Sometimes the most pyrrhic ventures prove the most gratifying. Gleaning a decade’s worth of song in 2019 feels like sifting sand with a hula hoop, the enormity of the ever-accumulating archive sluicing through our woefully inadequate tools, its elusive pith elementally, stubbornly incompatible with the implements of capture at hand. Nothing like an egregiously mixed metaphor to communicate an aporia, a kind of category mistake: I get the sense that we should be doing anything else with the incalculable amount of music released this decade than grasping at straws, while the lion’s share slips through our fingers. If only taste didn’t imply abjection or preference a failure to hold.
But curation demands scission, and we can only deposit some faith that its trimmings might help make something of this most recent and most harried time slide into the future. All of which is to say that we at Tiny Mix Tapes are aware of the glorious futility of any enterprise as conceited as this.
Par for our predictably wonky course, TMT’s Favorite 100 Songs of the Decade are not arranged with the airless authority of the list. Less a ranking than a repertory, presented over the course of the next two weeks will be a succession of 10 themed mixes (count ‘em: that’s twice as many as usual). You don’t need to know what the word “phenomenology” means to understand that this decade’s myriad unruly soundings did not lend themselves to the schemes of valuation and accounting at work in the economization of life itself.
Somewhere between choreography and improvisation, we slunk from the BED to the OFFICE (in whatever configuration it took) to the GYM (or, you know, we wish we had), then, spent, to the BATH, and, revived, hopped in the COUPE (literal or figurative), skidded through the ALLEY, teetered on the CLIFF, convened around the CAMPFIRE, contemplated the VOID, and approached BEYOND. And none of it was soundless. And so we put the cart before the horse in saying that this lilting and braying and bumping and grinding and seething and soothing ensemble of songs did not just soundtrack, post hoc, a readymade ceremony lived in the concretion of stochastic skews and managerial directives and calculated risks.
Not a chance. Like so many granules of wet sand cohering palatial, these songs textured the very grist of our experiential apertures, the hermeneutic hula hoops of our conceptual scaffolds. The broken circle demands a new analytic (way of listening to the music), avows Moten. And then some: I want to listen to what sound does to interpretation. Sounds good. Us too.
BED · OFFICE · GYM · BATH · COUPE
ALLEY · CLIFF · CAMPFIRE · VOID · BEYOND
The BED mix is a new addition to the TMT Mix Collection™. Featuring solo artists with visions of love, maximalist sentimentality, and idiosyncratic songwriting, this early-morning mix offers personal style and endless possibility. Rest easy: from showroom to bedroom, this is how you bring Home™ to the destination of your choosing.
PART 1: “BED” mixed by Adam Devlin
“Rock and Sin”
Here was a song about being stuck. Stuck being subject, plastic, always shifting and reforming, losing center. Here was a song about relating to another, tying yourself to them and learning yourself through them. Here was a song about being held, too touching and too scary, close to the edge. Here was a song about voices shuffling, being several. All songs are like this but some are more. Lily’s song was really lovely, deceptively complex, layered, piquing ears; it put us present and gave sweetly. Independent, it worked rightly. Steady walking.
To say that Caroline Polachek came on strong would be an understatement. As the frontwoman of Chairlift, the singer conceived of love as a head-on collision, a high-speed, life-or-death chase after the object of her desire. The weight of its impact and the pain of its fallout were subtexts that wrinkled the surface of the band’s sterling production and an ache that Polachek brought to the fore with her gorgeous, operatic voice. “Door,” the first single under her own name, was the sound of the artist changing her mind. Love was no longer a beacon on the horizon but the pursuit itself, a multiverse of possibility unfolding before her that she was poised enough to enter and graceful enough to accept on its own terms. In a feat of songwriting, Polachek demonstrated the boldness of leaving behind one’s old self — and all of its comforts and quiet certainties — to pursue an abstract togetherness with another person. It was a vision of love that was swirling, airy, and brimming with possibility, the closest analog to Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World” this decade. Like Bush’s masterful rendering of “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” the romantic tension that propelled Polachek’s “Door” was her willingness to say “yes” to the unknown within and beyond herself. Polachek did one better, the exaggerated outline of her features merging at the end of the song’s video into the ether, a glowing field of pure white light.
