Summer has crept upon us once more – days are getting longer, temperatures are climbing, and beer gardens are overflowing. But with the sunny season comes the need for an equally sunny soundtrack.
As Jim Morrison is quoted as stating, “Summer is a good time for songs. When it’s real warm, if you have a sense of freedom, not a lot on your mind, and a feeling that there’s plenty of time, it just seems to be a good climate for music”, and it is hard to disagree with that sentiment. The airiness of the season, the more free time and daylight it allows us, seems to bring an openness to and appreciation for new music. Finding the right playlist can even enhance the radiance of summer and form bonds between fond memories and specific songs.
While good music is good music all year round, some albums lend themselves to the sea and sun. Whether it’s euphoric electronica to fuel festival season or ambient background music to push through the 9-5 before finally grabbing a pint in the sun, some music becomes all the more vivid and nostalgic from June to August. Soft, guitar-focused indie rock can conjure up memories of the beach, and mellow rap can provide the perfect musical accompaniment for days spent catching rays.
We’ve collated a list of our favourite albums to brighten up your playlist this summer, from electronic records by Jamie XX and The Avalanches to an obscure LP by Indian singer Rupa to the Talking Heads new wave classic Speaking In Tongues.
Check out our top ten list of sun-drenched albums to soundtrack the season below.
10 albums to soundtrack your summer:
Jamie XX – In Colour
In 2015, electronic producer Jamie XX released his effortlessly cool debut solo album, In Colour. Almost a decade into his work with indietronica outfit The xx, the album saw Jamie XX push further into the electronic sphere, experimenting with samples and genre. Produced in collaboration with Four Tet and with features from The xx collaborator Romy and Young Thug, the LP was an instant hit. It received a nomination for the Mercury Prize as well as a Grammy nomination for best electronic album.
With influences from rave and house, Jamie XX blends hazy electronic production with steel drums, old samples and dreamy vocals to conjure up that sweet nostalgic feeling summer brings around. ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ includes a sample from The Persuasions’ 1972 track ‘Good Times’, while ‘Loud Places’ samples another summery anthem in ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ by Idris Muhammad. Jamie XX expertly blends borrowed samples with modern electronic production, forging the perfect nostalgia-fuelled summer dance album.
The Avalanches – Since I Left You
From one sample-heavy debut album to another, The Avalanches’ 2000 release Since I Left You is another masterpiece in dance music. The Australian duo sample everything from skits by comedy duo Wayne and Shuster in ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ to the piano on ‘Aliens Fighting Robots’ by Mac Miller on ‘Flight Tonight’. ‘Little Journey’ even samples Madonna’s ‘Holiday’.
Each song blends smoothly into the next, and The Avalanches repeat the same samples and sounds throughout the runtime, making the album feel coherent and familiar. It’s so seamless that it passes by in a blur, mimicking hazy sunny days. Sonically, the record is a mix of sparkling disco, sunny psychedelia and danceable beats. It’s a record full of fun and innovation, an introduction to a whole new world of music, and a reliable soundtrack for every summer.
Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues
Talking Heads’ fifth studio album, Speaking In Tongues, saw the band move into more experimental territory with their sound, bringing in elements of funk combined with nonsense lyrics and playful percussion. It’s one of their liveliest albums, featuring hits ‘Burning Down The House’ and ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’, the latter of which could be considered a summer staple. A love song at its core, the iconic track contains playful synths and a longing for home.
But amidst the hits are a number of album-only tracks that are more than qualified to soundtrack your summer. Tracks like ‘Girlfriend Is Better’ and ‘Moon Rocks’ are perfect for a post-punk summer, featuring quirky synths and Byrne’s talky vocals.
Rupa – Disco Jazz
Disco Jazz is an album with a story just as interesting as its music. In the 40 years since Indian singer Rupa released it in 1982, unbeknownst to her and her family, the record gained cult popularity, and copies of the physical record would go for hundreds online. The record found its way from a record store in India to the depths of the internet. Caribou even played the track in DJ sets. Numero Group eventually reissued the album in 2019 to a sea of waiting fans.
