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Your Summer Playlist

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Story by jim tobler

Give your musical standbys a rest: let these fresh new releases light up your iPod and laydown the soundtrack to your very own unforgettable summer.

1. Feist – The Reminder (Interscope)

Paris-based, Canadian-born Leslie Feist’s follow-up to her phenomenally successful 2004 album Let It Die has already been hailed as the release that will propel her to superstardom. The New York Times calls The Reminder a “modestly scaled but quietly profound pop gem: sometimes intimate, sometimes exuberant, filled with love songs and hints of mystery.”

2. Rufus Wainwright – Release the Stars (Geffen)

Since his last album in 2005, Canadian Rufus Wainwright has been busy dazzling audiences with his tour-de-force, sold-out tribute concerts to Leonard Cohen and Judy Garland. Now “pop’s risqué Wagner” is back with a new album the Guardian calls “complex, melodramatic, ambitious, vain, beautiful and frequently magnificent.”

3. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch)

The label “alt-country” has never done justice to—or been able to confine—Jeff Tweedy, a Woody Guthrie-influenced balladeer and musical genius (yes, the label fits). Tweedy’s songs on this disc are as wide open as the title implies: offbeat, lyrical, poignant and musically dazzling.

4. Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full (Hear Music)

According to Paul McCartney, his 21st solo album (and his first for Starbucks’ new in-house music label) is “purposely retrospective… evocative, emotional, rocking.” Look for personal reflections from the legendary singer-songwriter about being a kid, growing up in Liverpool, and reminiscences about summers gone.

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5. White Stripes – Icky Thump (Third Man/XL)

Jack and Meg White end their temporary hiatus as a band and roar back with their latest release. To whet everyone’s appetite, the title track was released exclusively on iTunes in April; look for the full CD to drop in August. In true Jack White form, it is guaranteed to surprise as well as rock. The Stripes’ launch their first ever cross-Canada tour this summer with a June 24th date at Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park. Not to be missed.

6. MIA – Kala (Interscope)

Eclectic English-Sri Lankan artist M.I.A’s hotly anticipated follow-up to 2005’s scorching hip-hop/ grime hit album Arular is set for an August release: just in time to thump out of car windows and from the roofs of open cabriolets. Recorded last year in India, Trinidad, New York and London, the set features contributions from Diplo, Timbaland and DJ Switch. Expect this album to make you dance sitting down.

7. Cowboy Junkies – At the End of Paths Taken (Zoe) 

Brother and sister Michael and Margo Timmins lead their legendary Canadian band in its first release of all-original songs in three years. Margo Timmins’ silky, smoky vocals lend each track a whispered intimacy, perfect for songs that tread the edge between hope and longing, loneliness and light.

8. Michael Bublé – Call Me Irresponsible (Warners)

The undisputed king of the new crooners returns with a third album that may be his best to date. Chock full of big, swinging covers, highlights include a smoky cover of Me & Mrs. Jones and a James Bond-style version of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

9. The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (Merge) 

This spring release from the Canadian septet is so rewarding, resonant and inspired that it may just be the CD of the summer, if not the decade. With critics fighting for the few remaining superlatives to describe the band (“monumental,” “triumphant,” “transcendent” and “magical” went first) suffice to say the Arcade Fire are the real deal; and Neon Bible proves that 2004’s international monster hit album Funeral was no accident.

10. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (Republic) 

Called one of the most original voices to emerge in recent years and the finest soul singer of her generation, Amy Winehouse is bursting with talent and originality; Back to Black has already been called a 21st century soul classic. While the theme of the album is brutal breakups, as one critic put it, “who needs love when heartbreak sounds this bloody good?”

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Leslie Feist has once again burst upon the music scene with her stellar new album The Reminder, the follow-up to 2004’s global smash hit Let It Die. The Reminder is instant classic: all hummable melodies and superb musicianship, a glittering showcase for Feist’s uniquely sweet and ethereal voice that can turn gravelly and belt-’emout in an instant.

Caught for a moment before her sold-out performance at the Orpheum Theatre this spring, Feist mused on the differences between recording and performing. “Live performance is so different than the recording process. In the studio, you try to make a definitive photograph of the song, to preserve it that way. On stage, you can have fun, take it anywhere you want to take it.” The Toronto-raised, Paris-based Feist has a particularly honed-edge approach to pop songwriting, although “pop” doesn’t quite capture songs that could easily have been sung by

Frank Sinatra or Nina Simone (whose “Sea Lion Woman” Feist covers, lovingly and boldly, on the current album). The arrangements on The Reminder are sparse, leaving plenty of room for Feist’s voice to expand and explore the songs themselves; the playing is judicious and tasteful, with a seemingly endless series of subtle and appropriate musical embellishments. Her backing vocals are particularly inventive—Feist calls them her “Greek chorus, a call-and-response thing.” The songs on this album are destined to pervade radio playlists everywhere, so even if you don’t download the album you may still find yourself humming tunes like “My Moon, My Man” and the riotously infectious “1234” at stoplights and in elevators. Each tune on the record has its own considerable charm, and the whole marks Leslie Feist as a musical force of the highest order. The Reminder is the work of a truly original artist, one whose pop sensibility is perfect for the sunniest of summer days, yet with whom you feel you could weather any storm.

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