The fading days of the aged libertine. In the haze of a debauched past, “Kaputt” suggested the silhouette of Dan Bejar in a smoking jacket, part Leonard Cohen and part Bryan Ferry, weathering the toll of depravity, standing as the living testament of a God who will keep the promise that it all ends with this. Sure, the trope of the drunk in the midnight choir is as pervasive as that of the teen rebel or the struggling artist, but there are good reasons for that. It represents a lament for freedom of consequences, the demise of the dream of invincibility, and the chance of some measure of glory without compromise. The recent past has seen such sentiment extended to the level of a nation, a generation, and, ultimately, the human species. It is always the same metaphor, just bleaker. At some point, we are all the canary in the coal mine of our own dejection. Girls, cocaine, the nocturne. In terminal retreat, but up for anything. Animals crawl toward death’s embrace. More than this, there is nothing. Bejar wrote a song for America. Who knew.
“I know I’ve been gone a long time/ I’m back and I want what is mine.” Jai Paul’s falsetto-spun chorus on “BTSU (Demo)” donned Prince-ly airs for a bedroom producer with exactly three tweets to his stage name. We swooned despite the swagger. The pheromone-jacked single from the elusive artist’s official debut album, Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones), still torqued our torsos after its first Myspace sketch in 2007. While street-wise drum pads wooed heat-seeking synths, a woozy bassline cued a charming sax solo. Whether or not he’s back for good, we are reminded that one’s workload is not chained to one’s footwork. More ghost than earthly host, Jai Paul returned without ever really arriving. That’s quite the party trick!
Put Your Back N 2 It was full of songs about quiet desperation that were tinged with hope. None were better than “Hood,” a piano- and drum-driven ballad about feeling unworthy of love. Simply and efficiently constructed, the song’s brevity only strengthened its impact. The intimacy of the vocals, the rawness of the piano, the spry hopefulness when the drums kick in – there was much to cherish in those brief two minutes. I’ve returned to it often over the last decade, sometimes because I needed to hear it, other times because I wanted to spend 120 seconds blanketed by its blissful beauty.
Let’s not forget that the #MeToo movement is as much a retrospective on past wrongdoings as an expression of solidarity going forward. Grimes implicitly relayed her own experience with sexual assault on the track “Oblivion,” and the rhythm of the drum machine offered an intriguing tonal contrast with the seriousness of her lyrics. We started with the anxiety induced by the perpetual fear of someone “coming up behind you,” but the narrator at once recognized the need to cope in lieu of a cure. Our respective bedrooms were just a temporary refuge.
“Believer” burrowed out brilliantly from a glinting iridescent shaved ice heap-frastructure, its faint succor draining out before it could be properly tasted. This closer was banal Xmas vibes at their most abstractly essential. Like spending all Saturday in a Barnes & Noble just reading and milling around. Didn’t matter if it was “Swear all night on the possum moon” or “Ding Dong Diet, an impossible move,” you were rolling too deep in that driving bassline to care, stricken with an implacable yearning that nonetheless tidily receded like all the wretched transitional pain we continue to coolly contextualize for fun and profit.
It’s hard not to think of them as wasted years, nights ending alone at sunrise, on the floor, outside, in the hospital, at your place, waking up with my contacts left in so I can see clearly how I don’t know how I got there. I kept leaving things behind. This ruins, in the name of fun. Tami T left her window open to let in the sad truth of her sad birthdays, playing her sad keyboard to cheer us up. It didn’t work, but she gave me courage. I entertain the possibility that there’s no climax at dawn, that nothing will save me, and I don’t have to run scared.
In a decade in which independent music was so dubiously preoccupied with the idea of “chillness” as an aesthetic principle, Kate NV’s “Kata” was authentically laid-back and retro. She delivered the song without avoiding the underlying disharmony inherent in reviving nostalgic signifiers in an era desperate for progress. The torrentially smooth kitsch of its lite-rock colors was like the sweet and silk of honey, while the stammering, nonsensical lyrics and restlessly overlapped lead melodies pushed toward the absurdity of postmodern, maximalist friction. It was a jaunt through both knowing and unknowing, equally blissful and mindful, and a truly independent demonstration of mellow cool in an age of mild hysteria.
[Boys Don’t Cry/Def Jam]
Looming along the edge of the club, or the party, until a break in the vibe reveals how to move. I could slide, but what about my hands, desolate without a message to read. I could spiral until interrupted by the right song, but who will sing it with me. Is it humiliating to want to be the shape of lovers entwined in the stars. Is it more humiliating to be waiting outside in a sequined jacket, resisting the impulse to text: will you come hold me like a shell you might pick up on the beach?
Come back tomorrow to hear the “OFFICE” mix by Weaver.