Making Mixtapes For Girls

So this weekend I’ve been getting a music education. And by that I mean, I struck a deal with a colleague.

Apparently the deal was, she linked me to songs by Mariah Carey and Beyonce, and I died a little inside each time I pressed Play.

In return I got two of my best shots in – a boozy, depressed Alkaline Trio number and a downbeat but defiant Tom Waits effort.

This experience, along with a memory of a ridiculous bid to impress an ex-girlfriend that I remembered while out on a recent tune-filled stroll, has got me thinking about all those lengths I used to go to, to let the music do the talking for me.

Moe the simpsons declaring intentions

Everybody’s got their views on mixtapes – Rob from High Fidelity, Barney Stinson and his friend Not-Moby among others. But for all the tapes and CDs I made with romantic intentions, I still couldn’t resist including a couple of tracks that were more just ‘this is what I like, and you should like it too’. Not especially romantic, not especially friendly even – for every ‘nice waking up next to you’ there was a ‘this is a rock ‘n’ roll takeover’ that blurred the message somewhat.

But more than my insistence on enriching a special someone’s music experience with whatever I was listening to that month, comes the annoyance with myself for taking the lazy route. It may be that ‘all my favourite singers have stolen all of my best lines’, but looking back I wish I’d still exerted a little more energy in expressing my own true feelings.

VH1’s (hiding) behind the music

In everyday life just as in my life’s worth of mixtape-making, I have this awful habit of hiding behind pop culture, when I should just be expressing my raw feelings and emotions instead. Rather than making an accurate articulation of my hurt, or pride, or surprise, or affection, I immediately make a lateral move into an impression from that episode of Frasier where he bellows “I…am…WOUNDED!” instead of just saying it in my own voice. Instead of dealing with the feeling from my gut, I find myself reaching past it into my brain for an equivalent from TV or films because it’s easier not to admit it out loud.

But before that, I settled for the long and drawn-out efforts of filling up 74 or 90 minutes of CD or tape with a bunch of songs that said more about my likes than my feelings. That’s why, if you were the unlucky lady somewhere between 1998 and 2006, you were more likely to get Every Time I Die than Elvis – a generational thing, I can only suspect.

(Out of interest, how do young men and women make their intentions clear nowadays? A Spotify playlist doesn’t have the same done-it-myself level of care taken, and you can’t use all your different coloured pens to make a nice cover either.)

I was reminded of an early and embarrassing romantic gesture the other day; my head full of all that nonsense I mentioned up top, a song came on my iPod which made me remember one of the first albums I ever gave to a girl. Trust me, there’s nothing on here that makes you think what a romantic sod I could secretly be – I’ve checked.

But the fact of the matter is, she wasn’t particularly that type anyway, so even if I had dared to give her something that was of the more flowery variety than this post-hardcore classic, she’d have laughed me out of the room.

Back then, at the age of 17 or so, I was hardly likely to possess the emotional intelligence to say much beyond ‘thanks for paying attention to me, now can I see your boobs?’ (In fact, that could’ve been the title of the first mix I made.) I definitely didn’t have the confidence for it – talking to girls was never something for my Lurve CV – so in a way it was something of a rescue. To be able to hide behind someone else’s music to promote feelings that, if not genuinely shared by me, occupied a close enough space in my head that I didn’t feel like too much of a fraud for setting up shop next door.

While I’m glad that I don’t really need music now to tell someone how much I care for them, thinking about those CDs I used to burn in lieu of spoken affection does make me wish I’d tried a bit harder to express myself back then, so that maybe it wouldn’t be so much of an issue for me in the future.

Five For Fridays: Top 5 Side One, Track Ones

In a new weekly post entitled ‘Five For Fridays’ I’ll be tackling a Top Five list of various items from just about anywhere – books, TV, films, music and gaming.

We’ll kick off with some good rockin’ tunes.

Five For Fridays

If you’ve seen or read High Fidelity you’ll be aware that the boys down at Championship Vinyl have a tendency to make top five lists when they’re bored. As a nice way to kick off the new series of Five For Fridays – a (hopefully) weekly top five list of my own covering all things geek – I thought I’d start by blatantly ripping off one of their very own lists.

