Justin Timberlake’s wet fart of a new single bringing you down? Calvin Harris’s cheap “We Found Love” sequel not cutting it? Sick and tired of Drake? We got you. Here is a collection of PMA writers’ picks for Song of the Summer 2016, kindly telling the corporate radio gods to shove it.
“Berlin Got Blurry” by Parquet Courts
Summertime is supposed to mean sunlight, patios, light breezes and cooler beer. But it can sometimes also signal change for people standing still. Maybe that’s why Pavement and Sonic Youth remain two of my favorite bands: because they understand that, and their music was—more often than not—informed by that understanding. Parquet Courts, taking up Pavement’s mantle (in addition to the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers and Wire), also understand that. In “Berlin Got Blurry”, the best song from Human Performance, the lyrics are inherently sad (as seen in each changing chorus—my favorite: “Well Berlin got blurry when my eyes started telling it to”), but it grooves too because Parquet Courts understand the better bits of summertime. They nick the propulsive bass-line from James Carr’s “That’s What I Want To Know” (also, Elvis Presley’s “Only the Strong Survive”) and pair it with a sun-kissed keyboard hook that caps off the choruses. And unlike their breakthrough album of 2012, they sharpen the songwriting and let their lyrical smarts show. It’s not just Berlin that gets blurry after heartbreak; it’s Toronto too, and I assume, everywhere else. — Marshall Gu
“Famous” by Kanye West
Pound for pound, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is the best sounding album of the year. Its sonic riches are spread out generously throughout the album’s 19 tracks, and some of the album’s finest moments are encased in “Famous”, West’s first on-mic collabortion with Rihanna since “All of the Lights”. And thank God Kanye knows how and when to use the most devastating weapon in his arsenal! That moment Rihanna comes in with “I just wanted you to know/ I loved you better than your own kin diiiid”? Please point me to a more gorgeous moment in a pop song in 2016. How about when Kanye chops up, so gleefully, Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” (tell me that is not summertime incarnate)? Or how ‘bout that jaw-dropping moment when Kanye reveals Rihanna’s aforementioned bit was really a Nina Simone sample? To quote Swizz Beatz, God damn! — Luis Tovar
“Frankie Sinatra” by The Avalanches
My decision for song of the summer was split between Drake and Rihanna. They are, after all, the respective king and queen of the radio right now. And then The Avalanches returned, barreling down the mountain with a new song that features two of hip-hop’s most eccentric visionaries. No matter your thoughts on the single, when “Frankie Sinatra” dropped, every other option for summer ‘16 song didn't matter. It takes a duo so confident in their music to relinquish something so unquestionably weird 16 years after the last time they released anything at all. That’s exactly what “Frankie Sinatra” is, a traveling carnival that welcomes the strangest of sights, including the duo that created it. Drenched in off-kilter calypso rhythms, “Frankie Sinatra” dances through the streets with a big brass marching band and a slew of ludicrously clad side acts yelping about their own absurdity. In 2016, with everyone so concerned about their image and the expertly crafted music that goes along with it, The Avalanches latest single stands proudly against that. Disjointed, wacky, and uncool, “Frankie Sinatra” invites the weirdos to a summer romp of their own. – Brian Tabb
“Good House” by Deakin
My song of the summer (and a strong contender for my song of the year) is Deakin’s “Good House”. I’m aware that it’s not what people tend to think of when they picture a summer song. It’s not going to be lighting up any summer gatherings anytime soon, there’s little to no chance you’ll hear it on even the most eclectic summer radio playlist, and it takes a special kind of person to be able to shout these lyrics out a car window while speeding down an open highway on a summer afternoon. But what this song evokes is a feeling of pure, content warmth. The best parts of summer are all represented in “Good House”: the watery repeated guitar line, the overtones of affection toward both family and friends in the lyrics, the carefree exuberance of the vocals. After a disappointingly cookie-cutter offering from his bandmates, who have been responsible for several defining songs of summers past, Deakin comes through with a slow-paced but entrancing song that looks poised to hold up for plenty of summers to come. “Delight comes alive”, indeed. — Luke Fowler
"The Numbers" by Radiohead
Yes, previous to the release of A Moon Shaped Pool, I—like many other Radiohead fans, I guess—feared that the new stuff wouldn’t cut it. Not that I ever imagined bad music coming from them, but you always want (and hope for) more than just “good music” from your all-time favorite band. What if none of these upcoming songs would be a game-changer, like those that invariably flooded their previous albums?
Later on, while I absolutely loved the new record's first two singles, I have to admit they didn't blow my mind. But then “The Numbers” happened. It was my first-listen favorite from AMSP and it remains so, not just because it’s brutally beautiful, but also because it was the first song in that record that let me know how foolish I was to have ever doubted these guys. On it, Nigel Godrich’s brilliant production seamlessly harmonizes Thom Yorke’s haunting vocals with Johnny Greenwood’s powerful string arrangements.
I can’t (won’t) stop listening to this album and, in particular, to this song. So, I guess that technically makes it my song of the summer. — Elena Badillo
"Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?" by Ahnoni
The Anthropocene Era is defined as the point in geologic time where humanity became the dominant influence in nature. It’s debatable as to when we entered it, but we’re most certainly living it now. Ahnoni is having none of it. Our future is not hers.
My choice for “song of the summer” employs the term quite loosely. It is not a jam in the classic sense of the word, but “Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?” encapsulates the mood in which the world currently finds itself better than any song I’ve heard this year. As the world races to make sense of the Paris global climate pact, fires and floods ransack entire cities, and we remain on track for one of the hottest years on record; civil wars rage on; the march toward corporate amalgamation continues as some of the most malevolent business models in the world dovetail; I could go on.
Which isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom. On the contrary, this may be the most uplifting song about the end of the world you’ll ever hear. Ahnoni’s rousing, fiery performance lingers as you contemplate the gravity of our collective challenges—backed by dazzling production from some of electronic music’s most forward-thinking minds. The imagery is stunning, the tone serious, the message clear. — Brendan Frank
“Wristband” by Paul Simon
“The Werewolf” is the really staggering piece of work from Simon’s new album, but “Wristband” is the low-key groover specific to the new humidity. Working on a deceptively catchy upright bass line that should be studied by all the flaccid retro-soul producers on the charts, Simon goes out the backstage door to have a smoke and check his email (“see if I can read the screen”), and the door locks behind him and he has to walk around the block to get into his own show. But he needs the wristband to get in. Mildly amusing, you’d think, and typical of the kind of stuff Simon makes for the NPR sets. But the thing is, he’s not patting himself on the back or shoving it in your face how fucking witty a concept that is. As executed by him and his killer-tight band, he just accurately evokes the kind of sly, bemused, mischievous nicotine headrush in a hot city. The wristband is the always-important class distinction: “The riots started slowly, with the homeless and the lowly, then they spread into the heartland towns that never get a wristband.” Exclusionary capitalism—a ridiculous cartoon! — Nathan Wisnicki