Mixtape #1: The 2000s - No Zeros In Sight
I love mixtapes. And I miss them. I used to make lots of them - for friends, family, anyone that wanted/needed a dose of new music. I liked championing unknown, or lesser known,, bands that I believed, usually passionately, deserved a wider audience. And I'm happy to say the recipients of my tapes were just as passionate about them. My good friend Allen had nearly 40 of them, and when his car was stolen, with the tapes inside, he reserved the coldest place in hell for the bastards who'd stolen his mixtapes!
The concept didn't really translate to CD disks. I still made some, at a much slower factory rate, but there's something about the cassette tape. Maybe its the truly handmade part of it - you had to sit and listen to the songs as you recorded them, which helped create the flow, made it an active, in-the-moment creation. They were an art form in themselves. My friend Andy, a king of the mixtapes, even wove stories into his mixtape collections. I just loaded them with great songs, at an unrelenting pace.
Of course, music doesn't mean what it did at that time, a few short decades ago. But that doesn't mean there's not good music to be found. Recently I was thinking about the turn of the century decade after pulling up a couple of songs from that period. Dinner with a friend whom I'd turned on to a lot of songs during that period, reminded me of how many great songs came out, most of which were released into some form of obscurity, only to disappear completely in the years since.
This is the first in a series of mixtapes I hope to do, with this one covering 2000-2009. I saw a blog that called it the worst decade for music ever. What rock was he living under?
1. EVERYTHING IN IT'S RIGHT PLACE - RADIOHEAD 2000
The first song off what many thoughtwas one of the most influential records of the decade, "Everything In It's Right Place" is hard to shake. It's shifting cadence, haunting, tonic-less melody, kicked off the decade with an electronic pulse. Battling writer's block after the long tour behind Radiohead;s OK Computer, Thom York went back to the drawing board, reminding himself that mental clarity began with an orderly house. I'm not a big electronica fan, but this song, album, and its followup, Amnesiac, really captured my imagination.
2. GOOD TIME - LEROY 2002
I spent a good bit of time in a building at the corner of Hollywood and Gower early in the decade, working with an editor on a film I'd made (here)for the curious). Every day when I went downstairs to get lunch I'd see this tall guy, with a mop of unruly hair, and lazy eyes hiding under some big sunglasses, I immediately pegged him for a musician. He was. Leroy had a little office in the building where he would demo songs he was writing, and after lunches I got to hear a bunch of them. The first one he played was one of the catchiest, funkiest things I'd heard in years. It went on to find a place in movies and TV shows, and its just as good today as it was 15 years ago. Good job, Leroy!
3. CHICKEN PAYBACK - THE BEES 2002
How was this not a hit? Hailing from the somewhat isolated Isle of Wright in the UK, the Bees (or The Band of Bees, as they're known in the US, due to another band taking the name) have a wide assortment of influences, and they're all audible on their first album. While there are plenty of other great songs their second record, Free the Bees ("Wash the Rain", "I Love You",this is my absolute favorite track,, a bright, funky, slice of pop pie, served with a milkshake. It's irresistible.
4. DADDY'S GONE - GLASVEGAS 2007
Drenched in echo and reverb, Glasvegas created a 21st century Phil Spector classic with their self-titled debut record late in the decade. Scottish singer/writer/guitarist James Allen wrote this song about his own father, worrying before release how his Da would take it. But the theme of paternal abandonment is sadly universal these days. The entire first Glasvegas follows the sonic palette set here ("Geraldine" is another great example), and its a completely absorbing debut. Allen also produced the song, and he wore his influences on his sleeve when the band covered the Ronettes "Be My Baby".
4. SOFT MACHINE - BY DIVINE RIGHT 2004
I discovered By Divine Right when I randomly picked up their album Sweet Confusion in 2004. It's the best purchase I've made in years. The record is loaded with catchy, melodic songs; great lyrics, and the best part? I realized there were three previous records to dive into. BDR is a Canadian band from Toronto, formed in 1991 by singer/writer/guitarist Jose Contreras. The line-up has changed multiple times (including a version with Leslie First, and Brandon Canning, of Broken Social Scene, for the album Bless This Mess) with Contreras, his songs and voice, as the constant. There is a seemingly endless parade great songs in their catalogue ("I Will Hook You Up", "I Love A Girl", "Soul Explosion", "Past the Stars") but this is a big favorite. Canada has kept this secret for far too long.
