We're half way there people! Crazy that we're already six weeks into this, and I still haven't missed a week. Volume 67 of The Dylan Samson Mix Series is out today. It includes new music from Danny Brown, Dirty Projectors, and Aphex Twin, as well as songs from The Avalanches and The Magnetic Fields. Those interested in grabbing the physical copy should look on Stuyvesant Avenue in Bed-Stuy.
1. Beck : Devils Haircut
Weird to think that it’s been 20 years since “Odelay” was released. Not because it makes me feel old — at 5 years old, I’ve been told the only music I was aware of at the time was whatever was on Radio Disney — but because it feels like such a watershed moment in Beck’s career. That’s not to say his previous releases were not excellent in their own right. Hell, you can even here the root of what makes “Odelay” so excellent in the rap-influenced vocal delivery of 1994’s “Loser.” No, what makes “Odelay” feel so special is that it marks the moment that Beck became almost synonymous with the word “weird,” when his albums became less associated with any one particular sound, and more with Beck’s developing identity as a sonic explorer. Hip-hop, folk, punk, experimental noise music, straight-up pop – the only constant on a Beck record has been Beck himself. Over the last 20 years, the only thing that has guided each release are whatever sounds he’s been interested in when he starts recording. “Odelay” marks the beginning of this period for Beck, marks the point when it became clear that following his own impulses would. more often than not, lead to something truly special.
2. The Beastie Boys : Shake Your Rump
Another milestone in a group’s career, once again ushered in by the Dust Brothers. Closing in on 30 years since it’s release, it has become completely impossible to talk about “Paul’s Boutique” without discussing the truly groundbreaking production work of Michael Simpson and John King. Through their dense, rapid fire use of sampling, Simpson and King helped re-position that skill set, making it less about creating a groove and sonically quoting other pop-culture markers, and more about creating a world. Listen to “Paul’s Boutique” and you’ll get the feeling of a vibrant, diverse city: a little dangerous, a little dirty, packed full of things that you’ve never seen or experienced before. They present a twisted, warped version of the world from which hip-hop was born, almost as if it was seen through a funhouse mirror. And from there, we get the Beastie Boys, in all their clever, excitable glory, ready to put their unique spin on something that came before them.
3. The Uncluded : Delicate Cycle
Though its central metaphor is a bit tortured, it’s hard to deny the wildly enjoyable qualities of “Delicate Cycle.” The upbeat, punchy acoustic guitar, the little toy xylophone dings, Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson’s lyrical prowess. No, it’s not either of their best song. It’s not even the best song their wonderfully weird collaboration as The Uncluded produced. But it’s fun, and, like most of the other songs on “Hokey Fright,” it’s strange. It won’t change your life, but it will make you smile.
4. The Magnetic Fields : Andrew in Drag
I’ve been trying to get this song on a mix for weeks. I thought it would be a lot easier than it ended up being. “Andrew in Drag” is such a perfectly formed pop song that, on paper, it should fit well with any other song that pays such clear attention to the craft of songwriting. But like so many other songs penned by Stephin Merritt (regardless of if they were recorded under The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, or Future Bible Heroes), “Andrew in Drag” has just enough off-beat peculiarities to make it stand out amongst its peers. Those bubbly electronics that usher in the song and rise up periodically throughout it. The mix of live and electronic sounds. The light-hearted twist on a mainstay of pop subject matter that is subversive without ever becoming alienating. All of these elements are held together by that gorgeous melody in the vocals and those beautiful harmonies in the chorus. No, “Andrew in Drag” is not your average pop song, but it shows us how pop song-form has the power to unify even the strangest sonic impulses.
5. Francis and the Lights feat. Bon Iver : FRIENDS
I’m still not sure if Francis and the Lights are a legitimately good group (project? collective? band? I’m honestly unsure), or if their recent success has largely been buttressed by friendships with artists like Chance the Rapper and Bon Iver. The music isn’t bad, it even occasionally reaches staggering heights such as in the fantastic climax of “FRIENDS.” It’s simply derivative, pulling heavily from the sonic pallets of other contemporary musicians, many of whom have given Francis and the Lights a huge amount of publicity and buzz. And I think this is the core of the issues I have with Francis and the Lights (and a lot of other music that comes my way); how do I go about forming my own opinions of their work when it so strongly reminds me of other songs I’ve already heard and formed opinions about. This isn't their or any other artist’s problem, it’s mine to deal with, but I do think it is something musicians (or any type of artist for that matter) should keep in the back of their mind. Yes, influences are important, and making something truly original is almost impossible at this point in music history, but you should always strive for something that makes your work unique, that makes it truly your own.
