Self-described “all-American indie rock” band Saint Slumber just released the second EP in its three-part Youth// series, titled, fittingly enough, Youth//2. It comes on the heels of last year’s (you guessed it) Youth//1 and will be followed by next year’s (wait for it) Youth//3. (In the meantime, though, the Pennsylvania/Jersey quartet has a new single, “Fever,” an R&B tune made famous by the likes of Peggy Lee and, of course, Elvis Presley.) We asked Saint Slumber to make us a mix tape, and like the Youth// trilogy, it’s EP length, all the better to allow the listener to thoroughly digest each song. It’s a diverse collection with a common theme: the elements of songwriting.
“To put an interesting spin on the idea of the mix tape, I wanted to make a songwriter’s mix tape for MAGNET,” says frontman Josh Perna. “Here are five songs that encapsulate five different elements of songwriting that have impacted me and helped me hone my personal songwriting voice for Saint Slumber.”
Freelance Whales, “Starring” (Hook)
An amazing example of a band that dropped a masterpiece and was never seen again. Freelance Whales’ Weathervanes was a record that showed me how a full-length record could showcase the strength and consistency of a band’s unique sound. I remember being 17 when I first heard the chorus to “Starring,” and I was blown away: This was my first memory as a songwriter of hearing a chorus and being obsessed with how tight, catchy and minimal an idea could be. Ever since I’ve tried to employ the ideology of “less is more.”
Ben Howard, “I Forget Where We Were” (Story)
Lyrics in 2018 are inarguably marked with a serious trend in hyper-realism. While this can make for honest, visceral performances by vocalists, I need to often remind myself that there is a place for poetry and story in song; the easiest route in writing isn’t always the best. Ben Howard is an unbelievable lyricist, weaving amazingly rich story with a subtlety that might make you miss it the first few times. On “I Forget Where We Were” there is a wash of realism, present-tense storytelling and a scene set with beautiful, descriptive language. “Oh, your mariner’s mouth … the wounded with the wounder’s whip.” For those curious, Ben’s influence on me can’t be overstated.
Stromae “Tous Le Mêmes” (Production)
The moment a song leaves the realm of being sung a cappela and is officially captured, production impacts all music. The unsung, misunderstood lens through which all music is heard, production has as much to say about how your song sounds as the songwriting itself. Having an understanding of how production impacts your songwriting will help you better understand how to frame your own music. Stromae, the French pop star who handles a large portion of his own arrangement and production, does so much scene-setting on “Tous Le Mêmes”; the vintage horn and upright-bass samples are juxtaposed beautifully by the chopped-up vocals and modern synth kick. The end result is such a particular sound, blending old and new, that has nothing to do with the words he’s singing.
SZA “Supermodel” (Honesty)
Simultaneously contradicting and fortifying the point I made with “Story,” lyrics only connect with people when they are communicating an inextricable truth. Whether that truth is told in a complicated and abstract story or in a completely literal statement, people want to hear and feel something real, and the easiest way to do that is to just sing from your gut about real things. On “Supermodel,” SZA sings an almost extemporaneous, stream-of-consciousness song about some real stuff, and it just bowls me over every time. “Why I can’t stay alone just by myself? Wish I was comfortable just with myself … But I need you.”
King Krule, “Easy Easy” (Voice)
The most important lesson I ever learned in songwriting was to embrace my voice. The voice is the only musical thing that you can’t fundamentally change through practice. You can become technically better at singing, but the voice you were born with is the voice you will be singing with. Some people were born with era-shifting, golden pipes, and the rest of us got whatever fate decided to throw at us. But I really believe anybody can sing an amazing song; they just have to find what their sound is meant to be. King Krule has such an iconic, left-of-center voice; it’s unapologetic, it’s raw, and it’s undeniably King Krule. That is what we all should be shooting for, as songwriters.
Harp Samuels wears all the hats on forthcoming album Breathe (out September 14): singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist. So we thought the Melbourne-born Samuels—who’s also a filmmaker and photographer—would be able to turn us on to some cool tunes. And we were right. You can do a lot worse than checking out his killer MAGNET mix tape right now.
Damien Rice, “Delicate”
Whatever I’m working on, I keep coming back to this song. The rawness, the storytelling, the delivery. It’s proof that there’s so much perfection inside imperfection. Damien Rice is one of the great troubadours, and he inspires me in the way that he boldly bares his soul. There’s no hindrance, shame or sense of consumerism in his music or approach to music. I draw from that and am grateful for him.
James Vincent McMorrow, “Red Dust”
I consider Post Tropical by James Vincent McMorow to be a perfect album. It has a beautiful and similar feel through the whole thing, ebbs and flows as one piece, but it still gives you the sense that each song is individual. When I stumbled upon this song years ago, I almost broke the “repeat” button. The melodic hook, “Sometimes my hands/They don’t feel like my own/I need someone to love/I need someone to hold,” wrecks me every time I hear it. Amazing vocals, too.
