♬ Download the October mix — mp3 — 128 quality — 72 Megs
As we said regarding our earlier mix, this compilation is not posted here so that people can download music for free. It is posted here to introduce some beautiful but obscure music to people who might not otherwise have been aware of it. To learn more about these artists and their music, try Discogs, Allmusic, or of course Google.
1. 0:00 Ray Lema, What We Need
No one can put rhythms together the way Ray Lema can. “What We Need” opens with a simple triplet keyboard figure and suddenly turns into a psychedelic version of reggae. Most of the players follow a rolling 12/16 — four beats, each divided into triplets: BA-de-ah, BA-de-ah, BA-de-ah, BA-de-ah. But the triplets are sliced through by folks treating the main pulse as double instead of triple. For them, it’s DEN-bi, DEN-bi, DEN-bi, DEN-bi. You can hear the combination most clearly on the right side of the stereo field, where a high-pitched shaker plays straight eight-notes against an intricate triplet-based riff in the high-hat. Now two-against-three is not unknown. (Remember the radio hit “Everyone wants to rule the world” by Tears for Fears?) But Lema adds some inner beats that change what would have been two-against-three into three-against-four. That’s why the beat is so crazy and so delightful. And you can hear it as a parable: two groups with very different ideas about the world are working together to make a powerful, positive groove.
2. 4:51 Sufjan Stevens, The predatory wasp of the Palisades is out to get us!
Change of mood, though the rhythm here is also based on three with just a hint of two. “I see a wasp with her wings outstretched.” I love that he uses the feminine pronoun for the wasp. And the wasp — or the sting of the wasp — seems to be a metaphor for how little life can be predicted, how much it can hurt, and how glorious it is in spite of everything.
This is not an ordinary pop song. At first it seems folksy, with the soft voice, flute, the acoustic guitar, but after the first chorus a bunch of horns burst in with this polyrhythmic Steve Reich sort of thing. That never happens in ordinary pop songs. Also it turns out that what you thought was the first chorus was not, because it does not get repeated. The song keeps changing, accumulating. The horns come back, accompanied by dramatic drums and cymbals and layers of voices. It’s glorious. A fierce drone starts to take over the stage as Sufjan sings “Terrible stings — terrible storms — I can tell you…”, builds until it’s unbearable, and stops on a dime.
3. 10:14 Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band : White Jam
I love this segue! Sufjan’s infernal wasp vanishes and Don van Vliet’s candy-colored blues is switched on, poof.
The song has two parts. The first is odd but honey-sweet. Peculiar chords. Eccentric instrumentation — what is that, a harpsichord? And the lyrics! “She serves me flowers and yams… and in the night when I’m full, she brings me white jam… and I don’t know where I am.” I don’t know where I am either, Don, but don’t stop. And it doesn’t stop, it gets better. The second part, starting about a minute in, tightens the groove and expands your mind. The harmony changes and more instruments come in, including Don’s looping, incantatory harp. It reminds you of the blues but it’s the blues from another planet, a planet covered with orchids, clinging vines, and people making love in tented pavilions. I’d love to be invited back.
4. 13:07 Marsen Jules : Aile d’Aigle
What can you say about such a thing? That the title (“Eagle-Wing”) is perfect? That an immense cloud towers above us, with lonely, regal birds circling and penetrating it? That it slowly comes into perfect focus, and slowly fades to white, and leaves dream-tendrils in your mind? That the thought that you could easily have gone your whole life without discovering it and hearing it evokes a kind of terror?
5. 20:33 Boy in Static : Warm-Blooded
Cross-fade from a broad sky into this lonely room with its wheezy organ in the corner. But as we look in, the light is already swelling. You can be happy in a little place, or if not happy at least comfortable, or if not comfortable at least alive.
Beautifully paced, the music grows in strength and pulse, while maintaining kind of tragic restraint. After the second chorus the seams crack a little and we can see the drums throwing off sparks, but we’re still held in this cramped space. I’m sure this effect was intentional. It has to do with the way the song is mixed. Somehow things are layered and balanced so that all the other instruments surround rather than obscure the singer. They keep getting louder, but they don’t drown him out even though he sounds like he’s whispering the whole time. I can tell you, that kind of recording is really hard to do.
