Mix XXXVI — Once Is Enough, Don’t Bring Me Back
The Mars Volta — Ilyena I rediscovered the record this song came from, The Bedlam In Goliath, last year when I was reading about how the band stumbled upon a Ouija board called The Soothsayer. So sick. I went back through the record and found that there were so many songs on here that I really loved. This one sounds like it’s reassembling itself while coming through a spiritual portal, and only sticks with us for such a short period of time before it dissipates and has to return to a different plane. A seance of wild percussion and latin rhythm. Listen to those cool wah pedal effects going on deep in the background, those groaning organ sounds that get leaned on deeply. I think a lot about Ikey, the keyboard player, and his passing. He was one of the most lively performers I’ve ever seen, really feeling deep communique with the notes he was playing, summoning something more than just musical talent but something far more elevated. I’ve spent a ton of time with De-Loused In the Comatorium and Tremulant from these guys, but I don’t think I go out into the deeper realms of this band enough to be reminded of gems like this one. That singular pause that happens right before the little instrumental break is so suspenseful. I love trying to time an on-point clap with that opening snare.
Rex Orange County — Loving Is Easy This is such a chill song, a smooth breeze. There’s a confidence in the rhythm almost along the lines of the BeeGees at their finest. There’s a strut you can envision, a way that one will move when this song comes on. It’s a mood, it’s a swagger. When a song is this perfect, it almost makes me nervous to jump into an artist’s full album. What’s great about this song as well is that it’s absolutely timeless. This can be from any time, from any setting. And I think it will be able to stick around forever.
Hippo Campus — Honestly I thought I knew this band, but their record was all sorts of things to me, and none of it was familiar. It was pretty in ways that reminded me of Local Natives’ Hummingbird, which is one of my favorite records of this decade. The build of this chorus is mysterious and alluring, something smoky and sexy about it that gives me that post-Shins James Mercer kind of feeling. This is a song that gets stuck in my head for days at a time.
Dryjacket — Bill Gates’ Ringtone CANNOT WAIT for this band’s new record that’s going to drop this year. Wow. But this record quietly dropped into my Top 5 of 2017. There’s a little bit of that Into It. Over It. vocal style, but also that modern emo guitar labyrinthine guitar style, the constant prattle of snare that the genre brings with it. The sadness, the rain through fogged window kind of vibe. Almost every song on this record can get me equally excited and depressed, which I think is sort of this style’s banner. Let’s get and hang out together! MAYBE THINGS WILL NEVER BE BETTER!
Foxing — Slapstick Favorite record of 2018. Point blank. Each song, each note gives me such a deep, deep emotional reaction. Going to name drop it again, but this song gives me a build-up of energy in the same sort of format as the opening of The Mars Volta’s De-Loused. The way it’s a slow panning of a camera, giving us a concept of setting and then explodes into this marvelous supernova of exposure and revelation, this open wristed nerve parade. This is a driving and screaming song. The high pitched vocals, the gigantic guitars. Unbelievable.
King Princess — Holy This was one of the best releases of last year. 5 tracks, each of which were sexy beyond what is reasonable. The only thing I missed on the EP was that there wasn’t enough. Hopefully the full length drops this year. There’s a little mix of old Lana Del Rey, a little (dare I say?) Sade, and a forlorn confidence that summons you into it. Please, listen not only to this track but the rest of her EP. Brilliant. Lock in tight for more this year. There’s a delicate touch across her purred vocals. A broken yearning in her rasp. She wants you to know.
Paulson — Not By a Long Shot Drums and vocals have always been the secret ingredients to every great Paulson song. There’s a smooth humility to his voice, almost like the guy from The Dismemberment Plan, but far more questioning of his ability, of his right to be behind this mic at all. At least on this record. As the band evolved, he certainly became far more comfortable (covering an Eddie Murphy song is totally the way to show that you know you have skills, right?). And the drums have a far more communicative sense to them than simply keeping rhythm. There’s a morse code consciousness to them. The chorus here is such a plea, so powerful in the language of begging, almost reaching for a return. Guitar and keys hang far (so far) back in the tapestry, so far back that when you notice them, it’s almost like a return to focus, like spiraling in a crowded room. All At Once is always going to be one of my favorite records, one that in its original form is perfect. The version on Spotify threw in some extra b sides and covers from later releases and throws off the flow a little bit. Sad that these guys never catapulted further than they deserved.
