The following was inspired by the Freaky Trigger series
, with the following rules established by Mr. Tom Ewing:
C90 Go! is a series of articles, each one about a mixtape, written in the time it takes to listen to that tape (or CD). Once the tape is finished the writer is allowed to edit for sense, flow, grammar and factual accuracy, but is not allowed to add anything substantive to their piece. That's the only rule. The writer can talk about as many or as few of the tracks on the CD as s/he wants, and can write about them in any way they like.
C90 Go!: Aries Foster
This mix tape, which I've often considered my best (of few), was created in the summer of 1999, for a new girlfriend. As someone who doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to lyrics in general, I'm not the sort to make "message" mixes, so I'm not sure this tape really reflects any young-and-in-love sentiments. It's mostly just songs I liked when I was 20. Even the title, "Aries Foster," has no hidden meaning: the words appear next to one another on a crossword-puzzle answer key that was part of the collage I made for the tape cover. (Also on the cover, if I'm not mistaken: a great photo of the Bride of Frankenstein.)
: Black and Blue
The mix begins with "Binario,"
a nice wake-up-and-get-ready sort of song. A high-school friend originally introduced me to Komeda, but the summer before I made this mix, I'd interned at Minty Fresh and got an advance copy of their What Makes It Go?
album. I found its sassy pop was perfect to listen to in the shower, rhythmically scrubbing shampoo into my hair.
One band the girlfriend and I had in common was Sonic Youth, so I threw on a song I figured she didn't have: "Bouwerie Boy"
by the Kim Gordon-led Free Kitten.
Which then segues into "Cross the Breeze"
from Daydream Nation
. The beginning of this track always sounds so hardcore, with Steve Shelley furiously pounding his kit on every beat, and spiky guitars. When Kim comes in, it opens up -- the guitar lines start sprawling and spiraling – and yet it never loses that initial energy. Even though "Teenage Riot" is hookier and "Eric's Trip" more popular, sometimes I feel like the seven minutes of this song better capture the majesty of the album. And dig that instrumental coda: the guitars are still chiming and buzzing, floating away.
There were few tapes I made in the late nineties that lacked a track by Pavement. They were my favorite band for maybe only a year or two (1996-97), but after Sonic Youth, they were the first indie-rock band I came to seriously love. "Blue Hawaiian"
is an underrated song on an album that contains the one-two punch of "Stereo" and "Shady Lane": the organ gives it this great mellow, hanging-out-at-the beach vibe.
Which is maybe why it's fitting that it shifts into "Ease Your Feet Into the Sea,"
by Belle and Sebastian. At the time, the girlfriend had more of an affinity for folksy sort of stuff than I did, so I figured this was appropriate (although I think she maybe already had it?) -- but after spending six months in the UK and borrowing their CDs from a flatmate, I counted myself as a B&S fan, too. I responded, of course, to the easy pop perfection of their songs; this one has an undeniable shuffle that works well with its bittersweet tone.
Jim O'Rourke's "Women of the World"
(an Ivor Cutler cover) is maybe an easy choice for a feminist with a soft spot for folk, but it's also a pretty weird song: it's nearly nine minutes long and consists of nothing but O'Rourke intoning, "Women of the world, take over / Cause if you don't, the world will come to an end / It won't take long" over and over again, as the song gets progressively bigger and busier. Even though I already owned two Gastr Del Sol records, O'Rourke's Eureka
was a big discovery for me in 1999: I only acquired it because I reviewed it for a campus newspaper in the UK, and I spent a lot of time admiring its slightly skewed pop.
In general, I'm kind of skeptical of alt-country: a lot of what I've heard just sounds all boring and strummy, with a bit of a twang or a rough voice to make it sound "rootsy." But in the mid-nineties, I listened a fair bit to the AAA station in Chicago (WXRT) and came across the Jayhawks, whose "Blue"
I really did fall in love with: its trickling piano and high harmonies give it a lovely summer front-porch feel.
And then more, more acoustic guitar, as I continue to milk that interest, haha. Anyway, I always thought that Beck's Mutations
didn't get the attention it deserved; on "Cancelled Check,"
you can tell Beck is still having fun playing with signifiers (the lap steel, for instance) but it's also a really solid song in that Nashville tradition. Sometimes I wish that Sea Change
was more in this vein, and less theatrically morose.
Gastr Del Sol's "Black Horse"
is unlike almost anything else that group ever did, although it's close to O'Rourke's Bad Timing
in spirit: it's basically a circular Celtic fiddle piece, augmented by some busy low saxophone, that then devolves into this intense finger-picking that reminded me, when I first heard it, of Philip Glass: all minor arpeggios that just don't let up!
Another thing the girlfriend liked was spoken-word poetry, so I did the best I could with the last three songs on Side A. But I'm pretty sure that "Black Dada Nihilismus,"
a fairly dark and bizarre rant from Amiri Baraka (with DJ Spooky mixing trumpet sighs and cymbal crashes that sound like struck sheets of aluminum), was her least favorite song on the whole tape. Heh.
I fared somewhat better, I think, with "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,"
because for all its radical content, it's still such a funky tune, with that octave-striding bass line (I'm still convinced that Stereolab stole it for "Metronomic Underground") and jazz flute – not to mention fun catchphrases like "the tiger in your tank or the giant in your toilet bowl." (I'm sure this made more sense in 1970, but you know, that's part of the fun.) This comes courtesy a best-of Gil Scott-Heron CD that belonged to my dad!
