Mix XLIII — Grand Aesthetics.

steve cuocci
22 min readMay 24, 2024

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The Mars Volta — Wax Simulacra When The Mars Volta got back together and put together a very different new persona for their new self-titled record, it reignited a mad interest in them for me. This was a band that was one of my favorites for years off of the back of one full length record and one EP. I’d seen them live in Rochester before they’d even released anything physically and that performance confused me deeply. I saw them in San Diego (alongside System of a Down; what a cool bill) where they spent their time in a singular and modularly themed jam somewhat riffing off of the songs of Frances the Mute and lost me in their adlibbed spiral. And then as they continued to release new records, as far off the path as I got, I still would mentally go back to their potential after Tremulant and De-Loused… and just could not give up the ghost. Seeing them in 2009 made me realize that they have the rapt potential to make something special in a studio and to play it in front of the people who care about them, so every few years, I’ll take a journey back through their labyrinth of a discography and get lost and found all over again. This song remains one of those tracks that will forever be a beacon in the winding dark outside of the albums I’m comfortable with. It’s the indecipherable runes of mad energy, likely conjured over some burning ouija board while deep in the grips of some heroin seance. It’s a howl into a cyclone. Rodriguez continues to astonish with the way that he uses the guitar in this one, summoning wild distortions and screeches from within the pedals, within the chords, timed with the rest of his composition to make a perfect scrying of a heathen’s future. (YouTube)

Citizen — Figure You Out This song and the one that follow it on this playlist are like two sides of a locket for me. They both call for a window of time for me when this style was rising up like smoke from a demolished building that was offending the horizon for decades. This sound felt so fresh, so new. There was something grungy about it, something desperate and hurt, something gnarly. These guys have since departed from this very sound, making songs that are a bit more indie and more pop inspired, but still laced with a darkness within it. This whole record has a very special place for me though, and the way that there is a rumble that groans throughout the entire environment calls to me in a very distinct way. This record came out in the last summer I spent living in New York and it has a glowing feeling to it, something that reminds me of the last two places I lived, the last few times that I saw certain friends. The final line of the song inspired a story I wrote (that I’m still writing?) for different reasons, but I think there’s something so carnal and primal about the way we dig for knowledge, the way we seek a hidden truth and think we’ll find it at the end of an incision, like we’ll find it the same way we find a pearl dug haggardly from a clam. (YouTube)

Balance and Composure — Fade I got reobsessed with this record a couple of years ago. It initially dropped in 2011 and was such a beacon of light for me, something that I didn’t want to stop listening to for weeks at a time. I think it was between this one and letlive.’s Fake History bounding back and forth for an entire summer. The way that Jon Simmons’ vocals drag like an invisibile undertow over the downtuned and faux-upbeat drums has me in a headlock. The Silverchair-esque heft to the guitars, the squealing distortion, the way that there is so much heavy lifting being done with veritably little is something that always stood out to me. There’s a quiet strength throughout this entire album, but this song in particular brings that perfect pendulum of leveling power and hopeful ascent that gives me all of the right emotions. I love all of the dynamics and atmosphere that’s happening underneath the straight-forward 90s chugging and riffing, I love the way that the vocals are snarled out during certain lyrics and have that brazen independence of a person who has their sights set on something regardless of who it may brush off in the process. There’s something perfect about the way the voice, the guitars, the bass slog along in some slippery and serpentine avenue, the way the drummer slaps along the snares in an off-handed and crass design, like he’s playing in a halestorm, like he’s in a pitch-black basement. Everything feels like it has such a broad threshold, like it’s going to come apart at the tugging of any thread. It’s that windblown, haggard feeling that gets me. (YouTube)

