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Mix Tape

Recently Retro -- July 2009

Back in the eighties, when I was a teen, my folks used to categorize the music I listened to as derived from either The Stones, The Beatles or The Velvets. It was as though their generation had invented rock and roll, which to be fair is somewhat true -- using blues and rockabilly as the foundation. But judging from my parents' dismissal of music made after a certain period, everything that could be accomplished with the form had pretty much already been done. The music that blasted from my stereo was just a pale imitation of what had come before. This always made me sad -- for them -- because it meant they had stopped listening, deciding to remain in the past and age along with their dusty, old record collection.

Of course, that collection contained some of my favorite sounds. I believe that we are imprinted with a certain kind of music -- whatever is wafting through the air when we are young -- which becomes the soundtrack to our lives. This music carries the daydream feeling of being a kid. It sounds like washing the car with the radio blaring, driving home at dusk or watching raindrops collect on the living room window. Inevitably, we end up listening to the same sounds, through various filters, for the rest of our lives. This month's Mix Tape is a collection of such sounds, a group of thoroughly modern tunes with a sixties twinge.
Mix Tape compiled and written by Mark Taylor.

"Coast of Carolina" could easily be a '60s pop tune along the lines of The Turtles' "Happy Together." It has a slow start, a quick build and rousing "ba ba ba" finish. What I like is the way Telekinesis bends sweetness into something more angular, using distorted guitars and a twisty drumbeat for a more rough-edged sound, generating a moshy pit over which the vocals soar. It's interesting how one song can contain multiple eras, but most appropriate for a tune that begins with the phrase, "Woke up in another lifetime."

"Gotta Cheer Up" pairs a high, sweet female voice with a crusty male baritone and contains the same dusty, spaghetti western twang that worked so well for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood ("Some Velvet Morning") and Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg ("Bonnie and Clyde"), although it's used to less dramatic effect. There is something about the organ -- or perhaps it's the reverse vocals at song's end -- that creates the effect of a tune on the airwaves, coming from over a long distance to sharpen into crystal clarity on the car radio.

"Glitches 'n' Bugs" has the sound of a summer garden, which is appropriate because it's about bugs and microbes and "digging down" to explore things better left undisturbed. One can imagine cartoon flowers bursting and blooming while a buzzing guitar stands in for a circling dragonfly. This is the same kind of kaleidoscopic pop found in many an upbeat sixties radio hit. For some reason I think of Spanky and Our Gang, though The Shortwave Set and this song in particular sound nothing like that hippie dippy outfit. They are more twisted: Spanky and Our Gang get into a tour bus accident with The Shocking Blue ("Venus") while singing "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher.

"Hold the Line" has the same great, driving surf guitar as "Misirlou" by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones. The tune begins with a nod to the above-mentioned spaghetti western, with horse clop and twang guitar, but then the stuttering beat kicks in, followed by Santigold's insistent chant. Mash in Mr. Lex's dancehall rap along with various cartoon and telephone sound effects for a po-mo collage that can be heard in no other era but the noughts. Be prepared to hit the repeat button.

One can tell by the name of Say Hi's album, Oohs and Aahs that there must have been some consideration of sha la las past. Even naming this song by the number of syllables in the "oh" of the chorus belies the intent to create an old-fashioned pop song. This one reminds me of a stripped down version of "Along Comes Mary" by The Association, only the girl in question here has many modern charms including "the way that she curses." "Oh, etc." is certainly minimal lyrically when compared to "Mary," but each song contemplates a girl capable of making change, one just has a lot more to say about the kind of change she makes.

"Jealous Enemies" reminds me of "California Dreamin'," though there are few songs with as distinctive an intro as that Mamas and Papas' 1965 single. "California Dreamin'" is front-loaded with nostalgia, sounding already like a memory when it first hit the airwaves. "Jealous Enemies" is as wistful and melancholic, the guitar picked gently to evoke a light rainfall; the hushed vocals are a lullaby, lulling a barren landscape to sleep.

"You Won" is more akin to an eighties tune of the shoegazer persuasion, vocals echo, words slur together as if sung through a mouthful of honey. Except the shoegazers of yore are direct descendents of The Velvet Underground. "You Won's" simple metronomic drumbeat reminds one first of The Jesus and Mary Chain, whose links lead back to Mo Tucker, the Velvet's famous girl drummer. "You Won" is wrapped in a delicate sheen reminiscent of Andy Warhol's production on songs like "Sunday Morning" off The Velvet's debut album.

I have to confess that I didn't understand all the hype surrounding Grizzly Bear's first album, Yellow House, which I found impossible to get through without falling asleep, in spite of standout singles "Easier" and "Knife." However, after reading my colleague's review of Veckatimest, I decided to give the band another listen. They seem to have stepped up their game on their second album -- though it would still be nice to hear them kick a song into high gear and just rock out. But what can you expect from the zeros' version of The Beach Boys? True, Grizzly Bear doesn't spend a lot of time talking about beaches, girls and surfin' safaris, but they do make their most interesting noises by combining voices to create gorgeous textures and harmonies.

"Black Rice" reminds me of The Troggs, a band that specialized in garage rock driven by a primitive drum beat, a raw guitar sound and Reg Presley's gravel voice. You can hear "Black Rice's" lockstep heartbeat in the "bah bah bah-bahs" of The Troggs' "I Can't Control Myself." I love "Black Rice's" exuberant combination of sharp guitar, clompy drumbeat, delicate bells and echoing vocals, which revisits and reboots The Troggs' caveman sound.

Singer Alex Turner's decidedly retro side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, explicitly uncovers the Arctic Monkey's affinity with bands like The Zombies. "Crying Lightning" sends elements from The Zombies' "She's Not There" and The Yardbirds "For Your Love" and "Heart Full of Soul" through a grungy nineties filter while remaining thoroughly now. Or maybe it's just the sound of Turner's voice, which carries the genetic memory of British rockers past.

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Please Note: Some songs may contain explicit lyrics.