JANUARY MIXTAPE by Brian Allen Carr
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The Shape of Every Mixtape I Could Come up With
There is not a book or music genre that I’m not devastatingly in love with, but I do look for some common denominators in all things I pledge my heart to: I crave sincerity and juxtaposition. Sincerity is fairly impossible to define: it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” things. But, with juxtaposition (or you could even think of it as paradox) I’m looking for a kind of odd entanglement of disparate features, a sort of unique abutment that supports what it shouldn’t. The kind of thing that makes you pity Frankenstein’s monster, makes you want Jim Thompson’s con men to get away with it.
My most recent book The Shape of Every Monster Yet to Come aims to introduce a slew of bad dudes who falter forward but somehow gain the reader’s empathy. That’s the aim, anyhow. These here songs are sincere. These here songs have some kernel of quandry, an off element that fits perfectly. That makes you love it more, even though it doesn’t make sense in the universe of the composition.
1. “Ever so Clear” — Bushwick Bill
Bill is a little person rapper from Houston, TX. This jam is about him trying to commit suicide by baby momma. “Why’d you shoot me in the eye? I woulda shot you in the body.”
2. “In the Basement” — Etta James
Etta has one of the most honest voices of all times. Her groove is pure sincerity.
3. “If My Heart was a Car” — Old 97's
Rhett Miller is one of my favorite lyricists. He’s a fan of Elmore Leonard, and in this ride you get his great ability to tell a story that stinks of hotel rooms and bad TV. The other great thing about this thing is, there’s two choruses. It’s like two songs ate each other. And he’s talking about Guns of Navarone and El Paso and salvage lots and heartache, and what the fuck are you talking about Rhett? Your dizzying focus is beautiful.
4. “I’m So Tired” — Fugazi
Fugazi is one of my favorite bands ever for reasons that only my 14-year-old self could truly explain to you. This is a kind of piano ballad. It’s utterly odd to the band. It features a sort of out of tune piano and the unique vocal stylings of Ian Mackay — and by unique I mean mouth punched? But it’s delicate and lovely all the same.
5. “Babylon” — Outkast
This is like part social awareness anthem, part sexploration chant, and then at some point someone is missing… an Aunt who got killed? I dunno, but I love it. Also it opens with the one of the best lines ever, “I came into this world high as a bird, from second hand-cocaine powder, I know it sounds absurd.”
6. “Race You” — Figurines
This song is very similar to the Fugazi from earlier. Both are so delicate and so ugly at the same time. Like stained lace.
7. “Looking Past Sky” — The White Octave
One of the first publications I ever had was a review of this CD for a now defunct magazine called Salt for Slugs. This song reminds me of when writing seemed really, really important to me, so I had to include it here.
8. “Mr. Scarface” — Scarface
In this hardcore gangsta anthem, Scarface appropriates “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to introduce his debut album Mr. Scarface is Back and then he launches into the hardest murder narrative I’m aware of. Note the way he tells you about each gun. He’s very specific about who he kills and what gauge of gun they wielded.
9. “Dixie Bell” — James Carr
This is one of my favorite kind of songs. It’s catchy, brief, and tells a brief unresolved narrative. What happens, do you think, when he gets to New Orleans?
10. “Whip-poor-will” — Magnolia Electric Co.
Jason Molina is one of those sad geniuses who just had to die early. A whip-poor-will is a song bird. Here, Molina turns this song birds clucking into the backing for a brutal kind of alcoholic hymn. It’s not fun drinking, this. This is the kind of drinking song you die to.
11. “I’ve Fallen in Love” — Carla Thomas
If no one has sampled this song yet — why the fuck not?
The thing is heaven.
12. “I Didn’t Understand” — Elliott Smith
Smith is probably my favorite singer/songwriter ever. The most insane suicide of all times. Two self inflicted steak-knife stab wounds to the heart.
In this song, he croons, “My feelings never change a bit / I always fell like shit / I don’t know why / I guess that I just do.”
Gee, who saw that coming.
13. “What Makes a Man” — Charles Aznavour
In this ballad, a transgender performer contemplates their existence. It’s a really brutal thing, this.
It should make you feel funny.
— Brian Allen Carr is the author of six books, the most recent of which are from Lazy Fascist Press. He lives in Texas.