REM — I Don’t Sleep I Dream I received this band’s Monster from Columbia House. I knew that this band was one that I wanted to understand and get into, but never knew where to start. If I remember correctly, their catalogs only had a few options at a time, and this was the only one at the time. So aside from their singles and videos, this was my full-on introduction to the band. And I ended up really loving a lot of the songs, though I don’t think it’s one of the big ones when it comes to their pantheon. There’s a trance in these lyrics, someone floating from dream to interaction to dream to loneliness, nothing solved at the end of the day. Stipe is talking about something I relate to on such a crazy level lately, being caught up in your head so deeply and trying to let as much out as you can, sharing as much information as you can, but still never really getting the gratification in response. I think in a little bit of a reverse metaphor, it seems like he’s directly talking about sex here, but implying something far deeper.
Mewithoutyou — Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses) Man, the more I listen to Untitled, the more I love it. Will Yip produced the shit out of the record, pulling out so much emotion out of the instruments and the songs that were written. It’s magic. It feels like there’s a dead religion behind the world that Mewithoutyou crafts, almost a litany of lore that they’re spiraling in. This record combined the aggression that I loved from A->B Life and the folk sound of the rest of their library. This song is so heavy and could have gone in a far different direction vocally. Instead it leans into a chant. A dirge. And that chorus! Same calm confidence that rows across the ‘made up ocean’ of ringing distortion. The Julia that’s being sung about feels like a ghost we’ve envisioned, all, on some shore as we drift by. She haunts a land we want to dock upon but fear the cost of settlement. The torment of missed chance screams over the final portions of the song, almost like the pleading of wanting to break tradition. So sick. This song reminds me a lot of Brand New as they transitioned from their straight forward pop-punk-rock sound to more experimental territory.
Frontierer — Heartless 101 If you’ve yet to dive headlong into the time/space void of Frontierer, I’m not quite sure if you’re able to handle this song. Not simply imagery alone, but this is a song that is broken in so many ways. It’s heavy on the level that people who aren’t into truly aggressive music will like. It’s abrasive from a production standpoint and how it doesn’t want you to sit comfortably in a rhythm. It shoves a million messages into a box far too small to contain it. Notes shred and pixelate into static. Eventually, it breaks into a far more beautiful chapel, big and melodic sounds that shape a lust of industry, through which we pass back into another gauntlet of heft. This song breaks itself as it pushes itself too close to the LED son. _icarus_.exe
Axis — Discouraged Fell in love with this album from 2015. It’s a straight forward hardcore record with gnarly breakdowns and absolutely no restraint. One of the best albums that I discovered last year. As I listened to it over and over, I was incredulous that this one hadn’t come up in any conversations, never came through in a Spotify Discover playlist, and never was brought up at random. It was tough to select just one track to bring through. This is it, though. If you like this song, you need to make the journey through Show Your Greed, one of the best full lengths in this genre that’s come out in the last decade. Its breakdowns shine with creativity. There are machetes at hand.
Hopesfall — Bradley Fighting Vehicle Probably the new record from 2018 that I listened to most. Hopesfall’s comeback is one of the most joyous experiences, one that brought with it both the fear of cracking a flawless facade of their past library and hope that they would continue to thrive. The latter was the result. Such a big and exciting record with so many choruses that not only stand strong as ‘songs’ but as voyages. Ever since The Satellite Years’ album artwork put on display massive and sprawling astronautical vistas, this has been the personality that Hopesfall’s music has taken on for me, and this record sounds like the black box from a galaxy hopping craft. Typing this on my lightweight laptop, it’s impossible for me to not lift it into the air while listening to the gigantic prechorus, to not grip the sides of the screen while experiencing the lines “is there something out there?”, to not rock back and forth during the “staring at the sky for years”, to keep the veins in my throat quieted while screaming “inciteful but commanding”. The track is heavy, the track is spacy. This record, through and through, reminds me of opening the most futuristic tech that’s landed in an open field in one of the Dakotas and finding a worn notebook from the late 90s written with a heavy hand.
Marvin Gaye — Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) How do you speak on a legend, on a legendary song? This is a timeless voice, singing a song that resonates deep within all of our immortal romances. The lyrics are almost post-apocalyptic in a strange way, one that speaks of a dying earth, corrupted and tainted with the stain of man. Metaphorical or not, this is a song with a beauty that betrays the dark lyrics. Such a jam, forever. This song is one that pops me up out of my chair as soon as I hear it.
