The art of the mixtape/cd/playlist…

January 21, 2010

(Currently playing track 1, Burning – The Whitest Boy Alive)

I’m making my first mix CD for someone outside of my brother in almost a year.  The last one went to the lady friend when we first were a’courtin’ and probably another few shortly thereafter.  This is also a first exchange I am working on right now.  This is the first mix CD I am making for our hard working manager, Sir Brian McGrawlicutty.  The first thing I did was make a preliminary pass through the iPod.  End result, 296 songs.  I then do another pass, listening to snippets of the songs I am most interested in.  After this step, there were only 60 songs left.  Smooth sailing

(Track 2, Stars – Ulrich Schnauss)

The first track was a tricky one.  I was pretty dead on opening with Stars.  I made it all the way to track 9 before going back and changing that first track to Burning, by the Whitest Boy Alive.  While I live for Schnauss work and think Brian will like it, the opening drumbeat to Burning says, “Sit the fuck down, this is a mix CD to reckon with”.  How could I resist that?!?  As Stars plays right now, I am happy with my choice.  I’m skipping to track 3 now.

(Track 3, Numbered Lithograph – John Vanderslice)

Numbered Lithograph might as well be my theme song.  It fits everything that I want to accomplish as an artist into one song.  Creative production, poignant lyrics, catchy melody, unique but approachable instrumentation.  Just a perfect fucking song.  And I’ve never gone out of my way to hear another song of his.  This is all I need for now, though I do hope Vanderslice finds me again.

(Track 4, Le Grande Illusion – The Television Personalities)

Track 4 was orginally track 2, but I had to move them around.  I know that Brian likes punk music, but I’m not sure if he’s experienced the light madness that is Dan Treacy.  I think he’ll like it either way, but it just didn’t work coming off of Stars anymore or the opener as it stands.  The order to these things is so important.  Each track, each note, each transition is crucial to the overall tone and momentum to the mix and must be at least triple checked.

I’m getting ahead of myself because I’m only set on this mix through track 9.  Something could come in last minute and train wreck the whole deal.  I’ve done that more than 10 times in my life.  A lot more.

(Track 5, Wash Off – Deerhunter)

Wash Off, man…it’s the jam out of the decade and yes, the phrase ‘jam out’ makes me want to puke too, but there is no other term for it.  Now that we’re at track 5, we can get a little heavy.  It’s time to impose a little on the listener.  I’ve (hopefully) drawn them into my trust by this point.  Now with Wash Off, I’m going to test that trust…though there never really is a threat, just a threat of a threat.  Wash Off won’t fail me.  That’s why I chose it.  The listener has trusted me, but now I must expose them to the danger I am saving them from.  Man, I’m high!

Wash Off will level the playing field to rubble.  What must come now is even more important.  I must expose safety, that while the world has changed underfoot, it will go on.  What is the song to restore faith?  Slowdive’s Souvlaki Space Station in all its glory.  I’ve never seen an official video for the song, it’s always made me think of flowers blooming in space.  Once you hear the song, that’s not even a ‘far out’ statement.  That’s just what it sounds like.  Such a glorious piece of music.  While it is represents safety in tone, it is our most experimental piece of music up until this point.  Again, this is all intentional.  Regaining the trust of the listener while taking them further out than they’ve been on the mix is a balancing act, but like Wash Off, Space Station will not let me down.  Speaking of…

(Track 6, Souvlaki Space Station – Slowdive)

(Track 7, Map Reference – Wire)

Okay, so after all that hot talk, I skipped Space Station, playing only the last twenty seconds of it to see how it streamed into the next song, Map Reference by Wire.  This song is now the child of the last two, taking both Deerhunter and Slowdive’s sounds and merging them into a child of the new era.  The best part is Map Reference is 30 years old than Wash off and 20 older than Space Station, yet it works.

The mix is at a crucial juncture  now.  It is at risk of becoming boring or it might simply coast on by on its laurels until the finish.  Not on my watch.  Map Ref picks up the pace, gets things moving, and delivers us to the pop kingdom of Stephin Merrit and the Magnetic Fields with their killer track Famous.

(Track 8, Famous – The Magnetic Fields)

Brian and I, along with the rest of Camera, have mutual goals.  Not only are they mutual, but they are symbiont to on another.  Famous isn’t at all what I’m aiming to be, but Merrit’s song isn’t about him becoming famous, but his subject who can sell the world on their ‘look and sound’.  It’s a somewhat jealous, somewhat grateful song that lives in a reality where you can be jealous and not care at the same time without being insincere.  Oh goodie!  I’m up to 11 songs, not 9.  I said ‘oh goodie!’.  Shit.

(Track 9, The Eraser – Thom Yorke)

I was hard on Radiohead’s In Rainbows the other day and here’s the reason why…Thom Yorke’s The Eraser album was and is still waaaaaaaayyyyyy more up my alley.  I know that Brian isn’t the biggest Radiohead lover, but everyone should know this song.  It conveys this amazing emotion that seldom comes across in primarily melancholy song; it offers hope without force of change.  Hell, I liked this song just from Ryan singing it around the house before I heard it.  Like it’s brother, Map Ref, this song is taking that new world outlook and continually making it more of a reality.  Eraser too is a song that is born out of the chaos created by Wash Off and Space Station.  The last minute of the song The Eraser is so amazing, glips, glops, and all.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here in print so everyone can quote me on it, The Eraser is the electronic Pink Moon.  Ever though there is chaos, it still feel like a one man alone kind of album.

