Staff List: Summer Playlist

The Bureau Staff picks the sunniest jams of 2011.

Illustration by Yael Levy

“Take Me Over” by Cut Copy

Does the sound of music change during the summer, or do we change in how we take it in? Must be us — when you’re wearing shorts and a tank, it’s hard to act hard. Music that sounds happy triggers the sense memory of how awesome being out of school was as a kid; a feeling of ultimate possibility and adventure. It’s a sunny state of mind that Cut Copy perfectly reflects on “Take Me Over”. After a brief, shimmery intro, it hits you like a bouncier “Land Down Under.” Don’t let that throw you; go with it. Beneath the veneer is a beat ready for banging out on picnic tabletops, complete with disco snares and bongo drums. The lyrics alternately evoke a nighttime safari and a tropical paradise, and they both sound like places you want to be. Add to that the typical Cut Copy layers of fluttery vocal cooing and flickering synth lines, and your barbecue dance party is dee-jayed. — Contributing Writer Joe Berkowitz

“Donald Trump” by Mac Miller

It’s summer! Time to go outside and do whatever you want — barbeques, driving around with the windows rolled down, excessive drinking, etc. So it’s time to turn on your music and annoy everyone else around you. It’s time for some summer anthems.

Fittingly, Mac Miller’s “Donald Trump” is about doing whatever the fuck you want and doing it with class, like getting high and riding around in a Cutlass and taking over the world, flipping off everyone else along the way. That’s a little laughable because a Cutlass is a terrible vehicle, but when you’re “on your Donald Trump shit” it doesn’t matter; you’ll win anyway. — Writer Jordan Barber

“Banana Ripple” by Junior Boys

Junior Boys tracks have always sounded like indoor songs. The duo softens the harsh beeps and beats of their production by taking melodic hints from R&B, but it’s always felt like a pasty-white sort of sexiness. “Banana Ripple” sounds like Junior Boys with a tan. The interplay between the bouncing blips and wavy synths lift Jeremy Greenspan’s falsetto to sunny new heights. The song is over nine minutes long, but with all of its false endings, “Banana Ripple” seems like it could play on forever. And you’ll wish it could. — Editor Kevin Nguyen

“Thunder on the Mountain” by Wanda Jackson

What’s a summer? A confused jumble of heat, itchiness, and the oppressive need to be doing something. Summer makes me feel like a damp blanket tumbling in a hot dryer who is also supposed to be working on a novel. Nothing captures the propulsive but directionless need to be a-doin’ like Wanda Jackson’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.” The song was produced by Jack White to celebrate Dylan and Jackson’s collective 144th birthday. It sounds as if Jackson threw the verses up in the air Dada-style and sung them as they hit the ground. So what if she scrapped the verse that rhymes “sons of bitches” with “orphanages”? (Too sacrilegious?) This woman has been ferocious and every synonym of ferocious for over fifty years. Her take rolls and tumbles and enunciates in a way that Dylan doesn’t attempt much any more. The pointless insistence of “Thunder on the Mountain” make it the perfect song to accompany my favorite summer activity: sitting in a dark, temperature controlled room wondering how to age gracefully while everyone else is at the beach living forever. — Contributing Writer Jonathan Gourlay

“Alien Observer” by Grouper

For most of our young lives, summer exists as three months between spring and fall semesters. Past and future crowd a sudden freedom in which everything seems possible, but temporary. So we sleep until 2 p.m., stop wearing shoes, drive long distances at night and experiment with drugs just to locate and lose ourselves before school starts again. The days are long, the summer is short, and like Grouper’s mesmerizing songs they are best described by the iTunes label “unknown”. Liz Harris’s new double album A|A is surreal and blurry and the perfect backdrop for a lengthy, revelatory drug trip. The title track “Alien Observer” is a great summer jam, especially if you spend the summer being hypnotized at the bottom of the ocean by a giant, quiet cloud of jellyfish. And hey, while you’re down there you might as well listen to both albums all the way through. — Art Director Hallie Bateman

“Tomboy” by Panda Bear

I’m not the biggest fan of the sun; that’s why I live in Seattle (cf. my entry in our “Archnemeses ” staff list). So I don’t really celebrate when summer rolls around, and the songs that define the season for me are not bright, upbeat, or poppy.

I picked the title track off Panda Bear’s latest album because it reminds me of videogames. Specifically, it brings back memories of summers I spent with the blinds shut, playing RPGs until four in the morning. I don’t care how antisocial that sounds; I savor those thoughts. And since I work summers now and find the heat oppressive, nostalgia is all I’ve got.