6. CHICAGO - SUFJAN STEVENS 2005
Certainly not a little known song, since you couldn't escape it if you listened to any independent (or not so independent) radio. The 00s were a very productive decade for the ambitious Sufjan Stevens, and this was probably the pinnacle for him, incorporating so many key elements of his style.. The semi-autobiographical lyric provides enough clarity and ambiguity to touch and confuse.
7. FIFTEEN FEET OF PURE WHITE SNOW - NICK CAVE 2001
My friend Jordan turned me on to this fantastic track, and as importantly its equally brilliant video. I still can't believe it slipped by me on initial release. It's a murky Nick Cave tale that's hard to decipher - the singer calls out for help to God (and several other Biblical names), before finally recognizing he must help himself. Built on simple chords, with an eloquent piano line, its simple, and powerful. The video is one of my favorites. Shot in the Khazakstan Communist Committee Center, it features a house band of Cave and the Bad Seeds, plus several celebrity dancers, most importantly (in my world) Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. The stale, dead party at the dreary communist hall turns up the heat with a Bad Seed line dance featuring the dapper Mr. Jarivis, and guitarist Blixa Bargeld. Communism never felt so good.
8. HEY GIRL - DELAYS 2003
The only way out of the spare, dark density of Nick Cave is through pure pop. Delays lead singer Greg Gilbert's distinct falsetto glides over a shimmering guitar arpeggio, and the whole track owes a clear debt to Liverpool's The La's (and maybe nearby Manchester's the Hollies).
9. B-B-BICYLE - BICYCLE 2006
Chamber pop with riff. From Canadian pop quartet The Bicycles' debut album this is twee pop in the best way, with catchy songs and unique sound. The debut record was mixed by By Divine Right's Jose Contreras (who also produced the band's record Oh No, It's Love). Another great song off this record is Paris Be Mine.
10. DOWN IN THE VALLEY - BROKEN WEST 2006
The dense sound, great guitar tones, and nice dose of echo, caught my attention, but it was the melody held it. The first Broken West album had a lot of great songs, but this was my favorite. Other songs by the band - So It Goes, On the Bubble, You Can Build An Island - show their expressed influences (Beatles, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub) more clearly, but this song rumbles to greatness on its own merit.
11. BE LESS RUDE - FRIGHTENED RABBIT 2006
Bursting out in a rush of arpeggioed guitars, driven drums, and anguished vocals, Frightened Rabbit's first single washes over you like the sea. Led by singer/songwriter Glenn Hutchinson, the Glasgow, Scotland band's single was a double-A, matched with the propulsive track "The Greys". They went on to create other great music, but this starter is hard to beat.
11. VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY - KATE RUSBY 2007
I'm a sucker for a Kinks' cover, especially when its "Village Green Preservation Society", so I was quick to check this one out when I read about it in the UK's Mojo. It quickly became one of my favorite Kinks covers. Kate Rusby is a folk artist from northern England, whose soft, fragile voice, with its northern England accent, brings a different emotion to the lyric. Happily it lead me to other great songs from her, including her cover of Richard Thompson's "Withered and Died" (I prefer it to the original), and some great, old Christmas songs she's done: Sweet Bells, Here We Come A Wassailing.
12. DREAMING OF YOU - THE CORAL - 2002
Coming from Liverpool (Hoylake) must come with some pressure, what with that other band as comparison. The Coral skipped off that comparison to create their blend of styles - parts pop, reggae, R&B, folk, even cowboy songs - while staying firmly rooted in guitar-band land. "Dreaming Of You" was the third single from the self titled debut, and they haven't let up. Second record produced the excellent "Don't Think You're the First" Guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones left the band for good in 2008, and has recorded some great stuff solo, including this.
13. (DRAWING) RINGS AROUND THE WORLD - SUPER FURRY ANIMALS 2001
"You expose the film in me" is a great line to open a song with. Somehow Super Furry Animals have managed to escape widespread acclaim in the US, which is surprising considering the catalogue of great songs they have. Maybe it was the album in their native Welsh that threw the Americans off, or any one of the an endless stream of eccentricities they happily possess. Yes, "The Man Don't Give a F**K", with it's chorus lifted in part from Steely Dan, might have issues on terrestrial radio, but what about man's best friend - the "Golden Retriever"? Or their debut single, "Hometown Hero", with its monster pop hook chorus? Because certainly "Rings Around the World", with its Beach Boy buzz, electronic fuzz, and the hook of a repeating title line, should have been some kind of hit.
