In past years, our Chocolate Grinder Mixes were informal groupings of our favorite songs in a mix format, the order of which was chosen by the selected mixer. But we tried something different for 2012: the order this time around was determined by randomly drawing names from a hat, and rather than simply picking our personal favorites, writers were instructed to choose based on the previous writer’s selected track, without knowing who chose it, which track came before it (if there was one at all), and who was choosing next. Ultimately, writers could pick any track, but it had to at the very least be justified (sonically, lyrically, aesthetically, conceptually, etc.) in relation to the previous song.
With this approach — called an Exquisite Corpse, a method of art-making from the surrealists of the 20th century — we were somewhat venturing into the unknown. We could’ve had a mix composed entirely of drone songs. We could’ve had multiple songs by the same artist. Hell, we could’ve even had the same song by the same artist! That didn’t happen, but the resulting mix is still, of course, unexpected — we have Kitty Pryde and Om separated by only one track on Side A — but not knowing how the mix would turn out was part of the fun and reflects what the Exquisite Corpse is all about.
Take a listen and enjoy!
Lil B - “The BasedGods Layer” (God’s Father)
Start time: 0:00 • Label: Self-Released
Sure, Lil B’s prolificacy essentially renders every listener a BasedGod dilettante, but each mixtape should be viewed not as a confounding puzzle piece, but as an invitation. Case in point: “The BasedGods Layer” is, like, his millionth song, but B’s still making introductions. While the track’s vaguely “about” power struggle, identity, sincerity, positivity, democracy, and individuality — common Lil B themes often contradicted and problematized elsewhere — some of the lyrics are straight up disconnected and illogical, unexpected and absolutely surreal, all of it backed by uncharacteristically over-the-top melodrama. And this is one of his more accessible tracks. B’s all about subconscious exploration here, throbbing, pulsating, and squirming within an indeterminate space — not to show off his flow, but to constantly search for new ones. It’s the #based way: grandeur with an absurdly serious sense of humor, truth-telling with no real foundation or precedent, mastery over nada. By picking this track, hopefully this Exquisite Corpse will lead to something equally overwhelming, instinctual, and rough. Like the feeling I get before listening to any Lil B mixtape: we’ll see how it goes I guess. NEXT.
Le1f - “Bubbles” (Dark York)
Start time: 3:55 • Label: Greedhead / Camp & Street
No, not “Beez in the Trap.” Good one! But this one’s better: if Lil B’s illusions of grandeur cease to be delusions out of sheer insistence, occupying gigabytes like a boss, Le1f’s vision absolutely falls into that same BasedWorld bubble. Because outside, a relatively good year for “gay rap” is comprised of one earnest talent who’s neither gay nor a rapper, plus one killer single that infiltrated the ballroom and YouTube with stark cryptography — both of which were legitimate forces, but neither of which much demanded we challenge our long-established ways of listening. Le1f’s out there enough to remind us how far we have to go, rapping about brunch from the lap of some shirtless Pikachu-masked dude, juking in drag (“Double time, triple time/ Girls carbon copy, closeted boyfriends wishing they could get mine”), with beats that sound like a slurry of all things warped that’ve seeped past the bouncers into mainstream pop. His fantasy is unreal, but he’s not keeping it that way.
Farrah Abraham - “After Prom” (My Teenage Dream Ended)
Start time: 6:35 • Label: Self-Released
What happens when the “bubble” pops? What happens when security shatters around you? You’re just a kid, but the night was sort of perfect: the rain, if nothing else. He kept begging, and you reluctantly gave in. Don’t tell. You broke up. He died. Two months later, you pushed out your child, alone. I made Sophia a baby book with notes […] pictures of [Derek and I] going to dances […] I want her to know that he was a happy person who liked to have fun. When you’re young, lacking the words to speak your grief or confusion, you sing songs like Ophelia’s. Your voice, attempting, becomes a disoriented tremble. You reach and pull from what you know. Throw it in a pile. Play with it on the floor. When we’re young, these are called accidents. That’s what makes them so fascinating.
Mark Van Hoen - “Holy Me” (The Revenant Diary)
Start time: 8:38 • Label: Editions Mego
There are two reasons I put Mark Van Hoen’s “Holy Me” after Farrah Abraham. The first is obvious: “Holy Me” is as heavily weighted on vocal fuckery, albeit through a different scale than “After Prom,” but with the same vigor in production “value” — as well as the ironic title comparison, manipulation of texture, tone and intent, and the sheer fact that as soon as you hear Abraham, you want to forget it (thus her kitsch/brilliance). Transition to two: “Holy Me” is the perfect memory of itself as a song. Forget catchy rhythm and chorus, “Holy Me” sears layer after layer of gorgeous anti-fluid harmony into your ears, remembered later while whistling in piecemeal.
