As we plough on through August, the realisation that summer (or whatever little we got to experience here in the UK) is winding down has begun to set in.
To help distract ourselves from the impending gloom, we decided it was time to put together a summer playlist to enjoy while putting your system through its paces.
We've picked out some great tracks that will also test your system's dynamic, rhythmic, and organisational skills. Expect to find an assortment of bright, vibrant sounds across pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronica to relax to, dance to, or just sit and listen to.
Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (1991)
Ok maybe we picked this one primarily for the title, but DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s Summertime serves up a warm, laid-back dose of easy-going hip-hop.
As possibly the duo’s most iconic and recognisable track, Summertime features a deep bassline and dense production – vocal ad-libs and harmonies, ‘G-funk’ style synth leads, and sharp claps which double the snare. It’s party-in-the-sun vibes through and through.
(It Goes Like) Nanana – Peggy Gou (2023)
Peggy Gou has been making a name for herself for years now but this year’s single (It Goes Like) Nanana is perhaps the first to see any real mainstream recognition.
As a result, the track has been inescapable this summer, in part thanks to its less-than-subtle Eurodance vibe, pounding kick-drum, stupidly catchy vocals and that synth sample that sounds a lot like ATB’s late-’90s club classic 9 PM (Till I Come). It’s been stuck in our head for months.
Lake VU – Apifera (2021)
Apifera is an instrumental quartet comprising synths, electric bass and drums/percussion that continuously straddle the line between electronic and jazz.
Lake VU provides a smooth, stripped-down ride propelled by a thick Moog synth bassline and shuffling drums, which are accompanied by gentle electric piano melodies and swirling, heavily-phased guitars panned either side of the soundstage.
This one’s a great test for how well your system can present growling synth bass in a tight and controlled manner. Not to mention the brief easter egg in the closing second, comment below if you caught it...
93’ til Infinity – Souls of Mischief (1993)
Featuring beautifully sampled electric pianos from Billy Cobham’s Heather and a snappy crunching beat, 93 ’til Infinity is quintessential chilled ’90s hip-hop listening.
Bright, lively, and optimistic, this track not only tells the story of good times, you end up really feeling it. The group was very young when they recorded this track, and the youthful enthusiasm in the vocal delivery shines through – or it should do with capable, revealing speakers or headphones.
It’s also set to one of the most scenic summery videos there’s ever been, shot partly amongst the streams, forests, and mountains of the picturesque Yosemite National Park.
Apocalypse Dreams – Tame Impala (2012)
Released as the first teaser from their sophomore album Lonerism, Tame Impala’s Apocalypse Dreams can be seen as an homage to psych-rock and ’60s music in a similar vein.
Famous for his Beatles-esque vocal production, Kevin Parker recorded Lonerism as an ode to being alone and enjoying solitude (he previously wrote a song called Solitude Is Bliss after all). Despite this isolating theme, Apocalypse Dreams has a blissful, summer’s end feel about it; sounding somewhat unsure, somewhat hopeful.
The long decay of the piano and the drum cymbals ring throughout, complemented by alternating combinations of analogue synths, electric guitar, and vocal layers to create an atmospheric journey with an extended outro that makes up nearly half the playtime.
Festival – Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes (2020)
Opening with an electric bass melody is a rarity in itself, but Tom and Yussef have never been afraid of challenging conventions.
Yussef’s now-trademark shuffling drum grooves sit right in the middle of the mix with the odd splash of hats or cymbals off to the sides. As the track progresses, gentle brass, strings, vocal harmonies and guitar licks fill out every space around the electric bass melody, which is then in turn joined by a deep synth sub-bassline. Is your system organised enough to separate all that information? We hope so.
Hallucinate – Dua Lipa (2020)
Dua Lipa represents a high watermark when it comes to modern pop. From her vocal delivery to the producers she works with, her tunes are always bombastic with plenty of disco influence sprinkled on top.
Like Dua’s other tracks, Hallucinate revolves around a thick, funky bassline with tons of midrange punch. Production is sparser and more open in the verses, allowing the vocals to reverberate across the soundstage. In contrast, the chorus features dense, stacked layers of piano, arpeggiated lead synth and vocal harmonies.
If you have access to a streaming service that offers 360 immersive/spatial sound, you can really hear all the different vocal harmonies, including a lower male voice, spread out all around you with the appropriate kit.
Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest (1993)
Some more classic hip-hop up next. A Tribe Called Quest, along with their Native Tongue contemporaries such as De La Soul, pioneered a more introspective, soulful form of hip-hop full of jazz samples.
Electric Relaxation is typical of this, with MC’s Phife Dawg and Q-Tip delivering a verbal back-and-forth across a choppy, looped beat. Alongside this, electric piano chords and a bassline sampled from Ronnie Foster’s Mystic Brew feature throughout.
The attack of the bass along with the crackly drum samples provide a nice rhythmic test for any speakers or headphones. This track definitely marks one of the highest points in the hip-hop group’s career and is perfect listening for a lazy, hazy summer evening.
Two Thousand And Seventeen – Four Tet (2017)
Kieran Hebden, AKA Four Tet, may have veered towards the dancefloor as the years have passed, but he’s never short on ambience or atmospherics.
Two Thousand And Seventeen loops around a stripped-back, crackly beat and a pure, droning synth bassline. At intervals, in comes a gorgeous, tactile dulcimer sound that fills every corner of the soundstage and provides a stern test for your system’s dynamics.
Gentle, shifting synth pads enter around halfway, providing width and warmth to what is a beautifully sparse-sounding production for most of its runtime.
Contact – Kelela (2023)
Rounding off our summer playlist is a track that captures the sound of a party winding down, reflected perfectly in the recurring lyric, "It's 2am, yeah, we made it. Everybody faded."
Kelela continuously walks a fine line between R’n’B and electronic dance stylings and always comes armed with some of the catchiest hooks in town. Contact from Kelela’s latest album features a UK-garage-esque beat alongside synth production typical of an album released on Warp Records – warm and trippy in places, crystal clear and pristine in others.
With a lot of melodic information sitting in the higher frequencies, this is a good test for how well your speakers can present stacked musical elements. Sometimes the track feels calming, sometimes it sounds energising. Is the party ending or just firing back up?