It’s summer! It’s a long weekend! Break out the weed rap, power chords, divas, drops, and all things OVO. Here’s what the Grantland staff will be listening to all summer, compiled for your convenience in a Spotify playlist.
For Steven Hyden’s rundown on this year’s Song of the Summer candidates, click here.
Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You)”
Summer jams come earlier every year. This summer began here, in the first week of March:
David Letterman announced his retirement one month later. This will be our last summer together. This is now the soundtrack of his good-bye, a heart torn out through a tight black T-shirt and presented, still pulsing, with a deranged smile. Seasons change. I’ll take all of that you got.
The New Pornographers, “Brill Bruisers”
A great New Pornographers song is a fireworks show, harmonies and hooks exploding over and over again, revealing cascading flowers dripping tendrils of sparks and Saturn rings that resolve in the shit-eating grins of glimmering smiley faces. Lay down a blanket underneath this one. It’s a pretty short display. You’ll complain it’s over too soon, but then some kids in the parking lot will blow up a Dew can with an M-80, and you’ll be grateful you got that perfect three minutes beneath the stars.
Danny Brown feat. A$AP Rocky and Zelooperz, “Kush Coma”
The thing about comas is you don’t hear all the people hissing that you’re not following the summer jam rules. And if they manage to wake you up, hey, the song’s new to you.
Riff Raff feat. Amber Coffman, “Cool It Down”
Here is my Riff Raff issue: What’s the point of having an opinion about whether somebody’s “in on the joke” if the “joke” is a joke the way Bixby Snyder saying “I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR” was a joke? Back when Vine was a thing, I had to unfollow Jody 3 Moons’s notionally hilarious Vine feed because it was like having Drop Dead Fred popping up in my phone to yell at me 38 times a day. But summer means giving yourself unilateral permission to enjoy things, so I’ve spent the afternoon wearing a short-sleeved button-down that looks like fat kid–rack Bugle Boy and eating melted arroz con leche Helados Mexico popsicles while listening to Neon Icon, which turns out to be the greatest album yet by one of the most irritating rappers of our time. “Cool It Down” — with Amber Coffman on the hook and Diplo reaching down from the highbrow-despicable corner of the Approval Matrix to produce — is the life of the pool party; it’s like Hologram Eazy-E rematerializing to rap on Yo Gabba Gabba!
Duck Sauce, “NRG” (Skrillex, Kill the Noise, Milo & Otis Remix)
This is the sound of a neon yellow speedboat fueled by friendship and Kraft singles cruising into a raspberry-scented Magic Marker sunset. This is synchronized cardio in Zoom-style color-blocked tees, you and 20 friends sharing and trusting each other and learning lessons that will last a lifetime. This is everyone getting a dance solo. The Sauce and the Skrill already came out with their long-awaited debut full-lengths this year, but as spring turned to summer I found myself replaying this combination of their powers more than the rest of their respective albums combined. I’m like a kid who just keeps hitting the “WOO!” sound effect on her dad’s Casio keyboard. It’s a body shock!
Caribou, “Can’t Do Without You”
After more than a decade of producing zero bad things, I’m gonna just put it out there that whatever Dan Snaith wants to do, he should do. That includes following up his murky, cerebral 2012 release Jiaolong (under his more house-oriented moniker Daphni) with a long-build flower crown–ready anthem. “Can’t Do Without You” takes your hand and makes sure you’re happy and hydrated before it descends to each successive level, playing it cool while steadily piling on more sounds, until it all blows up into an explosion of pink fog and confetti. Snaith’s sixth album as Caribou (né Manitoba), Our Love, is due out in October and there are few 2014 media releases I am looking forward to more.
Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, “Love Never Felt So Good”
Posthumous albums are hard to root for, particularly when record labels use a legendary artist’s last scraps of unreleased material as a quick money grab. But “Love Never Felt So Good” is genuinely catchy, and it’s the kind of song you can blast in your car with the windows down all summer long. I’m probably visualizing that specific image because there’s literally a Jeep commercial with people doing exactly what I described, but I refuse to admit advertising influences my life decisions. Timberlake does an admirable job keeping up with MJ, and if you only want to hear the King of Pop sing it, there’s a JT-less version available too. Can’t go wrong here.
