Criteria for a summer jam is pretty straightforward: Neon-bright in tone and upbeat in pace. It must get the shoulders moving at a lakeside cookout and/or while speeding with the windows down. Sweat, heat, skin and young love (or just the prospect of it) tend to make for ideal subject matter.
I've spent the first half of summer 2013 testing these new songs out on the highway and am now proud to say this playlist is ready for the world. So here are 15 songs broken down into five categories, with an expanded playlist on Spotify, if you're into that kind of thing.Ideal Guitar Tone category
Like a chocolate truffle, My Bloody Valentine's first album since 1991 came with a gooey, tasty center. "New You"'s five minutes of cooing, pulsating bliss, but Mikal Cronin's "Shout It Out" sets the standard in this category, chiming to life and hand-clapping its way to a hefty, distorted finish that sounds like the record everybody's given up on hoping that Weezer'll do one day. Chicago's Smith Westerns are in the same ballpark too with this guitar scale that zips toward the sky on the first couple seconds of "Glossed". It's all dreamy, cheery goodness from there.Singalong Chorus category
Who'da ever guessed the ex-Disney teen starlet Selena Gomez would be responsible for the ickiest, sweatiest and most addictive chorus of the year? "Come & Get It" is a na-na-na-na guilty pleasure ("I love you much too much to hide you") so give in to that gargantuan EDM drop that brings this thing to a screeching stop four times in nearly as many minutes. And “Take Back the Night,” the blast of disco-funk-like that Justin Timberlake dropped last week, is the most aggressively MJ-sounding track since MJ himself. And lastly, "Bubble Butt (Remix)" because, well, "Bubble Butt (Remix).”Windows Down, Full-Volume category
Gospel singer Mavis Staples covering Funkadelic sure sits well with my soul. Her take on "Can You Get to That" employs a stable of singers to duplicate all the joy of the original, no small task. Kacey Musgraves' "Blowin' Smoke" saunters in all sultry, dragging on a cigarette, but once she flicks the ash into the tray and kicks into that shout-along chorus, all bets are off. Marnie Stern's "Nothing is Easy" warrants downed windows for totally different reasons, though. The combined force of all that noodling and cartoon-pitched shouting is enough to lift your car off the road and into orbit.Summer Party Soundtrack category
Ty Dolla $ign's recent "Beach House 2" mixtape's title captures its lush synthesizers but not its, uh, ratchetness. "Ratchet in My Benz (Remix)", however, enlists Young Jeezy and DJ Mustard's skills to exhibit both. UK garage duo Disclosure pairs a terrific sample with a 4/4 house beat and gets plenty of mileage out of both on "When a Fire Starts to Burn,” a standout banger on an album stocked with standout bangers. And yes, Fat Tony, saying "even white people know that it’s a good party" will warrant “Hood Party” being added to every playlist I make, ever. It's a pure distillation of the Beastie Boys' spirit.None of the Above category
These two weird little songs warranted inclusion in spite of their misfit qualities. Vampire Weekend's "Hannah Hunt" sounds like each of its individual parts were recorded in a sea shell (and c'mon, I work for a newspaper, you know I'm a sucker for that New York Times shoutout) and Melt Yourself Down's freaky, messy Afro-tribal-jazz “Release!” is a force to be reckoned with it's got all the power of a tropical hurricane.
For you online readers I've included an expanded playlist below: All new songs, all ripe for summer. Enjoy!