Mix XXXV — Murmurations.
Lykke Li — Deep End One thing I have loved so much about this particular mix is that so many times, I have chosen songs for this playlist that I have said “this is probably my favorite song of the year.” One after the next, I’ve changed my mind and been really overwhelmed by such dope music this year. When this song first came out, it was a super strong favorite for that title but just so many new things have come out. This one goes through about 3 or 4 costume changes, but the swimming and amorphous chorus is the one that’s absolutely stunning me. There’s a dub vibe about it in a way, but nothing that goes too far past the horizon. I’ve not really known Lykke Li to be this forward in her pop attempts, but this one takes on the skin of Lana and of Grimes and even of some Nelly Furtado. Darker on the scale of pop songs as well.
The Neighbourhood — Scary Love These guys have had a bunch of singles over the last three or four years that have been fairly nice and pop friendly, but their full record have had some really strange cuts that end up having me see them in a totally different light. I think this song is one that for the first time marries both of those sides of their extroverted and introverted styles into one cohesive groove. The verse has such an interesting bob to it, almost a slowed down and tweaked Airwolf theme. But the chorus (once again) is the sweet spot. Those vocal bends? The Ooos? Choice.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra — Everyone Acts Crazy Nowadays I listened to this record without really knowing what to expect from UMO. I was driving to a part of town that I don’t often drive. I was on my way to pick up a new television on a whim, totally heading out in a “be right back” moment, and picked this off the cuff. I think with their band name, I thought it’d be a lot more serious, a lot more pretentious. Slapped in the face with the exact opposite. As a whole, the record has such a lush and sexy disco vibe to it, and this song is possibly the one that gave me the most unbelievable vibrations. There are a lot of moments that feel like the psychedelic bubble is about to burst into real freakout territory.
Happy Body Slow Brain — Never Loved Discovered this record a couple of years ago, and I can’t believe how often I listen to it, even in separate perforated pieces. This was the perfect sleep album for me for a very long time, when I was battling a pocket of insomnia. This was the only bridge to sleep, the only way to hush the mind from its thrumming. There’s something swimming and dreaming about it, as oceanic deep blues and galactic robust purples burst behind my eyelids while listening to these guys. Since I accidentally stumbled upon this band, it’s been super cool watching Matt Fazzi appear with so many of the bands I loved when I was submerged in the LI scene, such as The Movielife and Taking Back Sunday. He even played Warped this year with Envy On the Coast. Guy is such a hardworking dude, and he makes some beautiful tunes. This feels like a song that would have been perfectly at home on an Incubus album that would have come somewhere between Make Yourself and Morning View. Love the thick and chunky keyboards that buzz and hum in the background like muted outdoor lighting.
American Wolf — Evil Eyed I found these guys by utter mistake (as has been the intro line in so many of these mix CD literature pamphlets). I think someone on instagram said they saw them open for some other band they were seeing that night and I added not only that band to the To Listen playlist, but also this record. Months later, I finally got to listen to it and it was one of those records that I was hitting up the music sharing contingent about. From front to back, it had one of those feelings that was a Steve Cuocci Forever sound. The twinkly guitars, the upper register vocals, the layers and layers and layers. I couldn’t find a single thing about this band anywhere other than on their bandcamp and facebook. Shocked, I sent them an email (for real, in 2018). I wanted to know where I could get more, how I could get my hands on a physical copy, how I could do more to make this band more of a manifestation of themselves in my life. They sent a message back, mad positive and thankful, but ultimately bearing no new fruit. I really love this band and will carry the record with me forward, similar to how I did with Happy Body Slow Brain. It’s got one of those formulas that somehow yields the perfect sum for me. There’s an organic feel to so many of the songs, something experimental and bare.
Tangled Hair — Camera 1, Camera 2 Oh yeah. This is the type of song that I can sit indian style in front of a giant mandala and zone away into, stare into fractals and ponder geometric mathematics, let it heal in strange ways. This guy’s singing about a plant, man. With the way the drums are peppering my brainstem, I think about the veins, the dying plants, the thirst of them, and I lose my mind. It’s stressful. There’s something vortextual in nature that holds me down in an undertow with this song. The way the british accent comes through in so many of the words he ends with throws me into this deep connection with who he is as a human being and the fact that he’s singing this song in an empty studio and there’s a nexus of connections to all of these people who eventually hear it. I’M TELLING YOU, MAN. There’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Delta Sleep — El Pastor This song is full-on high guitar strap, SC pantomime. Some of the way that so many of the little percussion moments pop really blow my mind, make me so happy. But the cycling guitar parts are really what caught my pineal gland, man. And ya know, ya got the falsetto vocals, the strange time signatures, the jacob’s ladder song structure, that weird tape edit around 1:47… it’s got me directly by the solar plexus. It reminds me so much of Minus the Bear getting married to As Tall As Lions. A lot of open air and explicit empty space on this track that the tempo sort of obscures, but it breathes widely and cyclically. That part around 3:19 that has those glitch in the Matrix, deja vu repetitions on the guitar send me into convulsions.
