Summer Love

There’s no seasonal limit to a love song, but something about the fresh burst of summer—those sun-dappled days and heat-drenched nights—warrants a heady declaration. It’s the time of year when fireflies almost make you believe there’s still a bit of magic left to find.

Many a “song of the summer” has captured the giddy boundlessness of an early romance—oh those fun, fledgling days!—but lately I’ve preferred a different kind of love song. Singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan‘s “Seeds of the Pine,” from her debut solo album The West Was Burning, is about the charge of pining for something that hasn’t yet come to fruition. Hope can be as intoxicating as possession. “Love…, ever unsatisfied, lives always in the moment that is about to come,” Proust once wrote.

The nearly six-minute song begins with a quick-tempo’d duet between acoustic guitar and banjo—an interplay that conjures towering pine trees stretching their needled limbs to brush the soft golden sky. Despite that feeling, the early verse sets a slightly different scene. “Rains fell cold through June/ Grass is up to my thigh,” Scanlan sings about the days leading into warmer times—and discoveries. 

Someone has caught her eye, but she restricts any possibility to her thoughts, depicting a sumptuous tableau: “You’re a slow ride down a country mile/ You’re the smell of apple pie to the blind,” she sings with raw yearning. “You’re the last light on a July western sky/ You’re the center of the watermelon/ You’re a sweet, sweet smile.” My heart bursts on her behalf.  

Discovering this someone runs counter to the life she’s built for herself. “Easy to forget the things we need/ Easy to stumble around mostly blind,” she sings. Even when it seems as though this someone wants her just the same, a larger hesitancy looms. Who wouldn’t be afraid that it could all come to naught—or be exactly what you hoped? After all, a fantasy that becomes a reality can be the most bewildering.   

Whatever fire burns at the center of her passion might seem a consuming conflagration, but in actuality it “opens up the seed of the pines.” Rather than raze the land, fire catalyzes its blossoming. Scanlan and her co-writer Jon Neufeld beautifully build the tension at the song’s center until it reaches a deep breath, a calming exhalation that comes from meeting the moment and enjoying its ebullient surprise.

A more recent addition to my version of summer love is singer-songwriter Rosali‘s “Mouth.” It’s an abstemious song in the indie folk-rock tradition that begins with hazy electric guitars wending together like streams into a river. I want to float away when I hear those first opening strums.

Like Scanlan, Rosali’s narrator is on the cusp of a new beginning, but she hesitates from giving into the rush of new love just yet. “Wish I were better at hiding my hand/ Want to protect the feeling before it begins,” she sings, drawing out her delivery into a sultry languor. Rosali holds herself back, but her reticence revolves around disbelief. Surely those days of big, sparkly love have faded into the past. 

A banjo joins the electric guitar on the second verse, adding a rustic texture to the woozy, atmospheric sensibility she builds. Having been here before, she hesitates. It’s as though she doesn’t trust that love is happening again. It’s as though she doesn’t trust herself. “Doesn’t it feel like love?/ Doesn’t it remind you of that?” she asks, posing one more question before she moves away from inquiry. “Doesn’t it belong to you?/ Doesn’t belong to me like it used to,” she sings. As the song winds to its close, she meditates on that last realization: “Doesn’t belong to me.”

A season can bring so many facets of love to the fore. This summer, I’m somewhere closer to Rosali’s sentiment, but looking ahead to Scanlan’s. A fresh burst of hope is a firefly glowing in the dark, an ember slowly growing brighter.