A Sweet Summer Mix, Courtesy of The Man

starbucks summer mix

Have you ever tried to have dinner at Starbucks? Yeah, it’s actually totally doable. They have these little eggy-hammy-cheesy situations that are quite delightful. I’m in night school at one of the local colleges in downtown Toronto and since I am always, ALWAYS running late, I only ever have time for a mad dash into Starbucks before class starts to grab a coffee and one of these breakfast sandwiches and sometimes a slice of banana chocolate chip coffee cake. Yum.

As you probably know, in recent years Starbucks has made a foray into the business of selling music, serving up new releases alongside their mocha frapps. They also have free weekly iTunes songs available for download. I stopped picking up the cards a while back, because I was just shoving them into the bottom of my purse and then finding them months later, when the codes had long since expired.

But! I was in there last Tuesday getting my usual meal before class, and I noticed a card for a free 10 Song Summer Mix. Now that’s something I can get behind. First of all, free music – yes. Secondly, I was intrigued as to how good a mix put together by Starbucks could be (although, I am sure it’s not the suits who handle the music. They probably have legions of hipsters and music scenesters on the payroll for this sort of thing).

Anyway, I downloaded the playlist from iTunes and have spent the last week and a half listening to it off and on. Here is my synopsis…

SONG #1 – ‘Half of Something Else’ – The Airborne Toxic Event

half of something else

On my first listen of this song I was kind of like “I don’t know…?”  Actually I was worried that it was a portent of what was to come — i.e. that the entire playlist was gonna be indie-rock BS*. But I’ve since warmed up to it a lot. Like seriously, it’s really pretty. And I think it’s a song about falling in love with someone, becoming part of something larger than yourself. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Or something? Anyway, who doesn’t like a song about falling in love? Only people with hearts of stone, that’s who.

*And, well…it kind of was. But I loved it.

SONG #2 – ‘Just a Friend’ – Booker T. Jones featuring Biz Markie, Matt Berninger and Sharon Jones

booker t. jones, biz markie et. al

So this song is basically a remake of Biz Markie’s 1989 version (which in turn sampled from Freddie Scott’s 1968 hit ‘(You) Got What I Need’). This version features Booker T. Jones, Matt Berninger of The National, and funk/soul singer Sharon Jones. It’s basically the same as the 1989 version, but with more harmonizing and less of Biz Markie’s commentary between verses. On the basis of its impossible-not-to-sing-along-with chorus, I am giving this song the thumbs up as a great choice for a summer mix.

SONG #3 – ‘Thrones’ – The Dears


Even though The Dears have been around for ages and have released a bunch of albums, they’ve never really been on my radar. I’ve heard them compared to The Smiths (who I love) and I would say that’s pretty spot on. This song has a definite Smiths/Morrissey vibe to it. Like ‘Half of Something Else’, this is another one that I warmed up to over the course of repeated listenings. I am definitely gonna check out the rest of their album, Degeneration Street.

SONG #4 – ‘Battery Kinzie’ – Fleet Foxes

battery kinzie

Oh Fleet Foxes! I have heard SO much about you, but have never ventured down your path until now. And now that I have…well, I am enchanted! Simply enchanted. I feel like I am skipping merrily through a sun-dappled forest, with bears and otters and other woodland creatures waving at me as I pass by.  In fact I have already downloaded your album, Helplessness Blues, and am looking forward to diving deeper into the sparkling waters of your magical realm.

SONG #5 – ‘Rider’ – Okkervil River


This is my least favourite song on the playlist, but that’s not saying a lot because I still really dig it. Y’all, I was not expecting this to like this mix so much. I thought I’d be making fun of some of these songs for your amusement, yet here I stand before you endorsing all of the musical picks.

SONG #6 – ‘Rest’ – Parts & Labor


I love the beginning of this song! And then it kind of turns into the sort of song you’d hear on a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack. The result is a very pleasing combination, and by now I find myself singing along with the chorus every time I listen to it. I like.

SONG #7 – ‘Under the Knife’ – The Rural Alberta Advantage

under the knife

Despite the fact that I can never say this band’s name out loud — seriously, “rural” is a really hard word to pronounce, and it always makes me think of the Rural Juror, and then I am laughing too hard to say anything at all — I love them and I love this song. This song rules. That is all.

SONG # 8 – ‘Marathon’ – Tennis


This is a delightful little song. It’s got a breezy, retro vibe, like those all-girl groups from the 1950s. Indeed, it features the so-called 50s progression (or a variation of it?) which is my favorite chord progression. I think it’s because the first song I ever remember hearing was ‘Heart & Soul’ on the piano. I must have been about 4 years old, and that chord progression just embedded itself in my consciousness. If you were to study my life, you would probably find that it has subconsciously informed every thought, feeling and emotion I have had since I heard it.

SONG #9 – ‘Chapel Song’ – We Are Augustines

chapel song

Ohhhhh….this song is pretty.

When I first listened to it, I thought it was about a guy who was about to marry a girl he doesn’t really love. Which would suck. But now I think it’s actually about a guy who is in love with a girl who’s marrying another man. Which would maybe suck even more, I don’t know.

Lessons learned: do not walk down the aisle with someone you don’t love, and do not let the person you love marry someone else. Unless you want to channel your heartbreak into writing beautiful songs. Then it is totally okay.

SONG #10 – ‘We Have Everything’ – Young Galaxy

young galaxy

This is my favorite song on the playlist. I was on the streetcar very early one morning, just as the city was waking up and starting to come alive. Listening to this song, watching through the window as the brightening sky revealed the industrial beauty of the city streets around me, all I could feel was the bittersweet euphoria of being alive and impossibly happy.

Well kids, that’s it. Verdict: those Starbucks jerks can put together a pretty decent playlist.

If you want to hear the songs I’m talking about and judge them for yourself, the iTunes code I used is YNMEE6F7LAPA. I suspect that it’s probably one of those one-use jobbies though (boo), so you may have to check in with your local Starbucks for a card. The promo is valid ‘til August 31.

3 responses to “A Sweet Summer Mix, Courtesy of The Man

  • stu

    Fleet foxes are playing massey hall on July 14th – highly recommeded! It sold out in 30 minutes, so you’d have to get scalpers, but we caught their show there last year and it was perfect! These guys have risen through the ranks of my favourite bands over the past couple years to a solid spot in the top 5. There are so many intricate little sonic nookes in helplessness blues – they deserve all the buzz. Tennis on the other hand… not so sure….

    • Spencer

      Top 5 eh? I am impressed. SO many people have been raving to me about them, I figured it was time I check them out. I am excited! And I will def try to hit up the show on the 14th.
      Tennis, yeah…I like this tune a lot, but I haven’t heard any of their other stuff. For many of the songs on this playlist, I felt like I would listen to the rest of the band’s album if someone gave it to me, but I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out. With the exception of Fleet Foxes, Rural Alberta Advantage, the Dears, and actually Okkervil River too. I feel like their song would make more sense in the larger context of the album. You know how some songs are like that?

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