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Smith Westerns’ “Varsity” strikes a chord with the sad summer bastard in all of us

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, with June just heating up, we asked: What song says “summer” to you so far this year?

Ask folks to name their favorite summer jam, and most will come up with something sunny and danceable, or something that involves, I don’t know, roasting hot dogs and s’mores. But there’s another group of people (one I am a card-carrying member of) who gravitate toward bittersweet, hopelessly romantic summer jams, songs perfect for driving around endlessly at night—windows closed despite the humid air—and bawling your eyes out. Smith Westerns’ “Varsity” has been my go-to bummer summer jam so far, a designation I don’t see changing any time soon. The final track from the upcoming Soft Will (due out June 25 on Mom + Pop), “Varsity” finds the cruelly young Smith Westerns in full sad bastard mode, invoking a state of mind where you “count the days, count the nights, but don’t get by,” and where you lament that it’s “hard to be alone.” Musically, the song and its swelling orchestral vibe is a nice progression from the fuzzed-out sound of the Westerns’ 2011 album, Dye It Blonde, and certainly different from the band’s—ahem—hotly contested cover of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” for A.V. Undercover. I’m long past the point where “summer break” means much of anything, but I suppose “Varsity” reminds me most of long summer high school nights spent cursing the universe while my friends were busy, well, roasting hot dogs and s’mores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for cheery summer fun, but it’s nice to spend some time wallowing in the flip side of the season, counting the days, counting the nights, and barely getting by.