This Ordinary Stardust, by Alan Townsend

This Ordinary Stardust, by Alan Townsend (Grand Central Publishing, 261 pages)

The most nourishing soil in the world, Alan Townsend writes, starts with disaster:

“Pyroclastic explosions of ash and lava slam into hillsides and streams, obliterating trees and boiling fish alive in their water. Or massive glaciers suddenly pulverize everything in their path … then unleash a catastrophic flood for good measure. The aftermath is a horror — a moonscape of ruin. It is also a beginning.”

That’s all well and good when talking about geological processes, but what of more personal kinds of disasters, the kind that explode your life, as when both your wife and your 4-year-old daughter get diagnosed with brain cancer within the same year?

Townsend, a tattooed scientist and dean of the college of forestry and conservation at the University of Montana, is much too intelligent to offer platitudes in such a situation. This Ordinary Stardust is no ordinary memoir of a health crisis, as Townsend and his wife, Diana, are no ordinary people.

They are both brilliant scientists who have traveled extensively doing interesting work — when we meet Townsend he’s doing research in the Amazon on how to prevent deforestation, Diana is planning an excursion to collect bacterial samples in Antarctica when she gets sick.

But with the twin diagnoses, the couple is thrust into the strangest world yet, going from the world of the healthy to the world of the sick with frightening speed.

Little Neva’s diagnosis came first, and Townsend writes movingly of how hard it is to watch your child endure MRIs and IVs and CT scans at Colorado Children’s Hospital. At one point, her parents take Neva to a hospital cafe for ice cream, and the child asks if she can have more. “Hell yes, I thought,” Townsend writes. The child, like her parents, is stoic and tough, and a scene where Diana takes a team of residents and medical students to task for their callous treatment of Neva is a Tiger Mother master class in assertiveness.

Diana brings the same defiance to her own treatment. We already know the kind of woman she is from a story Townsend tells about how she badly injured her ankle while the two of them were running on a trail together in Costa Rica, where they were working. The next evening, though her ankle was still badly swollen, Townsend found her wrapping the ankle with strips of an old T-shirt and duct tape. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Going running,” she replied. He writes, “She had a look that challenged me to say more.”

This is also a woman, as Townsend says, who “couldn’t stop talking about bacteria,” who loved science so much that it was all she wanted to talk about on their runs.

When Diana starts having strange symptoms and is ultimately diagnosed with two tumors in her brain, she grumbles that they’d better not stop her going on her expedition to Antarctica the next year. She continues to run throughout her treatment, and even wins her age division in a road race. But glioblastoma is almost always deadly; just 5 percent of patients survive five years. It is not a spoiler to say that Diana is not among the 5 percent since the book jacket blurb reveals that she dies. By this point, we love her as much as her husband does, and the story of her passing is gut-wrenching, but also oddly beautiful.

Townsend writes the book at his wife’s request — she wanted others to learn from their story — and although he confesses up front that he is not a Christian or a church-goer, the story is wrapped in spiritual themes. Science, he writes, can nurture the soul; it offers hope “that life on earth can make its way through the eye of any needle, that our individual choices matter, and that love can bring us back from the brink of annihilation.”

He does not address any issues related to the possibility of an afterlife except in terms related to the title. It’s said that our physical bodies are composed of primordial atoms, elements formed in stars and possibly dating to the Big Bang. Townsend has been fascinated with this idea since he heard a professor talk about how we exchange this “stardust” with each other continually.

“When viewed in our most elemental form, people are trillions of outer-space atoms, moving around temporarily as one, sensing and seeing and falling in love. Then those atoms scatter, joining one new team for a bit, then another. Far from depressing,” he writes. In other words, we might only exist in this form for a short time, but “No matter what happens, we’re still here. And we will always be.”