Asgier, “King And Cross”
I first heard this song on the radio, driving through Melbourne in peak-hour traffic. It’s refreshing, original, unique and totally thoughtful. This song means a lot to me because it reminds me to innovate and break the mold. The twisted harmonies and bizarre solos call me to mess with chords a little more and to be less conventional with harmonies and sounds.
Jónsi And Alex, “Happiness”
Recently, as I was mixing my upcoming album, I sat with my sound engineer in the SSL room of Sing Sing studios in Melbourne, and we blasted this track through the most incredible speakers to get in the mood of the song we were working on. It’s just sounds—sounds and nothing but. It simply is. It does what it wants. The dynamics are amazing. It’s the kinda thing you want to listen to when you want to feel but not think.
Sufjan Stevens, “Should Have Known Better”
I’m a massive Sufjan Stevens fan. This track, from his record Carrie And Lowell, set the tone for my debut album, Wanting. The simplicity and stripped-back nature of the song really grabs me. There’s this little instrumental part toward the end that I simply adore. Love the mix, the vocal performance and the flow.
Foy Vance, “Guiding Light”
I was introduced to Foy Vance by a couple of Irish lads who I was kicking it with the first time I ever visited California. I pretty much slammed his records and got stuck on this track. “The road is wide, waters run on either side/My shadow in the fading light, stretches out toward the night.” One of the most beautiful lyrics ever. This song is like an anthem for me.
Man, this guy can sing. This song is new old school. They sure nailed this one. It was on mainstream radio in Australia, and people loved it. It’s dee and beautiful, and it desires to connect and succeeds. I especially love the bridge. As a musician who plays by ear, it’s exciting to hear something that you can’t instantly figure out.
The Last Dinosaur, “All My Faith”
This band is my latest musical crush. It’s simple and complicated at the same time. There are few words and many layers. The vocals are perfect, the mix is full, and it’s overall warm-and-cozy vibe takes you to a different place. I often read about tracks that I love, to find out what they’re about, but with “All My Faith,” I want it to remain a beautiful mystery.
Not only is James Rose a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he also lives a pretty unique lifestyle. Rose is constantly searching for the meaning of life and is doing so through both music and travel. Right now, he’s decided to take a breather in L.A., performing and releasing the Lullabies To The Ocean EP. His songs find inspiration from the good stuff and would fit right in on a mix tape alongside former MAGNET covers stars like Elliott Smith, Ty Segall and Kurt Vile. Speaking of mix tapes: To get a good sense of other key influences, check out this excellent “blast from the past” one that Rose made for MAGNET.
John Lennon, “Jealous Guy”
This is the song that pretty much set it all up for me. It is part of my first memory on this planet. Or at least I think it is. I remember taking steps down a winding staircase with colorful murals of important people I had no concept of. The air became more damp the further I went, and this beautiful piano song was playing. I must have been about four years old, and it was during a trip to my mothers hometown of Liverpool. The staircase I was walking down was the replicated version of the original cavern where the Beatles would play. I remember walking through the dank cellar, feeling the cold, stone archways and looking up as it circled over my head. Walking up to the stage alone and being in awe was incredible, and I always feel that when I hear this song. It brings me complete musical satisfaction every time I hear it. It’s just one of the most gut-punching, beautiful and emotional songs ever written in my opinion. I think a lot of people share that same view.
Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset”
Ray Davies is one of my favorite songwriters of all time, and Dave Davies is definitely a favorite guitarist and singer. His guitar work and personal style is incredible. I absolutely love Ray’s dry wit and uniquely British writing style. The band’s focus on the British and European markets (due to the ban placed on them by the AFM) is also fascinating since they were originally inspired by the rhythm ‘n’ blues and music from the United States. “Waterloo Sunset” is such a thought-provoking and heart felt song for me. I was always fascinated with the Kinks music, and Dave’s legendary riffs and leads are just out of this world. The Kinks were vital in my curiosity for music and expanding my musical thought process. I love how Ray conveys emotion, and he’s very word-oriented in his writing. He has a real sense and intelligent aura within his songs filled with philosophical ideas, and I just love that kind of writing. Everything about this song is pure bliss.
Alex Chilton, “The EMI Song (Smile For Me)”
Another musical hero of mine is Alex Chilton. His career is probably the most unique and interesting to me of any musical artist that I listen to. He produced a couple of the Cramps records and was in Panther Burns. I mean, come on! This song is after the Box Tops during a solo phase before putting Big Star together with Chris Bell. He did a lot of mucking about in Ardent Studios and recorded all of these incredible songs that never saw the light of day until recently. He was such a unique individual with an incredible perspective on art and music. This particular song really gets to me. It’s just something about the arrangements and the combination of everything as it builds. How it all comes together toward the end and then drifts out again takes me to such a state of bliss that it’s hard to describe. I guess it’s just the rush that music gives you when something connects with the inner you and creates that intense feeling. The emotional connection that music graces us with is truly amazing. The power of music, new and old, continues to astonish me. Chilton was also a staple of the New Orleans music community and worked odd jobs all around the city. I spent 10 years there and always liked to think about that when I was doing the same thing, cleaning dishes in a Creole/French restaurant. Or maybe as I was sweeping slanted balconies of an old hotel, overlooking Toulouse Street in the French Quarter with a jazz quartet in the courtyard over.
