I hate to keep pulling from my “Best of 2011” iTunes folder, but I suppose it’s a good problem to have when hunting for quality mix tracks. There’s been a lot of excellent synth-pop released this year, including Hooray for Earth’s True Loves, which is chock-full of songs I’m certain Mssrs. Rhys and Bip would approve of. True Loves has an awesome low end, rumbling and powerful enough to anchor the often-airy vocals. Every song has a different set of nice touches, and on “Bring Us Closer Together” those include shakers, tambourines, buzzsaw effects, miner sounds, soul-singer background vocals, clipped guitars and a hook so epic it stretches beyond the horizon line.
Things have taken a bright and shiny stainless steel turn here. We’ve made to through the desert and landed in sunny and crisp LA. This is what happens when “super” frontman Gruff Rhys teams up with Boom Bip to make an album about the life of John DeLorean. We get to ride around in dream cars. Now let’s see if these bastards can do 90.
Over the course of several albums, M83 has evolved into a maximalist king of synth-pop, piling on layer after layer to create a virtual ‘80s reality that draws you in like a black hole. You don’t have to watch YouTube videos or read hyperbolic reviews to experience memories of your own: “couples skate” in a darkened roller rink, riding your bicycle on your street at sunset, driving with the windows down, and so on. In other words: it’s the soundtrack of the specific memory of being young 20–25 years ago and hearing Tears for Fears or Howard Jones come on the radio. I have no idea how people significantly younger or older than me react to it, but for me listening to M83 has the same effect as trying to think back to that time period and finding that all my memories are hazy and faded, like a picture out too long in the sun.
The brand-new Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming contains a slew of five-star songs, so it was difficult to narrow it to just one. But “Claudia Lewis” has just the right mix of heat and frost, checking off the ‘80s to-do list with ease: funky bass, programmed drum, ringing guitar, synths cascading off each other, whoa-ohs, doot-doots and the stray cowbell. On previous tracks and albums, I feel like the main emotion evoked was of wistfulness. Here, there’s a sense of power, like the whole world is laid out in front of you and you can go anywhere you want. Not a bad metaphor for this mix either.
Sometimes when a song has the ability to perfectly encapsulate it’s theme/title, real synesthesia is palpable. I hear this song by Portland’s Chromatics, and I immediately imagine myself driving through the warm Mojave desert at night. The dashed lines of the road visible in my headlights syncopate with the beat as blueish black desert brush whisks by my peripheral. I am perhaps on the way to get “my baby” and bring her back home. I’ll probably have to rough some dudes up in the process. They probably had it coming. So it goes.
Hats off to Mr. Smigielski, who started off this volume with a bang. Drive is indeed an incredible film, with confidence and style everywhere, with a soundtrack that’s truly a thing of wonder. It’s a perfect complement between tone (‘80s icy coolness) and setting (the vast anonymity outside Hollywood), which sets the stage for a strong, strong start here.
“Nightcall” and much of the score remind me of a film reel unspooling at a frame rate that’s slightly off, like we’re moving in slower motion, deliberate but focused, like your whole life is made up of those money shots in Michael Bay films just before the heroes join the action. So that’s where “Never Known Love” comes in, smoothing out Kavinsky’s quirks but keeping the focus on chiming guitars and little percussive touches that bounce off the beat. While I usually try to abide by John Cusack-in-HighFidelity’s rule of making sure the second track always ups the ante set by the first, I wanted to go with something more like a thoughtful slow jam that strengthened the mood.
You see there is this little sleeper hit of a movie out right now called Drive. It’s really amazing. Beautiful, romantic, violent and musical. That’s right. It’s got the most memorable use of music and soundtrack since… The Royal Tenenbaums probably. Created by Cliff Martinez, whose pretty much done every great minimalist transcendent score in the last 10 years, the Drive score and soundtrack are poised to really revitalize the role of music in movies. It feels like 1992 and I just saw Pulp Fiction. In addition to the score by Martinez, the soundtrack has five original songs that just ooze the best attributes of the 80′s. Synths. Reverb. Great pop melody. See the movie. Hear the music. And enjoy the ride on wherever Vol 8 takes us.