That’s a far cry from the eternal life promised by some religions, but is still, as he writes, “profoundly comforting.” Grief can co-exist with wonder, Townsend finds on his family’s journey, and his memoir is both poignant and thought-provoking. B+

Album Reviews 24/07/18

Phish, Evolve (JEMP Records)

If you’ve ever read this column for comprehension, you know that I detest fedora-hat bands in general and jam bands in particular, but I’ve had a change of heart of late. This happened after I discovered that my favorite acid-jazz-fusion wingnuts Weather Report took in a lot of guys from Frank Zappa’s bands, which caused me to reassess my prejudgments about Zappa (most of which were based on listening experiences). No, I’m not saying the Mothers or Weather Report were jam bands, but they incorporated extended stretches of improvisation in their tunes, and since I’m looking to expand my listening sphere I figured I’d see what’s going on right now with this Vermont crew of Grateful Dead lampreys (no, I will never give the Dead another chance, no worries). In brief: This LP is, of course, about white-guy groove, pseudo-funk in desperate need of a jolt from cardiac paddles. “Hey Stranger,” for starters, is a politely bouncing, listenable-enough thing that had me going “OK, OK, I get it” 30 seconds into its uneventful five minutes (the drum sound is good, at least). “Everything’s Right” is 12-count-’em minutes of (I swear) the same tiresome ’70s-blaxploitation beat as “Hey Stranger,” and that’s where I gave up. There’s some decent noodling from guitarist Trey Anastasio, which I’m sure seems highly impressive to people who have no guitar player friends who insist on giving impromptu living room concerts to their unhappily captive audiences. B

IDRIS & Una Rams, “Go Deeper” (Defected Records)

Wow, I’ve been unplugged from the velvet-rope circuit for so long (no thanks to my local Manchvegas music scene — will we ever get a proper dance club in this town or what?) that I wasn’t aware that actor Idris Elba was a DJ of significant note. In fact, his music is, I’m told, dominating the scene, which is just another notch in the belt for the guy, who was voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2018 and starred in such movies as Pacific Rim and Prometheus. OK, granted, anyone, even the sexiest guy in the world, could futz with ProTools and make a dance beat, so what’s so special about this, his latest track? Well, it’s the authenticity, really. Maybe you’re already used to the tribal house of DJs like Oscar G and whatnot, a sound that kept me interested in covering the beachside club beat for a couple of years, but this is definitely a step beyond that. Rams, Elba’s accomplice here, is a Grammy-winner from Makwarela, South Africa, and he adds some thick vocalizing to a track that would have been a bit pedestrian without it. As is, it’s otherworldly and completely immersive. A+


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Like a relentless tsunami of cultural inertia, a fresh storm of music-albums will bum-rush our cockeyed zeitgeist on July 19, scrabbling and shrieking for attention from a citizenry that’s no longer paying any attention whatsoever to “what’s hot” in the milieu, since the only thing that’s generated any mainstream rock ’n’ roll headline activity for months has been people arguing on social media over whether or not Taylor Swift’s last album, Whatever-its-name-who-cares, is a good thing. The weighing-in continues unabated; the other week, Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters told insinuated during a concert that Taylor lip-synchs during her shows, according to assorted media.

Past all that, like I said, there are new albums to deal with this week, including one from mummified ’70s arena-rock band Deep Purple, which uses an actual church organ in their heavy metal tuneage for some reason, don’t ask me why. The title of this new album is =1, which is funny, because =1 has never been recognized as an official internet emoticon like 🙂 or =^). I can guarantee you it’s not, because I asked Google’s “artificial intelligence” if =1 is an emoticon and it told me to go jump in the lake. But whatever, let’s keep in mind that the fellas in Deep Purple are all in their 80s and thus probably all have Earthlink email addresses; let’s just proceed to listen to “Portable Door,” the band’s hot new single! Wow, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Roger Glover and singer Ian Gillan are still here! Ha ha, Gillan looks like Bill Murray does today, but belay all that, ya swabs, this isn’t a bad song at all if you ever liked Deep Purple, like, the main riff does have a pulse. I give it a =) emoticon reaction and want to remind you that Ritchie Blackmore hasn’t been in the band for decades now because he is literally one of the worst people ever born.

