Hello and welcome!
For those reading my column for the first time, these monthly playlists which I’m re-visiting (and continuing to create) came about as a result of an idea I had back in January of 2010: an idea that woud see me create one 80 minute playlist a month.
The reason for doing this was two-fold: I wanted to create and re-enforce very specific lived experiences and memories tied to music, and I wanted a rather consistent set of songs to propel me each month as I created my art.
In creating these playlists, I tried to make things flow— I wanted songs to segue very effortlessly (or abrasively) creating a sense of narrative.
Going forward, once a week, I’m going to update the Spotify playlist that you can find below.
I’d recommend not shuffling the songs, as they were sequenced the way that they were for a reason. To get the full experience, listen to them in the way in which I’ve arranged things.
Included below is a short description of the tune I’ve included, and/or a description of the specifics memory associated with it. If you’re not trying to read all of that, just hit play on the link above!
1. To the World- Kanye West, R. Kelly, Teyana Taylor
Yow. Starting off with an R. Kelly feature?
We can pretend it’s Tank singing instead?
Tank is a better singer than R. Kelly, let’s go with that.
2. Get Closer- Moonstone Continuum
This was the closing song from the second album of one of my favorite Minneapolis bands.
Sean, one of my best friends I made in college, plays keyboards and contributes background vocals on here, and I love almost everything about this song. I’m particularly fond of the guitar solo towards the end of the song— an effortlessly beautiful, simple, and frame-able statement.
Jon Nielsen is the man who played said solo, and I actually got to have drinks with he and Sean, shortly before I left Minneapolis for good.
Mr. Nielsen was certainly my local guitar hero while I was living up there, and I was very thankful for the opportunity to compliment him on his playing, before I left.
3. Wrathchild- Iron Maiden
I think this is the song that made me re-asses whether my boycott of Pre-Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden was actually a reasonable thing.
This is a smoking piece of music all around, but let’s give a special round of applause to Mr. Clive Burr whose drum kit brings to mind a particular vicious, slithering snake.
I’m here for it all day, along with the slash-and-burn guitar work that we’re treated to in the chorus.
4. Bronchusevenmx- Autechre
Is Garbage my favorite Autechre release?
It might be.
Idk— this was a go-to cut during my days of doing super serious meditation in my attempt to beat panic disorder.
It certainly helped. Listening to this with your eyes closed, you can’t help but imagine yourself in some small Japanese studio apartment, alternately blinded and humbled by the neon lights outside, illuminating your room.
The percussive aspects are raindrops, of course, striking against the window in a way that’s both random and consistent.
This is deep trance music, and I can assure you that if you get through all 9+ minutes of this without opening your eyes, you will feel leveled out, and almost fully at peace.
It’s a powerful thing when music is able to do something like that, and I’m both in admiration and appreciation of this.
5. Scarface- Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
As I said a few weeks ago, I’m not really a fan of, “Piñata.”
I think it’s just okay.
This is FAR AND AWAY the greatest song on the album. It’s the first real song for a reason.
It’s 100% a monster.
Both Madlib and Freddie Gibbs are very comfortable in their lanes here, and… yeah, even though what Freddie Gibbs is rapping about is pretty terrifying, you can’t help but be entranced by the persistence of his truth and performance.
6. Africa- D’Angelo
This is the prettiest song off of, “Voodoo?”
“Untitled,” is more famous, but I feel like I’m probably going to listen to this more often.
The closing number from the album, this is like the ultimate wind-down at the end of a perfect day. This is a very beautiful piece of music, but there’s a playfulness about it too.
I find it similar to Prince’s, “Adore.” There are a couple of very Purple one-like inflections sprinkled throughout it, and I think this is the song that finally made me understand the specifics of D’Angelo’s appreciation of his heroes music.
7. Hold On- Pusha T, Kanye West, and Rick Ross
Strange as it may sound, this is the song that helped me navigate the day of my grandfather’s death with perhaps, more grace than I might have otherwise.
I received a phone call, early in the morning with the news, and after taking that in, I got to work, because that seemed like the right thing to do.
