Songs of the Summer 2023

Here are our picks for the 20 most memorable tracks from June through August

Music Lists Best Songs
Songs of the Summer 2023

Since June, there has been an ample amount of certified bangers. Seriously, the summer of 2023 has put us all in a tailspin here at Paste. From Bully and McKinley Dixon ushering us into the heat with their latest records to Dua Lipa cementing the Barbie soundtrack as great to Squirrel Flower dropping a new gem this morning, it’s been a dazzling and miraculous few months of music. As August enters its final stretch, we’re taking a look at the anthems, ballads and soon-to-be rock classics that have been on our minds and pouring out of our speakers this season. Featuring entries from MJ Lenderman, Carly Rae Jepsen, Wilco, Kylie Minogue and more, here are our picks for the 20 definitive songs that have showcased this summer’s brilliance. —Matt Mitchell, Music Editor

Bethany Cosentino: “Natural Disaster”
The title track from Bethany Cosentino’s debut solo record is a glossy, charismatic and anthemic pop cut injected with Nashville-style rock guitar. “This is the hottest summer I can ever remember,” Cosentino sings. “‘Cause the world is on fire and, hey, if we’re all dying, then what does it matter? We’re a natural disaster.” It’s buoyant and enthralling, as the Best Coast frontwoman takes a daring step into her own sound—examining love and freedom and mortality all in one feel-good, bubbly arrangement. “Natural Disaster” taps into the architecture of the best and most accessible pop-rock tracks, and we’ve had it on repeat all month. —Matt Mitchell

Bully: “Days Move Slow”
On her fourth record, Lucky for You, Alicia Bognanno, returned with a heavy, electric thud. “Days Move Slow,” truly encapsulates Bognanno’s ability to conjure the blueprint of 1990s textures and arrangements. The song was written after the passing of her dog, Mezzi, and reckons with agony, unconditional love and acceptance in an immense way. “And I’m stuck somewhere in between / Your death and my lucid dream / I’m no help lately, I know / But I’m tired of trying to prove my worth / To be accepted on this earth / Baby, I’m ready to go,” Bognanno sings, in a delivery spread out across the ocean of feedback-laced guitars that have come to define her grunge resplendent roots. —MM

Carly Rae Jepsen: “Psychedelic Switch”
The brightest track from Carly Rae Jepsen’s recent LP, The Loveliest Time, “Psychedelic Switch” is the perfect summer song—and it might just go down as this year’s absolute best. It’s Jepsen at an apex, tapping into the world of disco, chart-topping pop and even techno music. “I think all my life, I never met anybody like you,” she professes. “Sunrise all the time when I touch you. It’s like I’m waking up in a euphoria.” When Jepsen is on, she’s on, and “Psychedelic Switch” is bubbling with perfect, restorative ecstasy. Ambitious, sensual and anthemic, this is a pop masterpiece that doesn’t just solidify The Loveliest Time as a great record; it cements Jepsen’s legacy as one of our best contemporary performers. —MM

Chris Farren: “Cosmic Leash”
The lead single from Chris Farren’s new album Doom Singer is a volcano of hardcore and singer/songwriter that erupts into a delicious pop-punk-gleaning tempest. It’s heavy, catchy bubblegum emo that positions distorted, hooky guitars around Farren’s unique vocal set. “The cosmic leash / The lava flow / My body bursting like a volcano / It’s rushing back, back to me / The time release, the afterglow / I wanna glitch out of the world I know,” he sings. Produced, engineered and mixed by Jay Som’s Melina Duterte, “Cosmic Leash” is the stunner you’d expect from a multi-hyphenate like Farren. —MM

Cut Worms: “Don’t Fade Out”
A standout from the most recent Cut Worms album, “Don’t Fade Out” finds Max Clarke examining the joys of a place where he can be free and madly in love. “How can I tell you, how can I express? / How much I love you now, you never could guess / I feel the world is opening up / For nobody but me,” he sings. It’s a beautiful lament towards losing the romance of humanity, packaged in a catchy, early-1960s radio obsession architecture. A methodical pairing of doo-wop and rock eccentricities, “Don’t Fade Out” is tight, timeless and sharp—a limitless offering from one of our sharpest storytellers. —MM