6. 24:22 Dub Tractor : I Don’t Care
Another sustained chord to sustained chord crossfade. To continue the analogy, maybe the inside of Boy in Static’s room becomes an abstract video playing on the flatscreen next to the closet. You gotta love the lyrics to this song: Anders Remmer sings “I don’t care,” with very little emotion (a sly, wry gesture) 14 times. That’s it. Meanwhile the background trembles and shifts and glitters. Those trippy loops were originally electric-guitar samples, I suspect. Where the percussion came from, I can’t imagine. It behaves like drums, but is made only of buzzes and clicks. Crazy sexy cool.
7. 29:20 The Beach Boys : Feel Flows
Again we transition from a waning chord to a waxing chord — this time without a real overlap.
“Feel Flows,” a little-known composition written by Carl Wilson and appearing on the 1971 Beach Boys album, Surf’s Up, has to be one of the trippiest songs of all time. First of course there is the backwards echo on the lead vocal, which sounds like Carl is calling to us from a parallel dimension. The chord changes are pretty dreamy, too. The tempo is odd: a little too slow and a little too fast. The rhythm is straight eighths, played by a strange crowd of instruments all in unison. I’m hearing an electric piano (with some sort of wobbly filter on it), an upright piano, and a big high-hat or shaker or something. It’s big and smoky and ceremonial. And so are the lyrics.
It’s easy to let your attention wander during the middle eight — oh, another solo or bridge or something. No, pay attention. Where the heck did this free-jazz, meticulously constructed jam come from? A fuzzy guitar, a shining flute and a distant sax trade arcane, indecipherable symbols. You would think that it’s their turn in the spotlight, but they’re still way back inside the fog; the main light source is the mesmerizing, ceremonial flash of the main beat: chang, chang, chang, chang… When the section is over, most of the instruments take a breather and the steady piano takes on a new, absolutely delicious tack-piano sort of crunchiness. I have no idea how you make that kind of sound.
Just before the fade we get new, lovely and fascinating guitar riff. The song could have left us without adding anything; it’s lagniappe, I guess.
8. 34:00 Juana Molina : Isabel
This is one of my favorite segue tricks: match the downbeat but kick up the tempo just a bit. You can only do it if the second song starts immediately, without a fade-in or fancy intro.
Another of my favorite things is people who sing without vibrato. Juana Molina is one of those wonderful few. (Others I remember offhand are Jim Adkins [Jimmy Eat World], Jonas Bjerre [Mew], Lindsay Buckingham, Liz Durrett, and Sade Adu.) I know little Spanish, but I hear at one point something like: “A note, written in blood, for she herself to read when she had grown up.”
“Isabel” preserves our spaced-out, slightly psychedelic mood, partly because of the spooky, seemingly random colors coming and going behind Juana’s calm, implacable acoustic guitar — which is the only other instrument in the song besides Juana’s voice.
9. 38:20 Sufjan Stevens : The Transfiguration
This segue works because, first, a gentle solo guitar leads into a gentle solo banjo (or maybe it’s a dobro). Second, though one song is in four and the next is in three, the tempos feel similar because I’ve matched the straight duple of the first to the implied duple cutting across the triplets of the second. (What’s duple? The meaning is analogous to triple: the main beat is divided into two or four smaller beats rather than three.)
This is a devotional song. As you know, I am no friend of religion. Well, one might be obligated to put aside even such “important” considerations for a work of art as strange, lovely, personal, and moving as this one. The arrangement is a bit reminiscent of “Feel Flows”: several instruments ritualistically piled up on the main beat; repetitive lyrics, almost a chant. The ending, for me, is quietly, genuinely ecstatic.
10. 43:37 Márcio Faraco : O Outro Lado
The (Portuguese) title translates to “The other side.” Unfortunately, that’s all I know of what the song is about. I confess that I’m not sure this song really belongs in this mix. Too much sweetness, too little innovation. In retrospect, the tempo seemed to match “The Transfiguration” so well that I couldn’t resist. Beautiful melody, harmony, guitar… the mood is just not quite right for the “October” mix.
11. 46:39 Yagya : Battleship Grey
Oh man, now this is the right mood. We are back, for nine minutes, in “Aile d’Aigle” territory. I want you to notice that, far from being a homogeneous fog, “Battleship Grey” is very carefully layered and every layer is gorgeous. I count at least six. You might have to sort of slow yourself down to hear them. And check out the high-pitched part of the rhythm section, all made of little pops like in Dub Tractor’s “I Don’t Care.”
