Mixtape: Untitled I

What to name a mixtape you truly enjoy, but can’t come up with a decent one? By this time I had Walk in Silence, Listen in Silence, The Last Home Year, Cimmerian Candlelight, and so on…names for themed series. But what about a chaotic mix that was essentially my favorite indie tunes at that point in time?

And so the Untitled series was born. Cheeky, but it worked.

This is a mix of songs I’d heard on Amherst College’s WAMH, WMDK out of Peterborough, recent 120 Minutes episodes, with a sprinkle of deep cuts, records borrowed from Chris, and to top it off, promo singles he and I had “borrowed” from the local radio station that they were obviously never going to play. The original mix features versions taped from the radio or off the TV speaker as well as actual source material.

Like Listen in Silence II, it was a mix primarily made as a catch-all for songs I liked but didn’t necessarily have in my collection. This would explain the strong beginning and the somewhat meandering end…but yet it works and still stands up so many years later. Also like LiS II, it was a mix to be listened to while mowing the cemeteries for my summer DPW job. Since my favorite college radio station was off the air for the season, this was my mix to fill that gap.

[Missing from the Spotify mix due to unavailability: The Feelies’ “Away” (after “Makes No Sense at All”) and Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians’ “Swirling” (after “Charlotte Anne”).]

Rethinking the Mixtape

The Memorex dBS 90 minute tape, my cassette of choice for several of my mixtapes.

I’ve been terrible about making mixtapes this year. By this point I’ve got at least three or four ready to go, but for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve got a few false starts with maybe six or seven songs, but that’s about it.

I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m just throwing a bunch of songs together but not always listening to them. Part of that has to do with my obsessive listening to KEXP when I can, but it also has to do with my even more obsessive habit of consuming new releases. I’ve focused too much on the New Stuff and not allowed that many songs to jump out at me and blow my mind. Sure, there have been a few over the last couple of years, but not nearly as much as before.

So I’ve been contemplating a mixtape rethink. I do like the format idea I’d come up with some years back of strictly following the forty-five-minutes-a-side rule, which makes it fun and creative, especially when I spend a good amount of time shifting the order of those mp3s until it sounds great to me. But again…what about the music that jumps out at me? The songs that make me focus on them?

I’ve been thinking about how I did this in the spring of 1988, when I finally took the plunge and planned out three mixes instead of leaning on the randomly created ‘radio tapes’ that I’d been making for the last several years. It was a learning curve, sure…a few questionable songs, a few terrible transitions, but listenable nonetheless. [I’d drop the themed bit soon after, finding it too restrictive at the time. I’d do themed ones later on, mostly ‘soundtracks’ to my novel projects in progress.] Thesaurus in hand, I came up with three themes based on my listening habits at the time: songs to listen to at top volume (Stentorian Music), songs that lean heavily on electronics (Preternatural Synthetics) and quiet and/or “dark” songs to listen to late at night (Cimmerian Candlelight).

Stentorian Music, created 20 May 1988.
Preternatural Synthetics, created 20 May 1988.
Cimmerian Candlelight, created 1 June 1988.

It’s something I’d like to do over again. Start fresh, give myself a tight focus on the mixes. Songs that set a specific mood or setting. Songs that blow my mind. Songs that I’ve rediscovered. I think one of my downfalls over the recent years is that the mixes tend to focus tightly on brand spankin’ new tunes and very rarely introducing older tracks. In retrospect I think that kind of limits what I want to listen to, really. Allow myself to add a song I haven’t heard in years, or an older song that some station slipped my way. Stop being so restrictive about it.

Yeah, I know…it’s been over thirty years since I created those three mixtapes and changed how I listened to music, but honestly: is that really a concern, when I’m still obsessed over music at this age, to this extent? I’ll always embrace music, no doubt about that. I don’t see myself drifting away from it anytime soon. And I think that making a new generation, a new brand of mixtapes for myself is just what I need to do to give it a refresh.

As soon as I have more, I’ll let you know, Spotify playlist and all.

Mixtapes: Music from the Waystation

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and I may as well start it now: I’ve been making mixtapes since I was a wee lad in the early 80s, well before I even knew what mixtapes were other than songs I taped off MTV and the radio that I liked. I usually average about six or so mp3 mixtapes per year nowadays, but back in the late 80s it would be upwards of maybe twice or even three times that.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to share my mixtape playlists with y’all for ages because I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from them. In previous posts I’ve posted them as YouTube links, but now I’ve finally started getting around to building them as Spotify playlists. [I’m still annoyed that musicians’ earnings on the site are laughable, but I’ve come around to thinking that maybe pushing these mixtapes will help put a penny or two more on their paycheck.]

SO! Without further ado, I’m going to start off with a triple-play (heh) of mixtapes curated as soundtracks for one of my current novel WIPs. I’ve been listening to these quite a bit lately, so hope you enjoy them too!

Theadia: Music from the Waystation
1. Secret Machines, “3,4,5, Let’s Stay Alive”
2. Haelos, “End of World Party”
3. Bob Moses, “Love We Found”
4. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
5. Pretenders, “Message of Love”
6. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue”
7. Billie Eilish, “My Future”
8. Bob Mould, “Everything to You”
9. PVRIS, “Good to Be Alive”
10. Algiers, “Dispossession”
11. We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, “Versatile for Discos and Parties”
12. Doves, “Carousels”
13. Bob Moses, “Hold Me Up”
14. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under”
15. Haelos, “Hold On”
16. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share”
17. Doves, “Universal Want”
18. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts”
19. BRONSON, “Dawn [feat. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs]”

Theadia 2: More Music from the Waystation
1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World””
2. Hatchie, “Sleep”
3. Pearl Jam, “Alright”
4. Georgia, “Started Out”
5. Shadow Show, “Glass Eye”
6. Field Music, “Money Is a Memory”
7. Låpsley, “Bonfire”
8. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
9. Stone Temple Pilots, “Three Wishes”
10. Spectres, “The Head and the Heart”
11. The Cinematic Orchestra, “A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life [James Heather Rework]”
12. Phantogram, “Ceremony”
13. Georgia, “About Work the Dancefloor”
14. ADULT., “Why Always Why”
15. Caspian, “Flowers of Light”
16. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes”
17. Ultraísta, “Mariella”
18. Nicolas Godin, “What Makes Me Think About You”
19. San Fermin, “The Hunger”
20. Bob Mould, “Next Generation”
21. K/DA, “I’ll Show You”

Theadia 3: Waystation Blues
1. Grandbrothers, “Silver”
2. Roosevelt, “Echoes”
3. Flyying Colours, “Goodtimes”
4. Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch”
5. Jane Weaver, “The Revolution of Super Visions”
6. Middle Kids, “I Don’t Care”
7. Anna Schulze, “A New Way”
8. Brian Vander Ark, “In Your Eyes”
9. Jeremiah Fraites, “Maggie”
10. Miss Grit, “Blonde”
11. Shame, “Human, for a Minute”
12. Field Music, “Orion from the Street”
13. Siamese Youth, “So Far from Home”
14. Anna Schulze, “Satisfied”
15. Grandbrothers, “Unrest”
16. Sorry, “Heather”
17. Jane Weaver, “Modern Reputation”
18. Flyying Colorus, “White Knuckles”
19. Roosevelt, “See You Again”
20. Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”

Walk in Silence – Beginnings

The first Walk in Silence mixtape, made October 1988 at the start of my senior year, and the Sony CFS-300 boombox (aka the Jonzbox) it was made with.

Walk in Silence, the mixtape series I’d started in 1988, was not the first mix I’d created (that goes to an unnamed multi-cassette collection from late 1982, taping songs off the radio and MTV), nor is it the first of the thematic mixes (that would be the noisy Stentorian Music from May 1988), but it’s the first one I’d made specifically to fit the mood I’d found myself in at the time. It was sort of a sibling thematic mix to the Listen in Silence mix I’d made in August, which was essentially “my favorite college radio tunes of the moment”. Walk in Silence, named of course after the first line in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, was meant to be more about dealing with my darker side. I was still feeling the sting of nearly all my closest friends having escaped our small town for college and the bigger world out there, and I’d made this to deal with that.

College radio was indeed my oasis during my senior year, alongside those Sunday episodes of 120 Minutes. I was doing my damnedest to deal with the frustration of still being stuck in a small town. The sources of these mixtapes were equally from the records I’d bought from Main Street Music and Al Bum’s, vinyl borrowed from the local radio station I’d worked at, taped off WAMH 89.3 (Amherst College), or second-hand dubs of albums I’d borrowed from that same group of friends. I wanted to start making more of these mixtapes, now that I understood how to create a smooth mix, and more importantly, fit as many songs onto each side of a 90-minute tape with minimal leftover blank space.

I still remember opening up a new cassette from its wrapper and smelling that fresh slightly plastic scent. I was super careful with the boxes they came in and would buy empties whenever I found them. I treated these tapes just like I treated my purchased albums: I made sure they were wound correctly, had a readable label, and didn’t get worn out or erased. I rarely bought the fancy expensive hi-def brands — I usually stuck with the affordable and reliable Memorex dBS 90s — because I didn’t care so much about the quality as much as I just wanted the music itself as part of my growing library.

I cataloged these mixes in notebooks primarily so my friends could see what was on them if they wanted to borrow them. It’s only because of this that I was able to successfully recreate nearly 99% of my mixtape library digitally, missing maybe only four or five lost and unavailable songs total. I used the Walk in Silence theme off and on, and currently I make at least two of them a year alongside two Listen in Silence and end-of-year mixes.

I bring this up to personally thank Lou Ottens, who helped invent the compact cassette tape, who recently passed away at age 94. I used so many blank tapes over the years for so many things: mixtapes, recordings of jam sessions for jeb! and The Flying Bohemians, live shows, soundtracks for my novels, dubbed albums, and maybe even a few class lectures now and again. I completed then hard-to-find discographies of favorite bands. I will totally admit to spending food and lunch money on blank tapes. I’ve put scotch tape over those holes on the top to use actual albums nobody wanted as fresh blanks. I came across a blank or two recently while cleaning out and rearranging things here in Spare Oom. I have a storage box full of my mixtapes, a few I’d remade around 2000 but many of them still the originals.

And now I see that cassettes are making a comeback, believe it or not. Indie bands are selling them on Bandcamp. And Amoeba Records has a nifty little corner full of cassettes new and old.

Thanks, Lou. Your invention was a huge and important part of my life.

Mixtapes for writing projects

I’ve made mixtape ‘soundtracks’ for pretty much every writing project I’ve worked on, even for those that I ended up trunking. When I’m coming up with a new story, I will usually already know what mood the story will take. For Meet the Lidwells I already planned for the story to take place in the 90s, so I gathered a number of my favorite songs from that decade that I knew would fit the feel of the story, not to mention what The Lidwells’ music itself would sound like. (“Grapevine”, for instance, is a mash-up between The House of Love’s “You Don’t Understand” and The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection”, both of which are on the mixtape.)

Theadia is no different. This story is going to be a bit different from anything else I’ve written, so the sounds are going to be a bit futuristic, maybe a bit weird and dreamlike. There are a number of dance tunes on there as well, which is very unlike me in terms of mixtapes…I use a lot of electronica and its numerous offshoots in my mixes, but rarely of the “get on the floor” type. Even the slow and shoegazey tunes seem more uplifting and less moody.

Here are a few selections from Theadia: Music from the Waystation. Enjoy!

Secret Machines’ “3 4 5 Let’s Stay Alive” has that Epic Opening Track sound: heavy, grand, and loud. But it also has an overwhelmingly positive message, which is what I was looking for.

Haelos; “End of World Party” is the kind of dance track I’m talking about above. There are a couple of tracks from this band on this particular mix.

Sault’s “I Just Want to Dance” works for me because it happens to capture the thrill of the dance floor (in a very retro way, in this case) yet goes about it in a different and unique way.

The Pretenders’ “Message of Love” is an unexpected left turn for me, as it sticks out amongst all the other more recent tracks, but its gritty bounciness and its positivity works as one of the story’s themes.

Bob Moses’ “Hold Me Up” is similar to Haelos in that it’s a darker dance sound, and one that’s easy to get lost in.

Doves’ “Universal Want” is a moody rock tune hidden near the back end of the mixtape, put there on purpose as a way to say “we’ve sat through most of these songs and moods but this here is the main theme of the entire story.”

