Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Git's Mix

I confess, I have been a terrible blogger this past month but I have a very good excuse: I've been working on my brand new mix tape for this, my most ambitious blog entry to date. I've been making mix tapes for as long as I can remember - memories of sitting in my parent's dining room with a boombox and a tape recorder trying to follow Cyndi Lauper' s "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" with Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus [The Salieri Mix]." In high school my tools became more sophisticated when I bought a boombox that had a double tape deck and later a stereo with cd -> cassette. The mix tapes from this period consisted of songs by The Who, The Doors, Blues Traveller and The Steve Miller Band (no snide remarks, please).

In college I used to make a mix tape for every season: Fall (Neil Young, The Guess Who), Winter (early 70's Miles Davis, Herbie Mann), Spring (The Byrds, The Zombies), Summer (A Tribe Called Quest, Beck). During my Sophomore Year of college I began to write a music column in the school newspaper with my friend Drew. The name of the column was "Awesome Sounds" and my pen name was "The Comeback Bitch" (I was good at dramatic comebacks in Streetfighter 2) and Drew's pen name was "F2" (He would only buy items from the F2 slot on the campus vending machine). Each saturday night we would put on our Union Suits (one piece thermals with a butt flap for all of you non-New Englanders) and our Sorel boots, trudge through the deep Vermont snow down to the music room, smoke a joint and proceed to listen to music and record our reactions. Click HERE to read our column from February 23, 1995.

In the past few years my mix tapes have become less and less frequent, averaging out at about one per year. The last real gem was entitled, "Songs To Make You Throw Up In Your Mouth" which I created with the sole intent of seducing my girlfriend (she's now my wife so I guess that it worked). I would say that these days, the majority of my music listening takes place on the train during my morning commute to downtown Chicago. There are certain songs that over the past few months, I've found myself continually gravitating towards and repeatedly listening to. The idea struck me that it would be fun to build a mix of these songs and hand it out through my blog. Unlike John Cusack in High Fidelity, my mix isn't aimed at expressing an emotion or an attitude, rather it's simply what I've been listening to lately. It has taken me two months to build this collection (build, listen, re-edit, listen, rearrange, listen, re-edit, listen, etc.) and on that note . . . I hope you enjoy:

The first song on the mix is by one of my favorites, Sufjan Stevens. For those of you not familiar with his work, Sufjan embarked in 2004 on a project to write an album for each of the fifty states. To date, he has created albums for Michigan and for Illinois (where this track is from) and is rumored to be working on albums for the states of Oregon and Rhode Island. This is a great track for listening to on headphones, it is extremely layered and beautiful with his voice floating in and out throughout the background tracks of the song. I guess with Chicagraphy on the mind, I couldn't resist starting of the mix with a song devoted to my beloved Chicago. The image of him crying in a van with his friend is just too much, I recommend all of his albums.

The next track is "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" by Steely Dan. I must say, I'm not a huge Steely Dan fan (I find a lot of their music to be kind of cheesy) but Pretzel Logic is a great album. Oddly enough, the first time that I heard this song was a cover version by Wilco. In any case, who couldn't love a song that starts of with the lyrics, "I never seen you looking so bad my funky one." Steely Dan always makes me think of my friend Elizabeth, they were heavily in her rotation when we used to live together in Boston.

This next track is a new favorite, Free's "Oh I Wept" from their 1970 album, "Fire and Water." Most famous for their song "All Right Now," Free eventually evolved into the awful 70's band "Bad Company." Embarrassingly enough, Bad Company were one of my favorite bands in Middle School. I used to play guitar to their song "Shooting Star" in my friend Tim Carroll's bedroom while he noodled away on Pink Floyd and U2 licks. The one thing I will say about "Shooting Star" is that it's featured in one of my favorite scenes in Kevin Smith's 1994 film Clerks (it's playing on the car stereo when they are driving to the funeral of Dante's friend). Despite all of these tangents, Paul Rodger's vocals are amazing and the song has pretty great groove.