And the third time's really the charm with Soul Coughing's "Screenwriter's Blues."
The girlfriend had dismissed this band in the past because she assumed they were bad grunge, but immediately took to this song. I liked Ruby Vroom
a lot in its day: its nonsense lyrics, weirdo samples, and faux-jazz shtick were exactly what I was looking for at the end of high school. And though I think they took a pretty serious nose-dive after Ruby Vroom
, and though that album doesn't even speak to me as strongly anymore, I will still praise this song, evoking strong black coffee and movies like L.A. Confidential
and Mulholland Dr.
: Moon Rooms
A lot of what I liked about Soul Coughing I also found in Cibo Matto. It's funny: it all sounds so quintessentially nineties now, that whole Grand Royal scene (Luscious Jackson, Money Mark) that carved out within indie rock a place for this amateurish white (and don't forget Asian!) funkiness. I sure dug the samba grooves of songs like "Spoon,"
Laika's "Looking for the Jackalope,"
along with the Amiri Baraka/DJ Spooky collab on Side A, appeared on Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip
, one of those AIDS-charity comps that are often surprisingly good. Not acquainted with UK shoegaze/post-rock at all, this was the first of Laika I'd heard, and I liked it so much, I bought the album.
As I'm listening to this again, I'm realizing that Side B has a seriously sexy element, as we move from Laika's breathy vocals and insistent polyrhythms into early-seventies Stevie Wonder, of all people. The synthesizer on "Too High"
is too awesome.
And then a segue I'm really proud of: "Too High" ends with a chorus of Manhattan Transfer-ish "doo-doos"; a second later, the exact same kind of "doo-doos" open Les Baxter's "Moon Moods."
I totally latched onto that mid-nineties lounge revival, despite being too young (and far from smarmy enough) to really partake in the martini-swilling Swingers
lifestyle. This here is an original lounge classic, which I've actually used to counter someone who's said that lounge music is lame. No, no, Pearl Jam fan: you're lame.
Only with perspective, I guess, have I realized that my lounge love was somewhat unique (when ILM went about formulating hypothetical Rough Guides
for mini-genres, the only one I felt completely comfortable creating on my own was "Late 90s Lounge Pop"
). "Doo-Wop Property"
is a High Llamas instrumental that is nonetheless structurally similar to a lot of songs on Hawaii
. There'll be the traditional verse/chorus part, and then, toward the end, the band will alight on some phrase that they'll repeat ad infinitum: it's usually something suitably trancelike, so you can close your eyes on the beach as the sun sets and the music fades out.
I'm extremely protective
of the Aluminum Group. They, too, were on Minty Fresh when I worked there, and I became enchanted with their Bacharach-styled gay pop narratives, but in the last five years, I've also come to know John and Frank Navin socially, and I often think of them as one of my pet musical discoveries. The first song on their first (proper) album, "Chocolates"
, is beautiful and lush.
For all the lounge music on this tape, probably the most coffee-table, Gap-friendly selection is "Corcovado,"
the Jobim tune, as covered by Everything But the Girl. Tracy Thorn starts with impeccable-sounding a capella Portuguese, and when the drum-n-bass rhythm hits, you begin to wish you owned silk sheets or something.
Ordinarily, Yo La Tengo right here might make for a jarring segue, but those warm organ tones in "Autumn Sweater,"
not to mention a similary reverbed kick drum, sound pretty smooth. This is kind of a clichéd indie-rock love song (a cute girl in a cardigan, a tongue-tied boy, falling leaves: tell me what's NOT emo about this!), but it's very pretty. Did I mention how warm those organ tones are?
One of the things I like about "The Argument"
by the Sea and Cake is that it rides this krautrock groove for like two whole minutes before Sam Prekop's willowy voice comes in. (But those little asides he makes! The girlfriend and I would always sing "sit tight, y'all" and "I've got-to go.") A really nice example of the band's facility with blending organic and electronic sounds: a lot of the percussion is obviously programmed, but you can also hear all of John McEntire's spontaneous fills, especially in that first half.
I think at the end of 1999, Sam Prekop's solo album was my favorite of the year, and I'm pleased to see that others agree with me
that it's better than a lot of Sea and Cake material (especially, I'd say, the last two records). Even when a song like "Showrooms"
is decorated with a string section, it still feels more stripped-down and earthy somehow. And I'm such a sucker for these bossanova rhythms, it's ridiculous.
Stereolab is another band I had a hard time keeping off mix tapes; they were, in fact, my absolute favorite band at the time. With so much material to choose from, I selected "Cybele's Reverie"
because it starts with this Hollywood string section, right on the heels of Prekop's strings outro. I swear, this thing is really well sequenced.
And we close with Rachel's, a band close to the girlfriend's heart. (Before we dated, I'd already borrowed Music for Egon Schiele
and The Sea and the Bells
from her.) "Kentucky Nocturne"
was from a brand-new album of theirs that we'd listened to with the lights off in my dorm room that summer. More strings, sheesh, starting out quiet and plaintive and ending in this percussive purple-mountain-majesty that punctuates the end of the cassette.
She still likes the tape, by the way, even though we broke up over three years ago. We're friends now, and she reports that it's one of the best mixes anyone's made her (thanks!), as well as a good "intro to indie rock." Which is kind of interesting. I mean, it's true that if you asked me five years ago what I liked, I would've likely said "indie rock," but except for the Sonic Youth and maybe Pavement, the tape is conspicuously devoid of loud guitar songs. I remind myself of this fact whenever I'm feeling the occasional indie guilt.