AF MIXTAPE: Farewell to Winter

This mix represents some of the best moments of February in terms of new releases and live shows we attended but keeps an eye on the springtime that’s just ahead of us.  You won’t find many bombastic summer jams, but hopefully that delicious first blush of warmer weather permeates these tracks.  Enjoy!

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Mi & L’au – Limouzine: I once sawthis band play in a treehouse. Technically I guess it was a roomsituated around a huge tree, with a bar situated around that. Still,there was a tree! And their songs sounded like the kind of music youmight hear in a treehouse (treehousewave?). If Beauty Is A Crimeis the first new album they’ve put out in a while and at moments itretains an isolated-in-the-woods vibe, here Mi & L’au arebranching out into lots of new territories. This track, with itspulsing, sparkling synths is a great example of those explorations.

Chairlift – I Belong In Your Arms:Caroline Polachek must be taking cues from those she’s collaboratedwith (Washed Out, Guards) in the interim between releasing Somethingand 2008’s Does You Inspire You? Or perhaps it’s just thedifference between putting some thought into making a record insteadof slapping one together because one of your tracks has been featuredin an iPod commercial and you need to capitalize on it instantly. Either way, Chairlift’s new record is a gem filled with soaring newwave declarations, but far less naïve and hokey than its predecessor.

Lapalux – Moments: On this cracklingbeat collage, female vocals (provided by Py) coo “I keep thinkingof you”; likewise, this track is just the kind of earworm thatsticks with you all day. Cascading drum machines, dissonant bells,spacey synths, and tweaked, slowed effects blend seamlessly. Itmight not get a party going, but acts as a perfect anthem for thosestill coming down after the majority of the crowd has shuffled off.

James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream:After seeing a live rendition of this at Carnegie Hall last month,I’ve been listening to this track incessantly. Its slow gorgeousbuild behind Blake’s velvety crooning is almost too much to handle. It seems so sparse on first listen, but every time it slips into therotation, I hear something new come out of it, proving its densityand depth.

School of Seven Bells – Scavenger:We’ll always wonder if this scathing track is about the departure ofhalf of SVIIB’s singing twin duo, but it could just as easily beabout an ex-lover, or an animal that feeds on carrion, I guess. They’re doing just fine without any or all of the above, as new album Ghostory and the live shows they’ve played to promote itprove.

Xiu Xiu – Smear The Queen: I amecstatic that this band is still putting out amazing albums aftertwelve years of making records. The first single from Always,entitled “Hi” is as bold a flirting anthem as they come, andalmost made it onto this mix – until I heard “Smear The Queen”and was blown away by the dual vocals, haywire beats

Hanne Hukkelberg – My Devils: Ifyou’re still confusing Hanne with her Scandinavian counterpart LykkeLi based on the extraordinary prevalence of the letter K in theirnames, please take a moment to realize that this is where thecomparison ends. Featherbrain is far more experimental, representingHukkelberg more as an artist than provocateur. Listening to thistrack is like opening a creepy haunted music-box, her vocals ayearning Pandora struggling to be free of her demons.

Frankie Rose – The Fall: I seriouslycan’t stop listening to or talking about this song. The other day Iwas walking through the park at dusk with this on my headphones,trying to decipher the ethereal layers of lyrics. Every time Ipinned down a line, the next popped up in its place, a mirageshimmering on the aural horizon, superimposed by the nexthallucination.

Grimes – Vowels = space and time:Visions is an amalgamation of everything that is awesome aboutClaire Boucher – bizzaro bedroom pop with Chippettes-esque vocals,long-lost Goth Olsen twin look, deep philosophical musings disguisedby a half-baked twitter feed, a not-so-secret obsession with divas ofthe early 90’s R&B scene. Check out my video below of Grimesperforming “Genesis” last July in an opening set for Washed Out.

Shlohmo – wen uuu: With last year’sBad Vibes, L.A. Producer Henry Laufer strayed from the staidhip-hop beats of his earlier work and live shows and began exploringmore atmospheric sounds and experimental textures. On his threetrack EP Vacation, we can hear him coming through static andinto his own with undeniable success.
Still Corners – Don’t Fall In Love:Tessa Murray has a voice like honey, making her forlorn love songs(or anti-love songs?) that much more heart-rending. This noise popslow-burner isn’t going to do much to warn me away from falling inlove with this band, no matter what the lyrics recommend.
Phèdre – In Decay: This whole albumis brilliant. You know that sexy orgy party that Tom Cruise andNicole Kidman attend in Eyes Wide Shut? Parties similar tothose actually exist, except everyone is as creepy and lonely asyou’d expect, and therefore it isn’t at all sexy. If those partieswere that sexy, but also more hip, this album would be thesoundtrack.
Tennis – My Better Self: Much likeChairlift, husband-and-wife duo Tennis have truly matured with therelease of their second album. Last year’s Cape Dory was fun,but with Young & Old, Tennis have gotten moreintrospective while retaining that carefree pop sound.
Sharon Van Etten – Magic Chords: WhenBecause I Was In Love was released in 2009, almost no one knewwho Sharon Van Etten was. Two albums later, all that has changed. It makes sense, considering that Sharon has one of the most gorgeousvoices I’ve heard in quite a while. Her songwriting skills continueto improve with each effort, though the heavier production on 2010’sEpic and her newest, Tramp,is a bit of a detriment to some of the intimacy and grittinessfrom her first record.
Tropics – Sleepless: Tropics is theproject of Chris Ward, who at 22 has been steadily self-releasing an onslaught of party-ready jams and remixes. This track is a bit moremellow than most of his offerings but it the signature lushness ofWard’s beats are still present. If most of his tunes signify summer,Sleepless unfurls just the way spring does – suddenly you look up,and there are buds in all the trees and birds are chirping.
Cate Le Bon – Put to Work: Le Bon’simpeccable new album Cyrk is exemplified by lead single “PutTo Work”; it’s lilting guitars and insistent drums perfectly anchorthe commanding mystic quality of Le Bon’s vocals. The lyrics fithandily into Le Bon’s work as well – the idea that while one can’thelp but crave human intimacy, love is a total drag that turns usinto awful drones. But the beauty of this sentiment is that she’sresigned to this fact, never chiding or bitter, and the song rolls onwith a fluid, perfect grace.
Yann Tiersen – I’m Gonna Live Anyhow:Perhaps best known for his original soundtracks to films like Amelieand Good Bye Lenin!, last year’s Skyline saw Tiersenreinventing himself once more. Ever the pioneer, these tracksfeature quirky electronic moments and unique vocal rhythmsreminiscent at times of acts like Animal Collective.
Songs of Green Pheasant – Teen Wolf:I’ve long been a fan of Songs of Green Pheasant. The somber brass inthis track really puts it over the edge for me, though I don’t knowwhat it has to do with teens, wolves, or teen wolves.
Sleigh Bells – End of the Line: WithTreats, Sleigh Bells were poised to take over the world (andpretty much did so) and on Reign of Terror, the only thing theyreally have to contend with is the curse of the sophomore slump. With their trademark fearlessness, Alexa Krauss and Derek Miller havedone something completely unexpected – they’ve scaled back thein-your-face guitar blitz and badder-than-though posturing andcrafted something that still manages to pack quite the punch. Thistrack is the perfect example of that new vision, wherein Krausss isno longer striving to remain cool or detached but is actuallyreaching out to the listener, or at least the person to whom the songis addressed, in an engaging way. Reign of Terror is studded withsimilar moments of realness, and it’s the most brave, refreshing movethey could have made.
Shhhh – Bonus TrackThis is what sheheard in the bathtub. RIP.

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