The next song on the mix is Donovan's lost classic "Get Thy Bearings" from his 1968 album, "The Hurdy Gurdy Man". An odd footnote about this song: "Get Thy Bearings", was sampled by Biz Markie on his song "I Told You" from his album "I Need A Haircut" that was originally released in 1991, but recalled from shelves because Biz Markie had not properly cleared his samples. I first heard this song on a mix tape that was made for me by my good friend Carson Ellis. Carson is one of my oldest and dearest friends and we've been swapping mix tapes for more than ten years (you might know her artwork from the album covers of The Decemberists). At first I felt weird about taking a track from her latest mix only to put it on mine but hey, a great song is a great song.

This is a song by Bonnie Prince Billy entitled "Cursed Sleep" from his 2006 album "The Letting Go." I've been a fan of Will Oldham's for a long time and this track is really beautiful and brooding. For a pretty awesome side note on Will Oldham, Click Here to watch a pretty hilarious video featuring him and Zack Galifianakis in Kanye West's video, "Can't Tell Me."

This track is Badly Drawn Boy's song "About A Boy" from the soundtrack to the 2002 film by the same title. Ok, two very embarrassing things about this track: 1) I first heard it on a commercial for Hummer SUV's. The commercial features a little boy on an outing in the family Hummer who makes a snowball and saves it for show-and-tell at school. I found myself actually looking forward to the commercial and eventually figured out who it was by and purchased a copy. 2) The second embarrassing thing about this track is that it is from a film featuring Hugh Grant. The embarrassing thing is that I'm a sucker for pretty much anything featuring Hugh Grant which has led Robin to claim that I'm her best girlfriend ever. Oh the shame, the shame. . .

At this point the mix starts to get a little bit more upbeat with Belle and Sebastian's 2006 song "Funny Little Frog." I've been a Belle and Sebastian fan since my Boston days as well and despite the fact that their music can be a bit wimpy at times (as illustrated in Jack Black's rant in High Fidelity), this song is a keeper.

And so we get to The Clash with their 1980 classic, "Police On My Back." Originally written and performed by "The Equals," I was happy to see this song featured in last year's Judd Apatow film, "Knocked Up." The thing that I love about this track is the way in which the guitars mimic the sound of a European police siren. When I was in Munich this fall, I immediately though of this song every time a police car or an ambulance would pass by with its siren on (sirens sound different in the US). Although I'm still not sure about "Sandinista!" in its entirety, the album has definitely been growing on me in recent months.

Who knew that you could follow up The Clash with The Jackson 5 and create a smooth transition?!?!? I had always associated "Ready Or Not, Here I Come" with Lauren Hill and The Fugees 1996 album "The Score" but was excited last month when I came across The Jackson 5 original version from their 1970 classic, "Third Album." No matter what, I'll always have a soft spot for The Jackson 5 and for anything Michael Jackson that pre-dates "Bad" (but as Robin says, "poor Michael").

Next up we have Chicago's very own Lupe Fiasco with his track "Daydreamin' from his 2006 release, "Food and Liquor." I find the whole album to be pretty amazing but for me this is the stand out track (any song with the lyric, "I still got some damage from fightin the whitehouse" is alright by me). Not only is Lupe Fiasco smart in his critique of mainstream hip-hop culture, but he also teams up on this track with Jill Scott who is one of my all-time favorites (Philly has Jill Scott and Zoe Strauss all in the same city! I'm thinking about relocating).

And finally to bring it all back out (a la Ricky Gervais) we have Cat Stevens with his track "Maybe You're Right" from his 1970 release, "Mona Bone Jakon." A snarly song, it's got a classic Cat Stevens feel with being too overplayed on the radio. Well, I hope you've enjoyed this tour through my headphones of the past two months and if you're sitting at a desk and would like to hear my mix in its entirety, click play on the Quicktime button below and sit back, relax and take it all back in once again.