Side 1 - 20:24
1. Suicide - Televised Executions
2. Si Schroeder - Brailowsky (schroedersound remix)
3. Battles - Tonto (The Field Remix)
Side 2 - 33:28
4. Q and not U - Soft Pyramids
5. Dan Deacon - Wham City
6. Grails - Silk Rd
7. For Carnation - Moonbeams
The idea for this mix came when I was watching the film Manhunter on TV a couple of nights ago, and decided I wanted to listen to some cool 80's electro pop. Since Betamax Format haven't released their EP yet, the nearest (and yes, not very near at all) thing I had to hand was Suicide's 2002 album, American Supreme. Anyway, the first track on that, 'Televised Executions', was the genesis for this selection.
The '21st Century' part of the title is a reference to the fact that all these songs were released within the last 8 years, with the earliest being the For Carnation in the year 2000. Musically, it's not that these artists necessarily sound very 'modern', and indeed most of them have their origins - whether in earlier releases or in previous groups - in the preceding century.
Broadly speaking, these songs are 'electro' in at least some sense, moving towards more usual post-rock with Grails and the For Carnation, although there is plenty that is unusual about those two groups. The first side is the more wholly electronic, with far more rock tropes in the sound of Q and not U and Grails. If you're looking for punk, it's either nowhere or everywhere...
(A technical note: I decided to try out the long mp3 form of josephlovesit's playlists, one for each side. If I do say so myself, I think it works very well for the first side in particular. Nothing special was done to them, except for a few sections of silence between tracks being removed - no cross-fading or whatever it is you are supposed to be actually able to do with Audacity. Both formats are available for download above, although if you want both be aware that the zip files - and the folder in them - have the same name.)
Suicide's 'Televised Executions' from American Supreme starts off with a combination of thin drum sounds which are characteristic of Suicide's sound right from 1977, and hip-hop scratching, which isn't. On top of this, of course, are funky, repetitive keyboard lines and echoey rockabilly vocals. This is a fantastic album, not just for the consistency with which it matches the original 'no-wave' Suicide, but also for the incorporation of contemporary sounds (well, contemporary in 2002 - you should hear their 90s album; a little dated!). What I said when I first posted this album still stands, that "if you've ever wanted to hear hip-hop played like weird 70s electronica, this is very possibly the album for you".
An instantaneous moment of relief, Si Schroeder's 'Brailowsky' remix comes from a limited-edition 2006 7" of the same name, with paper sleeves and original artwork. Si Schroeder, as his Myspace describes him, is "a six foot hairy male who makes 'music'" from Dublin in Ireland. Previously, he was one half of a Sonic Youth/MBV style noise band, so you can kind of guess where he's coming from in this piece and in his idiosyncratic electronica in general. 'Brailwosky' is instrumental, although other songs have lyrics, all with a soothing, ethereal and above all beautiful quality of sound. Road Records say of his full-length album, Coping Mechanisms, "hats off to mr schroeder for doing something very new and inventive with laid back electronica. really really superb stuff". 'Brailowsky' (a reference to a 20th century French pianist) has a lot of the same, characteristic melodies and flourishes follow on into that album; a really nice song. I met him in person once - I should say that he is a relative of a friend - and he seems like a very nice guy too.
While 'Brailowsky' is very calming, I think it has a hard enough edge to stand up to the intensity of the preceding song and the following, The Field remix of Battles' Tonto, from the Tonto+ EP. The original song is an epic, expansive and at times very intricate and complex post-rock/math-rock tune, full of space and balance - something which is largely abandoned here, as the heavy remix track layers on the intense rhythms and compresses everything into a tight, claustrophobic sequence of sounds. I don't know anything at all about The Field, except that I think their style can be classified as house - correct me if I'm wrong - yet I find this remix immensely and almostly unreservedly enjoyable. The vinyl EP of Tonto+ has the album version followed by this remix on the first side, and the Four Tet remix of 'Tonto' and a further remix of 'Leyendecker' on the other, neither of which do much for me. This version of 'Tonto' - and if you aren't familiar with the original, you owe it to yourself to watch the video here - is a revelatory take on the Battles' track, and a celebratory one of musical intensity in a way - techno, house, whatever - that is quintessentially electronic.