Gulfer — Doglife This one has a lot of what the other songs that precede this one have had, but there’s more of a grounded nature to it. More like kids that have lost their way, more like dudes that come home and crack beers and write these guitar wiggles with anger and somehow in their stupor have been able to carve these seemingly random designs of notes-falling-down-stairs deep into their muscle memory and continue to find it, continue to remember it on purpose and by mistake. The guitars feel more like familiars than they do tools, things which they’ve Ouija’d out of some demon and that have splayed out and take on minds and jobs of their own and spread out on gnarly pieces of paper like ink soaking it through and through. The desperate yelps of a couple of wild kids.
Hop Along — Somewhere a Judge I really love Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan’s rough voice in her previous releases. The way it grates and gives in and slips razors into vases of beautiful floral arrangements. This song is something entirely different. This doesn’t bare itself in the same way, but instead shows off an almost bossa-nova type of groove to it. That “afternoon vanilla sun” chorus completely melts my heart. There’s that catchiness of it directly on the surface, but there’s a brightness about it as well. The illustrative quality of it. And yo, the 2:56 post produced, almost double recorded, robot sound to it? So brilliant. The ending of this track reminds me of a specific time in my life, really sadly actually. “I don’t know why I’m so mean each time I come to visit.” It’s sort of the other way around, but there was this girl who would just want to sort of come and visit and hang out and I would either avoid or treat the situation poorly. In fact, I think at some point the girl had driven all the way here and ended up sleeping in her car. I don’t know why I did that.
Glassjaw — My Conscience Weighs a Ton What more can be said. This record catches me off guard in different ways. I wasn’t “impressed” (should I have been? Fuck me.) when I first heard it in full. But it has become one of the Gizan pyramids, the three main pillars of myth, completely perfect and that will sustain the ravages of time. Even in this record without the truly bared anger and fury, there’s still an aggression that’s present at all times. The enormous hook in this track feels like a stretching of the skin to escape its prison. Daryl has always been a master of pulling this enormous voice out of his diminutive frame and this song is an amazing example of that. The classic Glassjaw predatory approach comes out at 1:41, not letting this vast pink majesty be the only characteristic that steals your attention. This song is also that standard moment in these Mix CDs that is the tipping point for when you know the songs are about to get pretty heavy.
Rivers of Nihil — Old Nothing SON. For the first 40 seconds of this song, I usually sit with my hands outstretched, palms up, as if I’m summoning some demon out of a thicket or out of some blood red tome. I’ll be bobbing my head along with the punishment and then that first quick little breakdown part at :54 comes in and I throw in the ugly face, the gnarled up “I can’t believe this got so heavy” face, and it chills on my visage through most of the rest of the song. Songs like this bring me so much joy. The heaviness is absurd. Generally, I can do without guitar solos, but this one it sort of makes sense. Not my favorite part of the song or anything, as I’d prefer like 35 straight minutes of double bass and breakdowns, but hey, I GET IT.
The Armed — Fortune’s Daughter This album took over. It’s like a spiraling tornado of blades that you simply can’t avoid. And once you’re in the eye of the storm, you see a digital beauty in a reflection of a mass of steel and let it become your present, although you’d feared it as your future. The record goes a lot of places, all of them severe. I love the desperation and frantic pleas of the female vocals that juxtapose with the almost industrial/goth influenced chorus. It’s the perfect simulation of G Force that hit you as you fall at breakneck speed. It tried to force you to accept a place in chaos. It’s the voice of the paramedic across the veil saying, “stay with me; stay with me.”
Employed to Serve — I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away So heavy. These guys are from the UK which makes me so mad, because I can’t see them live regularly. I heard this record this year, and I wish I’d heard it earlier because this would have been so high on my albums of the year list last year. From front to back, one of the most solid, true to the genre records, so heavy, so smartly written. Great riffs, great heft. Just from the start, the way this song kicks off is so sure of itself in its own establishment, and once the verse and the refrain of that heavy verse come back through, that light guitar part to break up the mayhem is so sick. Hoping to pick up the vinyl soon, [but at this point it’s only an import from the UK — redacted! Contacted the band and they let me know about the US distro through Deathwish. Fuck yes. Secured.].
