2 weeks ago
People have a set idea about what constitutes a great summer song: It’s light, it’s energetic and you can’t go anywhere without hearing it.
Let’s blow those notions to pieces. A peak summer song should meet just two criteria: It’s great to listen to and it surfaces in summer. Other than that, the song can be heavy or light, happy or sad, popular or obscure. Using that relaxed standard, I’ve compiled The Real Clear Life Summer Playlist, filled with songs released this season that sound great anywhere:
1) The Outdoor Type “On My Mind”
From way Down Under comes a sound that screams “New York in the ‘70s.” Zack Buchanan, the leader of Melbourne’s The Outdoor Type, has that Lou Reed-style vocal deadpan down. It’s the perfect vehicle to deliver lyrics that dryly allude to cities like Paris, Berlin and yes, New York. The guitar riff that loops through the song sounds like a slowed down take on The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner.” It’s cool, urban and timeless.
2) Fleet Foxes “Kept Woman”
The best harmony band of today took a huge leap on their latest album, “Crack Up.” Fleet Foxes pushed the lengths and shape of their songs to the limit. It’s hard to pick a peak track off a work this inspired, but the melody in “Kept Woman” has a shimmer that rivets. The piano chords reference the hypnotic minimalism of Phillip Glass, while the vocal harmonies soar the sound to a whole new plane.
3) North Mississippi Allstars “Prayer For Peace”
The sexiest boogie track of the summer carries a sad message. Musically, the title song off the latest album from North Mississippi Allstars features a snaking blues guitar line, hot gospel vocals and a flute hook that sounds like it fell off an old Canned Heat record. The words have a more serious mission. They rue society’s seeming inability to bridge the racial divide. The result? A protest song that rocks.
4) Glen Campbell “Adios”
It’s a summer of sadness for Glen Campbell’s family. As you may know, Campbell has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years. This season, he released his final album, culminating in the send-off song, “Adios.” The piece wasn’t written for this occasion. Jimmy Webb penned it years ago. But never has this classic goodbye song hit harder.
5) Quinn Sullivan “Midnight Highway”
It’s not every 18-year-old guitarist who could inspire Buddy Guy to become his mentor. But prodigy Quinn Sullivan fully deserves that honor. His latest track highlights a southern guitar style so stinging and sweet it could have made a young Duane Allman green with envy.
6) Cornelius “Sometime/Someplace”
Keigo Oyamada, a Tokyo-born musician who records under the name Cornelius, has been labeled the Japanese Beck. On this sprightly track from his first solo album in 11 years, he more than lives up to the title. The recording has the cut-and-paste whimsey of early Beck, ricocheting from bossa-nova-light riffs to avant-electronic effects that sound like early Roxy Music having a conniption fit.
7) Khalid “Young, Dumb and Broke”
“I’m so high at the moment,” announces the 19-year-old singer Khalid at the start of his latest, Caribbean-kissed pop song. The Texas teen’s cheeky salute to youth, stupidity and poverty has the dazed quality of ideal stoner-pop.
8) Nine Inch Nails “Not Anymore”
You couldn’t find more definitive proof that summer songs needn’t be sweet or bright than NIN’s latest assault on the senses, housed on an EP titled “Add Violence.” Every sound screams bloody murder, fired by hideously abrasive percussion and creepy-crawly percussion. Anyone seeking an antidote to warm weather cheer couldn’t do better.
9) The Secret Sisters “He’s Fine”
Summer loves seldom last. To acknowledge that, the Americana duo Secret Sisters created an ideally aching ode to a man that got away. The close harmonies of siblings Laura and Lydia Rogers exorcize their jealousy and longing, creating a prime slice of country pie.
10) Taj Mahal Keb Mo “Squeeze Box”
Not only do two blues generations collide in this summer’s most inevitable collaboration, so do two continents. The track brings together Keb Mo and his spiritual godfather, Taj Mahal, on a touchstone of British rock – the smut anthem “Squeeze Box,” originally recorded by The Who in 1975. The American stars transform it into a Cajun rave, giving its sexy lyrics a whole new leer.
Jim Farber is a veteran music critic who has written for the New York Times, Time magazine, Mojo, Guardian and more. For 25 years, he served as chief critic of the New York Daily News.