To bring this mix back to the - perhaps unlikely – haven of Dischord Records, this is the opening track of Q and Not U’s second album, Different Damage. ‘Soft Pyramids’ begins with a wonderful spoken word intro, “S-O-F/T-P-Y/R-A-M/I-D-S E-V-A/P-O-R/A-T-E in day-light”, and for that alone it is a quintessentially math-rock song. As Mr. Mammoth wrote last year, “q and not u disbanded two years ago, ending a seven year stint as one of the more relevant and original bands to emerge from the d.c. punk scene. though the term "dance-punk" is one often associated with q and not u, the unfortunate connotations and limitations of that genre really can't explain the band's rather unique post-hardcore sound”. Like him, the frantic, punky No Kill Beep Beep is my favourite of their albums, but given time, what Different Damage reveals in its subtlety and complexity more than matches up with the quality of their debut. With the band’s re-emergence as a three-piece (following the departure of the bassist on No Kill Beep Beep) on their sophomore release, “a more sober (yet just as disparaging) look at America”,
“the first two songs on Different Damage set the album's tone, the divide between ferocity and reflection - "soft pyramids" is almost tender, a sweet singalong that is starkly contrasted with its neighbor, the vitriolic "so many calls," a jittery and sneering attack on our broken healthcare system”
Lyrically, I think this song has something to do with the ephemeral and supeficial nature of modern human civilization - appropriate for the mixtape then! Most of Q and not U's lyrics are very interesting, but also very distracting to try and understand. This tends to be the case with these kind of math-rock bands, like the current Foals. Really, it's just a reflection of complexity and cerebral twistiness in both words and music.
Trickling gently into the next song, it is Dan Deacon's utter masterpiece, 'Wham City', "the all-encompassing complexity of the perfect creation" which stretches to nigh on twelve minutes of sonically and emotionally confounding composition. It's awesome live; you can see the lyric sheet here. Listening to this song again reminds me that a Dan Deacon live show is not just a musical experience, but a deeply emotional one as well. It's strange, perhaps, because Deacon's songs are based so much on electronic - albeit analog - instrumentation, something I don't immediately associate so much with feeling. However, the flourishes, the slow build-ups and sustained, drawn-out electronic riffs on 'Wham City' are sincerely affecting. The incessant drumbeats only add an underlay of urgency to the epic soundscapes of emotion and ambition present on what is possibly this man's, or anybody else's like him, finest work.
Next up is the rhythmic, exotic post-rock of Grails on 'Silk Rd'. Grails are possibly the least electro of the artists here, although 'samples' and 'tapes' are listed on their liner notes. Instead, they bring a range of Eastern influences to pretty usual, guitar-based post-rock. GY!BE seems like both a good and a bad comparison: Grails play similarly rich, textured compositions in which, usually, a good deal more happens; but that which does happen is still quite subtle. The title 'Silk Rd' conveys the sense of a journey, and this is an especially propulsive song. Yes, it gets quite heavy at times, but in a melodic, cymbal-bashing kind of way and not with epic, labyrinthine guitar riffs. The sound, as josephlovesit notes, is largely clear and undistorted, allowing the strange and exotic sounds to come through. Blend77 says on Zen and the Art of Face Punching, where I was first hipped to this album, that
"The eastern feel of these songs is not hokey in anyway and goes a long way to legitimizing these songs as mantras for spiritual understanding. Yeah, that sounded like some new-age shit. Grails are not new-age. They are incredible-age."
Finally, turn your speakers up for one of the quietest albums I know of, released by musicians known for their work in ultra-quiet rock and in a genre known for the exact same thing. This is the For Carnation, Brian McMahan from Slint's later group, and the closing song from their self-titled album, 'Moonbeams'. This is the first time I have posted this up on the blog, although the first three tracks of the album were up previously (and will not be upped again - just go to the Touch and Go website for samples). As far as I know, this was released in 2000, so it just slips into the 21st century mix. The electronics are restrained to a shimmering, elliptical ambience which trails the sparse guitar and drums, and occasional, carefully placed keyboard bloops. The sensation of darkness pervades this record, as a thematic of each song and as a backdrop for slowly unfolding post-rock structures. Gentle and delicate, yet masking a hard core of brooding, neurotic intensity. Powerful stuff.