Sean McCann / Matthew Sullivan - “An Unknown Gentleman” (Vanity Fair)
Start time: 13:26 • Label: Recital
The deconstruction of history is a fascinating idea, one touched upon in music by Mark Van Hoen’s cut-and-paste minimalism. It’s an idea furthered by the compositional chop job “An Unknown Gentleman.” Sean McCann and Matthew Sullivan, each with their own valiant reputation, throw much of it out of the window throughout the course of Vanity Fair, repurposing the shattered tendrils of classical music for a fragile new pop allegiance. Combining the bombastic overtures of Mozart and Bach with the delicate touch of Terry Riley and Glenn Gould, “An Unknown Gentleman” exists in its own vacuum where time isn’t linear, voiding the cyclical nature of history. It cuts through the black silence, building a new world order from the rubble of our past transgressions. We are no longer doomed to repeat.
Jam City - “How We Relate to the Body” (Classical Curves)
Start time: 18:04 • Label: Night Slugs
Sean McCann and Matthew Sullivan’s “An Unknown Gentleman” elucidates the affinity of sound and bodily feeling through the medium of drone; specifically, “it forces us to feel, rather than intellectualize, its sounds.” “How We Relate to the Body” by Jam City assumes a similar occupation, though distinctly advancing the necessity of movement — the virtually sexual involvement of the body and sound. Accordingly, the music is excited, composed of provocative synth stabs, hand-claps, a warm percussive energy, and an occasional whimpering vocal. Explicitly portrayed by the track’s title, “How We Relate to the Body” is not simply about the bodily relationship we have with sound, but about how this relationship is substantiated.
Jad Fair + Hifiklub + kptmichigan - “Let’s Win” (Bird House)
Start time: 23:08 • Label: Joyful Noise
Released in early January, Bird House by Jad Fair, Hifiklub, and kptmichigan was the first record in 2012 to make me exclaim “This is the greatest album of the year.” Though I have fallen in love with many records since, it has stuck with me all year long, especially the track “Let’s Win.” This track has been my New Year’s resolution, yoga mantra, psych-up anthem, and just-got-home-super-drunk-gotta-listen-to-something-dope-right-now-on-my-headphones track all rolled into one. As bimbo college kids chanted “WEEE ARRREEE YOOUUNNGGGG,” I whispered to myself, “Rubies and diamonds in our coffee cup.” Like much of Jad Fair’s colossal catalogue, the message in “Let’s Win” is blatant and his words simple, but his spontaneous, emotional, abstract way of delivering them is captivating. The wisdom that is within the sometimes senseless lyrics is something that I have dug into all year long. It’s a song made with balance: the loony vocalist preaching pure optimism, the crying synthesizers transforming into soulful slide guitars, the graceful movement from pensive positivity to cerebral celebration, and back. It was this balance (and the sensuous “Yeeaahhh” that starts it off) that led me to choose it to follow the high-energy, positively charged “How We Relate to the Body” preceding. Celebrate!
Sic Alps - “Wake Up, It’s Over” (Sic Alps)
Start time: 26:57 • Label: Drag City
“Let’s Win” confused me. Sometimes when I’m confused by something, I just want to wake up and for it to be over, which is the title of this Sic Alps song. When I wake up, I normally want to wake up to an especially slow-burning rock ‘n’ roll tune, preferably one that starts off soft and delicately guides me far away from confusion. And then, eventually, this slow-burner will turn into a big rock-monster that claws at me with its big dumb guitar riffs. Ideally, that riff will double up on itself with dirty feedback squalls (perhaps even reminiscent of those that squalled in the chorus of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mayonaise”). As the squalls get bigger, hopefully they won’t kill me. But if they do, that’s okay, too — I like the way they feel.
Black Dice - “Spy Vs Spy” (Mr. Impossible)
Start time: 30:06 • Label: Ribbon Music
Black Dice released an extremely fresh album in 2012, one that might have been overlooked while hiding in plain sight. After all, the band has been an insistent presence in the NY experimental music scene, putting out solid records that never really stay in any one genre. Maybe we’ve started to take that consistency for granted? “Spy Vs. Spy” could change things! It has a certain swagger about it that demands notice. The highlight: a shrieking, whiny guitar line that stands in for some androgynous glammed-out frontman. Overall, the track sounds like the work of a younger band, or at least a bunch of aging dudes who still know how to get excited about art. As for its place on our mix, I was hoping the guitar would tie things together, even though Black Dice’s aesthetic seems kinda distant from Sic Alps’. But hey, “Wake Up, It’s Over” ends with a fadeout, and going by the rules of mix-making, fadeouts cleanse the palette for whatever the fuck you want to put next, right?
Ava Mendoza - “Quit Your Unnatural Ways” [with Nick Tamburo] (Quit Your Unnatural Ways)
Start time: 34:41 • Label: Weird Forest
It’s hard to tell who’s kicking whose ass here, but my guess is that these two both walked away from the session bruised and battered in the best way possible. Love taps? Nay — these are love wallops, Mendoza’s sharp harmonic angles and pummeling rhythm up against Tamburo’s storm of cymbals. At first blush, the scorching squall of “Quit Your Unnatural Ways” has really nothing to do with Black Dice’s demented sex jam, although I suppose the guitar tone is somewhat similar to BD’s buzzy synth hooks in “Spy vs. Spy,” the two timbres sharing a certain gnarliness if you will. But the real reason this track found placement within the Exquisite Corpse was to help point out that, despite all the amazing work done with modular synths and the ever-interesting emergence of “vaporwave” as a veritable form, Mendoza’s Weird Forest release was an example of how the guitar beat all odds to rule 2012 with extreme prejudice.
