A journey through my January mental state.
Welcome back to The Mixtape, the monthly feature where I curate a playlist of the music that I have been listening to over the past month under the delusion that I am a person of import and therefore have other people care about such a thing. If I were being honest with my playlist for this month, it would just consist of I See You by The xx uninterrupted, in order, front to back, twice. However, after a lengthy argument with myself that was also punctuated by another 4 or 6 listenings of that album, I came to the conclusion that doing so would be cheating, and so instead decided to put together a playlist featuring the other stuff I listened to this past month. It’s also more sequenced than the previous two, both sides not being as segmented into pure “up-tempo” and “down-tempo,” so as to give a sort of progression as to my headspace throughout January, which was all over the damn place. Enjoy, or not, or slightly!
The Mixtape: February 2017
17 tracks, 1 hour 9 minutes
01] Interpol – Untitled
Taking things in rather calmly in comparison to previous instalments, I know, but I really did crash hard after I turned in my Top 50 Songs of 2016 article (subtleplug). My armchair psychiatry theories can wait until whenever I pen my next What I’ve Been Watching, don’t worry, but it did mean that I made another return visit to Turn on the Bright Lights, one of my go-to Sad Bastard albums and also, not coincidentally, one of my personal favourite albums in general. From front-to-back, its distant, cold, alienated desire for intimacy really resonates with me and, despite that coldness, I find it an incredibly comforting listen. Its entire first side, from the first delay-soaked arpeggios of “Untitled,” especially, is just 25 minutes of absolute perfection. I missed out on getting tickets to their 15th Anniversary Manchester show, where they will play the album in full, for the time being due to being a poor child, but they will be mine. Oh, yes, they will be mine.
02] Naughty Boy – Runnin’ (Lose It All) (Feat. Beyoncé & Arrow Benjamin)
I think what’s most powerful about this song is how restrained Beyoncé’s vocals are. Like, pattern recognition from other songs just like this would dictate that both performers need to belt out every line like their very lives depend upon it, such is the EMOTION that must come oozing out of every pore in order to guarantee chart success. And whilst Arrow Benjamin does do that with his part of the song, Beyoncé never does. Even during the chorus, there is a restraint and control that’s just masterful and makes the song ache that much harder because there’s a feeling of genuineness to it. A self-epiphany found within “these four lonely walls,” so there is no need to yell about it. Who could even hear? In fact, Beyoncé’s restraint is what makes Arrow Benjamin’s wild delivery work, due to the notable contrast.
Yeah, actual music criticism! Dropping it like it ain’t no thang!
03] Motion City Soundtrack – My Favourite Accident
Burnout 3: Takedown soundtrack, represent! I still, to this day, adore the Burnout 3 soundtrack with all my heart. It’s the most 2004 thing in existence, and I am including D.E.B.S. in that statement, but a good 90% of it still rocks today and gets very regular rotation on my iPod. All the power-chords, all the piercing alt-rock voices, all the angsty emo poetry that one could ask for! It’s little wonder that I had a real Kerrang! phase throughout the mid-to-late 2000s, isn’t it? “My Favourite Accident” comes at the end of a near-perfect 6 song run of the finest Emo Pop Punk that EA Trax’s money could buy, and I have not listened to a single other Motion City Soundtrack song since despite this being fantastic. You’re shocked, I can tell.
04] Delorean – Deli
Waaaaaaay back in the halcyon, less-existentially-bleak days of 2012 – 2015, there was this social music site called This Is My Jam, where users would share the one Jam that had conquered their attention at that time for up to a week for other users to discover, like, and chat about. It was a great service, one that added value and focus back to the art of music curation, and it introduced me to a whole bunch of great goddamn jams. This is one of them, a simple yet super catchy and quietly emotional Alt Dance smash that I first heard on there back in late 2014, and has just sort of wormed its way back and forth into my brain ever since, slowly turning into possibly one of my favourite songs. I wish something like This Is My Jam could exist again, sadly struck down due to a disinterest from the Net at large and a dwindling user base due to more and more draconian embed restrictions from most record labels and streaming services. It really offered something unique and different from the rest of the Internet.
05] Radiohead – Electioneering
You get three guesses as to why this is the Radiohead song that is on here, and the first two don’t count. It probably says a lot of bad things about the state of the world that this is always the first thing that comes into my head after an election nowadays, and that it is still relevant despite being written back in 1997 about Tony Blair and New Labour, doesn’t it? That, or I’m just really lazy and unimaginative. Either’s an acceptable theory.