Diners: “Someday I’ll Go Surfing”
Blue Broderick can’t keep getting away with this! The Diners song “Someday I’ll Go Surfing” is perfect power-pop ecstasy. I feel like a broken record about Blue’s work at this point, but how can you describe what she’s doing as anything but immaculate and precise and catchy as hell? For the recent Los Angeles transplant, Blue’s songwriting here is cheeky yet poignant, as she wraps self-love and affirmation around the hope of tumbling into California’s wave-catching culture. Packed aplenty with sharp, pop-rock guitars and tight drumming, “Someday I’ll Go Surfing” is relentless in its pursuit of becoming the perfect song. —MM

Dua Lipa: “Dance The Night”
Dua Lipa’s iconic hit song from the Barbie soundtrack, “Dance The Night,” is another grandiose entry in the pop star’s brilliant catalog. Seriously, Dua can do no wrong. With just as much charisma as ever and a spell-binding, electronic arrangement that’ll worm its way into every inch of your soul, “Dance The Night” is not just the best song from the film it was written for—it’s, maybe, the best Top-10 hit of the year so far, an accomplishment Dua will nab plenty more of in the coming decades. “‘Cause every romance shakes and it bends, don’t give a damn,” she sings across the refrain. “When the night’s here, I don’t do tears. Baby, no chance.” We’re still waiting for a follow-up to Future Nostalgia, but “Dance The Night” will hold us over for a while. —MM

Jamila Woods: “Boomerang”
Co-written with Nao, GRADES and George Moore in London, “Boomerang” is a dazzling foray into dance-pop for Jamila Woods—who released “Tiny Garden,” the lead single from her forthcoming album Water Made Us last month. The track is an incredible, joyous earworm about the, in Woods’ own words, “magnetic attachment you have to someone” who continues to appear in various moments of your life. “If you didn’t like me then, you won’t like me now” is the thesis statement of “Boomerang,” which arrives through backing harmonies and Woods’ own lead verse. At three-minutes, its whirlwind of pianos, synths and drums deftly compliment Woods’ sharp vocal and lend to the sensual electricity of the story. “I’m running out of time, you’re taking it all,” she sings. “You made me wanna stay here. When I’m with you, I forget the hours. Every minute is a season changing with you.” —MM

Janelle Monáe: “Water Slide”
All of Janelle Monáe’s new album, The Age of Pleasure, belongs here—but we can only pick one, so we’re going with the sensual and unforgettable “Water Slide.” Monáe works with Jamaican dancehall DJ Sister Nancy on the track, sampling her original track “Bam Bam” in the process. “Water Slide” is upbeat and mesmerizing, highlighted by Monáe’s unwavering charisma and generational vocal chops. “If I could fuck me right here, right now, I would do that,” they proclaim. “Looking in the mirror at me, my God, like, ‘Who dat?’ Feeling myself, wanna play in it. Splash, make a wave in it.” Accompanied by a stunning eye-candy video, “Water Slide” is an entire performance broken into aesthetics and movements. Monáe has long been one of the most meticulous and brilliant artists around. On “Water Slide,” they take those truths and bake it into a foundation of pure playfulness and sexual freedom. —MM

Knife Girl: “Estrogen”
Considering how emboldened the rest of the known universe is to say pretty much anything they dare to, it feels somewhat refreshing to hear Lili Aslo, the Finnish artist known as Knife Girl, worry about one of the repeated lines in their new single “Estrogen.” True, the lyric is, “I love my tits / I love my dick,” but even that feels entirely tame compared to some of the nonsense I hear on cable news. And when those words are paired with a joyous dance groove, they become as empowering as Aslo intended. You can’t help but chant along no matter if you have tits, dick or none of the above. —Robert Ham

