Mr. Joosse commented at the last volume how interesting it was that the last track usually differs so much from the first in each volume. And I now find it equally interesting at how generally consistent this one was throughout. Perhaps he and I were just perfectly happy to lounge in this lush synth pop territory for a while and use up all the tracks, i’ve been obsessing over for years now. Heck, I didn’t get to use nearly half the tracks I had set aside along the way. I can only hope we keep on the path and create a sister volume with number 9. However I am sure we will take a left turn here pretty soon, and ending up digging up equally fertile ground elsewhere. We always do.
I hope you dear reader, fully understand how absolutely GOLD this volume is. The hits just keep coming for fifteen tracks straight. Nary a hint of mediocrity any where in its vicinity. I know we say this every time, but this volume just might be my favorite one yet.
Download the Mix as a 126 MB zip file.
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The tracklist is as follows:
01. Nightcall by Kavinsky
02. Never Known Love by Thieves Like Us
03. Night Drive by Chromatics
04. Claudia Lewis by M83
05. Dream Cars by Neon Neon
06. Bring Us Closer Together by Hooray for Earth
07. Feel the Love by Cut Copy
08. Matter of Time by The Chain Gang of 1974
09. Still Sound by Toro Y Moi
10. Bad Street by Twin Sister
11. VCR by The XX
12. Leak at the Disco by Baxter Drury
13. California by EMA
14. Barnacle by Lovers
15. Sinking Feeling by Mixel Pixel
So many things all coming together with this last track in a most satisfying mix thread. The male female vocals ala The XX. The narrative of Mr Baxter. The mix of organic and electronic instrumentation from Cut Copy. The quirk of Bad Street. The love-lorn longing of M83 and the Chromatics. And the sweet hummability from the stand out Barnacle. All wrapped in the bow of warm optimism that Mr. Joosse longed for.
Silly me. I chased my own tail for three days looking for the right song to follow EMA, going through piles of CDs to find a suitable complement. But the first time I played “California,” there was a voice deep in the back of my head going, She sounds like Lovers. Go get Lovers. I didn’t listen to it until I sat frustrated with all of my other options. Not surprisingly, it worked the best.
So here’s Lovers and, Carolyn Berk’s voice aside, it doesn’t have much to too much to do with EMA. My favorite mixes are the ones which echo what came before instead of be strictly linear, so I didn’t want to pass up the chance to help Mr. Smigielski close this particular loop or offer some warm voices and renewed optimism. And speaking of optimism, I wanted to note that this is my 50th posting to the NEIMT. Here’s to the next 50.
A narrative vocal style. Heavy atmospherics. Minimalist, analog-at-heart instrumentation. EMA straddles an interesting line between naked raw emotions and cooler than hip detachment – all swimming beneath a sea of fuzzy, white-out static. EMA has made a sound out of making the absolute most out of almost nothing. Lone piano notes pierce and drone their way through 4 minutes of rambling beauty about displacement, alienation, and frustration. This is one of the few artists to emerge on my radar in 2012 and actually leave a lasting impression.
The XX’s minimalism is their secret weapon—it can come across as slacker naivety, but it provides a lot of space for the listener to live in. You hear every instrument, every note, every word without pretension.
Baxter Dury has that same kind of minimalism, and though everything’s cranked up a few notches, he makes sure it’s all still crystal clear. The bass is the first thing you notice, but then you hear the intake of breath by the background singer at the chorus, the wonderful chord change by the guitars, the mechanized drumbeat, every rotor blade sound. Even his thick Cockney speaking voice shows that this is a guy who doesn’t give a shit if you think he’s talented or just cheeky.
I’m well-aware that Dury’s narrating style is something of an acquired taste, though again, don’t let it cause you to overlook something special—in this case, some acutely interesting lyrics (“The Chiswick disco had a leak of egos, and I waded through it like an oil spillage…”) If you’re looking for an even better example of this storytelling, with an even more addictive bassline, seek out his 2005 track “Cocaine Man,” a stone-cold classic of English indie rock.
