Hey, everyone! Let me be the twenty-seventh person to welcome you back to campus. This is an exciting time of year; you’re getting comfortable in your new dorm room, trying to figure out your schedule, and deciding whether there’s anyone in your immediate vicinity worth pursuing romantically. Freshmen are getting their bearings and posting all kinds of “COLLEGE IS THE BEST”-type Facebook statuses. Sophomores are enjoying no longer being on the very bottom of the college “food chain” while the juniors are pretending to be on the top. Meanwhile, the seniors are somewhere on the periphery trying to pull their lives together in time for graduation.
In the midst of it all, here I am, making playlists. I’ve thought long and hard about what the theme of my first playlist of the year should be. The obvious choice is Back to School, but what would that even sound like? What qualifies as a Back to School Playlist? It’s not a holiday like Christmas or Halloween with trademark cheesy music to mark the occasion. Clearly, figuring this one out will require more creativity than I’m used to. But then it hit me: back to school music shopping. While we all were away, tons of great new music made its way into the world, and I have yet to discuss any of it. This is what I’m offering you, readers: my top five songs of the summer that you must have for the upcoming year. Enjoy.
1.) “Pompeii” by Bastille
I guess this song didn’t technically come out this summer, but I didn’t discover it until June. Besides, this is my playlist, so we’ll play by my rules. There is nothing I don’t love about this song. The perfect balance between soft instrumental builds and lead singer Dan Smith’s precise vocal style shows off an impeccable production value. “Pompeii” overwhelms its listener in the most euphoric way with an incredible mix of well-construcated musical elements. Meanwhile, I have yet to figure out if the song is an actual historical account of the destruction of the eponymous town, or the representation of a failing relationship. Regardless, I love it and can’t wait to hear more from Bastille.
2.) “The Wire” by Haim
I recently heard the band Haim described as half Fleetwood Mac and half 90’s R&B. After much consideration, I have decided that this combination is the absolute best way to characterize their unique sound, and “The Wire” offers a perfect example of it. Haim’s hushed vocals and upbeat guitar definitely bring to mind the softer sounds of mid-20th century folk music, while their sharp and rapidly delivered lyrics offer a contemporary, smooth, and soulful dimension. Seriously, try not to dance along when you listen to this one—it’s impossible. Haim has yet to release a full-length album, but this beyond catchy track bodes well for their future career.
3.) “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West
There was no way I could skip including some new Kanye on this playlist. I know most people have already solidified their opinions of Yeezus (let me say that I am a huge fan). Honestly, I’m happy about any new Kanye West, but Yeezus was surprisingly dynamic. The eclectic sampling harkens back to Kanye’s earlier work, while the dark, contemplative lyrics represent one of his more recent standards. My favorite song on the album is hands down “Blood on the Leaves.” Featuring samples of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” the song combines several complex issues in true Kanye fashion. While Simone sings about the cruel lynchings that once plagued the United States, Kanye raps about love, drugs, infidelity, and fame. The song begins with soft piano, but soon builds to one of the best beat drops in hip-hop. Whether you’re looking for a deep track or something to get crunk to, “Blood on the Leaves” offers something for everyone.
4.) “Hearts Like Ours” by The Naked and Famous
I was starting to worry about The Naked and Famous. The band’s 2011 debut Passive Me, Aggressive You yielded fantastic and popular singles like “Young Blood,” “Punching in a Dream,” and “Girls Like You.” After such a phenomenal first album, I wasn’t sure we’d ever hear from The Naked and Famous again, but they returned this summer with a haunting new single, “Hearts Like Ours.” As with their previous releases, the song focuses on heavy synths and echoing vocals, yet possesses a simpler quality than that of most electronic music. The lyrics are a series of short but meaningful statements and rhetorical inquiries into our own human existence. “Hearts Like Ours” is beautiful in a way that is simultaneously restless and calming.
5.) “Beware” by Big Sean featuring Jhene Aiko and Lil Wayne
I have yet to hear all of Big Sean’s newest album Hall of Fame, but if his new single “Beware” is any indicator, I think I’ll like it. In this new release, Big Sean stays true to his own playful rapping style, but ventures into new territory. While his 2011 debut Finally Famous focused more on the acquisition of fame, his new song journeys into the “honest for better or worst” style most commonly attributed to Drake. Big Sean raps candidly about a failing relationship over a clean beat with help from singer Jhene Aiko on the chorus. While the subject matter itself may not be fresh following Drake’s “Marvins Room,” Big Sean’s unique flow ultimately makes the song worth listening to.