6. Daft Punk : Da Funk
It can be say to forget that “Discovery” was actually Daft Punk’s second album. That record has such a weight to it, such a mythos of innovation and sheer quality surrounding it, that it feels like it must have taken an entire lifetime to create. But — and in some ways this is actually more impressive — the truth is Daft Punk only spent 3 years working on “Discovery.” What’s more is that they’d already released an absolutely fantastic record well before they even started working on it.
Though it doesn’t have the mythology surrounding it as its younger sibling does, “Homework” is not a record anyone should overlook. It’s simpler than any of Daft Punk’s later releases, strictly rooted in French house music. But its that rigid simplicity that gave Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo the opportunity to really show off their skills. Their goal was not to do anything groundbreaking, they weren’t yet experimenting with song-form or exploring the ways history and memory can evoke feelings. They were simply taking a style they knew well, and proving they could make that kind of music better than anyone else With “Homework,” Bangalter and de Homem-Christo showed us their rock solid core, one that would form the base for all the inventive, innovative music that was yet to come.
7. LCD Soundsystem : Get Innocuous!
Ask any music fan, and they’ll tell you that 2007 was a huge year for music. Put simply, a huge amount of truly great albums were released that year. Here are just a few I noticed on a quick scroll through my iTunes library:
- Aesop Rock : None Shall Pass
- Beirut : The Flying Club Cup
- Bon Iver : For Emma, Forever Ago (Self-releaseed in 2007, wide release in 2008)
- Dan Deacon : Spiderman of the Rings
- Iron & Wine : The Shepherd's Dog
- Justice : †
- LCD Soundsystem : Sound of Silver
- Modest Mouse : We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
- The National : Boxer
- Radiohead : In Rainbows
- Vampire Weekend : Vampire Weekend
- Kanye West : Graduation
- The White Stripes : Icky Thump
- Wilco : Sky Blue Sky
- Amy Winehouse : Back to Black
- Yeasayer : All Hour Cymbals
Of all these records, and the countless others that were released in 2007, I was only aware of a handful of them. Radiohead was Radiohead; anyone with even the smallest knowledge of pop culture was going to be aware when they released a new album, even without the inventive, pay-what-you-want pricing of “In Rainbows.” Kanye was also a given at that point, as was Amy Winehouse. Other than those, I only remember really being aware of “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” “Icky Thump,” and “None Shall Pass.” But in the 10 years since then, one of those records seems to have had an outsized amount of influence on modern music, not just when compared to other records from 2007, but even when compared to records that were released 20 or 30 years before it.
I didn’t hear “Sound of Silver” until my first semester in college. “All My Friends” was on the automation software for the student radio station, and after hearing it a few times I needed to learn more about it. By the time “This is Happening” was released the following spring, I was already well versed in the music of LCD Soundsystem, well on my way to becoming the super-fan I am today. But even then, back in late 2009/early 2010, you were starting to see the influence “Sound of Silver” was having over the indie scene. taking the music out of the dorm room and onto the dance floor. Acts like Animal Collective, Girl Talk, and Crystal Castles were all starting to grow in popularity, helped along by how crazy and exciting their live shows were. You’d see crazy ass light shows. You’d dance your ass off. It was a total blast. And so, little by little, you started to see more importance put on the live performance. Shows began to feel less like a place to simply see your favorite band perform, but a place to interact with them, to see these crazy productions and have a great time right along with the band.
We’ve seen where this trend has lead us, with increasingly insane EDM shows, more and more music festivals (both big and small), and whatever the fuck Kanye is doing on the Saint Pablo tour. Is “Sound of Silver” solely responsible for this? Of course not The music industry’s slow, clumsy response to music sharing and the internet in general meant that musicians were more reliant on live shows to make money. But it’s hard to listen to the steady build of “Get Innocuous!,” the thumping bass line of “Us v Them,” or the legendary climax of “All My Friends” and not see how LCD Soundsystem helped push popular music back towards the dance floor. They showed us it was possible to make complex, intelligent, and wildly personal music, that your fans could easily dance their asses off to.
