Holy Sh*t, It’s Summer (Jams 2016)
Your guide to this year’s seriously lit poolside/back-porch/late-night-party tracks.
By Eddie Kim
This started as my “best songs of 2016 — so far” project, but I’ve just been digging some songs lately that I can’t call the “best” of the year yet fit perfectly into the moods of this sweltering Southern California summer.
(The summer solstice landed on June 20, so I’m sorry I’m late with this listicle.)
Enough of the intro. Let’s jump in, rosé in hand. There are two tracks without embedded YouTube links, but the playlists for Spotify and Apple Music are below.
Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman
What, you thought I’d kick things off with some Parquet Courts or something? Wrong. Let the poptimism flow free!
I love Ariana Grande, both for her effortlessly catchy songs and her effortlessly virtuosic vocal talent. She’s teamed up with songwriter Tommy Brown and production team Twice as Nice for Dangerous Woman’s top highlight, “Be Alright,” a bouncing house track with a head-bobbing beat and lithe little melodies that stay stuck in your head.
Deep house influences are everywhere these days, but this tune melds those boomy drums with xylophone flourishes and other feathery details (trap hats! finger snaps!) that help keep things light. It’s my mood-setter for a hot pool day, and it should be yours, too.
“(Girl We Got A) Good Thing”
Weezer, Weezer (White Album)
This sounds like the Beach Boys right off the bat, and Rivers Cuomo is at his most indulgent, sweet self here, telling the world about a “couple lovebirds happy to be singing” amid all things Southern California.
Driving to Ventura on the 101? Self-publishing a book of philosophy to hand out to tourists? Sounds real cute to me, even when Rivers has that “oh shit” moment and admits that the girl of his dreams “scares me like an open window.”
“She’s So Untouchable”
Garden City Movement
I fell hard for this Israeli trio after hearing their 2013 EP Entertainment, which has a few earworm dance tracks but also one of the most beautiful electronica ballads ever (“Move On”).
Ever since, I’ve been waiting eagerly for a debut LP, to no avail. The best thing so far is the 2016 single “She’s So Untouchable,” a sleek little tune with splashes of jangling guitar and acrobatic keyboards. It’s warm and catchy, with a heavy dose of “Miami Vice” vibes. Where’s my pastel blazer?
“Angels” (ft. Saba)
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
Chance is my favorite rapper right now. He’s got whip-smart wit, a chameleon flow, and an infectious joy about How the World Works, including when shit goes sideways.
I toss on “Angels” and it really feels like everything’s happy. The steel drums in the chorus and trumpet blasts help, but it’s mostly Chance’s optimistic spirituality: “This what it sound like when God split an atom with me / I even had Steve giving out apples for free!”
Preach, Chance, preach.
Odds I yell a signature Chance Yawp® if this song comes on: 100%.
“Apollo (Skylar Spence remix)”
Last Dinosaurs, Wellness
Last Dinosaurs is a breezy Aussie indie rock band that you should be listening to. Here, Skylar Spence adds some gloriously layered electro production and serious nu-disco touches to an already excellent tune. I mean, just listen to it. It’s fucking perfect.
“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
We get to the first bummer of this summer playlist, with CSH frontman (and songwriter/mastermind) Will Toledo admitting to being a degenerate mess filled with an “empty feeling” that “comes and goes in plateaus.” There is alcohol, and drunk driving, involved.
Can we? I dunno, considering Toledo’s character wails “It doesn’t have to be like this” to end the song alongside a rollicking coda of crashing guitars, piano and drums. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is one of three big, cathartic rock anthems on this playlist. Maybe you can relate.
Gorgon City, Doubts (Single)
I discovered this song while struggling to take off a pair of pants in the fitting room of a Uniqlo, so shoutout to whomever’s putting together tunes at Uniqlo Beverly Center.
Pants aside, it’s tough to resist bobbing to this barrel-chested track from Gorgon City. Those big deep house bass hits and swollen piano chords, plus some vaguely tropical accents and an addictive hook, made “Doubts” an automatic add to my “would drop if forced to DJ at a Vegas day club, like that one really weird dream you had” playlist.
“Girls @” (ft. Chance the Rapper)
Joey Purp, iiiDrops
Hip-hop’s misogyny problem really needs no explanation (although here’s one deep-dive), and I can’t help but laugh at and love a banger that subverts tropes into a witty, and generally sweet-hearted, ode to bougie bitches.
Chicago’s Savemoney crew is one of the most talented in the game, and Joey Purp is its rising star. He also has huge balls for inviting crew captain Chance the Rapper on for a guest verse, and Chance (again) steals the show.
He shouts out all the girls “with a book in the club, with they reading glasses on, getting shook in the club, reading Ta-Nehisi Coates,” then later sheepishly guns for a girl’s number, only to realize his phone’s dead, his man’s phone’s dead, and his man’s car’s dead (can she give him a ride?).