14. COUNTRY GIRL - PRIMAL SCREAM 2006
Bobby Gillespie formed Primal Scream while he was still the drummer for game changers Jesus and Mary Chain. He's a passionate music lover, and over the course of 11 records the band has incorporated many styles into their music: jangled pop, psychedelic, dance, garage. My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields was a regular contributor, and semi-permanent touring member of the band, from 1998-2006. The end of that period coincided with the recording of the album Riot City, which features this delicious slice of country-tinged Stones, Gillespie's a great interview, and for his take on modern music you can read this.
15. CRAZY BEAUTIFUL - HANSON 2004
I used to love to put this song on a mixtape CD, then intentionally forget to give the receiver the track list. They would invariably call the next day and ask who sang that 'crazy beautiful' song. When I told them, the line would go silent. Raised on classic 60s rock and Motown, the Hanson brothers had a huge hit with their self-written "MMMBop" while one of them was still a preteen. Hipsters didn't forgive them the infectious groove, killer chorus hook, and sweet harmonies only brothers could sing. Unfortunate, as they've recorded some great classic-rock inspired songs ("Penny and Me", "Get Up and Go", as well as a great cover of Radiohead's "Optimistic") since then, and maintained a hard core following. This piano driven song is nearly perfect, from its rolling flow to the soulful vocal.
16 TKO - LE TIGRE 2004
Some time after shutting down shop on her feminist punk rock band, Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna started this trio. The political motivation of the lyrics is either promoted by the seductive catchiness of the songs, or is completely obscured by the drum and synth's rhythmic groove, depending on your level of interest in politics. I don't even know what the lyrics are, so what does that say about me? What I do know is once I heard it, I couldn't get this song out of my head.
17. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE - THE STROKES 2006
When the Strokes burst onto the sonic waves with their debut album, This Is It, and its early single "Last Night", they were immediately labelled Velvet Underground-like. That appellation proved to not be so accurate - there was a lot more pop at the heart of this band then immediately obvious. Over their first three records there were a string of "should be" hits: "Someday". "12:51", the hard rocking "Juicebox". But this song stood out for me. The incessant shuffling groove, bright guitar riff, even the vocal, are rhythmic elements. It's hard to keep from moving, and when it comes to rock - that's always a good thing.
18. LIVIN' WAS EASY - THE GLANDS 2000
I saw the Glands second album listed in Spin magazine as one to check out in 2000. I did, and I'm very glad because I fell passionately in love with this self-titled record. I then went back and discovered the first. The Glands are one of those bands that everyone who loves rock should know. Singer/writer Ross Shapiro wrote songs that quickly embedded themselves in you, all of them hits. His nasaly voice often gave the lyrics a sarcastic bite, and the band arranged and played the songs perfectly. They came from Athens, GA, a town that has produced much more then its share of very good bands, and the Glands are near the top of that list. I could have picked any number of classic Glands songs: "Straight Down". "Swim", "When I Laugh". I chose this one because it leads their second record, was the first Glands song I heard, and it embodies a certain droll laziness that seems to speak for its genre. Nearly 16 years after the release of The Glands, the band was prepping new music for release, when Ross Shapiro passed away at age 52, much lamented by those who knew him. But gratefully you can still hear his music.
19. CLICK CLICK CLICK - BISHOP ALLEN 2007
Bishop Allen was formed by two friends, and college roommates, while attending Harvard. But don't get the idea its some brainy math rock - it's twee pop rock at its best. The first two songs by the band that I encountered, "Little Black Ache" and "Things Are What You Make of Them", were from their first album Charm School. Their next record, the excellent Broken String, had another batch of instantly remembered songs, including "Rain", and this great track. It's musically effervescent, with an arpeggioed ukulele and a swift beat, that rolls into a great drop minor bridge. The lyric is elliptical, a little short story that alludes to coincidental moments, finding meaning in your life. These guys write great songs, and recently released another great record after a long absence. This is a great place to start with them.
