Monday, 24 September 2012

Play To Z: Cross to Doolittle

Some Observations

Holy Playlist Interruptions, Batman! This chunk of albums saw my first shift off the alphabetical order due to a new addition to the discography. I downloaded Talib Kweli's fantastic mixtape Attack The Block (inspired by the movie of the same name) and, having listened to Stereogum's Cruel Summer 2011 Mixtape, realised I didn't have their 2012 one, so downloaded that to.

I also finally borrowed a copy of Camp by Childish Gambino off a friend - I've got all his mixtapes but hadn't got round to buying the album, and having finally given it a good listen, I think I'm going to be one of those awful people saying "I preferred his earlier stuff". Camp seems weighed down with his preoccupation with how he is viewed by the rest of rap culture, but doesn't offer any huge insights or truly unique perspectives. A couple of tracks dealing with this topic would have been interesting, but giving over so much of the album to it dilutes the potency of the message.

Listening to just under two hours of Crystal Castles non-stop does strange things to your brain. I felt like I'd slipped into some weird 16-bit nightmare inside a vast haunted cathedral. It made doing photocopying at work a lot more interesting.

Daisies of the Galaxy was the first Eels album I owned, and remains one of my favourites. It's arguably the most positive, radio-friendly of his albums, but still run through with a deep vein of melancholy and despair that serves to heighten the happy moments. I have a very vivid memory from about 7 years ago of walking down St Benedict's Street in Norwich on a warm, sunny St Patrick's Day, bag full of comics and headed to the pub to celebrate my now-housemate Bret's birthday, with "Packing Blankets" on my iPod (or possibly Discman at the time). It was a transcendentally happy moment, one of those perfect instants when music helps crystalise an experience in your mind.

TV On The Radio's Dear Science is a pretty much flawless album. To my mind, it's their strongest record, a fantastic blend of danceable beats, triumphant horns and lyrical mastery. It feels very much "of it's time" (end of the Bush administration, beginning of Obama) but it doesn't let that weigh it down the way other records sometimes do when aiming to comment on modern society. There's enough about it that's timeless to not feel like a time capsule.

Definitely Maybe, Oasis' debut record, is filled with mostly decent tunes that are, without exception, about a minute too long.

In the ultimate karaoke bar, where you have access to every song imaginable, my pick will always be the live version of "Brian Wilson" by the Barenaked Ladies that is included on Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits. The energy of the performance really adds a whole other layer of urgency to the song, and the big bellowing chorus is a classic power ballad wrapped around a portrait of depression.

"Debaser" by the Pixies is one of my all-time favourite songs. I could, and have, listened to it a dozen times on repeat and not got bored. It's a flawless song, beautiful in it's power and economy. It's a little piece of magic.

The Subtle And Mysterious Art of the Mixtape

Among the albums I listened to in this batch were two mixtapes by the music website Stereogum, as well as two film soundtracks (as opposed to scores), Dazed and Confused and Deathproof. Soundtracks and mixtapes have a lot in common, although obviously soundtracks are also beholden to the events of the film they support. They are about creating a mood, and conveying some kind of meaning, sometimes a story, sometimes a sentiment, all of it using someone else's music.

Among my various skills with little real-world application, I consider myself a proficient maker of mixtapes (or whatever you want to call the CD equivalent). For a while, I posted a bunch of friends a new mix every 3 months, sometimes simply a collection of songs I enjoyed, sometimes built around a theme (one was the soundtrack to a film that didn't exist, a nice little link back to my earlier point). I've made soundtracks for role-playing games I've been involved with, created mixes for friends, lovers and acquaintances.

I learned my skills from some of the basic rules delivered in High Fidelity and found I had a good ear for transitions. I often wish I could go back to my teenaged self and tell him not to spend so much money on plastic Space Marines and instead invest in a pair of decks and some speakers - I think I would have made an alright DJ. Instead, I'm limited to mixes and the occasional party playlist (the mixtape's grown-up, meaner brother).

A good mixtape takes you on a journey, like any good album, but it also uses the mix of artists to create a dialogue, a conversation between the changing sound of the album and the listener. Audience is important to bear in mind, as is what effect. Lyrical themes can be carried from song to song, and if your lucky, images can recur and evolve. Put in enough work, and it's like constructing a sonnet from a dozen broken-up haiku.

Rediscovered Gem

"Destroy Rock And Roll" by Mylo

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