[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.]
I’ve mentioned a couple of times1 that Smokelit Flashback is my longest mix.2 Volume VI is perhaps half done, and there’s a very rough roadmap for a volume VII, which is definitely more volumes than any other mix. It was the first,3 so it makes sense that it’s collected the most tracks. And downtempo, darkwave, and trip-hop continue to be interests of mine, and I find it great music to have in the background while I work. So, given all that, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m ready to present you with a mind-blowing fifth volume of this unusual mix, before I’ve ever even presented a fourth volume of any other mix.4
And, given what we’ve heard from the previous four volumes, there will be a lot of head-nodding and mumbles of “oh sure.” Falling You is back, as is Hooverphonic. Thievery Corporation, who we first heard on Smokelit Flashback III, is here, and gives us our volume title this time around (as well as providing our centerpiece: “Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes” is a pretty stunning track). Mazzy Star returns from Smokelit Flashback II, with perhaps the best song off Among My Swan, “Umbilical,” which also provides our required “creepy” factor.5 While in general I don’t care for Among My Swan, this track’s pervasive organ, coupled with Hope Sandoval’s mumbled lyrics, are something you wouldn’t want to have missed. Devics, who we first6 heard from last volume, is also back with a pretty tune off their amazing album My Beautiful Sinking Ship.
Also back from volume III is Goldfrapp, who once again embodies a smokey bar lounge singer transported from a sixty’s Bond movie better than anyone since Portishead. Back from last volume is Beth Quist, giving us a vocal track this time out: “Blue Planet” is a bit more deliberate than what we’ve heard from her so far,7 and it’s just a wee bit haunting, which makes it fit perfectly here. And, finally from the returning artist crew, French downtempo trio Télépopmusik, who provided the closer from last volume, give us another track off Genetic World, “Love Can Damage Your Health.” (In fact, there’s a bit of a “Breathe” reprise at the end of this song.) I wasn’t entirely sure where I first heard Télépopmusik, but Wikipedia just informed me that “Breathe” was used in a season 2 episode Six Feet Under,8 so I guess that was probably it. Although I wasn’t inspired to go out and find them right then and there. But I suppose that’s why it sounded vaguely familiar when I finally did discover it.
Also unsurprising to find here is the stuff I already warned you was coming. Back in Smokelit Flashback II, I mentioned Love Spirals Downwards, an excellent darkwave band on Projekt Records, and hailing from my hometown of LA. I told you we’d hear them on volume V right in footnote 5, and here they are, providing our volume opener. “Illusory Me” is a wonderful tune which puts us right back in the mood that this mix epitomizes. I was a bit more vague when referring to Widowspeak, a band very reminiscent of Mazzy Star: I said we’d probably hear them at some point, but I wasn’t sure when. Well, now I am: “In the Pines” provides the perfect lead-in to Devics’ “Gold in the Girl.” It’s vaguely unsettling and trippy and just perfect for this mix.
We also have a few imports this time around, all from Paradoxically Sized World. Ugress (from PSW volume II and volume III) shows a bit of his darker side with “The Beauty Never Lasts,” the last vocal track on this volume. Trentemøller, who we first actually heard on Darkling Embrace (his track on PSW hasn’t come around yet), was also discovered via LittleBigPlanet, although they have have plenty of range, as they demonstrate here with ”... Even Though You’re with Another Girl.” It’s the perfect bit of menace to lead into the dark hallucinatory entrails of Widowspeak thence to Devics. And lastly we have Bonobo, who, while never directly used in LBP,9 has appeared on both PSW volume I and volume II. “Noctuary” is a bit darker than those other tracks, so it works well here.
