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Sonic Boom: The Song Of The Summer

Some unusual personal picks for some of the musical themes of the season


This week, in another section of this website [i.e., “The Conversation”], I discussed with my colleagues Brad Pareso and Jaclyn Gallucci the concept of “The Song of the Summer”—and we considered some candidates we believed might be considered the song of this summer.

Of course, those types of titles are taken seriously mostly by people who work in media. Unless you’re especially obsessive, you probably don’t worry about these things; you probably just listen to music, and try to find new music to enjoy, rather than debating whether or not the summer of 2010 will best be defined by Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” Ke$ha’s “Lovedrug” or Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro.”

What’s more, for you, maybe none of those songs will sound like anything more than background noise. Maybe your summer will be defined by something else entirely; maybe you will spend your summer finally digging through the catalogues of Leonard Cohen or Led Zeppelin or The Jam. Maybe you will return to your New Order records or your Jawbreaker records or your Guided By Voices records. Maybe you will buy the new Big Boi CD and listen to nothing else for two months. Maybe you will download five albums a day, and find among all that chaos your new favorite song. And for you, that will define the summer.


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My own listening habits tend to drift with the seasons. In fall, I listen to melancholic, pastoral folk and deep-blue jazz, music that echoes my own autumnal nostalgia; in winter, I listen to black metal that howls like the stinging and bitter winds, and ambient that is as quiet and dark as the long nights; in spring, I listen to punk and pop and indie rock, anything that sounds like waking up, like being alive. I mean, I listen to everything, all of it, all year round, but the sounds always echo the seasons, and over time, they come to represent the seasons, they come to be part of each other, they grow so deeply intertwined that I cannot distinguish one from the other.

For me, summertime is hazy and slow and sort of hallucinatory. It is baseball and cold beer and air conditioning and nights spent awake, sweating, thinking. It is music as heavy as the air, and bright as the sun, and wild as the thunderstorms, and lazy as the long weekends spent immobile, exhausted. It is hip-hop and stoner metal and chill-out and chillwave and bossa nova and Britpop and Southern rock and house and sludge and doom. For me, “The Song of the Summer” is not the same as what it might be for you, but like yours, my summer will be filled with music. What follows are some of the songs that have entered my life only recently, but will be with me through this hot season, and will in the future remain as landmarks, signposts, memories of 2010, of this summer.

Delays “Unsung” (from the LP Star Tiger Star Ariel)

Delays’ debut LP, 2004’s Faded Seaside Glamour, is one of my all-time favorite summer records—along with, like, Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker and The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs (for a universe of reasons, all especially particular to me and those summers)—and I’m truly and sincerely overjoyed to have a new one from the British band for summer 2010. Star Tiger Star Ariel is Delays’ best since that debut, and “Unsung” is its most brilliant, exuberant moment. Bursting with strings and melody and soaring vocals, the song feels like a hard rush of salt air through a sunroof on an empty Ocean Parkway doing 85, cruising to the beach, or cruising to nowhere, cruising just to feel that rush, that breeze.

Dom “Hunny” (from the EP Sun Bronzed Greek Gods)

There are all these great indie bands making music that seems crafted specifically for summer 2010—like we will never hear it again after this summer, like it will go on to be this lost relic as soon as September rolls around. I’m thinking of bands like Beach Fossils and Brothertiger and Viernes and Wild Nothing, all of whom have recently released works of blissed-out pop that will never sound better than they do right now, today. Dom is another one of those bands, and their Sun Bronzed Greek Gods EP is full of such glorious music. “Hunny” is especially wonderful—a shimmering, spacey, buoyant little sing-along that feels like it was air-recorded on an old boom box to be played during weekend barbecues and psilocybin jaunts.

Band of Horses “For Annabelle” (from the LP Infinite Arms)

There is something so expansive in the sound of Band of Horses, like their music is a bottomless well of heartache and happiness and awe—just undiluted, intense feeling. It comes from singer Ben Bridwell’s magical voice, one of the most remarkable instruments in popular music today. “For Annabelle” is a perfect showcase for that voice and its miraculous power. The song is massive and heartbreaking, but also delicate and aching and soothing. It moves like a river, rippling and reflecting, cool and beautiful. You stand beside it, staring in wonder, in the hard heat of day, but dip your toe and it feels amazing.

Man’s Gin “Smiling Dogs” (from the LP Smiling Dogs)

Man’s Gin is the side project of Erik Wunder, the instrumental visionary behind the American black metal band Cobalt, whose last album, 2009’s Gin, may be one of the very best ever produced by the genre. Man’s Gin is not a black metal band. It sounds like Alice in Chains circa Jar of Flies, or Mark Lanegan’s minimalist solo material, or Dax Riggs’ bluesy work with Deadboy & the Elephantmen. (Tonally, there is one comparable cut on Gin—the album’s suffocating and grim “Dry Body,” one of its few non-metal moments.) Still, though it may not be metal, Man’s Gin is heavy—heavy in concept, heavy in feel. Like a brutal, endless night spent drenched in sweat and agony, it’s murky and bleak and desolate: humid as August, dark as 3 a.m., fueled with alcohol and sadness, like the dog days themselves.

The Roots “How I Got Over” (from the LP How I Got Over)

The Roots’ excellent new album is a perfect summer soundtrack, front to back, but its title cut still stands out as a highlight. It has a deep groove, powered by organ, a driving ?uestlove beat and a Philly soul chorus. Its lyrics—about the dangers of growing hardened by a life on the Philadelphia corners—are delivered with joy and bounce, a briskness that cannot help recalling being outdoors, on the sidewalk, in the backyard or the park, on the deck or the roof, “out on the streets.” And while there will be many candidates and many opinions, many songs and sounds for many stereos and sets of headphones, this one may in fact be, for me, for 2010, the song of the summer.

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