2013: Chocolate Grinder Mix: Writers
30 of our favorite songs in an Exquisite Corpse mix
If I may speak on behalf of all those participating in this mix, we — the writers of Tiny Mix Tapes — are the exquisite corpse. Pompous? Maybe. Yet we are those who write in the heat and name of passion (on the majority for $FREE$), who amend an all-encompassing opinion, saturation, and gathering of what is a multitude of opinions consolidated as ONE. And, as fleeting as my writing has been for the past couples years or so, this Exquisite Corpse mix — carrying on from a tradition we started last year — is just as random and as fast-paced as each voice in the TMT “bloodline.”
Here’s how the Exquisite Corpse mix worked: a writer chooses a track, another randomly-drawn writer hears it and chooses an aesthetically or thematically complementary track, then passes only his or her pick to another writer, who chooses yet another track, and so on, until we reach 30 songs. The results are what you’re hearing below. Not even the TMT staff has heard it yet — for all they know, we could have chosen the same song 10 times — so please feel the tension with all of us, climax at the most sensitive, and hold it bad when the wetness arrives. ‘Cause cry, laugh, blink, or rush: this 2013 year-end Exquisite Corpse mix is purely out of love and just for you. Enjoy!
Arca - “Feminine” (&&&&&)
Start time: 0:00 • Label: Hippos In Tanks
Welcome to our swanky black tie holiday party. Let me get you a drink. May I take your coat? Yes, 2013 is already on its way out and soon comes 2014. But right now we’re in that gray time of year, where it doesn’t quite feel like one year or another. It feels like neither and both, time outside of itself, lost in a vacuum. But let’s talk Arca, and get this mix rolling, shall we? I picked “Feminine” off Arca’s &&&&&, because it came from an artist related to both types of musicians who comprised a majority of our 2013 coverage: controversial artists and boundary pushers. How many other artists can claim Arca’s dual credentials of dropping a download-only experimental mixtape and producing cuts on Yeezus? The song’s unique too: the entirety of “Feminine” consists of one word looping, and yet I’m not even sure it’s a word. Maybe it’s part of a word? It’s a prime example of what writers mean when they talk about a piece of music “willing itself into being.” It starts abruptly and ends the same — uniform, from start to finish. It’s one of those songs that came up many times on random for me this year, but not once did I tire of it or skip it. It sounded perfect next to almost anything that came before or after it. And that’s the best thing about it, since unlike you, dear reader, I have no idea what’s coming next.
Mykki Blanco - “Angggry Byrdz” (Betty Rubble: The Initiation)
Start time: 0:34 • Label: UNO NYC
I couldn’t decide if Arca’s jellyfish was the brain or the heart of our exquisite, boneless corpse. Either way, its frantic, momentary staggering seemed ready for a bit of confidence, however fragmentary. Mykki ”’Richie Rich with a clit and a middle” Blanco swaggers in where Arca’s masterful 36 seconds collapses under its own weight. I’m sewing the flesh tight here: a “feminine” growl gets pitch-bent and genderfucked in what must be one of Mykki’s tightest, harshest turns on the mic yet. She’s punching and tickling, sighing and giggling, kicking and screaming out of the cul-de-sac of being a “talking point.“ Embarrassingly, I only just remembered that Arca was previously affiliated with Blanco’s label, UNO NYC, and Arca’s new home at Hippos in Tanks is also partially located in NYC. So maybe whoever is next will take this gelatinous pulse and disjunctive subject (neither mind nor body) and get the hell out of New York City for a bit.
Kanye West - “New Slaves” (Yeezus)
Start time: 4:43 • Label: Def Jam
What I admire about Mykki Blanco and Kanye West is that they refuse to coddle me. They don’t give a fuck about me. They make songs that shouldn’t entertain me. They implicate me. So that every ”nigga” I thoughtlessly shout along with draws me closer to the reality of who I am. Why don’t I listen to more rap? Because, more often than not, it reminds me of how righteous someone’s resentments and rage can be. Even as I listen now, I search for a way out, a way back to the top; I call Kanye’s imagery sexist or homophobic, as though he also equates “justice” with “politeness.” But the truth is, beyond my gripes with Kanye, “New Slaves” is a ruthless indictment and one of the bravest songs of the year. If you’re tempted to write it off, don’t. If you’re content to sing along, don’t be. It’s warning you. Just listen.
