Mixing Desk

The Songs in My Head

A critic mixes his recent favorites.

Taking the “mix” in Mixing Desk literally, the following songs are linked via fuzzed and tumbling drum tracks, whether electronic or actual. Ingredients were plucked from various genres, including electro/dance, grime, psychedelia, rock, and bedroom folk. One caveat: This armchair DJ owns shoddy stereo equipment, so overlaid transitions were only imagined. Still, if the tracks are played in sequence, you’ll see they sketch a wild yet linear narrative. But whatever—search out the pieces, download, and replay (repeat).

Burning Star Core
The Very Heart of the World (Thin Wrist, 2005) Listen to “Benjamin.”

Opening with a car crash cross-fading into vaporous ambience, this piece of kitchen-sink psychedelia is the work of Burning Star Core mastermind C. Spencer Yeh. The Cincinnati-based Yeh often surrounds himself with a rotating cast of like-minded improvisers, but on “Benjamin” he remains solo, leading listeners on a trek through icy space caverns using violin, muffled voice, guitar, and exploded electronics. Yeh’s been experimenting since 1993, but despite a spate of home-burned CD-R’sand vinyl-only releases, The Very Heart of the World is just Yeh’s second widely available full-length. (A third just arrived.) Recorded between 2002 and 2004, its chilly patches of lush drone and four-person fireside jamming (clarinets, trumpet, piano, and percussion) are his most blissful works to date.

Grizzly Bear Horn of Plenty reissue (Kanine, 2005) Listen to “Eavesdropping (Simon Bookish Remix).”

The Grizzly Bear foursome is Brooklyn’s overlooked bedroom folk crew. Horn of Plenty came out a year ago—in reissued form, it’s accompanied by a second disc of 17 remixes by Dntel (one half of the Postal Service), the Castanets (purveyors of Brooklyn gothic swamp-folk), and Soft Pink Truth (Drew Daniel of Matmos), among others. The most transformative reshaping comes courtesy of the U.K. electro-songbird and DJ Simon Bookish. He fattens the somber “Eavesdropping,” adding danceability to the original’s languid pace with a new chorus, noodles, and rattling clicks and drags. (His percussion clatters like a bucket of change dropped outside a Coinstar.) Despite the makeover, Bookish is wise enough to keep the mournful guitars and the lovely vocal track (“I saw you leave the house last night/ You were eavesdropping on me”), which he transforms into a catchy bridge, stuttered and layered, that becomes all the more plaintive in its repetition.

Jason Forrest Shamelessly Exciting (Sonig, 2005) Click here to watch the “War Photographer” video.

A South Carolina native and current Berlin-based laptop wizard, Jason Forrest has a knack for chopping songs and shoving their insides back together as glimmering conflagrations. His grooviest cutup, “War Photographer,” resurfaces chunks of soul, funk, brassy horns, and blues-rock guitars. On its own, the piece offers a great flow, but thanks to animator Joel Trussell, there’s also an excellent video accompaniment. Using Flash—and other computer stuff beyond my Luddite comprehension—Trussell stages a lightning-bolting, oceanic guitar battle between Vikings and Huns complete with parrots, pyrotechnics, and a flashy pink ax. Two joyous, beer-sipping, band-marching seafarers actualize the track’s vocal sample, trumpet, and cowbell hits—after that bit of brilliance, the final psychedelic battle between two giant TransFormers is merely icing on the cake.

Lady Sovereign Vertically Challenged EP (Chocolate Industries, 2005) Listen to “Random.”

Armed with a “Save the Hoodie” campaign (English lawmakers want to ban them) and resembling Avril Lavigne after ransacking Sean John, the 19-year-old Louise Harman, the self-described “biggest midget in the game” (“the game” being rap), has a next-big-thing debut on Island Def Jam this spring. (She was signed by her No. 1 fan, label president Jay-Z.) A graduate of Vice Record’s grime sampling Run the Road compilation, the MC, lyricist, and producer hails from Wembley, England. For this track, her J. Lo-dissing palette includes a baroque sound-effect production style and a tunefully bratty delivery that wraps itself around cheekylines like, “Now get off your churr, I mean chair/ Some English MC’s get it twisted/ Start sayin’ cookies, instead of biscuits.” Harman’s been the toast of the U.K. (and the blogosphere) for a while, but she should enjoy a critical growth spurt stateside now that her U.S. debut, Vertically Challenged, is available.

Serena Maneesh Serena Maneesh (Honeymilk 2005) Listen to ”Sapphire Eyes High.”

The Norwegian My Bloody Valentine? Not exactly, but listen to this track from Serena Maneesh’s self-titled full-length debut and you’ll understand why folks are bound to employ that sort of shorthand. On the whole, the album emits a buzzed on midnight caffeine atmosphere, as though it were filtered through the Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, and Spacemen 3. (It was actually recorded over six months between Oslo, New York City, Stockholm, and Chicago.) The main songwriter, 25-year-old Emil Nikolaisen, pens angelic harmonies before splintering them into a million sunspots. To create such a cacophony, he couldn’t go it alone. On record, the band includes two of his peers, Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile, as well as the regular Serena Maneesh lineup. One of the longer tracks, “Sapphire Eyes High,” showcases the band’s swirling, dynamic melodic tendencies.

Young People
Five Sunsets in Four Days EP (Too Pure, 2005) Listen to ”Sudden Fear.”

Young People’s 2003 album, War Prayers, was one of that year’s overlooked indie gems. At the time, the band was a trio; since then, the group’s whittled itself down to the bicoastal duo of Katie Eastburn (New York) and Jarrett Silberman *(Los Angeles). The remaining members are both multi-instrumentalists—only Katie sings, though, and her voice is Young People’s biggest hook (think Björk and Cat Power in a downer Lars von Trier musical). She’s also part of the dance troupe Leg & Pants Dans Theeatre and has curated the danced-based Starter Set DVD put out on the Olympia, Wash., label Kill Rock Stars. That performative backdrop finds its way into Young People’s minimal but theatrical sound. The spare mix of voice, percussion, harmonica, and guitar in “Sudden Fear” is one of the group’s patented fleeting fragments. Halfway certain pulses in its atmosphere are reminiscent of Roy Orbison’s ghost. Mostly, though, it sounds like the lonesome, last-second finale to some skeletal stage production.

Correction, Jan. 12: The article originally and incorrectly identified Jarrett Silberman as Jarrett Rosenberg. (Return to the corrected sentence.)