20 albums to soundtrack the perfect summer solstice

The time has come around once again when summer solstice brings with it the longest day and a stratosphere of opportunities, social ritual and prolonged reflection. Whether you spend the day strolling the coast, exploring the concrete playground of the city, or pondering the movements of time and space, everyone needs a soundtrack.

With that in mind, Far Out has come up with a compilation of 20 must have albums that can provide the perfect backdrop to the journey earth takes over the 24 hours when it is at its brightest. Some are bonafide classics, others cult sensations, the rest simply fit the vibe. So get yourself out into the open, kick back, and enjoy a feast of sun-drenched soundscapes.

Neil Young – On the Beach

The ultimate album for basking in the afternoon rays, cruising down picturesque coastlines and walking endless sands.

Neil Young’s sixth album is occasionally overlooked in favour of powerhouses like Harvest and After The Goldrush. However, it is perhaps the best example of the planet’s greatest ever songwriter laying himself on the line and producing timeless rock ‘n’ roll, anchored by a collection of effortless pop hooks. An essential fixture of the longest afternoon of the year.

Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Time to leave the pleasantries of our fine earth and explore the aligning of the stars and planets that combine to bring us the brightest day of the year. There’s surely no better way of soundtracking the journey than rejoicing in the psychedelic masterpiece that is Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.

What came from the swollen heart of frontman Jason Pierce turned into an unbridled piece of sonic expansion, using gospel-style vocals and soaring orchestral interludes to catapult us into the sun’s atmosphere. The process of making this record might sound like it was borne out of pain, but the result is absolute rejoice for the listener.

Massive Attack vs Mad Professor – No Protection

When esteemed dub producer Mad Professor turned his attention to the mid-90s back catalogue of Bristol’s greatest trip-hop exponents Massive Attack, the fruits of his labour were stunning. He took trademarks like ‘Protection’, ‘Karmacoma’ and ‘Sly’ and reworked them with extra weight, intensity and otherworldliness. Worthy of providing the beating heart to a summer solstice full of life, satisfaction and late night celebration.

Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit

It’s almost blasphemous to hold a summertime party without throwing a bit of afrobeat into the mix, and Fela Kuti’s twelfth LP is perhaps the genre’s most iconic release. Comprised of just one extended track on each side, it brings traditional African instrumentation together with a radical lyrical approach.

Littered with tangents, off-the-cuff solos and full-on freak outs, the album is anchored with a pulsating rhythm that seems to just build, build some more, and then explode in a ball of fire fit for the height of summer.

The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole

The Chemical Brothers launched their career amid rave culture, at a time when electronic music was still a pursuit enjoyed outdoors, under the setting of the summer sun. Anyone was invited with no maximum capacity. You brought your own fun, and the party only ended when the skies decided it was time to pack up.

Dig Your Own Hole was one of the trailblazers in bringing these high-octane, beat-heavy assaults from maligned subculture to the mainstream – proving that even those who had previously given ecstasy culture the swerve could set their midsummer parties alight just by pressing play.

Hawkwind – Space Ritual

Perhaps one of the more surprising inclusions on the list at first glance, Hawkwind’s 1973 masterpiece actually couldn’t be any more apt. The brand of twisted and powerful space-rock that characterised their early work goes hand-in-hand with the Pagan mysticism responsible for the biggest and boldest solstice celebrations.

Guided by Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister before he jumped ship to form Motorhead and avoid the impending doom of the prog movement, Hawkwind were the bastard children of rock. They tore up and reinvented the shine of the flower power generation a good few years before punk arrived to spit and snarl its way back to reality.

Sun Ra Arkestra – Nuclear War

Sifting through the enormous back catalogue of one history’s most prolific and eccentric artists is like trying trying find the most luminous of golden needles within a haystack of exquisitely woven acid jazz staples. Sun Ra’s 1982 record Nuclear War was considered as his warped attempt at an assault the mainstream – one which was probably always destined to fail.

