Sometimes, there’s too much good music. Mixtapes are a chance to pick and choose from the spectrum of too muchness and bring friends and readers some of the best of what I’ve heard recently. But sometimes there’s still too much, which is why I decided to split this mix into 2 parts, or ‘sides’, if you will. Part 1 is California Sunrise, because as you’ll learn quickly in the captions below, California has inadvertently become a major theme in my listening choices as of late. Like past mixes, this one’s heavily influenced by how I feel with the on-set of my favourite time of year, and is an effort to share a soundtrack perfect for your sun-kissed days and sweaty nights. Stay tuned for part 2 next week.
Download | California Sunrise Mixtape
As promised, this mix comes chock-full of Californian inspiration. ‘Sunspray’ starts the trend, with band Blackbird Blackbird hailing from San Francisco. Since March of last year, they’ve steadily released a series of EPs leading to this March’s Summer Heart full-length. My favourite track by the band comes from their second EP Let’s Move on Together. The unintelligibly faint vocals layered overtop synths create a delicate yet danceable tune, seemingly made for an intimate slow dance in a sea of raging fast-dancers.
There are some songs that grab you on first listen. There are others that grab you before you’re even done listening. One of the most instant knee-jerk reactions I’ve had to hearing a song this year was to this gem by Dirty Gold. What shouldn’t come as a surprise with a track title like ‘California Sunrise’ is that Dirty Gold are from California. Here they capture the essence of summer – seagulls chirping, tribal drums, lyrics about tides taking us places – it’s almost a summer anthem by numbers, but it’s also much more than that.
A good song in two-parts is the best kind gift. When ‘Lovers Carvings’ lazy intro takes a turn a minute and a half in, you’ll feel like you do when you find a 20 in a pair of shorts you haven’t worn since last Summer – an unexpected, but welcome surprise from the universe/Bibio.
The Ross Sea Party are one of two groups depending on who you ask. An avid nautical history and geography buff might tell you about Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914, passing through the Ross Sea, where the main expedition party’s survival depended on the Ross Sea party’s depots of fuel and supplies to finish their journey, but in the end, were ironically not used, as Shackleton turned-out to be a giant puss, who led his men to safety instead. Note: If you ever meet anyone who defaults to this version of who/what ‘The Ross Sea Party’ is, be sure to slap them. The equally obscure other Ross Sea Party, no doubt pretentiously named after the former, is a band from Los Angeles. Their bohemian pop sound and Ivy jargon might remind you of Vampire Weekend or Ra Ra Riot. Return to the Sea, the band’s first EP, show’s a lot of promise for the band that I suppose Shackleton’s voyage never had.
Boys Like Us, is perhaps lesser known by his real name Rostam Batmanglij, and better known as the mastermind behind Vampire Weekend’s production and keyboards, or even as one half of throw-back electropop duo Discovery. In between Vampire Weekend releases, Rostam has proven to be the most active member of his band with a diverse range of production and collaboration credits to his name. Last year’s Converse-curated summer banger with Best Coast and Kid Cudi had Rostam bridging the gap between stoner-rap and stoner-chillwave to impressive sort-of-stoner results. Another of his impressive works as a producer is the above-featured remix of Born Ruffians’ ‘What to Say’ – a minimalist stand-out on a rather dreary follow-up to the band’s breakthrough debut Red, Yellow & Blue. Saying Batmanglij fills-out the sparse track would be an understatement; adding the sounds of constantly thumping bongos and heavy keys, while chopping up Luke Lalonde’s vocal from the song’s A-section. Is it wrong that I think this remix is better than anything on Say It?
Group vocals can be fantastic live, shifting focus away from a group’s lead to its background players and even at times inciting audience sing-a-longs. But for all their strength live, group vocals are seldom used on recordings. I’ve found it more common for a lead to layer their own vocals three or even four times than to have their three or four bandmates join them. Of course, one prominent counter-example is Fleet Foxes whose line-up includes several talented solo vocalists, like Pecknold, Tillman etc. and whose combined harmonies on record are a perfect example of the sum being greater than its parts. Standing in contrast to the nostalgia-folk outfit is ‘No Nostalgia’ by AgesandAges a band from hipster Mecca: Portland, Oregon. Here the vocals don’t sound as clean together as the Foxes’, but this is almost to their advantage. In Fleet Foxes’ case, you almost don’t want to sing-a-long for fear of upsetting the near perfect balance of male vocals. Agesandages idiosyncratic ‘tent-revival’ harmonies by contrast are like an open invite for anyone to join in singing however they please.