• Rapper Childish Gambino initially earned his fame for his tertiary role on the endlessly irritating TV show 30 Rock, do any of you people even remember when network television was relevant, do I really even have to talk about this dude? Fine, whatever, his new album, Bando Stone & The New World, is the soundtrack to an upcoming same-named film. It is the final Childish Gambino album, because Donald Glover (his real name) is as sick of the joke as everyone else and hence he’s retiring the moniker. I don’t know, the movie trailer seems fine, it’s an apocalyptic comedy that I’d watch, and his joke hip-hop songs aren’t any worse than recent serious ones.

Los Campesinos! (remember 15 years ago when indie bands used dumb punctuation in their band names?) are back, with a new LP, All Hell. The single, “kms,” sounds like a drunk Aubrey Plaza singing with Pavement. Yes, it’s literally that awful.

• Finally we have Glass Animals, an English indie band whose 2020 boyband-chillout single “Heat Waves” went viral on TikTok. The guys’ new album I Love You So F***ing Much features the wistful “Creatures in Heaven,” which reads like an Imagine Dragons arena-ballad, not that I’m trying to discourage you.

The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard, by Michael Callahan

The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard, by Michael Callahan (Mariner Books, 293 pages)

The quintessential beach read doesn’t have to have a beach in the title or cover art, but it helps. Just ask Elin Hilderbrand, the queen of beach reads, who recently announced she’s retiring from the genre because she has “run out of really good ideas.” Maybe Michael Callahan can step into the void.

Callahan, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, seems an unlikely author to produce a beach read, but that’s what The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard is, despite its aspiring to be a Gone Girl-like thriller. It checks all the boxes: Island in the title. A beach on the cover. Plucky heroine, “roguish” love interest. Chowdah. Plus dueling timelines that go back and forth between the 1950s and 2018, just to make sure we’re paying attention.

The premise is intriguing enough: Kit O’Neill is a single woman who works for a TV star in Manhattan. After her parents died, she and her older sister were raised by the grandmother they called Nan in a roomy suburban colonial in Westchester County. The young women adored their grandmother and were devastated when she died, but it has fallen to them to clean out her house and ready it for sale, which they are reluctantly doing.

Cleaning out the attic, Kit works through the usual stuff of attics — dusty boxes filled with Christmas ornaments, old curtains and bills, yellowed photographs, all familiar. And then she finds a box full of curious things: a playbill from a 1959 production at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse featuring an actress called Mercy Welles, a couple of matching shells, a prize ribbon, and a photo of her grandmother with her arm around a man that Kit doesn’t recognize.

Intrigued, Kit takes the box downstairs and does a Google search for Mercy Welles — and among the results, she finds an article called “The Strange and Curious Case of Mercy Welles,” which detailed the mysterious disappearance of a Hollywood actress at the start of a promising career. There was a photo of this Mercy Welles: It was Kit’s grandmother, Nan.

Before Kit can recover from the shock, the author swoops us back to May 1959 to meet Mercy, a winsome young woman from the Midwest whose real name was Edith. “She was twenty-six but feared she looked 30. The industry did that to you. With her green eyes, pale skin, and wavy, honey-blond hair, she knew she was objectively pretty. It did little to assuage the paranoia.”

For all her insecurities, Mercy had gone to Los Angeles seeking a career and quickly became a success, getting engaged to a film producer and nominated for an Oscar as a best supporting actress within three years. But things weren’t good with the fiance, and at the suggestion of a friend, she made plans for the two of them to take a short vacation in New England. Mercy knew nothing about Martha’s Vineyard but imagined a week there in spring to be something like a travel brochure: “a fireplace, steaming mugs of cider, soft cashmere sweaters, a walk hand in hand by the water.”

Then she found her fiance at a hotel with another woman. The romantic vacation was off, but Mercy went to Martha’s Vineyard anyway to figure out her next steps. And within days, she had rented a cottage on the island for the entire summer and was befriending the locals.

