Friday, August 31, 2007

A LITTLE MIX OF EPHEMERA (circa 1993)

Rescued from oblivion during a recent move, I discovered a beloved mixed tape that I made in 1993. For me mixed tapes have always been a valuable road map. They are a concrete and revealing historical document, painting a picture of where I have come from. The exchange of mixed tapes among friends was itself a meaningful form of dialogue. Every song is laden with meaning and encapsulates a moment in time. Despite not actually listening to cassettes often during this fledgling new century, there is no way I could ever throw this out.

I could wax poetic about mixed tapes for along time, though in the spirit of economy (and my desire not to nauseate anyone) I will show some uncharacteristic restraint at this time. What I will do, however, is explore the merits and value of this particular mix. Strangely enough, I gave this tape a name at the time calling it my "Ephemeral" mix. Interesting choice of a title, and I want to test out whether this label applies to the majority of these tracks.

So... without further ado, here is the track listing from this historical document, complete with anecdotes and thoughts as to where these songs fit now within my own private Parthenon of pop adoration;

SIDE A:

Saint Etienne - "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" - Saint Etienne have done better material in later years - lots of playful derivative 60's inspired pop. This Neil Young cover was their first single and first foray into my pop-consciousness. I was quite fond if at the time, this type of interpretation of classic rock was kind of a novelty. This version hasn't aged very well though, which is often the case with dance oriented pop.

Charlatans UK - "Tremelo Song"- To me, the Charlatans never made really good albums, only perhaps a few good stand-out tracks. I was obviously fond of this one at the time, though now most of their material is kind of like ingesting too much aspartame - kind of sweet, artificial and easily forgettable.

My Bloody Valentine - "Soon" - I was working in an HMV store when the "Loveless" album came out, and for fans of indie music at the time (1991) it was like the second coming of Christ. Presently, I don't have the wherewith all to sit through the whole album again. For me it is one of those cases where although I appreciate what Kevin Shields & co. were attempting conceptually, the end product isn't necessarily as gripping for me. I do still like this particular track, and I think it will get a little more air time now. I also remember that their concert almost caused my ears to bleed.

Neneh Cherry - "Buddy" & "Money Love" - I was trying to funk up my mix a little to avoid it being overly homogeneous. Having said that, neither of these two tracks have aged terribly well, and I think I'll put them to rest for a long time. I did, and still do, love Neneh Cherry's cover of Cole Porter's "Got You Under My Skin".

The Waterboys - "The Whole of The Moon" - This was already an older classic, thrown in for good measure. I still love it. Years later I learned that Mike Scott actually wrote this song about Prince.... "I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon".. these lyrics make sense in this context.

The Levellers - "One Way" & "Boatman" - These Celtic-tinged songs celebrating freedom , non-conformity and resistance to the larger social order really captured my imagination. Revisiting them was meaningful and still somewhat inspiring. Boatman is linked thematically to the Waterboys' "Fisherman's Blues", i.e. the open seas as an image of freedom and liberation from the shackles of society.

New Model Army -"Here Comes The War" - This song is even more relevant now than when it first came out. It portrays a society in collapse with it's "stories about serial killers" (only a few years shy of the Internet explosion, the proliferation of celebrity obsessed 24 hour cable news - think of the type stories we have become obsessed with). The environmental & anti-war/imperialist message could have easily been written about Bush and his goons in Washington now. Its a very angry & cathartic listen still, ending with a screaming halt and a call to "put out the lights on the age of reason". Very chilling

SIDE B:

The Lemonheads - "Bit Part" - This song makes me smile. I love Juliana Hatfield's screaming at the beginning. Evan Dando is a bit of an enigma. He has written some fairly insipid tripe, though the odd time there are some great gems like this one that really stand-out. This is a classic slacker anthem, definitely a product of its era. (Note: around the same time I rediscovered this tape, I found a blog from a fellow Vancouverite called "a bit part in your life" - a strange coincidence?)

