Without any preamble, here are my favourite songs of this past summer:
15. Tokyo Police Club – Tunnel Vision
Who who, who who, who/Who who, who who, who/Who who, who who. Rinsed and on repeat. “Tunnel Vision” is Tokyo Police Club throwing down a Thor-like hammer on the Canadian alt-rock scene.
14. Cage The Elephant – Take It Or Leave It
I went on a bit of Cage dive this summer, with “Take It Or Leave It” being one of the tracks I played often. I love the changing dynamics/rhythm, a t(r)ick that Cage have come to master. It’s become apparent to me that Cage The Elephant have (deservedly) become quite popular, but, in spite of this success, I think they’re underrated. They’re energetic, from left field — sometimes so out in left field that they’re playing basketball on the diamond. I dig their takes on melody, I dig (lead singer) Matt Shultz, I dig their collective effervescence. It’s clear the band really likes making and performing music. It’s clear that I like Cage The Elephant.
13. Perfume Genius – Queen
Don’t you know your Queen? I didn’t. But I think I do know. She’s regal and resplendent in coruscating purple gems. The sound of Her voice is power embodied, emboldened is the sparkle in Her eye. Her grip on a sceptre is unrelenting, convincing the kingdom with the scent of Her Royal Highness. I pledge allegiance to Her. This is my Queen. This is the new Perfume Genius.
12. Sarah Bareilles – I Choose You
Nothing less than a super sweet, super earwormy pop song from Sarah Bareilles. It’s not the first time she’s pulled it off , and it won’t be the last, I’m sure, either. The woman knows her way around songcraft like very few others.
11. FKA Twigs – Two Weeks
A sultry, engulfing experience, “Two Weeks” gets better with each listen. It’s a slow slithering snake with an electric heart and an icy, steely venom. It seems like an elixir, a pulsating energy that appears to rejuvenate. In reality, it’s a poison that constricts the veins until blood ceases to flow. Death never sounded so good.
10. Justin Timberlake – Not Such A Bad Thing
The most straightforward pop song on probably either of JT’s 20/20 albums, and what a great thing to be. Whereas almost all of his recent output leans experimental, in terms of structure and sound, “Not Such A Bad Thing” seeks to be only one thing: catchy. And my, how it is. From an album released in September 2013, “NSABT” has been a slow builder of a hit, but one that reached ubiquity in spite (because?) of this. And you know what? Despite a kajillion plays on every format imaginable, it still sounds great. Not many would have said this when both 20/20 albums had been released, but I do believe there’s a chance “Not Such A Bad Thing” will be the most remembered track from either LP.
9. Ed Sheeran – I See Fire (Kygo Remix)
“I See Fire” is Ed Sheeran’s soundtrack contribution to The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. This is Kygo’s remix of that song. The rest is magic. I see fire, I feel warmth, I hear a breath. Of a life that lingers in the surroundings. But unlike the dragon that resides somewhere in the dark and dreaded shadows, this life seeks to guide, aid, and proclaim, that even though a battle is at hand, victory is in the other.
8. Jessie Ware – Tough Love (Cyril Hahn remix)
There are already a handful of remixes that have stunned me into excitement, but the Cyril Hahn remix of “Tough Love” might be the leader of the pack. Sourcing an impossibly sexy and slow-tempo’d original, Hahn takes this remix somewhere else entirely. He makes the song scoot in its boots, turns the pensive vibe of the original into a celebration of hard work. He makes tough love seem like a joy. What an accomplishment.
7. Broods – Bridges
It took me a while to see “Bridges”‘ appeal. There’s a lot of people renting space in synth-pop sounds at the moment. It takes a really special effort to differentiate and stand out from the crowd. Broods has done that here. The chorus is just sensational. The vocal is pretty yet punishing. The track is a wave of beats and broods of beauty.
6. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
I don’t know why I was a little late to this party, as “Brill Bruisers” is one the most immediate songs The New Pornographers have ever released. Once it broke for me, it broke hard. Bo ba, bo ba ba, bo for all of the ears. All of the Newmans. All of the Nekos. All of the time.
5. G.R.L. – Ugly Heart
“Ugly Heart” made my best of list in April. I’d listened to it a number of times, and obviously liked it enough to scribe my affection for it. But I really listened to it this summer. A lot. More than a lot. And what I heard was hands down one of the best pop songs I’ve heard in recent memory. The verses, the chorus, the vocals, the lyrics. All of it is perfect. Dr. Luke and the GRLs eschewed the EDM-led pop that’s dominating the mainstream for a guitar-led stomper. The move couldn’t have been smarter. Some may categorize this as disposable pop, but they’d be wrong. I think “Ugly Heart” is good enough to find a space on various rotations for years and years to come.
4. The Tea Party – Water’s On Fire
The Tea Party are one of Canada’s finest bands of all time. Jeff Martin’s voice, his guitars, Jeff Burrows’ drumming, Stuart Chatwood’s jack-of-all-trades-ness, their way with melody — I’d missed all of it. I’m so glad they’re back. That they came back with such a wonderful lead single made me even happier.
3. La Roux – Sexotheque
Before the summer, La Roux’s rocket landed back on earth with three incredible pop songs, “Let Me Down Gently”, “Uptight Downtown”, and “Tropical Chancer”. All of them are amazing pop songs, all mega-hits (in this realm or another). Some logicians might say that with three lead songs so strong, the rest of the album may pale in comparison. That would be wrong. “Sexotheque” is another brilliantly catchy ditty. La Roux’s latest album, Tropical Chancer, is one of the best albums of the year, and “Sexotheque” is a big reason why.
I’m also strangely taken by the fan-made video that I’ve linked below. In a way, it doesn’t relate to the song at all — it’s clearly a music video for another, probably Caribbean or Latin track. But something about the whole thing works. Sun and tunes have a way of making life’s incongruities irrelevant. Oh summer songs.
2. Paper Kites – Leopold Street
Yes, “Leopold Street” is a song from 2012, and I just did a list of my favourite songs of the summer that are not from 2014. So why didn’t I include this song there? I’m not completely sure, other than to say I first heard this two-year-old track a couple months ago and fell so deeply in love with it that it’s now inextricably linked to this past summer.
The music is lovely, an acoustic guitar led pop song with melodies above, on, and below ground level, a song stacked with sounds that make ears perk up and feet tap along. Juxtaposed with such sunny, sweet sounds are lyrics that speak of pain. A pain about family, about love, about loss.
The companionship of one side with the other, light and dark, the hope of summer’s beginning and sadness at its unavoidable end is what made “Leopold Street” one of my favourite songs of the summer.
1. alt-J – Left Hand Free
Ain’t shady baby, I’m hot, like the pa-rodigal son. Pick a petal, eeny meeny miny mo, and flower, you’re the chosen one…
The most straightforward song on alt-J’s phenomenal sophomore album, it’s also the most sing-a-long worthy. And my, how I exercised that right this summer.
I think alt-J could be the best band on the planet (Future Islands are right there). Their way with instrumentation, vocals, lyrics, melody, and breadth of sound is unmatched by any other band around. Only two albums in, they have several songs that could be classified as monumental, in how they touch the spirit, caress the ears, sing to, about, and from the heart.
“Left Hand Free” is not like that. In fact, it’s unlike any alt-J song to date. It’s got one thing on its mind: fun.
Isn’t fun what summer’s all about? Girls just wanna have it. So do guys. Until daddy takes the T-Bird away.
“Left Hand Free” is the epitome of fun, a soliloquy from the sun.
Thank you summer. Thank you music.