Mixtapes, Music

Mixtape: Morning Snow

waiting for a bus on a cold winter morning, with crunchy snow and sounds of birds stirring in the bare branches above, and it starts snowing gently and quietly, wispy white snowflakes, and one lands right on your extended tongue…

Now here’s something I haven’t done before. I mentioned that I was going to make a mix-tape. Shruti, (who drops in every now and then on the blog, hi Shruti) left the intriguing comment above when I asked her for an idea – a mood or a theme. It did sound like a lovely frame of mind to weave a bunch of songs around. Except –

My familiarity with snow is next to non-existent. Real life snow, that is. I encountered snow for a total of 3 hours in my life, and most of it was – well, that’s a story for another day. What I wanted to say is – my experience of these white fluffy thingies falling out of the sky has been based on December issues of Archie comics, Shammi Kapoor films, Yash Chopra heroines and Christmas movies set in New York. Snow in real life, most friends tell me, is not as mysterious, romantic or human-friendly as all of the above make out to be. Or maybe it is, and my friends are too jaded with life to know better (snicker). Actually no, I totally get it. I am from Assam, a state in India known for a phenomenal amount of annual rainfall – as a result, I cannot stand rain. At all.

So this mix-tape is more of a romanticized view of how an outsider perceives a snowy morning. If this sounds like a half-assed excuse for a poor selection of songs, I apologize. The 13 tracks are about a random winter morning, not a particularly cheery one, but not melancholy either. Just that I feel the cold in my bones, I need to touch my ears every now and then to warm them up, and I hold my iPod very tight in my pocket because clenching my fist over the battery makes it feel a tad warmer. And the snow, when it begins to fall, takes my breath away. There is a very clear story playing out in my mind when I listen to the tracks in order. The lyrics, as with most of my musical choices, are not important.

All cliche, pretentiousness and lack of taste are completely unintentional.

You can download the zip (ID3 stripped) from here.

Also, I intend to do this more frequently. I have a theme for the next one already, thanks to a recent conversation, and that will turn out to be much more upbeat than this.


Mixtapes, Music

A Mix For Midnight

Years ago, when I could still say the word with a straight face, I made a mixtape. It was good, or so people said. It was a collection of music that made me smile and want to be creative and go through my work-day punching programming problems in the face, be able to attend meetings without caffeine injections and handle annoying colleagues all without losing that smile. Sometime later, I made another one, dedicated to The God of Indian Contemporary Music. My last attempt was for a short-lived site called Muxtape (for everyone reading this and wondering WTF a ‘mixtape’ is, this link should give you an idea of what one looks like, at least). The theme for that happened to be female electronica vocalists – and once the site went down, taking my playlist with it, I gave up on the idea of trusting third-party sites to host any music content. Until recently, when I thought it was time to, y’know, revive the franchise.

Captain Obvious and his sidekick Private Meh-mori speaking: Tapes are no longer around – the last time I tried looking for one was in 2008, when I got the weird idea of making a “permanent” mixtape – buying a walkman, filling up a 90-minute blank cassette with songs, sticking it into the walkman. Really sticking it in forever. That cassette would be all that the walkman would play, and then it could be thrown away. I have no idea why I thought that was a cool idea. But it was there in my brain, for a bit, and when I saw that there were no walk-men to be found in the cluster of grey-market shops in Abids and Koti – and these guys, they would stock everything – I gave up on the quest. Sayonara, TDK and Denon and Meltrack, even you, T-Series, you were cheap and terribly bad but you were there for a penniless student when he needed The Corrs and Michael Kamen and could not afford to buy both. You’re almost-science-fiction now, tiny little tremors in my neural impulses, though you still exist in Nick Hornby books and wiki pages about Metallica, and overly sentimental blog posts.

“Please say mix-tape, man, it’s ok” my friend said, when I told him what I was up to. I tried very hard to come up with an alternative title. Mix album. Compilation. A Mix. (“You could be the local bhel puri guy”, he retorted. *Snicker*) Well, call it what-the-fuck-ever. I know it’s sucky to go all meta about a bunch of songs arranged together – but please bear with me. The  collection’s 16 songs, 115 MB zipped, about 60 minutes long, which is about all the time I can borrow from you fine folks. The titles exist, the artiste-names don’t – just to keep some element of surprise intact. Try to listen to all of them without skipping any, even if you might know quite a few – I am fairly sure you do. Hmm, what else? Oh yeah, try to listen to them at night, with your choice of beverage, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, hot or cold, doesn’t really matter. I think the songs work best at low to slightly below-medium volume, but whatever floats your boat.

Ok, I am done. Download here.

