It should be quite clear to anyone who has been following my mixtapes over the last year that I suffer dearly from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). While I’ve tried many a remedy, the only medication that seems to work is a carefully constructed playlist which bridges the transition from one season to the next. So what you’ll find in this installment of my seasonal mixtape series is a trip through the denial of the season’s change to a few songs that sound like the early Winter months, some that echo the deepest doldrums of January, and a few sweet tunes to welcome Spring along. Thank you for allowing me to spread my med-cin with you all once again.
Download | The Soul’s on Ice Mixtape
Jonathan Boulet came onto my radar a few months ago when Kanye West took a break from blogging about uncomfortable but aesthetically immaculate lounge chairs and scantily clad video ho-fessionals, long enough to plug Boulet’s video for ‘A Community Service Announcement’. The video is justifiably sick, playing like a game of capture the flag gone horribly wrong, though I have no idea how it, or the song’s lyrics and title, relate. Boulet’s first album is making its rounds in Australia, and will likely see the light of day sometime up-over, this year.
2. Empire of the Sun – Without You
Staying in Australia, and propelling the denial of Winter along, is ‘Without You’, my favorite track from Empire of the Sun’s – now old – debut. Drawing comparisons to MGMT, Empire of the Sun have been everywhere as of late, showing up on Jay-Z’s Blueprint III last year and getting a shout-out on HBO’s Entourage as being Jamie-Lynn Siegler’s favorite band, which really begs the question “is Entourage the new ‘OC’?” in terms of it’s music referring power – and is Jamie-Lynn the new Marissa Cooper, in that leaving the show may find her as an actor out of work (via St. Vincent). Think about it.
3. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill
The ever-secretive and animated Gorillaz have a new album out this Spring, and this is my favourite track on it. The track is mellow synthpop that can be read as a commentary on over-consumption and materiality leading to doldrums, or simply as a jam that can be jived to no matter what you’re feeling. I prefer the latter. Dance now, deal later.
I featured ‘Yalira’ by The Very Best afro-pop band of 2009, on my Fall mixtape, but realized shortly after that ‘Mfumu’, a less-buzzed about cut from the album, was the jam the kids were dancing to at late night get-togethers and post-bar mixers. In case you didn’t get their album yet, perhaps this track will persuade you. It’s more electro and less sweeping than ‘Yalira’ but speaks to the type of variety you’ll find on the The Very Best.
As one of my favourite bloggers has poignantly noted, “chillwave broz seem sad y’all.” It’s particularly ironic given that these broz seem to almost exclusively draw their inspiration from things that typically bring glee into people’s lives, like “the ocean, surfing, and chilling/stuff.” Is paradise a “downer”? Developing… until this quandary is resolved, listen to Georgia’s Washed Out remix his Brooklyn touring mate, Small Black. Also hear the original in Yoonha Park’s chill video for it here.
6. Matt Costa – Cold December
Matt Costa was a young, angsty and talented skateboarder who fractured his leg severely in 2001. After 6 months of restoration and reconstruction, all he wanted to do was skate again, but after a couple days back up on his feet, his leg broke again, which is when he realized what ‘FML’ really meant. While holed-up in the hospital, he embraced a dormant passion for music, using his hands and arms for a change, to write and play. The folksy blues and pop that poured out of him was a far cry from what you would expect a sk8r boi to be into. His first full-length album Songs We Sing is one of my favourite albums and so I felt like digging-up ‘Cold December’ and throwing it on here. Matt has a new record coming out this Spring, details are still vague, but it should be a worth a spin.
Going from Matt Costa to Chris Chu of The Morning Benders’ seemed like a good transition. Both men make Bradford Cox look jacked, and have falsettos that would make any tenor jealous. The Benders are from Berkley, California, and have been making the rounds for some time as opening acts for MGMT, Yo La Tengo, Death Cab, and most recently, Grizzly Bear. But despite three albums in the can, and big plugs from iTunes, have remained largely under the blogoradar. That is, until they released a video of the making of ‘Excuses’, the lead song from their new album Big Echo. In the video, Chu describes how he had always wanted to re-create Phil Spector’s wall of sound and finally decided to experiment with it by piling all their friends into the studio for the recording of this track. The result is a sweeping ode to the big sound of ’50s and ’60s pop and doo-wop. Look close in the video and you might see some familiar faces.