Sparklehorse, “Hammering The Cramps”
There’s such a raw energy to this song, and it really gets me going. I was introduced to Sparklehorse by my good friend who’s been consistently showing me incredible music since fifth grade. I was going through a pretty difficult time, and Sparklehorse just got me through it like a race car with no brakes. Mark Linkous was an incredible visionary, and his sounds captured the sense of despair of certain emotions so well. It’s just very powerful songwriting, and the instrumentation is so unique and interesting. Some of his songs are rocking with an awesome grittiness that was strictly the sound of Sparklehorse. It was some kind of strange cryptic power that overcame the instruments and provided these beautiful songs hiding in the shadows. Truly astounding work. I enjoy driving down some lost highway blasting this one!
Sonic Youth, “Kool Thing”
I’ve recently been putting on a lot of Sonic Youth, and it’s felt so right. It’s been too long since listening, and I have always been such a fan. The same friend I mentioned earlier turned me on to them when we were about 12 or 13, and I haven’t looked back since. I was already a pretty big Nirvana fan at the time, and when I heard Goo and Dirty for the first time, I nearly lost my mind as I passed into some other dimension. I love “Kool Thing” because it’s just such a killer song with a great kick, and apparently it’s about LL Cool J after Kim Gordon interviewed him for Spin. It seems like it was quite a strange and surreal interview! This one is always fun to rock out to. I love the strength in this song. Kim Gordon is a badass!
Neil Young, “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”
This awesome song is littered with a kind of cryptic hope with beautiful imagery painted with surrealism. I have always been a pretty big Neil fan, and my dad was, too. He would play “After The Gold Rush” and “Harvest” pretty heavily when I was growing up. Neil always had that kind of DIY aesthetic and has always been true to the overall feeling of the song. This one rolls along with jagged corners and the sweet smell of jasmine after a summer rain. My favorite time to listen to this is driving down a barren highway in the rain. Such an incredible feeling emits from this song that I just had to include it in my mix.
Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year”
This is such a great song. I love the Zombies so much, with their excellent baroque pop and brilliant songwriting. This is the song I put on to find a new hope in whatever situation may occur. I usually spin this one on New Year’s Eve, and it has such a lovely sense of doe-eyed optimism. This will be our year … finally! It’s been raining for so long, but now I can see the sun opening up through the clouds and this song is on full blast! I was inspired to write more piano-based songs after becoming obsessed with this album. There is something so magical about the production of this album. I believe it’s an Abbey Road record! The lyrics are so sweet and innocent. They nailed the feeling of seeing the light after a period of darkness and to embrace it with love. The Zombies will always be a favorite, and this record is most certainly a comfort record for me.
Stooges, “Gimmie Danger”
I couldn’t make this mix without including some of the Stooges! The sound and rawness this song brings is such an inspiration to my own music that I had to include it. It has such a pretty structure, but the production is such an intense rawness like sand in the eyes. I love that acoustic-guitar riff so much! It has a sense of calmness but is also set on a turbulent sea as your boat is rocking all over the place. It has that sense of danger, and Iggy stated that it’s about the challenge of being with someone with such a raw energy that nothing lacks excitement in the relationship. I love the fact that it has this really nasty acoustic guitar through it. Truly a bad-ass song!
T.Rex, “Cosmic Dancer”
As much as I love Marc Bolan’s electric boogaloo and glam-rocking songs, his quiet and mystical folk-like songs are equally as impressive and tantalizing. “Cosmic Dancer” immerses you in such a unique and surreal world among the stars of the distant galaxies. Bolan was the ultimate cosmic gypsy, and T.Rex was another standard in my family’s musical rotation. Tony Visconti’s string arrangements really made this number twinkle in the distance like a burning star. The lyrics really make me shiver, too, from lines like, “I danced myself into the tomb”—the imagery of that alone is quite a powerful thing. Needless to say, T.Rex always has a home in my record collection. I am also a huge sucker for backward guitar, and it’s all over the place on this number. Gotta love T.Rex!!
Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
This is hands down one of my favorite songs of all time. I always put this on in times of darkness when I need to feel human again. It is my ultimate comfort song, and I can listen to this on repeat for hours. Elton John is a legend, of course, but his musical songwriting abilities are out of this world! The team dynamic with musician and incredible lyricist Bernie Taupin is quite an eclectic combination and one for the books. I just love the dwindling light of Sunset Blvd. imagery, the nostalgia and bittersweet romance captured in a certain way. This will always be one of those songs that stays by my side in times of darkness.