AR Rahman, Comics, Mixtapes, Movies, Music

Of movies, blankets and mixtapes.

What really annoyed me after watcing Darna Zaroori Hai is the knowledge that RGV’s scriptwriters are so starved of scary ideas. Between this movie and its precursor, there have been five storylines involving cars on lonely roads. Hey, I know lonely roads are scary, and I understand that you guys drive to Khandala every other weekend and it’s a long frigging lonely drive, but get off it already. My point is, if you want to make a horror movie, you need to understand horror. Are you being scared by what you just wrote and translated to screen? I think you need to go out a little more, read a lot, watch a bit of Argento and Fulci and Hitchcock and Park Chan-Wook. And then maybe you will get out of this loser-level walk-up-behind-me-and-say-boo level of scriptwriting. And someone needs to take a jackhammer to Amar Mohile’s keyboards, there, that’s a horror story for you guys – loony music critic ends up with a jackhammer because the music had subliminal messages in it.

* * *

Sasi was here for all of half a day, and just because I was dying to share Blankets with someone, asked him to borrow it off me and read it in the next couple of days. I loved that book. Once upon a time, I totally hated reading autobiographies, but it’s books like Blankets that renew my faith in the fact that people can talk about themselves without laying it on too thick. The book is beautiful, romantic without being cheesy, graceful without being highbrow, poetic without being inaccessible. One of the few books this year ( Yes, I know the year isn’t even half-over yet, but I know that this statement is true, period) that I read in one sitting. And the artwork, oh my goodness, what I wouldn’t do to get ONE PAGE of Craig Thompson’s pencilled art. I had read that he was inspired not by other comic-book artists ( though there were definite Will Eisner influences on the storytelling style), but by post-Impressionist painters like Pissarro, Modigliani and Matisse, and his influences show themselves in flowing panels, full-page thoughtscapes that give me goosepimples as I read the book.

(So what is Blankets? It’s a graphic novel, by this gentleman named Craig Thompson, an autobiographical retelling of his childhood, his relationship with his brother Phil, and his first love, a girl named Raina who he meets at Christian winter camp. He spends two weeks at Raina’s place, and a greater part of the book deals with these two weeks and their repercussions on Craig’s life. GRAAAH, I am bad at describing things like this, just go and read the Wikipedia entry already, huh?)

This would perhaps be the most beautiful book you won’t read in your lifetime, if you are in India. The steep price-tag (29.95$) ensures that even if it’s imported, the price will be high enough to dissuade people from buying it. Plus, yeah, no scanned versions available yet. It would be tough to scan this without destroying the book, it’s 600 pages. So don’t ask.

* * *

I made a mix-mp3 collection, again, part of the weekend project. I call it my Ultimate Though Slightly Biased Feel-Good AR Rahman Mix. Slightly biased because these aren’t songs that have been dubbed (and hence not part of the “national consciousness”, so no Bombay, Roja, Rangeela, Dil Se – you hear?) or are easily associated with ARR Hits package – these are the gems that lie in dormant brain-cells, songs that give me a high everytime I hear them because I have not been saturated by them at any point of time in my life. Each of them has a story, of course, and maybe someday I might get around to wearing off your collective ears with them, but for now, the songs will do. 14 tracks in one zip-file, meant to be listened to in the order in which they are arranged.

You can download the zip right here.


The Mix: with tracknames

Ah well, I had forgotten that I didn’t update my mix mp3 post with the names of the songs. The songs represented a major part of my work-music, and my late-night playlist – that happens to be the theme of the collection, by the way. With the exception of one or two, which I knew had to be on the list, they were all very tough selections for me. What do you select from an album that gives you so much pleasure as a singular entity? Is each song a mindblowing experience on its own or is it the cumulative after-effects of the song that preceded it and the one that will follow? And then the order, should song A become track 2 or is it better as an end-track? Should this song come before that one, and what should follow it? Decisions, decisions….

Took me about 8 hours of continuous listening to the 20 songs I selected, before deciding on the final thirteen, and the order.

The tracks, then.

Track 1: Queen of All Ears by The Lounge Lizards. These guys were supposed to be proficient in “fake jazz” when they began twenty years ago, which is just a way of saying that they played whatever they felt like, with surprisingly melodious results. This track “Queen of All Ears” is the fifth in their 1998 album of the same name, the name taken from Jimi Hendrix’s liner notes to Electric Ladyland “And on he walked until after crowning Ethel the dog the Only Queen of Ears…”.The rest of the songs on the album are mindbogglingly good as well, but what drew me to this track is the Indianness of the lead instrument. What, you didn’t notice?

