I know, you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, I sure wish someone would tell me what’s great and what I should be shoving in my ear holes right about now.” Well guess what, I’m here to help you out.
Once in a while it’s nice to just talk about a song. I’m normally spreading the gospel of the LP. The holy sounds of gatefold sleeves, CD inserts, and the glorious Side A/B adventures. But I’ll admit I do love a great mix. Something curated to my specifications that punch all my emotional buttons. There’s nothing like a collection of tunes from all over the place from as many artists coming together and telling a tale, scoring a road trip, or to help heal a wounded heart.
I grew up making mixtapes, first from songs directly off the radio. Memorex in hand, slid into the single deck of my GE boom box, I’d sit by for two hours on a Sunday morning recording songs off America’s Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. In seventh grade I got my first stereo system, a Soundesign with AM/FM, dual cassette, and turntable with 10-band graphic EQ and tower speakers that were about 3 inches in depth. A swift wind could blow them over, but I didn’t care. This allowed me to start dubbing tapes, meaning I could make some serious mixtapes.
Even as a teen I was always more into full-lengths as opposed to singles. I wanted the long ride, man. But even with full-lengths you sometimes curate a mix of your favorites onto a nice sampler cassette in order to impress friends, neighbors, older siblings, and possible love interests. It starts with great taste in music and the ability to make the opposite sex laugh. From there, love blooms.
All of this to say that today I’m going just chat up five songs that have been in constant rotation as of late. All different backgrounds and vibes, but somehow building an all-encompassing experience. Okay, so check these songs out. Then go check out the album’s they’re from. You’ll be glad you did.
Dehd : “Bad Love”(taken from the album Blue Skies)
There’s something about the sound this three-piece from Chicago make that keeps me coming back for me. They capture the broad pop grandeur of Phil Specter productions, the loose and wild vibes of 80s college rock, and the indie rock of the early 90s. Touches of Cocteau Twins, Breeders, REM, and Concrete Blonde come thru. Their newest album is Blue Skies, and lead single “Bad Love” begs to be your new favorite song. Emily Kempf’s vocals tear through the mix like a switchblade, conveying both a vulnerability and righteous indignation.
The song is just catchy as hell, bringing to mind early REM, the Pretenders, and the sparse drum, bass, guitar, and vocals mix gives it all a real urgency. This is one I can’t stop listening to.
Birth : “Cosmic Tears”(from the album Born)
Birth are the cream of the crop when it comes to the new wave of prog/psych. Were you unaware that there was a new wave of prog/psych? Well, the wave has been crashing against the shores of many psyches for awhile now, and ground zero is Southern California. Birth is made up of members of bands like Astra, Psicomagia, Monarch, Sacri Monti, Joy, and for my money is the best thing out of the scene in a long time. A four-piece that sets controls for the heart of the sun, Birth have dropped a monster of a long player in the the form of Born. King Crimson, Deep Purple, ELP, and even cats like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Electric Miles make their presence appreciated and labored over. But Birth are cooking up their own kind of psych, and it all begins along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
One song I’ve been playing on a constant rotation lately is “Cosmic Tears”, an instrumental track that is probably the grooviest track on the album. It also seems to mesh all the vibes of its members perfectly, going from proggy interludes to psychedelic freakouts, to tasteful moments of 70s jazz abandon. Organ, synth, guitars, and killer drumming makes this song the perfect tune to just get lost in for a bit.
Metavari : “Arc I-III”(from the album Soft Continuum(Studies Vol 2)
Nate Utesch is a guy that I feel wholeheartedly he’s been on his own personal path since day one with Metavari. The gradual shift from post-rock slumbers to electronic music guru has been an organic one, always seemingly holding onto a strand that leads back to the beginning while never succumbing to the temptation to take that known route. His electronic music feels tactile. It’s as if it’s coming from the earth and he’s wrangling it in circuits and patch cables.
His latest album as Metavari might be his most urgent and best album to date. A concept of sorts on life and death and rebirth, Soft Continuum(Studies Vol.2) is big in scope and sound. One of my favorite moments lies in the middle with “Arc I-III”, and trilogy of seemingly small moments on an LP filled with big ideas and scope. These three tracks are quiet, subtle, and sublime, acting as a moment of solace amongst the heady rhythms, compositions and production of Utesch. I feel like in these quiet moments are where Utesch opens his heart up the most. Small, baroque moments of emotional vulnerability. And with this album being a kind of grand goodbye to former Metavari band mate and life long friend of Utesch’ Ty Brinneman, only adds to these quiet and reflective moments all the more.
Zombi and Friends : “Sirius/Eye In The Sky”(From Zombi and Friends Vol. 1)
Alan Parson Project’s “Sirius/Eye In The Sky” is one of those songs that rattles and bustles around in my brain like a ghost. Hearing it play sitting in the backseat of my parents car as a little kid always had the effect of putting me in my own head. Looking out the car window and houses and cornfields whizzed by as if an animation. The melancholy of Erik Woolfson’s voice, the gentle pang of the electric piano, and the super compressed drums were dreamlike to me and offered an alternate world where I could let my imagination run.
The cats in Zombi(Steve Moore and AE Paterra) began to produce covers with Pinkish Black’s Daron Beck back when the pandemic was still hot and heavy. Covers of the soft rock variety that pretty much soundtracked my early childhood. One of them was “Sirius/Eye In The Sky”. Done not ironically buy earnestly, as if these songs meant the same thing to them as they did to me. They recently released a vinyl collection of these covers and I’ve been quite enjoying the covers of The Eagles, Eddie Rabbit, and The Double. But “Sirius/Eye In The Sky” is still tops for me. It’s still a time machine back to the summer of 1982, where I’m in the backseat of an Omni Miser looking out the window to what would prove to be a much simpler time.
Liam Kazar : “On A Spanish Dune”(from Due North)
Liam Kazar’s album Due North has been a musical obsession as of late. I haven’t quite found something so soulful, earnest, and catchy as hell as this record from 2021 in a good long while. A combination of quirky and sugary pop only comes around every once in a while. It’s up there with Adrian Belew’s late 80s weird pop albums. Those pretty much were the DNA to what would become my meager attempts at being a songwriter. Where Belew was creating carnival mirror versions of Lennon/McCartney, Liam Kazar seems to be doing more of a 70s singer/songwriter vibe; Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, with touches of Talking Heads for good measure. But the voice…that’s what pulls you in. Forget the warmth in the instrumentation and the slinky and bittersweet melodies, Kazar has a voice that just pulls you in. Soulful and sad, with just the right amount of sweetness.
To ask me what my favorite song is on his 2021 LP I’d say all of them. I can’t pick. But I guess I do obsess over one song for a bit then move onto another. This week it’s the sweet and sad “On A Spanish Dune”. Touches of Wilco and Eels comes through, but it’s really just its own thing. His use of wonky synths and pedal steel guitar gives it a dreamy, otherworldly vibe. It’s the kind of song you just dig into the mix and feel warm and sad and wistful.
So give any of these a listen if you’re not familiar. Then maybe make a mixtape(or playlist) and impress your loved ones with your impeccable taste in music. You’re welcome.