Hey, it’s 2020 and I’m back with a new mixtape. Emergence is a total immersion in decaying dub techno oceans and deep ambient fog, echoing outward over cold synth mountaintops and cavernous drum valleys and finally the warmth and comfort of home coming into focus.
Here we go:
Track list appears as the songs play, and at the bottom of this post.
This is darkly beautiful music full of uncanny romance and connected by languid dream logic. Fog, rain, and waves form a hazy lattice behind and inside and throughout every track here, blurring genre borders and bleeding elements between songs. Synth eruptions, smoky drum programming, and ghostly vocals pass through freely, obscuring all sense of time. It’s my attempt to convey the blissfully lost feeling that draws me most to this little corner of the sound world. It’s a little bit cyberpunk, a little bit spiritual, and a lot of cloudy psychedelia in the purest sense, all wrapped in low end throb and spectral atmosphere.
I finished putting together this music a full week ago but was having trouble giving it a name. No single or string of words seemed to gather what these artists are doing, describe the sound in any adequate way. I tried the lyrics of the few pieces with vocals, re-purposing some of the song titles; nothing worked, nothing felt right. So I thought I’d surrender to the unknowing and not try so hard – just keep myself ready for the answer to come to me. I’m a big believer in the serendipity of inspiration, the kind of creativity that David Lynch describes in his book, Catching the Big Fish. It’s all about working on making yourself better equipped to “catch” good ideas when they occur – making yourself open to inspiration from anywhere and anyone, making sure you have a work space that’s ready when you are, keeping your mind in a state that’s most receptive to learning at all times. In the book, Lynch describes the beginning of new ideas as desire:
Desire for an idea is like bait. When you’re fishing, you have to have patience. You bait your hook, and then you wait. The desire is the bait that pulls those fish in – those ideas. The beautiful thing is that when you catch one fish that you love, even if it’s a little fish – a fragment of an idea – that fish will draw in other fish, and they’ll hook onto it. Then you’re on your way. Soon there are more and more and more fragments, and the whole thing emerges. But it starts with desire.
So when I was thinking about how this entire mix came about, how all my mixes come together, I started thinking about Lynch’s book and the many little lessons I took away from it. I ended up revisiting the whole thing (it’s short and sweet), but the above passage stuck in mind long enough to work its way onto the music I’d just finished mixing together. I knew it had to be called Emergence.
The idea for this mixtape started with the final track, a song from the album Holiday in Thule by Our Lady of the Flowers, one of the ten best albums of 2019. The band is a new project from my favorite dub techno producer and Detroit legend Rod Modell aka Deepchord, along with K Henry Dunham, Jeri Frantz, Erinn Pegan, Jay Buckets, and Warren Doss. The music is an undefinable relative of a cluster of genres I’m into, with no true analogues and nothing to directly compare it to. To match its energy, I had to reach out into the darkness and gather some eerie resonance in a wide range of places. You could almost say that the remaining songs, in their totality, form a kind of standard deviation that mirrors the mood conjured on that album. As I said about Thule in review, “To listen is to submerge yourself in this miasma of memory, freefalling without movement, suspended in between gaseous and solid states. The dub is palpable, but the techno side of the equation has drifted off into the aether, more of an implied echo than a functional element of the sound. It’s music for haunting and being haunted – not by ghosts, but by time itself.” I feel like it’s kind of magical how the final piece, the inspiration and the destination, feels like the gentlest comedown after a labyrinth of dreamy confusion.
Dub techno acts as the core axis upon which everything else spins. I am such an unabashed fan of the genre and all its permutations that I published a list of the 32 best dub techno albums ever made in 2018. Since I’m always exploring the things I love, I’ll probably expand the list sometime this year to include new favorites from both recent and older times. This little bit from the intro of the big list sums up why all the disparate sounds here work together so well: “The magic of this genre is that its best and brightest examples are not only impressive musical monuments; they’re easy to love and loop and listen forever.” Environmental ambient, off kilter drone and drum explorations, swooning dub reggae vocals, post-dubstep weirdness, even a piece from a compilation of artists from my home state of Michigan, centered on the gentle sound of Great Lakes waves – it all comes together in the most tactile sense of equilibrium with the world and the interior of your thoughts. It’s a sustainable, repeatable high. While finalizing the mix, I listened while driving through the suddenly-very-real winter we’re having here in the northern US. While it wasn’t exactly meditation time, it certainly eased the tension of navigating ice-slicked roads with my son tucked in his car seat behind me. It probably works just as well at home, while working or reading or whatever. I hope you enjoy these wonderful artists as much as I do.
About the cover art: This is a painting called “Wolf in a Winter Landscape” by Russian Realist painter Stepan Fedorovitch Kolesnikoff. He was born in 1879 in the pre-Bolshevik Russian empire and died in 1955 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having created an acclaimed and, in my eyes, quietly stunning body of work in both oil and gouache paint. I actually only latched onto his art recently after a friend retweeted a collection of his paintings – I was so instantly engrossed that I researched all I could about the creator and found a number of other pieces to adore. As a cursory google image search will reveal, he specializes in frozen moments of peasant life, rural landscapes, and nature in an often hard world. I find myself especially drawn to his depictions of trees, almost surreal in their strange contrast with their often snow covered environs. So when I came upon this image of a lone wolf in an otherworldly arboreal backdrop, I knew I had the cover art for my latest mixtape. It simply looks like this music would be echoing through its gelid landscape.
I believe jumping in blind is best, but if you prefer to know what’s coming, that’s cool. Each track is shown with the album title, label, and year of release and linked to the release where the song was sourced, to make it easier to explore. I fully recommend everything linked below. Here’s the full track list:
01. Shed – Intro [Shedding the Past, Ostgut Ton, 2008]
02. Stillhead – Non State Theory 02 [Espectrum compilation, Avantroot Records, 2016]
03. Deepchord presents Echospace – Symbolism in Transition [Vibrational Studies (In Echospace), Modern Love, 2010]
04. Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek – Cin [Schaum, Faitiche, 2016]
05. Rhythm & Sound – Smile [Smile 12″, Rhythm & Sound, 1999]
06. Christina Vantzou – Percussion in Nonspace [No. 4, Kranky, 2019]
07. ТПСБ – The Grand Pacific Garbage Patch [Sekundenschlaf, Blackest Ever Black, 2018]
08. Marcelus – Odawah Jam [Dreamy Harbor compilation, Tresor, 2017]
09. Malibu – Nana (Like A Star Made For Me) [One Life, Joyful Noise Recordings, 2019]
10. Mount Shrine – Underpass [Ghosts on Broken Pavement, Cryo Chamber, 2019]
11. Burial – Nightmarket [Young Death / Nightmarket, Hyperdub, 2016]
12. Varg – Blue Line 2 (112 Fridhemsplan) [Nordic Flora Series pt. 5: Crush, Posh Isolation, 2018]
13. Eddie Logix – Lake of the Clouds [Pure Sounds of Michigan compilation, Assemble Sound, 2019]
14. Intrusion feat. Paul St. Hilaire – Little Angel [The Seduction of Silence, echospace, 2009]
15. Rrose – Onceless [Monad XVI, Stroboscopic Artefacts, 2013]
16. Our Lady of the Flowers – And So To Bed [Holiday in Thule, Silentes, 2019]
Thank you so much for listening.