My favorite bit, though? “Where the tall girls at? You bad! Where the small girls at? You bad! Where the mid-sized girls, where the mid-sized girls, where the mid-sized girls — you bad!”
Chance is the Oprah of hollerin’ atcha, and a fine role model for us all.
Whitney, Light Upon the Lake
Some serious ’60s folk-rock vibes on this one. I want this song blasting as I roll in a field of flowers out in Joshua Tree. (Or at least I want this song blasting as I lay on the carpet on LSD, imagining it.)
Truth No. 1: Drake should just keep making songs with an dancehall groove in which he doesn’t rap a single lyric. (Exhibit A: “One Dance” is his first No. 1 single).
Truth No. 2: Despite my snark, this song possessed me from the inside-out, and I danced while blasting it through my headphones during a vacuuming session in my apartment.
“Safe Inside” (ft. Passion Pit)
Classixx, Faraway Reach
Michael David and Tyler Blake somehow distilled the feeling of being on a beach into Faraway Reach. Just listening to “Safe Inside” is enough to tempt me out of my apartment and down to my pool, alcoholic beverage in hand. Mission accomplished, Classixx. Not much more to say about this.
“Threat of Joy”
The Strokes, Future Present Past
Sidenote: Julian Casablancas is the Keanu Reeves of indie rock, and I mean that in more than one way.
Anyway, Future Present Past is a pretty forgettable EP (this took how long to write and record?) but “Threat of Joy” is the best of the bunch. It’s a classic Strokes track, with a sing-along hook, a swinging beat, and Julian doing his best faux-ironic Lou Reed impression.
Plus, I like the coy themes of addiction and temptation. “And for the first time in my life, I’m gonna get myself right,” Julian croons. It’s about the little things, too: “I won’t look down your dress — I bet you bend down as a test.”
“Breakdance Lesson N. 1”
Confession: Prominent sub-bass is arousing to me. Right around 45–60 HZ. This song has a lot of sub-bass. Take from that what you will.
Props to Kay, by the way, for delivering an album that’s this year’s high-water mark for electronic production chops.
“Dapper” (ft. Anderson .Paak)
Domo Genesis, Genesis
I’ve always had a fondness for Domo Genesis, stretching back to the days when Odd Future was an actual oddity rather than a known cabal of nutty skater teens constantly yelling “GOLF WANG!” outside of Supreme (RIP, OFWGKTA.)
His buttery flow puts in work on the endless funkfest that is “Dapper,” and Anderson .Paak drops in with the hook and a verse himself. Cheers to kiddie pool similes!
“Days of Lavender”
Promises Ltd., Promises Ltd.
I’m constantly hunting for dance music producers who can write developed tracks that ebb and flow rather than rager tracks meant for a DJ set. Good news: Promises Ltd., the newish union from Jeremy Malvin (aka Chrome Sparks) and Charlie Brand (Miniature Tigers), may be my next big production crush.
This is the song that I bump in the car, windows down, for long drives on warm summer nights. Come for the warbling vocals and Daft Punkian synth lines. Stay for the seriously melancholy Blade Runner vibes.
Penthouse Penthouse and Bobby Saint, Upload
[Act 1, Scene 1]
“What the fuck kind of name is Penthouse Penthouse?” (clicks)
(Two minutes later) “Oh damn. This song bangs.”
“Just Another Face”
Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
“this song fucked me up” — Dick Pepperfield
“this is like dead ass the best song ever” — realfriendspaul
“so deep in feels” — TACOS
Did anyone want another cathartic rock anthem? Here you go. YouTube user endorsements aside, Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost is a must for dramatic emo rock fans (especially if you like The Killers). Someone should recut the fist-pump close of The Breakfast Club so this song plays in the background.
It’s the penultimate track on this playlist because “Just Another Face” reminds me of the end of a carefree summer as a teenager, when you’re unsure of what stresses lie ahead or who’ll be there to get you through it.
But it’s much more visceral for Brendan Lukens, who wrote the song. Lukens long had issues with anxiety and depression, but over the course of 2014 and 2015 he fell into a depressive spiral lined with drunk rages, cutting, and isolation. Co-frontman Jake Ewald, bassist Ian Farmer and drummer Sean Huber eventually led Lukens into treatment.
Lukens’ self-loathing lines in “Just Another Face” ring vivid, but they set up the belt-along chorus that teases happier days ahead — and, with patience, recovery.
“I’ll be with you the whole way. It’ll take time, that’s fact. I’m not just another face, I’m not just another name. Even if you can’t see it now, we’re proud of what’s to come, and you.”
Escondido, Walking With a Stranger
Sometimes, a summer song isn’t the noisy banger played poolside, but rather the ballad that rattles around in your head as you stare at the ceiling in bed, stroking the newborn sunburn on your neck.
Listening to the lonely, contemplative “Try” is pretty masochistic, but we all benefit from a little summertime sadness from time to time (thanks, Lana Del Rey). Even if only because it adds some tension, and dimension, to the hedonistic joy.