At the Drive-In — Point of Demarkation Favorite band, man. What more can be said. These guys have been through a billion skins. When I saw they were getting back together for a reunion to tour, I was supremely excited, but when they announced another record, that’s when the fear set in. And, sadly, it didn’t really live up to what I’d hoped. I think it had been a bit too long, and the departure/separation of Jim Ward took away the magic that was there. This EP with three tracks on it definitely redeemed some of it. I think this one brings back that strange mysticism, the errant sounds and traditional ATDI ethos. Love the haunting of the piano that whisps across at some points, the voices that listlessly trail through the background, the whirling feedback that show up as vaportrails.
Chvrches — God’s Plan Here it is: absolutely loved Chvrches’ first two records and just can’t go back to this new one that dropped. But this song stood out from the rest of it, not only because of the primarily male vocals, but also the straight-out-of-90s Euro discoteque drum machine loop and the synth roll that flows over the track. I love the almost “too Scottish” accent that he has on this song, and the way this song builds is really beautiful one that fits a lot of the neon branding of this newer record. I almost feel like this track could have come out as a side project for this guy, but I’m glad that it’s here regardless.
Royce Da 5’9” — Amazing This record showed up on an instagram story, something like “already up on my list on albums of the year!” Aaight, I figured. I’ll check it out. Why not. I went for a walk and brought my headphones with me and bumped this one. Absolutely fantastic from front to back. A conceptual story album that is supremely introspective and at the very least, moderately autobiographical. It hits a lot of emotional notes, a lot of sit-down-interview closure type stuff. I don’t know much about best rappers, best flows, etc. I’m not explicitly a student of hip-hop, though as someone who’s tried to plug in to everything, I’m no stranger to it. So when an album like this comes along, it’s tough to say if this is a true rap album or an album that just belongs in rap culture. Anyway. I saw a quote once that said, “trying to engage with Slim Shady has long meant ignoring what he was saying to try to focus on how cleverly he said it.” Facts. With Royce on this record, it’s absolutely impossible to ignore his content, to ignore his narrative. Maybe it’s not always clever or exhibited in truly unique fashion, but regardless, this record drops heavy on the chest. This was the song from the record that made me go back and listen to the record from the beginning again, simply because I now had the proper filter on. Other tracks on the record were good, but I hadn’t been hearing the story. Once I knew the context, I could totally agree. Way up on one of the best albums of the year.
Circa Survive — Lustration So Circa’s first two records are all-time for me. That dreamy quality of pedals and delays and reverb take me to a different stratosphere, especially with Anthony Green’s lofty vocals floating and drifting along across the top of the cumulous notes. After those two, for years, I gave their records a chance, and just couldn’t find the gold that was once there. Sure I saw them live each time they came through, and even on hearing the new tracks there, they just didn’t have the same feeling that the originals did. When The Amulet was announced and this was the song that came out as the announcement, I greeted it with the same kind of faded sense of attention. But throughout, this is the Circa Survive that I’d wanted to hear again for years. The fangs of the first two records were certainly receded, but the lightness was embraced completely. This was another spatial journey that I had been seeking for all of these years. A lot of stretching on the heels and balls of my feet, a lot of peacocking.
Snail Mail — Speaking Terms First of all, snail mail is one of my favorite forms of communication. You are holding an example of this in your hands if you’re not reading this on Medium. The silky vocals of this song are really its core spotlight, but the clarity of the guitars are what make this song noteworthy to me. Very clean and absolutely crystal clear. This is a song that bares itself from the start and for it to be so sharp in focus, to be so pristine is beautiful. There’s that total lull, the moment when she is truly coming to terms with bidding farewell to the subject of the record and then instantly comes to the climax, the “I’ll see you around” that has a triumphant sort of feel to it, that all things aren’t in full collapse, that what’s done is what’s best.
Dot Hacker — Beseech This record is such a weird little gem, a cool exploration into strange recording shaped into rock songs. This track foregoes a guitar solo and instead throws in edited, looped and distorted vocals in its place, layering what seems like conversation in its background. There’s a tight little backbeat drum piece that goes throughout the track, but also pops of strange percussion that surface from time to time to show that there’s a depth below the surface. Vocally, it’s gangrened, alien and sordid, all sorts of uncomfortable but composed in its own ugliness. I find it best to listen to this track if you’re able to rock back and forth and be a little gone throughout it, to let your heart flay like a plasma globe.