JUNE MIXTAPE by Janaka Stucky
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Summer Jams 2015
Not too long ago I made another mix, for Largehearted Boy, focusing on music that either inspired my new book, or best complemented it. But now it’s June and I need summer mixes to celebrate surviving the worst winter I’ve ever experienced. Below are some tracks to help me forget every one of those 100+ inches of snow that fell on Boston over the last 6 months. Like any good mix, these are meant to be listened to in order. Enjoy!
1. Hey Mami — Sylvan Esso
I like to ease into summer mixes with a breezy track that builds. Sonically this opening track off of Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut serves that purpose perfectly — but lyrically it’s much more complex as it turns a depressingly ubiquitous story of sexual street harassment on its head across several verses. I love the paradox between content and tone in songs like this. Great for strutting on by as you too “pull on the eyeballs of all the kids standing tall.”
2. Cowboy Guilt — Torres
Off the brand-new album by Georgian singer-songwriter sensation, Torres, this song continues in the same vein of powerfully poppy music with a dark undercurrent. I could have just as easily chosen any song off this album, so why this one? I just threw a dart at my computer screen and this is the track it pierced right before destroying my laptop.
3. From Dog to God — Prayers
Just when I was feeling at a loss for this year’s fallback, go-to ultimate summer jam album I discover Prayers, with their irresistibly catchy and dark “cholo goth” movement. The marriage of gangster rap and new wave feels predestined in this song, with lyrics like: In and out of bad scenes / Always been a bad seed / Loyal to my family / Death Always chasin me / From Dog to God I’m alone in this world / I’m alone I’m alone I’m alone / I’m alone in this fuckin world. Both their albums, SD Killwave and Gothic Summer, are made for driving around with the top down while your black nail polish dries.
4. Queen — Perfume Genius
Off his third album, this track has it all. Soaring melodies, epic drum-ins, haunting backing chorus, and catchy synth chords all make you feel like you’re spinning around an endless luminescent shaft of pure light before the killer refrain, “no family is safe when I sashay,” stops you in your tracks like a death drop.
5. Hawaiian Death Song — Duke Garwood
I had the honor of performing with Duke recently in London, where we collaboratively improvised on stage at the Roundhouse Theatre. Duke belongs to that upper echelon of musicians whose mesmerizingly powerful live performances can barely be hinted at in recordings. This track gets about halfway there, which still makes it better than thousands of songs by other artists. Watching Duke’s fingers play across the guitar as effortlessly as if he were brushing the hair from his eyes, I couldn’t believe the powerfully evocative tones that sprang forth — laying a magickal backdrop for his low, spare vocals. Here’s to hoping Duke comes stateside soon and we all get to see him live.
6. Ha Ha Ha — The Julie Ruin
The latest project from riot grrrl godmother and third wave feminist Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin is every bit as fierce and fun as her previous projects Le Tigre, and Bikini Kill. What summer mix would be complete without a song that ends by chanting “HA HA HA HA ARMAGEDDON” over and over and over again?
7. Let It Bleed — Goat
Buried at the heart of my hands-down favorite album of 2012, Let It Bleed is an unstoppable hybrid of afro-caribbean rythms, fuzzed-out garage riffs, blaring saxophone, and witchy lyrics — all from a group of Swedish musicians who wear masks on stage and insist they’re the latest incarnation of a lost voodoo lineage. In other words: it’s everything I love about all of Goat’s music, and what sets them apart from the sheep (see what I did there?). I can’t get through any season without picking them up and giving them a spin.
8. Wide Open — Growing
I once asked some colleagues what music they thought of when they read my poems, and one Black Ocean author named this track. Until then I had actually never heard it before, but I instantly fell in love and now it’s definitely something I aspire too. Every summer mix needs a song you can get stoned and completely lost in, and this buzzing, layered, complexly harmonic drone that clocks in just a few seconds under 16 minutes fits the bill. Turn out the lights, dilate your third eye and float up through the vastly deep and ever-expanding celestial ocean.
9. Hi-Five — Angel Olsen
I’ve spent numerous summers of my life getting over perennial spring breakups. Consequently every summer mix needs a breakup song, but not just any breakup song — a triumphant one that propels you off the couch, puts your back on your feet and in front of that next great love (or, you know, one-night-stand). Angels Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness is one of my favorite albums of 2014, and while every song on it cuts me open in way or another, this particular one sews me back up.
10. Lights On — FKA Twigs
Speaking of one-night-stands, what good is a summer mix if you can’t get freaky to it? FKA Twigs puts the “freak” back in “freaky,” as evidenced by every one of her unapologetically visionary music videos. If your partner isn’t DTF to FKA then s/he isn’t worth the F in the first place.
11. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) — Run The Jewels (feat. Zack De La Roche)
Summers are also about giving the finger to authority. Whether it’s throwing your textbooks out the window, or playing hooky from work so you can spend the day reminding yourself why being alive actually feels good as you soak up some critical vitamin D on the beach, you need a reliably anti-authoritarian jam. You know who hates authority more than you do? Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Roche. He makes a guest appearance on this track from the phenomenal sophomore release, Run The Jewels 2, and you can roll around the world all day to this while flipping every oppressive motherfucker both birds as hard as you possibly can.
— Janaka Stucky is the author of The Truth Is We Are Perfect (Third Man Books, 2015) and the Publisher of Black Ocean as well as its annual poetry journal, Handsome. He is also the author of two chapbooks: Your Name Is The Only Freedom and The World Will Deny It For You. He likes his whiskey neat and his music dirty.