Echo Station [mixtape]

Echo Station begins on a city street with the honk of a car horn giving way to bird calls and dogs barking. There’s a gathering of synth sprinkles, footsteps, the low drone of far off conversations, and then a voice speaks closely in your ears. It’s time for peaceful adventure. Lean into the membrane of your normal day and push through, fall into the world, wander off the path and into the forest. Let go. As the final words of this welcome message say:

“I get off the train at a station that I usually just pass through on weekdays.”

Track list appears as the songs play, and at the bottom of this post.

Download mp3 version here.

Download FLAC version here.

As I put this mix together, I realized it could become the soundtrack to an imagined adventure, an extraordinary day carved from the holes in daily routine, those moments of drifting thought and wandering mind that can become escape hatches when the need arises. It all sprang from the last song I added, which ended up as the first track in the set. It’s built from field recordings of a city street, then an increasingly crowded train station, we hear a man musing about the way his commuter rail runs so close to the sea, how he prefers the train over the crowded highway. As the background atmosphere subsides, he declares, “Today is a holiday. I get off the train at a station that I usually just pass through on weekdays.” Then we jump right into “Inoculación” by Venezuelan artist Miguel Noya, and we’re on the speeding train itself, hurtling further and faster as the tempo ratchets up. Finally, we’re set adrift in a water-crossed rain forest environment, far from people, from traffic, from work, even from a pandemic, where the real spirit of this mix lies.

A while after posting the Dream Shelter mixtape, which I described at the outset of the pandemic as “music for pure escape when you can’t leave home,” I realized that my listening was trending more and more frequently toward the kind of sounds that took me to a tranquil, psychedelic, and most of all natural space. Sure, I still love spaced out, neon-soaked dub techno and drone, cyberpunk techno, and everything else I’m always sharing, but the warmth and fragility of these songs, often wrapped in nature-bound field recordings,  kept looping in my mind, keeping me company, bringing me comfort while my city remains locked down.

I keep taking my son to the various parks nearby every chance I get, getting a little lost in the woods to bring some levity and balance to the struggle of pandemic life. When we couldn’t get out in the world, which has been often in the cold, rain soaked Michigan spring, we’ve been watching a lot of Miyazaki movies. The gently magical way that nature is portrayed in all of these films is pretty much spot on for the vibe I get when exploring the pockets of forest and riverside trails with my son – there’s a sense of wonder at the sheer tactile reality of the trees, the plants and flowers, the unending rush of water over sand and rocks and fallen branches. There’s mystery, glowing just around every corner and beyond every copse. There’s a story waiting to be unearthed in the simple act of exploring the environment. This is where I find my kind of zen moments in the middle of otherwise ordinary days. It’s the best I can do to enrich my son’s life in the absence of friends, museums, playgrounds, and other ways we routinely spent time outside the home before all of this.

The music in this mix conjures that exact mystical experience in my head, flush with the sounds of the natural world, with babbling brooks, bird calls, and the swaying, textured rush of wind through the trees. Several of the tracks come from the 1980s Japanese environmental music scene, nesting ambient hand percussion and analog synth arpeggios in full length field recordings, while other pieces are dotted, wrapped, or bookended in some of my own recordings from a special park near my home. In this place, I love to take my son far off the marked path and wander along tiny rivers and marshy patches to see the birds and other animals up close; there’s nothing more soothing than getting deep enough in the forest that all signs of other people fade away. It’s my first time incorporating my own field recordings in a mixtape and I have to thank my friend Max for the inspiration. His ambient turn off the dark sets have become my favorite mixtape series over the past year, and they’ve increasingly woven the sounds of the world into the gorgeous music selections – to increasingly soothing effect. It’s not really an exaggeration to say I anticipate his mixes more than most official album releases these days.

So while this set is decidedly in the wheelhouse of genres and scenes that I frequently share here on OU, it leans deeply into the more tranquil, corners of sound, with synth driven kosmische songs and soulful, uncategorizable tunes meshing with environmental music and the distant, echoing sound of the human voice. It’s packed with indecipherable blends of acoustic and electronic recording, bursts of saxophone, guitar, and tender MIDI melodies of all stripes. Through it all is the near constant presence of running water, bubbling and rushing below and between most of the songs here, recorded in places all over the world, from France to Norway to Japan to my own backyard.

