Libby’s First Mixtape is an ongoing series of music mixes I make for my younger sister, Libby. The genesis of the series dates back to roughly 2005. Since then I’ve been putting these mixes together on a 4-6 week basis, give or take. Listen along via Spotify through the link at the bottom of the post.
I’d been sitting on this one for a little while waiting for Libby to digest play::pause::stop. Unlike that mix, the sequencing here happened quite effortlessly. I’d been collecting some older gems to break up the ceaseless flow of 2013 tracks and the result is an inverse of how I normally like to structure my mixes. This one starts at a crawl and builds up to mid tempo Southern rock before exploding in the second half with electric cuts from CHVRCHES, Marnie Stern and David Bowie. It is one of those happy coincidences that “streets & deserts” plays like a quick overview of late 60s and early 70s musical textures and their post millennial proteges with an outlier or two thrown in for good measure. This ain’t chemistry class after all.
Kicking things off is the sparse, gut-wrenching ballad “Kathleen” from Townes Van Zandt. I’ve never really spent much time with Townes but after reading a little about his history of drug and alcohol abuse I decided it would be worth checking him out. I’m shamelessly attracted to the morbidity of addiction and its effects on art. Needless to say, for anyone whose every listened to Townes, I was not disappointed. “Kathleen” has all the overtones of ennui and deep emotional struggle. Its string arrangement and storytelling jumped me forward nearly 40 years to Joanna Newsom’s evocative Ys (2006). Townes balances echo filled space with lush orchestration that sounds, even today, like staring into a solaceless void.
I intentionally frontloaded this mix with vintage jams and contemporary artists mining the past for unique sounds and approaches to music. Contemporary music, at least the vein that I pay attention to most, is crowded with electronics. I’ve never related all that well to electronic instruments and I more that occasionally need to refresh my soul with drums and wires. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Townes Van Zandt, Angel Olsen’s jaunty “The Waiting” is Joni Mitchell for the new millennium. From her voice, which sounds like an opera singer gone country recluse, to the thread bare instrumentation, Olsen’s 2012 debut Half Way Home had all the hallmarks of a bedroom recording while capturing some of the signature tones of the late 60s. Pairing Neil Young’s political takedown “Southern Man” with Kurt Vile’s highly personal “Shame Chamber” was an exercise in trying to determine just how much these two songsmiths had in common. I think both Kurt and Neil have a unique approach to writing that lends their songs a kind of untouchable quality: you could learn how to play their songs but you could never learn how to play them like they do. I’m absolutely in love with Kurt Vile’s newest album Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013), not just because it captures all the restless boredom of summer but because of Kurt’s weird lyrics and strange delivery. I heard an interview with him recently and if he does indeed “never touch the stuff” he certainly does sound quite aloof, like the meanings of his songs escape even him. Rather than diminish their power, this adds a layer of interpretation that is quickly becoming a Vile trademark.
I’ve been spending some serious time with Creedence Clearwater Revival recently in particular Cosmo’s Factory (1970). Their boogie woogie mix of swamp rock and blues hits all the right spots as does their very dynamic sound. Creedence sounds like a band that could go in any direction at any moment and yet clearly possessed a high level of musicianship. In that sense they’re a lot like The Band was around that time, albeit with a little more party in them. “Long as I can See the Light” delivers the emotional punch with Fogerty and company exploding with sweet soul. And speaking of soul, I revisted Adele’s first SNL performance recently and was reminded what a powerful performer she is. I’ve neglected her albums in favor of occasionally listening to her singles endlessly on repeat for a few days but I hadn’t heard her early cut “Chasing Pavements” for a long time and man was it worth the wait. As a singer Adele is something like the antithesis of a Lana del Ray: wistfulness is replaced by emotional directness while she wraps her melancholy in the sounds of old soul songstresses.
I’ve already told you how I feel about the new Vampire Weekend album so I’ll spare you the redundancy, suffice it to say that “Unbelievers” ranks amongst my current favorite songs. Skipping ahead to the total rock of Marnie Stern and David Bowie bringing things to a peak with back to back monster rockers. Stern was one of those discoveries I made a few years ago that had me jumping up and down. I’d put her on whenever I needed physical motivation because it’s just not possible to rock the fuck out to her pop infused take on hair metal. She also has the best titled album of 2013, hands down. In just over three minutes, “You Don’t Turn Down” effortlessly captures everything that she excels at: technique, riffage, space and timing. Bowie’s White Stripes-esque rocker “(You Will) Set the World On Fire” was an early standout from his appropriately titled The Next Day (2013). I’ve come back to it over and over again marveling at how the 66-year-old Bowie sounds younger and more musically agile than the waves of bands who’ve called him an inspiration over the years. While his latest hasn’t stuck with me quite as well as I’d hoped, I deeply respect contemporary Bowie for being a grandfather of rock who is clearly not content to trade in on his legacy.
The somber rock of Ex Cops (I’d been holding on to “Separator” for nearly 3 months before finding a good place for it), catchy synth pop of newcomers CHVRCHES and the second installment of songs from Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, Bobby Womack’s stone cold classic “Across 110th Street”, round things out for “streets & deserts.” Enjoy.
Kathleen – Townes Van Zandt (from ‘Our Mother the Mountain’ )
The Waiting – Angel Olsen (from ‘Half Way Home’ )
Across 110th Street – Bobby Womack & Peace (from ‘Across 110th Streeet Soundtrack’ )
Southern Man – Neil Young (from ‘After the Goldrush’ (1970)]
Shame Chamber – Kurt Vile (from ‘Wakin On A Pretty Daze’ (2013)]
Long as I Can See the Light – Creedence Clearwater Revival (from ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ )
Chasing Pavements – Adele (from ‘Hometown Glory EP’ )
Recover – CHVRCHES [from ‘Recover EP’ (2013)]
Separator – Ex Cops (from ‘True Hallucinations’ )
Unbelievers – Vampire Weekend (from ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ )
You Don’t Turn Down – Marnie Stern (from ‘The Chronicles of Marnia’ )
(You Will) Set the World On Fire – David Bowie (from ‘The Next Day’ )