The best part of seeing these volumes put together at their end is to trace a line through 15 tracks and see how different the last is from the first. We travel a lot of musical ground in these volumes, so the beauty always comes when the little changes between tracks cascade through the rest of the mix, creating a new line that travels in a new direction we weren’t anticipating only a couple of tracks before. We end up crossing our own tracks sometimes, but always in pursuit of the next great song out there. I guess that means it’s a silly straw more than a line, but weren’t those always more fun to drink out of?
It’s been a blast spending a lot of time in the ‘80s, then picking that line back up 30 years later and seeing what had changed. It’s made this volume maybe the most cohesive so far, and certainly one that demonstrated why Mr. Smigielski and I love music so much.
01. Dance Stance by Dexys Midnight Runners
02. Love -> Building on Fire by Talking Heads
03. Be Stiff by Lene Lovich
04. Rattle My Bones by The Suburbs
05. What People Do For Fun by Martha & the Muffins
06. Warrior in Woolworths by X-Ray Spex
07. Mack the Knife [live] by The Psychedelic Furs
08. Inconvenience [12” version] by The Au Pairs
09. Funky Instrumental by Bush Tetras
10. Watch the Lines by Mother & the Addicts
11. Year of Explorers by The Magnificents
12. In Fact, You’re Just Fiction by Robocop Kraus
13. The Architect by dEUS
14. Atlantis to Interzone by Klaxons
15. Dawn of the Dead by Does it Offend You, Yeah?
“Dawn of the Dead” is built on a melody that sounds like a European ambulance siren, a steel drum, and a grunting background chorus—three things that have no real place in pop music. Yet this band, with its name that should also be tossed out for bad taste, seems to make them all work together. And not only that, but make it all sound truly fantastic.
I’m not completely certain this is the best possible follow-up to “Atlantis to Interzone,” but I feel pretty good that it’s the best possible conclusion to the volume. It has a certain finality to it, whether via the broken relationship described in the lyrics or the zombies of the title. As we’ve incorporated a lot of synthesizers into the last third of the volume, I wanted to end it in a slightly more humanist and warmer place, ruminating on what’s come before and ready to travel to whatever comes next. And perhaps the presence of the steel drum will inspire Mr. Smigielski to make it an all-Hawaiian volume.
I’m a real sucker for dance music that’s played like rock music. Music that is undeniably hedonistic and unselfconscious but with the passion, anger and presence of punk rawk. The Mercury Prize winning Klaxons give us a delicious dose of it on 2006′s Atlantis to Interzone. Stuck inside all of it’s bombast are some nice juicy details—in-unision harmonized vocals, rave inspired sirens and samples and a very undisco, abrupt composition change at the 1:00 mark. Enjoy where this takes us.
Surprise! Bet you came here thinking this was going to be an LCD Soundsystem track, right? How could it not be, with those glorious cowbells, guitars, and snotty chants? Aesthetically, that would’ve been the wise choice. But it wouldn’t have been as emotionally fulfilling for me. Plus, I’m convinced that most everyone who checks in on this mix is already overly familiar with That James Murphy Sound, so I would rather try the shock of the new instead of the comfort of the familiar.
So may I present “The Architect,” simultaneously the best ode to Buckminster Fuller ever made, and the greatest thing to come out of Belgium since Stella Artois. dEUS (caps accurate) has been kicking around Europe since the mid-90s but came to America only occasionally. This 2008 gem was not released here, which blows my mind a little, as it could easily top critics’ lists or soundtrack a car commercial. It’s one of my all-time favorites, starting with that wonderful Fuller soundbite (“Nevermind that outer space stuff, let’s get down to earth”), building into the chanting chorus and electronic flourishes, and a perfectly understated use of tambourines. If this doesn’t get us all—Mr. Smigielski included—up and dancing as we run wildly toward this volume’s finale, nothing will.
