So, here we are. We’ve arrived at the final mix of 2015.
That might not seem like a huge deal, but 2015 was something of a big year for me, so indulge me for a bit longer than usual while I reminisce. This time last year these mixes were the furthest thing from my mind. I was working a job that was becoming ever more frustrating, doing what little writing I could in my free time. My entire online-music-output was taken up by the assigned listenings I had been posting for about 3 months, and had recently built out my website to facilitate a better way of organizing them.
All in all, a mixed bag.
Then came 2015, and within the first week I lost my job. I was still working other odd-gigs here and there, but I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands. Time during which I started thinking about those mixes I used to make. I had already started archiving many of them, with the intent of making a new section for my website, but I started thinking, “Why don’t I make more of these?”
So I started thinking about re-starting The Dylan Samson Mix Series, and what it would take to do so. What would go into making each mix? How often would they come out? What the cases would look like? How I would promote them online? Would I make the playlists available via streaming services? When would the first mix drop? I had the answers to most of these questions by the time Volume 53 was released last March, but as those of you who have been following this crazy endeavor for the past year have probably noticed, I’m still figuring parts of it out as we go along.
What does the future hold for these mixes? I’m honestly not sure. As of right now, the plan is to continue just the way we have this past year, releasing a new mix once a month. It’s very possible that will be the case, but it would be a lie to say it’s definite. I’m in a very different place with regards to my workload than I was this time last year, and it’s definitely harder to keep making these mixes every month, let alone keep them at the quality level I expect. I’m playing with some new ideas, but at this point, it will be safest not to assume anything.
But, that’s then. Right now, it’s time to talk about this month’s mix. Volume 61: Loft Music, drops today and it’s unique for a couple reasons. First of all, it doesn’t include all that much brand new music. What it does have is songs from Public Enemy, Fugazi, Jungle and Phosphorescent, as well as a few songs from my favorite albums of 2015 (don’t worry, no “best of the year” mixes will be tolerated here). Secondly, this is the first (and possibly only) mix that has been left on the streets of Chicago. New Yorkers, do not fret. I’ll be back with more mixes for you in the near future, but in the mean time Chicagoans can find this month’s mix on West Fulton Market in the West Loop.
Thanks again to all of you who have stayed with us all year. It’s been a pretty stellar one, and hopefully, 2016 will be even better.
1. D'Angelo and the Vanguard : Ain't That Easy
It seems only appropriate that we start at the beginning, that we close out 2015 with a song that helped usher it in. The moment D’Angelo released “Black Messiah” to the world was somewhat astonishing. We had that announcement on a Friday evening, but no release date. Then the next morning, we had the first song, a clicky, sexy thumper called “Sugah Daddy.” And then, that following Monday, there it was. “Black Messiah.” I remember listening to it on repeat all day, almost never stopping to take time and evaluate what I was hearing. Instead, I just let it wash over me, marinating in its luscious grooves. “He’s done it,” I remember thinking. D’Angelo had somehow managed to make an album that, despite an almost 15 year wait, blew past any expectations his audience had built up in that time. He’d managed to walk away from the hype created after the release of Voodoo — a task that, in his own words, is not easy to accomplish — and return, over a decade later, stronger than ever. With Black Messiah, D’Angelo returned not only as modern R&B’s favorite son, but as its savior.
2. Public Enemy : Fight the Power
In a year of racial and political upheaval, it felt only right to include the seminal protest anthem from rap music’s original radicals.
3. Tame Impala : Eventually
“Currents” made it very clear that Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker really doesn’t give a fuck about your expectations. After being lauded as a modern rock and roll icon, after songs like “Elephant” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” made it onto every television show, commercial, and millennial rock fan’s Spotify playlists, he decides to make a hard right turn, and release an album that is more guided by pop and electronic music than anything rock has to offer. That’s a good thing to, because instead of sounding like the hundreds of other psyche rock records, Parker has found a sound that is (quite literally) completely his own. Though “Currents” is not the only Tame Impala album recorded entirely by Parker, it’s the first one that feels like he’s truly alone. He’s not going for the sound of a band, but rather for the sound of himself. Here’s to hoping Parker follows this thread, that he refuses to cave to fans who just want another “Lonerism,” and continues to make records that are completely on his own, that he keeps them grounded them in pop songform, and makes them sound exactly the way he wants them to sound.
4. The Knife : Heartbeats
Though it can be pretty easy to make fun José Gonzales’ overly earnest cover of this song, his version helps to illustrate what makes this original so great. “Heartbeats” works no matter what the style is, because its core is strong. Interesting and complex lyrics, a good melody, a confessional style. The original is, as is often the case, significantly better than the imitators, with a far more interesting sonic pallet and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s truly unique voice, but when a song’s foundation is this rock-solid, it can be molded into whatever form you like.
5. The Notorious B.I.G. : Hypnotize
I really wish I had more to say here, a more profound reason for putting this song on this mix. The simple fact is I’ve been wanting to include it on a mix for some time now, and it sounded really great right after The Knife. As much as I’d like a more profound reason, I don’t really need one in this case.
