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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Monday, May 30, 2016

Music Monday: Summer Playlist

I had a lot of fun making a playlist for the last Music Monday, so I want to try it again. This time, in celebration of the Memorial Day weekend, I want to focus on Summer Songs. And I’m not referring to how people will label certain pop songs “the song of the summer”, I’m talking about songs that feel explicitly summery (although there can be overlap, depending on the song I guess, although I don’t include any of that overlap here). I have no idea if other people think of songs as “Summer Songs”, but I definitely do. And for whatever reason, none of the other seasons get that sort of label in my head.

My most basic definition has been a sort of tautological “songs that sound good during summer”, something you would listen to sitting by the pool, or driving around with the windows down on a hot day, or just enjoying warm evenings.

I’ve just tried reverse engineer what qualities make me think that, but there hasn’t been any one factor that’s consistent among them.*  There have been a few qualities I’ve noticed though, including things like strong basslines; a light and almost airy feel (although not all are explicitly; explicit references to summer, heat, relaxing/wasting time, and youth; high synth or guitar parts, mostly as rhythm instruments but sometimes with lead riffs; and big, easy-to-sing-along-to choruses as well as frequent use of non-words (like “ohs”, for example) to the same end.

*Other than “I have memories of listening to them over the summer”, but that’s a big chicken-and-egg question. Did I listen to them over the summer because I thought they sounded summery? Or did I decide they sounded summery because I remember listening to them over the summer? Not all of them came out during the summer, for what it’s worth, so I think that leads me to think it’s the first, but I can’t be sure either way.

Now that I got that way-too-academic breakdown, here’s the playlist:

1. Lost-Scavenger Hunt
2. Quesadilla-WALK THE MOON
3. Classic-The Knocks featuring Powers
4. When I’m Away-The Colourist
5. Uma-Panama Wedding
6. Already Love-Great Good Fine Ok
7. All Over-CRUISR
8. Street Fight-Smallpools
9. Sleepless Streets-Youngblood Hawke
10. Too Young-Ghost Beach

The first ten songs on the playlist feel more like “summer day” songs. They’re generally a little brighter in tone than the back six songs of the set. I tried to get some variety from last time’s playlist, but there’s some overlap in artists (as well as one song, but “Street Fight” fit too well to leave off).

Some of these bands could fit my theme with several of their songs. The Colourist is just a sunny band overall, the perfect representation of their Southern California roots, but “When I’m Away” clinched my spot for an opening riff that sounds like their imitating a steel drum.

Scavenger Hunt is another band from Southern California that feels like it, although I’d describe their sound less as “sunny” and more as “chilled and relaxed”. It almost makes me think of the ocean. The opening notes to “Lost” are maybe the most evocative of the feel I’m going for, and the words (“Let’s get lost/and find our way back together”) capture the idea of laid back, unplanned adventures unfolding.

In contrast, Ghost Beach and Panama Wedding are both from New York City, but maybe their names are just giving me some associations. Both definitely like their synths, guitars, and basslines like I was mentioning. I almost went with “Feels Like Summer” for Panama Wedding, but that seemed too on-the-nose, while “Uma” works just as well. Meanwhile, “Too Young” closes out Ghost Beach’s album with a flurry of “ohs”, which made me think it would work as the close to the first segment of the playlist.

The Knocks and Powers, two more New York bands, explicitly set out to make a summer song with “Classic”, and perfectly encapsulate everything that I like about these songs in the process.

“Already Love” and “Sleepless Streets” are on the relaxed side of the spectrum, building off of solid bass grooves with watery synths or bright rhythm guitars for the verses, and with much bigger, bombastic choruses. On the other hand,  “All Over”, “Quesadilla”, and “Street Fight” are all songs that I was thinking of when I wrote about “songs for driving around to with the windows down”. They all have much more oomph behind them, and a bright youthful energy.

11. Pierre-Ryn Weaver
12. Rollercoaster-Bleachers
13. Flash of Light-Parade of Lights
14. Colour-Wild Cub
15. Wild Child-Cardiknox
16. Maybe Tonight-Scavenger Hunt

These ones represent the night side of the playlist. There’s a sort of mix between youthful energy and optimism, and a nostalgic longing for those feelings. I wrote about “Pierre” (which references the Fourth of July) last summer, while “Rollercoaster” (which also opens by looking at summers past) touches on a lot of those same themes with a little less wide-scope grandeur and more narrow-focus earnestness.

“Flash of Light” brings a little lighter subject matter than those. It feels a lot like “Already Love” though, with a sort of flowing-watery synth feel to it, but the tones feel a little lower, darker, and fuller. It makes it sound like the night half of the playlist, even though it feels like it would fit right in with the first ten songs thematically.

I think of watching fireflies at night when I listen to “Colour” I can’t figure out why. There’s another reference to heat, and the album cover is two kids laying on the grass, and I guess those are both related in their own ways, but lyrically, it feels a lot closer to “Rollercoaster” and “Pierre”, although something about it strikes me as more hopeful. But instrumentally, it has a lot of the things I’ve been talking about.

“Wild Child” is none of these things. It’s a celebration of young energy, staying out, and enjoying life, and that feels like a pretty solid idea to be celebrating in the summer. It’s got all the glitzy synths and guitars you can want, and it’s hard not to sing along to it your second or third time through (and of course it has parts with “ohs”, so you can start singing the first time without having to learn words).

(You might not be able to see Maybe Tonight; it’s not normally on Spotify, and I can’t find it anywhere else other than iTunes. It's showing up on the embed on my computer, but I can't tell if it's just pulling the local files on my computer, so it might not work. It made for a good bookend, though, and it’s a solid thematic echoing of “Wild Child”, plus a lot more references to summer and the tropics specifically. If it's not working, you should try to look into it if you can, but if you can’t find it,  “Wild Child” also works as a closer.)

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