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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lizzie Responds to Nicole's June Mix

The first chords of Laura Vier's "Sun Song" establishes a chill vibe for the mix.  The lyrics and pitter-pattering of the tempo confirms a slower, more contemplative ballad.  The instruments are soft enough in the beginning that the vocals and harmonies seem to cascade.  I can picture a day beginning as the song becomes louder and more fleshed out.  Plus, I can empathize.  We do have the sun to thank.

"The Way It Goes" by Gillian Welch reminds me of the impending changes that are to occur in my life.  As I'm sure I have mentioned before, I love songs where I can connect with the lyrics: "That's the way that it goes…that's the way that it is".  I enjoy this type of song because it resides slightly outside what I normally would actively choose listen to, and yet I like it.  I suppose that's a facet I can always look forward to in a mix CD!  The same outside-my-usual-listening-scope facet applies to The Black Keys' "10 Lovers," which may have the prettiest chorus of the mix.  Throughout the track, I love how smooth and almost aching the falsettos sound.  The synth noises add a certain electric feel, not to take thunder away from MGMT's song of the same name.  As I come to expect from a producer like Dan Auerbach, I could listen to this on repeat and probably never grow tired of it, a true testament to how well it has been engineered.   I am infinitely curious what kind of music video has been made for this already, and if there isn't one, what I could dream up.  This song makes me especially excited to check out their latest album, Turn Blue, which so far has eluded me and my musical musings.

Now, Nicole and I are known for our transitions, but I should note that the switch between songs here is fantastic.  Just when I think it will be instrumental, "Erica Western Teleport" by Emperor X's maddening mantras march in.  In my brief Wikipedia research of the band, I learned they originate from my home state, Florida.*  Cool -- represent!  I have held off sending this song to my brother although I think he could definitely relate on the whole "don't think of her" and "study for the LSATs" scoldings.  The subsequent live cover of the Pixies classic "Where Is My Mind?" by Traveled Trampled By Turtles transported me to late last summer's Minnesota On-A-Stick Concert.  I am grateful to have attended such a music-packed event at the State Fair with Nicole and her family and to especially see TBT live.  I can vividly picture them onstage performing this.

If you're not listening carefully as you listen to the next track, you might not realize how sad it is like I did.  The title of this Sufjan Stevens creation, "In the Devil's Territory," should be a clue, though.  Typical Sufjan fare here, which is narrative ad theatrical to say the least.  If I'm honest, on several listen throughs now, I am always tempted to skip "Southern Man" by Merry Clayton.  I bet I could hyper analyze why this is the case.  Suffice to say it is fine on the ears, I am just not clamoring to hear it again as I have been with most of the others thus far.  I admit it is strange I feel this way.  Because as my course on Blackness in the Media taught me -- and the film 20 Feet From Stardom reinforced -- much of the "American music" we listen to today has a core of blackness and black vocals.

At any rate,  Feeding Frenzy's "Bluebird" perhaps personifies this influence.  Enjoyable, though again not precisely noteworthy!  Follow this up with "Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance" by the one and only Bob Dylan and it seems almost as if Nicole is making a personal plea for me to keep listening.  And given she is in fact B. Dylan**, I always treat the songs she selects of his as meaningful and deeply rooted in her soul.  And that is such a neat thing to have imparted to me, regardless if I feel exactly the same way about the songs themselves.  I am sure the same is true for some band/artist whose work I always weave into mixes.

On "Poor Places" by Wilco, there seems to be some sort of auditory interference near the 3 minute mark?  Or is that a conscious choice?  Strangely and inexplicably, the overlaid audio voiceover that then chimes in around the 4 minute mark gives me great anxiety.  Now that I've listened through a few times, I tend to skip beyond this part.

"Evergreens" by The Cave Singers reinstates the mix's lower pacing.  The vocals have an interesting yearning quality to them.  I feel like it tricks you with timing, though, because clocking in at three minutes, the sweetness of this piece is actually short-lived.  One day I randomly added "Follow Your Arrow" by Kacey Musgraves to the shared Google doc Nicole and I have titled "Music to check out".  I wonder if Nicole saw it there or if her good friend Lauren introduced her to this separately.  Or maybe none of the above and she stumbled upon it like I did!  No matter what, this is a nice song and I am happy to own it now.

"Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" by Rufus Wainwright came as a curveball.  I was all too sure I had accidentally hit shuffle on my iTunes. But no, Nicole chose to end on this highly amusing note.  Too cute.

I am already working on Nicole's July mix.  I am excited for what's in store!

Instant favorites: "10 Lovers," "Erica Western Teleport," "Follow Your Arrow".