Cape Cub is now officially a sloth, as one-man British bedroom recorder Chad Male has recruited four bandmates and released the “Moonglow” single. Male says Cape Cub was always intended to be a full-band project, which now allows Male to pursue his dream of rocking arenas like heroes the Killers, U2, Death Cake For Cutie and the Cure. But while the quintet is busy kicking it as a live band, the songs remain the major focus for Male. So we were curious what influenced his art, and thus we asked him to make MAGNET a mix tape. He compiled this awesome one for us, saying, “I tend to write songs with a landscape image in my mind. The best songs don’t just sound great and mean something, but they paint a picture, too. All the songs on this mix tape evoke a sense of nostalgia and mean something to me personally. Whether I was even born at the time of them being written or not, I can picture the moments and meanings behind them so vividly because of the textures that accompany them and the lyrics that carry them. They’re like watercolours to canvas.”
Enjoy the musical scenery.
Bruce Springsteen “My Hometown”
My parents divorced around the time I was born, and I saw my dad on weekends as a kid. We spent a lot of time together in his car driving around, visiting everywhere we could get to. Money was short, and he always used his imagination to come up with the most fun places to visit, but often the best times were spent in our hometown, Redcar. From the Italian ice cream shop, Pacittos, on the seafront, to the sand dunes on the Coast Road, to the skatepark on Majuba Road and the old library on Coatham Road. They were always incredibly fun, beautiful times. Things have changed a bit since then. The town has had the loss of its steelworks, and it’s had austerity and cuts, hitting it hard. I guess in Redcar we’ve got a British equivalent of Freehold or Asbury Park, N.J., with a potent mix of history and achievement, love and nostalgia, sadness and sorrow. Springsteen’s words echo my own in so many regards. Forever the line “Son, take a good look around, this is your hometown” will echo in my head.
Death Cab For Cutie “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
This is Ben Gibbard, one of my favourite songwriters of all time, singing about death, the “afterlife” and what I read as struggling with the concept of faith. What if there really is nothing afterwards? It’s like, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there soon and you won’t be on your own.’ You know one of them songs that, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, it moves you to stand still and completely pauses every thought that’s going through your head? That. It hugely influenced a Cape Cub song, ‘Swim,’ which I wrote and recorded in my mum’s loft at home on the coast. Visually, it represents a little light bulb, glowing and flickering in a dark room saying “everything’s gonna be OK.”
Phoebe Bridgers “Funeral”
This song is so real, yet so ethereal at the same time. It’s so deep, yet so light on its touch. It almost feels like a 3:52 snippet of a moment, a head space that carries so much weight. We’ve all been there when we’re in a dark place, and that kind of deep emotion can cripple you, when you get absolutely and completely lost within your thoughts. I probably don’t want to go too into it, as I don’t want to disseminate the song when you can take your own meaning from it, but if you listen to the lyrics—and it’s a song you’ll want to listen to on your own—you’ll know what I mean. Fair play to her for being so damn honest. It’s refreshing.
Billy Bragg “A New England”
“I saw two shooting stars last night/I wished on them, but they were only satellites/Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?” It’s a simple, astute and incredibly well-written portrait of love (or the want of). From “pushing prams” to “shooting stars,” he’s at one moment on the ground and in the next up in the universe. It’s this kind of songwriting that truly inspires me as a writer. So visually ambitious and down to earth at the same time.
Brandon Flowers “Between Me And You”
This song speaks for every man and woman out there, I think. Being in a relationship is damn hard when you’re trying to make ends meet and you’re trying to balance all these challenges that life throws at you, whilst fighting to be the best person you can be to that person who means the most to you. The lyrics “These hours I’m working ain’t nearly enough and sometimes its like a bullet came and blasted me right of out of the blue/But I’m doing my best to not let it get between me and you” just kill me. Brandon Flowers just knows how to write it, doesn’t he?
Michigan native Brandon Grafius just released sophomore album Highways And Backroads. The 10-track LP speaks to places—how we all happen to end up where we are and, then, how we get to where we’re going. Although it sounds pretty simple, Grafius connects this journey to the spiritual, a subject he’s always had a passion for. (He teaches Old Testament and Hebrew at Detroit’s Ecumenical Theological Seminary.) Grafius also has a super-deep musical sound that seamlessly brings together blues, folk and country. Impressed by his obvious knowledge of different kinds of music, we asked Grafius to make us a mix tape. He didn’t disappoint.
Jeffrey Foucault, “Northbound 35”
When I first heard this song, I was struck by the combination of specific places and imagery, along with the deeply philosophical lines that break out of this landscape. I think the line “Past the smokestacks, and the ore docks down off of Main” was rattling around in my head when I was writing my album’s first single, “Things Get Right.” This song is a perfect example of how the most profound reflections can arise from specific encounters with people and places.
Josh Ritter, “Change Of Time”
Josh Ritter uses language in such an incredible way. In this song, he describes a dream of floating over broken ships at the bottom of the ocean, “Broken hulls and battered hardships, leviathan and lonely.” Using the word “hardships” to connect the physical boats with the emotional state is brilliant, then following it up by using the word “leviathan” as an adjective seems almost unfair.