To be clear, I don’t think “Tomboy” sounds like a videogame track (though the wavering opening chord would make a totally badass fight theme). I think this song, and all of Panda Bear’s solo music actually, sounds like nostalgia itself. Not that it feels old or dated, but rather it evokes the emotional sensation of longing for a fondly remembered past. Which I plan on doing frequently this summer as I sweat in an office chair in front of a computer screen. — Editor Nick Martens

“Rider” by Okkervil River

To me, the ultimate summer song has to be something you can listen to while chewing bubble gum and skateboarding and drinking a mint julep and putting on sunscreen and slapping a mosquito and maybe busting out the twist or the mashed potato — all at the same time. Okkervil River’s “Rider” comes pretty darn close to meeting all of those requirements. It’s good for hanging out of car windows, it’s good for mixing lemonade in a friend’s cramped and sticky kitchen, it’s good for holing up in your room and closing the blinds to the sun and heat, it’s good for night bike rides, and most of all, it’s good for throwing up your hands and shouting along when Will Sheff sneaks in that old familiar refrain, “rock, rockaway beach.” – Illustrator Yael Levy

“Look at Me Now” by Chris Brown (feat. Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes)

The heat and vacations of summer lead to less clothing and strangers seeing more of your skin. Strutting your stuff at the pool takes confidence, and who better to teach you how to think highly of yourself than Chris Brown? Brown is so fresh, he even had to write a song about. “Look at Me Now” is a fun summer jam with a slow, heavy beat that anyone can keep up with punctured with verses of very fast rapping. This song is a single from Brown’s album F.A.M.E., but he’s overshadowed by Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes. Since Chris Brown can’t rap, he sets the listener’s expectations low with a funny-but-poorly-delivered first verse, then hands it over to the pros. Busta Rhymes is so crisp with his delivery, you can hear every syllable, but he’s so fast you’ll look like an idiot if you try to show that you know words. Lil Wayne shines in the third verse and you just have to smile as he curses at you and your friends because you had no idea English could sound like that and still be understood.

“Look at Me Now” is fun to dance to, the verses are still engaging after multiple listens, and the chorus is easy to sing along with. Oh, and if you’re feeling a little down on yourself in a swimsuit, just remember you’re fresher than a motherfucker… and you never have to live a day as Chris Brown. — Writer Caitlin Boersma

“Gangsta” by tUnE-YaRdS

The thrill of listening to “Gangsta” is the sense that the song may at any moment completely fall apart and crumble into a dissonant heap. Propelled by clattering drum beat and an exuberant bass line, the song is built with one joyous, cacophonous layer on top of another. Then the song actually does collapse into a series of brass notes and voice-as-sirens. It’s a loud, chaotic bricolage of noise and, like all songs of summer should be, bitchingly catchy.

“Gangsta” reminds me of a rougher, deconstructed version of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” Both songs are mischievous and rousing with a hint of violence. In fact, they each incorporate gunshots — or their vocal equivalent — into the mix, but tUnE-YaRdS sounds like she’s having more fun. Which is good, because we’re having fun listening to her play. — Contributing Writer Tim Lehman

“Houseboat Babies” by Reptar

Remember Reptar from the Rugrats? He was the green dinosaur. Some band in Georgia took it as their name and has managed to put out some great electro-pop tunes.

Their song “Houseboat Babies” doesn’t seem to have anything to do babies on houseboats, but it’s a great summer song. It’s a bright and breezy song about fun and sexy life moments. “Can you feel it?” shouts the band during the chorus. Yes, I can feel it, whatever it is; that summer feeling, maybe. — Jordan Barber

“My Terrible Friend” by the Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Summer is a time for hookups that may or may not make it past Labor Day. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are able to capture in their sound both the excitement of suddenly having someone worth losing, and the wistfulness of realizing you might have to let them go. Their name may be too precious by half, but TPOBPAH work hard enough to be forgiven for it. A heightened keyboard riff drives “My Terrible Friend” along, while skittering percussion shakes away beneath ethereal background vocals. The overall effect sounds like sneaking away from a party with someone because time is precious. If John Hughes were still alive and making movies about high school love, he would totally use this song on the soundtrack. — Joe Berkowitz

“Hair” by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s songs have always sounded like pop Frankenstein — a series of catchy hooks sewn together and shocked to life by studio production magic. Even Gaga’s best song, “Bad Romance,” sounds like three or four different songs in a random order. But “Hair” is perhaps the most cohesive sounding Lady Gaga song yet. It’s not the best track off Born This Way, but it’s definitely the most fun. “Hair” is a bombastic anthem about hairdos as a form of self-expression — a stupid but entirely likable message — but Gaga is more digestible when she’s not being pretentious (“Born This Way,” “Judas”). Even the ‘90s sounds, like the soft piano notes, “oh ohs” in the chorus, trills from a jazz saxophone, seem comfortable among an aggressively modern production. — Kevin Nguyen

If you’re an Rdio user, you can listen to the songs mentioned on our playlist. Also, see our favorite songs of last summer.

Illustration by Yael Levy