Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sirenexiv Cola I

"You Sparkle and Burn"

[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.

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.]

I once had a friend (and coworker) who, when he’d pick music to play at work, always picked from my alterna-pop CDs which featured female vocalists.  Whenever I asked him why he never picked male singers, he’d just shrug, give an enigmatic smile, and say, I like the women’s voices better.  And admittedly there are times when I do as well.  During those times, I reach for this mix.

The real inspiration for this mix was my discovery of KT Tunstall.  This was only a few years back, and I stumbled across her name in conjunction with something else—I have no clue what it was now—and she sounded interesting.  So I did what I often do in such cases: I asked AllMusic which was her best album, then went and listened to the free samples of it to see if it was any good.  In this case, that was the double-album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon.  Which I listened to, and thought it was moderately decent, and put it on my list to pick up one day.  But nothing too exciting.  And then I decided to listen to just one more album, and I picked Tiger Suit.  And, man, let me tell you: it blew me away.  I can’t think of an artist I was this excited about since stumbling across Movitz! on The Colbert Report.1

And, weirdly, it parallels my discovery of whitechocolatespaceegg by Liz Phair.  That’s another album that I was quite surprised to fall in love with, after hearing one song2 on the radio, by an artist whose other albums I don’t like nearly as much ... even down to not being that keen on the one that AllMusic tells me I “should” like.  In Phair’s case, the critical darling is Exit to Guyville, but I’m fairly “meh” on that one.  whitechocolatespaceegg, on the other hand, is magnificent.  As a bonus, Tunstall’s style is very close to Phair’s—but not identical—so that Tiger Suit is both familiar and fresh at the same time.  I knew that I needed to put together a mix featuring Tunstall and Phair.  (And note that, indeed, they provide the first two tracks here.)

I decided to center the mix around female vocalists, with upbeat, vaguely poppy songs as sung by sweet, often sexy, voices.  Some of my friend’s favorite artists are well represented here: the Sundays, the Katydids, Tori Amos, and of course Liz Phair.  When I tried to think of a creative name for this mix, I thought of various words that might bring to mind a beautiful female voice drifting over to the listener, and of course I thought of “siren.”  But I also thought of “vixen,” which implies extra attributes of cleverness and sexuality.  So I just glued those two words together, and added something to indicate the poppy nature of the whole, and there we have “Sirenexiv Cola.”

Now, obviously not every female vocalist is going to work here.  As much as I love the Cocteau Twins, Elizabeth Fraser’s dreamy vocals are not quite right for this mix.  Bold, brassy vocals such as Amy Winehouse or Alf Moyet (from Yazoo) are not going to work well here either.  Nor are the hard rockers like Joan Jett or Pat Benatar, nor the more experimental folks like Throwing Muses or the Breeders.  On the other hand, there is the anti-folk movement, which is perfect here.

Now, I rather think of Tori Amos as the original anti-folk artist, even though she was around before most of the modern artists that term is applied to were ever heard of.3  And we have a track here from Tori, one of the rare upbeat tracks off her stunning Little Earthquakes, which is certainly one of my favorite albums.  (And “Happy Phantom” contains one of my favorite all-time lyrics: “They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen ...”)  And the rest of the (mostly) ladies who wear the anti-folk label are way more upbeat than Amos: Feist, Regina Spektor, Keren Ann, Mirah4 ... all of whom we have represented here, of course.

Feist, you know: indeed, “1234” in particular you know, because that iPod commercial wormed its way into your brain and never let go.  Feist is way more than that one song, and we’ll hear more from her on future volumes, but there’s also a lot to be said for that particular tune, as pervasive as it was.  Spektor is probably best known for singing the theme song to Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, and the original version of that song is our closer here.  Spektor is more than just that one song too (and in fact I already knew of her before OItNB), but that song is pretty spectacular.  Keren Ann and Mirah are a bit more obscure; I believe I found both of them from following “artists like this one” type links (probably links from Regina Spektor and/or Feist, for that matter).  Multilingual Keren Ann was born in Israel and raised in the Netherlands, but she sings primarily in English and French.  The track we use here is from her first English album, Not Going Anywhere, which is quite pretty.  Mirah is a bit more hit and miss, but “Sweepstakes Prize” is a pretty awesome tune, and it provides our volume title.

In the category of other artists who shouldn’t be a surprise, we have Beth Quist, a Magnatune artist who we first met on Smokelit Flashback IV.  Most of her stuff is not particularly as poppy as “Monsters,” but she’s still an excellent choice for this mix.  Competing with Magnatune, we have Jamendo, which more often showcases folks who are putting together sonic portfolios by creating soundtracks for non-existent movies.  But they also have other types of music, including Bella Ruse, a duo from Columbus that also qualifies as anti-folk in my opinion.  Their female-fronted songs are delicate and upbeat, like the one I chose for this mix, off their debut EP.