06] Swet Shop Boys – T5
Remember when I briefly mentioned back in my Top 50 Songs piece that you should go check out Cashmere, the debut album by Swet Shop Boys? Well, this is them. Comprised of Indian-American ex-Das Racist member Heems, British-Pakistani rapper/actor Riz MC, and producer Redinho, the trio spit politically and socially-conscious lyrics about Muslim representations in the media, racial profiling by airport security and the police, and cultural appropriation from a society that despises their continued existence otherwise. It all sounds heavy, and it is, but it’s fiercely relevant, and backed up with some phenomenal beats and some sneakily brilliant shit-talking sprinkled on top. It’s one of the best albums I heard last year, bangs from start to finish, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since I first stumbled across it. Go check it out!
07] Sleigh Bells – Rule Number One
Yeah, I still like Sleigh Bells in the year 2017. Yeah, this track basically slams into each of its different sections with no regard for basic song structure. Yeah, it’s absolutely ridiculous and kind of juvenile. Yeah, I placed this higher on my Top 50 Songs of 2016 list than I did Solange, Radiohead, Run The Jewels, Childish Gambino, and who knows how many else. Yeah, I’m going to see them in Manchester this month. I love this song, sue me.
08] Justice – Waters of Nazareth
I almost went and made this the finale of Side A, much like I did “Alakazam !” back in the first of these things, ready to embrace the (non-existent) accusations of being bereft of ideas, but I held off because the next track makes a better stopping point. Anyways, Justice! They’ve strangely become one of my most listened-to artists as the years have gone on, for reasons I can’t quite figure out but am not going to complain about in any case. I will be going to see them in London at the end of September (even if I haven’t bought a ticket yet) on their World Tour of Woman. It doesn’t seem much like a World Tour to me if they’re only doing one UK stop, but what do I know?
09] Soundgarden – Superunkown
Last month, I praised Badmotorfinger to high heaven, having only just heard it for the first time once I’d rescued the vinyl from my Uncle’s. This is not the month where I sit and do the same to the mega-smash follow-up Superunknown, by virtue of my not owning it. I’m one of those people who prefers his first listen of an album to come from buying the CD/vinyl, going home, and putting it in the CD/record player rather than just streaming it online – it all coming back to my preference for physical media over digital. So whilst I wait to get within an accessible distance of a used CD store again, I’ll just have to obsess over the tracks that were available in past Rock Band games. This was apparently also in Road Rash, but I’ve never been able to properly experience Road Rash because I am effectively a child.
01] The xx – Dangerous
Giving it another couple of weeks so that the latest album can fully settle, but I am almost definitely going to write a thing about the evolution of The xx and how they somehow manage to perfectly encapsulate and compliment my emotional state at the specific moment in time of each album’s release. Seriously, it’s getting kind of eerie. Anyway, I am only slightly joking when I say that I don’t need anything else music-wise for the rest of the year now that I See You is out in the wild. It’s a fantastic evolution for the band, one that becomes slightly more extroverted and open yet doesn’t lose the inner anxiety or the intimate conflict that defines the band’s appeal. “Dangerous” may initially seem like one has put the wrong disc on by mistake, but even after just a minute it slots in perfectly with the rest of the group’s material, although it is home to the biggest and unlikeliest hook this group will ever come up with.
02] Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
In my Top 50 Songs of 2016 pre-amble, I do admit that, although I like to try and set these lists in stone as incontrovertible fact with no mistakes (because I am super egotistical about my music taste like that), I can oftentimes overlook or miss out on killer tracks that would definitely have cracked the list had I heard or lived with them enough in time. This is the second year that a Bruno Mars song has missed out on the list for this exact reason – I am the fool who didn’t hear “Uptown Funk” until mid-January of 2015, hands up – and, even though this is basically just “Uptown Funk Again,” I think I’m going to have to officially pay full attention to Bruno Mars in the future in case such a thing happens a third time. In my defence, the man started his career with “Grenade,” and “The Lazy Song!” How was I supposed to know that he wouldn’t just get good, but become outstanding!?
03] Iggy Pop – Lust For Life
So, I’m not sure if you are aware, but Trainspotting. I also got to see Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s documentary on The Stooges, last month, but Trainspotting. Trainspotting is near-perfection, and this is one of the single best needle-drops in the history of Film. I spent a large part of the month getting more and more quietly excited about T2 despite all common sense telling me not to, then last Saturday, lo and behold, T2 turned out to be surprisingly excellent! It’s nice when the universe throws me a bone every now and again.
