Make Me a Mixtape
The first time I was really blown away by a radio DJ was when I heard KEXP's DJ Riz, on a dark and rainy weekend night in Seattle in the early 2000s, play the instrumental version of Jeff Buckley's "Dream Brother" and segue it seamlessly into the original version. The sheer audacity to repeat the whole song recontextualized the instrumental version as a six-minute introduction in service of the overall atmosphere of the whole four-hour set. The vibe was incredible.
My own forays into college radio DJing were marked by attempts to find the perfect segue -- I've often bragged of the day I went from the Barenaked Ladies' "Be My Yoko Ono" into Dar Williams "I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono" into John Lennon's "Oh Yoko" -- and I still feel there is something electric in the creative juxtaposition of pop songs. Something wholly other emerges when they are put into overlapping conversation -- a meta-meaning happens; songs somehow are opened to each other and themselves in ways they could not be in solitude. Each song becomes another's exegesis.
Anyway, this weekend I spent a little time with Audacity and Mixcloud, the results of which I offer here. Follow this link to listen, and read the notes below.
Hum - “Stars”
Switchfoot - “Stars”
I’ve been wanting to put these songs together for years. Two drop-D, riff-heavy, pop-rock songs called "Stars?" Come on.
The Dandelion Method - “Stars Become Smoke”
The end of this song from a band I was in years ago fit nicely, too.
The Smashing Pumpkins - “Rhinoceros”
I wanted to shift the vibe down a notch here, but keep the focus on guitars. In general for the next 10 minutes or so the guitars are crisp and jangly while the songs are mellow and smooth. I cut this one off before the distortion kicks in.
Sixpence None the Richer - “Dresses”
I had a friend who recently lost a close family member in mind for this mix somehow; I thought of this song Matt Slocum of Sixpence wrote after the death of his grandmother. I love the opening lyric “In the middle of my mourning / sits joy like a happy child/ in the middle of this death/ I must cry with life for a while.” This is one of the only full songs on the mix and I sort of consider it the emotional centre.
Deerhoof - “Lose My Breath”
This is a cover of a classic song from My Bloody Valentine’s 1988 album Isn’t Anything. I love the original, but the guitar sound of this one fits the vibe better here. I am not a huge fan of dissonance in pop songs, but the way the chorus resolves it is a worthwhile payoff.
Sonic Youth - “Do You Believe in Rapture?”
Again trying to keep the guitar sound consistent. I love this song because of the question it asks — not do you believe in the rapture as a (dubious?) theological event, but, as I take it, the second definition in Merriam-Webster: “a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things.”
Carsick Cars - “Zhong Nan Hai”
If “Stars” was what inspired me to start this mix, this song and the transition into the next track are what made me do this half. This band definitely borrowed some sounds from Sonic Youth, and they sort of kickstarted the indie rock scene in China around the time I was living there. This song is more than six minutes long, but I cut it off after the distortion in the middle because it fits absolutely perfectly with the next track.
Heems - “Desi Shoegaze Taiko”
This song is actually built around a sample from the British shoegaze band Yuck (“Rubber”) but I didn’t really like that song when I listened to it. What I did notice is that the sample is pretty much exactly the same as the distortion that hits in the bridge of “Zhong Nan Hai,” so here we are.
Bjork - “Earth Intruders”
Now I’m just trying to put songs that have really sick beats together. They don’t match up perfectly because I’m not a DJ, but I really love this song.
Kanye West - “Love Lockdown”
Again, I’ve been wanting to segue “Earth Intruders” into this song for about ten years. I’m sure real DJs could do it better, but I’m happy with this.
Beta Cicadae - “Telerehabilitation”
My friend Kevin recorded this ambient project around the time he was coming to terms with some heavy stuff, if I recall correctly. This is an epic track from that album, and providentially it lines up really well with the next track.
Hearts - “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”
When I was in college I always thought I would make a solo album called Hearts, which is an anagram of my last name (this now feels too cute and clever by half). I never did, but I recorded this track on a bass guitar in 2005 when we’d just left Seattle and I was really missing it. It’s variations on a melody I deeply love: the tune of the benediction our church in Seattle used to sing every week. The lyrics were: “The Lord bless you and keep you/ the Lord shine His face upon you/ and give you peace/ and give you peace forever.” I noticed as I was lining up the tracks that Kevin’s track had several places where a bass seems to play the same two first notes as I did, so I tried to sync them up.
Other notes and ephemera
A few weeks ago I was on the podcast The Dangers of Christian Rock talking about Pedro the Lion's classic album It's Hard to Find a Friend. It was really fun.
I was recently able, in my final act as an outgoing editor of the Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing, to publish a series of articles about rhetorical genre studies from some of the top scholars in this field. It was a real shock to get an email from Carolyn Miller, the founder of this field, asking if we would be interested in publishing this. Needless to say, we said yes. I'm really proud to have had a small part in it.
That's it for now. Let me know what you're listening to and feel free to send this along to anyone else who might be interested. I hope to have some news to share about my new book soon.