Charli XCX, “Boom Clap”
“Fancy” is the SotS, but “Boom Clap” is on-the-low massive in its own sweet mid-’90s-4-EVA way. Charli may never be the “proper” pop star we’d like to see, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate her serving out giant, wonderfully cheesy radio hooks. It’s Tuesday night at Houlihan’s, and we’re all here for the Bottomless Nacho Fries.
The Orwells, “Who Needs You”
This was the joint that had Letterman memorably Letterman-ing in January: “Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere! Oh, that was wonderful!” (WAIT, BUT REALLY OR NOT REALLY, DAVE???) But you don’t need the effects of decades of sly meta-comedy to enjoy the Orwells delivering some very fine 100 percent uncut pure rock-and-roll shrugging.
Popcaan, “Hold On”
[Doesn’t believe in self, or that the nature of humanity is inherently good.] [Listens to “Hold On” 10,000 times.] [Starts religion, ends all war and hunger.]
OB O’Brien, “Hazelton Trump”
I have to be honest, I underestimated OB O’Brien. I thought his role in OVO came down to appearing in extended video interludes and carrying Drake’s weed. I thought he was Brian Scalabrine in an owl costume. I thought he wasn’t capable of making a bona fide summer jam. I thought wrong.
“Hazelton Trump” begins with OB firing shots at our titular temptress for dating “that rapper that’d be hot for like that month,” a pretty audacious line for a rapper who’s been hot for, like, a month. No matter: OB earns your respect as the song progresses, referencing his shady business dealings and plush Montreal hangouts with such nonchalance that you can’t help but acknowledge his superiority. This man’s life is better than yours, and he’s got the Instagram to prove it. When Nicki Minaj shows up on the hook, it’s game over. The summer is OB’s, everybody. You can all go home now.
Jamie xx, “Girl”
Jamie xx, “All Under One Roof Raving”
The best summer days comprise two distinct parts: the calm and the rave. This year, Jamie xx has got you covered on both fronts. “Girl” is about proper sunscreen application, lounging poolside, umbrella drinks, and the promise of the night to come. “All Under One Roof Raving” is about shattered glass, molly, questionable dance moves, and more molly. Both are essential. Let them soundtrack your summer.
Wiz Khalifa feat. Project Pat and Juicy J, “KK”
“KK” stands for “Khalifa Kush,” the strain of weed developed for and named after Wiz Khalifa. But you don’t have to know that to enjoy screaming “I’m blowing KK!” a hundred times in a row until “KK” starts to sound like “cake.” It gets pretty abstract after a while (“cake train”?), but that’s what I like about it. Project Pat is the MVP here for the line “Khalifa kush a hundred pounds, that’s a half a mil / Memphis streets so eat this like a baby, like Enfamil.” Stay blowing cake all summer.
Paramore, “Ain’t It Fun”
This is the biggest anti-cool band in America. They’ve been together for a decade and still sound like the best contestants in a high school talent show. Hanson and the new chamber-ish band San Fermin is like that, too: They love making music so earnestly that it’s nerdy. The nerdiness can be exhilarating, like here. This song is the tightest, clearest, most exuberant driving-with-the-top-down song No Doubt became too cool to make.
Mariah Carey, “Make It Look Good”
I just had an air conditioner installed. But I spent a long time debating whether I should bother. You put this on, and everything cools down. The beefed-up, looped lick from the O’Jays’ “Let Me Make Love to You” works like a treadmill for Carey to do her signature runs while Stevie Wonder’s harmonica gives the doo-wop a layered sheen of 1968, ’78, ’88. This is all the wet washcloth on forehead anybody needs. M.C. is the best AC.
Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne, “Rather Be”
Can a song qualify as a summer jam merely by having over 75 million hits on YouTube? If so, this is it. Following a similar trajectory as Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” in 2013, “Rather Be” has already conquered Europe and now it’s coming for America. It’s hard to believe that a band with a name as hilarious as Clean Bandit could be taken seriously, but “Rather Be” is unrelentingly catchy. I find myself humming it in odd moments, almost always followed by the thought, Wait, what song am I thinking of right now? I just heard this song on American radio for the first time. I think we’ll all be humming it soon.
