21 Reasons To Love Music In July

Catch up on the month’s best songs, albums, and moments with new music by Ciara, Robin Thicke, Pretty Lights, One Direction, and more.

21. B.I.M.A. Bon Iver Mashup Album

This free downloadable album of mashups features a diverse range of artists including Men At Work, Lana Del Rey, Kimbra, INXS, Cake, and Coldplay, among others, all paired with the music of one Mr. Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver. Although the word “mashup” is a huge turn-off, this is actually really fantastic and fun. As Mr. Vernon’s collaborations with Kanye West have proven, his sad mountain shtick is a lot more interesting when dusted with a healthy coating of pop sugar. – Summer Anne Burton

20. Warm Soda, “Tell Me In A Whisper”

Oakland’s Warm Soda, who released one of the year’s best glammy garage rock albums with Someone Like You in March, have a new single that’s predictably sweet and catchy and irresistible. The production here is a little cleaner and textured than the “let’s bash it out in the basement” vibe of the album, but it works surprisingly well — the songs lean more towards grown-up power-pop, all straight lines and right angles, crisp and without frills. – Alex Naidus

19. One Direction, “Best Song Ever”

I’m pretty enthralled by the steady queering of One Direction. This video is their latest entry into Cute Boy Butt Land, where the everyone jokily pantomimes making out/squeezing each others’ buns/generally making us swoon our hearts out. It even comes complete with Zayn, the group’s second-dreamiest member (you know Harry is the ride or die), in “office bicycle” lady drag, which causes the other members, as well as the rest of us, to fawn over him/her relentlessly. The song, honestly, is kind of whatever — step away from the ’80s power ballads, boys — but this video? Sheesh. Yes, please, more, and thank you, 1D. – Amy Rose Spiegel

18. Locrian, Return to Annihilation

To call Locrian a metal or noise band would be false. The trio experiment with eerie soundscapes that are simultaneously haunting and beautiful, like photographs of an abandoned barn or a decrepit church or something. The excessive distortion is deliberate and welcome, like the hum of a white noise machine to assist in deep sleep. Return to Annihilation is without a doubt their best work to date, especially if you’re into apocalyptic music that drones on into warm oblivion. Enter your weird Day After Tomorrow metaphor here. – Maria Sherman

17. Dan Deacon’s remix of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”

Man, I so wanted to dance with Miley/molly along with the rest of America when her latest single first came out, but the truth of the matter was that I just did not like it one bit. In fact, I found it mad boring, and the misguided cultural appropriation stuff happening in the video made me curl my lip a little. That said, I think the track provides an amazing framework for this Mabson Enterprises mixtape, which is a collection of 37 “We Can’t Stop” spin-offs, including this rad remix by Dan Deacon. He didn’t add anything to the song at all—rather, he took out 50% of the total sound in it, and it turns out that the song sounds INCREDIBLE with that kind of brutal editing. If you feel a little exhausted by the original, as I do, maybe this sparer version will be just the thing for you. – A.R.S.

16. Weekend, Jinx

Indie music is fueled by earnest personalities, especially by those vocal about it. NYC-via-Bay Area shoegazers Weekend know this, wearing their opinions, hearts, and influences on their sleeves — meshing them together to create something new out of a lot of somethings old. Jinx is the result of a band that’s always been consistently interesting without necessarily being revelatory. They’ve also got a lot of feelings, which is why the single and opening track, “Mirror,” repeats the melancholic line, “I feel sick, sick, sick in my heart,” — not a complicated sentiment, but a universal one. It’s pretty refreshing. – M.S.

15. El-P and Killer Mike, Run the Jewels

I know that “sweet” is not a word that suits the music El-P and Killer Mike have been making over the past year or so, but I can’t listen to any of it now without thinking about their partnership as a hip-hop love story in which these two guys who have been kicking around for years finally found a collaborator who truly completes them. Their styles are so simpatico – there share a true reverence for late 80s rap, but their music doesn’t sound dated; they use that old style and aggression for something that sounds sharp, heavy, and fresh today. Maybe that’s why their new collaborative album Run the Jewels stands out so much in the context of contemporary rap – there’s an anger and cynicism in their voices that rings true in a way that wouldn’t feel as legit coming from younger men. There’s also an urgency you just don’t hear with a lot of younger rappers – under everything, you hear these two guys who know they’ve scored a second chance to shine in their career, and they’re not taking it for granted. – Matthew Perpetua

14. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”

