Now is the season of fogged-up shades, oddly shaped sunburns and songs that make us want to stay outside until the last firefly blinks to sleep. As summer dawns, we asked our contributors to choose the songs that will score those muggy days (daze?). Usually, we ask that our contributors write about music that they have no personal connection to, but this time we loosened the reins a bit and let them choose their most personal songs of the summer. Take this playlist with you to the beach, night-driving or on your next graveyard tryst. — Brenna Ehrlich, Talkhouse Music managing editor
Mitski, “Your Best American Girl,” Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
I don’t typically desire to go back in time. Perhaps I’ve been too anxious to get to where I’m going to ever truly be where I am. But if a song of the impending summer could transport me back to a memory I wish I had, I choose Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl.” I’d let the song take me back to the summer of ’94. Life is lived at Lagunen shopping mall. My friends and I spend our days assessing the most resourceful ways to make 10 NOK (roughly a dollar) last all day. Unlike my friends, I’m an unusually sensitive, romantic young person. But finally there’s a girl in my world. I’ve waited all my life for this. All eleven years. A Best Norwegian Girl inspires other connotations than the Best American Girl of Mitski’s glorious, hopeless love song, but all is lost on the two of us as we make out clumsily, passionately in the woods after swimming in the ocean, where we reassured each other, “It isn’t cold at all.” So far that summer, I had listened mainly to Soundgarden and Seal, but this was something else. Feelings are immediate and eternal. We’re still young enough to know nothing of how our worlds will never intertwine beyond the summer. We share a set of earphones plugged into my yellow Discman, and I hold her close as she shivers from the cold water against the sunset. I close my eyes and peek into our glorified future for a stolen moment. I’m not afraid to hold her close. I’m already afraid of losing her. “Your Best American Girl” plays in her left ear, my right. It’s our song, and we’ve no idea how sad the song that makes us feel so triumphant truly is. — Sondre Lerche
Car Seat Headrest, “Fill in the Blank,” Teens of Denial (Matador)
I see this song as a poignant spiritual cousin of Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation” (Blank Generation, 1977), but for our ADD, smartphone-addicted generation. It just oozes millennial angst — the feeling of being aware of the world as vast and wonderful and terrible as it is, and being ashamed of being depressed and lethargic in the face of so much life potential. I’ve already tried to dissect the song twice and find ways to re-do it in my own songwriting, but I just can’t do it. Some songs just have secret mojo magic in their DNA that can’t be explained. And for me, this is one of them. Easily one of the best fist-pumping odes to depression ever penned. Plus, you can blast it at a barbecue and no one will blink because…it sounds…fun? — Tommy Siegel (Jukebox the Ghost, Narc Twain, the Drunken Sufis)
LEFTI, “Somebody,” Somebody (Atlas Chair)
Brooklyn producer and DJ LEFTI has wowed me again with his track “Somebody.” This track had me begging to release it the second I heard the first hook. I fucking love it. The live hand drums and percussion basically kill me and his nu-disco/house rhythms get me fired up for the summer. I will definitely be playing this jam at my gigs this summer — and I can’t wait for more from this awesome human being. — JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN)
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, “Nobody Dies,” A Man Alive (Ribbon Music)
“What to say, what to say, what to say?” Thao Nguyen asks on a verse of “Nobody Dies.” One thing I can say is it is HOT right now. Summer came a few weeks early to Portland, Oregon, this year. It’s more than one hundred degrees in my house as I type this. I moved to Oregon from California to flee the heat, not simmer like a single-origin organic baked potato. So what to do, what to do, what to do? I draw the blinds, crawl to the (moderately cooler) basement and put on Thao’s latest LP, A Man Alive. I’ve been a huge fan of Thao since her 2008 Kill Rock Stars debut, We Brave Bee Stings and All, a perfect summer record in its own right. To my ears, Nguyen has always sounded like the gorgeous love child of Chan Marshall and Isaac Brock — a healthy mix of cool, detached passion and hot, sweaty optimism. “Nobody Dies,” one of my favorite tracks on A Man Alive (and of Thao’s career thus far), is the collaboration of the year: Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus brings her blown-out cut-and-paste techniques to Thao’s homegrown acoustic aesthetic, and the result is the coolest indie rock potluck of the summer.
Still, what to do when this oppressive heat shows no sign of relenting? There is no real escape — not in the basement, not even after the sun has set. Only when fall comes will I truly be free. Thao sums up my feelings: “Oh my life, won’t you come for me?/I have love to give, too scared to leave.” At some point I will have to embrace summer like everyone else around me. I will become one with the collective We and again be fully assimilated in the culture of the season. So what do we do? We picnic. We go to the river. We brave bee stings and all. We tear our clothes off and burn them in a pile, kindled with all of winter and spring’s fresh regrets, lost loves and painful memories. We sing. We dance. We forget our troubles and chase our cares away. We act like nobody dies. — Hutch Harris (the Thermals)
Andy Shauf, “The Worst in You,” The Party (Anti-)
I saw Andy play a mellow set in London back in April. There was something captivating about his muted stage presence and acrobatic melodic choices. I purchased his new record, and I’m in full infatuation mode. It’s rare that I listen to anything more than a few times. The production is masterful. I haven’t heard anything this pristine since Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel (2012). Or maybe Steely Dan’s Gaucho (1980).
