It Started With A Mix #2: And Another One Goes By – Matt’s Pitchfork Mix, 2009

26 06 2009

Pitchfork Music Festival is the second in the triumvirate of music festivals I attend every year. While this April marked my fifth Coachella, meaning I’ve now attended half of the festivals in Coachella’s 10 year existence, this year’s Pitchfork will be my fourth, meaning I’ve attended every year that the festival has existed. I’m still on the fence about Lollapalooza. I’ve been every year since the festival took up residence in Chicago, but this year, due to a combination of mediocre lineup and a hectic schedule, I may be staying home or only going for one day.

I mentioned in a previous post that over the past five years, I’ve made it a tradition to make a preview mix for every musical festival I attend. One of the keys to a successful mix is, of course, song selection. The centerpiece of a good festival preview mix is a collaboration that brings together two or more of the artists from the lineup, the kind of song that takes on a unique significance in the context of that particular festival. It may be a cover, like TV on the Radio doing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Modern Romance” for my 2006 Coachella mix; a collaboration, like Kanye & Lupe (plus Pharrell, who wasn’t there) borrowing a sample from Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” on “Us Placer’s” for my 2008 Lollapalooza mix, the year Radiohead played; or a remix, as is the case on this year’s Pitchfork mix with Final Fantasy’s string-heavy treatment of Grizzly Bear’s “Don’t Ask.” I almost threw in “Hey Dad,” a collaboration between Final Fantasy and Beirut’s Zach Condon, as well, but decided I didn’t like the song all that much.

The mix I ended up with starts off minimalist and mysterious with a piece from Tortoise’s TNT, but quickly builds towards increasingly noisy and spazzy rock tracks, climaxing with the Jesus Lizard’s pornographic classic, “Lady Shoes” and m83’s gorgeous epic “Don’t Save Us From The Flames” before leveling off for an eclectic jaunt through a variety of genres and ending on an emotionally bare but ultimately uplifting note with Frightened Rabbits “Modern Leper,” which goes out to a friend of mine who is deathly afraid of leprosy.

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Best Music of 2008 Part V (Songs 1-10)

12 02 2009

And you thought 2008 was over! It’s February already…

Well, for the past couple of years, ever since I started blogging about my top 20 albums of the year, I’ve also included an additional 30 songs, in no particular order, from 30 artists not already represented by my top albums. Sure, I’ve been a little slow this year, but that’s no reason to deprive my readers of some of the best songs of 2008.

Here are the first 10:

Best Music of 2008, Part IV (Albums 5-1)

4 02 2009

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III5. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (Buy It)

Highlight: “3 Peat” (Download)″

Shit, get on my level, you can’t get on my level, you would need a space shuttle or a ladder that’s forever

Forget the club tracks like “Got Money” and “Lollipop,” what makes this album great is the way that Wayne spits, boasts, and recycles his way through disarticulated syllables, double-entendres and localisms (“Su-Woop and Da Da Doe”) like his voice has taken on a disembodied life of its own. On Phone Home, Weezy declares, “We are not the same, I am a Martian,” but really it’s his voice that’s alien, even to Wayne. Every so often, he seems genuinely surprised by whatever’s just come out of his mouth, like it doesn’t belong to him, like it emerged spontaneously from the words themselves. Sure, he boasts like it was his all along, on “Dr. Carter” even laying his style down as a set of artistic principles, but on “A Milli” he tells us that he “don’t write shit,” ’cause he “ain’t got time,” – his flow isn’t the deliberate labor of a craftsman, but literally a flow (“like a menstrual bleed through the pencil”), something you can’t stop and you can’t catch. Weezy’s always wheezing trying to catch his breath, to catch up with himself so he can look back and claim his exhalations as his own.

Sun Kil Moon - April4. Sun Kil Moon – April (Buy It)

Highlight: “Heron Blue” (Download)″

Don’t sing that old sad hymn no more / It resonates inside my soul /It haunts me in my waking dream / I cannot bear to hear it

April is a secondary work of mourning. It deals not with the loss of love, but with the traces that love and loss leave on the soul several years later. From its slightly out of focus cover art, to its austere acoustic arpeggios, to its lyrics about ghosts and rolling fogs, April is haunted by a past that it cannot bear to hear, but cannot erase. Mark Kozelek’s voice is somber, but its steadiness, through thoughts that should make his throat swell, betrays a deep inner calm. That calm has been there for me on many nights, reaching its tendrils into my soul and twisting restless racing thoughts into peaceful self-reflection.