Patty Griffin, “Making Pies”
Patty Griffin has a remarkable eye for detail, and such deep empathy. Those gifts really come through in this song, a heart-breaking portrait of a woman stuck in a job she hates. Through it all, we get a crystal-clear portrait of what really matters to this woman, and what keeps her from living the life she wishes she could live.
Elbow, “My Sad Captains”
Guy Harvey has a great voice, but even more than that he’s a tremendous vocalist. Somehow, the way he sings the line “What a perfect waste of time” puts equal emphasis on “perfect” and “waste of time,” communicating both ideas at the same time. That line is a great example of how this song balances melancholy and joy perfectly. The trumpet solo was what I was trying to achieve with my use of french horn in my song “Midwestern Sky.”
James McMurtry, “Choctaw Bingo”
Just a tour-de-force of narrative and character sketches. There’s no way a songwriter should be able to write a nine-minute epic about a family reunion, but McMurtry pulls it off with gusto thanks to his razor-sharp insights about these characters and what they say about the state of America. Writing for Slate, Ron Rosenbaum suggested that this song should be our new national anthem. Can’t say I disagree.
Richard Shindell, “Reunion Hill”
I’ve learned a lot from Richard Shindell’s music since I first heard him almost two decades ago. This has long been my favorite of his. In this tear-jerking narrative of a Civil War widow, he manages to thread metaphors and details about sight throughout the song, before finally bringing these all together in the stunning final image, of a hawk soaring above Reunion Hill, “looking down with God’s own eye.” It’s a master class in the use of metaphor in song, and how these metaphors can serve as a powerful structuring device. For me, it’s probably the finest crafted song I know of.
Open Mike Eagle, “95 Radios”
When I want something more energetic than the acoustic Americana that I spend a lot of my time with, I often turn to progressive hip hop. Open Mike Eagle is one of my favorites; there’s an incredible amount of creativity in every verse, and he has a great sense of narrative. This song is a great reflection on how our childhood memories shape us, and how hard it is to truly communicate with one another.
Iron & Wine, “Lion’s Mane”
I still remember hearing The Creek Drank The Cradle for the first time, and feeling like it came from a place that I didn’t know existed. It’s the acoustic arrangements that I’ve always been drawn to, but Sam Beam takes his influences from places that acoustic music, to this point, hadn’t been allowed to draw from.
The pure, blues sound made by Cosmos Sunshine Heidtmann—yes, that’s his real name—comes from his hippie-style upbringing on the Connecticut River. (No phones, no electricity, no bathrooms, water that had to be hand pumped, etc.) He started his music career as teenager and has continued to create new recordings since then, with four albums and four EPs under his (presumably homemade) belt. Heidtmann has seen success opening up for artists like Gov’t Mule, Blues Traveler and King Crimson, and this exposure just landed him in the Connecticut Blues Hall Of Fame. His latest album is called Comes With The Fall, and you should check it out right now. But if you have to wait, you can instead check out this awesome mix tape that Heidtmann made MAGNET. It’s all great stuff, but given his name, Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos” is a glaring omission.
Fleetwood Mac “Hypnotized”
I’ve always been a huge Mac fan. I was five years old when Rumors came out, and it was part of the fabric of my childhood. As got in to my teens and started playing guitar, I naturally gravitated to the Peter Green era. In fairly recent years, I have discovered and become obsessed the Bob Welch middle period. Such an amazing run of albums. Great tunes, great performances and that rhythm section … My favorite album from that period is Future Games, but “Hypnotized” from Mystery To Me is my favorite track.
Thee Oh Sees “Nite Expo”
At a time when I was thirsting for some downright nasty, evil rock music, I discovered The Oh Sees and their latest album, Orc. Sonically, “Nite Expo” is a marriage of psychedelic sludge and punk rock with a dash of jittery electro pop. The vocals atop it all are an absolutely sinister chant, extolling all the glories of an orc’s night out on the town.
Fairport Convention “Matty Groves”
Fairport’s album Liege & Lief is a stone-cold classic and had a huge influence on their rock and folk contemporaries. They seemed to breathe the air of a glorious pagan British past, while rocking it right in to what was then the cutting edge. Great playing throughout, particularly the guitar of the great Richard Thompson and the unequaled vocals of Sandy Denny. “Matty Groves” is a good, old-fashioned murder ballad, chock full of intrigue, rumpy pumpy and swordplay.
Skip James “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”
Skip James always stood out amongst the Delta greats. His guitar playing was exquisite, which was a hallmark of the genre, but it was his high, mournful vocals that hooked me. I recently learned to play this song for my induction to the Connecticut Blues Hall Of Fame, and I feel like my playing, singing and, really, my entire life have been enriched by the experience. This is the work of an absolute master.