However, the accessibility of its title track, with its call and response “nuclear war, it’s a motherfucker”, and the woozy nature of the avant guarde jams and irregular beats that follow  make this an apt, if a little unsettling, way to get lost in the sunshine.

Beach House – Teen Dream

It’s not all about the oldies. Baltimore duo Beach House found themselves in their element when recording 2010’s Teen Dream. This collection of strung-out and enchanting pop songs paints pictures that transport us to the basking coast and then throw us to heights of the skies.

The sun-drenched melodies provided by Victoria Legrand are defined by a warmness and mystery that are the perfect remedy after the taxing winter months. The album’s opener ‘Zebra’ depicts the majestic in the scorching North African savannah, while ‘Walk in the Park’ brings to life a solstice afternoon spent closer to home.

Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf

A scorcher of a record from start to finish. Songs For The Deaf was a snapshot in time where the former talents of Kyuss, Nirvana and Screaming Trees came together to create one of the most searing rock albums of the 21st Century.

Based on a concept borne out of Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri’s misspent youths travelling out to the Californian desert for late-night generator parties, it was a brutal slap in the face for those that thought heavy rock had become something gimmicky and contrived. Anyone not fancying the chilled out approach to summer solstice this year needn’t look any further than Homme, Oliveri, Lanegan and Grohl to instantly inject a shot of energy into proceedings.

Roots Manuva – Dub Come Save Me

Not content with releasing the greatest ever hip-hop album made on UK soil in the shape of 2001’s Run Come Save Me, Rodney Smith went one step further. He teamed up with genius like Riddla and Jurassic 5’s Charli 2na to release a dub version that is worthy of rocking the foundations at any house party in the northern hemisphere this summer solstice.

Surefire highlights include the closer, a vibed-out rework of trademark hit ‘Witness (1 Hope)’ and the electronic bounce of the SFA Dub rendition of ‘Dreamy Days’, the Brixton rapper’s ode the joys of summer sunshine.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

A band whose performances have always lended themselves perfectly to the open air, The Flaming Lips produced what is generally considered as their best record in 2002. That year they also took part in the the appropriately titled Unlimited Sunshine tour with the likes of modest Mouse and Cake.

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots delved into electronica and voyaged further into space-rock than the Oklahoma band had done previously, but simultaneously delivered mainstream success. An example of how the perfect balance infectious accessibility and sonic exploration can be complemented only by a flawless sunset.

Bonobo – Black Sands

Another trip to the not-so-distant past. Simon Green aka Bonobo has spent the last decade building a reputation for making electronic music that is more humanistic and tangible than ever before. Taking influence from jazz, hip-hop, R&B and soul, Black Sands is a collage of sounds that provides inspiration to pack everything you desire into the longest day of the year.

The soothing vocals of Andreya Triana play a more than prominent role in convincing us that while standing side-by-side with universe’s brightest star, there can be no threat of our usual everyday worries.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory

Although it’s not as overtly summery as the release of 3 Feet High And Rising by their contemporaries De la Soul two years earlier, The Low End Theory stands up as one of hip-hop’s finest ever LPs. It’s sound was one that bucked the trend, sticking to a laidback approach that keeps the listener comfortable – ideal for a lazy summer solstice.

It is still one of the finest examples of a rap record that uses intelligence and pragmatic engagement to get its point across – shying away from the more aggressive delivery that some who are less partial to the genre believe to be part and parcel. Whether it’s the undeniably catchy jazz loop on ‘Buggin’ Out’ or the meandering verses on ‘Vibes and Stuff’, this album has something for every possible solstice celebration.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

The mid-00s played host to a revival of the electro pop that came 20 years earlier with some pretty horrific outcomes (Hadouken! or Shitdisco anyone? Nah, didn’t think so). But one act that rose head and shoulders above the rest was LCD Soundsystem – using the present day New York art scene as inspiration, as opposed to a pack of glow sticks from the pound shop.