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak3. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreaks (Buy It)

Highlight: “Paranoid (Feat. Mr. Hudson)” (Download)″

808s & Heartbreaks casts Kanye’s ego in a whole new light. On Graduation, singing about the good life, Kanye looked larger than life, invulnerable to the world, almost inhumanly so. Now, through the lens of the loss of the two women closest to him, we see him at his weakest, and the ego looks like a contrived spectacle. Using 808s to bare the sutures of his production and the faintest trace of auto-tune to emphasize the artifice of his voice, Kanye seems to be confessing the ruse of his ego, admitting that’s it’s just another impressive result of his talents as a producer.

But the more robotic Kanye makes himself sound, the more human he appears. In the repeated, sometimes hard to swallow, assertions of glory with which he attempts to hold together his shattered head, we hear a man rediscovering his inner life. The more Kanye stutters and stammers to produce the illusion of invulnerability, the more vulnerable he sounds. So if the ego on his earlier albums now seems fake, it doesn’t make those albums seem shallow: if anything, it deepens them, since we can now hear in them the real Kanye: not the ego being projected, but the man nervously at work at the projector.

…unless the gesture of vulnerability is just another ruse.

TV on the Radio - Dear Science,2. TV on the Radio – Dear Science, (Buy It)

Highlight: “Dancing Choose” (Download)″

Angry young mannequin, american, apparently / still to the rhythm, better get to the back of me / Can’t stand the vision, better tongue the anatomy / Gold plated overhead, blank transparency…

Dear Science is that kind of album that tells the world a band is going to be around for a while: a captivating third LP that pulls off a change in style without abandoning the defining characteristics of its predecessors. On this latest album, TV on the Radio are making a statement about the versatility of their original vision, the full potential of which remains inexhausted, still to be explored for years to come. One can’t help but hear traces of Bowie (who lended vocals to “Province” on an earlier album and picked TV on the Radio to cover “Heroes” on the the War Child charity comp), not only in the aesthetic, but in the particular spirit of innovation and exploration evidenced by this release.

On their debut EP, Young Liars and the follow-up LP, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TV on the Radio offered a strikingly unique sound made out of elements of doo-wop and post-punk, a mixture of Tumbe Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s rich, frightening vocal harmonies with David Sitek’s noisy, atmospheric production. On their sophomore LP, Return to Cookie Mountain, they ramped up some of the rock elements, but generally remained in the same idiom. What makes Dear Science, so impressive as an album is the way that TV on the Radio are able to explore new directions while preserving a sense of identity that links the album to their earlier work. While songs like “DLZ” would be at home on Desperate Youth, the majority of the album moves in a funkier direction. Prince is an apparent influence, though some of the album’s sexuality seems exaggerated to the point of parody (“I’m gonna take you, I’m gonna shake you, I’m gonna make you cum. Swear to god it will get so hot, it’ll melt our faces off.”) There are also shades of gospel on tracks like “Golden Age.” But the doo-wop harmonies are still there, with, for example, the introductory scat of album opener “Halfway Home” not so far off from the vocal bass line of Desperate Youth’s standout “Ambulance.” And the production, though generally cleaner, still reveals fascinatingly complex uses of electronic tonalities, reverbed percussion, and occasionally menacing distortion. The production has been absorbed into the work with a new subtlety that speaks to the growth TV on the Radio as artists. Watching their continued development in the years to come is certain to be exciting.

Portishead - Third1. Portishead – Third (Buy It)

Highlight: “Threads” (Download)″

I’m worn, tired of my mind / I’m worn out, thinking of why / I’m always so unsure…

From the first words of the cryptic Portuguese aphorism with which “Silence” begins, to the final moment when Beth Gibbons’s wavering voice is swallowed by lumbering fog horns at the end of “Threads,” I am spellbound, terrified. At times I literally have to catch my breath. Third works on the nerves from all angles, bass textures rumbling portentously under strings stroked slowly and vibrating unsteadily as jarring machine gun style bursts of percussion fragment any illusion of continuity. I am left scattered but transfixed, unable to turn away and unable to turn towards. How Beth Gibbons can acclimate her voice to this abyss which saps my strength just as a spectator, I cannot fathom. Her voice appears as if in a constant battle with the uncertainty surrounding her: at times, it seems like a feat just to sustain a single note; at times, she allows herself to recede, tenderly, just barely. Snatched out from under the jaws of death, always on the verge of crumbling back to dust, she sustains a sublime fragility with an inhuman fortitude.