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Our Songs of the Summer

Summer isn’t quite over yet, but it’s at the point where you pretty much want it to be. Fall—with its cool breezes, red leaves, soups, and, uh, forced family gatherings—seems kinda nice right about now. So it’s as good a time as any to reminisce on our favorite songs from the preceding three months, the ones we listened to while not accidentally hearing “Despacito” or “Wild Thoughts.”

Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”

One of the weirder misconceptions about Cardi B’s rise to New York’s next great hope is that she somehow “reinvented” herself to do so. This isn’t quite right: “Bodak Yellow” brings us the same personality that delivered the viral maxims and Love & Hip-Hop fireworks—she just raps now. The song’s a hit because it’s structured around that realization. J. White Did It’s production is playfully sparse, allowing every bit of the song’s color to emanate from Cardi B. The Bronxite spends a majority of the track boasting about her financial stability, how she’ll steal your man simply because she’s Cardi B, and how he’ll likely buy her things she could afford regardless (“And I just checked my accounts turns out I’m rich, I’m rich, I’m rich,” she says in earworm cartoonish glee). Villainous stuff, but “Bodak Yellow” thrives off a rhetoric not at all dissimilar to New York hip-hop’s greatest protagonist (starts with a “Jay”): When she proclaims “I don’t dance now, I make money moves / Say I don’t gotta dance, I make money move,” the autobiographical statement burrows itself in the convincing idea that her wins are ours. It’s a premise that rides off an elastic, tour de force performance that turns the song’s origins in Kodak Black “No Flockin” into an afterthought, and her convincing your man to buy her Yves Saint Laurent into an act of heroism.  — Brian Josephs

Hurray For the Riff Raff – “Living in the City”

“I got hurricane, and Big Danny is wasted,” Alynda Lee Segarra sings to begin “Living in the City,” the first proper song on Hurray for the Riff Raff’s sixth album The Navigator. “He said I’m the sweetest thing that he’s never tasted.” It’s an opening line worthy of a novel, creating an atmosphere of humid unpredictability and two compelling characters: the drunken buffoon and the narrator who knows him well enough to use his nickname, however reluctantly she weathers his advances. The lyric also conveys an unmistakable setting: the boozy streets of New Orleans, home of an absurdly potent rum cocktail that presumably got its name from its ability to knock you over like a gale force wind. Over a sparse and lackadaisical three-chord country-rock groove, Segarra unspools similarly vivid imagery, all of it charged with the alternating melancholy and boundless possibility of the summer season. A crammed apartment building in the first verse is filled with “14 floors of birthin’ / and 14 floors of dyin’;” a gang of friends stands on a rooftop at night and shouts until the morning. Like the rest of The Navigator, the song is rich with details from Segarra’s life as a Puerto Rican kid in the Bronx who fled the big city to make a life as a musician in Louisiana. But its simple refrain will be instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever slogged across a scorching American sidewalk, whether in Houston or Baltimore, Detroit or L.A.: “Living in the city / It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard.” — Andy Cush

Rhye – “Summer Days”

“Summer Days,” as delicious and seductive as it is, has thankfully not yet found its way onto a terribly named Spotify playlist like “Bedroom Jams” or “Sunshowers.” The dream-electronic project of singer Milosh and instrumentalist Robin Hannibal returned with its first original music this summer since 2013’s excellent Woman, and thank god. The song’s sparse arrangement bouys Milosh’s breathy verses, which avoid sentimentality and lean into simple truths. A slinky, suitcase-y, intermittent electric keyboard flirts with a left-hand piano line and the occasional string melody and a kick-heavy drumbeat keeps the sexier textures in line. But it’s the simple, syncopated chorus that takes the longing up a notch: “Summer days far away / can I just make you stay?” The lyrics may be light, but Rhye’s harmonic material hones in on the intensity of a fleeting summer romance, like waking up to a lover leaving you when September breaks. In lieu of a bridge, there’s a section of gasped “oh’s” that builds into a final bleeding chorus of harmonies. “Summer Days” doesn’t beg– its sensuality is reason enough for you to stay. And honestly, at the mercy of Milosh’s sweet, coaxing falsetto, why wouldn’t you? — Geena Kloeppel

Katie Von Schleicher – “Paranoia”

An aspect of summer that is either underappreciated or under-reported is that it can be debilitatingly depressing and horrible. That’s especially true when you’re living in parts of the world that are wrong for the season: in particular, metropolises where the heat gets thicker and more hostile every pre-apocalyptic year, squeezing out positive thoughts, caking every inch of one’s shitty apartment. New-York-New-Yorker Katie Von Schleicher’s album Shitty Hits–a sprawling and richly varied record on which fans of adventurous post-Beatles pop songwriting are bound to found something to be bewitched by–is full of tunes with breezy tempos, ascendant melodies, and triumphant chord progressions. But as its title implies, there’s a curdled quality to the emotional states she and the listener have to move through on these elaborate mini-journeys. The album itself is thick with blurry and damaged sonic impressions, the result of heavy overdubbing to tape, even as its hooks pop out brightly.

