At the time of this writing, the primary Spotify playlist by Four Tet (a.k.a UK producer/DJ Kieran Hebden) spans 599 songs and runs over 51 hours. By the time you read these words, it will have probably grown. Over the past few months, it seemed to serve primarily as a vehicle for Hebden to build anticipation for his ninth long-player, New Energy. At one point, the title of the playlist—typically an evolving string of emojis—was recently updated to include the album’s release date (Sept. 29), and he’s been adding tracks from the record as they’ve been released, mixing them in with songs from peers (Bicep), inspirations (Sly Stone), and aliases (um, 00110100 01010100, which is the artist page stub where an album of Four Tet b-sides resides in Spotify).Prior to that, the playlist garnered a bit of back in January, when Hebden used it to compile songs by artists from countries impacted by Donald Trump’s travel ban, including Syrian-born singer Omar Souleyman, whose album To Syria, With Love was produced by Hebden. "Its basically a place for me to share things Im listening to, and is becoming a good personal archive of music Ive enjoyed," Hebden told NPR about his playlist at the time.That’s about as coherent a definition as you could need or want. The playlist isn’t a mix and it’s not designed to be; while it flows together in parts, it’s capricious by design. It works reasonably well if you listen to it on shuffle, though expect to be taken down some pretty dark alleys, such as “3” by noise unit Pita (a.k.a. Austria’s Peter Rehberg, who runs the Mego label), which is a boss tune and a personal favorite of this author, but likely to clear a room with its jet-engine feedback shrieking. That “3” is flanked here by everything from Joni Mitchell to CAN to Coltrane to Autechre to Burial to Radiohead to HAIM to Prince to Seefeel... well, the sprawl is precisely the point. (It’s two whole days worth of music, after all.)DJ mixes are a dime-a-dozen, and it’s not hard to find plenty by Four Tet out there in the ether. (This Tokyo set from Dec. ‘13 is particularly smokin’.) What’s much more rare to find is such a comprehensive compendium of all the sounds that go into an artist’s aesthetic. For a veteran like Hebden, an experimental cosmonaut who’s as likely to fold 2-step garage into his music as he is ‘70s jazz fusion or Nigerian funk (or...Selena Gomez), a standard 15-track playlist simply wouldn’t capture the breadth of his tastes. Hell, 10 of those wouldn’t. At 599 tracks and counting, this mix is at least beginning to come close.
Whats This Playlist All About? DJ Seinfeld is at the epicenter of the lo-fi house explosion. Imagine the first-pumping heavy bass of deep house suffused with crackling samples and a touch of pop culture flavored kitsch and you’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the vibe of the Swedish DJ/producer. For “Dancefloors and Departure Lounges,” he selects “music I’m playing in DJ sets, at clubs, at festivals, and a few things I listen to while on the train, the plane, or sitting in the hotel room, chilling.” What You Get: A pretty compelling survey of a certain sector of modern house music, with a few detours to outre hip-hop, electro, and R&B. The great Moomin brings the deep house bonafides on the slinky “The Story About You,” while Black Madonna delivers her epic 2013 house quake “A Jealous Heart Never Rests.” Seinfeld gives props to his buddy Ross from Friends with the inclusion of the latter’s breezy 2018 cut “John Cage,” and also throws in “I Would Do Everything I Did Again and Again,” a blurry assemblage of cut-up vocal samples from Seinfield alias Rimbuadian. As you would expect, it all has a very nice flow, and is generally a fun, effervescent mix, perfect for Bushwick BBQs (think hipsters with spatulas). Greatest Discovery: The 1983 track “Sleeper in Metropolis” from British singer Annie Clack is a pretty great slab of trashy minimal wave and is totally unexpected on this mix, though it totally fits. It’s also nice to see Seinfield give props to the endless influential but oddly unheralded LA hip-hop group Sa-Ra Creative Partners.
Whats This Playlist All About? Bicep is the Irish electronic music duo of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar. Their own music is frequently funky, but also cerebral, atmospheric and spacial. It also all feels very erudite, playing with house, italo-disco and minimal tropes in ways that create a cohesive narrative out of electronic music from the past 30 years or so. This focus belies their considerable talents as curators and historians, and the duo began appearing on electronic music fans radars thanks to their blog, Feel My Bicep, which tracks their wide-ranging musical obsessions. The playlist is an extension of that blog. What Do You Get? A little bit of everything electronic, from the more celestial house sounds of Four Tet to the kitchen-sink queer dubstep of Fatima Al Qadiri and onto the ambient of Shanti Celeste. There’s really not one particular sound they mine, but, rather, a vision of electronic music as progressive, unpredictable and inclusive. If you’re a fan of modern experimental music, of you just want some music to groove to while sipping on your coffee, this playlist is a must.