Sirenexiv Cola I
    [You Sparkle and Burn]

        “Glamour Puss” by KT Tunstall, off Tiger Suit
        “Perfect World” by Liz Phair, off Whitechocolatespaceegg
        “Clean White Love” by Lisa Mitchell, off Wonder
        “A Little Love” by Meaghan Smith, off The Cricket's Orchestra
        “Heart of Everyone” by Bella Ruse, off Bella Ruse [EP]
        “Sweepstakes Prize” by Mirah, off You Think It's Like This but Really It's Like This
        “Fingers” by P!nk, off I'm Not Dead
        “Get Some” by Lykke Li, off Wounded Rhymes
        “You Never Know” by Goldfrapp, off Supernature
        “Energy” by Lisa Germano, off Happiness
        “You're the One [Blood Orange Remix]” by Charli XCX, off You're the One [US] [EP]
        “Dollhouse” by Melanie Martinez, off Dollhouse [EP]
        “Monsters” by Beth Quist, off Silver
        “Right Now & Right Here” by Keren Ann, off Not Going Anywhere
        “Happy Phantom” by Tori Amos, off Little Earthquakes
        “My Finest Hour” by The Sundays, off Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
        “The Boy Who's Never Found” by Katydids, off Shangri-La
        “1234” by Feist, off The Reminder
        “Fortune Teller” by Ed's Redeeming Qualities, off It's All Good News
        “Fall Away” by Eleni Mandell [Single]
        “You've Got Time” by Regina Spektor [Single]
Total:  21 tracks,  75:29

As I talked about before, I really like P!nk.  Most of her music is too party-girl for this mix, and in fact there were several times that I almost decided that “Fingers” was too risqué to fit in here.  But, in the end, I decided that I wanted to include Lykke Li’s “Get Some,” which is a pretty decent party song itself.  So then “Fingers” seemed like a pretty logical lead-in to the Swedish pop star’s driving beat.5  And, following Li, we have Goldfrapp, another artist who can bounce around from trip-hop to uptempo pop without too much difficulty.  “You Never Know” has a bit of a Kate Bush feel that slots in perfectly here.

There are a few other hardcore pop artists here, including Charli XCX, whose “You’re the One” is about as pop as it gets.  I prefer the “Blood Oranges remix” from her CD single / EP: I think it adds just enough flavor to tone down the over-the-top-pop to the perfect level for this mix.  Australia’s Lisa Mitchell is also normally considered pop, although I think she has enough anti-folk cred to earn her place here with the quite wonderful “Clean White Love.”  And I think Melanie Martinez qualifies as pop, although she drifts around a bit as well.  We first heard from Martinez on Darkling Embrace, after all.  But “Dollhouse” is a pretty decent fit here, and I love its clever lyrics.  Eleni Mandell is more of a country singer than a pop singer, but she also has range, and I really like “Fall Away,” which was used in Monkeybone.

Finally, three songs from moderately unexpected quarters.  First up, we have a track from Meaghan Smith, who I talked about discovering back on Moonside by Riverlight.  “A Little Love” may not be quite as good as “Heartbroken,” but it’s pretty damned awesome, and it’s got a bit of electropop-meets-orchestral feel that makes it quite distinctive.  Right around the center mark, we have Lisa Germano, possibly the only major 4AD artist that I missed discovering back in the day.  But I stumbled across her again recently while looking for cool music that featured violinists, and Germano’s name naturally came up.  The second I heard “Energy,” I knew two things: first, that I’d heard it before and somehow forgotten about it, and, secondly, that it was a big ball of awesome that I’d been missing out on for about 20 years.  It’s one of the best tracks on this volume, and trust me when I tell you that’s saying something.  Last but not least, we have Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, who have a tendency to turn up in odd places, like here.  We first heard from them on Tenderhearted Nightshade, then they popped up on Zephyrous Aquamarine, and now here they are again.  ERQ doesn’t always feature female vocals of course, but Carrie Bradley, who would go on to play fiddle for the Breeders, then start her own band called 100 Watt Smile, has a beautiful voice, as well as a sure hand on either acoustic guitar or fiddle.  Silly-yet-poignant is ERQ’s specialty, and, while “Fortune Teller” has some highly amusing lyrics, it’s also touching somehow.  But still upbeat enough to work well here, introducing our closing stretch and leading, via Mandell, into the strong closer of “You’ve Got Time.”

Next time, we’ll attempt to achieve even more balance by counteracting last time’s downbeat and this week’s upbeat with some mid-tempo, of the slinky variety.


1 Perhaps the closest I could come to it would be either Firewater or Devics, both of whom are great, but Tunstall still has them both beat.

2 Specifically, “Polyester Bride,” which I have no doubt we’ll see on a future volume of this very mix.

3 Similarly, I will always think of My Bloody Valentine as shoegazers, even though technically speaking the shoegazers were the folks that followed in their footsteps.

4 Note: some of those folks will be listed by some sources as “indie pop” rather than anit-folk.  I personally put them all together.

5 We first talked about Lykke Li back on Darkling Embrace.  Although in general I prefer Youth Novels, she does have other albums with good songs.  They’re just not as consistent, in my opinion.

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