Perhaps the major discovery, though, is Violet Indiana. Remember Mono, from volume III? Imagine if you could take the female vocalist from that band (Siobhan de Maré) and throw her in a studio with the guitarist and cofounder of Cocteau Twins (Robin Guthrie) and cut an album. Well, you just invented Violet Indiana. And, while the resulting trip-hop is not as perfect as it probably sounds, there are quite a few stand-out tracks, of which “Rage Days” is the absolute best. Coming off the mellow instrumental downtempo of “Noctuary” and leading into the more frenetic classical-with-a-backbeat trip-hop of “Battersea,” it’s the perfect intro into our center stretch.
Smokelit Flashback V
[In My Dream I'll Catch You]
[In My Dream I'll Catch You]
“Illusory Me” by Love Spirals Downwards, off Idylls [Reissue]
“Given” by Falling You, off Faith
“Umbilical” by Mazzy Star, off Among My Swan
“Human” by Goldfrapp, off Felt Mountain
“Blue Planet” by Beth Quist, off Silver
“Love Can Damage Your Health” by Télépopmusik, off Genetic World
“Noctuary” by Bonobo, off Dial 'M' for Monkey
“Rage Days” by Violet Indiana, off Roulette
“Battersea” by Hooverphonic, off Blue Wonder Power Milk
“Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes” by Thievery Corporation, off The Richest Man in Babylon
“Farewell Ferengistan” by Banco de Gaia, off Farewell Ferengistan
“... Even Though You're with Another Girl” by Trentemøller, off Into the Great Wide Yonder
“In the Pines” by Widowspeak, off Widowspeak
“Gold in the Girl” by Devics, off My Beautiful Sinking Ship
“Empty” by Amanda Ghost [Single]
“The Beauty Never Lasts” by Ugress, off Cinematronics
“Lost River” by A Produce, off Land of a Thousand Trances
Total: 17 tracks, 78:57
That just leaves us with 3 tracks. Two of those come from two sources of previous inspiration: my cable provider’s “Zen” music channel introduced me to Banco de Gaia, and Hearts of Space was the first place I heard A Produce. In the former case, “Farewell Ferengistan” is a little bit world, mostly instrumental, with a splash of dreampop vocals, so it works nicely here. In the latter, “Lost River” is our closer; almost a bridge, it’s a short bit of downtempo trance from A Produce’s stellar (if somewhat hard to find) Land of a Thousand Trances, which winds us down to the end quite beautifully.
Which just leaves us with Amanda Ghost. British born, with ancestry tracing back to India via the Caribbean, she would eventually become the president of Epic records after writing songs for Beyoncé and Jordin Sparks. But, at 26, she released a single album called Ghost Stories. For the most part, it lay in that strange middle ground between pop and folk that had been mined so thoroughly 5 years prior by Poe, Jewel, and Joan Osborne, with some eclectic touches of techno and subtler electronica. Overall, not my bag. But “Empty” is a whole different animal: torchy trip-hop that allows Ghost to show off her pipes in ways that I don’t think the rest of her debut did. I can’t remember where I found her, but I do remember flicking through the samples off that album and thinking, “man, this is a waste of my time” until I got to track 8 (out of 10), and then just being blown away. Which goes to show you that you should never stop listening to an album after the first 3 or 4 tracks, even if you sort of hate it. ‘Cause you never know what hidden gem you might be missing out on.
Next time, we’ll sit around a virtual campfire and listen to some stories.
Smokelit Flashback VI ⇒
1 Specifically, in Salsatic Vibrato I and Smokelit Flashback III.
2 Well, these days Salsatic Vibrato has more total tracks. But Smokelit Flashback still has more volumes.
3 Of the modern mixes, at least. Refer to the series list for definitions.
4 Honestly, I only have two other mixes which even have a volume IV: Salsatic Vibrato, and Paradoxically Sized World.
5 You may recall me discussing the creepy angle in Smokelit Flashback IV.
6 Well, first in terms of Smokelit Flashback. I first first mentioned Devics in conjunction with Darkling Embrace.
7 Not only on volume IV of this mix, but also on Sirenexiv Cola.
8 Who I also credit for inspiring Rose-Coloured Brainpan by reintroducing me to “Woodstock.”
9 At least to my knowledge.