“California Gurls” by Katy Perry
Things people think of when they imagine summer: the sun, bikinis and beaches, letting loose, California, and new episodes of Jersey Shore. So along comes Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” a bio-engineered monstrosity of a pop song that is perfectly designed to target all possible summer imaginings (including Snoop Dogg in pajamas). So how can we resist? — Writer Jordan Barber
“Collector” by Here We Go Magic
If spring is the season for opening up one’s house and getting rid of last year’s clutter, then by summer it’s time to celebrate the newfound freedom of being unencumbered. Somehow, Here We Go Magic wrote a perfectly summery song without forcing its protagonist and his hoarder friends to throw out even one trinket. “Collector” doesn’t know how to let go — for the first three minutes, squirrel-y guitar lines weave together and accumulate under a steady backbeat; in the last two minutes we are carried away on a wave of noise including shimmering horns, chattering chanting, Brian Wilson-esque “ooooohs,” and what sounds like a theremin. The song builds ever skyward, and like the late summer afternoon where you suddenly find yourself sweating buckets because it is damn hot, as “Collector” rounds into its final minute you realize the cacophony of joyous sound that surrounds you. — Contributing Writer Daniel Adler
“Dancing On My Own” by Robyn
156. According to iTunes, that’s how many times I’ve listened to “Dancing On My Own.” I downloaded the song on April 21 — 133 days ago — which means I’ve listened to it at least once a day, every day, since then. (And that doesn’t even count the dozens of times I’ve watched the music video just to see Robyn frantically punch at the air.)
“Dancing On My Own” has all the pop tricks of “California Gurls,” “Alejandro,” and whatever that Ke$ha song is called — the killer hook and the steady, heavy beat — but its tone is darker and deeper. The chorus is a distraught plea to a lover who’s moved on, and the synthesized drums play less to the rhythm of your hips but the thump of your heart. It’s electro with real soul.
I’ve heard people call Robyn “empowering” and “feminist.” I don’t know if that’s true, or if it matters, but “Dancing On My Own” is the only single that acknowledges that summer isn’t just an escape. — Editor Kevin Nguyen
“Rick Rill” by Sleigh Bells
A friend enthusiastically described Sleigh Bells’ album Treats as music made of sandpaper and broken glass. That sounds about right. In the midst of earth-shattering guitars and lasers, the track “Rill Rill” offers a brief oasis of comparative beauty — a fresh breath of soulful piano and heavenly “ah-ahs.” The band’s typical gunshot drums are muffled in the background, overpowered by a percussive finger-snapping. It sounds saccharine, but the song ties together the entire album — the distorted glory of following song “Crown on the Ground” wouldn’t hit half as hard without “Rill Rill”’s head-fake leading in.
It’s a success by the only summer metric that matters: how the song sounds from the speakers of a car ripping down the highway. — Contributing Writer Tim Lehman
“Round and Round” by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Maybe I’m in denial. Maybe it has to be the song that blasts out of car windows on a Friday night, that bleeds in from the neighboring karaoke room, that pops up on all your favorite blogs, that becomes ludicrously pervasive because it was designed, in all aspects, to pervade. So maybe Jordan’s right, and the song of the summer has to be “California Gurls.”
But I prefer the song that plays quietly in the background when you walk into your favorite bar on a lazy weeknight, solidifying that moment in time with the gentle languor of the season. And for me, this summer, that was Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round,” whose chorus, tinged with hope and denial, preaches an unwarranted optimism that tells you everything you need to know about city life in America in 2010. — Editor Nick Martens