Om - “State of Non-Return” (Advaitic Songs)
Start time: 38:01 • Label: Drag City
“Quit Your Unnatural Ways” presents an interesting challenge because, while there’s quite a lot of far-flung jazz chops converging all at once, the whole thing is clothed in a shroud of overdriven distortion and roomy fuzz. “State of Non-Return” by Om seemed like an excellent foil because, along with its oppressive walls of string drone and massive guitar riffage, it has a cleanly composed underbelly of gentle strings and keys. The song was the centerpiece of their 2012 album Advaitic Songs in that it typified how the stoner metal all-stars took chances and succeeded throughout the record. They stood a serious chance of alienating longtime fans with their lush, developed sounds, a serious migration from their early history of raw drone and lower-fidelity guitar roar. Om was born out of the sludge-metal ashes of Sleep, after all. Happily, much like good mixes, good music is born out of contrast. With “State of Non-Return,” as with the rest of Advaitic Songs, delicate moments only serve to emphasize the horrendous impact when Om’s wall of guitars finally, furiously erupts.
Austin Cesear - “Cloud Hall” (Cruise Forever)
Start time: 43:51 • Label: Public Information
With Austin Cesear’s “Cloud Hall,” I wanted to represent how two songs could be simultaneously different and the same from each other. While the track initially seems like an abrupt turn from the chunky riffing of Om’s “State of Non-Return,” it may become clear to the listener that they both function by boring into the mind’s eye with an unrelenting repetitive pattern. Like Om, Austin Cesear begins his composition by introducing an airy pattern. Whereas Om used lumbering riffs to enforce a heaviness over their grid, Cesear’s track gets a boost from the addition of a submerged thump. “Cloud Hall” itself is the sound of strobe lights flickering inside of a black marble fortress, beautiful and solitary.
Kitty Pryde - “Okay Cupid” (Haha, I’m Sorry)
Start time: 48:58 • Label: Self-Released
Hip-hop’s now mostly sterile enough for any suburban shopping mall, but on her track “Okay Cupid,” Claire’s Boutique employee Kitty Pryde somehow resuscitates its risk by diving straight on into the ‘burbs. There’s no fronting, as cloying giggles and crushes on binders mix with Bud Light Limes and line-snorting. Pryde shoplifts vocab like “pimp” (herself) and “shortie” (some dude she’s crushing on) to confound gender and shit, but still reminds us she’s a “princess” a few lines later. After zoning out to nothing during “Cloud Hall,” it’s refreshing to have Pryde make us focus on her focusing on herself. Malls have a lot of mirrors. Read her lip: It’s pouty.
iamamiwhoami - “idle talk” (kin)
Start time: 51:40 • Label: To Whom It May Concern / Cooperative Music
Kitty Pryde and iamamiwhoami inhabit two antipodes of viral intentionality: the former perhaps serendipitously RT’d up into The FADER’s newsfeed and beyond, the latter assiduous and measured in its initially-anonymous YouTube propagation. Both artists seek to exploit the mystery — maybe better and more simply understood as the lapses — of what can be known and dredged up on the internet vis-à-vis identity and purpose. And if Kitty Pride’s nonchalant flow about modern (everyteen?) pining glosses her compelling-if-not-yet-quite-accomplished rhyming schemes on first listen, Jonna Lee’s soaring, abstracted devotionals on kin entreat us to decide what we want to discover after multiple listens, after the digital hits the acetate and we’re left dealing with old media and our mouldering vocabularies of sequence and thematic strengths. Both songs leave me feeling older, not trusting myself to parse the authentic from the staged and the ironic from the vulnerable in “Okay Cupid” and content to lionize the Songwriting and Form of “idle talk” as correctives to some felt deficiencies in today’s EDM megaverse. You can return to each, marvel at the talent sounding the open-ended questions, reflect on the nature of collaboration in these creating these new images, and thank all parties involved that we get to witness these new distributional estuaries shape the ground beneath us.
Beach House - “Myth” (Bloom)
Start time: 56:27 • Label: Sub Pop
Is it possible to tell a story in the space between two songs? When I hear iamamiwhoami’s “idle talk,” I picture two people standing in a room lit only by a slowly flashing white light. Two people who only know how to whisper. Two people who’ve forgotten the first people they ever loved. Still, I didn’t choose “Myth” to wrap up their story. I chose “Myth” to slightly shift its direction. I chose “Myth” to remind these two what the ocean sounds like and what wind chimes sound like and what rain against metal sounds like. To remind them what cold windows feel like and what clean sheets feel like. I chose “Myth” to open and expose and leave space for more of the world.