Justin Vernon in wintry Wisconsin. While Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, was the musical equivalent of the still after snowfall, Vernon’s self-titled follow-up is the sonic equivalent of the first day of Spring. The record starts out with “Perth,” which starts out with a clean electric riff, followed by an ephemeral wave of harmonies and what sound like marching drums. As the album progresses, it’s hard not to imagine those Planet Earth-style time-lapses of snow melting and flowers blooming. From the hushed energy of “Minnesota, WI,” to the angelic and tender “Holocene,” to anthemic and catchy “Calgary,” to the ’80s ballad vibe of “Beth/Rest,” Bon Iver’s follow up album traded the quiet intimacy of a secluded winter cabin for the bold, and renewed sounds of Spring. – TH

spring albums DaysReal EstateDays
(2011; Domino)

If you want to hear the sound of springtime, listen to the dual guitar jangle of Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile, whose shimmering, clean-tone guitars define the sound of New Jersey indie pop group Real Estate. And those guitars aren’t dissonant or imposing — they just sound really fucking good. Refreshing, even, in a way that guitars — after so many decades of overdoing it — rarely do. They’re like hits of sunshine, and nowhere is that vitamin D fix as nourishing as it is on tracks like the buoyant and catchy “It’s Real” or the fluidly peppy “Easy.” Every so often, Days feels like it could slip into the humid oblivion of summer, but it’s never overbearing or oppressive. It’s always pleasant, and — dare I say it — perfect. – JT

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