8. American Football – Never Meant
Mixtapes remain one of my favourite gifts to give and receive, even if they’re not really on tapes and much easier to make these days. A few months back, a close pal gave me a mix for my birthday with all the right beats. One of my favourite tracks was this one by American Football, which predates the mp3 blog era having dropped in 1999. I sometimes forget that there’s a world of music outside of Savage Garden and Sugar Ray from the late 90s that I missed – Big Shiny Tunes mixes were both a gift and a curse. American Football on the other hand, are just a gift. Lead Mike Kinsella’s vocals, have a distinctly 90s emo feel to them set to nostalgia-evoking, math rock, guitar loop-built melodies. Qualifiers and classifications aside though, it’s just plain old and good.
Fool’s Gold was a collaboration between two L.A. based artists with a mutual-passion for World Music. Comparable to The Very Best or New York Style Yoga, the band was formed by Luke Top and Mike Pesacov who both worked to find a meeting place between their disparate musical backgrounds – Top’s being more experiential through his years spent in Israel, and Pesacov’s more academic through studies of the North African soundscape. The result was an amazing project with over 10 other collaborators, recorded in a short but fruitful two day session, and released independently in 2009. I can’t say that I know what Top is singing about in Hebrew on their debut album – was never very attentive at my Yeshiva – but sometimes the tune of a song is descriptive enough to tell the story. ‘Ha Dvash’ is one of those times.
10. Hot Chip – Alley Cats
Hot Chip’s ‘Alley Cats’ opens with the lyrics “Two people are alley cats / We have an unhappy cat / He is restless, needs attention, loses patience, seeks affection.” I know what you’re thinking – Phoebe Bouffet returns with part II of the cat/cult-banger ‘Smelly Cat’. Unfortunately, Hot Chip’s take on cats is far more sensitive and a highlight from their great new album. Fortunately, you won’t have to make your way down to Central Perk to enjoy it. Meow Mix Meow Mix, it can deliver.
Golden Silvers have been making a splash across the pond for a few months. After a plug on the BBC by Jools Holland and winning the Best New Act award at Glastonbury ’08, you would think they would have achieved “Pitchfork buzz band status” by now. No such luck yet – and I’m kind of happy about this. Their excellent debut record True Romance was released in October of last year, and is chock-full of delightful soul and throwback tunes. Think Otis Redding meets The Strokes – if that’s even possible. Hopefully ‘Please Venus’ will give you a slight sense of what I mean.
Continuing along with the old school throwbacks, The Heavy are another Neo Soul band from England, who’ve been getting some attention in mainstream press – most notably the ‘Band of the Day’ accolade from Spin Magazine last year, an award previously bestowed upon such tours de force of musicianship as Fall Out Boy and Akon. Regardless, I think the content speaks for itself – ‘How You Like Me Now’ is an energetic and somewhat timeless track with Curtis Mayfield-esque vocals set to a fast-paced classic rock jangle. It may also have the effect of inspiring uncontrollable Mick Jagger-swagger in front of your bathroom mirror for its 3:40 play length – I speak from experience.
And now we shift gears into the quieter, solemn cuts. Gil Scott Heron released an album this year for the first time in 16 years. The majority of this prolific poet and musician’s work was released before I knew of any singer-songwriter other than Fred Penner. For this reason I’ve been hesitant to openly speak of any knowledge I’ve amassed of him, it just feels a bit too big for my proverbial britches. Instead, I’ll say that I’m New Here, his new album, is a collection of deeply emotional and poetic music, which manages to sound current yet relevant and unforced for an elderly man. On it, Heron tells personal stories of loss, love and his search for belonging and relevance – common themes, sure, but gripping coming from one of the most celebrated artists in Black American history. If you haven’t gotten into him yet, I’d say it isn’t too late to start.
It was while I was watching Garden State for the first time a few years back when I realized that one of the marked differences between adolescence and adulthood is the ability to define ‘home’. As I’ve grown home has become less about a particular place and more about the people that make and share that place. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros seem to get this, singing “home is whenever I’m with you” on the chorus of the fantastic track ‘Home’ from their debut record Up From Below. Add to it that RAC, whom Kevin first mentioned on Ca Va Cool a couple years back, demonstrates his versatility as a remixer with subtle loops and keys adding to the original to actually make it better – and you’ll see why I love this track. They say home is where the heart is. My heart is in this song.