Deftones — 976-Evil Writing about The Deftones is an impossibility for me. They’re no longer a band with members. They’re barely a collection of albums with songs. With notes. Made by instruments. At this point, they feel as ubiquitous as the sky, as certain as dreams. This song fits directly into that mythology, just another carving on the wall of their temple, another border of heiroglyphics that simultaneously mean what they look like and also possess the nuance of all the things that are said around it. It’s the chorus of this song that wraps around me so unbearably, dragging me into the undertow of its waves. I gaze and I want her. &&& It’s your hex that I’m under. These are lines that feel so fatal, so driven by an all-encompassing delusion that I can’t help but also feel dragged by the gravity of this illicit lust. The song is great on its own, without the thematics, without the desires. The way Chino’s voice floats over the understated music that presents as a misted city, his vocals spiraling and eclipsing like some pitted moon, the way Steph Carpenter’s guitars oscillate between floating haze and dense impenetrable chords — it’s all so effortless for this band. The record this descends from, Diamond Eyes, is probably Deftones best album? It’s impossible to say, but it’s felt right every time I’ve gone through their library and tried to figure out some kind of proper totem stacking. If there’s one record that I would suggest for people trying to “get into” this band, I think this is where I’d start. That record came out FOUR.TEEN.YEARS.AGO. Even acknowleding this feels like a criminal act. (YouTube)

Jeff Buckley — Grace LISTEN. Putting Buckley on this record feels sinful in and of itself for me. Similar to my journey with Radiohead, my appreciation for this artist is one that has been boiling over with much resistance. I considered him wildly overrated, not truly understanding him as a performer with such unbelievable, such audacious inspiration to other artists and musicians. I never knew that even 27 years after his death, I’d be hearing moments of his influence on bands I still love to this day. There was a mysticism to his voice, a vivimancy in the way he harnessed such a blessed gift. It feels that in order for him to possess such an extraworldly power, he had to find sacrifices elsewhere, a light that burned way too bright to stay lit in a breathing body. This is something that had to pass beyond his life, something that had to churn forth from him and foam outwards into the waylands of our psyches, attaching itself to future memories, to dreams yet to be foxed out from the hollows of our inner submersions. I think I was starting at a lot of the wrong places, prepared for the wrong things. There’s a quasi-witchy vibe to the ritual that Buckley is performing on this track, something spiritual and enormous, pushing through the glutinous barrier between the grounded world and… whatever he feels while he’s performing. The mantric churning of the multiple guitars, the strings glowing from below, it’s all got a wildly seancious experience surrounding it. To fathom this man’s vocal power, the choices he makes while arranging this song, is to see something from beyond. For anyone who has tried to sway me on this guy… thank you for your patience. (YouTube)

Foxing — Slapstick The hyena cackle from Vishnu” is a line in this song that I don’t understand, that I don’t get, that I can picture in the most abstract ways, but that I revisit in my mind a conservative ONE BILLION TIMES a year. The way the sand of the beginning of this song slowly runs out, grain by grain, trickling through the sacrum of glass and slowly building in pace, in intensity, is dramatic. It’s something pressing and urgent. The music crests in the pre-eruption phase, leaning on a quirky little keyboard sound that attaches itself to the strange ticking clock of the song’s crescendo. A light goes on, illuminating a bigger dimension of the songscape. The ceilings reach further heavenward. The stakes are higher. Cymbals crash with a more textured crunch. There’s no more sun and no more light shining through. And through the same simmering and understated musical causeway, Conor Murphy (Foxing singer; personal doppelganger) suspends the final grain of sand mid drop, isolated from the piling crystals in the lower bulb and allows it to hover in some pulsing antigravity midland and vocally levitates beside with a raw emotional power, detached from worn verbal pathways, a feral expression with the veil lifted. Spoiled and ancient, begging from his core: hold open the door, so I can fall in. (YouTube)

