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.
Few television shows in recent memory have managed to blend poignant social commentary with a delicate treatment of everyday lived experiences quite like Master of None, the brilliant Netflix comedy-drama created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. For their second season, the creators have developed another 10 episodes that easily stand alone as individual vignettes. But in each instalment, music always takes center stage. Ansari and music supervisor Zach Cowies 69-song compendium mirrors this seasons emotional arc and sharp sense of humor, looking beyond the expected indie soundtrack choices for an eclectic array that includes John Fahey, Dorothy Ashby, and even the Vengaboys.Even if you havent watched this season, you can sense the extreme contrasts between episodes through this playlist—the neo-classical film scores of Ennio Morricone (which accompany the season’s black-and-white premiere) give way to the pristine Italo-disco of Ken Laszlo and Mr. Flagio that accompanies the technicolor vibrancy of the second episode. However, the playlists most sublime selections benefit from onscreen recontextualization. When Dev (Ansari) and Navid (Harris Gani) skip Ramadan prayer to attend a pork-filled barbecue to the tune of Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time,” the track instantly morphs into their personal elegy for religious obedience. Strangely enough, it’s a very smart choice. Master of None has done much to rewrite the narrative surrounding the onscreen representation of people of colour, and Ansari and Cowie have discovered that mission extends to musical choices as well—regardless of how cringe-worthy they may seem. Click here to follow this playlist on Spotify.
In the 10 years since London’s enigmatic Burial released his boundary-breaking sophomore LP Untrue, the face of electronic music has changed dramatically. Not only have new arenas opened up for ambient-leaning producers to bring their experimental soundscapes into the spotlight, but the divisions between such typically at-home forms of listening and more club-oriented sounds have continued to blur. Though his releases seem to come less and less frequently, Burial’s thumbprint still courses through dance music today, whether in his haunting, intimate use of vocal samples, his brisk, tactile beats, or his free wandering into the kind of ethereal abstraction usually reserved for avant-garde composers.Part of what made Burial’s sound on Untrue so inspiring was his willingness to tackle original rhythms, without regard for what scenes he might be breaching. At turns reminiscent of house, garage, dubstep, and hardcore, Untrue is as bracingly pulsing as it is forlorn and relaxed, capturing the sounds of dance music at their most provocative, enveloping, romantic, and pain-ridden all at once. You can hear his influence in the dark nightclub ruminations of Dean Blunt, the grimy bass sculptures of Andy Stott, the ethereal beatmaking of Jamie xx, and even the minimal rhythms of latter-day Radiohead—all of whom have taken his blueprint for emotional, mysterious dance music and carried it valiantly forward into the future. Burial left an undeniable mark on music with Untrue, and with this playlist, we explore the many ways that his vision lives on today.
Described by Guitar Girl Magazine as "a Latin artist who combines hypnotic, electronic funk with alternative and psychedelic styles," DeAnza recently released her concept EP Cosmic Dream on June 29. The collection of tracks and interludes designed to take you on a sonic journey through the various sleep cycles. To continue celebrating that release and her subsequent tour, we asked her to make us a playlist thats as eclectic as her style. Listen here.Says DeAnza: "I went through several playlist ideas in my head before deciding to create a list that’s as eclectic as the music I listen to. Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music – good and bad. I created a list that consists of what I believe to be good music, regardless of the genre or era. All of these artists have inspired me in some form or another."What you’ll get: Some classics, witchy women who I idolize, singers who blow my mind, couple deep cuts and some Latin spice for those who want to hear something that isn’t Despacito."
When Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter—two denizens of Germany’s musical underground—founded Kraftwerk in 1970, nobody could have imagined the impact they would have. But all these decades later, few corners of popular music are untouched by their influence. The sounds they crafted in the ’70s and ’80s with Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür resonated worldwide, influencing post-punk, synth-pop, New Wave, hip-hop, techno, and more.
Kraftwerk were among the first to use electronics as a tool for fashioning pop music. Even though their first few albums employed electronics in a more experimental way, they broke through internationally in 1974 with “Autobahn,” their mechanically paced hooks and android image positioning them as the Beach Boys of the robot revolution, pointing toward an entirely fresh musical future.
Before the ’70s were over, disciple David Bowie had released the Florian homage “V-2 Schneider” and incorporated Kraftwerk’s influence in his legendary “Berlin trilogy” of albums, and Gary Numan had channeled the band’s inspiration into the first flowering of synth-pop, which would continue to bear Kraftwerk’s mark in the ’80s.