Fiona Apple reunites with ex-boyfriend director Paul Thomas Anderson for the video for “Hot Knife,” from last year’s The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Anderson, who directed films including There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Boogie Nights, brings back some of the signature markers of his past videos with Apple (“Paper Bag” and “Fast As You Can,” among them), focusing tightly on her face and strained expressions. The singer is joined by her sister, Maude Maggart, who eventually bookends a 5-way split-screen, with Apple drumming in the middle. It’s a beautifully executed video for an even more gorgeous song. – Aylin Zafar

13. The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas (Reissue)

It’s been 11 years since All Hail West Texas was first released, and while The Mountain Goats have matured, it remains one of their finest albums. There’s a unique charm to their lo-fi period; it feels extraordinarily intimate. What’s impressive is that even remastered, All Hail West Texas has the same amateur quality. Yes, the sound is a little bit crisper, but it still feels like John Darnielle is singing right to you: there’s nothing overproduced about the raw emotion. It’s painful, at times intrusive — and that’s what The Mountain Goats do best. With seven new tracks, All Hail West Texas is worth rediscovering. How refreshing to hear something that’s both the product of its time and just as relevant as it was in 2002. – Louis Peitzman

12. Migos featuring Drake, “Versace”

The Atlanta trio Migos technically dropped “Versace” in June, on their Y.R.N. mixtape, but it absolutely blew up this last month after Drake hopped on a remix of the song. The song’s hook is literally one word, over and over: “Versace, Versace, Versace…” but it’s undeniably effective. Thanks to the infectious hook, and the track’s perfect blend of menacing beats and hilarious lyrics (“I’m trying to give Halle Berry a baby and no one can stop me”), “Versace” is this summer’s ideal banger. – A.Z.

11. Selena Gomez, Stars Dance

It must be good to be Selena Gomez in 2013. Her public break into adulthood may have come in the form of Spring Breakers, where the 20-year-old behaved very, very badly — but with Stars Dance, she’s managed to find a musical identity in 13 massive anthems. The lead single, “Come & Get It,” plays with the world pop stylings of Rihanna (who the song was originally written for), but Gomez commands it with the delicate maturity of a woman becoming her own. See you later, Disney! – M.S.

10. Smallpools, “Dreaming”

I always feel like I’m late to discovering a band. And sure, I hadn’t heard of Smallpools until I started hearing “Dreaming” on the radio — but in this case, I’m not all that behind the times. Smallpools’ rise has been fast and very sudden: they formed earlier this year and played their first live show July 13, with their EP following three days later. “Dreaming” is the perfect choice for first single: it’s infectious indie pop, addictive enough that I don’t mind the frequent radio play and find myself a little disappointed when I don’t hear it. It’s fast becoming my summer jam, which is impressive in a month filled with equally catchy tunes from groups like Fitz & The Tantrums and Capital Cities. There’s something about “Dreaming,” though — it refreshing in a way that makes the heat that much less oppressive. – L.P.

9. Persia featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik, “Google Google Apps Apps”

This video by San Francisco drag queen Persia and the multi-media performance art group Daddie$ Pla$tik may be the weirdest, funniest, and most obnoxiously catchy song anyone will put on YouTube this year. It’s also one of the most angry and pointed – the lyrics get pretty silly, but it’s all about rich white tech people gentrifying San Francisco and displacing the LGBT community and people of color. – M.P.

8. Mark Mulcahy, Dear Mark J Mulcahy I Love You

The name of this album is my exact feeling toward its creator. It seems like Mulcahy is the only musician going right now who’s writing straightforwardly lovely guitar music without letting production have too big of a say in the matter. While you might be familiar with him as the frontman of Polaris, aka the band responsible for the Adventures of Pete and Pete soundtrack, or from his other amazing project, Miracle Legion, his solo work is the best of these incarnations, and that’s saying quite a lot. This record is tender as fuck. It will make you fall in love not only with Mulcahy but also more broadly with the world around you if you choose to give it a listen, which I highly recommend you do. – A.R.S.