Suzanne Vega “Small Blues Thing”
A better singer/songwriter than Suzanne Vega you will not find. This song transports me back to a time in NYC that was lived right on the edge. I was a close friend of Suzanne’s brother, the great artist Timothy, who sadly passed away about a year after he had called in sick from working an event at the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. It was an incredibly sad irony. In the ‘90s, a mutual friend of ours, Jaik Miller, would cover “Small Blue Thing” with his great band Xanax 25. Jaik was my brother in arms and an absolutely mind-bendingly gifted singer/songwriter. Jaik, too, departed this plane of existence some years back. Jaik and Timmy left giant holes in the fabric of my life, and this beautiful song reminds me of them both, which is a most welcome thing.
Jimmy Page “Lucifer Rising”
Twenty-odd minutes of druggy, bad-vibe freakout music designed to entice The Son Of Morning to join us for tea. A Halloween favorite of mine.
Cowboy “Please Be With Me”
For a time in my life, I was lucky enough to have close proximity to the Allman Brothers Band in the Warren Haynes/Allen Woody era of the 1990s. Warren was a mentor of mine and produced my old band’s debut album, the eponymously titled Walkinbird. It was an amazing time, and I am blessed to have lived (through) it. Rather than share a Brothers track, which I’m sure everyone will have heard, I give you this beautiful love song featuring the brilliant slide guitar of Duane Allman.
Scott Mickelson has just returned with sophomore album A Wondrous Life. While he might be a newcomer to you, Mickelson is actually a grizzled vet, having fronted Fat Opie (who once shared a manager with Neil Young and Tom Petty) throughout the ’90s after he had already spent close to a decade in the music biz. He’s been a fine artist, a children’s book writer and part of Francis Ford Coppola’s film-production team. He also battled clinical depression and illness for many years. A noted record engineer, Mickelson worked on A Wondrous Life mostly alone while in the studio between production gigs. All this life experience and technical prowess provided Mickelson with the tools he needed to beat the sophomore solo slump. They also made him a prime candidate for us to ask to make MAGNET a mix tape. And so he did. Though it’s short (we’ll call it a mix EP), it’s also really sweet. Check it out now.
Neil Young “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” After The Gold Rush was the very first record I ever bought. I remember going to Midland Records in Massachusetts with $10 and buying it. This record had a huge impact on me as I was very young and already writing songs. This track is a favorite. I basically wanted to be Neil Young when I grew up. In later years, I was managed by Elliot Roberts, who is still Neil Young’s manager.
My former band Fat Opie was in the middle of recording our Airstream record when OK Computer came out. I think we and the rest of the world were pretty sure Radiohead had taken rock music to a new place both musically and technically. Aspects of their record range from lo-fi to pushing compression and EQ to places where they may not have been “acceptable” before. The first 45 seconds of “Airbag” changed every thing for me. The distorted drums, guitar tone and especially when and how the bass enters the song completely changed how I approach arrangement and production to this day. We tried to model the “sound” of our Airstream record after the sound of OK Computer.OK said to me, “Anything goes in rock music”—again!
Sly & The Family Stone “Family Affair”
People find it hard to believe that Sly & The Family Stone are a huge influence on me. Musically, you’d be hard-pressed to hear the connection, but he wrote great songs. He knew how to write hit songs that could incorporate the issues of his time. What people do not give him credit for is the fact that his production and arrangements were groundbreaking and, in my mind, opened the door for what is considered modern R&B. I think of Sly as the connection from James Brown to Prince, and I personally think he was the biggest innovator of the three. I chose “Family Affair” because it could be one of the best vocal performance ever recorded. It’s dry, in your face and immaculate.
Tom Waits “Kentucky Avenue”
“I’ll take the spokes from your wheelchair.” I believe that Tom Waits is one of the all-time great American songwriters and underrated. It’s hard to pick a single track. He can go anywhere, anytime within his music and still come back home and write a song that breaks your heart. In “Kentucky Avenue” when I realized he’s speaking with someone in a wheelchair late in the song, it broke my heart in all the best ways. In fact, I “borrowed” this idea for that last verses of my song “10 Ton Heavy Thing.”
Brian Wilson/Beach Boys “Surf’s Up”
This is my favorite song of all time. I can’t say enough of my feelings for Brian Wilson’s genius. In fact, the last track of my A Wondrous Life record is an instrumental I named “B. Wilson.” It is my favorite track on the record. “Surf’s Up” is a 4:12 masterpiece.
We first introduced you to Daniel Ellsworth + The Great Lakes four years ago via “Sun Goes Out,” off the band’s excellent sophomore album Kid Tiger. Now the Nashville quartet is back with a new LP, Fashion, out this fall. But you can get it before then, though in two separate parts: Chapter One (released January 19) and Chapter Two (out April 27). Fashion is a pretty ambitious project, so it got us thinking about what kinds of music influences these guys. So we asked them—vocalist/keyboardist Ellsworth, guitarist Timon Lance and bassist Marshall Skinner (drummer Joel Wren sat this one out)—to make us a mix tape. Here’s what they sent us. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. And if you’re near Music City, catch DE + TGL at 3rd And Lindsley the day Chapter Two is released.
