So, after four long, for most part glorious years, the Best Period of My Life So Far has come to a crashing end. Boo hiss. No longer do I live with six of my favourite people, and I’m getting all retrospective. I’ve failed to fulfil a lot of aims, hopes and promises over the years but one stands out: I never shared my music enough. After a first year of playing music loud enough that it bled through my bedroom wall I’ve failed, in my role as The One That Gets A Bit Funny About Music, to act as gatekeeper of the fabled New Music.
So, this is for the person who asked me for music most consistently. I don’t intend to miss out on Being The Person Who First Gave You Neutral Milk Hotel ever again. Here’s a mixtape (except not in any way physically a tape, but since when did that matter?) :
It was made, like all mixtapes should be, with one person in mind: if you are that person, let this mark the passing of an era, and I’m crossing my fingers hoping you won’t hate it all. But: if someone were to happen upon this selection of tracks, and like them anyway, that would be just fine too.
1. Childish Gambino – Break
Let’s start with something semi-familiar. Partially because I’m constantly slipping it into ambient kitchen/BBBQ/pre-party playlists – the passive-aggressive solution to the aforementioned problem – but mostly, That Sample. Something beautiful is done to the sounds, which twists them into something with a genuine hint of tragedy. There’s just a sense of real, personal emotion, and that elevates it from being ‘just’ a great hip-pop song with fun, sharp, fast wordplay and a good sample.
2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
Music that sounds like an arty black-and-white film of a burnt-out car, the final flames flickering as they die out, on an endless loop. And the footage is probably just out of focus. This is another potentially familiar one: I’ve been slipping the album in wherever I could, that monochrome flicker a background to months’ worth of social interactions. Not that House of Balloons (also the album title, available for free online) makes for good ambient soundtrack material. It should be: it’s reasonably quiet and laid-back (so far that it’s on the hard ground, spine aching, wondering how it got there). But it’s just a bit too unsettling for the music to ever settle in the back of your mind.
3. Emmy the Great – A Woman, a Woman, a Century of Sleep
Did I mention that Emmy the Great has a new album? It’s a much slower burn than First Love, trading quite heavily on the beauty of Miss Thegreat’s voice, rather than the razor sharp lyrics it’s delivering. But still: a new! Emmy the Great! album! (And one that’s hugely expanded on the sound side, in ways that would make a lesser writer pull out words like ‘mature’.) Century of Sleep is the kind of track that holds your gaze, intensely, meaningfully, and makes you forget you were only really looking into her eyes in the first place because you kind of fancy her.
4. Jai Paul – BTSTU
Less a song, more a smoggy exercise in production flexing its muscles:
- Marvel at how artificial these waves of sound are!
- Ponder at the interplay between shrill falsetto and thick industrial beats!
- Take a while to notice how it softly drops the f-bomb!
5. Gil Scott Heron & Jamie XX – NY is Killing Me
More late-nite music. BTSTU could have been seeping out under the heavy doors of a club, but this is getting home alone music, awake later than you should be. Again, it’s a producer showing off, twisting something that was a perfectly balanced song (I’m not sure if you’ve heard the original before, but including that just felt like cheating: it’s just too foolproof) and wrapping a cloak of its own noises around itself. There’s a constant shift of attention as the song goes on, from one shiny thing to another: ooh, listen to these jagged icicles of elect… bouncing rubber ball in an empty… chunky wood-block noises! If you’re listening for it, there’s the feeling of a child playing with all the buttons in front of him, but – unlike most of We’re New Here’s remixes – it just about gets away with it.
6. Jim Jones ft. Lloyd & Girl Talk – Believe in Magic (Instrumental)
We’re deeply in our atmospheric midsection now. If we’re continuing the night metaphors, this is the hazy 5am of summer, after a house-party, streets abandoned but already starting to warm up. It reminds me of The Avalanche’s Since I Met You and bedroom dancing with my eyes closed. What more do you need?
7. Guided by Voice – Game of Pricks
In case you’re fancying something a little more immediate. GUITARS! SCRATCHY VOCALS! Forget all that talk about production, this is so wobbly you can hear it being recorded. It’s a song that begs to be repeated, or (preferably but somewhat impractically) heard multiple times at once. So you might be pleased to hear that there are two versions. There’s a good hour of lo-fi fun to be had in just playing them back to back.
8. Drake – Over
Now we’re getting a little more ballsy, let’s inject an ounce of testosterone to proceedings, shall we? Drake’s got that Weezy-esque drawl, stretched over big macho Mainstream-Hip-Hop bragging (most notably, about what he intends to do to Will Smith’s missus). I suspect, like me, you might have a very definite limit for how much of that is too much. It’s the hook which keeps it just the right side, channelling those uncertainties about lifestyle and where exactly I am, before the verses come in and just cut clean through it all.
9. EL-P – Stepfather Factory
There’s 0% uncertainty in Stepfather Factory. It couldn’t be further away from macho bragging; there’s just no room for it. It plays like an address to the nation but really, it’s a direct attack. On the shoddiness of American industry and . On all the second-rate fathers, the deadbeats and absentees. Mostly, though, it’s an attack on you. Your senses – when it starts to layer on top of itself, it nearly becomes too much – and your emotions – a tangential conversation with a little girl, which interrupts her with a “yeah, whatever” so it can get back to asserting that she probably gets a funny feeling in her tummy when mommy cries. This is a song that ends with a Fitter Happier-style robotic voice repeatedly asking why are you making me hurt you? I love you. There’s no doubt that it absolutely hates you. But doesn’t that make loving it back all the more thrilling?
10. Akira The Don – Steven Wells He Was The Greatest
This is a track about a NME journalist who died in 2009, but – in the immortal words of Leslie Nielsen – that’s not important right now. It’s all about the style of it all. Random moments of shouting and echoes and bits where the line hasn’t quite finished yet but the next one is going to start anyway and what appears to be a momentary Clash impression. What’s most stylish is the way it fits together to provide a vision of what British Hip-Hop might’ve sounded like: a little shabby, manic, and completely uninterested in the boundaries of genre. An Alternative History, where we were all much cooler.
11. Lucien Sanchez – One Track Lover
One Track Lover is an indulgence and a novelty to end on. But I think it’s fair to say the full extended version has gone far beyond that now. After all the praise I’ve laid on the previous tracks, to merely say that this is listenable seems anticlimactic. But we’re talking about a throwaway joke song from a cult (read: unpopular) BBC horror comedy, which skims through 80s musical clichés and ridiculous innuendo. It’s not very well sung. It fades out, tries the song in a new style: why not do it as a ballad, or heavily vocodered, or with a Phil Collins drum fill? That I still listen to it at all is a miracle. And what’s more… TAILPIPE!
…There you go. Possibly the first proper ‘mixtape’ I’ve ever made. Maybe a few of the songs you’ll grab to your heart, hopefully at least one will provide a gateway. And you (whoever you in this case might be) will probably dislike a good portion of it. That’s okay, it’s the danger of a mixtape. I just ask that you appreciate how many time I had to listen to the same three Spotify ads to get here.