Back to the future, in 2018, Kit turns investigator, thanks in part to the celebrity journalist she works for, who is intrigued by the story and is fine with Kit taking off to Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Massachusetts to try to unravel the mystery of how her grandmother sneaked out of fame’s glare and took to raising kids in anonymity in Rye, New York.

With some lucky breaks, she tracks down an old roommate of her grandmother’s, with whom Mercy had corresponded while she was in Martha’s Vineyard. (Not only was there no internet, but there was also not even an analogue telephone in her cottage, leading Mercy to write to the friend, “we’ll have to communicate the old-fashioned way, via correspondence. How very Jane Austen it all will be!”)

Then we’re back to Mercy, who was not quite as anonymous as she thought she would be on Martha’s Vineyard, as many of the islanders had seen the film for which she’d earned an Oscar nomination. As her summer unfolds, we learn about those mementos that her granddaughter will eventually find, as she becomes friendly with a gruff oysterman and with a young Black musician and playwright, and eventually becomes entangled in a crime involving the most famous family on the island.

And on it goes, back and forth between young Mercy and young Kit, as the riddles of the story are somewhat blandly unspooled. The author spent time at a writers’ colony on the island, and knows it well — perhaps too well, as at times he seems driven to mention every village and restaurant. Perhaps he plans to do for the Vineyard what Hilderbrand has done for Nantucket.

As beach reads go, The Lost Letters from Martha’s Vineyard does not disappoint, but it does in the places where striving to be something more. B-Jennifer Graham

Album Reviews 24/07/11

The Mystery Lights, Purgatory (Daptone Records)

This Salinas, California,-based band aims for a mid-’60s Kinks and Easybeats-inspired sound, which is evident from the start of this, their fourth album. They’ve been around the block many times, first with a few independently released EPs, and then a single on Daptone’s rock imprint, Wick, in 2015, and that should suffice for the inside baseball nonsense; the upshot is that they could certainly give Black Lips a run for their money, given that they incorporate Howlin’ Wolf, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and (of course) Creedence Clearwater Revival into their unabashedly ’60s-rock chi. Their brains are in their pants, which is admirable these days, at least in my book, starting with album opener “Mighty Fine & All Mine,” with its bouncy and boneheaded two-chord shuffle, just what the doctor ordered. “In The Streets” fuses Gang Of Four angularity with Bon Scott-era AC/DC transgressiveness’ “Sorry I Forgot Your Name” is prehistoric rockabilly the way the Pixies would have built it. Obviously very fun stuff. A

Matt Wilson’s Good Trouble, Good Trouble (Palmetto Records)

Whole lot of fun, this album from jazz drummer Wilson’s new quintet, which features players who, unless I’m mistaken, have all been featured on this page as bandleaders. Wilson likes swing, but it’s also obvious he’s spent a good amount of time digging on more proggy groups like Pat Metheny and whatnot; a lot goes on here. Tia Fuller’s alto sax holds down the upper-middle end of the mix in glorious style, while Dawn Clement’s piano stands just to the right of it, alternately doodling and bonking at the right moments — OK, what I’m saying is that the mix is exquisite and expansive. We’ve talked about clarinetist Jeff Lederer here before of course; here he adds a lot to the complicated but relatable twists and turns, thickening them out in unique and friendly fashion. On “Be That As It May,” Clement adds a vocal that far surpasses the phoned-in performances I hear constantly within this genre. A great one for summer drives. A+


