Libby’s First Mixtape is an ongoing series of music mixes I make for my younger sister. Her name is 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.
So it’s been a while. For the most part, this new mix is a collection of tracks I had on repeat this past summer and has been in my sister’s possession for a little while. I wanted to throw them up here because I regularly return to this mix. Though these tracks range in tone and message they each uniquely possess a kind of hazy, engorged quality. Alternatingly exuberant, longing, fun and fresh these songs collectively feel like summer. They range from the revelatory to the Top 40 and all the way back.
Full disclosure: I really enjoyed Sleigh Bells first album Treats (2010) in particular the song “Rill Rill” which breaks up the redlining rock of the record with some bubblegum pop goodness over a looping piano sample. Flash forward three years to 3am one morning warm summer morning. Stone cold sober, I found myself with a girl I rather liked at a Ahli Baba’s Kabob Shop in downtown Burlington, VT. Said girl had never had falafel before and I hadn’t had it since I lived in Montreal more than five years prior. The friendly counter culture icon employed there, whose DIY style of working included leaving customers unattended in the closet sized restaurant while she went out for a cigarette, helped us with our order by recommending some additions to the basic falafel on their menu. We were just settling into our meal when a twangy guitar lick came over the stereo followed by the crashing of an upright piano that instantly transformed into a cool harmonic pedal. I knew this piano! But I didn’t know this song. It was like something out of a Wes Anderson movie as the counter girl strolled out of the shop, seemingly in slow motion, while the two of us remained, in quiet ecstasy, enjoying our cosmic coincidence slathered in tahini. This track, the theme of my summer, was Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That,” sampled by Sleigh Bells in 2010 and greatly enjoyed in both versions by me. It’s a shimmering nugget of 70s funk and soul. Every time I hear it I get a little taste of fried chickpeas and warm pita.
Though I never cared much for The Fiery Furnaces, I absolutely loved Eleanor Friedberger’s sincerely idiosyncratic debut solo record Last Summer (2011). She also has the best bangs of any woman on the indie circuit right now. She returned this year with Personal Record which is notably more accessible but no less addictive. The blistering “Stare at the Sun” has all the fiery energy of The Velvet Underground without all the sneering. It fits in comfortably within Personal Record‘s collection of mature mid-tempo rockers. This exploration of 70s tones both authentic and revivalist quickly gives way to a few club bangers. The trifecta of “Banana Clipper” “Oh Sheit It’s X” and “Your Drums, Your Love” represent an energetic stretch of thumping hip-hop, ADD funk and smooth electronica.
Killer Mike and El-P teamed up last year for Mike’s album R.A.P. Music and out of that collaboration sprung the duo’s Run The Jewels project. Their self-titled record is inarguably the best free album of the year (note: no longer free, but do yourself a favor and buy it here) and easily takes its place alongside this summer’s hip-hop heavy hitters. Interviews seem to suggest that the two are happy to stand outside the squabbling of the hip-hop world and simply go for each other’s throats, producing some of the tightest, most captivating verses of the year. Big Boi steps into add that “old Atlanta” sound and he’s in top form alongside this pair of cunning linguists. Next up, Flying Lotus collaborator Thundercat offers an amusing club odyssey with “Oh Sheit It’s X.” It’s carried along by an infectious bubbly bass lines and the singer’s dynamic vocal range. Club funk gives way to “Your Drums, Your Love,” the standout track from AlunaGeorge’s debut full length. After a smattering of EPs, singles and remixes the UK duo unleashed upon the world a remarkably cohesive record that is equally indebted to 90s R&B and the Neptunes. Of the two flaming hot electronic records that flew in from across the Atlantic this summer straight from London, I’d have to go with AlunaGeorge’s Body Music over remix wunderkinds Disclosure’s Settle if only for the sense of the playful personality that the former demonstrated by closing their record with an evidently unironic cover of the 90s classic dance floor “This Is How We Do It.”
Things get dialed back a bit with Andrew Bird’s bittersweet “Lazy Projector.” One of two releases from last year, Break It Yourself initially flew under my radar. I hadn’t spent much time with Bird since high school and, well, you know how that story goes. Of course I love when an overlooked record incidentally finds its way back into the rotation as Angel Olsen’s startling Halfway Home did for me early in July, cropping up in a late night listening session/indoor picnic that went some pretty powerful places for me and my companion. Like Olsen, Bird’s music is for night drives in the country. His melodies need room to breathe and those whistles just don’t sound right unless they’ve got space to really reverberate. “Lazy Projector” spools out a clever metaphor about the selective nature of memory and finds Bird consoling himself with aphorisms (“too many cooks in the kitchen/how the mighty must fall”) before exploding into the tracks defensive catharsis proclaiming to an unseen lover “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all.” The track is emblematic of Bird’s “live” studio sound that is full of emotion and vitality. Break It Yourself made me want to work backwards through his extensive catalog.