Bobby Caldwell — What You Won’t Do For Love Another smooth groove. The first lines of this song are timeless, ones that I feel like we’ve all heard, whether it’s in commercials or in rom-com’s. It’s almost ironic in ways with how earnest it is. But the delivery is smooth as hell! Let me tell you, man. I can sit and coast with this one forever. It’s one that couldn’t show up today and land, but this song’s age and the time it comes from really bloom when it comes on. An all timer. I think the musical break towards the end is a bit lengthy, but it just adds to the faded photograph feel of the track. The way some of those old keys sparkle brings out a little psyche.
Kendrick Lamar — untitled 06 | 06.30.2014 This track is off of Kendrick’s B-Sides record that ended up being my favorite album of that year anyway. The collection felt alive and off the cuff in a way that riffed along on all of the things that make Kendrick great, but also on a series of things that were unexpected. Like the alien appearance of CeeLo Green his outer worldly unique voice. That ‘let me explain’ is so catchy, man. With the jazzy backbeat, Lamar’s verse feels freeform, being born right before our very ears. There’s a rhythm like his standard hip-hop feel, but there’s also almost a soulful spoken word spirit to it.
Shabazz Palaces — Shine a Light I. LOVED. THIS. BEAT. Had to have it featured on here. The sung part was brilliant and I loved the production. Sounded like the 8-track that would be left in a haunted car that got left to you by your aunt is moonlighted as a medium. The rap verse, I could have done without. Shed that part, honestly. It’s brief.
King Geedorah — Fazers A couple of years ago, I discovered J Dilla and Madlib and I got moderately obsessed. In 2018, I caught the same vapor for MF Doom. This is probably the most prolific MC of our generation, coming out with tons of records, not only under his own artist name, but also brought out under other names, like this one, King Geedorah. This record is heavily influenced by the Godzilla enemy. He also produced the record under another name. Such a low key vibe. This is the kind of music that I’ll play in the background while I’m playing video games. It suits the mood perfectly for my favorite genre, vandalizing bad guy hideouts in open world sandbox games. I love this old school style of hip hop, standard 4/4 beats sometimes peppered and spiced with samples from classic films, and you can almost feel like you’re standing next to the guy spitting rhymes and feel the cold steel of the mic he’s holding. It’s based beyond reason.
Royce da 5’9” — Power Whole record screamed “Message” to me. Royce’s record is half standard tracks, and half open hearted family photo album. So many of the stories he tells are about his dysfunctional family and the way they pulled together and made it through abuse, drug abuse. But instead of victimization as the subject, we get to hear more about how they made it through to the other side. These stories feel real, like the ones you’d hear your quiet friends tell after a car crash. The beat on this one is hard, and that’s what got me loving this track. But after hearing line after line, there’s an incredibly sad humanity here, a blue collar story about [yet another] Christmas being ruined by drinking, anger problems, and a broken family. The more I hear this song, the more I hear this story, I feel that “oh shit” moment when the brother and father fight. I get that deeper knot in my throat when he speaks about his father having the strength of Superman. The final part of this song is in an interview format, a style that’s revisited throughout the full record The Book of Ryan, and it’s a powerful tool.
toe — The Latest Number I was in an airport in Texas when I first heard this one. This was going to be the last track on the mix. It’s a real comedown track, and I think it has the tone and vocal delivery to thank for that. The song is mostly in Japanese, something that, for me, adds to the meditative and rounded quality to the song. Without having to focus on what the vocalist is saying, it instead rings out like a mantra. The calming guitars feel like a room of ticking clocks, something to get zoned in on. I feel like this is the song you want to sit in the lotus position and stare at honeycombs as they change shape, as they shrink and grow and become cages and wings for you.
Cigarettes After Sex — Sunsetz I really hate the name of this band. But I love their album. Many of the songs sound the same, or similar. There’s a depression love here. There is a youthfulness to it. This is the aural manifestation of saudade. It sounds like hearing someone looking back on a time when they didn’t realize time in love didn’t stand still. This is comforting sadness. A calming goodbye, knowing you’re never going to see someone again, and casting them off, a horizon that swallows them and never spits them out. Still seeing them forever in the most natural light, in non-photographic poses, at their best of their worst. Every moment you didn’t hold their hand, or pick up their call. That’s what this song feels like to me. You’ve made amends with the times that are gone and past. But there’s still a shape in the blanket of your history in the shape of them.