The first full day of (official) summer deserves a suitable soundtrack, and Havana Swim Club‘s self-titled debut album fits the bill. A sampledelic blend of tropicana, disco, soul and lounge, Havana Swim Club is this year’s Perfect Summer Album. Not every year has one; the last two were Botany’s End the Summertime (For) Ever (2020) and Somni’s Bloom (2018). These albums sound best in the car on the way to the beach, or blasting from a boom box by the side of a pool. The particular advantage of Havana Swim Club is that it arrives just as we are reemerging from our homes, primed for adventures on water and sand; the others were released in August and September, just as things were winding down. The timeless nature of the music ~ drawn from the storied legacies of dance, funk and A.M. radio ~ fits the mood of the past year, as we dove into our musical archives to bathe in the comfort of nostalgia. Havana Swim Club’s samples seem familiar, yet uncommon; one imagines having heard these snippets before, but none is so above ground as to cause name brand recognition, save for The Count (“1,2,3,4”).
Three of the first four tracks were released as singles before the album dropped; but the set is so strong that any one of the thirteen tracks could have served that purpose. This being said, it’s best to just let the tape unspool. The album creates a mood of promise and possibility, the Dr. Strange-like cover image set before a rainbow, a suggestion of the surreal along with the wonder of the sky. “Lagoon” begins with big band, suggesting an old Hollywood film, before the jazz licks steer into confident beats. “Hey, what’s happening, brother? How you been?” The greeting seems different in the post-pandemic age, as we greet our friends and relatives for the first time in over a year.
Surprisingly, the artist, known to his family as Dan Koch, hails from Seattle ~ the cold and rainy enclave of the Pacific Northwest. Enduring cloudy day after cloudy day, he dreams of San Diego, Hawai’i, Havana, and brings such dreams to life. The joyful “Yeah” is sprinkled with a supremely danceable funk bass and ebuillient “ahs” and “yeahs”. One remembers flare pants and tall suede boots. In contrast, “Nature” sounds like flamenco dancers in a supermarket, chopping celery. Where else will one find vegetables for those fine summer cocktails?
The vibe continues late into the set, whose second half is just as solid as its first. “Slower” plays with tempo and contrast, demonstrating great attention to stereo separation. “Jubilee” pumps up the disco with onomatopoeic vocals that may be Earth, Wind & Fire, or at least from that era. And the concluding “Sunset” winds the album down on a satisfying note, like watching the watercolor sky before packing up the beach chairs. We’ll be playing this one all summer. (Richard Allen)