FEBRUARY MIX by Peter Mattei
This has really been a crap winter in New York, and February is traditionally the shittiest month here and many other places, too. I mean January, after all, is a new year, the start of something. March blows but at least there’s hope for April and May. While February — this is just the godawful middle of the suck. So obviously, I’ve compiled a playlist of spirited, uplifting, sunny songs to weather the storm, right? Um, sorry, no. As the Buddha says, the only way to go through it is to go through it. So with that somewhat masochistic notion in mind, I offer up a (sadly ‘90s-centric) slowcore, melancholy soundtrack to the month, the musical expression of that inner cold, rain and snow that defines February’s mood. Embrace ye these our darkest days!
1. Low (2-step)
“And the light it burns your skin in a language you don’t understand.” This track, from their ’99 album Secret Name, is the musical equivalent of a polar vortex. It also bears mention that Low hails from Duluth, Minnesota, where as of this writing the temperature is minus eleven.
2. Widowspeak (Harsh Realm)
I love this band; they are sort of the rock and roll heir apparent to Low, IMHO. And how could I pass up a song called Harsh Realm? I guess this is the only real hipster band I am including in this playlist; I had to do it just to prove I have listened to music made in this century.
3. Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles (Brick City Love Song)
I was looking for music for a film I was supposed to direct a couple of years ago and I happened upon this Newark-based instrumental group, sort of a classically-inspired Godspeed. I have no idea if they are still around or not, but I think they’ve put their stuff up on archive.org and it is worth checking out, even if they did steal their name from a Chinese movie.
4. Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse (Dark Night of the Soul feat. David Lynch)
I don’t even know what to say about this track. It is so perfect. Just go and buy it, put it in your phone, lie down in a soot-filled snow bank, and listen to it nine times. When the Devil shows his head, spring is just six eons away.
5. Tindersticks (Cherry Blossoms)
Okay, so this track is kind of pretentious. I like it anyway. “4 AM, six feet down.” That’s kind of what it feels like these days to walk two blocks to the deli. The cold puts voices in my head, and the voices have these sensitive British accents, and I have no idea what they are saying to me, but since they are British, I do what they want.
6. Lina Paul (No Bluebirds Passing By)
I met Lina Paul a few years ago at the Brooklyn Rod and Gun club and she introduced me to her ethereal, haunting music. She’s a Berlin-based stage and film actress who turned to making sounds. She’s like an avant garde Cat Power meets Bjork. I haven’t been in touch with her, but I think her music is amazing and sad and for whatever reason incredibly visual: I just keep seeing things when I hear it.
7. Holte (Road Song)
Holte is a new project by Red Hook Brooklyn-based visual artist Patricia Thornley in collaboration with Austin Hughes and other musicians. I guess you’d put them in the Americana category, but that tells like less than half the story. I wouldn’t call this song all that melancholy, especially when it hits the big major chords, but I think we needed a break from all the abject pretentia and sadness that I’ve dumped here. Full disclosure: I played piano on this track.
8. Jana McCall (Again and Again)
I really miss the ’90s. If you are reading this you were probably in grade school in the ’90s, so I’ll tell you: the ’90s were great. There was a sense that things were getting better in the world, and there was still an underground that wasn’t instantly co-opted by fashion brands, and independent film was actually independent, and the internet hadn’t turned every band into the same band, and people actually had conversations without staring at electronic devices every two minutes.
9. Sarah Ogan Gunning (I am a Girl of Constant Sorrow)
S.O.G. was a Kentucky folk singer who was first recorded by Alan Lomax in 1937. She sang a lot about coal miners and the coal miners union, and was a half sister to Aunt Molly Jackson. In this song she reveals eating bulldog gravy for breakfast. Bulldog gravy was a coal miner thing, a combination of water, flour, and grease. I think it’s also gotta be the title of my next book.
10. Be Good Tanyas (Waiting Around to Die)
What happens when you combine the best Canadian girl-folk trio of all time with the best American songwriter of all time? You get this, the BGT’s unforgettable cover of the Townes Van Zandt classic. I met TVZ in Austin, Texas, in, yes, the ’90s. It was his last show in the US before he passed away at age 51. I asked him what was up, and he said “Just waitin’ around to die.” You don’t have to believe that story but it’s true.
11. Dinah Washington (This Bitter Earth)
Just for a change of pace, something not from the last couple of decades. I first came to love this track when I saw Charles Burnett’s 1979 film Killer of Sheep a few years ago; it is possibly the most truly, deeply independent film ever made, shot on a shoestring in Watts when Burnett was a student at UCLA.
12. the everybodyfields (Medicine Girl)
the everybodyfields were a duo from Tennesse that made a few albums in the ’00s and then broke up. I think they were a couple. I saw them once in New York and it was a transcendent show. It’s really too bad that they broke up. It’s bad when anyone breaks up. I don’t like breaking up. This song is about morphine, I think, and death. Maybe it’s not possible to write sad, beautiful songs about morphine and death and not break up.
13. Charles Atlas (Edith)
I don’t think too many people know this brilliant, mostly-instrumental group. A few years ago after a break-up I was obsessed with them, and played their album To The Dust over and over. It’s really quite a meditative masterpiece IMHO. This song is called Edith but I can’t tell if it’s about someone named Edith or not, and it’s one of the only songs they’ve recorded that includes the human voice.
14. This Is The Kit (Birchwood Beaker)
TITK is an English folk band fronted by Kate Stables, whose voice is strangely normal and surreal at the same time. I think this song is about living in Norway, since Odin is invoked. Carry through the snow!
by Peter Mattei
— Peter Mattei is the author of The Deep Whatsis. His award-winning plays have been staged in various theaters across the country to critical acclaim, and his first feature film, Love in the Time of Money, was developed at the Sundance Directors Lab and produced by Robert Redford. He’s created and written original series pilots for HBO, CBS, ABC, FOX, and other networks. He splits his time between Brooklyn, upstate New York, and Austin, Texas.