Radiohead — Burn the Witch I had worked 21 hours in two days separated by a gap of 3 hours in between two shifts. I hadn’t been off for eleven days prior leading up to that point. My mind was a different shade of wicked, labyrinthine in the way it was associating image and meaning, uncoiled into a loose and frayed rope of logic, begging for land, begging for sea, begging for reason. I had a free moment at home alone, no one in the building, and in clawing for something, anything, that felt like Myself, that felt like Where I Wanted to Be, I chose to listen to a record. At random, I drew A Moon-Shaped Pool, placed it on the turntable and laid back on a couch. Like some kind of chrysalis, as this song kicked the album off, its Eleanor Rigby-esque violins went forth enrobing my mind’s visual center in orbiting halos of lavender, of lilac, mints and teals and colors buried further in the prismatic galaxy revealed themselves in pieces, like cascading Amens in an overwhelmed church. Yorke ever-wails like a siren, but begging you to stay away from the red crosses on wooden doors, warning of prosecution, of groupthought, of eye contact. This song propelled me into some middle place free from grasping hands and pulling demands. The song allowed me to run deeper into darker locales, places that were off-world, off-grid. The tight spiral of this song helped to reel me together before having to return to the corporeal. It helped me to be anywhere but here, even if it meant a celebration of being bound to a stake, the flames licking the skin off of my astral personage. I fell asleep sometime shortly after, but not before the beginning of the next song on the record, Daydreaming, gave way for the spectral gonging, a meditation that pressed me up against some ice cold plasticine, tortured and imprisoned by forcefed inner peace. I kind of ‘get’ that Moon-Shaped Pool isn’t one of the band’s most beloved records, but for reasons like this, it holds a special place in my mental arborium. (YouTube)

Manchester Orchestra — The Sunshine Andy and his crew have always seemed to be more well-equipped at writing songs that harvest the sadness that rests in the topsoil of my heart, but there’s something simple and loose about the trickling guitar, the repetitive praise of the sunshine brought forth from his muse. This song’s lack of abstraction, it’s absence of obscurity is a beautiful thing here. Some kind of zen garden of affirmation. Some kind of message that feels easy to pass on, to hand-deliver to those that are found in a drought of light and gold. Hull, a man of bewildering intensity, hovers along the surface of this song, only breaking the solemn pillar of polished tranquility to burst into a single expression one time, as if he became possessed by some wild emotional fauna and shook all the things that coaxed him into this place of low vibration. Song feels good. (YouTube)

Edna’s Goldfish — It Will Be You Charleston was lucky enough to be on the route for the Less Than Jake Hello Rockview tour. That record was always one that got me going when it came to ska records from that time period and when I revisited it, it still held up. It felt like something that I would still listen to if it came out today, unironically. Sometimes it’s kind of difficult to be able to tell if a record holds on simply out of nostalgia or if the quality of it really does demonstrate itself regardless of when it was came out. LEMME TELL YA. Going back across the old ska records that also dropped around that time was such an eye-opening experience. Some of the albums that I thought were so incredible sounded absolutely crass in their form, totally empty and novelty, devoid of authentic personality. One band that I recalled from that era so vividly is Step Lively, but at the time of this writing, their record The Trigger Effect isn’t on Spotify. The singer from that band did go on to start another band (The Reunion Show) with the singer from THIS band so while in my memory, as impactful to the scene as Edna’s Goldfish was, I wasn’t sure if they would hold up. Most of it was cool, but this song stood out in a major way because of that strange pedaled guitar progression. Sure, there are still horns on this song (it is ska after all) but the way it’s used is in such a unique and different style. Lots of memories come flooding back to me listening to this, specifically sitting in Bill and Bob Fitzpatrick’s minivan driving around Long Island listening to local bands (this is where I first heard The Movielife and Hometown Hero, not to mention the very non-local The Get Up Kids and Hot Rod Circuit) and that feeling of bringing back wild teenage liberation is sort of untouchable. (YouTube)