Robyn “Call Your Girlfriend” Daniel: Lately, we’ve been covering this in our live show. I think it might be one of the best pop songs of all time. It’s timeless. The production is amazing and the melody is so infectious. If you put this on and don’t dance around the room like a crazy person, are you even a human? The whole album, Body Talk, is incredible, but this song in particular gets me every time.
Mura Masa “Messy Love” Daniel: The self-titled Mura Masa debut was probably my most-listened to album of 2017. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor. It’s super diverse, and the production all sounds amazing. It’s electronic, it’s pop, it’s hip hop, it’s soulful, and the entire thing is filled with great keyboard playing. “Messy Love” is the first track, and it sucked me in immediately the first time I heard it. As a keys player, I love the use of real piano in the song. That juxtaposed with the electronic elements gives it a unique vibe. And then when the bass comes in, it sounds so damn good. How did he get that synth bass to sound so good? Tell me right now, please—I have to know.
Spoon “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” Daniel: This is my favorite track from the new Spoon album. I feel like on every new Spoon record, they push the boundaries a little bit more with their production, and Hot Thoughts is no different. I love how everything on this track is distorted to hell and pretty aggressive, but it still retains this pop sensibility and infectious groove the whole time. Their recent amazing performance of this on Fallon sealed the deal and made me a Spoon fan for life.
Tek.Lun “Sleepy People” Marshall: So I’ve been listening to a bunch of lo-fi hip-hop beats lately. I don’t know why, and I don’t question it. As far as hip-hop beats go, I absolutely love this daydream of a track by Tek.Lun. It’s everything I’m looking for in an instrumental track. It has a badass groove, a hypnotic feel and a subtle melody. The rest of Allow It! is just as good as this very short instrumental song. It’s a great listen if you just want to tune out the world and dial in some focus.
Billy Lemos (Feat. Juto & Rei So La) “High/Free” Marshall: Keeping with the two-minute song theme, I’ll throw in a scratchy, dreamy, lo-fi pop and R&B track by Billy Lemos with Juto and Rei So La. This song has a fabulous floating melody with a laid-back beat and a scattered guitar line. I don’t know much about the artists—I just know that it feels right.
Ryan Adams And The Cardinals “Magnolia Mountain” (Live) Timon: I love this song as an opener to Cold Roses. The version on the album compared to this live session is pretty different, both in terms of arrangement and energy. The fact that both versions are so incredible on their own speaks to Ryan’s ability to write dynamic songs with depth and room for exploration. I think he’s one of the greatest of our time. Also, this live version has some of the best-sounding electric guitars I’ve ever heard.
LCD Soundsystem “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” Timon: This is one of those songs with lyrics where you can’t help but listen to every single word because the content is so unexpected. On the first few listens, you can’t really predict what lyrics are coming next. Musically speaking, it’s all built around one repetitive riff, so it’s kind of the opposite of what you get from the vocals. It’s also describing something that you’d never forget: that time that you threw this incredible house party with a huge band. But it’s relatable; all DIY and all your friends are helping you make it happen. It’s hypnotic, inventive and absolutely incredible.
OK, so we’re a little biased when it comes to our hometown, but you’d be to if you lived in a place with as much to offer as Philly does. Now that the Eagles are finally Super Bowl champs for the first time, we can get back to appreciating all the diversity the City Of Brotherly Love has to offer musically. Which brings us to Ashok Kailath (a.k.a. producer ash.ØK), who just dropped an indietronica gem called The Unraveled. On it, Kailath touches on more genres than you’ll find at your favorite record store. Listening to The Unraveled got us thinking about what our homie listens to when he’s not holed up in his studio creating. So we asked him to make MAGNET a mix tape. Check out his killer jawn below.
Sonny Bonoho “Concubine Juicy”
From the first listen of this track, you know it’s on some other wave. First time I was introduced to Sonny Bonoho was at a live performance in L.A. Dude absolutely killed it onstage, and the energy he brought with this track was memorable. The video is just as striking and has a distinctiveness that most rap videos don’t typically bring. Try not getting this track stuck in your head.
Björk “Bachelorette (RZA Remix)”
Probably one of my favorite remixes of all time. You take the mastermind production of the RZA and pair it with Bjork’s piercing, rollercoaster-like vocals. The instrumental carries all the signature Wu elements laid over a really thick orchestral bed.
Neil Diamond “Solitary Man”
I truly regret never having had a chance to see him perform, especially after the recent news of his retiring due to Parkinson’s disease. This is music I grew up on, and it’s tough picking any single track as a favorite from this legend. The guitars, the pure indignation and hurt in his voice, along with the sweeping strings over that kit. It’s one of the few songs I consider perfect.
Keith Ape “It G Ma”
None of the rappers on this track speaks the same language, very little of it is in English, but it’s still level up from the get-go. The homage to OG Maco both lyrically and with the sparse instrumental, though, draws ire from some, but just proves the influential, borderless power of good music.
Robyn Cage “Fallout”
Beautifully shot video from one of my favorite indie artists. Her voice channels something ultra-classic with a vibe of Lana Del Rey, only more fluid and emotional. This track really carries strong, a running synth bass over a eerie set of pads, and fits perfect alongside Robyn’s vocals.
