Wow. That's really all I can come up with right now as a reaction to the fact that this is the 60th mix in The Dylan Samson Mix Series. I'll be the first to admit I didn't expect it would get this far. Didn't expect I'd be doing this for fun once the radio-fueled-need for these mixes dried up. Definitely didn't expect anyone else to ever write about them.
I think it's safe to say this whole thing has fully defied my expectations.
Reminiscing aside, it's pretty cool to be back with Volume 60, which I'm calling "Good Thing." This month's mix features new tracks from Rustie, Joanna Newsom, and Saintseneca, as well as songs from Dan Deacon, The Rapture, and Sparklehorse. Those interested can find it on W 12th Street in Coney Island.
1. Rustie : Coral Elixrr
It's safe to say that "EVENIFYOUDONTBELIEVE" was something of a return to form for Rustie. That's not to say that "Green Language" was a bad album, far from it, but it did mark a startling change to the sound that had blown us all away on "Glass Swords." I'm often in favor of artists striking out in new directions, taking what made us love them, and building on that to explore new territory. But when something sounds as good as the crystalline guitar tones and synth waves that wash across the landscape of "Coral Elixrr," it's hard to be anything but thrilled that Rustie seems to be heading back towards where he started.
2. Justin Timberlake : Pusher Love Girl
One might think that Justin Timberlake's music isn't really to my taste. "Isn't he a little too Top-40 for you?" It's a fair assumption, but, well you know what they say about those. No, in fact I really love Timberlake's music, mainly because of how frequently he experiments with sounds and plays with the pop song form. Look at the way "Pusher Love Girl" moves in and out of distinct sections, almost as if it were a composed piece. It starts with a clear overture, a swell of almost over-produced strings, then moves into the classic, verse-hook-verse-hook-bridge-hook song form. In fact, it almost sounds like the song is about about to end around the 4:50 mark, but it doesn't. Instead, Timberlake spends the next three minutes breaking the song apart, creating something almost entirely new from the pieces. This back half isn't different enough to be a new track — it's entirely dependent on the first half to exist — but it enhances what came before. In the space of almost 7 minutes he creates and deconstructs the pop song, creating something all the more illuminating as a result.
3. Dan Deacon : Sheathed Wings
My first interaction with this song came during a Dan Deacon show at 285 Kent in early 2014, as part of a string of farewell shows put on before the now legendary DIY venue shut its doors forever. The song was different then, (there’s video to prove it), but honestly, I don’t really remember much about the way it sounded. My experience that night was almost all tactile and emotional. I spent much of the night holding on to Deacon’s light stand, making sure the far-over-capacity crowd didn’t knock it over as he performed on the floor. At some point during the night, he taught me how to use his rig while he went and had a dance off. At other points, my fellow concert goers took over the light-holding duties so I could dance a little bit. But there was one moment, a moment that definitely took place during his performance of “Sheathed Wings,” that has stuck with me. Someone else must have been handling the lights, because at some point I simply spun around, surveying the landscape of writhing bodies that surrounded me, and noticed a woman wearing what can only be described as a headdress of glowing tubes (again, watch the video and you’ll see what I’m talking about), dancing on one of the amps that was directly above me. And as the song crescendoed to its euphoric climax, I raised my hands towards towards those dangling tubes, and gave a joyous, primal scream, one that was immediately lost among the sound that Deacon currently was filling the room with. It was a beautiful, cathartic moment, one I can’t separate from the song. I’m not sure how it effects others — hell, it might be the most universally hated track on “Gliss Riffer” — but every time I hear “Sheathed Wings,” I can’t help but feel that same, unadulterated joy that I felt throughout that entire performance.
4. Peaches : Dick in the Air
Why aren’t there more think pieces written about Peaches? With her explicitly sexual lyrics and radically-feminist positions, she would be kind of a perfect profile subject, yet I don’t see people discussing her music all that frequently. Maybe it’s the fact that her music is SO sexually explicit, to the point that people have trouble approaching it or presenting it to others. Whatever the reason, it really needs to change. Her music is too good — too clever, too fun, too smart — for her to be thought of through a single prism. More people need to listen to Peaches. More people need to know and discuss her art. It’s as simple as that.
5. David Bowie : Fame
Did you really think I wasn't going to include a Bowie song on this month's mix? After he announces he'll be releasing a new album next month. Come on.