Oh shit!

(Track 10, Alan is a Cowboy Killer – McLusky)

This is the perfect example of reintroducing the fire to this mix.  Alan is a Cowboy Killer is done by Irish rock trio McLuskey.  We are now allow a return to the past, such as Le Grande Illusion and Burning, but the intensity has sky rocketed.  Kind of like if Dorthy wished there was no place like home and when she teleported back,  she was immediately on fire.  God, that would have made for such a better ending to that movie.  You can’t go home again, says Thomas Wolfe.

After the fires of old and new have clashed and burned out, what comes next?

(Track 11, Grounded – Pavement)

Grounded by Pavement might be my all time favorite song.  It’s been Bittersweet Symphony for years, but Grounded is like how I actually feel sometimes… like watching an airplane sputter out or a marathon runner collapsing with the finishing line.  Grounded is the only Pavement song that makes me cry like a bastard.  I mean, The Malkatraz often sang of the musical world and, especially in Cut Your Hair, what it’s like to be in a band, to be an artist, to try to do something bigger than yourself but still smaller than real life.  The line “Boys are dying on these streets” makes me think of all my brothers and sisters out there in the artistic community.  My heart breaks every time a band breaks up, or someone retires, or flounders.  This is not just because of my altruistic nature but because it could be me at anytime.  Life is like war in that way.  Dreams can come true, but they shatter just as easy.  So, what is the feeling in the new world?  In a way that only Pavement can convey, it’s guarded optimism and pessimism all at once. Just like life.

What comes next?  I don’t know, but I’m bringing you along for this journey, the final stretch.

I’m going to pause here because I want to point out that while this CD has so much space on it, I never feel the need to continue just because there’s room.  Hahahaha!  Never!  That’s a chump move.  Hey, if I need all the space, I’ll use it, but I can’t lie; I was very tempted to just leave it at 11 songs and let it be.  But, alas, I cannot.  I move on.

(Track 12, Joy! Joy! Joy! – Sufjan Stevens)

Picking up the mood in a much needed way, the title Joy! Joy! Joy! preaches hope and good feeling throughout.  This is the exact way you want to pick up the final stretch; strong, optimistic, and uplifting.  I’m going to leaf through the end of the song and see what should come next, but it shouldn’t be hard at all.  I wanted to go with Guided By Voices’ Gold Star for Robot Boy, but it’s lo-fi sound was too jarring coming off of Sufjan.

This next song has to be…More Lights by Georgie James!  More optimism, and guarded again.  My favorite kind.

(Track 13, More Lights – Georgie James)

This is what I would called the opposite of lullaby, yet just as gentle.  More Lights is a song to wake up to, and not just from sleep, but any kind of slumber.  A perfect piece of pop magic.  Too bad they broke up, the jerks.  Ah, I’m very pleased with how the end of this CD is coming along.  The second half is even better than the first.  This is no accident, but I’m still happy when it comes together as planned.  What an adult like view.  When I was a kid, I would have hoped for better than I had hoped.  Now I’m just happy when things go as planned.

(Track 14, Amos in Ohio – Kyle Andrews)

Gotta save one of the catchiest tunes for this point.  Amos in Ohio is perfect for this.  It’s acoustic and techno-y all at the same time in addition to having a hook like Dr. J.  Man, go find this song right now on Youtube or something.  You know you should.  I’ve been talking about music forever here and I haven’t said ‘go out an listen to it right now’, well…now I am!  Go, rush, run!  I’ll be here.

Hmm, Otto’s Journey by Mylo or Teen Angst by M83.  Both similar, yet comepletely different sides of the coin they share.  I will choose to pick something else entirely.  Mix CDs aren’t about picking the 16 best songs, but find the 16 songs that work best together. Do I come heavy on message with Dear God by Xtc?  Or do I move onto something like Transliterator by Devotchka (which I just learned last night while watching A Clockwork Orange)?  Hmm, I’m stuck.  I’m now locked into the ‘perfect’ song conundrum.  Now that I have rejected so many songs for this penultimate spot the song I pick bares a lot of pressure, at least from my standpoint making this CD.

(Track 15, The Devil Inside Us – Black Devil Disco Club)

The second to last song had to be a throw down.  BDDC bring some Georgio Moroder style synths and all other kinds of dancy darkwave glory to the track.  Perfect.  I have to listen to the entire thing.  What time are we at here, Bob?  Nice.  One hour flat.  I don’t think albums should be longer than an hour.  Hell, my favorites are closer to 45 minutes.  I mean, I loved Sufjan’s Illinois, but I never listened to it all at once, and that’s the truth.  Just watch.  Camera’s full length will either be 45 minutes long or 11 songs.  We don’t have anything laid out like that, but I still believe in the art form of album crafting.

And what does shuffle on my playlist give me?  The answer.  That’s what it gives me.

(Track 16, Across the Wire – Blue States)

This sonic landscape comes to an end with the epic, epic, epic, Across the Wire by Blue States, encapsulating every single thing that I’ve tried to communicate in this mix, and it is a communication.  Looking at this mix, many of these songs came from Joey, Ryan, and other friends that have made me mixes in the past.  But isn’t that what history and civilization are all about?  Stories, legends even, being passed down from one person to another time after time.  That’s what it means to be a true fan of music and art.  Its a communal experience that we can share privately and at will.  It’s a hell of a thing.


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