Side One, Track One

A good album needs a great song to kick it off, to get you excited to hear the rest of the album rather than leaving you sad and confused as to what else might be ahead before you’ve even reached track two. The opening track should serve as a statement of intent; a hook to snare you in and prepare you for the rises and falls of the next few songs. So without further ado, my Top Five Side One, Track Ones (in no particular order) are:

Rage Against The Machine – Testify

I nearly, nearly went with ‘Bombtrack’ on this one because the mood it creates is much more menacing; the noodling riff that’s gentle but creeping, leading in with the drums to make the first sonic announcement of a great band’s great debut album. But ‘Testify’, kicking off Rage’s third album, is a perfect summation of where we were all at when we met again. It seems to say, yep, we’re that rock band that has that amazing guitarist who does trippy things to his gear, and there’s the drums and BOOM we’re back in the room, people.

Reuben – Cities On Fire

On the other hand, the intro Reuben’s third album is a much mellower affair than we should be used to, with a gentle guitar sequence that absolutely lulls the listener into a false sense of security, before all hell breaks loose in the first verse. ‘So fire it is / to make our dark streets clean again’ screams Jamie Lenman, almost resignedly seeing as that first quiet section didn’t work and so we’ll need some noise in here to tell what’s what.

For my life, I could not pick a favourite Reuben album out of their back catalogue. It’s fairly likely that my own separate top five, top ten even, songs by this brilliant band are split evenly across all three – and that they only made three is such a sad loss.

And have I mentioned I named this blog after a Reuben song? Probably.

The Blood Brothers – Guitarmy

But when you really want to make a statement of intent on the first track, it often helps to have a song that’s thrashy, loud, fast and barely 40 seconds long. That’s what The Blood Brothers manage on the opener to ‘…Burn, Piano Island, Burn’ and it’s an absolute stormer.

At The Drive-In – Arcarsenal

Another interesting one for the first-time listener – of which there were many once the hardest-working band in the world made it to a major label release. At The Drive-In pulls out all the stops on ‘Arcarsenal’, with squalling feedback and a rather shouty vocal from Cedric Bixler.

Alkaline Trio – Private Eye

‘Stupid Kid’ was the first Trio song I heard, and as much as it intrigued me I was much happier to hear their next single, which also serves as the full-speed-ahead opening to what’s probably my favourite Trio album. I was fairly obsessed with the Alkaline Trio at one point – particularly the superb singing of Dan Andriano – and this is a great reminder of why.

The Odd Bit

During the write-up of this post I was amazed to discover two things:

  • Out of the five bands I’ve written about, only one of them is still going strong, and
  • ALL FIVE tracks selected here are from each band’s third album.

I have no idea what this could mean. But weirdly it doesn’t feel like a coincidence.

Matt Skiba joins Blink 182

Twenty years of growing fame, family commitment, near death experiences and professional pressures mounted on Blink 182 guitarist Tom DeLonge, leading to bandmates Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus announcing his departure from the band.

But at the time of writing, Blink 182 have played two shows and are on the bill for another with a brand new guitarist-vocalist.

The new line-up played a warm-up at The Roxy in LA on 18th March, and here’s a song that Tom should be singing:

 

It’s a bit blurry, so in case you didn’t recognise him by his vocals or the loud F-bomb he drops during Mark’s verse, here’s a new photo:

Matt Skiba Blink 182 Alkaline Trio

In his resplendent Hurley t-shirt you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just his head photo-shopped onto Tom’s body, but – holy crap – that’s Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio!

Billed as ‘Blink 182 with Matt Skiba’, they’ll be headlining MusInk Festival on Sunday night.

From the video it’s kinda hard to tell with so much crowd participation – and Travis Barker’s usual enthusiasm on drums – but you can tell Matt’s very into it. (You could say he’s feeling this…I’ll get me coat.)

For now it’s a temporary gig, as Skiba’s already announced he intends to continue with his bandmates in the Trio. Did you ever think this would happen?

It’s blowing my mind a bit more than it really should, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since I saw the above footage for the first time last night. I’ve had plenty of ‘dream band’ discussions with friends at practices and after a few beers, but I never thought that lifting Skiba out of the Trio and into Blink would figure in the equation.

And to be honest, it still doesn’t – I much prefer Skiba’s musical talents over DeLonge, but Blink 182 just isn’t right without Tom. Alkaline Trio were once one of my very favourite bands, in fact they probably received the baton from Blink once I’d heard Private Eye for the first time, but in the days before I Miss You and Feeling This, Blink were much further along the poppier, sunnier side of the road than Alkaline Trio ever were, a gateway band into punk rock for me along with The Offspring.

If nothing else at least it’s a fun novelty.

Whether that fun novelty should ever find its way into a recording studio is another debate entirely. I’ll be posting later in the week about Blink 182 – let’s see if we can nail down the root of the problem.