Despite the perceived democratic nature of the annual Song of the Summer battle, there really can only be a handful of contenders. We’ll hear Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” OMI’s “Cheerleader,” and Justin Bieber’s emo redemption track (via Skrillex and Diplo’s “Where Are Ü Now“) all summer long, but personally, I’m more interested in relaxed-fit grooves. To me, funk is ideal summertime music because it’s wildly jubilant in nature but also laid back. Even among the pop, rap, and EDM bangers that stream out of car windows this time of year, I find myself gravitating to those where a sense of soulfulness creeps through. With that in mind, here are ten songs I’ll be keeping on repeat all summer long.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra — “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s new album, Multi-Love, is a psychedelic soul trip into polyamory that’s worth your time, and the LP’s Of Montreal-esque single “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” stands out as particularly resonant at the moment. This funky ode to feeling frustratingly disconnected from someone you love who’s far away also works for those of us who feel like everyone we know spends their time out in the world staring at a screen. Instead of being that person this summer, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” serves as a reminder to enjoy nature, not just Instagram it.
Alessia Cara — “Here”
The summer will never be as infinite as we want it to be, which means it’s definitely too short to waste any time on fakes and phonies. “Here,” the soulful kiss-off from recent Def Jam signee Alessia Cara, paints a picture of an alternate paradise that doubles as my social strategy for the summer: “I’d rather be somewhere with my people/ We can kick it and just listen to some music with a message, like we usually do/ And we’ll discuss our big dreams, how we plan to take over the planet.” As a musical base, Cara uses Isaac Hayes’ “Help Me Love” — also memorably sampled by Portishead on “Glory Box” — to give “Here” a timeless weight regardless of how well the song may fare.
IGBO — “Gimmie Gimmie”
Brooklyn collective IGBO have funk legend Nile Rodgers’ disco-jangle guitar tone down, but that’s only one thing to love about the newcomers’ recent single “Gimmie Gimmie.” There’s also a Latin breakdown, the chillest chants in recorded history, and a whole mess of brass and woodwind. George Clinton would be proud.
Jamie xx feat. Popcaan & Young Thug — “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
Jamie xx’s new solo debut, In Colour, is defined by its emotions, which range — as I mentioned earlier this week — from “I need to be alone,” to “I need to be alone yet here I am in a crowded room,” to finally, “Fuck it, I might as well enjoy myself while I’m here.” “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” defines this last camp. Can you beat a finger-snapping, soul-sampling work of dancehall sparkle where Young Thug talks nonsense? I think not.
RAC feat. Nate Henricks — “Back of the Car”
The brand-new single from Portland synthpop purveyors RAC is for anyone who’s found some small part of themselves on the road, while chasing a pipe dream or simply tripping through new lands. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’ve changed until you get back home afterwards, but “Back of the Car” is a high-energy jolt of a reminder to enjoy the ride as it goes.
Mark Ronson feat. Mystikal — “Feel Right”
Summertime PSA: revisit Mark Ronson’s deliciously retro Uptown Special LP, released earlier this year, starting with unofficial single “Feel Right.” Mystikal employs the phrase, “Don’t make me light my butt,” to great effect atop blazing brass. What more do you want?!
Neon Indian — “Annie”
Neon Indian were one of the bands that defined the chillwave trend a few years back, but new single “Annie” proves that its members have some new tricks up their sleeves when it comes to casting vibes. Listen if a much-needed update of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” sounds appealing to you.
Major Lazer feat. Elliphant & Jovi Rockwell — “Too Original”
As far as Major Lazer’s new album is concerned, “Lean On” may be the obvious banger, with hundreds of millions of YouTube views, but allow me to direct your attention to “Too Original.” Jovi Rockwell, a fast-talking Jamaican rapper and singer, turns the song’s verses into an enthralling race to the chorus, which delivers with a one-two punch of “Jock Jam” realness and Jazz Age earworm. If you need walk-on music for any reason this summer (or really ever), look no further than “Too Original.”
Lil Mama — “Sausage”
If you thought “Lip Gloss” was a banger for our time, turn your ears to Lil Mama’s first new song in ages, the furious old-school hip hop of “Sausage.” This one is more about funkiness in message than actual sound, with the Brooklyn MC growling about breakfast meats and preaching safe sex — a particularly helpful reminder now that people are wearing less and less clothing!
PHASES — “I’m In Love With My Life”
PHASES, formerly known as JJAMZ, is a new disco-tinged project featuring a bevy of musicians from other bands: Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenberg, The Like’s Z Berg, Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes’ Jason Boesel, and The Elected’s Michael Runion. The sum of their parts seems to have spawned the funkiest music any of them has made to date, with “I’m In Love With My Life” leading the pack. I said it a few weeks ago and I stand by that assessment: This song is a mix between Rilo Kiley’s Under the Black Light and The Knocks’ “Classic,” which I personally bumped all last summer.