Songs for summer

by Martyn Pepperell

Depending on where you are in the country, summer either has or is hopefully about to, arrive. Summer in New Zealand means festivals, outdoor fairs, barbeques, trips to the beach and the park, questionable fashion choices; and even more questionable life decisions (ha!). A big part of summer fun in New Zealand is having the right soundtrack. While I’m sure you have your go­to albums, playlists and songs at the ready (as do I), new musical discoveries are a great thing during the warm months.

From avant chamber­pop to smoldering basement funk, I’ve put together a guide to some of the essential songs you need to be blasting this summer.

Sui Zhen – ‘Infinity Street’
Taken from Secretly Susan (Remote Control Records)

‘Infinity Street’ by Melbourne based vocalist & producer Sui Zhen is a beautifully escapist piece of dubby lounge music with some heaving 80s drum machine funk at its heart. Soft and shiny like the seaside ocean in summer, it also ripples with those magic late night moments you get in the midst of the perfect summer party. You know, after a particularly special day spent poolside or at the beach. If it takes your fancy, you’ll be sure to enjoy the recent of Sui Zhen’s sublime debut album Secretly Susan.


Unknown Mortal Orchestra – ‘The World Is Crowded’
Taken from Multi­Love (Jagjaguwar)

With ‘The World Is Crowded’, Portland­based US/New Zealand band Unknown Mortal Orchestra deftly nail their own basement­born take on the swampy New Orleans funk/RnB sound Aaron Neville was peddling in the early 70s (think: ‘Hercules’). Frontman Ruban’s vocals are sounding better than ever before, and the contrast between the rhythm section and the keyboard lines is neck­snappingly excellent. ‘The World Is Crowded’ is gonna keep on giving this summer.


Lontalius – ‘All I Wanna Say’
Taken from I’ll Forget Seventeen (Partisan Records)

‘All I Wanna Say’ by fast­rising young Wellington singer & producer Lontalius’ is his ‘Marvin’s Room’ moment (I’m talking the Drake single, not the film). With that being said, while this delightful minimal RnB ballad hinges around the same after midnight ambience as that seminal tune, the similarities end there. Lontalius has a stunning ability to craft succinct lyrical sentiments and loop them until they crush your heart with their emotional heft. ‘All I Wanna Say’ will make you feel everything over the warm months.

Gabi – ‘Fleece’
Taken from Sympathy (Mexican Summer)

From a textural perspective, ‘Fleece’ by New York vocalist and composer Gabi feels like riding a surfboard through a perfect and usually long barrel wave, beguiling walls of water surrounding you as you slide into the sunny distance. Fashioned out of stunningly rich vocal composition and delicate traces of instrumentation, it’s one of nine sublime songs on what might just be the most masterful ambient/environmental music album released this year.

Regal Degal – ‘Delicious’
Taken from Not Now (Terrible Records)

In August, I was lucky enough to catch Brooklyn­based psych­pop trio Regal Degal perform mid­summer at New York’s MOMA Museum in Midtown. The highlight of their melody­led set was a supernova of a song titled ‘Delicious’. With a wistful vocal melody intertwining with a sun­kissed funk guitar work and hip­hugging drums, it was (and is) in a word: delicious. ‘Delicious’ is as good an entry point as any into their super assured new album Not Now.

Soft Lit – ‘I Can’t Help It’
Taken from Soft Lit (Godmode America)

As Soft Lit, Brooklyn, NYC Dwellers Tyler McCauley and Tara Chacón make retro­leaning dance pop songs that convert heartbreak and betrayal into buoyant euphoria. Over the last two years, they’ve released three spare and expressive singles through Godmode (who introduced us to Shamir in 2014 prior to his XL signing), as well as also helping with production on Shamir’s debut album Ratchet. Of the three, their last single ‘I Can’t Help It’ is the most focused. Tara’s vocal melodies soar sky­high, and Tyler’s club­ready instrumentation is all lean muscle. In short, ‘I Can’t Help It’ is one of those jams that just won’t quit this summer.

Julia Holter – ‘Feel You’
Taken from Have You In My Wilderness (Domino Recording Co)

In the years since the release of her debut album Tragedy, Los Angeles composer and vocalist Julia Holter’s music has transformed several times. Record by record, her work has shifted from evocative sonic arts to full­on lyric and melody­led songwriting that recalls the great 70s folk rock era and tradition. ‘Feel You’ is joyful and flighty, like scoring a goal in a game of summer beach soccer with a flying kick.

Mac Demarco – ‘Another One’
Taken from Another One (Captured Tracks)

Right now, the easy listening avant­MOR jams of blissful Canadian scumbag Mac Demarco are everywhere. When the hype gets as hot as freshly laid summer road tarmac, it’s easy to feel inclined to listen elsewhere. Doing so would be a disservice to your ears, because Mac Demarco is making some remarkable music. ‘Another One’ is an exercise in soulful soft­rock excellence. All buoyant vocals bubbling against blurry coastal melodies and swaying rhythm­shimmers, when the sun is out, it sounds perfect.

Kadhja Bonet – ‘Honeycomb’
Taken from The Visitor (Self­Released)

Los Angeles vocalist, instrumentalist and producer Kadhja Bonet has a voice like honey and the bittersweet way with words required to balance out what might become an exercise in the saccharine in someone else’s hands. ‘Honeycomb’ takes the best of her abilities as a singer and a lyricist and encases them in a sultry cosmic jazz/soul frame. ‘Honeycomb’ is the sort of music that will make you want to dream and live better under the summer sunlight.

Silicon – ‘Burning Sugar’
Taken from Personal Computer (Weird World Co)

Auckland musician Kody Nielson aka Silicon’s new album Personal Computer is a concept record about the modern day paranoia and disconnection of the internet/personal technology era. With that being said, however, it’s also home to some infectious and warm­hearted jams. ‘Burning Sugar’ is Silicon in full 70s p­funk mode, a scorching falsetto floating across disco­funk drums, wah­wah guitar licks and bubbling synth­bass excellence. Silicon’s got this summer covered.