7. The Janoskians, “Best Friends”

The Janoskians (Just Another Name Of Silly Kids In Another Nation) are an Australian YouTube comedy group/music act, kind of like One Direction combined with Jackass. And they made a song called “Best Friends” and it’s probably the dumbest, greatest song that’s come out all summer. Especially because lately it has been a snoozefest as far as dumb party songs are concerned. This song will make you want to want to rage, like do some kind of hypnotic, primal dance that just goes on forever until you pass out. – Ryan Broderick

6. Regina Spektor, “You’ve Got Time”

While binge-watching Orange Is The New Black – as you will inevitably do as soon as you start watching it - you will always listen all the way through the credits. Yes, even when it’s 2 a.m. and you’re on your sixth episode in a row. That’s because Spektor’s theme song is as addictive as the show itself. The joyously fast-paced jam perfectly captures the Netflix series’ unexpected combination of quirky humor and real emotion, threaded with a slight but ever-present sense of shit’s-about-to-hit-the-fan-ness. – S.A.B.

5. Pretty Lights, A Color Map of the Sun

Before I heard Pretty Lights’ new album A Color Map of the Sun, I’d only known about them as some kind of electronic act who headlined a lot of festivals and were known for an elaborate light show. I assumed it’d just be some generic EDM thing, and that the light show was the main reason anyone cared, but whoa, I was totally wrong. As it turns out, Pretty Lights has a lot more to do with DJ Shadow circa Endtroducing… than, say, Deadmau5. It’s not a straight copy – you get a similar sort of epic, emotional sweep and mishmash of old soul and breakbeats, but it’s more rooted in contemporary dance production, so there’s a more electro feel, and even a few bass drops. – M.P.

4. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana

Speedy Ortiz hail from Western Massachusetts, the mecca of ’90s indie rock: the fertile music scene that gave the world Dinosaur Jr and late-period Sonic Youth. (Kim and Thurston moved there in the late ’90s.) This is also a very dude-centric community which is why Speedy Ortiz are especially notable — they sound a little like the bands before them, Polvo and the like, but have a female frontwoman in Sadie Dupuis. There’s a remarkable kind of personality in her, which hopefully inspires more young women to, like, start all-female Pavement cover bands. Major Arcana is full of her snotty wit, and is also the band’s first full-length, making it all the more impressive. – M.S.

3. Steve Grand, “All-American Boy”

Steve Grand may not be the first openly gay male country star, or even a “star” at all (not yet, at least). But the 23-year-old singer’s viral debut music video, “All-American Boy,” earns him, at least, temporary star status for highlighting what few other musicians have: an honest, modern, completely ordinary story of same-sex love. With a tight budget and small crew of suburban friends, Grand was able to pull off a meticulously-produced look in just a few months. And with tremendous payoff: “All-American Boy” earned almost 2 million YouTube hits and an enormously positive response, from both straight and gay viewers, who identified overwhelmingly with Grand’s genuine heartache. Of course, his giant biceps and sculpted abs may have helped just a little bit. – Matt Bellassai

2. Ciara, Ciara

God, it’s good to have Ciara back. It makes sense that it’s her fifth album that’s self-titled; it’s maybe the album most representative of her varying strengths and tastes. She’s all self-confident, badass swagger on the Nicki Minaj-assisted album opener, “I’m Out.” It’s a breakup anthem, but never veers into the bitter or vengeful. Save for a “you gon’ miss me when I’m gone,” it’s mostly about celebrating your own fine self. When she sings, “Tonight we gon’ have us a good time / Let’s have a toast to our goodbyes,” it’s aggressive but jubilant. But then, just as skillfully, she can she change up the tempo: “I can do it slow now, tell me what you want,” she sings on the fantastic “Body Party.” Easily one of the best songs of the year, “Body Party” is sensual, sweet, and fun, with the added nostalgia of referencing Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo.” Even though there are a lot of different things happening —a sweet duet with boyfriend rapper/singer Future ( “Where You Go”), experiments with rapping (“Super Turnt Up”), Houston screw (“Keep On Lookin’) — it all feels cohesive thanks to Ciara’s unwavering cool. – A.Z.

1. Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” has been a hit for most of the year, but this month was when it became a cultural phenomenon – it’s not just the Song of the Summer, but the basis for dozens of popular memes. After a long wait, Thicke’s album of the same name is finally here, and it’s proof that the song isn’t some fluke. Blurred Lines is, from top to bottom, an incredibly concise, modern, and consistently fun R&B record – in other words, the sort of record everyone hoped Justin Timberlake would make instead of the long, often meandering 20/20 Experience. Thicke isn’t breaking any ground here, but the album is packed with lusty, goofy, joyful tunes that will please a wide range of people without seeming desperate to please. You could put Blurred Lines on at a party, and most people would happily dance straight through at least the first six tunes. – M.P.

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