Sugar - "A Good Idea" - This Pixies inspired track has aged well. I played the hell out of the album "Copper Blue" when it first came out. Bob Mould crafted some well polished power-pop with this project and it was welcomed relief from many of the insipid grunge clones that dominated the airwaves at the time. Although I don't play it often now, I still love this album. It reminds me of that rare giddy feeling one gets when enraptured by a truly great album or piece of art, kind of like getting a key or brief glimpse of the "hidden kingdom:" (to quote Greil Marcus).

Wonderstuff - "Ooh She Said" - This was a b-side I think. The Wonderstuff had their fine moments early on, though they fizzled out creatively towards their end, perhaps dazzled by their own cheekiness. This track is more of a curiosity for me now, rather than a staple. I do like the layered acapella vocals at the end.

Belly - "Gepetto" & "Feed The Tree" - I spent the first half of the 90's with a mad crush on Tanya Donelly (saw her once in concert with Throwing Muses, twice with Belly). These songs remind me of a time when I was guaranteed to love pretty well anything that came out on the 4AD label. These songs are nostalgia laden for me, and I recall pouring over the lyrics to these tracks with my good friend Dave at our local suburban record store. I think we concluded that "feed the tree" was a metaphor for death. I also loved the image of the little hellion in Gepetto who had a penchant for decapitating dolls. Donelly wrote some playful and fun stuff, and these songs hold a special place for me still.

Sugarcubes - "Hit" - this leftover remix from Bjork's former band was just before she embarked on her brilliant solo career. Most of the Sugarcubes material hasn't stood the test of time for me, and the Icelandic attempt at rapping by her former band mate leaves little to be desired on this track. Proceed with caution

PJ Harvey - "Sheela-na-gig" & "Dress"
- Still like these tracks. PJ Harvey was a bold and exciting new artist at this time. I have remained an admirer of most of what she has done since then. The low-fi production values lend these tracks to aging well. Both songs are very raw & primal and I admire the level of energy

Suede - "Metal Mickey" - I hoped & prayed at the time that Suede would fill the empty post-Smiths void in my heart. Over time their Ziggy Stardust longings left me unsatisfied, and well, I'd much rather listen to vintage Bowie over their material any day.

The The - "Dogs of Lust" - Matt Johnson & Johnny Marr were a short-lived and wonderful combination. The album "Dusk" was one of my favourites from the 90's, and their concert at the masonic temple in Toronto was awe-inspiring. I think I may spin this album again soon.

Ian McCulloch - "Lover, Lover, Lover" - interesting choice for a Leonard Cohen cover. This version is more of an anthem compared to the original, complete with U2 inspired big guitars throughout. No subtlety here, Ian McCulloch practically shouts out Cohen's pleadings to the heavens. Very catchy and engaging to the end, with a few lines whispered before the last crescendo for good measure. Not my favourite Cohen cover, but definitely in my top 10.

Neneh Cherry & Michael Stipe - "Trout"
- a well intentioned diatribe in favor of more sex education as a response to the growing AIDS epidemic. Having said this, Michael Stipe should NEVER attempt to rap again EVER, and I say this affectionately as long time REM fan. This one will not adorn any future mixes I can assure you.

ALSO: for your reading pleasure, here is a piece from Wired magazine - Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore on the power of the mix tape.

3 comments:

robyn bright said...

I loved the mixed tapes you used to make!!! you were mixed tape master extrodinaire!

St. Renegade said...

Oh my word, "Gepetto" and "Dress"? The best. And since you are my new biggest fan, I'll hip you to the punk rock choir I'm in:www.myspace.com/theblueribbongleeclub. Thanks for the listing, by the way.

amanda said...

It's so sad that kids today will never know the joy of mixed-tape making. Hunched over a pile of cassettes and vinyl for several hours, writing out the perfect playlist on paper first, sorting and queuing up songs in the most meaningful and perfect order...it's just not the same when all you have to do is drag a bunch of downloaded tunes into an iTunes playlist and slap 'em on a CD.
I remember coming out of a looong Smiths phase when a guy I worked with at a video store gave me a mixed tape with Pavement, The Archers of Loaf, J Church, Jawbreaker, Superchunk, Sebadoh, Sonic Youth, and Hardship Post on it. That tape set the tone for the 90s for me, musically, anyway. I wonder if I still have it...