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• July 12 is approaching, like a cat in the night, preparing to steal off with half the summer, we’re already halfway done with it before the winter comes, guys! Adding to my misery is the fact that I need to talk about one album in particular that’s streeting on that date, specifically a new album of caterwauling nonsense from 1990s annoyance Ani DiFranco, titled Unprecedented Sh!t (yes, that’s her actual clever censoring of the title, so much for freedom of speech, folks!). If you can’t tell yet, I am not a fan of Ms. DiFranco, which makes me sort of normal, given that I’m not the only person to have written about her super-annoying music; I could cite articles from Reddit, MetaFilter, ilXor and dozens of others that support my position, but you either already know all about it or you only enjoying listening to annoying music, which means you might like her. She is a nepo baby of sorts, born to a couple of rich MIT grads, but the little ingrate hated being told what to do by her parents, so much so that she left her mom’s apartment in 1985 to become an emancipated child at age 15, does anyone remember that hilarious ’80s trend? Anyhow, despite her being an unemployed teenager, she was somehow able to sell enough Girl Scout cookies to start her own record company, Righteous Babe Records, through which she’s released all of her “art,” including this new album. Oh, well, at least she uses some of her riches to back various grassroots cultural and political organizations, supporting causes ranging from abortion rights to gay visibility, like, at least we know she’s not just another Gwyneth Paltrow or Ghengis Khan. So, if possible, let’s belay all the hating for the moment and go check out the first tune from this album, “Spinning Room,” so we can just move past all this. It’s a gently rolling number, led by a monotonously bonking piano, the beat waxing Beatlesque. A lot of people might actually like this, and I have no control over that.

• El Paso, Texas, is home to dream-pop band Cigarettes After Sex, whose singer, Greg Gonzalez, has a very androgynous voice. The band’s new album, X’s, is on the way to your Soundclouds and whatnot, and I heartily recommend it if you like Portishead, because that’s what the leadoff single “Baby Blue Movie” kind of sounds like, although it’s even more squishy and dream-poppy. Others have used words like “ethereal” and “limerent” to describe this band, so today I learned that “limerent” means holding “romantic feelings for another person, and typically includes intrusive, melancholic thoughts, or tragic concerns for the object of one’s affection.” Usually I just say “hopelessly hormonal,” but you do you.

Cassandra Jenkins is an ambient/folk-pop singing lady from Brooklyn, N.Y. Her new album is My Light, My Destroyer, sounds a bit conflicted, wouldn’t you say? In 2022 she opened for Mitski in a few U.K. shows, which is encouraging; her dooming habit is that she takes way too long between albums. This is only her third in eight years, but forget that, music is more about quality than quantity; the single “Delphinium Blue” is like a cross between Enya and Goldfrapp, anyone who’s normal would probably like it.

• We’ll end the week with a look at an artiste who was talented enough to get on TV. In 2014, while she was a senior in high school, Palo Alto, California,-born singer Remi Wolf appeared as a contestant on American Idol but didn’t win. Her second album, Big Ideas, is slated for a Friday release, and the LP’s first song, “Toro,” is pretty neat, combining Janet Jackson with Ke$ha. It’s OK!

There Was Nothing You Could Do, by Steven Hyden

There Was Nothing You Could Do, by Steven Hyden (Hatchett, 272 pages)

When Steven Hyden was 6 years old, he found a cassette tape in the glove box of his parents’ car and asked his dad to play it. When the sound came through, after precisely nine seconds of silence, it was “my personal ‘big bang’ moment,” Hyden writes. “All these years later, I am still chasing the rush of hearing that titanic BOOM! in my father’s car.”

The artist was Bruce Springsteen; the album Born in The U.S.A., issued 40 years ago this year.

There Was Nothing You Could Do is Hyden’s exegesis of Springsteen’s impact — in Hyden’s own life and in the country, focusing on Springsteen’s best-selling album, released in 1984. The title is a line from the song “My Hometown,” the last single released from “Born in the U.S.A.” The subtitle references “the end of the heartland.” But don’t be scared off by that. While there is some politically tinged commentary, as has always accompanied Springsteen’s work, it’s mostly a book about music.

First and foremost, Hyden is a fan, although his fandom had an inauspicious beginning, coming as it did in childhood. Kids loved Born in the U.S.A. “for the dumbest possible reason — because we heard the songs constantly. That’s all it takes to appeal to little kids,” he writes. “Kids my age weren’t brainwashed, exactly. We were Boss-washed.”

