Mix: Nothing Left To Lose

No overarching theme here, just some songs I’ve been listening to lately that are split nearly evenly between old and new. Most mixes I’ve made for other people tend to follow this non-format with selections I think they’d like to hear; this one, however, is for me.

Much of the new-ish stuff has a retro-disco tint that is always welcome; we’re so many decades past the “disco sucks” era (it arguably vanished once Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” hit in 1990) that such a notion now looks not only misinformed but positively quaint. Not that it’s suddenly fashionable, give or take a Dua Lipa or Lady Gaga, but just the idea of wistful, joyous, throw-all-caution-to-the-wind dance music endures whether it’s an unlikely duet between Carly Rae Jepsen and Rufus Wainwright, a kaleidoscopic anthem from former Savage Garden vocalist Darren Hayes, or an unlikely but euphoric ode to formalwear from U.S. Girls’ just-released album Bless This Mess. A choice cut from Pet Shop Boys’ best LP of the 21st century, 2013’s Electric, fits right in with these glitterball newbies.

And yet, I reiterate this isn’t a thematic mix since most of the other new songs aren’t danceable at all. Former Go-Betweens member Robert Forster takes stock of a thirty-year relationship and the profound meaning it has given his life, Yves Tumor crafts an itchy, rhythmic, onomatopoetic earworm, the onomatopoetically named beabadoobee pays inspired tribute to a similarly-titled classic by The Cure and The National ascends towards dad-rock heaven on their latest (and maybe best?) single. Listen as they all complement older tunes such as Blossom Dearie elegantly essaying another standard, Richard and Linda Thompson exhibiting fine defiance and drollness and Sky Ferreira constructing 21st century 1980s music out of such time-honored tools as melody and urgency.

The new song that kicks the mix off and gives it a title is a musical reunion for a duo who has recorded separately since the year 2000. I always wondered if Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt would ever work together again since they’ve remained a couple all this time; the first released track from the forthcoming album Fuse seems to almost pick up where they left off on 1999’s Temperamental with its electronic fervor, chill breakbeats and Thorn’s diva-like croon. But she sounds intriguingly deeper and wearier than she did just five years ago on her own great Record. “Kiss me while the world decays / Kiss me while the music plays” she repeats near the end and for sure, Everything But The Girl are firmly standing in 2023.

Haunted Jukebox Mix #2: Nothing Left To Lose

Mix: Cold Comfort

In an effort to live up to this blog’s name, I plan on posting a new mix/playlist at least once a month going forward. Some will have a theme of sorts, others will be centered around one artist (or perhaps a related group of them) and a few will have no connecting thread at all and consist of new and old songs that I’m into at the present moment.

I’m kicking off this series with a thematic mix mostly culled from an ongoing playlist I keep of songs I want to listen to when it’s cold outside—scratch that, when the temperature dips below freezing, the sun occasionally peeks out through the terminal gray skies and all feels blustery and raw, an invitation to sit by the fireplace with a mug of hot tea (or perhaps a glass of cognac.) When linked together, the words “cold” and “comfort” bring to mind a stark contrast between the outside world and refuge taken from it indoors.

To find solace in this bleak midwinter, I often turn to (mostly) acoustic folk-pop. The first three tracks here come from late ‘60s/early ‘70s UK-based artists in reverse order of renown—I’d likely be unfamiliar Scot Bert Jansch if not for his inclusion on The Squid and The Whale soundtrack nearly two decades ago. I could’ve made an entire playlist of such likeminded folk (in both senses), but although they did this sort of stuff very well (Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny had an exquisite, peerless voice), that doesn’t mean Americans weren’t up to the task decades later. Sufjan Stevens, for instance, has sustained a career by defying expectations from album to album but he’s arguably never matched the stripped-down intimacy of Seven Swans (2004) and its guitar-and-vocal instant standard “To Be Alone With You”.

Most of these songs are defined by their sparse instrumentation, calm sense of wonder and general quietude. After a while, amidst an excess of acoustic guitar, other elements emerge and gain power they wouldn’t necessarily retain in isolation: the dwindling piano riff on Kings of Convenience’s “Riot On An Empty Street”, the disarming fiddle laced throughout Grant McLennan’s “Hot Water”, the harmonica adding texture to Saint Etienne’s “Former Lover”. Even when things briefly turn electric, as on Nicole Atkins’ “If I Could”, its restraint and tone is enough to sit alongside purer, acoustic-guitar-and-voice selections such as Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins’ fable-like “Rabbit Fur Coat”, Rufus Wainwright’s campfire sing-along cover of his father Loudon Wainwright III’s “One Man Guy” and Concrete Blonde’s plaintive but effective “Make Me Cry”.

I also can’t help but place a classic hit everyone knows like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” or even the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” (note that vaguely sinister guitar hook) next to a relatively more obscure and recent number like Belle and Sebastian’s “Piazza, New York Catcher”; together, they show how, through the decades, music (and folk music, in particular) may evolve but also evoke an ongoing tradition that, no matter what adjustments or mutations occur is as recognizable and heartening as a sliver of sun during a cold snap.

Haunted Jukebox Mix #1: Cold Comfort