Why You Runnin is the debut EP from Lissie Maurus. It was produced by Band of Horses bassist Bill Reynolds, and in BoH style, draws heavily from natural rural surroundings – in her case, sleepy hometown Rock Island, Illinois. Much like Bon Iver, Lissie uses her isolation in nature to reflect on the ache of a freshly-wounded heart and expresses this ache with unique and powerful vocals. Unlike most female chanteuses turned indie darlings of the day (see: Feist or Lykke) Lissie has extremely trained vocals; the type you would hear belting out showtunes on Idol. But she chooses to use these powers for good, not “chart-topping evil”, just one of the reasons that I enjoy her EP and song so very much.
16. Ray Lamontagne – Winter Birds
Disclaimer: I don’t know how to write about this song without being corny or cliché. I can say that since I first heard it a few years ago, ‘Winter Birds’ has become a staple on every playlist I’ve made for myself and friends around this time of year. The song is a reminder that the passing of seasons sometimes goes unappreciated in the bustle of the city, and that a season’s rhythm can be measured by simplicities like the tortured songs of our kettles and the absence of sprightly chickadees scurrying about. Sure, those metaphors may be lost on the urban blogger, but it doesn’t mean that Lamontagne isn’t able to vividly paint a picture of the onset of Winter in rural America to the point where it feels like an authentic experience, even for the cosmopolitan listener. Some things are too gorgeous.
Hank Moody is the ultimate modern day anti-hero, and he’s painfully aware of it. As a self-loathing writer, constantly one line of blow and two sips of scotch away from self-destruction, Hank’s character hit new lows on the latest season of Californication. These lows were captured perfectly by Blind Pilot’s song ‘3 Rounds and a Sound’ in a rare, but telling moment of vulnerability Hank shared with his perfect sort-of wife/baby mama person, Karen. Keep this one safely as a substitute for daffies and begoniaz bros!
18. jj – let go
From the first notes of its harmonica intro, ‘let go’ sounds like a dream. Elin Kastlander’s voice is perfectly airy and delicate and provides further reason to find Swedish women irresistible. In the time between their first album and recently released sophomore effort, jj have had to give up some of the ‘bloody’ mystery surrounding them. For starters, they’re now showing their faces opening for The xx across North America: jokes about bands with double letter names not appreciated.
There’s not much I want to say about these guys other than what I already have – I’m worried about making my loving-intentions too obvious. Their second album Remind Me the Reason I Came has continued to be on heavy rotation for me and while seeing them live has become a rarer occurrence, I luckily have the comfort of Mitch Fillion’s intimate Southern Souls sessions which simulate the experience of having these gents play in my living room on-demand. ‘Through the Winter’ was a track I didn’t originally feature of theirs, but whcih is worth a spin or 15.
The Delta Mirror are a band to watch. They’re also a band to worry about, if the title of this track is any indication of their mental states, and recreational activities. Thankfully, they seem to be able to channel their feelings and thoughts on their conceptual debut LP Machines That Listen. Each song on the LP takes place in a different room of a hospital. You know the age-old adage “if these walls could talk”? I guess they took it rather literally.
And now the sounds of Spring come marching in. Lo-Fi-Fnk are a Swedish duo who understand how to make catchy dance music, and in their case it doesn’t need to go beyond that. The avid Swedish pop listener will notice the horns at 3:08 as being a sample used by fellow Swede, Jens Lekman. That useless piece of trivia is my way of neatly digressing into a tangent on Lekman who hasn’t released a follow-up to breakthrough album Night Falls Over Kortedala (almost three years ago!) – oh, stop being so silent, Jens!
Delorean has been featured on my Summer in Synths mixtape. Drake, has been featured everywhere else. At least, it sort of feels that way these days. I still find it shocking that this guy wields so much attention in the hip hop community – a community traditionally tough on newcomers – without having even released an album to legitimize his talent. That being said, he’s Canadian and defined the act of pussy whistling – how can I hate? If you’re not sold on Drizzy, you will be sold by what mixtape staples The Hood Internet are able to do with his track ‘Money to Blow’ by setting the vocals over Delorean’s ‘Deli’. This is what Spring sounds like friends, and I think I’m ready for it.
Download | The Soul’s on Ice Mixtape