It wasn’t as if that’s all he listened to, however; Hyden’s examination of the Boss-washing of America detours into other culturally significant pop musicians: Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna (all of whom comprise “the big four” of the 1980s); as well as Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. Springsteen, he writes, was something of a combination of the latter two: “… he could move like Elvis and write like Dylan. The pelvis and the brain had been fused into one.”

A critic for the entertainment website Uproxx and the author of previous books on music (Twilight of the Gods and Your Favorite Band is Killing Me), Hyden brings encyclopedic knowledge to the topic, and as such, There Was Nothing You Could Do sometimes reads like an encyclopedia, as when he lists the various iterations of songs that were proposed for Born in the U.S.A. when the album was under development. Herein he runs into a problem: For the Springsteen fanatic — and they are legion — much of this material might induce a yawn.

There’s a lot of material that seems better fit for a blog, such as digressions into the author’s fantasies: what would have happened, say, if Springsteen had drifted from the lane of heartland rock to straight-up country music, or had put out another album in 1985 when Springsteen mania was at its peak. (He even proposes a playlist for this.) And Gen Z might raise a collective eyebrow to Hyden pronouncing Springsteen more of a “national monument than a pop star” at the age of 75. For all of their success, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band never had a No. 1 hit.

Still, despite some vaguely silly asides, Hyden does a good job of explaining the Springsteen phenomenon as he delves into stories that relate specifically to Born in the U.S.A., such as how the “Dancing in the Dark” music video was made, and how it was received.

The video, directed by filmmaker Brian De Palma, shows Springstreen awkwardly dancing at a concert with Friends actress Courteney Cox (relatively unknown at the time). It “undeniably made him more famous in the short run, and it unquestionably made him easier to make fun of in the long run,” Hyden writes. The video has become a popular GIF and “personifies everything that is corny about Bruce Springstreen and almost nothing that is cool about him.”

But it could have been worse, Hyden reveals. In another video that was made and ultimately abandoned, Springsteen “looks like a mime attending a Jazzercise class,” he writes.

Hyden is at his best when he strings together snapshots from Springsteen’s life, from his troubled relationship to his father to the existential struggles that inform so many of his lyrics, and connects them to the singer’s appeal. “If you want to see the emotionally repressed man in your life cry — a stoic father, an unflappable granddad, a weird uncle, an immature brother — send him to a Bruce Springsteen concert,” Hyden writes.

Toward the end, he examines the controversy that erupted from the Super Bowl Jeep commercial that angered both conservatives and liberals in 2021. It was indicative of America’s deep political divide that a commercial inviting Americans to “meet here in the middle” irritated so many people. “‘The Middle’ was designed to please exactly no one,” Hyden writes. “In that way, Bruce did manage to unite red and blue America, ironically, their condemnation of him.”

Hyden did not interview the Boss for this book, although he’s been within 50 feet of him, at a concert where he obtained special press seating. His reporting comes from previously published articles, Springsteen’s autobiography and other books. and so much of this information is already out in the world; this is just an artful rearrangement of music history. For the casual fan, the minutiae might be too much. But Hyden is a skilled wordsmith, and There Was Nothing You Could Do is a surprisingly breezy read, despite the ominous title. It’s a sort of love letter we all might write to our favorite pop star if we had the time and skill. B-

Album Reviews 24/07/04

Category 7, Category 7 (Metal Blade Records)

I’ve mostly avoided covering albums released through the Metal Blade imprint owing to their long history of not paying their bands, but in this case I’ll make an exception, as I assume the members of this group have been around the block enough times to avoid the usual contractual traps. Here we have the first album from this all-star band of thrash oldschoolers, featuring John Bush (Anthrax), Mike Orlando (Adrenaline Mob), Phil Demmel (Machine Head), Jack Gibson (Exodus) and Jason Bittner (Overkill), a group that has its act together for sure in the area of production (this is major-label-level stuff). In the area of tuneage, though, it’s assuredly not anything new. If you’ve heard any of the above-cited bands you know what you’ll be hearing, although the intensity level does get pretty high on songs like “Land I Used To Love” and “Exhausted,” which are both pretty, well, enthusiastic. It’s likable enough. B-

