It’s been awhile since one summer produced so many compelling works from seminal artists who command respect in their fields. And whether you’re talking established vets or fresh new faces pushing the musical envelope, it’s been exceedingly hard to throw a rock into a record store and not hit a jaw-dropping exercise. So kick back while we take a look at three of the best releases so far this sweltering season:


Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots:

Their seminal album, The Soft Bulletin, is one of alternative music’s top releases of all time. Their thirst for innovation has motivated them to compose symphonies of sound to be played, like their amazing Zaireeka, on four simultaneous discs or, like the Boombox Experiments, on portable stereos. So it is only fitting that the newest Flaming Lips release in three years is filled with out-of-this-world noises, angelic harmonies, meditations on death, life, science fiction and everything in between. Once lauded as the loudest band of all time, 2002’s Flaming Lips have dialed back the sturm-und-drang and exchanged it for pure atmosphere on tracks like the surreal “Are You a Hypnotist?”, the addictive downstrum of “Do You Realize?” or the catchy “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell”. The Flaming Lips worst stuff is usually better than most of American music’s finest, which makes the amazing Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots one of the new millennium’s instant classics.


Sonic Youth, Murray Street:

Named for everything from the New York street where an engine from one of the planes that attacked the World Trade Center landed to the birthplace of Lionel Trains -- as well as the location of their own studio -- Murray Street is Sonic Youth’s well-received return to the compact songcraft left behind on their previous releases, A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts and Flowers. Filled with haunting exercises in aural soundscaping, Murray Street keeps the volume low but the standards high. Witness the creepy guitar howls in “Disconnection Notice”, the anti-ageist rant in “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style”, or the rumination on isolation in “The Empty Page”, and the revelation that Sonic Youth has become one of independent music’s -- regardless of which label they’re on -- most reliable and refreshing acts is not far behind.


DJ Shadow, Private Press:

Although Josh Davis started out a deck expert in the underground hip-hop scene in -- of all places -- rural Davis, CA, he immediately became one of the most respected sonic alchemists of the ‘90s upon the release of his first album, Endtroducing, in 1996. A spaced-out foray into found sound and addictive rhythm, Endtroducing filled his plate with so many projects that it wasn’t until this year that his long-awaited follow-up hit the shelves. And what a follow-up. From the atmospheric thump of “Fixed Income”, the apocalyptic lilt of “Six Days” to the addictive braggadocio of “Walkie Talkie”, the mysterious DJ Shadow’s Private Press is an entertaining entry into his already substantial list of accomplishments. And it’s not just for hip-hop heads, either -- Shadow’s music is true cross-generational, genre-busting artistry deserving of a listen no matter your taste, race or style.

© Melt Magazine 2002