*Also, I chuckled when I saw their latest album is titled "The Orlando Sentinel" after the Florida newspaper of the same name.
**Well, the DNA tests were inclusive.  But we're pretty sure.

Nicole Responds to Lizzie's June Mix

I hope Lizzie's June mix reflects the atmosphere she's been living in lately, because if so, it sounds like she's having a fun (and danceable) summer!  This CD is packed with hooks, beats, and verse-chorus structure.

Young the Giant's "Paralysis" kicks things off and it is no exception to that general rule.  The song's tuneful vocals and tasteful synths made me ready to discover what other sonic surprises lay in store.  "Make You Happy" by Mika is a natural follower that lives up to its name.  It grew on me with repeated listens, and the pre-chorus part where Mika sounds distinctly Pet Shop Boys-esque makes me particularly happy!  "Lose My Mind" by Pacific Air sounds like another cheery confection, but the lyrics reveals a darker side.  Lizzie speculated that it might be about death.  I was thinking maybe just depression and loneliness, but who can say?  Either way, the song's got some layers.

"Say It Like You Mean It" is by a group called The Cinema, which is indeed a great band name.  The song opens with an awesome off-kilter rhythm, but I thought it became kind of a conventional pop song as it went on, to the point where the chorus made me think of trailers for "Transformers" movies (which I have thankfully avoided, so I don't really know what kind of music they use in those, but hey that's just what I thought of).  Speaking of trailers, Family of the Year's "Hero" is a song that I will now associate exclusively with the preview for Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," and that is a-ok with me.  Thirty days till it opens in Anchorage!!  While we're talking about movies we might as well go on to "The Wolves (Act I and II)" by Bon Iver, which Lizzie tells me is used in "The Place Beyond the Pines."  I haven't seen the film yet, but this powerfully haunting song is a good recommendation for it.

Finding out that a favorite group has covered a favorite song by another great musician is wonderful, so "VCR (The XX Cover)" by The Antlers felt like a precious gift.  This is four minutes of heart-melting bliss tinged with melancholy.  It also inspired me to have a revelation about the original song, which has always naggingly reminded me of some classic rock song I couldn't place.  Hearing it in this context made me realize that song was "Heroes" (Bowie of course, no relation to Family of the Year).  Now I have a whole new dimension of appreciation for this song and musical connections are magical and I should move on to the next track now, because even though I have more thoughts you should really just listen to this one on your own, and this paragraph is as long as the first one which covered three songs instead of one.  Whoops.

"Sidekick" by Val Emmich also inspired a revelation, this time courtesy my mom.  When she asked me the name of this song and I replied she said, "Being a wingman is so much cooler than being a sidekick."  Moms are full of wisdom.  MisterWives's "Reflections" is another poppy and peppy tune, but given distinction by the almost Cranberries-worthy vocal contortions of the lead singer.  "Same Side" by The Casket Girls is understated in comparison, but it stood out to me.  I found it appealingly new-wave/post-punk, yet also very modern.

Blondfire's "Where the Kids Are" is another brightly upbeat tune which I could easily imagine Lizzie dancing to.  So is "By The Throat" by CHVRCHES, a band which Lizzie knows I'm not exactly in love with, but I honestly appreciate her effort to expose me to more of their music.  As it happens, I do like this song more than their larger hits.  Not enough to re-write my perception of the group, but I was happy to give them a second chance.

The next couple songs were more my style.  "When I'm Alone" by Lissie grabbed me immediately with its dark bass-line and wobbling guitar.  I think Lizzie wrote in her notes that this song "hit the spot," and I agree.  It's like a granola bar--pleasingly tasty, yet not just empty (musical) calories.  Then I got to "Hunger of the Pine," from alt-J's sophomore album due out in September.  I had not yet heard it, and was since alt-J is quite special to both me and Lizzie, I was relieved to find them living up to my hopes.  This is a spooky, throbbing, many-layered mini-masterpiece.

"Celeste" by Ezra Vine brings us back to the core flavors of this mix, which is to say sunny, bouncy, pleasure.  The instrumentation is what intrigued me most about this song, especially its acoustic riff which sounded very unique to me.  Turns out the song is played on an instrument, called a celeste which is where it gets its name!  I'm not sure exactly why, but that made me really excited to find out.
St. Lucia's "Closer Than This" is a good "closer" (haha, get it?), which brings the mix to a summery, dance-y finish.

All in all, Lizzie's June mix sounds like the perfect playlist to make your neighbors jealous when they hear you jamming to it at your pool party/BBQ/summertime celebration.  The one thing that could make it better would be if the mix's creator were here to jam with me herself.

Instant favorites: "Make You Happy," "VCR (The XX Cover)," "When I'm Alone," "Hunger of the Pine"