Kylie Minogue: “Padam Padam”
A global gem that gave Kylie Minogue her first Top-10 UK hit as a solo artist in 13 years, “Padam Padam” is inescapable and quite incredible. It’s magical and has found a lot of airtime on radio stations and virality on TikTok. Even Ariana Grande has had some fun with Minogue’s latest, posting a video of herself lip-synching “Padam Padam” on Instagram. You can hear the timeless electronica exuding from every second of the track, as it’s become a global sensation fully deserving of the praise—as Minogue has held court as one of the most exciting dance-pop practitioners of the last 20 years. “Padam Padam” is unprecedented and tells a story we’ve all heard before: The song’s protagonist meets a man at a club and they spend the night together. But the way that Minogue packages it, in a deluge of synths and a hypnotic melody, is timeless. “You look like fun to me,” she proclaims. We fully agree. —MM

Lilts: “Dodge Street”
Lilts, the new collaboration between Wild Pink’s John Ross and musician Laura Wolf, has released their inaugural single, “Dodge Street.” The track is reminiscent, sonically, of the title track from Wild Pink’s last album, ILYSM, in which synthesizers and guitars equipped with angelic distortion pedals envelope euphoric, airy vocals. Wolf’s vocalizations shine bright here, as does Ross’ instrumentation. “I don’t wanna sit here waitin’ while you dream,” she sings atop a beautiful arrangement that sounds like Springsteen making electro-pop. “I don’t wanna waste another day.” Together, Wolf and Ross have formed a bond that needs to continue forever. I want a thousand more Lilts singles, and then a thousand more after that. —MM

McKinley Dixon: “Run, Run, Run”
The lead single from his masterful album Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!, “Run, Run, Run,” finds rapper McKinley Dixon reflecting on gun violence, especially how it affects the lives of children. The story is immense—filled with imagery of cautionary tales, like Icarus and canaries—and tackles the life-cycle of cruelty spurred by inequity. “Whole block gone cheer when he makes it home / Holding heavy heart really makes it worse / ‘Til we found the only way for us to lift that curse / If we run to a place where they know our worth,” Dixon raps in the second verse. “Run, Run, Run” is honest, painful; Dixon is a wordsmith whose pen is unyielding. —MM

Militarie Gun: “Do It Faster”
“I don’t care what you do, just do it faster” is the rallying call of Militarie Gun’s “Do It Faster,” one of the year’s most satisfying songs. Over the last two years the California band has been pairing hardcore and jangle pop to massive success on the All Roads Lead to the Gun EPs. On “Do It Faster,” the lead single from their debut album, Life Under the Gun, their pop craft has never been stronger. With vocalist Ian Sheldon’s shout-sang vocals, guitar tones that split the distance between Hüsker Dü and Sum 41 and a quick song length that invokes the spirit of Guided by Voices, “Do It Faster” is a wonderful alarm clock of a song. These traits are closely paired to the lyrics, which act as part-motivational speech, half-empty frustration: “Waste my time, waste my life as I sit and wait for you” Sheldon bemoans at the top of the chorus. Few bands arrive as fully formed as Militarie Gun, and, on “Do It Faster,” they’ve created a mantra for their short, unforgettable punk sound. —Ethan Beck

MJ Lenderman: “Rudolph”
The inaugural single from MJ Lenderman after signing with ANTI- Records, “Rudolph” is pure Southern-rock and power-pop that have alchemized into one gigantic, unforgettable track laced with an entrancing pedal-steel. Heavy riffs and full-bellied percussion roar alongside Lenderman’s waxing, hypnotic poetics that poke fun at Bob Dylan—as he is one of our best contemporary linguists, coiling slurring prose around the frame of a country track. “Deleted scene of Lightning McQueen blacked out at full speed,” he sings. “How many roads must a man walk down ‘til he learns he’s just a joke who flirts with the clergy nurse ‘til it burns?” As a follow-up to Boat Songs, it appears that Lenderman’s apex hasn’t dissipated one bit. The world is firmly his to spin into a colloquial palace. —MM

