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Mix Tape

Emotional Excesses -- September 2009


Play this month's Mix Tape.

It's September, which means the majority of young Americans are heading back into the education-playground-jungle complex known as school. I had my first day back last week, and while I'm far past the days of high school, I still think about the first day back in the context of those early emotional highs and lows: butterflies in the stomach, paralyzing embarrassment, bouts of angst, fits of joy, and everything in between. What got me through? Music of course. I was able to soothe my emotional extremes through a steady diet of songs that distilled those extremes into perfect little storms. So this month, I've picked out a set of songs that each take the essence of a certain feeling and pull, twist, stretch, and batter it into a holler-from-the-rooftop celebration of that emotional experience. I'm going back to school with a mixtape to satisfy my inner high schooler.
Mix Tape compiled and written by Deepthi Welaratna.

On "Jump In The Pool," British Mercury Prize nominee Friendly Fires combines rapid-fire tropicalia percussion with a multi-layered vocal chorus and backdrop of synths that make your heart catch in your mouth as you teeter on the precipice of? whatever it is you're about to dive into. Reminiscent of Talking Heads but with strong shoegaze influences, Friendly Fires is thoroughly self-assured on their debut self-titled album with a full roster of totally danceable songs. Heavily syncopated percussion and organic sound processing dominate their sound, which you can also hear on early single "Paris". Friendly Fires will be back in the States with some US dates booked for the end of the year.

Soul singer V.V. Brown was easy to overlook last year, with first single "Crying Blood" sounding a little too much like the latest songbird to update a retro sound with its 50s melody and cute video. But passionate number "Back In Time" shows off Brown's soulful songwriting and vocal chops, with, yes, retro-50s vocal production but also 80s-era synth flourishes and a fully modern chorus. Brown is just getting started on what looks to be a long and active career, with established credentials in songwriting for other artists, a vintage fashion store, and an active touring schedule. Check out all the latest from her on her website.

There's a whole cadre of French electropop bands that have somehow fixated on a certain strange reimagining of the 80s that involves only a certain neon color palette, John Hughes-style hormonal urges, wolves, keytars, and rainbows. They all inhabit this universe, with Minitel Rose at the forefront of producing aggressive beats, high energy synth parts, and album covers worthy of a Tron remake. What I particularly like about "When I Was Punk" is just how French it is, with the chanting singing that sounds like your cheesy Eurotrash boyfriend being a little melancholy, and a dramatic harpsichord chorus. Unfortunately, the territory is a getting a little well-worn in the wake of Daft Punk, Justice, and Minitel Rose, boding a little ill for their newly formed label Futur, which doesn't look like it's going to be so much innovative as exactly the same. But maybe the French appetite for their bizarro vision of the 80s will remain strong for years to come.

From the unsettling mewling violins to the goth piano to the snarling vocals, Charlie Winston creates a furious yet beautiful diatribe on "My Name." Having looked over the lyrics, I'm still not sure exactly what the song is about, but the biblical allusions and resentful chorus that "you won't forget my name" is certainly dramatic enough to warrant the intense orchestral flourishes. Winston has been a hit in France but not so much in his native Britain. Hobo strays into adult contemporary territory a little too much, but there are some gems that warrant a wider audience, from " Like a Hobo" to "In Your Hands." Winston is an accomplished performer and fantastic beatboxer, which makes a live show worth catching if you can.

On "Mostly Translucent," Chicago-based electronic band Telefon Tel Aviv creates a floating masterpiece reminiscent of Spiritualized with its restrained vocals, trancelike ambience and detuned and disjunctured parts. Third release Immolate Yourself is their best album yet, released in January of this year, which was sadly followed by the unexpected death of Charles Cooper, one half of the duo. It was unclear until this month whether Joshua Eustis would continue alone, but recently he has begun performing accompanied by a close friend of the band. I saw them at the Mercury Lounge in New York, where they built a lush wall of sound that enveloped the audience. You'll have your chance to see them later this month at Bottom of the Hill on September 26th and I urge you not to miss it.

Everyone seems to agree that Brooklyn producer Dre Skull is both weird and talented; Boomkat points out that his charm lies in his ability to combine "the sublime with the ridiculous." He achieves this with aplomb on "Gone Too Far," a bouncy bassy track kept purposefully minimal to showcase a hyperkinetic performance by Sizzla on top. Released as part of a mixpack, you can also hear the track remixed by Buraka Som Sistema and Lee Mortimer among others. Mixpack Records is Dre Skull's newly formed label, and has just released new single "Yuh Love," which has a little subdued dancehall dressed in synthpop going on.

How could I not include a track from the reissue of the Beatles' original twelve albums, digitally remastered? Their albums have finally been transferred in an era when people have perfected the art of retaining the sweetness of vinyl in the digital format. I chose "A Day In The Life" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The structure of this song has always fascinated me, tracing how Lennon's dreamy vocals on the first part dissolve in a masterful dissonant buildup before McCartney's debonair segment takes over, itself giving way under the weight of a dream and returning to the first half. And the final triumphant piano chord I've always found, perhaps oddly, a little chilling.

It's nice to see a lot of early high school favorites coming back with new material. Massive Attack has been on the scene for about two decades now, and their long-awaited new material is still as engaging as ever. Massive Attack has always done well by their guest vocalists, and forthcoming EP Splitting The Atom is no exception. Martina Topley Bird was Tricky's first and in my opinion, greatest collaborator after he left Massive Attack, and she's sounds great here on the very trippy "Psyche," which is almost more reminiscent of Primal Scream than Massive Attack. This version is a remix, the original is expected to be included in their next full-length release next year. Topley Bird will be opening for Massive Attack on their next tour.

Pulp is yet another favorite from high school, and Jarvis Cocker has been going strong ever since leaving to go solo. Further Complications is an excellent follow-up to 2007's Jarvis and shows that he can still make record filled with great pop hits. I saw Cocker play at the Fillmore not too long ago, and in his patter in between songs, he revealed that "You're In My Eyes" is actually quite literal, based on the idea that the little floating cells in your eyes actually represent people you know, and in this case, a young man is singing about his dead girlfriend. Bizarre, romantic, disgusting? Perhaps all three, wrapped in emotive nostalgia as only Cocker can do.

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Please Note: Some songs may contain explicit lyrics.