8. Dirty Projectors : Keep Your Name
Say what you will about Dave Longstreth, his willingness to grow, change, or completely blow u the sound he’s developed under the Dirty Projectors moniker is wildly admirable. In many ways“Keep Your Name” (the first new Dirty Projectors song since 2012’s “About to Die” EP) shares more in common with experimental hip-hop and electronic music than the sound Longstreth has cultivated since he began the group in 2002. It’s sparse, filled mainly with electronic drum sounds and an clear emphasis on the vocals. There’s even a tellingly meta sample — a wildly warped clip from the song “Impregnable Question” off of 2012’s “Swing Lo Magellan” — and an extended, spoken word bridge. It’s still clearly a Dirty Projectors song. Longstreth’s sense of melody and love of off-kilter vocal harmonies are all still there, they’re just refracted through this new sonic lens. So if “Keep Your Name” is a blueprint for the upcoming-but-still-unannounced Dirty Projectors album, we’re in for some truly new and unique music, the kind Longstreth deserves credit for simply being willing to make.
9. Danny Brown feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar & Earl Sweatshirt : Really Doe
As monstrous a posse cut as there ever was, “Really Doe” is essentially one big experiment. Put four of the most talented, dexterous rappers currently making music on the same track, and see what happens. The result: they all bring their absolute A-game, partially as a showing of mutual respect, partially to show that they are the best among the group. So we get Danny Brown’s beautifully constructed cadences next to Ab-Soul’s wicked wordplay. Kendrick Lamar delivers a fast and furious flow that moves around the beat every few bars, while Earl Sweatshirt does this thing he's been playing with lately where he sounds laid back and disinterested, but still manages to deliver a more complex rhyme pattern than anyone other than André 3000 would ever be capable of giving us. All of this gets backed by a haunting and wondrous beat by Black Milk, that uses cascading bells and deep, distorted bass kicks to keep make sure the listener never really finds their footing. This would be a dream come true for many rap fans even if the song itself was mediocre. Instead, “Really Doe” acts as an embarrassment of riches, the kind of track that will have rap fans debating which artist gave the best verse for years to come.
10. Aphex Twin : CHEETAHT7b
In some respects, this summer’s “Cheetah” EP felt like it was simply Richard D. James’ way of subtly showing off. Based around the Cheetah MS800 synthesizer, all of the EP’s marketing material highlighted how complicated and confusing the MS800 was to use. So for James to give us this collection of beautiful, etherial tracks he created using it is, to say the least, a bit showy. But that’s the thing about James. No matter what moniker he’s recording under (“Cheetah” was put out as an Aphex Twin EP), he is simply one of, if not the most technically gifted electronic musicians of our time. The sounds he is capable of extracting from these machines is truly remarkable, and the songs he creates with those sounds are testaments to raw skill and song-craft, frequently unlike anything any other electronic musician is even capable of making. So if, every once in a while, James feels like releasing something to remind us of what a talent he is, well, I’d say he’s earned that.
11. The Jimi Hendrix Experience : Are You Experienced?
I’ll be honest with you, the main reason “Are You Experienced?” was included here is because it sets up perfectly for the next song. That’s not to say I have anything against it. “Are You Experienced?” is a truly excellent song, one that effortlessly melds ideas and techniques of 60s psychedelia into guitar-based blues rock. But to put it bluntly, guitar-based blues rock is not my thing, so despite my enjoyment of his music and my deep, abiding respect for his skills an artist, Jimi Hendrix will likely never really be my go to guy. And that’s ok. I recognize this in myself, and make no attempts to pretend otherwise. I’ll make no attempts to review this song, because I know my bias against the genre would taint that review. So I’ll simply say that “Are you Experienced?” works perfectly in this context, and though it’s not my go-to, I couldn’t be happier to include it on this week’s mix.
12. The Avalanches feat. Camp Lo : Because I'm Me
In a way that almost no other musicians do, The Avalanches deal in emotion. The samples they chose, the records they flip, the sounds they create, and the artists they invite to collaborate with, all of this is in service of evoking a specific feeling from their listeners. Happiness and revelry. Nostalgia and longing. Sadness and reflection. They find interesting, unexpected ways to bring all of this and more out of their audience.
So on “Because I’m Me,” the opening track off of their first album in 15 years, the emotion The Avalanches are going for is joy, pure and unadulterated. You hear it in the driving horns and swelling strings (provided courtesy of 1971 Detroit R&B hit “Want Ads”). They tease it out of the young voice delivering an innocent and beautiful message of self love (a sped up, pitch corrected sample from a field recording called “Six Boys in Trouble”). And then there’s Camp Lo’s excited, exuberant rapping, delivering line after line about the importance of maintaining and celebrating the things that make us each unique. It’s a song about loving yourself, about finding joy in what makes you special, and it’s wildly effective. So while it might have taken 15 years to make, that was simply the amount of time The Avalanches needed to find the exact sounds they needed to bring those emotions out in their listeners.