20. MERCY - DUFFY 2007
After I first heard Amy Winehouse I was excited that I set out to find other big voiced, retro styled female singers. Duffy was a young Welsh singer, with a voice to cut through the fog. Fortune, and Rough Trade Records, put her together with guitar great Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede, who gave her an intense schooling in soul music. Butler also co-wrote (and produced) her single "Rockferry". But "Mercy" was her big hit, and its no wonder as its a very tasty, plump chunk of candy. with a neo-soul vibe, Farfisa touch, and that voice. The follow up album didn't take off - Duffy strayed from what was a very successful formula. But this first album produced a couple of very nice hits - "Warwick Avenue", and the aforementioned "Rockferry".
21. DR. NO - FUTURE CLOUDS AND RADAR - 2008
After the break up of his excellent Austin, TX band, Cotton Mather, Robert Harrison formed this outfit with a mouthful of a name. And the sprawling 2 disk debut record lived up to the excess of the band name - in a very good way. Beatles influences abound, and psychedelia forms part of the crayon set that colors the sound. There is a lot on this album, and songs like "Hurricane Judy" keep things moving. "Dr. No" really amps the Beatlesesque quotient, with a busy rhythm (some very nice drums), tempo changes, a great melody, and a finger made of gold.
22, BOHEMIAN LIKE YOU - DANDY WARHOLS 2000
The Dandy Warhols don't always hit the mark, but when they do the result is usually a chunk of rock bliss, "Bohemian Like You" has a vaguely 60s (read Stones) vibe, while still sounding completely of its decade. It's rock music you can dance to. It was never a "hit" but its commercial implications were recognized by advertisers who used it extensively, and it was featured in a number of films, While "Boys Better" remains my favorite track by the band, this is a very close second.
23. TEENAGERS - MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE - 2006
When my friend Jim told me he'd gone to see MCR in Chicago I gave him a hard time - figuring in a snobby way that it was some teen thing. But when I saw "I'm Not Okay" (my favorite by the band) on another friend's Facebook timeline, I realized I how wrong I was - this was a very interesting band, The Black Parade is a great record from beginning to end, starting with the title track. Thematically it follows a young cancer patient who dies, and goes to the afterlife. For the video and a subsequent tour, the band wore costumes, similar to the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers outfits. "Teenagers" does not really fit thematically, or sonically, with the rest of the record. But from its lyrics, to a vibe that reminds of an older style, its pure rock and roll.
24. FOR REAL - OKKERVIL RIVER - 2005
The 00s seemed to usher in, on a greater scale, society's numbness to all things genuinely real, while maintaining an obsession with "real" (reality TV), What is real when your reality is fed through an all encompassing media? Singer/writer Will Sheff, of this ambitious Austin band, tackles the subject head-on here. The music supports the theme: The spare sound of verses, with ticking heartbeat of staccato guitar, is violently interrupted with savage guitar and drum slashes, mirroring the calls for real violence so the singer can feel. The whole album is great, and seems to touch on this theme throughout. It produced a number great songs like "Black" and "The Latest Toughs".
25. HESITATION EYES - FOXYMORONS - 2005
To this day very time I hear the feedback, stabbing guitar, and driving drums, that open this song, and I expect to hear Bob Mould's voice follow, while I remember this is a great missing Husker Du track. No, its not lyrically on par with Mould's work, but sonically its a driving, incessant shot of adrenaline worthy of his old band. I don't think another song in their catalogue sounds like this one, but then how could it?
26.HOLLYWOOD ENDING - HAYDEN - 2004
On a trip to Serbia a number of years ago, I was returning to Belgrade from a long day to the south of the country. It was evening, there was a misty rain, and driving down the hill on the outskirts of town, I could not figure out how to get to the place we were staying. I kept going in a circle, returning to the same park, which I knew was within blocks of our place - but I couldn't figure out where. I saw a police car sitting in the park,, so I pulled up, rolled down my window, and asked the cop in the passenger seat where I could find such and such address. He looked me, then his partner, before turning back to me. He shrugged and said, "I have no idea. I'm not from here - we're actors in a movie". I'd stumbled onto a film set. Hayden first hit the scene with a sparse record featuring the song "Bad Seems". My favorite song of his was the title track for the Steve Bushemi directed film "Trees Lounge". Life doesn't always provide a Hollywood ending, but this MixTape does.
And so ends MixTape #1. Below is its Spotify playlist so you can take it with you and listen. Unfortunately, several songs are not available on Spotify (Village Green, Country Girl, Crazy Beautiful, Dr. No). Please feel free to comment on songs you liked, or didn't like, in the comments section below the playlist. And please do check out the other blog posts.