The Format — Sore Thumb The first song that people usually associate with this band is The First Single (You Know Me) and for good reason. It’s catchy, it feels good to sing along with, it feels good to clap beside… and it’s a great time to hear with friends. But I think Sore Thumb is truly the best song on the record for so many reasons. I don’t think they went as far as they possibly could have gone as a band (and I think Nate’s success with fun. is such a testament to that) and the number one thing I think got lost in the distant memory of this band is the brilliant songwriting that came out of the chemistry between Ruess and Sam Means which was never quite recreated once the two of them separated. The highly lambent energy that erupts from every note of this song contradicts each word of this breakup that is all but complete and it gets deep into your pockets and wants to elevate you off of the floor out of your chair to move your feet and sing along with it, screaming please just leave, you don’t mean that much to me. Nothing feels better than a song that makes even the hardest crash feel like a beautiful revelation. You keep the ring, he says, I’ll take the Saturdays in bed we sing. (YouTube)

Alanis Morrissette — Thank U This playlist has been “complete” for a really long time. Somewhere around my birthday in 2023 I had a pretty wicked meltdown and it didn’t truly lift until October? November? But somewhere along the way, between January and completing the curation of this list, I heard this song from Alanis and it felt like it found me. I think I always knew it, but I had never heard it like this before. The simple act of gratitude is something which has always been preached to me from all of my amigos who speak of clarity and of grace and of balance. And the way she belts out the thanks to disillusionment. And more importantly, thank you, thank you silence. I think this song not only directs one to find and show gratitude but also on some level to hold yourself accountable for The Way Things Are around yourself. I think this song can easily fall to the wayside as a lightweight, late-90s single. But I think for this one, timing was everything. The power, the release she puts into those big notes were important. To be clear, this song did not clear up my mental collapse. But this song did make it easier to jump in a different direction from the ledge. (YouTube)

Future Islands — Seasons (Waiting On You) I saw the performance of this song on Letterman (this one) on twitter and I became obsessed with it. Not so much the song, but the performance. Obsessed with the way that Herring took a song that rode a fairly straight-forward and solitary design and made it feel tremendous. I think I saw a lot of myself in that performance, making all of the movement, all of the flourish, all of the romance and theatrics possess him as he pointed out the nuance of the song with his frame. Sometimes words just aren’t enough. This feels like one of those songs that he wrote from a specific place in his life, from a very direct perspective and he felt it so much but the words were simple enough across a straight forward and modern and simple song. People change, well you know some people they never do. You know when people change, they gain a piece but they lose one too. I had heard this song ‘a lot’ back when it dropped (somewhere in 2014). I truly thought nothing of it. It existed. It was a bass line. A synth. Fuzzy guitars. It wasn’t until almost a decade later (I think I saw the video resurfaced on twitter in 2022) that it sunk into me like some new petrifying monument. As it stands in my mind, it’s some kind of massive performance art, incomplete without his semantics. I’ve been hanging on you. I’ve been waiting on you. (YouTube)

The Smiths — How Soon Is Now? I liked this song for a very long time without knowing it was The Smiths. Without knowing who The Smiths were (who the Smiths are?). Of course me and all the rest of us uninitiated, it’s that horizonless spanning of a guitar chord that bands outward into a chromed out 1980s nightlife. Of course it is. Over time, I’d heard this band referenced and revered, spoken of in all of Morrissey’s glory, and also effigied in some kind of posthumous hatred. I know at some point in my future, I owe myself a journey spiraling towards the center of this band. There’s a knowledge there that I need to press in upon. There’s enough there to be loved, enough songs that I hear that make me say “that was THEM??” that I really need to gain a concept of their scent. That whole verse/chorus that starts with You shut your mouth and ends with just like everybody else does is such an iconic gem, something that hammers itself into me like a plague, all of its imperfections, all of its neo-goth melodrama. It’s the disarray of a palm smearing the foundation of makeup. There are passageways in and around and through this song, alleyways with varying arcs of washed out light. It becomes a destination, a locale, during that long stretch of oscillating guitar underpinning, that rumination within the empty space. I’m sure this song is a cliche to many, but as it found its way to me way later in my life than to most, I look at it with an awe and an intensity that stirs a nostalgia I never gave myself the chance to feel. (YouTube)