6. New York Dolls : Personality Crisis
I have such a special place in my heart for The New York Dolls. It’s not just their their influence as pre-punk luminaries, not just their importance in the world of gender identity (particularly as a band from the early 70s). No, it’s their energy that makes me love them so much. It’s the way “Personality Crisis” comes crashing through your speakers like no song before it ever had, and like no song really would again until “Blitzkrieg Bop” came out three years later. It’s lightning in a bottle: something that’s hard to really capture, and even harder to contain once you’ve got it.
7. Joanna Newsom : Leaving the City
As much as I talk about my love of the pop song and song craft, I hope it’s clear that I have an equal appreciation for more traditionally-composed music. I could talk to you about contrary motion and part writing for as long as I could talk about melodic arc and lyric structure, it’s just that the pieces which would lead to those kinds of conversations (mostly classical works) don’t really fit into the mixtape format. This is one of the reasons I love Joanna Newsom so much; her songs straddle that line so beautifully. She’s clearly classically trained (is there such a thing as a self-taught harpist?), and definitely knows how to effectively orchestrate a complicated piece, but she also knows how a song should fit together. Listen to the breakdowns in “Leaving the City,” the way the horns perfectly accentuate and compliment her descending vocal melody, while the drums pull everything into the back beat, throwing everything that has come before it off balance. It’s clearly a composed and masterfully arranged piece, but it feels more like a rock song than anything “composed” and “arranged” normally describe. It’s moments like this that make Newsom a musician who refuses to be classified, who equally attracts high and low society, and then repeatedly confounds the expectations of each group.
8. Saintseneca : Necker Cube
I know I just included a song by Saintseneca on the mix before last, but “Such Things” proved to be far too good to ignore for another month. It’s represents the most logical evolution of a band that — no matter how much I loved this period in their career — was always destined to be much bigger than the floor stomping house shows where I first encountered them. All the elements that made me fall in love with Saintseneca are still here, they’re just refined and shown in a different way. The dual-lead vocals from Zac Little and Maryn Jones are almost Lennon-McCartney-esque, and Little’s lyrics which blur together religious and romantic imagery are stronger than ever. Their larger, more electric sound might be a bit of a shock to those who came to the band with “Last,” but once you spend some time with “Such Things,” it’s pretty clear that Saintseneca have lost none of what made them great. They’re simply presenting that greatness through a different lens.
9. Harry Nilsson : Coconut
I love this song for it’s deceiving-simplicity. On paper, Nilsson never really lets the song change all that much. It’s the same lyrics over and over, the same basic chord structure and instrumentation. Yet, when you listen to it, it’s clear that over the course of almost 4 minutes, absolutely everything changes. “Coconut” exists entirely in it’s energy, it’s push and pull, it’s steady crescendo that suddenly peaks and leaves us all astonished. It’s the perfect example of how some elements of music simply can’t be captured with a pen, you have to listen to understand.
10. Savages : She Will
Two years after releasing “Silence Yourself,” I still don’t feel like I have a really good handle on Savages. This is strange for me. Normally if I don’t immediately understand what makes a band or a song work, a few listens will make that clear to me. But with Savages, I just can’t figure it out. Are they all hype, or is there something more substantial there? Are they just re-treading the same post-punk ground that The Strokes did in the early 2000s, or are their discussions of sexuality and gender rolls enough to make them really stand out? I honestly don’t know, and for me, not only is that highly frustrating, it’s highly intriguing.
11. The Rapture : House of Jealous Lovers
At times, “House of Jealous Lovers” feels like the best and worst parts of The Talking Heads and their influence over Dance-Punk has been condensed into 5 minutes. It’s jagged, a-tonal melody. It’s repetitive structure, and noisy, occasionally unnecessary dissonance. Frankly there are parts of this song that I really don’t like. But then there’s that driving, melodic bass line. Those simple, perfect drums. That fucking cowbell! You can’t help but move to this song, and that not only makes you instantly forgive it's other transgressions, it makes you jump back in with both feet.
12. Sparklehorse : Someday I Will Treat You Good
I still occasionally have a hard time listening to Sparklehorse. Not because Mark Linkous’ music is anything other than beautiful, but because the wound left by his death is still a little too raw. Losing a hero will do that. That’s not to say I didn’t weep to songs like “Junebug” or “Sad and Beautiful World” before while Linkous was still around, but they take on a new kind of poignancy now that he’s gone. Even this one, an un-disputed rocker, has a strain of pain and heartbreak flowing through it. Its confident power chords can’t hide the fragility of its lead singer, a fragility that made it feel like every Sparklehorse song took a little piece of Mark Linkous’ soul, and put it on display for his audience to explore and appreciate. It’s just hard to do that now that he’s gone.