I remember the great clash of 2013 between Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. I recall reading about countless trips to Coachella and Bonnaroo and the Gorge in 2012 set to, earnestly, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and, ironically, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. My brief period of employment at a campground outside Victoria during the summer of 2007 was almost always accompanied by Fergie’s “Glamorous”. I am unable to dredge up the events of the humid months of 2006 without including Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” in the background. I’m sure I speak for you all when I confirm that it is possible to succinctly sum up the summer of 1999 by humming the chorus to “Genie in a Bottle”.
These abovementioned songs associated with the memories of summers past converge with the predictions and judgments of critics and writers and tastemakers who synthesize diverging and contrasting tastes and activities in order to pick the song that will characterize the summer yet to come. A quick Bing search has returned some predictable fare for club-going types. Without compiling an exhaustive list of this year’s nominees, I can assure you that fans – most likely millennials – of collaborations between the stars of the late 1990s and now have taken to pushing Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls”. For all those who equate their choice with a search for a hearty combo platter of bathos and back-to-basics European beats, rest assured as heartthrob Adam Lambert has dropped “Ghost Town”.
I refuse to nominate a particular song for this year. Although this posturing might have much to do with my characteristic fence sitting and Cowardly Lion-like personality, I refuse to choose just one song and hope my guess will leave me correct, and consequently still cool and hip, at summer’s end. However, I am, as a result, in a tricky spot as, made clear by the trip down memory lane taken above, I obviously enjoy building bridges between estival recollections and song.
As a compromise, below I offer five selections, all released in 2015, to frame a summertime soundtrack. I am a big fan of such an approach. Firstly, it remains possible for you to include your own selections among the five below. Embracing your personality is a good thing. Secondly, I prefer the concept of a soundtrack to the selection of a single track. This will appeal to the diverse tastes of your friends. Thirdly, at least in this context of these suggestions, the approach is suburban in nature. Most likely based on my own idea of what a summer event is supposed to be like, I envision these songs as an accompaniment to your trip, often by car, to and from a particular outing.
The experience is, at least in terms of geography, adaptable: You’re headed into Toronto, eastbound on the Gardiner, and the lights of the skyline shift from a distant point to a luminescent embrace. You’re descending into Santa Cruz de Tenerife on TF-5; Calatrava, carnivalesque revelry, and the shimmering Atlantic are in your line of vision. You’re skirting Buffalo Bayou along Memorial Drive as downtown Houston extends a nighttime welcome that contrasts with its diurnal vacancy.
In my head we’re speeding along in a hand-me-down 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit. Although you’re most likely envisioning something completely different, I’m sure that we can agree that at any respectable summer event, be it a night out with old friends or a first road trip with a significant other or a cocktail event with your pals from graduate school, bad music is inexcusable. I hope that these five selections get you started on the right foot.
Neon Indian – “Annie”
It is important to clarify that whatever you’re doing is a summer event. Don’t downplay it. Consequently, much like that time you cut off “Mele Kalikimaka” to cue up “Dirt off Your Shoulder” at an awkward holiday party, early on you need to play something en route to your destination to make it clear that the party has started.
We’ve been waiting years for something new from Neon Indian. “Annie”, released just a few days ago, is a wonderful dose of electro-funk that tops Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. Alan Palomo has taken a risk by breaking away from the harsh and tentative electronics of Era Extraña. With “Annie”, he succeeds by forwarding a searching narrative, suggesting something akin to a more cheeky and adventurous 21st-century Phil Collins. At the same time, Palomo is not content to have this become background music. There are intelligent and melodic synthesized tangents that surface past the halfway mark that will keep you and your crew fully tuned in before a return to the song’s energetic forward motion.
Taylor Swift – “Style”
As you exit the freeway and enter a downtown core, a summer anthem to bridge the gap between you and the outside world is necessary. On any worthy summer soundtrack you’ll find a respectable top-40 hit that ensures everyone, including those in the car and those on the sidewalk, is on the same page. In other words, you should include something respectable yet fun to which all can sing along. At the same time, you need a good measure of adolescent angst and youthful naïveté. Summer is about taking a break. It is about sidelining, even temporally, the expectations of bourgeois normalcy.
The inclusion of “Style” ticks all of the abovementioned boxes. It is the best song on Swift’s 1989 because it successfully accomplishes what she was, at least to my understanding, trying to do: Craft crowd-pleasing 1980s-inspired hits. Although she has, at least thematically, gone over what is conveyed in “Style” in many other songs, an aspect that weakens 1989 at points, here Swift establishes a visceral pace and a churning bass line. She conveys something that is muggy and dreamy and optimistically preoccupied. Long story short, “Style”, although released in February of this year, is a textbook summer hit.
Wales – “Lose My Mind”
At this point, in order to avoid the club-fare mentioned above, I establish a gap. Feel free to include as many nightclub-inspired anthems before this point on the soundtrack. You’re now leaving a hypothetical event. The house lights are on; last call took place a while ago. At the same time, energy, although in descent, is still palpable. Back in the imaginary Volkswagen Rabbit, smiles, now tired, linger as the hands are out the window floating up and down on whooshing air as the city’s lights blur by.
Only one genre will do the trick at this point: dream-pop. With an upbeat synthesized loop, supportive bass line, and distorted vocals, Wales’s “Lose My Mind” is an ideal companion to the falling action of your evening. At the same time, its repetitive and expectant vocals support distraction and reflection without losing touch with a necessary affective base. It is a helpful support for the recall of whatever has just been experienced.
Rationale – “Fast Lane”
Before dropping your friends off at their respective residences, the recollections fomented by “Lose My Mind” could potentially give way to introspection. Your soundtrack should be supportive of this transition.
Rationale’s “Fast Lane” is one of the great revelations of 2015. With regards to lyrics and pace, the song is instantly reflective. Without straying too far into the domain of melancholia, the wavering vocals, avoiding irony, simply communicate a profound understanding of the emotions and sacrifices of what is understood, at least in the framework of this song, of contemporary life. It is the ideal foil to Taylor Swift’s “Style”. When the loop is introduced, it builds a sense of optimism and comfort that is fully embraced by the second vocal interjection in which an inward-looking solution to present challenges is found. The track doesn’t linger. After a certain point, the vocals take leave while the song develops instrumentally, the initial structure accompanied by subtle sampling, giving rise to a space in which the listener is seemingly invited to reflect on comparable wide-reaching struggles.
Cuushe – “We Can’t Stop”
I associate this suggested final track with solitude. At this point, your friends are safe and sound. The world, at least from your perspective, is peacefully at rest as you make your way home. A decision to take the scenic route is advised: Veer down a country road or head for the coast; late-night moments out and about are to be embraced.
I really like Cuushe’s “We Can’t Stop”. Perhaps it has something to do with the light flickers that are introduced at the beginning along with a distant vocal harmony. Even the detached almost-industrial samples compliment the provoked feelings of isolation. Along with the repeated title line and similar admissions is a diving series of guitar chords that heightens whatever sort of message is being communicated. She strengthens the later utterances by emotionally breaking from the stoic delivery of the song’s first half. The rest of the tracks that make up Tokyo-based Cuushe’s EP Nightlines are, obviously, nocturnally meditative. However, “We Can’t Stop”, Nightlines’ finale, spirals away to a greater degree, intently growing in intensity before concluding.
B. Stafford is the 14th Floor’s Annex-based music critic.