Birds In Row — Noah In the midst of my aforementioned “dark times” of 2022, I began to find myself coated in the misery of buckles and chains and pockets of storytelling. I mostly found it in books, but (of course) it showed itself out in music and in song as well. Even if it isn’t in the form of The Word, there was a certain bleakness that got into me. Albums from bands like Cola and Catcher ranked really highly on my list due to their emotionally bleak drawls, their junked-out noddings. Those albums made me revisit a record ‘Stray’ from the band Bambara. I can’t properly illustrate the mood of those albums and how they all seem to fit together in a trinity of misery and Lynchian lucidity, but they all have a very particular feeling that reeks of The Bottom. While going back through albums that I missed, I checked out this record ‘Gris Klein’ by Birds In Row who I truly adored several years ago for their album ‘You, Me & the Violence’ but which was WILDLY different than this sound. That album from 2014 was angry and aggressive and artistic in different ways. This song SPOKE. It drives from the same engine, steams from the same crevices in the earth. Something sulfuric and awful, chanting through hymns of broken words that shiver forth as if in a trance pulled forth in a throttled confession. You think you’re free until you answer the call. The words froth forth in a tutored french accent until they scream out in a dialect of universal desperation. Eyes wide, veins surfacing through the waves of skin, something brings this violent volume, whether it be truth or fear… but all of it earnest and honest. The bass that scouts ahead like two headlights putting the endless dividing lines behind it, the guitar that plays up and out and beyond like the stars the stretch out into a night without a place to stay. This song has that very same hopeless thread running through it, stitching all of the desperate worry together, tying all of the wretched balking you’ve done to try and get out of your own way. This song feels bad, man. Bad like cheap tonic. Bad like a final cocktail bought at last call long after you’ve said your final goodbyes. (YouTube)

Poison the Well — Pleading Post My favorite Poison the Well record is Versions. It’s wild and unique, a tone for the band that swerves around an odd bend in a mesa, away from much of the staple metalcore tropes and goes in the direction of the frontier with wurlitzer pianos, mandolin, slide guitar, lap steel and all the trappings of a classic western. It’s still heavy, sure. It doesn’t feel like the band has shed their venomed skin for ten gallon hats and spurs. Instead, it feels like they’ve taken on the cloak of pioneers venturing into the night far from the reaches of their campfire to see if they can take what the light is chasing before it rises. The opening of this song in particular is such a great example of the darkness that they’ve draped across themselves. There are stretches of notes that remind me a lot of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. There’s a terror in the lawlessness of the open plains apart from the homesteads of civilization, a peril in the long dead stretches between water sources and family and church. Open air vibrates like airplane engines. The atmosphere peels off the bone. And even in the wretched screams, the heaviest parts of this song lie in the restraint. It would be easy to turn this song into a writhing fury, the arid waste flickering in the sky from miles away. But it’s the singular notes, the enormous sweeps, the monuments of aural discipline which craft the landscape for this song to swallow its listener with ease. Even at its beefiest, I still think that which is obfuscated still bares the sharpest fang. (YouTube)

Letters to Part — Silhouette Found out about these guys when they came around Charleston late last summer. I was blown. away. when I heard them for the first time. It was the first time I’d heard something this enigmatic, this dramatic and this ethereal since I was in the grips of Hrvrd’s From the Bird’s Cage in 2013. The notes seem to come from beyond the horizon and slant through us in an errant vector free from reflection, free from resistance. The sounds stretch in straight lines, meet at triangling intersections and carry on forever into every axis. There’s a nice groove to the low end which gets me worked into a comfortable middle ground, loosening my mind to accept the ever expanding and breathing fractals. This is an easy bidding for hypnosis, and at the three minute mark, every part of us rides out these infinite shafts of light in a prism of directions of which the center is nowhere. The core is erased, we touch all things by contacting none of them. (YouTube)

