This is a special occasion. One of my favorite current projects, UK duo Seahawks, have crafted a mix for exclusive release here on Optimistic Underground. This hour-long set conjures a celestial, funky, freewheeling spell that feels precision crafted for my tastes despite being composed of mostly new-to-me artists and tracks. It’s a treasure that I’m beyond excited to share.
I’ve now released 18 mixtapes here on Optimistic Underground, but before today I’ve never shared one made by anyone else, much less an artist I adore.
This is the biggest mixtape I’ve ever made. I’ve pieced it together with every bit of leftover energy and stolen time as my life has been radically changing during these inescapably hot and humid Michigan summer days. I’ve been in transit, in transition, floating in zero gravity between two planets, my comfortable old past and my hard-won future. I’d been building this sound mood for weeks and I had to call it Off World.
This strange time has me thinking about my fondest fictional memories of adolescence, hours at home and across the galaxy spent wandering through virtual lands, riding the long arc of a grand narrative while taking plenty of time to slow down and soak in the uncanny beauty of it all. So I started making a mixtape that would reflect both the epic nature of my changing circumstances and the liminal experience of waiting while a major life process plays out. Most of all, I wanted it to remind me of that specifically youthful feeling of spending days at a time lost in the beguiling worlds of my favorite RPGs, no responsibilities to tether me to the real world. Yep. Here we go.
I’ve been thinking lately about this hazy constellation of subgenres I listen to most and realized I’d love to be able to give it a name. Something simple to tag every post I make about this, to me, wholly definable little sound world that I return to always. It’s balearic, it’s techno and house, it’s jazz, it’s a descendant of both German kosmiche soundscapes and 4th world new age ambience. It’s a nebulous but powerful force roving between all of these sounds.
And although no music needs a label, it’d be really useful to name this sound. That way, I could say: Seahawks’ mini-album Starways exemplifies this genre better than anything I’ve heard in a long time.
This is what I thought the first time I heard Hampshire & Foat: oh my god these guys, oh my god I need more.
That was just a couple weeks ago. I’d stumbled upon their 2017 debut Galaxies Like Grains of Sand by chance, hearing the opening track and instantly feeling the need to hear everything they’d made. Lucky for me, they were just about to release their followup, The Honeybear.
When I was ten years old, I chose the alto saxophone as my instrument for school band. I kept at it through high school, but gave up when my interests turned elsewhere. I still own that sax, but I haven’t touched it in years.
If only I’d known that it could create otherworldly music like Joseph Shabason does on his masterful debut album, Aytche, I’d probably still be playing today.
Imagine a planet of warm woodwind tones, humid, echoing percussion, and laser-etched neon synth shards, settling like confetti over a rubbery techno landscape. The second Call Super album zooms all over this place, restless as a pinball, crossing and recrossing the the edges of its established territory every few minutes. Arpo constantly shifts its appearance using only a handful of evocative elements, erupting in a parade of unexpected delight with every subsequent track, sounding as cohesive as it is unique.
In 1980, David Bowie followed up the critically beloved but sales deprived Berlin trilogy of experimental rock albums with a set of tunes meant to jump-start his career again. I’m not sure what the label executives were hoping for, but the result feels like a hulking, mutated cousin of what came before it.
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) is one of the wildest, weirdest albums of Bowie’s career, ripping violently between hysterical pop and defiantly experimental impulses.