From there, Kraftwerk’s electronic innovations went on to profoundly affect hip-hop and electro, starting with Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and continuing through countless samples. This fed into the band’s influence on Detroit techno (and subsequently the international IDM scene). By the 2000s, the band’s influence was doubling back on itself via the ’80s-retro electroclash movement.
Today the majority of pop and hip-hop is created with electronics, and even artists who have never heard a note of Kraftwerk in their lives owe some of their existence to them, whether they realize it or not. Schneider left the band in 2008 and Hütter continued to lead a new lineup in occasional tours, but when Schneider passed away on April 30, 2020, at the age of 73, even though he was no longer working with the band, it marked an epoch’s end. Gathered in the accompanying playlist is a tiny percentage of the countless artists indebted to Kraftwerk’s fearless vision.
This is a track of the day. Be sure to subscribe to The Best Songs of 2018 (So Far)for regular updates.If Daniel Avery’s 2013 debut, Drone Logic, was a techno record that was frequently districtacted by the drone and twitch of experimental electronic, then his 2018 follow-up, Songs for Alpha, flips that equation. The songs feel like steely, minimalist sculptures -- chunks of audio constructed with dubby electronic flourishes and swooning synths envelop and at times overwhelm the beats’ more austere techno wiring. The entire album is great, but “Sensation” is an obvious standout for us. It feels utterly alien, with a vibe that is both barren and majestic, like the song a DJ would play at the sunrise of the apocalypse. If you want to explore the outer limits of techno in 2018, it’s a great place to start.
When describing his own “furniture music” -- an early 20th century, Dadist-inspired prototype of what is now called ambient music -- the avant garde classical composer Erik Satie offered what is still a pretty good working definition for ambient music, calling it, "a music...which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks at dinner, not dominating them, not imposing itself.”This isn’t what Tim Hecker is doing, though the Vancouver producer is considered a leading light of the genre. Since the 2001 release of his debut collection, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, Hecker has created music that is unbelievably heavy and visceral. The grinding feedback and high-pitched tones of “Whitecaps of White Noise 1” -- from his landmark 2006 album, Harmony in Ultraviolet -- bludgeon the senses, while the shimmering noise and twisted choral choir of “Castrati Stack,” from 2016’s Love Streams, effectively places the listener inside of a nightmare. True, like other ambient music, it doesn’t move the way music normally moves - phrases are chopped off and movements swerve, swell and then abruptly freeze, frequently disintegrating into planes of noise -- but just because something walks like a dog, it doesn’t always mean that it’s a dog.This much was obvious the last time I saw Hecker perform live. About 500 of us stood in the mildewy remains of an abandoned movie theater deep in San Francisco’s Mission District. Just prior to Hecker taking stage, the lights cut out, and we were suddenly placed in what was a near-total darkness. An opaque rumbling sound began to emanate from the large speakers to the side of the stage, and, soon, shards of enveloping industrial sounds snaked through the crowd. Occasionally, the thick black curtain that had been erected at the back of the theater, providing a cocoon of sorts, would ripple and crease, and the lights from the street would invade the space, revealing inert bodies strewn across the floor, lost in a noisey maze. It felt like a purge -- dominating and imposing, a type of “ambient” music that was anything other than ambient.You can see Tim Hecker perform live at the San Francisco MUTEK Festival, which takes place May 3 - May 6 at various venues. Advance tickets available here.
It’s rare that a traveling festival is focused on making ties with its host community, and rarer still that one is concerned with creating dialogues between the artists that reflect into the audience. But MUTEK is special. The Montreal-based festival started in 2000 with the aim of providing a showcase to progressive electronic music and to explore music’s bonds with technology (hence the name MU (music) Tek (technology). Within the next three years, MUTEK would expand and hold festivals in Mexico City and Chile, and, after that, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Dubai, Tokyo and Bogotá, along with one-off events everywhere from Berlin to Moscow.It’s almost odd that they’ve never staged a festival in San Francisco, a city that is known for its affinity to all things tech, but this is actually the first MUTEK in the US. It’s a strong initial offering. Experimental Jamaican dancehall duo Equiknoxx, legendary Vancouver ambient artist Tim Hecker, Techno pioneer Moritz von Oswald top the bill, but there are also strong offerings from techno-electro innovators Aux 88 and Chilean techno artist Matias Aguayo, alongside a broad array of audiovisual and experiential instilliations. If you’re looking for the bleeding edge of electronic music -- far past the usual bluster and bombast of your typical EDM festival -- you’ll want to be in SF in early May.San Francisco MUTEK Festival takes place May 3 - May 6 at various venues. Advance tickets available here.
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? 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.
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.