Nation of Language: “Too Much, Enough”
The fourth single released ahead of their upcoming album Strange Disciple, “Too Much, Enough” continues Nation of Language’s eclipsing, immediate and danceable destiny. On the track, keyboardist Aidan Noell shines greatly—as her craftsmanship shines in technicolor ricochets of harmonized, looping glitz. Vocalist Ian Devaney’s brooding octave explodes into a proto-tenor, as the wall of sound that Nation of Language have forged swells into a timely critique about news cycles, media addiction and manufactured anger. Months ago, we named Nation of Language the best synth-pop band in the world. This week, we concur with our own proclamation once again. —MM

Olivia Rodrigo: “bad idea right?”
It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that Olivia Rodrigo is the most exciting pop star in the world right now, and the hype around her forthcoming sophomore album, GUTS, couldn’t be bigger. Lead single “vampire” was daring and theatrical, a grand evolution for the singer who defied all odds with the record-breaking “drivers license” two years ago. Her latest single, “bad idea right?” is another top-tier entry by Rodrigo, who is fully tapping into 1990s pop-rock with effortless finesse. Initially conceived from a joke about hooking up with an ex-boyfriend, “bad idea right?” quickly transformed into a trademark, instructive vessel of relentless catchiness. The “my brain goes, ‘ah’” chorus will stick with you, as the harmony construction in that single instance is melodical to an unfathomable degree. Olivia Rodrigo is on top of the world right now, and there’s no way “bad idea right?” doesn’t hit #1 on the charts. —MM

Squirrel Flower: “Alley Light”
A cut from Squirrel Flower’s forthcoming album Tomorrow’s Fire, “Alley Light” conjures flickers of Springsteen-like storytelling and Heartland-inspired melodies. “She says she wants to go far, outta town in my beat up car,” vocalist Ella Williams intones, from the POV of an unlucky guy in a near-crumbled relationship. “Will she find another man who can take her there, when my drive burns out?” It’s a huge, exciting turn for Squirrel Flower and is so well-constructed that it quickly expands the band’s own universe. Like some of the best songs that long for healing and ache with fear of change, “Alley Light” is a song that, in Williams’ own words, is about “the man in me, or a man who I love, or a man who is a stranger to me.” That type of curiosity buoys the song into the echelons of cruise-worthy summer gems. —MM

Vagabon: “Can I Talk My Shit?”
Vagabon’s “Can I Talk My Shit?” is a sonic metamorphosis for the New York singer/songwriter. Sparkly electronic arpeggios and cheerful synths anchor her weightless melodies, intertwining into a song that feels like sunshine and exudes a buoyant confidence. With a reputation and sound that is chameleonic, “Can I Talk My Shit?” is vibrant dance-pop that taps into the conversational and open-hearted everyday ethos that makes up Vagabon’s catalog—especially her forthcoming stunner, Sorry I Haven’t Called. —Miranda Wollen

Wilco: “Evicted”
“Evicted,” the lead single from Wilco’s forthcoming album Cousin, is the band at their folksiest and most desperate. In typical fashion, a warm, thrumming guitar underlies his imploring twang, a summoning song for a love that, for the band, seems always just out of reach. Nels Cline’s ever-impeccable guitar sparkles in hypnotic, swaying loops as Jeff Tweedy layers familiarly over him, but synths and 12-strings carry the tune in new musical directions. “Am I ever going to see you again?” he croons across the eternal question which promises to encircle Cousin. Instrumental influence from producer Cate Le Bon’s glimmering, electric vault provides a modernist twist for the iconic folk stars. “Evicted” explores the strained, persistent human connections of a fractured world, the ever-intertwining relations we can’t ignore despite our best efforts. —MW

Check out a playlist of these 20 tracks below.

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