Frankly, I don’t know how Mr. Joosse does it. Responding with a reply song in a day or sometimes in a matter of hours. I have spent the better part of a week listening to Bad Street and three solid contenders for the next track, paralyzed by indecision. I kept hoping that percolating on it for another day would make the choice suddenly obvious. Only to uncover other possible contender. So with this I am just jumping in going with my gut.
The Mercury Prize winning The XX are the synth pop band only the “aughts” could produce. Combining traditional organic instruments with mechanical beats and synth touches, they produce some hauntingly beautiful pop that is perfect for the dreamy quality of the mix thus far. And VCR is proof positive. I feel like it delivers on the 80′s urban vibe in spades. When I listen to it I can only imagine walking the rain soaked streets of NYC late into the night.
I’m glad we’re veering in a more organic direction, because let’s be honest: I was getting as tired of typing the phrase “synth-pop,” as I’m sure you were reading it.
So in this world tour of…that phrase…we finally arrive at the New York version. Twin Sister is equal parts ZE Records disco, Talking Heads urbane punk, Debbie Harry seduction, and Santigold playfulness. Technically, Hooray for Earth are from the same city, but while that band sounds like it’s being broadcast from a zeppelin over Manhattan, “Bad Street” is ground-level, gliding along narrow streets and breezing through packed intersections. It incorporates brief glimpses of soul, funk, Hair-style singalongs, and more, like passing storefront AM radios on a sunny afternoon. It’s another winner from this year, and a track I hope will make your iPod’s designated “walking through a city” mix.
There is much to love about this song— the MJ style quick rap vocals, the staccato bass line, the wonderful soprano melody in the second half, the 70′s hammond organ solo—all completely awash in glossy production. Yet it still feels very much human. Passionate. A product of yearning. It’s not going to be a top 40 pop hit, but it’s unassuming nature is a sly creature that will get you in the end.
One of the first synth-pop bands I got to know was New Order. Not the hip “Blue Monday”-era New Order—that came later—but the post-hiatus “Crystal”-era New Order. Get Ready is one of my favorite albums of the last decade, and what I liked most was that every song on that album took its sweet time getting to where it was going. Usually there was a minute-long instrumental buildup before the vocal started, then three or so minutes of fairly basic groove, then another minute-long instrumental outro. All of this had a calming effect, with each track unfolding gradually, causing the album as a whole to feel quite lived-in for its hour-long runtime. As a result, there didn’t have to be much experimentation on the band’s part; each track followed the same basic template for success.
I mention all of this because The Chain Gang of 1974’s Wayward Fire is a similar album, with many songs passing the five-minute mark thanks to that same relaxed wind-roll-unwind structure. “Matter of Time” is definitely not a groundbreaking song. It doesn’t do anything unusual in that same ground between Chromatics and Cut Copy we’ve been exploring this volume. But it’s a whole lot of fun, with everything sounding massive and glittering-clean. Sometimes the wish to play a song for everyone trumps every other need.
There are several reasons this post has taken so long. Many of which I’ll not get into, but the primary one was simply how confoundingly good the previous track was. While not a synthpop uber fan, I feel like I have a pretty good pulse on the genre as of late. But that track was in some ways impossible to respond to. It just had so much diversity and each done so well, which would I focus on? There would be no other track that would do as much with as little I was sure.
The only track for the longest time I thought I could post was Fascination by Alphabeat. A track that has an identical melodic undertone. It is a simply breathtaking track that Mr. Joosse exposed me to a couple years ago. It is sublime. Go find it.
But I couldn’t possibly post that. That would be like Joosse responding to himself. I have more self respect than that. So I give this really great ditty by Cut Copy. Wonderful 80′s references that start off a little rock pop but end up a whole lot synth pop.
Again, sorry for the delay. Let’s get this mix going again.
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.
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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