Track 2: Do The Whirlwind by Architecture in Helsinki. My favourite band of the year, one that really unsettles you and forces you to listen to their music. This Australian band has released two albums so far – the first, Fingers Crossed (described as “eight people playing 14 songs in 37 minutes with 31 instruments”) was released in 2003, and the next, In Case We Die, from which this track is taken, in 2005. The song wins my vote for the catchiest song of 2005, bar none.

Track 3: Summer by Joe Hisaishi. While much has been written ( and said) about Hisaishi’s collaborations with Hayao Miyazaki, his collaborations with film-maker Takeshi Kitano are equally magical – piano-laced melodies, mellow instruments tinged with just the right amount of pathos. This track is from a very unlikely Kitano work, the story of a young boy who goes on a trip, during his summer vacation, to find his mother. The main piano line is infectious, I once heard this track over and over again between 7 PM and 3 AM, just because I could not get the main piano line out of my mind.

Track 4: Horizon – The Cinematic Orchestra – I completely dig the percussion line in this song, the clean sound of the jazz drums and the way the conga drums kick in at 2 minutes 48 seconds and go completely berserk for the next 40 seconds. I also love the bass line. And the female voice. And the organ motif that repeats after every eighth bar. Most of the other Cinematic Orchestra tracks do not have vocals in them, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, trust me.

Track 5: Assassin’s Tango – John Powell (from the Mr and Mrs Smith score) – Mr and Mrs Smith was one of these movies that made me fall asleep in the theater after the interval – there is just so much oozing coolness one can take, even in a Hollywood blockbuster. But just like the other cool yawn-inducer of the year (Ocean’s Twelve, in case you weren’t paying attention), MaMS had a very..er…cool background score, markedly lacking in cliched orchestral cues and sweeps. Case in point, this track.

Track 6: Green Grass of Tunner – múm – I have already spoken about the band before, the other Icelandic outfit I love. This track was off their 2002 album Finally We Are No One, which was the first album of theirs I heard.

Track 7: Love Trap – Susheela Raman
Ok, so I could go completely berserk and write a huge account of how
much Susheela Raman completely rocks and why I am sure I will buy all
her albums this year, but I will let do the honours. ( They don’t call me Beatzo Magnanimity Phreniac for
nothing) The lad has stalked her in ways and means that put us lesser
stalkers to shame. And that’s a compliment, believe me.

Track 8: Ba Ba – Sigur Ros
This is a band that takes the concept of musical layers to the nth
degree. Little sounds chitter in your ears, strange twisted sonic
collages that you might ignore at the first listen, hypnotized by the
main melody but that break into your senses when you listen more
carefully. Possibly the soundtrack to a dark fairy-tale.

Track 9: The Real Story – David Holmes (from the Ocean’s Twelve soundtrack) – I don’t think this track featured in the actual Ocean’s Twelve tracklisting, and that means even I have no idea how it landed up with me. I love the way this tries to imitate the classic spy themes of the sixties and the seventies, like some kind of a bastard offspring of Schifrin-Hayes-Norman, without going overboard.

Track 10: Yekermo Sew – Mulatu Astatke ( from the Broken Flowers soundtrack) – While I haven’t seen Jim Jarmusch’s latest movie ( I should buy it, now that the DVD is in National Market), the soundtrack, which boasts of an impressive range of Jazz-tinged tracks by not-too-well-known World Music artistes, had been playing in my room quite a number of times this year. Selecting this track, from out of the others, was a chore – all of them are that good.

Track 11: Islandisk – Rinneradio – My friend from Finland, who is now wading around in lakes in his hometown at minus fifteen degrees, introduced me to a lot of Finnish bands during his trip to India ( on the upside, I introduced him to Varttina, heh) and Rinneradio was one of my favourites. Prog jazz with electronic influences, the band’s huge in the Finnish music scene.

Track 12: Oceans Apart – Julie Delpy – Sasi thinks that the whole collection was a buildup to this song. Heh, I wish I could tell him it was not so. Heh heh, just kidding. Fact is, after I finished watching Before Sunset, I just let the DVD menu play over and over again, just to hear this song – and proceeded to get absolutely mad at myself for not being able to find this song anywhere. Of course, when I did, I went a little loony for sometime. Watch the movie, if you haven’t already; you will know what I mean. What a voice, what a song!

Track 13: The Real Folk Blues – Yoko Kanno – Probably, without having watched the TV series Cowboy Bebop, you won’t understand why this song is a perfect one to end a CD. Hearing this song play on the end credits of every episode is almost like exhaling after holding your breath after a long time, a head rush of sorts. Yoko Kanno, people, remember the name.

Right, that’s it then. Now I need to figure out an effortless way to upload large volumes before I can think of preparing the next instalment of mixes.