We’re almost there. Just one more week until this season of The Dylan Samson Mix Series is over. Crazy, right? It seems like volume 62 came out just a couple weeks ago.
Anyway, here is volume 72 in The Dylan Samson Mix Series. It’s called “Take Care,” and features songs from Mikal Cronin, OutKast, and American Football, as well as new songs from Mitski and Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam. Listening links can be found below, but those interested in grabbing the physical copy should check west 37th Street in the Garment District.
1. American Football : Never Meant
I came to the first American Football record late. Like, later than most. In fact, I think my first listen was some time last winter, and even though I recognized what a special record it was then and there, I still didn’t revisit it right away. No, it didn’t really click with me until this past September, right around the time the seasons were changing, and right after a summer full of changes in my personal and professional life. At that point, I started to get it. I picked up on its beauty, on the sparse but poignant lyrics, on the mix of emo and math rock to create this slow burn, ethereal sound. It became on of those right place, right time records, something that I might have overlooked in the past, but subsequently formed a very deep, personal connection with because of where I was when it entered my life.
2. Saintseneca : Happy Alone
I absolutely love “Happy Alone.” I love its instrumentation, that energetic mix of electric and acoustic instruments. I love those poetic, conflicted lyrics that almost sound as if Zac Little is more concerned with convincing himself of his own happiness than convincing others. And I love those harmonies, the way Maryn Jones joins Little in the second verse with those gorgeous, open high notes. It’s reminiscent of The Everly Brothers, or an early Beatles tune, and is just as affecting as either of those groups ever were. So while “Happy Alone” may represent from the strictly acoustic sounds of my beloved “Last,” it shows them growing as a band, expanding their sonic palate without really losing what made them so special.
3. Aesop Rock : Night Light
“Night Light” is a fascinating song. For fans of Aesop Rock’s music it’s a treasure trove, full of subtle sonic and lyrical references to his previous work. Unpack this one at your own risk, each line is a rabbit hole of references and further reading (the kind of thing most Rock fans I know absolutely freak for). But also interesting is how angry Aes sounds on “Night Light.” It’s not an emotion we hear often on his records, he tends to give us more guardedly abstract or introspective songs. But here, on something he wrote in response to mounting pressure for another song in the vein of 2001s “Daylight,” his delivery can only be described as furious. He spits out lyrics that conjure images of clipped wings, rampant destruction, and death, showing a clear contempt for anyone who wishes to limit his artistic freedom in favor of commercial viability. He could have continued to make inspirational, indie-rap anthems, but instead he gives us a confrontational song that serves as the yin to “Daylight”’s yang. Don’t try and pen him in. Aesop Rock takes his work where HE wants it to go.
4. St. Vincent : Actor Out of Work
Like “Night Light,” “Actor Out of Work” is another strikingly angry song, though with its subject matter of deceit and toxic relationships, it’s hard to imagine Annie Clark giving this one a more light hearted delivery. This is a fierce song, with every element filled with spite and malice. Listen to how hard those drum hits are, or the repeated, harsh downstrokes in the guitars. Listen to those nasty, distorted horns, that break up the verses and close the whole song out. Clark wants you to know she’s hurt, wants you to feel the same pain she’s felt and understand exactly what caused it. It’s a beautiful “fuck you,” a perfect piece of catharsis from a lover scorned.
5. The Decemberists : Make You Better
Relationships are hard. Not just because of the amount of work and energy and compromise they require, but because they are so based on the way we see both our partner and ourselves. They are this strange, reflected maze, where each person presents what they think of as their best self, only to have that image filtered through their partner’s worldview, and then steadily whittled away until some semblance of reality is finally presented. It’s not easy to put this kind of emotional evolution into song—it’s why many love songs feel trite or simplistic—but Colin Meloy comes close in “Make You Better,” a song that shows off his gifts as a lyricist without ever feeling thin or one-sided. Likes like “I wanted you, thin fingernails” and “I sung you, you twinges” present these small observations of an idealized partner, while “I suffered you, your tattletales,” or “and when you, bend backwards” hint at those moments in a relationship that require real work. And then there’s the gut punch of “But we’re not so starry eyed anymore, like the perfect paramour you were in your letters,” in the chorus. It’s the moment when you finally see your partner and yourself for who you each truly are, when the image you each created is pulled back and you’re forced to decide whether or not this is a person you want in your life. It’s a sobering, scary moment, made even more frightening by the fact that, no matter what you choose, you’ll come away from the experience with a better understanding of who you really are.
6. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam : In a Black Out
A haunting ballad about the convergence of location and memory, “In a Black Out” is that kind of wildly personal, yet completely universal song that doesn’t come around all that often. Senseenough time somewhere, and it becomes so associated with the memories you created or things you experienced there that the two become inseparable. Closing out some bar with your friends. A first kiss with a new lover. A phone call with great news, or maybe one with awful news. A breakup. It can become difficult to extricate these memories from the places they occurred, to stop yourself from constantly reliving them whenever you end up there. Only time will make them fade away, or replace them with new memories all together.
7. The Postal Service : Sleeping In
I never really got into The Postal Service. “Give Up” was released well before I was listing to anything outside of the mainstream, and by the time I did hear it, I have to say it felt a little safe for my tastes. I’ve come to appreciate it more since then, but I doubt it will ever be MY record. Here though, I felt I had to include “Sleeping In,” not only because it offers an excellent transition between “In a Black Out” and “Sleeping In,” but because my own nihilist interpretation of the lyrics seemed right for this mix’s themes. Because when I first listened to this song I didn’t think the narrator wanted to sleep in because of the pleasantries his dreams offered, but because it was a preferable alternative to the harsh realities of the world. To me the song has never been about idealism, but about depression and the feelings of helplessness it breeds. I know this is not the sunnier interpretation many people have come away from “Sleeping In” with, but it’s always been my reading of it, and that’s the context I needed it for on this mix.
8. Mitski : Fireworks
One of the most frightening things about depression is the way it can make pain feel so permanent, like it is just a natural part of you. Those who have lived with it can attest to the terrifying normalcy it lends to pain, to the harrowing act of putting up a positive front so the world wont realize what’s going on inside of you. Mitski shows us this awful reality in “Fireworks,” a beautiful yet painful standout from this year’s jaw dropping “Puberty 2.” She understands living with depression, knows how it can numb you to even the tiniest joys, or worse yet turn them into even more sources of sadness. But there is a light here, because feeling sad, or angry, or confused, or alone, all of it is still better than feeling nothing at all.
9. Mikal Cronin : Weight
And here we have our light at the end of the tunnel. “Weight” is a song all about internal struggle, about finding the strength and courage to move forward within yourself. Mikal Cronin recognizes this as an uphill battle, that the forces of “fear and shame” that put him here to begin with are ones to be reckoned with. And though he tends the song unsure of the best path forward, it’s hard to listen to “Weight” and feel pessimistic about the path he’s on. It ends after this shining solo, based around these big, open, major chords, and the melody gets resolved in Cronin’s final refrain. He may be conflicted, but he’s moving in a positive direction. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.
10. Joni Mitchell : A Case of You
Long after they are over, relationships can leave a powerful mark on us. They effect the way we view the world and those around us, the way we behave in certain situations. Those around us—be they friends, family, lovers—can keep a hold over us in ways we might not expect, ways we might not always like, and often long after those people have faded out of our life. These aren’t easy things to talk about, let alone put down in song, yet Joni Mitchell manages it in the rightfully legendary “A Case of You.” I won’t bother with any kind of traditional track review here. At this point, anything I could say has already been said by people who are far smarter than I am. So I’ll just say that, like so much of “Blue,” it is incredible how close to the chest this song cuts, how even when you feel as if you are on solid footing, it can leave you absolutely floored.
11. OutKast : Elevators (Me & You)
Though it serves as the story of OutKast’s personal and artistic success, I’ve always heard “Elevators (Me & You)” as a song about its creators’ dedication to one another. Yes, Big Boi and André 3000 are quick to talk about the success they have achieved, of the material goods it has afforded them and those around them, but the song’s core is the friendship that helped make their creative partnership so strong. They give several references to their shared history throughout the point, from lines about East Point, Atlanta, to their first hit “Player’s Ball,” to small gigs at hole in the wall clubs, to the fact that Big Boi and André began performing together when they were still in high school. Their music is incredible, their career is one to aspire to, but it is clear that André and Big Boi know that none of it would have happened without one another.
12. Daniel Johnston : Track
Like the best of Daniel Johnston’s music, “True Love Will Find You in the End” is a nearly perfect little pop gem. That “nearly” is an important distinction, though. As is the case with most of Johnston’s songs, this one is more than a little rough around the edges. He uses too many words in some spots. The chord changes get messed up in others. But you barely notice these things. All you hear is the beautiful, simple melody, the somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking sentiment, and Johnston’s untrained yet absolutely perfect voice. All that matters is the song, and this song here is just incredible.