“Battleship Grey” is from an almost impossible to find album called Rhythm of Snow and it’s easy to imagine that the original sound sources included snow falling (but that would be awfully hard to record!), wind blowing, icicles on the eaves dripping, and so on. Whether this was really done I don’t know.
12 55:31 Fleetwood Mac : Hypnotized
This segue is more aggressive than most. Before the dripping, sighing “Battleship Grey” finishes evaporating, Mick Fleetwood’s masterful, hypnotic pulse hits us hard. I like that there are 12 measures of 12/16 before the rest of the band comes in. The lyrics of this song are odd, or maybe silly, or some people would just say bad. But the melody is sweet and it’s fun to sing along with. As in “Feel Flows,” the chord changes are subtle and sort of only happen when they have to, almost giving the impression that the whole song is based on a single chord. And like “Feel Flows,” this a brilliant song, not folk, rock, blues or anything else but absolutely sui generis, that seems to have been forgotten. I’ve played it for a lot of people and none found it familiar. Despite its slightly lame lyrics, I consider this a true “desert island” masterpiece.
13. 1:00:16 Stars : Elevator Love Letter
Our seque again works by linking an implied duple to a straight duple. And again it bumps up the tempo. When I hear this song I think Stars must be one of the greatest pop bands anywhere. (They’re from Montreal.) Unfortunately, their output is of uneven quality and they have very few songs this good.
Pop. That’s what they’re trying for, consciously and obviously. But somehow I forgive them this ambition, don’t you? And of course the music is more interesting than most pop. Maybe too interesting to actually be very popular. Is that an elitist prediction? So be it.
I love the girl and guy taking turns with the lead vocal. Both have appealing voices, unpretentious, unforced, like good friends having fun. (And almost no vibrato!) Solid, bold strumming from the guitars… I don’t know why, really, the whole thing is slightly amateurish and totally endearing.
14. 1:04:11 Nada Surf : Your Legs Grow
Strum-strum-strum-strum… more straight guitar chords at practically the same tempo as the previous batch, so I can match downbeat to downbeat and it’s very satisfying.
“Call me any time / you’ve got a ghost…” So we keep it simple and dreamy for a while. Subtle, soulful strings. No percussion. Standing in the lake as the sun goes down.
15. 1:06:52 Kante Manfila : M’balia
As in Ray Lema’s “What We Need,” we are swinging at 12/16 — four groups of triplets — but “M’balia” is much faster.
There are so many outrageous details in this piece. Kante’s lead guitar lines — a tracery of joy. The beat has that two-against-three thing going on, but there’s also the kick-ass syncopation forged by the kick drum and echoed by the rhythm guitar. At 00:27 there is a single horn stab; the horns are not heard again for another three minutes. Check out the backup singers. They’re singing intricate lines with blazing rhythm.
This is how a lot of African music seems to be constructed: almost every instrument is doing something interesting melodically and something interesting rhythmically. This kind of music is difficult to compose and difficult, but really fun, to play.
16. 1:12:43 Richard Buckner : Hoping Wishers Never Lose
OK, time for more strumming! (I did a whole mix about strumming once.) “Hoping wishers never lose / chipping away until you’re through.” And some interesting, impressionistic, musical, I might almost say architectural lyrics. Because I think they shaped the music, not the other way around. “I was landing just in time / careful to call out just in case.” A voice like strong whiskey in a smoky bar. But there’s no country-music drama. The presentation is flat, minimal, abstract. But the words paint pictures of hope and despair. “The window shook and showed us out / there was nothing new to try.” I want Richard Buckner at my next party. I want to be his friend. And if he hits a bad spell and hocks my Telecaster, I’ll forgive him.
17. 1:15:39 Fourcolor : Vaporize
Now it’s time to say good-night. A peaceful adieu to you too. What little I know about Keiichi Sugimoto implies that his principal instrument is the electric guitar. He plays pure, steely notes on the guitar. These are sampled and cut up. A fragile music is constructed from the glimmering shards. At some point it stops playing, just like that.
When you say the word ‘that’, you snap your fingers. ‘That’ is how fast something can disappear.
Thanks for listening.
Download the October mix — mp3 — 128 quality — 72 Megs