Whats This Playlist All About? The U.K. house producer (not the 90s sitcom character) and Brianfeeder artist puts together an eclectic list of influential and favorite sounds.
What Do You Get? First, a glimpse into hisAphelion EP, with chilled-out groove "John Cage,” followed by a riveting live version of Lindsey Buckinghams emotionally charged "Go Insane." He then digs into eccentric Japanese avant-pop (Tujiko Noriko), glistening ambient-pop (Ametsub), brassy African soul (Yta Jourias), and a few of his biggest hip-hop inspirations—Madlib and Madvillain. Together, it serves as a good introduction to Ross From Friends own sonic palette.
Greatest Discovery: The dark, menacing fusion of post-punk, ambient, and noise from London-based artist Midas the Cloud.
Would This Mix Impress Rachel From Friends? Actually, it just might. We do recall one episode in which she shuts down a U2 song, so theres hope.
Wats This Playlist All About? The masked mouse crusader shares an ever-changing, ever-expanding mix of "songs n stuff," which has been getting a heavy update in the days before the March 30 release of his new collaborative album, Wheres the Drop?, an orchestral rendering of his electronic works with help from composer Gregory Reveret.
What You Get: A heady, head-bopping, nearly 10-hour mix of slick, silvery progressive house and minimal techno—much of it atmospherically suitable for a futuristic sci-fi blockbuster or a sweat-soaked trip in an exotic, lavish club. Dreamy or robotic voices float through on occasion, but mostly its a study on dance music at the intersection of melodic and hypnotic. In other words, its a good way for you to get out of your head and for our keen curator to slip in some of his sounds and those on his mau5trap label.
Greatest Discovery: The stabbing metallic beats and slippery grooves of "Machines" by Bulgarian DJ and producer Gallya, a newcomer on the mau5trap roster.
Does This Prove the Death of EDM? Always a mouthy one—especially when it comes to his own mode of moneymaking—Deadmau5 was once quoted as saying that EDM will "eventually fuck itself so hard." He also tweeted, "I fucking hate fucking EDM." Ok, we get the message. We wont call this EDM. Its just a solid mix of electronic "songs n stuff."
In 2015, Caribou famously posted a 1,000-track mixtape that served as a journal of his musical discovery over the past few years. It’s a lot to digest, to say the least. The Canadian electronic artist has omnivorous taste, for one. New Wave freakout king Gary Wilson bumps up against a particularly eerie track from jazz icon Nina Simone. There’s disco legend Cerrone on the groovy “Got to Have Loving” and also lots and lots of Velvet Underground (of course). You don’t have to make sense of any of it, of course, but, if you squint just so, you can piece together Caribou’s own aesthetic roots.The squiggling synth lines, and bouncy beat of “E.V.A” from Moog pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey reflects Caribou’s own tendency to reconcile more experimental strains of electronic music with an overarching pop sensibility, while the hanging-off-the-bone, mandela hip-hop of Madlib is a natural fit for an artist who started his career focused on lo-fi psych sounds. The delicate, understated intensity of Caribou’s most recent album, 2015’s Our Love, is captured in tracks from Radiohead, Koushik, and Shuggie Otis, and house and disco-derived sounds figure in heavily—in addition to Cerrone, the playlist also contains Sylvester, Derrick May, Moodymann, Larry Heard, and Chez Damier—which tracks nicely with Caribou’s own pivot towards more dance-friendly beats for his Daphni project.The original YouTube playlist was nearly one hundred hours of unsequenced music (in the note that came with the mix, Caribou suggests that it be listened to on shuffle), and it’s obviously sprawling. Even in this slightly abridged Spotify version—presumably, the 204 tracks not included here weren’t cleared for digital music services, sadly—it’s easy to get lost. Ultimately, this feels more like a radio station than a “mixtape” or a playlist. The listener lets it spin passively in the background, occasionally swooping in to figure out who exactly is doing what. The contextual editorial information that Spotify offers comes in handy—YouTube provides no similar key, and you’re constantly flitting between Google and YouTube to discover who the hell is Asa-Chang (a Japanese percussionist and leader of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra) or Hal Blaine (Phil Spector’s go-to drummer). But this isn’t really an academic course as much as it is a party, or a celebration of the scattershot, sublime aesthetic of one of indie music’s most vital and unpredictable artists.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.