It's good to be back. It's been almost nine months since Volume 61 was released, and to say that I've missed making these mixes would be an understatement. Like I said, The Dylan Samson Mix Series is really my way to share some of the music I love with the world, and boy has a lot of great music come my way in the past nine months. I've talked about it with friends, played it at parties, ranted about it on the internet, but none of that gives me quite the same feeling as sharing it with others who might never have experienced it before. Yeah, it's good to be back.
So, now that we are back, here's this week's mix. Volume 62 of The Dylan Samson Mix Series is called "Love is Looking for You," and features music from James Blake, Chance the Rapper, and all dogs. Those interested in finding it should head to St. Marks Ave. in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
1. Run the Jewels : Run the Jewels
I wanted to start season 6 with a bang, and try as I might, I can't really think of a song that achieves that goal quite this well. Run the Jewels' self titled introduction pulls no punches. Killer Mike and El-P want you to know that they're better than you at everything they do, better at rapping, better at beat-making, and most of all, better at shit talking. So to make sure you don't forget, they'll rattle the floorboards and pound your eardrums, demanding you sit up and pay attention. Quite a way to start, no?
2. Prince : Controversy
Sexy like only Prince could be. It's the beat. It's the little guitar trills. It's an unplaceable quality that just oozes out of this song. Even without the lyrics, "Controversy" would lose none of it's alluring qualities. And, more importantly, it would still make us feel alive in a way that only Prince really could.
3. Jay-Z & Kanye West : Gotta Have It
The end of the five song run that opens "Watch the Throne," is arguably its best. A dead simple beat that shows off Kanye's incredible ability to craft a song around a fantastic Soul sample, while he and Jay deliver another blunt but wonderful lesson on wealth and power. Is "Gotta Have It" the most well drawn hip-hop song to cover this topic? Far from it. But damn, does it bump.
4. James Blake : Timeless
A clear standout from James Blake's excellent third album, "Timeless" does a lot with very little. There aren't a lot of sounds on this song. Not a lot of lyrics either. But what is there is used so effectively that you're rarely found wanting for more. In fact, Blake changes things up enough, that the song never ends up feeling repetitive or stale, something many other "minimalist" electronic songs can often struggle with. It holds your attention where others could not, introducing a new element or an interesting sonic callback right before the moment you'd otherwise start to lose interest. The result is an exercise in withholding, in giving just enough to maintain control over a song and an audience, but never enough to become predictable.
5. Simon & Garfunkel : America
“America” is a song as a synecdoche. It’s about us as people, us as a country, us as an idea. But no, you say, it’s not about us. It’s about two young lovers on a journey across our country. And you’re right, it is about that. But in three minutes and thirty seconds, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel have made something that seems to represent and stand for everything that is our country. It celebrates what makes us great and is honest about our flaws. It’s wistful for a bygone era, but not convinced that what we’ve been left with isn’t still beautiful in its own, flawed way. It is us. We are it. It is America.
6. The National : Bloodbuzz Ohio
If “High Violet” was the album during which The National finally perfected their sound, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is the moment where that was sound is crystalized. The driving, off-kilter drums of Bryan Devendorf. The Dessner brothers’ swirling guitars. Matt Berninger’s incredible, driving baritone. The use of additional musicians in a way that is almost never immediately identifiable, but seems completely essential. It’s all here, and it feels like the achievement that it is. Finding your sound is hard enough, perfecting it is something many bands never quite reach. So if doing so is an epic achievement, it’s only fitting to hit that milestone in a song that feels just as epic.
7. Arcade Fire : Month of May
I don't really like this song. I really don't like this band. But, what can I say, "Month of May" just works works here. It kicks, it drives, and acts as a perfect segue between The National and Courtney Barnett. I guess sometimes you just have to put differences aside.
8. Courtney Barnett : Pedestrian at Best
There are moments when Courtney Barnett reminds me of Woody Guthrie. He lyrics act like a newsreel, but for her own life. She writes what she sees, it's just that what she sees is highly specific to her own worldview. Then there are moments when she doesn't remind me of Woodie at all, writing in stream of consciousness about the banalities of everyday life. She contradicts herself in the span of seconds, but always in a way that feels completely organic, as if her lyrics are simply a transcript of her own thoughts. By melding these two lyrical styles, she's given us an album’s worth of talking blues for the modern era, and done so with an effortless nonchalance of someone who is wildly confident in their own work. Most musicians work their entire careers to achieve that level of self-assuredness. For Barnett, this is just the beginning.
9. Chance the Rapper feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz : No Problem
This past May, I took a trip to Los Angeles. I'd never been to the city before, and while I know I'm much better suited as a New Yorker than I would be as a Californian, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my time in the city, particularly with the amount of driving I had to do. I don't really love driving in cities, it's too much work. But driving around LA in my rental car, the cool ocean breeze drifting in through the open windows and the joyous verses of Chance the Rapper's "Coloring Book" blaring out of the stereo, it felt good. It felt right. I likely won't be upending my life and heading west, but songs like "No Problem" definitely helped me find its appeal.
10. Danny Brown : Smokin & Drinkin
It’s been somewhat surprising to see the way reactions to the back half of Danny Brown’s incredible 2013 album, “Old,” have evolved since the album was released. Hell, even Brown himself seems to slightly dismiss those tracks’ EDM influenced insanity as something he felt he had to do to succeed in the festival circuit. But those songs have some of my favorite Danny Brown moments from his entire catalogue. They’re party anthems with weight, barn burners with an underlying darkness. You can’t listen to a line like “Gotta get away, to escape, I smoke this kush to the face” without pausing for a minute to consider what this guy is actually saying. There’s pain in these songs. It’s just putting on a brave face, clenching its teeth and partying with the rest of the group, because the only thing worse than having all that pain would be if everyone else knew about it too.
11. Kendrick Lamar : Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.
I was initially a little disappointed when Kendrick left what would come to be referred to as “Untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.” off of “To Pimp a Butterfly.” In retrospect the song would not have fit cleanly into that album, but at the time I remember wishing I had a good recording of it. That’s because not 3 months before “To Pimp a Butterfly” was released, Kendrick had performed the song on one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report, and had completely blown me away. It was such an intense performance, dealing with extremely complex themes (ones that would be echoed and explored further on “To Pimp a Butterfly”), and he was premiering it live. No one had ever heard this before. The last song Kendrick had released was “i,” a song that (outside the larger context of the album) felt like a kind of inspirational pop-rap anthem. But this was dealing in ideas of identity and the relationship of talent and capitalism. This was a complex song that foreshadowed what was still to come for Kendrick in the following year, so when it was left off “To Pimp a Butterfly,” I was a little disappointed. Now though, I can delve into one of my favorite Kendrick songs whenever I wish.
12. all dogs : That Kind of Girl
So now, we'll end on something of a lighter note. all dogs’ debut wasn't supposed to be some high stakes, major record. No, it’s an album full of simple, garage rock songs. And it’s great for that. Sometimes, you really don’t want anything more.