Palace Brothers — I Am a Cinematographer Music that is Ugly As Fuck is a genre. Sometimes it’s too hard to comprehend focusing nearly entirely on the chaos that the guitars can channel through the overloaded amps, on the vocals that vomit from the vocalist in a razored enfilade. Sometimes it’s grimed out extreme electronic music, with the beats distorted and glitched to the point where it’s hardly in rhythm, instead causing everything within the ribcage to face the thresholds of its surface tensions, to cause the levies of the veins and arteries to shiver like a web. Sometimes, like in the case of Will Oldham’s I Am a Cinematographer (under the moniker of Palace Brothers this go around), it’s ugly in the gnarled knuckles that play simply along a withered guitar, a voice that gets chewed up through the esophagus, lurches past the tongue, gets serrated through the teeth and ends up in our ears a puddled and kintsugi’d wreck, cracked and remade into something in the wake of its original shape. This song flutters along the edge of my mental highway sometimes, a trickling hum that’s hard to face head on, but has the roadworn and wistful spirit of a journal kept with you for the hard years, swallowing secrets and prayers for better days. The words speak of leaving, of abandoning the things that made you strong and what you thought made you Yourself, only to find that those things would have abandoned you as well, burned down inevitably, given the chance. It tells the story that one has to live through in order to take it from fable to fact: the things you leave will bloom despite your absence. It nudges you to take enormous steps, to leave every old life, to give yourself a taste of wherever the river runs. You can walk away from Louisville alone. (YouTube)

Thunder Dreamer — Lorraine So, this is mix [I guess we’d call them playlists now] number 43. I’ve been doing them since November 2003, 21 years now. Over those 20+ years, I have to say that there is ONE of these playlists that still hits as my favorite. It’s Mix XXXIII, and that mix has a song from this band which gives me this same kind of feeling as this song. It’s some hallway in a dream, some endless narrow stairwell in purgatory. A perpetuity runs along it, a loosely wound ribbon along a pale arm. There’s a near awkwardness to the delicacy of this song, an intimate and personal care that goes into it, as if pressing too heavily might crush what lies in the palms. Thunder Dreamer isn’t a band that I’ve spent a ton of time diving into, but I think they manage to find a supreme balance in their tranquil spectrum of effusive releases. There’s a whisper to it that’s composed of a billion colors, all summoned into tide pools across an endless coast at magic hour. Here plays the mysticism of infinitude, a moment without violence. (YouTube)

Ultravox — Vienna The entire reason this song is on this mix is because of Bret Easton Ellis. When I was reading The Shards, the nonchalance and tortured ease of being a White, Rich LA Teen in the 80s was enhanced by Ellis’ regular engagement with the reader by broadcasting whatever song or album was playing in the various cars and the various clubs that the characters were occupying. His barely detailed expressions of how the music playing were part of his grand vision of Reagan Era Los Angeles and the desperately solipsistic opulence therein gave a flavor to the story that drew it even closer to breaking that fourth wall. This song is uncreased, smooth and chrome like a cocaine mirror. It was born in 1981, a time when electronic music was still bare and overwhelmingly digital. Every sound becomes that much more of a valuable currency, from the eerie singularity of the synthesizer to the binary thundergod warbles, each of these phony pulses feels like a renaissance. It feels ancient in design and aesthetic, but for the time it was vogue. The song is stark, empty, vapid. There is no joy, no delight, a near industrious, brutalist take on the loneliness of an old and baroque city, lost to time and overtaken by modernity, making it small, useless, sapped of the utility of time. As if staring directly into the camera, directly into the audience, directly into the listener themself: this means nothing to me. Reading so many of the books in Ellis’ world, he has slowly become one of my favorite authors. He finds ways to shape desperation, ennui and anhedonia and place them in human frames, and strap them to a rocket of ego and lust and drug use and let the fireworks glow in a deserted sky. When all comes down to earth, when the men and women and boys and girls of Ellis’ fictions lay their heads down in a bed or in a dirt, all that is left to be found is a solitude that screams into itself: the feeling has gone, only you and I, it means nothing to me. (YouTube)