Creator James Murphy packed it in before the project had the chance to become contrived and his second LP Sound Of Silver showcased ten tracks that lived and breathed summertime in the big apple. Most notably, the eight-minute epic ‘All My Friends’ told the tale of a night out that felt like it was never going to come to an end. “Set controls for the heart of the sun”, he cried – there’s little suggestion that this record was ever going to end up anywhere else.

Primal Scream – Screamadelica

It’s an album that seems to find its way into any compilation of top LPs and despite trying our hardest to resist, there’s just no way Screamadelica cannot be included as part of the soundtrack to the ultimate midsummer’s night. The album saw Primal Scream break free from the shackles of their rock ‘n’ roll roots and embark on a journey that immersed itself in the hazy acid house scene of the late 80s and early 90s.

This is an album that is defined by epiphanies and changes of outlook – the kinds that can only occur when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Organic and enthralling production from the likes of Andrew Weatherall and The Orb helped in no small part to make this one of the defining releases of its generation.

Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

There are few who have ever really got to the bottom of what goes on in Richard D James’ head. Before he hit the headlines for parody rap videos and super-imposing his own face onto OAPs, Aphex Twin was busy absorbing the atmosphere of a quaint and picturesque, yet inquisitive upbringing in rural Cornwall.

If the dates of his Selected Ambient Works match up then he was already using this muse to create some of the most forward-thinking electronica of all time from the age of 13. Offerings like the opener ‘Xtal’ and ‘Heliosphan’ should be part of any essential soundtrack for a solstice celebration out in the sticks. A secret ingredient to bringing evening time in the countryside to life, despite being nearly three decades old.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

Let’s face it, Led Zeppelin’s debut could pretty much provide the perfect soundtrack to any occasion. They took blues-rock and gave it a harder edge, changing the game and paving the way for hundreds of other bands to follow them.

As soon as the first riff of ‘Good Times Bad Times’ strikes up, there’s a feeling of uplift and warmness that is fit to do anyone’s summer solstice justice. And for a representation of losing your mind beneath the gaze of the searing heat, you needn’t look beyond the longing cries of Robert Plant during ‘Dazed and Confused’. Perhaps not the first of the band’s records that comes to mind for this list, but rest assured it will set your solstice party off with a bang.

The Bees – Sunshine Hit Me

Surely one of the most underrated British bands of the last 15 years, The Bees treated us to an absolute stunner when they unveiled their debut Sunshine Hit Me in 2002. The record took influence from reggae, soul, jazz and funk, presenting an indie sound more textured than most of their contemporaries.

It still sounds as fresh today as it did then, with standouts like ‘Angryman’ and ‘Sweet Like A Champion’ nestling in amongst an English reworking of Os Mutantes’ ‘A Minha Menina’. If you’ve got a wind-down planned for your summer solstice, this is an ideal way to initiate the chillout.

The Beta Band – The Three EPs

Although it’s unlikely we’ll see Steve Mason and The Beta Band back on stage together any time soon, we still have the memories, and this trio of short-length releases remains the best example of the Edinburgh band at the height of their powers.

Kicking off with trademark hit ‘Dry the Rain’, the record immediately sets up the listener for a day spent lazing under the rays. As it goes on, looped interludes, electronic cameos and some downright catchy choruses mean this is still one of the quintessential albums for a sun-drenched afternoon.

Television  – Marquee Moon

Unfortunately, even the longest day must come to an end. Once the sun clocks off and bids us farewell after its lengthiest shift of the year, the natural satellite of the moon replaces it, offering one last chance to immerse ourselves in music before bed.

Television’s Marquee Moon is still as much of an engaging and pioneering listen as it was in 1977. The album’s thrilling ten-minute title track proved that punk music has never been, and perhaps will never be, as creative as this again.

This is how Far Out will be enjoying summer solstice 2014. Why not help our celebrations burn even brighter by giving us your suggestions?…

Patrick Davies

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