I don’t think I listened to anything else that day, and it’s difficult for me to speak about this song otherwise, because I can only really think about how it helped me get through that day.
8/9. Smokin and Leanin/No Way Out- DJ Screw & Botany Boyz, Al-D
The Winter of 2014 was BRUTAL in Minneapolis, and I feel like it probably made leaving the city a lot easier for me.
I slept in a bedroom that was quite spacious, but also had no heat.
This meant that I sat at my drafting table wearing 2 or 3 layers, and the same when I slept.
Add in the panic disorder I was working with at the time, and it was… challenging.
DJ Screw’s music threw me a lifeline though. It would send me somewhere else when I listened to it, and almost make me forget about JUST HOW COLD that winter was.
These are probably my two favorite songs from, “3 ’N the Mornin (Part Two),” and as they segue so effortlessly into each other, I’ve included both of them in here.
10. Holding my own- The Darkness
That first album by The Darkness may be an all-time great.
I know, I know— they’re not breaking the mold, and perhaps it’s just, “pastiche,” but it’s a masterful piece of work that I can’t help but enjoy start to finish.
This is one of the heavier ballads on the album, and I definitely used to throw it on, when I was in some kind of mood.
The guitar solos on here are some of my favorite from the album, and this is just an all-around great tune.
11. March to the Sea (BBC Live Version)- Baroness
Summer of 2012, I got to see this played live at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
It was just before Yellow and Green was released, so it was my first time hearing the song, and I’ll never forget it.
While the studio version of this song is magnificent, this live version is probably the way to go at the end of the day.
There’s a forcefulness present here that just… perhaps got lost when the band recorded this in the studio. The break with the twin leads a la Thin Lizzy also sounds positively MOLTEN in this version, and I delight in imagining a creaky cauldron overflowing, setting fire to straw below it.
This is one that is best played loud.
12. Forty Six & 2- Tool
I’m not a Tool expert, but I feel like this is the song that established the blueprint they’d follow on, “Lateralus,” a few years later?
The exotic rhythm and melody work found within the opening passage is as pretty as anything that Tool has ever done, and the chorus is a real bone-crusher. There’s a bit of swag in there too, which I always appreciate within the confines of modern metal.
My buddy Dave pointed out late last summer that 70s metal was more about groove than outright speed, and I think that’s both a fair an astute observation. Tool is unafraid to embrace some of that history here, and I think that’s cool.
In any case, this is a top-tier entry for them, and it features some especially wild drum work from Danny Carey towards the end– perhaps the highlight of the song.
This is also best played loud.
13. Murder to Excellence- Kanye West & Jay-Z
The second half of this song is possibly one of my favorite things that Kanye every produced.
Sonically, it’s just full-on astonishing.
He and Jay-Z’s verses are fine, but I feel like they’re overshadowed by just how incredible Kanye’s work behind the boards is.
14. Back at One- Brian McKnight
I’ll go to bat for this song.
It’s a STONE COLD CLASSIC.
If you disagree, you’re wrong.
Or, perhaps, you just weren’t at the right age in the 90s when this came out.
But come on, folks— what’s not to love here?
I seem to recall reading that Brian McKnight was inspired to write this after going through the step by step process of programming his VCR?
I think that’s kind of great.
Also, the late 90s– can we just have them back already?
If time stopped December 31st of 1998, and we just didn’t really go forward from there, I’d probably be alright with it.
15. The Will to Death- John Frusciante
When it comes to the quiet songs that John Frusciante has written, I think this one takes the cake as his greatest achievement.
It’s a dead simple piece of music, defined by how naked and vulnerable it is.
It’s not a happy tune, but it manages to exude an optimism of sorts, which I find curious. I feel like it’s a song for sunrise or sunset— though probably the latter.
It also features a really lyrical, albeit understated, double-tracked guitar solo to close things out. I deeply appreciate the simplicity, and almost child-like nature of it. It’s something that strikes me as just so very honest.
We need more of that honesty in music.