Whatever your favorite summertime activity -- rollerblading, the beach, or taking a long drive with the windows down -- a good soundtrack makes it better. But though carefree summer days seem inseparable from the year's hits, most albums come out in the spring -- paving the way for summer touring -- or in the fall, when school starts and everyone begins hunkering down for winter.
This year's schedule is dotted with intriguing question marks. The Pixies are back in the studio for the first time in years, as are the Who, Roxy Music, Portishead, and Happy Mondays, and a rich catalog of indie releases are scheduled for the final quarter (the Shins, Arcade Fire, the Killers, Robert Pollard, the Wrens, the Blood Brothers, Yo La Tengo, Ted Leo, Feist, !!!). But a number of highly anticipated works will premiere this summer.
By the end of May, we'll have new albums by the Raconteurs, featuring Detroit denizens Jack White, Brendan Benson, and the Greenhornes' rhythm section, '80s underground punk heroes Mission of Burma, and Art Brut, a terrific British post-punk act making its American debut. (Be sure to check out the ode to musicians' overweening egos, "We Formed a Band").
June brings new albums by local heroes Chimaira and Mushroomhead. Hed Pe and Head Automatica -- the odd combination of producer-DJ extraordinaire Dan the Automator and Glassjaw singer-guitarist Darryl Palumbo -- are also on the docket for the first week of June. Vet Shadows Fall unveils its massive new disc, Fallout From the War, June 13. On the same day, challenging up-and-comer Between the Buried and Me drops its second album of prog-inflected metal, The Anatomy Of. June also marks the return of old-school rappers Kool Keith and Ice Cube. Keith reverts to his outsized persona, Dr. Octagon, on The Return of Dr. Octagon, while Ice Cube takes time off from making Friday movies long enough to deliver his first album in six years, Laugh Now, Cry Later.
July signals the arrival of The Shining, the second posthumous album from J Dilla, who died in February. Donuts, the collection of instrumental tracks that came out days before his death, is good. A third (and final?) album, Jay Love Japan, is supposed to premiere before the year's end.
As with much of this summer's music, the most tantalizing rap albums are without release dates. DMX must be struggling against his chain by now, as his sixth solo album, delayed by his jump from Def Jam to Sony -- and allegedly completely reproduced -- is still without a firm date more than a year after its initial street date. Also without a date is the much-discussed collaboration between Ghostface Killah (whose Fishscale may be the year's best hip-hop album) and veteran producer MF Doom, titled Swift & Changeable. A new OutKast album is due in July or August, and a yet-untitled 50 Cent album is expected sometime this summer.
The rock underground's black-clad legions have a new AFI album on the way, Decemberunderground, the follow-up to the group's generally well-received major-label debut, Sing the Sorrow. It comes out June 6, a week before the new album from the Futureheads, the more melodic, Jam-like British cousins of Franz Ferdinand. Anglophiles can also get the U.K. import of Riot City Blues, the new album from acid-rockers Primal Scream, though there isn't a U.S. release date yet. Folktronic guru Four Tet has a new disc, DJ Kicks, due at the end of June, and the similarly iconoclastic Cex puts out Actual Fucking in July. Knowing Cex's Ryan Kidwell, the disc may present just what the title promises. After all, Kidwell recently married Roby Newton, Milemarker's sexy former keyboardist. Speaking of sexy, put on your beer goggles, because Peaches is back in July with Impeach My Bush. (We'll pass, thanks.)
Rock enthusiasts can look for a new album from Audioslave, tentatively titled Revelations, at the end of June. Reports are of a funkier vibe that crosses Led Zeppelin and Earth, Wind & Fire. Mars Volta and Sparta, both remnants of the breakup of At the Drive-In, have albums due later this year as well.
Perhaps the most exciting news of the summer is the return of the New York Dolls. The Dolls' last album, forged at the intersection of glam and punk, came out 30 years ago. But July's release of One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This is the perfect prelude to next year's highly anticipated release by those other reformed punk grandfathers, the Stooges. Perhaps the Dolls can give Good Charlotte some pointers on makeup application -- or maybe the drowned-raccoon look was intentional. The punk-poppers' fourth album is due in July.
Other releases anticipated for sometime this year include new albums from the Cure, New York shoegazers extraordinaire Ambulance Ltd. , electronic Brit-poppers Kasabian, indie/post-rock experimentalists TV on the Radio, and hot punk-chick posse the Donnas.