“The Worst in You” is my favorite track on the record. The song’s message unveils a fresh perspective about the anxieties of modern love and our need to keep tabs on a lover: “I went back in the door/kicked off both of my shoes/looked around for your coat/and then went looking for you.”
The chorus hammers it home for me: “Why do I always find the worst in you?/Do you always find the worst in me?” How many times have you asked yourself that question in an unhealthy relationship? I’m so glad Andy has presented it in his own sad-but-uplifting way. It’s the feel-bad hit of the summer. — Eric Slick (Dr. Dog, Lithuania)
Black Mountain, “Cemetery Breeding,” IV (Jagjaguwar)
What better way to usher in the summer than with a song about “fucking in the graveyard”? I took one of my best girlfriends along for my recent tour with Black Mountain, and every night when they started playing “Cemetery Breeding” we both fell under its spell. By the end of the tour I was, much to my own surprise, wearing a Black Mountain tank top and dancing (albeit a bit like Elaine Benes) in front of actual, real live people. It takes a special kind of band to make that happen. Stephen McBean and Amber Webber are the Pied Pipers, luring you to forget your reality and join them in the afterworld — a heaven where you can hit the replay button on your most photographic memories of young love — and have them keep you company forever.
I’m going to be spinning this all summer, learning how to dance and telling all my downer friends about this sad anthem of cemetery sex. — Marissa Nadler
Parquet Courts, “One Man No City,” Human Performance (Rough Trade)
This is my go-to song when I wake up in a great mood or when I get out of bed feeling like shit and unsure of myself. This song is the great neutralizer of moods. It makes me miss New York City like crazy. It makes me wanna get drunk and fuck and go to the beach. It also makes me totally fine with not doing any of those things. If they still made those little single mini-cassette Pocket Rockers, I would buy a Pocket Rocker of this song and it would be the only song I’d rock on my beach cruiser. — Nicole Atkins
The So So Glos, “Going out Swinging,” Kamikaze (Caroline Records)
I vote for “Going Out Swinging” by the almighty So So Glos. My central rule for what makes a song good is, “The first time I hear it, it makes me want to punch someone in the face.” This song made me want to punch everyone in the face, including myself. — Chris Gethard (The Chris Gethard Show)
Dinner, “Cool as Ice,” Psychic Lovers (Captured Tracks)
I feel vulnerable about Xtreme Now, the album that my band, Prince Rama, just released. Fears, expectations and questions swirl around in my mind about this album’s future with an F5 force. Like a lot of women, I have insecurities about my body in the revealing fashion of the season. I stand in front of my mirror, surrounded by rejected outfits, trying on countless combinations of clothing to concoct a sense of confidence. Also, social outings can give me anxiety — especially since I don’t drink. Without the aid of a mojito or PBR, I have to rely on my own energy, bravery and quick wit to make conversation.
Anders Rhedin, the mastermind chef behind the band Dinner, sings so precisely of my experience in his song “Cool as Ice” that I feel like I’m not alone: “You’ve been searching for so long/for yesterday’s and for tomorrow’s, too… You wonder where you’re at/and you wonder where you’ll go…but nothing’s worked for you.”
I feel as though Team Nimai is losing at halftime and needs winning advice in the locker room to finish victorious. Backed by a funky slap bass, upbeat drums, dreamy synths and even cowbells, the chorus of “Cool as Ice” sweeps through my bad attitude with the warmth of the beach, the strength of the Rio Grande and the power of a long embrace. Dinner is like my own personal cheerleader. Running back onto the field with a new sense of power, I listen to his striking, deep, Danish voice awarding me his own personal words of wisdom: “You don’t let it get to you, no!/It’s in your eyes, you’re cool as ice.”
In February 2016, Porches released Pool, the perfect winter record. It is cold and solipsistic; even the harmonies sound distant and alone. But halfway through Side B, we get “Car,” a standout track and one that is distinctly different in mood. Aaron Maine sings simply of the beauty of an automobile over a warm, danceable bass line. People talk about “driving records,” a record that feels most at home played on a stereo while the listener drives aimlessly around town. This is a driving song. Even if you are alone in your room, you feel as if you are transported to the driver seat of what I imagine to be a beat-up-but-still-beautiful red ’90s Ford Mustang convertible (one of those weird boxy ones that looks neither modern nor vintage) with the top down, moving through a two-lane stretch of nothingness while making peace with your insignificance — even if just for a moment. That sounds like the best moments of summer in a nutshell to me. — Ned Russin (Title Fight)
Guided by Voices, “Kid on a Ladder,” Please Be Honest (GBV Inc.)
Robert Pollard songs are like staring into the blinding prism from which all pop songs shift and refract into a brilliant display, and wandering away dazed and smiling. It’s only some jangling guitar and a drum machine, but “Kid on a Ladder” is such a wonder. It could have been dreamed up by Phil or Don or Buddy Holly or Beatle Paul. I’m in awe of its one-and-a-half minutes. It makes me feel like I’m near an electrical storm. The many songs of Robert Pollard bring me uncomplicated joy. And there are always more of them. A lot more of them. Forever. Thank you. — Morgan Enos (Other Houses, Hollow Sunshine, Hheaven)