Following an outlandish spoken word collaboration with visual artist David Shrigley and a pair of quirky instrumental releases as Human Don't Be Angry, Scotland's Malcolm Middleton returns with his first proper solo album since 2009's Waxing Gibbous. Much has changed for the former Arab Strap member in the seven years since donning the "Red Travellin' Socks" of that folkier outing, most notably the dramatic electro makeover that informs most of Summer of '13. Recorded at the Clocktower in Fife with the aid of Glaswegian producer Miaoux Miaoux, Summer of '13 pits the wry gloom of Middleton's earlier, more organic work against shimmering synths and bright EDM beats. For the most part, the gambit is a success and, with a little help from Fife troublemaker Lone Pigeon (Beta Band, the Aliens) and First Aid Kit drummer Scott Simpson, he's landed on a sound that suits his mix of downbeat humor and warm sensitivity. Inspiring opener "Steps" lays out Middleton's colorful new plumage to great effect, as does the epic title track, whose verses make clever melodic nods to the aforementioned "Red Travellin' Socks" single before devolving into a wash of cacophonous ambience and digitally manipulated strumming. The low-key "Like John Lennon Said" puts a unique twist on the sentiments of the late Beatle's "Imagine" while showing off Middleton's knack for warm, tuneful pop. "Music Ticks" is another highlight, though at five minutes, it hangs around a little too long, and the same could be said for a number of other tracks whose ample length tests listeners' patience. For all his creativity, Middleton could have used an editor to better distill Summer of '13 to its most essential elements. For all Miaoux Miaoux brings to the table as a producer, brevity is apparently not a great concern. Should Middleton choose to remain in synth mode for a while, there is undoubtedly a great album to be made, and hints of it can be heard here.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger