Sunday, April 3, 2016

Smokelit Flashback IV

"This Labyrinth of Poems"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

It’s time to return once again to the mix that kicked off this whole series for another installment of slightly trippy, smokey bar spy movie music.  I was playing this very volume at work one night this week, and one of my co-workers called the music “creepy.”  My kids have made the same accusation.  And, there’s no denying: many of the songs that you hear on this mix do fall on the creepy side of a line.  Not too far, else we’d see them on an entirely different mix,1 but north of the border of unsettling, for sure.  Songs like Portishead’s “Over” (from volume I), Lemon Jelly’s “Experiment Number Six” (from volume II), and Goldfrapp’s “Lovely Head” (from volume III) have a certain vibe to them, and we’ll see a few more like them here too.  But there’s more to this mix than just “creepy.”  There’s some very interesting tunes here, so let’s dive right in.

As always, there are familiar faces returning for the latest installment.  Just like last volume, there are two Hooverphonic tracks here: “Every Time We Live Together We Die a Bit More,” which provides our volume title, and the rare male-vocal-fronted song from them, “Dictionary.”  Plus another track from Dahlia (possibly an even better one than last time), another instrumental break from the Swing soundtrack, and back to Falling You’s first (and best) album for another track off Touch.  Familiar faces all, but not the same old same old by any stretch.

You may also recall that Falling You comes to us via Magnatune, the “We Are Not Evil” label.  We’ve seen other folks from Magnatune on various mixes, such as Lisa DeBenedictis, who showed up on Shadowfall Equinox.  Here we get to hear her sing, on “Sidetrack,” a slow but deliberate song that slots in beautifully after another Magnatune artist, Beth Quist.  Quist has toured with Bobby McFerrin as part of his Voicestra, so you can imagine what sort of inventive vocal stylings she’s capable of.  Much of her music has a Middle Eastern feel to it, due to her mastery of the dumbek and hammered dulcimer and other, similar instruments.  But “Air Chair” is a bit different: possibly the creepiest tune in the volume, with a feel somewhat like a new age tune fell into a Halloween mix.

Another Magnatune artist that first shows up here is hands upon black earth, who combine downtempo with touches of world and new age.  I’ve chosen two of their tunes for this volume: “Effigy” towards the beginning, and “Dream” as a bridge to get us from the centerpiece tracks to the latter part of the set.  Neither can be said to have vocals, per se, but there are samples and whispers.  hube, as they are often known, have an intriguing sound that make them indispensable to this mix, and we’ll see them again next volume.  They also give us one of my favorite transitions of the mix, as “Dream” ends with: “Next to me, the man appears again; as the shadow creatures leap off the peak around me, disappearing into the darkness, he turns to me and speaks without words ...” and then Falling You kicks in with “Come out, come out, wherever you are ...”  Our final Magnatune artist is Lizzi, who normally has more of a smooth jazz sound.2  “You Belong,” on the other hand, is a bit more slinky, and works well as the penultimate song for this set.

Possibly the greatest find in this whole volume, though, is Kutiman, an Israeli musician who stitches completely unrelated clips from YouTube videos into new, brilliant compositions.3  Many of his songs are quite good, but “No One in This World” is somewhere beyond amazing.  Featuring a jazzy (originally a capella) vocal from Nicola Dodds paired with the Carducci String Quartet, the Natty Princess horns, Thomson Kneeland on stand-up bass, and such things as a simple 10-second video of a vibraslap, 30 seconds of chimes, and a music student playing a scale on a cello, you really have to watch the video to fully appreciate Kutiman’s genius.  But the music also stands on its own, just a brilliant piece of mildly trippy smoky bar music that epitomizes what this mix is all about.

I’m also bringing some of the finds from my cable provider’s “Zen” music channel—previously only seen over on Paradoxically Sized World—here to flesh out Smokelit Flashback.  Instrumentally, British DJ Nightmares on Wax gives us “Les Nuits,” a smooth but kaleidoscopic tune that stands alone in his catalog, as far as I’m concerned.  On the other hand, Carmen Rizzo is a major find: an LA producer and electronica artist, he’s produced three great albums of world-inflected downtempo, and I’ve picked up all of them.  His first is his best, in my opinion, 2005’s The Lost Art of the Idle Moment, and it gives us “I’ll Carry You,” a song about halfway between the near sense of wonder of “Les Nuits” and the almost menace of “Dictionary.”  It’s a great song that works beautifully here, and we’ll be hearing more from Rizzo on this mix as well as others.

Smokelit Flashback IV
    [This Labyrinth of Poems]

        “Every Time We Live Together We Die a Bit More” by Hooverphonic, off The Magnificent Tree
        “Effigy” by hands upon black earth, off hands upon black earth
        “Air Chair” by Beth Quist, off Shall We Dance
        “Sidetrack” by Lisa DeBenedictis, off Fruitless
        “Last Night” by Lush, off Lovelife
        “Someday the Wind” by Fauxliage, off Fauxliage
        “Dictionary” by Hooverphonic, off Blue Wonder Power Milk
        “Martin's Theme” by Ian Devaney, off Swing [Soundtrack]
        “No One in This World” by Kutiman, off Thru You Too
        “Connected by a String” by Devics, off The Stars at Saint Andrea
        “Dream” by hands upon black earth, off hands upon black earth
        “the canoe and the waterfall” by Falling You, off Touch
        “Forget This Place” by Dahlia, off Emotion Cycles
        “I'll Carry You” by Carmen Rizzo, off The Lost Art of the Idle Moment
        “Les Nuits” by Nightmares on Wax, off Carboot Soul
        “You Belong” by Lizzi, off Love and you and I
        “Breathe” by Télépopmusik, off Genetic World
Total:  17 tracks,  76:38

In the vein of new trip-hop, we have a tune from Fauxliage, the mildly bizarre combination of Delerium, the darkwave/techno band that grew out of industrial greats Front Line Assembly, and Leigh Nash, the lead singer of folksy Sixpence None the Richer.  The result is a single album of some decent trip-hop, of which “Someday the Wind” is probably the best.  On the other hand, French trio Télépopmusik have a couple of good albums, and “Breathe” is the biggest and brightest of their hits.  It is, as its title suggests, breathy, but with a strong beat, and an undercurrent of smokiness that makes it a natural closer for this volume.

And, finally, we have the unexpected tracks.  Lush started out as shoegazers, then went a bit pop for their album Lovelife, which featured moderate hit “Ladykillers.”4  “Last Night,” however, is neither of the above: it’s a slower, slightly psychedelic affair that works quite well here.  Last but not least, I introduced you to the dream pop outfit Devics over in Darkling Embrace.  All their music has a bit of a darker edge, and this track is no exception.  I’m not exactly saying that when you cross darkwave with dream pop you always get music that’s perfect for Smokelit Flashback, but Devics seems to hit it more often than not.  We’ll definitely be seeing more from them here.  While My Beautiful Sinking Ship is my go-to Devics album, their follow-up The Stars at Saint Andrea has a few good tracks as well, such as the one we use here, “Connected by a String.”  It has a distant, disconnected quality that slides effortlessly off the Kutiman track to close out the centerpiece of the volume.

Next time, I think we’ll explore the intersection of punk and new wave.


1 Which we shall come to in the fullness of time.

2 Which means she will inevitably appear on Smooth as Whispercats.

3 I discovered Kutiman quite by accident in one of those bizarre Internet linkwalks.  I was originally looking for what artist did the music for some commercial I’d heard.  Turns out it was just an ad agency type company, but a fairly hip one.  They had quite a few links of “music we like” or “music that inspires us” or somesuch.  One of those links was Kutiman, and I clicked it, and I was just blown away.

4 Which we’ll probably see show up on a mix at some point, as it’s a great song.

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