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My favourite mix tape January 23, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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Nowhere

Ride: Nowhere

Like many other obsessive music fans, I occasionally feel the urge to make a mix tape, but I’m rarely completely happy with the finished product. Sometimes I find myself including something because it seems to be a good representative sample of the type of music involved, but it just doesn’t flow. Other times I get a good flow going but don’t have quite enough music to fill the tape and end up moving away from the original concept to avoid blank tape. Not that I use tape these days, of course.

Anyway, in March 2004 I finally finished the CDR version of an old mix tape I first recorded back in the mid- to late 1990s. Took some time because some of the songs I taped were on LP, not CD, so I couldn’t just rip them to my hard drive for a mix CD. I hunted down mp3s and bought CD versions of albums I had on LP. Then I expanded the concept. The original was one side of a cassette. With a CDR, I had more time and room. So I added new music I’d discovered in the interim that fit with the rest of the songs.

And here’s what I came up with:

U2, “I Will Follow”
Echo and the Bunnymen, “Crocodiles”
Mighty Lemon Drops, “My Biggest Thrill”
Lush, “Hey, Hey Helen”
Teenage Fanclub, “Star Sign” (not on the original tape)
Stone Roses, “She Bangs the Drums” (not on the original tape)
Catherine Wheel, “Show Me Mary”
House of Love, “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” (not on the original tape)
Soft Boys, “Queen of Eyes” (not on the original tape)
Primitives, “Crash”
Jesus and Mary Chain, “My Little Underground”
Sonic Youth, “Silver Rocket”
My Bloody Valentine, “You Made Me Realise”
Sloan, “I Am the Cancer”
Dinosaur Jr., “Freak Scene” (not on the original tape)
Boo Radleys, “Lazy Day”
Swervedriver, “Duel”
Adorable, “Sunshine Smile” (not on the original tape)
Kitchens of Distinction, “Drive That Fast” (not on the original tape)
Ride, “Taste”
Darling Buds, “Sure Thing”
Guitar, “House Full of Time” (not on the original tape)

I think of it as the shoegazer tape, though only half of the bands on it were ever considered shoegazer. Some (U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, Soft Boys) were considered neopsychedelic for a few minutes circa 1981. What they share is the use of guitar for texture as well as noise. There’s a progression from melodic to noisier and back out the other side to melodic again, with the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine providing a heart of darkness while still maintaining some catchiness. This mix always makes me happy.

Looking at it after a few more years, I’m still pretty happy with it. It’s not perfect. The Darling Buds track could probably be dropped. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just a bit too straightforward alt girl guitar pop in this context. For that matter, some of the bands are represented with, well, unrepresentative songs. Lush’s song is an Abba cover, and Catherine Wheel’s is way more catchy and poppy than their usual output — but the songs fit in well here.

What this calls out for is some sequels. There’s been a lot of music in the last few years that would fit on this mix, of which the Guitar track is the only example here. Asobi Seksu, Sereena Maneesh, Mahogany, the Raveonettes, Ulrich Schnauss, M83… might be possible to do an all-new stuff mix in a similar spirit.

The other sequel I’ve been mulling over is the other side of shoegazer — the long, slow, oceanic stuff. Think Bowery Electric’s first two albums, Flying Saucer Attack, stuff with great texture but not catchy and upbeat.

The thing is, in an age of ipods on shuffle and hundreds of albums on hard drives, does it even make sense to make something as fixed as a mix tape for myself these days? Or is it better to make large playlists with complementary collections of songs and albums, and have randomly generated mix tapes, always following some sort of theme, but always a bit different?

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