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15 Essential Summer Songs From the Heartland

Above image: Ha Ha Tonka took a trip to The Bridge's 909 Studios back in May, and performed the lead single, "Race To The Bottom," from its latest album.

NPR Music staffers recently compiled a list of 15 songs that embodied their experiences of summer. For our list, we stay close to home and look at 15 essential summer tracks released in 2017, all from artists who hail from the Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas area.

Approach - “The Luv”

Sometimes, a solid summer soundtrack has to reach back into the sounds of your formative years. For his newest release, “Elegant Knock,” Approach dug into the vault of ’90s hip hop — he recorded the entire album using an Ensoniq EPS-16+, an early ’90s-era sampler workstation — while masterfully reflecting on the state of the post-2016 election world.




The Life and Times - “Killing Queens”

The first song off The Life and Times’ (a band that now calls Chicago home) eponymous album, released in April, “Killing Queens” is immediately arresting. True to form, frontman Allen Epley’s tranquil, reverb-soaked vocals offset the monolithic rhythm section of Eric Abert and Chris Metcalf. It results in a pensive, potent track that’s the perfect accompaniment to a sweltering summer’s day.



Making Movies - “Spinning Out”

While we’re on the subject of things that swelter, consider this single from Making Movies’ latest album, “I Am Another You.” “Spinning Out” shows the band at its most focused, pairing Afro-Latino rhythms with piercing guitar riffs to not only get audiences on their feet, but also hearkened to action.



Shells - “Treading Water”

With wispy vocal layers and zesty electronic embellishments, our introduction to Shells elicits the breeziness of summer. Tucked beneath it is a heavy sense of melancholy, characterized by Riley Brown’s lyrical content and an expansive, cerebral beat. Keep your eyes peeled for a premiere of the singer-songwriter’s forthcoming single next week.  

Lovergurl - “My Body”

On its debut EP “The President Is A Sex Offender,” Lovergurl takes on the patriarchy with disarming synthesizers and walloping rhythms, led by the urgent charge of vocalist/keyboardist Stephanie Bankston. It’s shiny, poignantly reckless, and oh-so satisfying, like any memorable summer excursion.  

Lee Walter Redding - “someonewokeup”

The ultimate playlist for a summer road trip must contain a groovy, unrelenting beat. KC-to-North Carolina transplant Lee Walter Redding achieves this and more with his lockstep rhythm section of Andy Kirk and Sam Robinson. On his new album, “Not Quite Jarvis Cocker,” he channels the artful swagger of Pulp’s frontman with exuberance, defiance and style.  

Second Hand King - “Go So Wrong”

For anyone who has weathered the trials of lost love (i.e., most of us), Second Hand King’s charming video for “Go So Wrong” is relatable. An engaging storyteller, the self-proclaimed doo-wop rapper ponders his relationship woes over playful piano punches.



Alicia Solo - “Fevah”

The first single off her debut solo EP, “Fevah” is the consummate summer pop scorcher. Consistent with her stint as Beautiful Bodies’ frontwoman, Alicia Solo presents us with a high-octane, addicting performance.



Red Kate - “I Don’t Want To Hear About It”

When barreling down an open highway, there’s nothing more gratifying than shouting an anthem into the sticky summer night. Red Kate recorded this live session at Reason One Media in Springfield, Missouri, at the beginning of 2017; we dare you to listen to it and keep from belting out its brisk chorus.



Ha Ha Tonka - “Race To The Bottom”

Ha Ha Tonka has long been a crucial component of my summer road trip playlists, for its chugging rock rhythms to its luscious, warm compositions. Several tunes on the group’s latest effort, “Heart-Shaped Mountain,” speak to these enviable characteristics — most notably, the album’s colorful lead single, which was recently featured on Conan (and here at The Bridge!).



Claire Adams - “Boom”

Though she’s known for her proficient bass work and effervescent backing vocals with Katy Guillen & the Girls, Claire Adams was a skilled songwriter and multi-instrumentalist long before joining the trio. We premiered the first track from her upcoming EP last month, a frolicking tune that balances playfulness with wit.  

The Whiffs - “She Lies”

No summer soundtrack is complete without a vigorously danceable melody. In just shy of two minutes, “She Lies” carries a jumpy, infectious aesthetic that appeals to fans of vintage power pop, garage and punk. It’s no coincidence, either — The Whiffs’ members hail from KC-based punk bands Wet Ones and Nubiles, and retro rock heavyweights The Conquerors.  

Toughies - “What Are Hands For?”

For that essential dose of gleaming indie pop, add this track from Lawrence-based group Toughies to your rotation. Though the song appeared on the band’s 2015 EP “Tough Enough,” Toughies re-recorded it for their new seven-inch record, released back in May.





Scott Hrabko and the Rabbits - “Sunshine Girl”

We couldn’t really leave Scott Hrabko and the Rabbits off this list — after all, the band’s new album is called “Summer.” “Sunshine Girl” is one of its catchiest tracks, highlighting Hrabko’s confident, impish voice, with compassionate backing harmonies and an affectionately twangy guitar solo.



Sinple - “JX6 (Machine Malfunction)”

In the liner notes of his album “Ambient 1/Music For Airports,” Brian Eno writes: “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Jesse Bartmess (AKA Sinple) wrote his album “Music For Machines” with Eno’s ideals in mind, making for a score that evokes a different reaction for each setting we’re in or each emotion we’re experiencing. While many of the previous tracks on this list accommodate a certain mood, Bartmess compels us to instead focus on how his music adapts to our emotions. — Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. She advocates for and helps spotlight music in the area, writes web content for 90.9 The Bridge and plays drums with Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @michelleobacon.

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