With all due respect to the annual “song of summer,” the season needs more than just one song. You need to have an entire album, a slow-moving panoramic snapshot of a place and a time. From ethereal or raucous guitar rock to blues and banjo-soaked roots sounds to the sharp songwriting of the next country superstar, the pickings are limitless. Below are eight new releases that, together, will make a perfect soundtrack for your summer, whether you’re on a beach, lying in a field, or beating the heat inside a bar.
The Seratones, Get Gone
Best for a pedal-to-the-metal road trip
This Shreveport-based band sounds like Alabama Shakes on trucker’s speed with searing, rocket-like blues/garage guitar and lead singer AJ Haynes’s Louisiana wail. But they’re not afraid to hit the brakes on the tracks like “Tide,” which begins as a mellow torch song then turns into a fireball ending.
Quaker City Night Hawks, El Astronauta
Best for holing up in a cool, dark bar when it’s 105 degrees outside
These Fort Worth dudes are the new space cowboys, marrying ZZ Top’s Texas boogie, greasy blues psychedelia, and teen-age sci-fi fantasy (check out the weirdo album art). The fuzz is as thick as West Texas, July-afternoon heat—the kind that makes you hallucinate. Something that, undoubtedly, these boys have a little experience with.
Maren Morris, Hero
Best for a big ol’ sing along on a girls’ night out
Add Morris to the list of standard-bearers for female songwriters in Nashville, alongside Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves. Morris’ songs are tighter than a big hug from grandpa with no lyrical clichés. In “My Church,” Morris searches for salvation in Hank Williams, while “Rich,” with its drop-the-mic chorus, is a salty rejoinder to every dude who promised something, but delivered nothing.
Lucy Dacus, No Burden
Best for trying to understand your teenage daughter’s girl squad
Dacus is a 20-year-old singer/songwriter from Richmond who travels in swampy indie rock and blues. She has one of the year’s best singles in “I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore,” a brutally honest take about trying to fit in as a teenager. Her sweet voice slays with devastating lyrics “is there room in the band, I don’t need to be the front man, if not I’ll be the biggest fan.”
Kaia Kater, Nine Pin
Best for a mountain drive
The Canadian native turned West Virginia resident, Kater is one of the most exciting roots musicians to come along in years. The music is traditional string band material (her banjo is flat-out gorgeous), but Kater crafts her lyrics into a narrative about the daily struggles faced by people of color. She’s not lecturing, rather it’s contemplative post-modern poetry. If you like Rhiannon Giddens, this is totally your jam.
Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness
Best for summer nights
If you don’t know Explosions in the Sky, chances are you’ve heard them. The Austin-based instrumental band composed the soundtrack for the Friday Night Lights movie. Their latest effort, The Wilderness, continues to explore the epic sweeps and dives of their emotional arrangements with chugging percussion and twinkling guitars. Put it on low, lie back, and enjoy the stargazing.
Adia Victoria, Beyond the Bloodhounds
Best for some deep thinking
Victoria looks outward, tackling complicated life in the South, warts and all. Don’t let her cooing fool you; this Nashvillian can pounce quickly on barbed tracks like “And Then You Die” and “Invisible Hands,” leaving the rest of you for scraps.
Brett Dennen, Por Favor
Best for a sleepy day at the beach
Dennen’s winsome collection of gentle guitar, soothing vocals, and a light reggae flourish is perfect for a summer-day wind-down. His music sounds simple, but deceptively so—there are plenty of layers to peel off. These are melodies and grooves that should appeal to pretty much everyone.