Ought, “Today More Than Any Other Day”
This is the song I wake up to every morning, and it will continue to be the song I wake up to every morning for the rest of summer. It’s a song about grocery shopping. It’s a song about sitting on a train. It’s a song about milk, in its various forms. It’s a song that is stupidly upbeat for no good reason other than the fact that its title is infinitely true. Today will always be more than any other day, and that in itself is the best reason for enthusiasm. Summer is full of grand ideas, and then those ideas shrivel in the sunlight because it’s just too goddamn hot to do anything. This song is a celebration of the mundane, those shriveled remains of summer. It’s a song about doing nothing important. How important is that?
School of Language, “A Smile Cracks”
The grooves on “A Smile Cracks” approximate what Nile Rodgers accomplished with “Lose Yourself to Dance” (conveniently, a Grantland summer jam from last year!), but they are more angular and lacking almost all of that self-assured cool. It’s also a song about losing yourself, but for those neck-deep in textbooks and paperwork. For the worker bees and the college students out there making up credits over the summer, this is your jam. Work hard now, and you might one day be able to enjoy the summer like everyone else in your life seems to be.
Son Little, “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches”
I know this title doesn’t scream “HAPPY SUMMER FUN TIMES ARE TO BE HAD,” but it is a really good mellow-out song you can listen to while recuperating from that sunburn you swore you weren’t going to get.
YG feat. Drake, “Who Do You Love?”
Lil Wayne feat. Drake, “Believe Me”
Drake feat. Drake, “0-100/The Catch Up”
It’s starting to feel like every summer is automatically Drake’s. It started with “Forever,” when Drizzy convened the titans in August 2009 and won the whole season with just a few weeks left to play. He’s winning differently this year, though, building up the highlight reel and following last year’s “Started From the Bottom” blueprint, the one where you start owning the BBQ when there’s still snow on the ground.
“Trophies” was a warm-weather pump-up that took a left turn and crash-landed in December. YG shared his preseason killer “Who Do You Love” with Drake in February. And then Lil Wayne — who has officially gone from being Drake’s mentor to his equal to the guy who parks his Bugatti — jumped on a classic Drake track and decided to call it the lead single for Tha Carter V. Semantics don’t matter with a song as good as “Believe Me,” though.
Finally, “0-100,” the free banger Drake uploaded at the start of June. Technically it’s “0-100/The Catch Up” — a genuine two-parter, and “The Catch Up” is nice, but “0-100” is so many things. It’s a $100 million blockbuster turned into a rap song. It’s my first pick every time I get in the car. It’s worth more plays than all the cuts on Nothing Was the Same combined. It’s neck-and-neck with “Believe Me” — and the two sometimes sound like the same thing played on opposite sides of the looking glass — except it’s Drake featuring Drake. Maybe Weezy can win one more summer before he hangs it up, but this one’s Drake’s.
Panama Wedding, “Feels Like Summer”
Neon Trees, “Unavoidable”
If you’re an avid 8tracks listener, you’d probably put Panama Wedding’s “Feels Like Summer” under the “Good vibes + summer + chill” group tag. It’s a song you would want to play while out with your friends, downing a summer ale as the sun sets. It’s a song that won’t eat up the conversation, a song that plays softly in the background and scares away the silence. Neon Trees’ “Unavoidable” is more energetic, with a strong melody and a steady beat. It still definitely falls under the “good vibes + summer” category but strays a little further away from “chill” and more toward “upbeat.” It’ll get your head bumping but isn’t one that will get you TURNT.
The song of the summer is still “Pop That.” For a third straight summer. But you already knew that, so it felt silly to recommend that. And then there’s “Loyal,” which actually will be one of the two songs played outdoors with the highest frequency this summer (along with “Fancy”). But I’m under contract with humanity not to recommend Chris Brown for anything positive.
So that brings me to one song and two trends.
Raury, “God’s Whisper”
Raury is an 18-year-old who was handpicked by Outkast to open for them in Atlanta in September. So he wins. His jam “God’s Whisper” has an accompanying video that takes you back to that summer between high school graduation and college orientation when you were free.
- Drake in 2014. He hasn’t put out a bad verse this year. One has to guess this will continue throughout the summer. So just get ready.
- Another Michael McDonald Summer. He’s the undisputed king of the season. So just make sure you’re listening to a lot of Michael McDonald.