SOPHIE - “Bipp” (“Bipp”/”Elle” 12-inch)
Start time: 8:42 • Label: Numbers
On Yeezus, Kanye West cleared his musical slate to confusing effect, denying listeners a Kanye Album (and on “New Slaves,” a Kanye Beat) while fitting more Kanye into the speakers than ever before. In spite of being the sugar to that song’s charcoal, SOPHIE’s “Bipp” felt of a similar mission to disorient and control, scooping out the genre signifiers to leave not a cavernous open space, but an oppressively heavy absence, then piecing together a song from the particularities of cadence and gesture that drew them to that style in the first place. This direct translation of headspace could feel intimate and anonymous for producer and listener both, leading to some of the most frustrating and fascinating musical experiences of recent years.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “Ninja Re Bang Bang” (Nanda Collection)
Start time: 11:49 • Label: Warner Music Japan
The exquisite corpse finds meaning not in wholeness, but in mutilation. For SOPHIE, it’s the mutilation of glitch: shattered vocals spliced apart and reassembled into an uncanny, disjointed voice without origin. For Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, it’s the mutilation of parody: a grotesque persona assembled scattershot from bits of found magazine print and airplane glue. Like SOPHIE, Kyary’s voice has been irrevocably disembodied, set adrift in the 2D space of television screens and LCD monitors, untethered from the real. In death, the exquisite corpse of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has neither nation nor culture — it belongs to the global nationality of ethernet, the universal culture of capital. It is a linguistic monstrosity, an infinitely permutable text stitched together from disassociated fragments, tracing layer upon layer upon layer of distortion. The author is dead. The origin is lost. Only language remains. And indeed, it is beautiful.
Rangefinder - “World Circle” (Night Ride)
Start time: 16:04 • Label: Bun Tapes
How is it that Will Thomas Long, better known for his pastel streaks of ambient gorgeosity as Celer, follows Kyary’s hyper-pep pop infection in the Exquisite Corpse? The simple answer is this: Japan. Both tracks were born there, one of a 20-year-old pop princess with 2013’s most instantly-recognizable eyelashes, the other of a living-legend in drone. But there are other reasons of course, the most important being that Rangefinder is specifically not Celer. It isn’t dance, no, but at least Long’s new synth project similarly feels like it’s bottom-lit with strobing neon lights, a sound beaming with bright, bold colors, attacking the ears with an immediacy that is just as in-your-face as “Ninjya Re Bang Bang” manages to be. Instead of giving you the googily eyes, though, all Rangefinder will do is cross them, the perfect headspin for stumbling out of the club and into the cold streets of a Tokyo winter.
Snow Mantled Love - “All in the Name of Good Dancing” (Conversations)
Start time: 19:05 • Label: Self-Released
Snow Mantled Love is stylistically about as far as you can get from Rangefinder. While I do have a perverse predilection for throwing a wrench in things, that was not the intent here Kosmische-flavored ambient has always had a personal feeling to me, music best experienced alone, be it in your bedroom, out in a forest, or on headphones while waiting in an airplane terminal. Snow Mantled Love has that same personal immediacy, making it hard to place and extremely hard to share. I mean, you couldn’t exactly put it on at a party could you? Or even just sitting around with a few friends having a drink. You’d get accused of “killing the mood” faster than a phone call from Grandma mid-coitus. So screw ‘em. Pop your headphones on and let this be “your” music. And don’t forget to silence your cell phone — wouldn’t want any unnecessary interruptions.
Mutual Benefit - “Golden Wake” (Love’s Crushing Diamond)
Start time: 20:50 • Label: Soft Eyes/Other Music
You’ve been holed up in your bedroom for way too long. Not sleeping, not speaking. Certainly not dancing. Just wishing for intimacy. At least you left the window open. Listen real close and you’ll hear a breeze through the trees. Maybe through the grass too. Blades grew tall overnight, almost as tall as the wildflowers, which just started blooming in spite of the season. River’s running cool, reflecting the color of your birthstone. Climb out there, for the sake of this sunrise. Light in slow motion, swelling and streaming. Golden. Not a thought in sight. It’ll do you good.
Free Weed - “Cambodian Cassette” (On The Moon/Get It Tonight)
Start time: 23:58 • Label: Gnar Tapes
The bane of my existence in modern music is tracks like “Golden Wake” by Mutual Benefit. That track is WAYYYY too serious for me. But I’m big on anything funny AND serious. Thus, I bow to the temple Free Weed has built. Not only does “Cambodian Cassette” keep consistent with my mix love/trollery, but it flips you a smile, freshens our Exquisite Corpse mix with “LOL” dramatude, and is all up in the kingdom of Gnar. So, I dare you to deny Free Weed, ever. ‘Cause you know you’ll find your way eventually.