Dye, “Dirt” (Metal Blade Records)

This Los Angeles-based nonbinary singer has accumulated international love from BBC Radio1’s Rock Show w/ Daniel Carter, Australian radio station Triple j, and loads of editorial love at Spotify and Apple. This is their latest goth-pop/shoegaze single, intended for fans of (naturally) Cocteau Twins (their voice is reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser, point of order); by melding both genres, it’s both full of yearning and sonically epic. But wait, there’s more; the tune is also informed by Nirvana grunge, Nine Inch nails goth and dark orchestral flourishes reminiscent of My Chemical Romance, Smashing Pumpkins and such. The sounds sit atop a familiar but innovative New Wave drum beat you’ve heard on hits from artists ranging from Flock Of Seagulls to The Kid Laroi, tabling lyrics “about accepting that not everything broken needs repairing, sometimes it’s best to throw it away.” Cool stuff. A


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Yikes, wait a second, it’s totally, irrevocably summer already, how did this even happen, I’d been anticipating some sort of normal segue, like one last snow-blizzard in May just to remind us all who’s really in charge of all this “New England weather” nonsense! It is summer, definitely, so my drive-time music-listening habits have gone into summer mode with a vengeance: If I have to drive somewhere fast and dangerously, I’ll crank old Kiss albums or Foghat Live, but if I’m just being an old semi-retired dude who’s constantly getting honked at by younglings waiting for me to get the hell out of their way so they can get to their fifth work-shift of the day at Burger King, I’m listening to big-band albums from the 1920s. Those always put me in a good mood, and quite frankly I think our country would be in a lot better shape if those younglings would just get off my lawn and go listen to Ray Noble singing about freckle-faced girls who grew into smokin’ hot babes all the boys wanted to (very respectfully) smooch. But alas, that is not to be, because the only music today’s younglings want to hear is songs about twerking and beefs and being awkward. Sigh, so let’s go look at the list of albums coming out on Friday, July 5, and just try to forget that music was once a good and wholesome thing, with nothing but songs about freckle-faced girls and not about [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] and [TOTALLY 100% DITTO]. Wow fam, not a lot of new albums, because it’s the Fourth of July vacation week, and the record companies know that everyone will be spending all their discretionary funds on fireworks and alcohol instead of albums, which is wise, I’d say. We’ll start this week with Fink, a 51-year-old songwriter/DJ/something-something from England, whose real name is Fin Greenall! Among other career highlights, he co-wrote the song “Half Time” with Amy Winehouse, which is on her posthumous 2011 album Lioness: Hidden Treasures. His new album, Beauty In Your Wake, opens with “So We Find Ourselves,” a slow, pensive tune whose vibe evokes floating around aimlessly on a raft with a freckle-faced girl while her grandpa lazily croons about awkwardness or something. I think it’s relevant to the zeitgeist but I’m not 100 percent sure.

• Hm, look at that, it’s another album by a British act, because the Fourth of July means nothing to those transgressive colonizers, as we ’muricans all know. Yes, it’s none other than former interesting band Kasabian, with their new one, Happenings. The first time I heard them was years ago and I liked them very much, as you may recall from past columns, in this space, but now, I don’t know, maybe not so much. This “slab” opens with “Coming Back To Me Good,” a sunny, peppy, happy-ish mid-tempo jaunt that tells me they’ve been listening to a lot of M83, nothing like the stuff they used to do when they were trying to do hard rock or whatever it was.

• Also on Friday, Kiasmos, a Faroese-Icelandic minimal/experimental techno duo, will release their second LP, mysteriously titled II. This is very listenable stuff, bloopy techno reminiscent of Orbital and that sort of thing

• Finally it’s Kokoko!, an experimental electronic music collective based in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their trip is playing homemade instruments, so of course it’s cool and interesting. Their new album, BUTU, includes a single titled “Mokili,” a ’90s-sounding tune that’s like an Afrobeat-infused Technotronic. It’s pretty fun.

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