Despite its title, Disco Jazz was described as a halfway point between Bollywood and Balearic upon its re-release. Standout track ‘Aaj Shanibar’ is eight minutes of pure summery goodness, with Rupa’s airy vocals, groovy bass and rhythm sections, and an irresistible charm.
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest’s groundbreaking second studio album, The Low End Theory, is a melting pot of jazz, alternative hip-hop and bass. It received huge critical acclaim and has often been included in lists of the best albums of all time.
With playful snares and sax, effortless vocal interaction between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, and consistently smooth production, the album is the perfect accompaniment for serene days in the sun. The album’s second single, ‘Jazz (We’ve Got)’, is a particular highlight, while ‘Scenario’ provides a slightly more upbeat example of their call-and-response style.
El Michels Affair – Yeti Season
Following the release of a number of tribute albums to the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, El Michels Affair released their third original studio album Yeti Season in the spring of 2021. The album sees them move away from hip-hop to summery Turkish-inspired psychedelia. Opening track ‘Unathi’ sees the group collaborate with Piya Malik, who appears throughout the album, a marriage that proves to serve the record well. Malik’s mesmerising vocals float above Leon Michels’ instrumentals, dancing around their unpredictability with ease.
Despite its name, Yeti Season is intrinsically a summer album. Michels told Rolling Stone: “I’ll probably never make another record like this, I like the idea of El Michels Affair becoming just an outlet to do different shit and weird shit and stuff that interests me.”
Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror
It’s a bold statement to make, but Americana singer-songwriter Pearl Charles is the closest thing we have to ABBA in the modern day – and how much more summery can you get than ‘Mamma Mia’? Charles’ second studio album, Magic Mirror, is a shimmering indie-pop record following themes of modern dating, imposter syndrome, and summer loving.
‘Sweet Sunshine Wine’ is perhaps the most obviously sun-drenched of the tracks, an endearing love song full of idealism about “a new love in the summertime”, while the opening track ‘Only For Tonight’ is Pearl at her most ABBA, with striking piano notes and wobbly synths. Magic Mirror is an album to soundtrack summer nights, and summer loves.
Splashh – Comfort
Hackney-based indie band Splash released their debut album in 2013, an optimistic take on shoegaze mixed with electronic and psychedelic influences á la Sweet Trip. Splashh came up amidst a revolution of summery indie amongst the likes of DIIV and Swim Deep, they supported Peace in the early 2010s, but Comfort remained one of the more niche releases in the genre.
In just over half an hour, the record provides a compact slice of summer. With tracks about vacationing, lemonade, and sitting by the pool, its lyrics and vocal style are intrinsically sunny. But the album retains some subtlety, drowning its vocals in fuzzy, psych guitars. The album compiles a number of Splashh’s early demos – it’s endearingly raw and lo-fi, transporting you back to the summers of a decade ago.
Mort Garson – Mother Earth’s Plantasia
Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia came with a tagline that perfectly encapsulates the album’s sound; it stated: “warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them”. The 1976 early experimental electronic record used a Moog synthesizer and was released as part of a campaign for a houseplant shop in Los Angeles. The album has since gained success in underground online music circles and was reissued in 2019.
The instrumental album is 30 minutes of pure joy for plants and people alike, a montage of warm and comforting synths that form the perfect ambient soundtrack for summer gardening. The LP even comes with a download code embedded with wildflower seeds and a booklet about how to take care for plants.
Gorillaz – Demon Days
In the summer of 2005, Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz released their second album, Demon Days, to great critical acclaim. The album combines influences from hip-hop and trip-hop alongside features from summer staples MF Doom, the Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, and De La Soul.
Its themes cover everything from the dangers of oil mining to a time Albarn’s daughter’s classmate brought a knife to school. But sonically, the album is fun – politicised lyrics are paired with dark pop grooves that make you feel infinitely cooler just for listening to them. It’s an undefinable amalgamation of influences, features, and sounds and the perfect album to accompany nighttime summer drives.