Summer music is a genre unto its own, and can’t be easily qualified or quantified as a particular “type.” But I’ll give it a shot.
Bright, breezy, pop or soul that doesn’t drag you down with burdensome weight. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have some guitar crunch and (maybe) a message. You just don’t want it slapping you upside the head and harshing that sweet beach or pool vibe you’ve got going on.
I’ve written here before about my own early music history, and how much of my taste (and career choices … and romantic history) was likely influenced by spending summers by the community pool in my Summerville, S.C., subdivision circa 1978 and ’79 listening to WTMA, the Charleston AM Top 40 station.
Songs like “Cruel to Be Kind,” by Nick Lowe, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” by Joe Jackson, “The Logical Song” by Supertramp, “Let’s Go” by the Cars, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra, “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick, and “My Sharona” by the Knack burned themselves into my preteen consciousness.
Since then, summer has been a special time for me to pull some new songs into my collection to supplement the wide array of older stuff I’m still holding on to. Here’s a little sampling of some recent finds I’ll be keeping in heavy rotation this summer (complete with a handy-dandy Spotify playlist down below so you can hear them for yourself).
The Sunshine of Your Youth – Cheerleader A perfect song to lead things off – sunshine in the title and a hefty dose of Millennial quarterlife angst, with the song’s protagonist casting back to “the family photo circa 1995.” And as an extra bonus, I get to give a shout-out to a brand-spanking new Philadelphia band.
Elevate – St. Lucia From nostalgia for the mid-’90s, it seems like we hop in our wayback machine to a decade earlier – 1985 – when heavy synth horns and Tears for Fears-style crash-bang drums were all the rage. But this tune was minted just this year, and provides a tasty throwback to my own teen years and something nostalgic for all my peers who insist no one makes music like they used to back in the ’80s.
California Nights – Best Coast In the art of the mix tape, it’s important to bring things down a bit a few songs in. Mission accomplished. My kids have had to put up with me cranking this song in the car for weeks now, mainly because it makes me so very happy. It’s down-tempo, but the soaring vocals and guitar work give it an epic feel that sends it into the stratosphere.
Make You Better – The Decemberists Not known for cranking out catchy pop hits, the Decemberists hit this one out of the park, stepping up to the sound that fans of ’80s-era REM thought had disappeared forever. This one particularly grabbed me because of the lyric, “And we’re not so starry eyed anymore/like the perfect paramour you were in your letters,” and the stunning backing vocals, which back in the day would have been brought to us compliments of Mike Mills.
It Gets Better – The Preatures Beaming in from Australia, the Preatures manage a guitar-heavy power pop sound that is, unfortunately, heard infrequently on modern radio.
Killer Bangs – Honeyblood – More rocking women, this time from Glasgow, Scotland, and pairing a low-fi sound with influences like Sonic Youth and the Breeders.
Empty Nesters – Toro y Moi How can I give a shout out to my Philly folks without also including someone from my original home turf of South Carolina? Hailing from Columbia (Go Cocks!), one-man band Chaz Bundick mixes up a bit of psychedelia with dance, electronica and pop to bring us this fine offering.
Water Fountain – Tuneyards Full discolsure: This is not a “new” song, having been out for a year or so now. But the schoolyard chant/island rap that Tuneyards have going on in this tune just make me think of warm weather and is absolutely worth inclusion in your beach/pool playlist.
Sugah Daddy – D’Angelo Your recommended quarterly dose of summertime booty shakin’. You’re welcome.
Feeling OK – Best Coast Pretty much sums up summer, right? Grab a cold beverage and crank it!