BRONSON’s “Dawn” is the last track for the same reason the Secret Machines track was the first: it’s a gorgeous and epic closer that serves as an ending theme. The “Never give it up / Save yourself from doubt” acapella coda is the theme of Theadia in a nutshell.

*

Of course, as is typical for me, there is a chance there will be a Volume 2 mixtape. There almost always is. The Infamous War Novel had at least four different iterations. In My Blue World has two volumes. The Mendaihu Universe has…quite a few. Why do I make these, anyway? Well, mostly for something to listen to while I’m working on the project, to get me in the right frame of mind. But they’re also a lot of fun to listen to on their own, pretending they’re Official Motion Picture Soundtracks! Heh.

Mixtape: Listen in Silence XXIV

Yes, the current volume of Listen In Silence is number twenty-four.  Not bad for a mixtape series I started back in 1988, yeah?  Missed a few years in between, but I’m glad to say after I resurrected it, it’s still going strong.  The links are for the YouTube videos because I can’t be arsed to attempt to build a Spotify playlist right now.  Enjoy!

Side 1
1. John Hardy, “Hidden Title Theme”
2. Gorillaz feat. George Benson, “Humility”
3. Bob Moses, “Heaven Only Knows”
4. Mitski, “Nobody”
5. Death Cab for Cutie, “Gold Rush”
6. The Kooks, “No Pressure”
7. Eric Bachmann, “Daylight”
8. tunng, “Crow”
9. Metric, “Dark Saturday”
10. James, “Many Faces”
11. Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

Side 2
1. Death Cab for Cutie, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”
2. Gorillaz, “Tranz”
3. tunng, “Dark Heart”
4. Dog Party, “Operator”
5. Nothing, “Us/We/Are”
6. Paul McCartney, “Fuh You”
7. The Neighbourhood, “Softcore”
8. Jungle, “Happy Man”
9. Failure, “Heavy and Blind”
10. Art Brut, “Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out!”
11. The London Suede, “The Invisibles”
12. ShadowParty, “Celebrate”
13. Mogwai, “We’re Not Done (End Title)”

More Thoughts on Mixtaping in the 21st Century

memorex dbs gif

I know, I know… they call it making a playlist now.  You grab a few tracks from Spotify and gather them together and call it done.  Where it used to take a good couple of hours to make one on a 90-minute cassette, now it only takes an hour, if that.

As I’ve explained before, my current mixtape creation process is by way of copying mp3s into a new folder, shuffling them into some semblance of order, and retagging them accordingly.  I’m keeping it old-school by having a sort-of-physical end result instead of a playlist.

I’ve noticed over the past few years that one thing hasn’t changed:  the urge to make a mixtape usually comes from hearing a specific song that I truly love.  For instance, my current obsession with Bob Moses’ “Heaven Only Knows” has inspired me to throw the next Listen in Silence mix together.  From there I’ll think a bit about what other songs caught my attention over the last few months.  They’ll just as often be tracks I’ve been hearing on Indie617 or SiriusXM as they’ll be deep cuts from newer albums I’ve downloaded.  The rest of the process is still the same, asking the same questions: what’s the best opening track?  Closing track?  Which songs segue the best?  Which ones sound awkward?  The only thing really missing is writing out the tracks on the c-card.

Do I listen to these after I’ve made them?  Sure!  I listen to them a lot, actually, just as I always have.  I listen to them during writing sessions, during the Day Job, or when I’m at the gym.  And they’re great to listen to on long flights as well.  I’ll even listen to older ones I’d made a few years previous.

I don’t share them as much as I used to, though.  Back in high school I’d give my buddy Chris the track list or make a copy of it for him.  I used to make the occasional mixtape for my then girlfriends of course, but for the most part I made them for my own enjoyment.  And that’s cool too.  Come to think of it, I should probably start posting some of them here.  I haven’t used my Spotify account in ages, so perhaps it’s time to dust it off and create some of my mixtapes for your enjoyment!

Songs from the Eden Cycle, Vol 5 (Under Construction)

What’s that, you say?  Is this an official follow-up to the original four compilation volumes from 1997-98?  Didn’t I make a bunch of semi-official compilations for the trilogy over the next decade and a half?  Am I just recycling the same damn mixes over and over again at this point?