04] Doves – Black And White Town
I haven’t actually listened to any Doves this month, this is here to help with the progression of the narrative that exists in my head and probably doesn’t quite work in practice. “Black And White Town” is one of my favourite songs, though, and has been for a long while. A bracing, pained cry of despair about being stuck in a dead-end town with no life, activity, or prospects as it slowly saps away your soul due to there being no other alternatives open to you. Some Cities is my personal favourite Doves album, but all 4 of them are excellent, and, although they were never unsuccessful by any metric, I still feel like they deserved far better than they got. At the very least, they should have had Elbow’s late-career mainstream breakthrough. Although I guess, if they did, that would have brought with it Elbow’s accompanying late-career downslide, so maybe it’s for the best they never quite broke through.
05] Angus & Julia Stone – A Heartbreak
This was the Guitar Hero TV discovery from last month that didn’t make the cut onto that Mixtape by virtue of it just not fitting anywhere. That also marks the third song off of Angus & Julia Stone that I’ve really liked, so I guess I should probably get ready to fork out for the album at some point if I ever see it in a shop (cos screw buying stuff online). Their “Santa Monica Dream” also showed up in Life Is Strange, the soundtrack of which I have listened to in full at least twice a month since I first bought and finished the game a year ago. Look for one of these to just be that in order at some creatively-spent point.
06] The 1975 – Somebody Else
When those End of Year lists for Best Albums started coming in last year and I saw I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it topping a number of them, I will admit to rather rolling my eyes and coughing in judgemental disbelief somewhat. Sure, I loved the album and would have ranked it my 3rd Best of 2016, but then again I hadn’t actually listened to that many albums in full in 2016 for long enough to gauge a definitive list, so it’s not like I had a large sampling to pick from. But as I found myself listening to the album a few more times this month – its earworms are absolutely infectious and demand repeat plays – I actually found myself understanding such a proclamation more. It’s an album that tangibly comes from a real personal place, with the self-awareness required to depict teenage ennui and those more jealous and possessive thoughts we all sometimes have without ever tipping over into endorsement, and that’s resonated a lot with me as I sat at home separated from most everybody I know. “I don’t want your body, but I’d hate to think about you with somebody else,” is more than just a killer hook; it’s a painful truth that is natural but which we don’t like to admit.
Maybe I’ll write about this band properly at some point. This site is more of a blog and nobody’s reading, anyway, so why not just write about whatever?
07] Wolf Alice – Silk
So, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but T2. OK, not just T2, although its eventual deployment in that film is as near-perfect a needle-drop as one can find – I hope that, when he finally folds up his Director’s chair, Danny Boyle teams up with Guy Ritchie to teach a course on the art of the needle-drop in Film. “Silk” has actually been one of the biggest highlights of My Love Is Cool for the last 18 months, now, helped by its placement on the album as the end point of the first half’s build-up of emotional turmoil, the torchlight song that closes out the first record. There’s something about Ellie Roswell’s delivery of “NO-ONE EVER WANTS TO FEEL THIS SAD!” that brings me great comfort, because I am a living parody of myself. God, I really hope that they don’t drop the ball on LP2, because everything this band has put out up to now has been worth all the buzz that typically gets dumped on bands that are maybe a tenth as good!
08] Blur – Optigan 1
13 is the best Blur album, and I will fight anyone who disagrees with me. In addition to being home to “Caramel,” the best and most devastating song in their entire back catalogue, 13 is a flawlessly sequenced and brilliant album with not a single duff track and not one moment where the carefully cultivated mood is broken – yes, not even “B.L.U.R.E.M.I.” which, in its own way, serves much the same purpose as “Optigan 1” does. Most Blur albums have the issue of always ending one track too late, where they intentionally follow a fantastic closer with a tossed-off little ditty that undoes some of the power of the track it preceded – “Commercial Break” off Modern Life Is Rubbish, “Interlude” from the self-titled, “Lot 105” following “This is a Low” on Parklife despite the fact that such a thing should be grounds for capital punishment, GODDAMMIT – but “Optigan 1” is the exception. It acts as the one spark of genuine light across the whole album, a completely straight piece of sweet soothing hope that, coming on the heels of the pure heartbreak of “No Distance Left To Run,” is a reminder that we can all get through this. That this heartbreak won’t break us, no matter how much it reminds us of the better times through the haze of the fog. It’s only fitting that it close this edition of The Mixtape.
The Mixtape: February 2017