Via Urban Dictionary:
To “Robocop” is to bet with complete assurance that you will complete a task to the point that if you fail you must shave your own head to look like Robocop’s for a period of no less than 24 hours (reverse monk in case you don’t know what his hair looks like)
To “Kraus” is to do something amazing, and brilliant at the same time.
Not sure where those definitions get us. But this is one of those bands that I’ll admit I really only noticed at first because of it’s name. It’s both ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Maybe that’s what the definitions are telling us. On top of that this track is amazing, brilliant and so assured of itself that it just might shave your head just for looking at it funny.
From their 4th LP, German post punk rivivalists Robocop Kraus play In Fact, You’re Just Fiction with a combination of brainy compositional flair and thugish danceability. I mean this song could have gotten to the heart of the matter instantly but ends up waiting a full 3 minutes to bring out the big anthem potential, meandering their way through a variety of verses, bridges, codas and builds. And bless his noodley appendage for it.
Since Scotsmen are a dour folk, anytime you can wrestle a happy-sounding track out of them, you have to pair it with a second before things get moody. Recorded in 2005, released in the UK in 2007, and brought to the US in 2009, “Year of Explorers” is as informed by the fun and tasteful recklessness of the ‘80s as “Watch the Lines,” though more overtly anthemic.
Wait, that’s maybe the word I was searching for: anthemic. Scottish bands make killer anthems—songs that sound like kings, songs that sound important. Which is why many of them are so clearly influenced by the ‘80s, when the stakes of saving the state of pop music were life-and-death. And which is why I like almost every one I encounter.
Amidst visions of multicolored Cosby sweaters, let’s shift gears slightly. I have tried but alas cannot let the pursuit of sweet, sweet ridiculous horns dictate the aesthetics of this mix. The depth of my musical well just can’t continue the supply to meet the demand. At least not in a manner that would maintain the bubbly fun we are having. Perhaps, they’ll come back in the reprise.
I am leading with my gut here in also switching to a track more electronically focused than previously explored. But I think it maintains the overall tonal continuity. In that it makes me want to dance. And I don’t dance.
I may be many things, but “guy who stops the party” isn’t one of them. So I’ll hold off on more experimental tracks for a while and see where this ride takes us.
“Funky Instrumental” is a wordless version of “You Can’t Be Funky,” arguably the best and most remarkable track Bush Tetras produced in their short lifespan. Released on one of the band’s few EPs, it’s produced by The Clash’s Topper Headon and designed by future sleeve design superstar Neville Brody. To my knowledge, this is the only Bush Tetras track that features a horn line—I can find no credit anywhere of who’s actually playing it here. But no matter. Like its original, it finds a wonderful groove and ends abruptly, making it endlessly replayable.
I’ll admit my confusion. Not sure how we got to Mack the Knife from Warrior in Woolworths. I get the impression Mr. Joosse is testing me somehow. Horns? Sure. Timeline relevance? okay. It’s all jangle and hustle. But no pop. No fun. I’m not ready to give up on fun yet.
Regardless, I can appreciate this as a place to continue the narrative. So how about the Au Pairs. Finally, right?! I bet you were wondering when that card might get played. I particularly like how this track toes the line between the early post punk vibes (monotone vocals & jangly guitars) and gothic-dancism with it’s precision percussion/samples and dark “siouxsieness”.
And yes horns continue to thread through the mix. Though I am fearful of where this horn fetish will lead us. “You mess with the bull, you get the horns”.
Every couple of days, one of the NEIMT authors will post a song that is in some way a reaction to the previous song posted by another author. Every 15 songs will be packaged up with cover art and presented for download as a complete mix. The only rule is that no artist can appear more than once in the same volume.
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