6. Fugazi : Waiting Room
It’s kind of strange to think that this was the very first Fugazi song released to the world. As much as that band grew over the course of their 13 year existence, they were astonishingly realized from the start. Joe Lally’s now legendary bass line, Ian MaKaye’s shout-sung vocals, the dueling guitars and Brendan Cantys staccato, perfectly behind-the-beat drumming, all of these elements come up elsewhere in the band’s now legendary output. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s somewhat impressive that, with a few sonic tweaks, their first song could could fit perfectly almost anywhere in Fugazi’s timeline. Because really, show me another band who pulled something like that off without ever sounding stagnant. Can’t, can ya?
7. The Weeknd : House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
Abel Tesfaye’s career arc has been somewhat fascinating to watch. He started as this true outsider, as a weird guy in Toronto making very forward thinking R&B about excess and its emptiness. And now he’s a pop star, making top 40 songs about… well, about excess and its emptiness. He’s covering the same territory, just for a much larger audience. The thing is though, as much as I’d love to say “Abel, we get it, give us some new topics,” he handles his subject matter so well, it’s kind of hard to complain.
8. Jungle : Busy Earnin'
I could write a long paragraph about this song, about its video, about its place in Jungle’s debut album. Instead I’ll just say this: god it’s sexy.
9. Aesop Rock feat. Metro : Fast Cars
“Def Jux Mutha Fucka!!”
10. Phosphorescent : I am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)
This song seems to be something of a balancing act, flirting back and forth between a sloppy, drunken march, and an upbeat indie rocker. It does so quite well, with Matthew Houck’s vocals exuding a warm, loving sound, that suggests the themes of romance well before the lyrics catch up. Whether or not that romance is induced by mind altering substances is an unknown, but Houck’s ability to express that kind of ambiguity without directly addressing it is somehow more appropriate. After all, once you’ve sobered up, it’s never the specifics that matter, just the feelings the whole experience evoked.
11. The National : Graceless
The notion of grace is difficult to truly describe. In my mind it tends to fall under the category of, “I know it when I see it.” So for The National to attempt to tackle it in just over 4 minutes, while also dealing with themes of mortality and drug induced numbness is, to say the very least, impressive. These aren’t un-related topics, but they’re big, big enough that any attempt to fully cover them will leave you flat on your face. But The National are too smart for that. They’re not trying to cover these topics, just to evoke imagery around them. The internal and external conflicts they cause, the fear of the end, and the strong, stop-dead-in-your-tracks beauty of witnessing something that is truly graceful.
12. Sleater-Kinney : Bury Our Friends
Did you watch the music video for “No Cities to Love?” The one where Sleater-Kinney had a bunch of their celebrity friends singing along to the song, without much context or revealing what the whole song actually sounded like? I know, that’s a totally different song that isn’t included on this mix, but stick with me. There’s something I really love about that video, something about it that seems to perfectly capture what is so great about Sleater-Kinney’s music (and about punk rock in general). It’s how all these people — celebrity friends of the band — sing along at the top of their lungs, regardless of their skills as singers. That kind of singing is cathartic, especially when surrounded by other likeminded individuals — best friends or complete strangers — who are also singing along at the top of their lungs. It builds bonds, it releases emotions, and more often than not, it sounds terrible. So when the audio tracks from each video get layered on top of one another, and it feels like a huge group of people singing along at the top of their lungs, it evokes one of the greatest feelings music is capable of evoking: the feeling of unconditional acceptance.
13. LCD Soundsystem : Freak Out/Starry Eyes
I’ll save my freak-outs about the new LCD Soundsystem song for next year. For now, all I’ll say is that “Freak Out/Starry Eyes” is just another example of why Pat Mahoney stands alone atop the mountain of modern drummers.
14. Kendrick Lamar : The Blacker the Berry
Both as a single, and in sequence on an album, “The Blacker the Berry” feels like a slap to the face. Its brutally honest racial politics leave you completely stunned, while it’s personal openness and internal conflict are as raw as they get. Rappers don’t do this kind of thing. Hell, people in general don’t go digging around in a deep wound in the way Kendrick does here — well, not unless they’re John Lennon making “Plastic Ono Band” after months of primal scream therapy. It’s unsettling to say the least, to see an artist so actively try and explore his own discomfort, his own pain, without regard for his audience’s comfort. But frankly, your comfort doesn’t matter. Not when someone is so publicly baring their soul, their pain, their confusion. When that happens, you really just need to stand back, really listen, and then see how their raw expression affects you.
15. Tom Waits : Come On Up to the House
And we finish up this year with a dirge, a warped New Orleans style funeral march, lead by the strangest of all grand marshals. It felt only appropriate, to bring this year to a close, this chapter to a close, with Tom Waits wailing about a comforting acceptance after a long bout of suffering. Whether you take this song as religious or just humane, it’s its imagery that makes “Come On Up to the House” so beautiful. The idea that there will always be some place ready to accept you and make you feel better— even when it’s a weirdo like Waits’ beckoning you in — is endlessly appealing. There’s always a port in whatever storm you’re weathering. You just need to be willing to head towards it.