I first caught Canadians Grand Analog on Southern Souls. Their living room session with Mitch Fillion stood-out in the pastiche of videos his site has collected over the past year and a half, because unlike the majority of acts on the site, Grand Analog aren’t a folk, pop or indie-rock outfit. Their unique fusion of funk, soul, R&B and hip hop is something that only Canada’s diverse cultural and sonic landscape could give birth to. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to me then to see them opening up for someone who occupies a similar space in my mind – albeit through a very different form of expression – in 2010: Shad K. The two acts put on an amazing show, and seeing frenetic Grand Analog-lead, Odario Williams, trade-off verses as he hype-manned for Shad, made for one of the better hip hop shows I saw last year. ‘Take It Slow’ is the group at its best, and the kind of song that will instantly feel like something you’ve heard before. But you haven’t. Unless you have.
How many bands that you listen to play the txalaparta, txistu or danbolin? Crytal Fighters can help you fill this void. The group from the Basque region of Northern Spain formed in 2007, and have a really interesting way of fusing hard-to-pronounce cultural instruments with electro pop. ‘At Home’ has been floating around for a while with a release on the band’s Fall 2010 album Star of Love but despite this has not garnered the band much play in America. Not that play is a signifier of anything these days … Either way, their label Zirkulo made a last effort with a US physical release of the single for ‘At Home’ this past Spring. If things pick-up as they hope, hopefully we’ll see this lot and their ‘tx’ instruments (not the calculators) over here soon.
One of the most fascinating musicians to emerge from Ontario, Canada recently, Diamond Rings has gotten his fair share of press and attention on our site. A fan of his last band, post-punk group the D’Urbervilles, would be surprised to hear the direction the newly face-painted and glammed-out singer has taken. I watched John O’Regan bring it to the masses at Dundas Square over last month’s NxNE and I have to say that the guy knows how to put on a good show. ‘Something Else’ was the highlight of the brief set, and a highlight in Canadian music from the past year as well – Polaris nomination or not.
Can we talk about this band’s name for a second? Why aren’t more bands named after as seen on TV merchandise? “The Set It and Forget It’s”, “Chuck Norris & The Total Jim’s” – I judge books by their covers, and I would definitely listen to bands with those names. Like their namesake, the Bullets manage to prove on ‘Lying Around’ that they’re pretty good at grinding out rock(s). A perfect song for the lazy summer afternoon ensues. Enjoy this tune with a blended strawberry-banana smoothie.
James Blake and Odd Future were both scheduled to play Toronto on the same weekend in May as part of their first tours coming to Canada. Blake was booked to play the Rivoli and Odd Future the Mod Club – both charming and modestly-sized venues familiar to most concert-goers in the city. A month in advance of both shows, as a ticketholder to both, I received emails advising that the venues had both been upgraded to the historic Lee’s Palace and Phoenix Concert Theatre. Both “upgrades” consisted of a doubling in capacity from their originally chosen venues. While ten years ago, a demotion in venue was much more likely than promotion, these bands clued me into just how quickly the internet is promoting a band’s buzz to hyper-fandom – tickets for both events were being scalped at five times face value despite the increase in venue space. In the three months between the booking of these tours and the performances, these bands were going from obscurity to the must-see shows in town. The pace baffles me, and I was exposed to it again at this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival at the gorgeous Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State. Foster the People were booked to play the smallest stage of four stages at the fest. About an hour ahead of the L.A. pack taking the stage, people started filtering in to get a spot in view of the stage. By the show’s start, they had amassed a crowd rivaling any other at the fest in that time-slot, including festival favorites Rodrigo y Gabriela playing the massive main stage. Waking up from a nap in an opportune spot on the hill, in-view of the band, I turned to a stranger and politely asked “Who the fuck are we here to see?” “Duh. Foster the People.”
After Passion Pit’s debut EP Chunk of Change critics were skeptical of the band’s ability to produce anything that lived-up to the massive success of their first single. But then they put out debut album Manners, which, while it may not have had another ‘Sleepyhead’-level banger on it, was by all accounts a great pop album. In their hiatus since Manners they’ve been fairly active in the remix and covers department, bringing their synth-pop sound to some pretty unexpected songs, including some personal faves like the Shout Out Louds’ ‘Fall Hard’ and the Cranberries (yes, those Cranberries) ‘Dreams’. Their remix of ‘Mine Is Yours’ by Cold War Kids is probably the most dance-friendly work they’ve made since ‘The Reeling’, and it’s real good.
Download | California Sunrise Mixtape
Tags: AgesandAges, Bibio, Blackbird Blackbird, Born Ruffians, Boys Like Us, Cold War Kids, Crystal Fighters, Diamond Rings, Dirty Gold, Foster the People, Grand Analog, Magic Bullets, Passion Pit, The Ross Sea Party