I want to highlight a couple pieces before ending my rambling story here. First, “Jacob’s House” by JAB has felt like this core nugget of pure dream environment since the moment I heard it early this year. Its highly specific vibe acted as a kind of compass as I added pieces like “Bananatron,” by Inoyama Land and “The Running Water” by Cybe. Most of the songs here have been favorites for months or even years, but a couple new additions to my library helped really set the mix off, showing that this mood thrives in the twenty first century just as much as it did in the heyday of early electronic music. I feel the need to single out Green-House (aka Olive Ardizoni) especially, whose Six Songs for Invisible Gardens has been one of my favorite 2020 releases since the moment I heard it. Perhaps the oddest track of the bunch, in terms of genre, is “Profondeurs des eaux des laques,” a piece by French composer Benjamin Lew featuring my all-time favorite guitarist (and perhaps favorite overall solo artist) Vini Reilly aka The Durutti Column. It’s a radiant exhale after the emotional center of the mix, using Vini’s unmistakable guitar tone like brush strokes across a landscape painting of imaginary countrysides. It was frankly a revelation to discover this after nearly two decades of Durutti fandom. Everything else in the mix is just as evocative and every artist here is more than worth your time to explore, but I wanted to note the above pieces for personal reasons.

I had this post ready to go along with the mix last week when I got a phone call with terrible news. I don’t want to talk about it here but suffice it to say that I had to take a leave of absence from social media, the internet, all of this stuff that suddenly doesn’t matter so much in light of a real life tragedy. But I realized that getting this mix posted and out in the wild would help me cope, so I popped in this morning to add this note and make sure I didn’t leave too many dumb typos before sharing with the world. The music here is at least acting as the balm I hoped it would be, but I don’t have anything more to say about it. I just hope that, if you’re listening, you’re feeling a little better too.


About the cover art: This is from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, probably my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie. It’s probably the earliest anime I ever saw, in a weird way. When I was five and being babysat by the neighbors, they put on a VHS they’d rented from the grocery store, and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. One part in particular stuck in my mind through adolescence and into adulthood: the image of a glider and its pilot drowning in quicksand, only to emerge into a peaceful chamber below the surface, safe and sound. Something about the situation just stabbed deep into my long term memory and incubated until I started buying Miyazaki movies in my twenties. It turns out that Nausicaa was released in a heavily edited format here in the US at the time under the title “Warriors of the Wind” and that’s the tape I saw as a super impressionable little kid. When I finally saw the real movie almost two decades later, it was like closing a lifelong loop, finding a missing puzzle piece, connecting one of my earliest memories to my current life. It was pretty rad. The post apocalyptic jungle setting is also exactly the kind of world that flows in my head when I hear this music: uncanny, weirdly beautiful, larger than life, glowing with wonder.

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 original year of production, 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:

  1. Yoshio Ojima – Corridor [1993]
  2. Miguel Noya – Inoculación[1986]
  3. Robert Rich – Terraced Fields [1994]
  4. JAB – Jacob’s House [2019]
  5. Inoyama Land – Bananatron [1998]
  6. Yoshiaki Ochi – Ear Dreamin’ [1990]
  7. A.R.T. Wilson – Sun Sign Cancer [2014]
  8. Erik Wollo – Discovery [1987]
  9. Visible Cloaks + Yoshima Ojima + Satsuke Shibano – Stratum [2019]
  10. Zazou Bikaye – It’s a Man’s Man’s World [1988]
  11. Benjamin Lew – Profondeurs des eaux des laques [1985]
  12. Cybe – The Running Water [1986]
  13. Green-House – Chysis [2020]
  14. Emily A Sprague – Synth 3 [2018]
  15. Beverly Glenn-Copeland – Sunset Village [1986]

Thank you so much for listening.

One thought on “Echo Station [mixtape]

  1. Pingback: Jungle Bump [mixtape] | Optimistic Underground

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