Listen to the Youtube playlist “Songs For Your Summer” while you read the article:
If you’re anywhere close to my age, you probably remember when that song Santana wrote for a dude from a band called Twenty Matchbooks or something was so ubiquitous that there pretty much was no other music? You couldn’t hide from it. When you got sick of hearing it played on repeat at expected places like block parties and college bars, maybe you retreated to the streets of your local ghetto and found its bass line bumping nauseatingly from the trunk-installed sub woofer of a passing Escalade, maybe you visited your favorite burnt-out uncle in the suburbs and found him sitting on his back deck with the CD playing for he and his twelve year old golden retriever. Well, apparently there’s this phenomenon of a song being labeled “The Song of the Summer,” as I learned from this interesting article by Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight last year. Record companies and pop artists spend tons of time and money trying to create or identify, and then promote, a song they hope will dominate the sunny season. While I found his analysis fascinating, I was a little troubled by the fact that all the Songs of the Summer of the past fifteen years or more completely suck (that includes 2013 contender “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk – I publicly declare that I don’t really like Daft Punk). So I thought I’d do myself, and potentially you, a favor and suggest a handful of alternative summer songs we can plug into our headphones to drown out whatever abominations we’ll be aurally accosted with in the coming months.
- “Shake,” Cy Dune, 2014
Cy Dune is the side project of Akron/Family frontman Seth Olinsky, and the title track of his first solo record calls back to a time when rock music was new and poodle-skirted teenagers completely lost their shit dancing to it. “Shake your body/Shake your bones/That’s the spirit of rock and roll,” Olinsky screams over a rapid-fire beat and a gut-churning riff that gets inside your chest and fills you with kenetic energy. The rhythmic bombast evokes his onetime producer Michael Gira’s work with Swans, but his tinny, jerky lead is more Chuck Berry shuffle than noise rock. The sound is so powerful and filled with so much joy, I think it’s the perfect way to let go, lose control, and dance yourself sweaty on a summer night.
- “Coffee,” Sylvan Esso, 2014
Last year I told you about Mountain Man, a group that features the sweet harmonies and sensual songwriting of three young women from Vermont. One of those ladies, Amelia Randall Meath, has now partnered with producer Nick Sanborn to form Sylvan Esso, a project that combines her folky melodies with his synthesizers and dance beats. The second single off their self-titled album is “Coffee,” a slyly sexy song about the ritual of partner dancing. Sanborn creates a subtly infectious, bass-heavy sound that seems like a highly-evolved descendant of Emperor Tomato Ketchup-era Stereolab. Meath’s rhythmically chanted lyrics, enhanced by her uniquely stylized phrasings and delicate vocal nuances, are a declaration that smart, feminist girls love to get their dance on too. “Coffee” is just the sort of thing I wish the DJs at clubs were playing when it’s too warm outside to sleep.
- “It All Feels Right,” Washed Out, 2013
Washed Out is the stage name of singer and composer Ernest Greene, who may or may not be in the process of pioneering a new sub-genre of pop music with his creative use of cheap music software, outdated synthesizers, and vintage beat machines. His music sounds like the ideal stuff for a shy kid to dance to alone in his bedroom, probably because it was made by a shy kid alone in his bedroom. “It All Feels Right,” off his 2013 album Paracosm, is a cacophony of ambient, percussive sounds layered over a simple, distorted drum beat. Greene’s signature lazy singing style sounds like it has been refracted in the summer heat as he drones: “Call your friends/I’ll call mine/We’ll head out for a long ride/Sun is coming out now/It all feels right.” When the tune dissolves into the chatter and laughter of anonymous voices, I am transported back to my childhood, a little sick from too much ice cream, watching from a bench while the other kids run on the playground.
- “Sun Song,” Laura Veirs, 2013
In fifteen-plus years as a singer-songwriter, Laura Veirs’ music has become synonymous with the DIY aesthetic of her home in Portland, Oregon (she releases her music on her own label, and her husband Tucker Martine serves as producer). Her songs are often closely connected with nature, and “Sun Song,” track one of her 2013 album The Warp and the Weft, evokes a kind of summer that will seem familiar to residents of the Northwest: “First rays of light are coming through/Been seven months since I saw that much blue/Water rushing in the banks/Freed from the ice it has the sun, the sun to thank.” I love walking on nature trails when the weather gets warm, and a feeling of gratitude toward the sun for making that possible is something I can really relate to. Veirs fragile, dreamy voice plays with Martine’s droning electric slide guitar in a wistful, simple celebration of the big fireball in the sky.
- “One of Those Summer Days,” Rhye, 2013
I often tend to think about summer in terms of its intense demands — how it insists that I keep hiking until I reach the top of the mountain, or reminds me how shockingly gorgeous other people’s bodies are. But Rhye’s song “One of Those Summer Days,” from the group’s 2013 debut album, reminds me of another aspect of the season: how effortlessly beautiful and comfortable it can be. Miles Milosh’s soft, exotic voice croons, “It’s one of those pretty summer, summer days/I wish you could see it/Just a tiny one/Come this way.” The lyrics do nothing to define what makes a summer day pretty, they invite the listener to do that for themselves. I’ve never liked what I’d describe as a lush saxophone sound so much, but it’s appropriate. The most gratuitously lush of instruments and the most gratuitously lush time of year.
Got your own five summer songs? Please leave them in the comments section below.