“Paranoia,” the song on the record I particularly can’t avoid, explodes into a blaring wordless refrain that, in a move perhaps atypical for indie-pop, has no vestige of the disingenuous “millennial whoop.” It feels both like a celebration of a sunny day off and a painful release of the tension in the verses–a melodic evocation of forcing one’s self to get outside, take a walk in the park, scream cathartically in the car, even. Elsewhere in the song, Von Schleicher stutters out the eponymous word in an Elvis cadence, against alien keyboard plinks that could be ringing out in the glitchy Westworld saloon. At one point, she creates an image of summer–experienced in the wrong place, at the wrong time–that will be deeply relatable to a certain breed of misanthrope: “It’s hot like dying in this hotel room/I want to feel it, I don’t want to be doomed.” Among other things, “Paranoia” serves well for moments when you feel a vicious uncontrollable urge to turn off the TV and take a third shower to stave off the sweat wellspring–maybe to get out of town, or to some coast or other, for an afternoon. — Winston Cook-Wilson

Rostam – “Bike Dream”

The best summers, or at least the ones most romanticized, are owed mostly to momentum, when considered itineraries give way to the idea that something—in fact, anything—might happen if you say yes and shoot for something good. Here we are, taking the subway to a far away neighborhood, seeing a movie because we happen to be near the theater, making eyes at someone who history tells us will surely do us wrong. Rostam’s “Bike Dream” delivers that feeling of weightless daydreaming, his casual phrases and observations about this summery bustle tumbling forth like poetry. The first time I played it the flatness of his singing on the verses took me aback, but now I hear it as logorrheic honesty, the rushed cadence giving us these jumbled scenes as fast as possible: the drunken moment on 14th St., the orange swimming through the trees (Frank O’Hara, eat your heart out), the beautiful stillness of watching someone paint as you read the New Yorker. The drums sound heavy, though it’s not a heavy song; the strings inch toward a delayed climax where he circles back to the fantasy of love thrilling and kind, his voice dropping to speaking level before ascending back to the hopeful melody: “Two boys, one to love you sweetly / One does so discreetly / Never will he meet me.” It’s a vision of how good the season might be. — Jeremy Gordon

Charli XCX – “Boys”

Charli XCX is busy. Not on account of Number 1 Angel, the mixtape she released in March. Though it had its moments, like a sugary spa-funk collaboration with Uffie, the collection more or less came and went. Instead, Charli is busy thinking about boys. That’s a thing now, by the way: With the first two seconds of “Boys,” “thinking about boys” became a ready-made excuse for any and all obligations. Missed the party? Sorry. Thinking about boys. Even when the subject matter couldn’t be any lighter, beachy bass rhythm and a meticulously programmed drum machine prove that this is what Charli does best. A flirty, effervescent, easygoing entry in a sometimes outré pop catalog, “Boys” is the rosé wine of summer songs. — Anna Gaca

Drake – “Signs”

This isn’t one of Drake’s better songs—in fact, it feels kinda like the death rattle of his dancehall fixation, and may arguably be the song that caused the end of his unimaginably long stay in the Billboard Hot 100. Still, it’s something I returned to a lot this summer, perhaps because it feels so unexceptional as to be part of one’s routine. And yet, for as heralded and controversial Drake has become as aesthete, “Signs” is a quiet reminder that he can write nifty, if pathetic, songs about the pursuit of romance. “Champagne with breakfast while I’m yawning,” this one starts almost with an appropriate sigh. “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.” Over the course of the song, Drake follows the pattern of a fairly restrained Noah “40” Shebib beat, almost as if he’s walking along a path, trying not to stumble. “You get what you want / always / from me,” he sings slowly. “I can’t say ‘no’ / When you / say ‘please.'” Here, Genius tells me, he’s singing about the model Railiza Cepeda, but as with the best Drake songs, the dynamic trickles all the way down to the rest of us. — Jordan Sargent