What’s the diff, anyway?

Well, the original Songs from the Eden Cycle mixes were made when I was writing The Phoenix Effect and were used to get me inspired, rather than songs that were assigned to specific scenes (with a few exceptions).  The follow-up mixes, on the other hand, were when I wrote and revised the Bridgetown Trilogy and were specifically focused on those stories.

Thus, this new “Volume 5” is a return to the original reason for the series: music to get me inspired to write the new Mendaihu Universe book(s).  Like the original four, these will be mixes that will be made over an extended stretch of time, as certain tracks pop up.

Here are a few that I’ve gathered so far…

Blonde Redhead, “23”. This song popped up on my radar in 2015 when I was playing around with MU story ideas, and caught me at the right moment with its unrelenting, twisting power. Beauty and tension at the same time.

Kasabian, “Club Foot”. I’m surprised I never put this song anywhere on any of my major compilations other than a half-assed one I threw together in 2005, because it’s one of my favorite badass bass lines. Also surprised I never used it in any Mendaihu Universe stories, either. Admittedly the video (again, one of my favorites) did give me a bit of inspiration as well.

U2, “The Blackout”. Say what you will about U2’s last two albums, personally I still think they’re the best and strongest albums they’ve had in years. Pretty sure they’re both going to get a lot of play when I start writing the new stuff.

Editors, “No Harm”. These guys consistently blow my mind with each release. In Dream was quite the dark affair — not as creepy as In This Light and On This Evening, but emotionally raw — and got a hell of a lot of play when I was revising the original trilogy. Pretty sure it’s gonna get play here as well.

Dot Allison, “Message Personnel”. This track actually dates back to the original TPE/trilogy sessions and popped up on one of the “Mendaihu Universe” mixes, but I’ve chosen to add it to this one because it’s the soundtrack to one of the first scenes I’d come up with for the new story.  This is one of the few exceptions where I had a perfect song in mind for a specific scene.

The Horrors, “I See You”. I think I need to look into this band more, because they totally slipped under my radar until I heard their Luminous album a few years back. I love their dark post-punk sound, which fits in quite nicely with what I’m trying to achieve with the new story.

I’m still working on this one right now, and it is in fact a mix of newer and older songs (note: the original four volumes did in fact have the same type of content as well).  With the exception of maybe one or two songs, the rest of these haven’t been put on an official Eden Cycle mix as of yet.

Yes, I know…I’ve got two other novels I have to finish first before I can get anywhere serious with this new Mendaihu Universe novels, but it doesn’t hurt to get an early start with the notes and the soundtrack, right?

Songs from the Apartment Complex

garden of words apartment

from Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words

New mixtape/mp3 playlist!  This one’s Songs from the Apartment Complex, and I have to say this is probably one of the quirkiest mixes I’ve made in a while.  The Apartment Complex story (still working on the title, folks) has evolved into an unexpected direction for me.  Unlike previous book-centric playlists where most of the songs are there to set a mood, many of these tracks here are aimed at specific characters and what kind of person or being they are.  Hope you enjoy it!

  1. The Sound of Arrows, “Stay Free”
  2. U2, “Get Out of Your Own Way”
  3. Ra Ra Riot, “Water”
  4. Beck, “Dreams”
  5. Elbow, “Firebrand & Angel”
  6. Gang of Youths, “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?”
  7. The Naked and Famous, “A Still Heart”
  8. U2, “13 (There Is a Light)”
  9. Embrace, “Love Is a Basic Need”
  10. The Sound of Arrows, “Don’t Worry”
  11. Shame, “Friction”
  12. Elbow, “One Day Like This”
  13. GoGo Penguin, “Strid”
  14. Eels, “There I Said It”
  15. U2, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
  16. The Sound of Arrows, “Beautiful Life”
  17. Love Tractor, “We All Loved Each Other So Much”

EDIT: As you may have seen over at Welcome to Bridgetown, I’ve put the Apartment Complex story on hiatus as I’m having even more problems with it than I thought, and need to put it aside for a while. Frustrating, yes. VERY frustrating. But I’m still keeping this up, because I think it’s a pretty interesting mix, and something I’ll listen to when I come back to the project. [And I *am* coming back to it — I just don’t know when.]