Janelle Monáe - “Dance Apocalyptic” (The Electric Lady)
Start time: 25:26 • Label: Big Boy
So things are “pretty hard” for you “here in the world,” are they, Free Weed? Well, fuck that. Time to stuff your sob story weed woes, switch over to alcohol, and hit the Top 40 club floor, because this whole place is DOOMED anyway! And kissing it all goodbye couldn’t sound like more effortless task for partybot-at-large Cindi Mayweather (a.k.a. Janelle Monáe) on this stick of end-of-days space-pop bubblegum. There’ll be zombies and pet allergies, hit men and credit card debt galore. But no biggie; there’ll also be Hawaiian guitars and vocoders and handclaps and the catchiest injunctions to “smash” and “bang” that you’ve ever heard. I know, it hardly makes any sense on paper. But Janelle doesn’t seem too worried. In fact, she’s just gonna go ahead and cut this letter short by “thank[ing] you for dancing ‘til the end” in advance. Cool?
DJ Koze - “Magical Boy (feat. Matthew Dear)” (Amygdala)
Start time: 28:37 • Label: Pampa
A mutual commentary on mundaneness, partly of the world, partly of YOU; or rather, those who too easily submit to societal convention, in the case of Monáe’s “Dance Apocalyptic,” and an inhibiting despondence, in the case of both. A celebratory tone allows Monáe to playfully implicate the mortal zombies of today, while for Koze, who’s helped along by the alien vocals of Matthew Dear, it’s a first-person, individual, and deeply personal realization. “There’s a fire when I’m falling out of place,” says the self-professed magical boy, and producing the initial spark: his romantic opposite, as well as his “little ones.” In their company, an optimism overrides and escape from this “serious world” thus comes easy. Who needs an apocalyptic impetus?
inc. - “Angel” (No World)
Start time: 35:49 • Label: 4AD
From mouthharp-flanked, sticky-warm house throbbing (replete with sleazy robogator vox) to cool, crisp rose petal-dropping, slow-grooving ecstasy, we remain prisoners of the sensual. Koze sees fit to salt his curves with playful irreverence, while inc. are sparkling the hillside with sugar crystals, but both songs serve the same sweet soul music deity. Not to mention sex. Both are sleazier than all get out in the best way possible, from the mellifluous bass riffing on “Magical Boy” to the borderline-Lethal Weapon electric guitar at the end of this. Both excel in the sort of emotional hide and seek that goes with modern revivalism. ”Take me to the river and I’ll be your angel” functions just as well phonetically as it does as a potential devil-may-care come-on. No matter how get-over-yourself po-mo things get, we all still long to be incontestable forces of nature for each other.
BRAIDS - “December” (Flourish // Perish)
Start time: 39:43 • Label: Arbutus/Flemish Eye
What if you are not there for us by the river? What if you cannot be the angel we want you to be? The true tragedy of ourselves is not that we cannot be saved, but that there is nothing to save, that we have simply been abandoned. We lose our sense of feeling, and it just takes some time getting used to what is missing. We try to cover the void, but it just sits there, and we have nothing to fill it with. All we have is our anguish, the screams that hound us senselessly in our minds and gnaw at our sanity. Hope becomes meaningless when there is no will and compassion to hold it together. We attempt to find something, some meaning, but we keep coming back to one single problem: What are we living for? What am I living for?
These New Puritans - “This Guy’s In Love With You” (Field of Reeds)
Start time: 44:01 • Label: Infectious
“December” ends with Raphaelle Standell-Preston warning that “death’s song is moving in,” and I wouldn’t want to make a liar out of her. Field of Reeds was hands-down the most bracingly icy record of the year, and “This Guy’s in Love With You” hits you from the start, like waking up in the opening sentence of a Chekhov story. Rising from a thistle of reeds and brass, the old Bacharach number is submerged and transfigured into a weightless, devastating force of nature. It’s at once disembodied and present, longing and resigned, fluttering and fading, before sliding out of view. Death lives in this.
Serengeti - “Day by Day” (Saal)
Start time: 46:53 • Label: Graveface
It’s time to wrap up Side A, and when “This Guy’s in Love With You” concludes, I want to hold onto those delicate-yet-deliberate piano chords, so let’s link them into the beat of “Day by Day.” Tobias “Sicker Man” Vethake’s instrumental begins with equivalent fragility and restraint, as Serengeti wraps his morose flow around bars about losing and regaining luster, “not loving obscurity.” The hook is embarrassingly sappy, but Vethake sings it only once, and then unleashes a barrage of varying commentary, ”It’s good, it’s fine, it’s perfect,” etc., that finally relents with a track-ending ”it is.” In a year when so much cultural production feels paralyzed by self-consciousness, it’s fitting to arrive at our intermission with a song that reflects upon how an artist should be and feel, projecting optimism but closing with a whimpered false-definitiveness.