Summer already arrived without us properly preparing you for it. That’s on us. In the past we’ve selected our individual songs for the summer, but ten songs isn’t really going to cut it—last year damn near had us burning through all the music within reach, and our appetites haven’t grown any less voracious. And if you’re anything like us, you’re going to need a lot to listen to over the next few months.
Four of us assembled playlists based on certain qualities we associate with summer, whether it’s the sea, the road, good memories or just an intangible feeling. They’re alternately smooth, soulful, dreamy and earthy, with a few hours’ worth of material to help improve your summer as best we can.
Even if it’s a few weeks late, we think there’s a little bit of something for everyone in our Summer Playlists 2021 selections—whether you’re on a boat, in a car, riding a vibe or just in a warm, comforting place.
Virginia Croft’s Summer Yacht Rock Playlist
As a 26-year-old making just barely enough money, I somehow can’t resist yacht rock. Maybe it’s masochistic of me to listen to a genre geared towards the activities of the very very very wealthy, but I like to think of it more as music to daydream to. Especially with the recent heatwave, Michael McDonald’s voice has felt like a cooling breeze, Steely Dan’s Aja serving as an ice pack. I hear their influence on Twin Peaks on their new track “Whistle in the Wind,” in the mellow, laid back guitar licks against slacker vocals. My summer jams playlist can take you from the car to the subway, the beach to the blow up pool you bought on Facebook marketplace—anywhere you want to simply escape and pretend you own a yacht.
Jeff Terich’s Summer Vibes Playlist
I’ve always been a fan of making summer mixes since way back in my teenage years and I’d cobble together taped compilations of Stereolab, Spiritualized, The Clash and The Pixies. This year I find myself less drawn to more overtly guitar-based music for my summer-appropriate music fix, but less drawn to more populist summer fare as well, instead favoring a blend of R&B/funk (heavily inspired by that excellent new Sault record), dub, soul-jazz and electronic sounds. It’s less about hooks, more about vibes, but considering my summer has turned out to be a lot more hectic than expected, something more immersive and less exclamatory is perhaps exactly what I need. Tune in, vibe out.
Forrest James’ Summer Driving Playlist
Summer, for me, means Jay Som and driving. Everybody Works topped my personal charts the summer of 2017 while road tripping, packing up and moving on. That was mostly incidental, but then in August of 2019 Anak Ko arrived in my life like a revelation. Aside from Melina Duterte herself, I owe much of my personal growth at that time to the biggest Jay Som fan in my life, who made it their new year’s resolution to bring more “Tenderness” into her life, and consequently mine. This is a playlist for hitting the road with the person that inspires you, and trying to become better people along the way.
William Lewis’ Summer Nostalgia Playlist
Summer in Australia is stuff of legend. Scorching sun beating down, melting the tarmac of the cities and drying the thirsty landscapes to rust shaded tinderboxes ready to be swept by bushfire or flash flood, depending where you live in the great southern land. All this set against the languid roll of a lazy Christmas season—January spent at any one of hundreds of crowded beaches, surfing all day and coming home to light beers and barbecues on the deck. Aloe vera relieving burnt skin, the scent of eucalyptus and insect repellent, cricket playing on TV while the infinite twilight of evening is wiled away with mild treasonous chat and 1,000-piece puzzles. These are the shared rites of passage growing up in Australian summers, and we clutch these makeshift traditions tightly even as we slowly grow and recognize the national follies entrenched in their perpetuation. So while I wish I was cool enough to pluck from an encyclopedic knowledge of feel-good ’60s funk or obscure Afrobeat, in the end my instincts took me back to the familiar songs that soundtrack the baked highways and hazy sunsets of annual pilgrimages to the ocean. These are tracks that hold that rush of summer; full of rollicking beats, sunny synth melodies and big builds that pay off at giddy heights. But, to me, they also share the sense of being cloaked in that essential element of summer—nostalgia. The constant tug of its temporary nature, longing for the golden tint of summers gone and the slight hint of disaffection at all the next one promises. But hey, it’s the middle of winter here at the moment so my “summer jam” emotional compass might be a little impaired.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.