I worked at an arts camp for 12-17 year-olds this summer and among my many roles was DJing the wrap parties at the end of each of the camp’s three sessions. During the first session I made the folly of playing the music I would dance to: LCD Soundsystem, Aretha Franklin, Basement Jaxx, etc. This did not go over well with the pubescent crowd. During the interim weeks I educated myself on Top 40 pop and that was where I first heard Robin Thicke nestled in alongside Daft Punk’s played-to-death single “Get Lucky.” Thicke has been the subject of some serious feminist backlash and without defending his comically blatant misogyny I would point out that I think he’s become a bit a scapegoat: the poster boy for a legion of male artists who possess a rather crooked idea of what women want and why they want it. Still, I liked “Blurred Lines” independent of this complex web of gender polemics for long enough to stick it on this mix and now I skip it without a second thought.
J. Cole is not one of my favorite rappers. His second full length, Born Sinner, embarrassingly released in a misguided attempt to compete with Jay Z’s enjoyably irrelevant retiree opus Magna Carta Holy Grail and Kanye West’s startling Yeezus, spends far too much time celebrating its idols. It ultimately fails to take risks and sounds like Cole believes he’s at the round table of hip-hop after just two albums. Nevertheless “Born Sinner” the album’s eponymous closing track is a rousing meditation on guilt and redemption. It aims for the personal, exploring similar territory to The Sideline Story‘s “Lost Ones” and is undeniably successful. It’s too bad Born Sinner doesn’t spend more time in this earnestly, contemplative mode as Cole is a technically talented rapper who tends to talk about what he anticipates his audience wants to hear (mostly sex) rather than expounding on his fascinating position as a formally educated, mixed-race young man with a complex position within the hip-hop community.
“Miracle Drug” is the shuffling opener from A.C. Newman’s The Slow Wonder (2004), a lean power pop hit machine from one of the noteworthy songwriters behind The New Pornographers. I’m not sure how this album ended up in my rotation but over the course of the summer Newman’s cryptic lyricism and hook filled songwriting was known to cause speed walking and spontaneous fist pumping. Taking things down a few notches before spiraling out blissfully, Speedy Ortiz mixes Liz Phair with Pavement and comes on the crest of the 90s nostalgia wave that several young bands (most notably, Yuck) have been mining with mixed results. When I first heard “No Below” I listened to it on repeat at least half a dozen times, becoming more engrossed with each repetition. It’s delicate melody, dynamic range and beautiful, cacophonous climax create a space that is at once intimate and enormous. Major Arcana is a terrific record that veers from the viciously sardonic to the claustrophobically honest.
Things get wrapped up with Franz Ferdinand’s come-down anthem “Brief Encounters” and Alela Diane’s melancholic “Hazel Street.” The former comes from the band’s fourth record, which initially shoots for their post-punk glory days before transforming into something between the sing-songy You Could Have Had It So Much Better (2005) and the unremarkable Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (2009). “Brief Encounters” dubby lilt rescues the back half of the record from mediocrity. In general, my musical exploration tends to follow broad trends but more and more frequently I find myself stepping outside these arenas in order to embrace outlier records that I might have otherwise passed over. I am rarely disappointed by what I find in this exercise. Alela Diane’s sound is similar in concept and execution to Angel Olsen but lacks a definitive trademark. Her husky voice is sweet and lonesome. It effectively transmits the aftermath of a rural breakup where I found moments that touched on my own romantic experience. Still, it’s a record that has yet to worm its way into my heart.
Edit: As Run The Jewels and Thundercat have not made their records available on Spotify, I will not be posting a playlist of this mix. However, I encourage you to look up any and all of these songs.
Can You Get To That – Funkadelic [from ‘Maggot Brain’ (1970)]
Stare at the Sun – Eleanor Friedberger [from ‘Personal Record’ (2013)]
Banana Clipper ft. Big Boi – Run The Jewels (from ‘Run The Jewels’ (2013)]
Oh Sheit it’s X – Thundercat (from ‘Apocalypse’ )
Your Drums, Your Love – AlunaGeorge (from ‘Body Music’ )
Lazy Projector – Andrew Bird (from ‘Break It Yourself’ )
Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke (Single )
Born Sinner – J. Cole (from ‘Born Sinner’ )
Miracle Drug – A.C. Newman (from ‘The Slow Wonder’ )
No Below – Speedy Ortiz (from ‘Major Arcana’ )
Brief Encounters – Franz Ferdinand (from ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions )
Hazel Street – Alela Diane (from ‘About Farewell’ )