The Weeknd “Dirty Diana”
I think I first heard this track way, way, way late at night coming home from a studio session, and it blew my mind. It could have been the lack of sleep or something close to it, but when I woke up the next morning, this was the first song I tried to find online. It just stuck with me that strongly. Just like most of the world, I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, and “Dirty Diana” was always a favorite of that ’90s-era MJ. To hear it re-envisioned like this, not as a straight cover or over some kind of typical remix fare, really opened up my own creativity on how vocals and ethereal tracks could interplay.
The Gipsy Kings And Alabina “Habibi Ya Nour Elein”
Sung in both Spanish and Arabic and I can’t understand a word of it. But try listening to her voice at 2:57, and very few could put this song down without getting that lump-in-your-throat feeling. You can literally feel the emotion in her voice as it soars to some of these notes, especially against the gruff nature of the Spanish vocals. Like “It G Ma,” the passion in the music transcends language.
Flight Of The Conchords “Carol Brown”
This, without a doubt, is probably my favorite go-to song of all time. It doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, what the situation is, this track never gets tired, never gets old, and I can keep it on repeat indefinitely. Lyrically, it’s clever, and the simplicity of the instrumental, even after this many years, keeps me listening. Fun fact, which made me fall in love with this track even more: Sia was one of the writers and singers in the chorus of ex-girlfriends.
Jedi Mind Tricks Feat. Sean Price “Blood Runs Cold”
Pure, raw energy and power at its finest. This pick is a throwback to that classic era of hip hop: the samples, the lyricism—everything comes together perfectly over this one.
West Philadelphia Orchestra “Zla S’dba”
The only way to close out my mix tape is with something authentically from home. I was about to head down the route of pulling in a fave track from the Roots, Tunji Ige or Meek Mills, but on a mix with this far of a reach in genre, gritty Balkan-brass energy seems to be more appropriate. This track, in particular, is fire, but watch any one of their videos and you’ll just want to be front and center in that crowd. Closing out on that kind of energy. That’s how I’d call my mix tape complete.
The Incredible Vickers Brothers will release Torch Songs For Swingers later this month. What better way to get a feel for musicians’ styles than to find out what music they love themselves? Besides, like, actually listening to their songs, which you should totally do. Check out the mix tape the “brothers” Rob and Bob made for MAGNET, and look out for Torch Songs on January 21. Says Rob (or is it Bob? … not even their mother can tell them apart), “Most of the artists we love tend to write their own material. But some are great in the way they interpret songs from other writers. Over the course of recording Torch Songs For Swingers, listening focus was placed on performers who put their own, unique stamp on great songs dealing with loss, separation, sadness and struggle.”
Bob Dylan, “The Night We Called It A Day” (Dennis/Adair) Rob: Like many Dylan fans, I was skeptical at first when I first heard that Bob would be doing an entire album of songs better known in their versions by Frank Sinatra. But the album Shadows In The Night is one of his recent best. Much of its success, in my opinion, is down to the fantastic pedal steel playing of Donny Herron. There’s some very tasteful horn playing going on here, but Herron’s work is really what provides the “orchestra” under Bob’s vocals.
Joe Cocker, “Do I Still Figure In Your Life” (Dello) Bob: Originally recorded by a great, underrated English band called Honeybus, this song was given a wonderfully soulful treatment by Joe on his With A Little Help From My Friends album. The Honeybus version, written by leader Pete Dello, is well worth checking out, but Cocker really managed to make it his own.
The Everly Brothers, “Like Strangers” (Bryant) Rob: The mournful harmonies of Phil and Don can take a simple, beautiful song like this and make it one of the most heartbreaking things you’ll ever hear.
Madeleine Peyroux, “Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile” (Zevon/Calderon) Bob: I love how she interprets old standards but also more modern writers in a way that you could imagine Billie Holiday doing if she were still around. This is a very simple, lovely song by Warren Zevon and Joe Calderon.
Chet Baker, “My Funny Valentine“ (Rogers/Hart) Rob: Though it’s been done to death by many artists over the years, this is the one that gives Chet Baker a true claim to greatness. He did a good vocal version of it, but I think the song works best as an instrumental. It contains a nice blend of light and dark.
Freddie Scott, “Hey Girl” (Goffin/King) Bob: He never had much of a career, but Freddie Scott made an indelible mark with this great song from the brilliant Goffin/King songwriting partnership. Every time I hear it, I can’t help but think that a young Brian Wilson must have been paying close attention to it. It’s nothing like the Beach Boys, but the arrangement, to my ears at least, predates what Brian would do later with Pet Sounds. I’ve got to think that some of the Wrecking Crew are possibly playing on this track, but I can’t say for sure. Either way, it’s one of the stand out tracks from the early ’60s, pre-Beatles era.
Peggy Lee, “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” (Hammerstein/Kern) Rob: If you love the Beatles and Sinatra, it will eventually lead you to Peggy Lee. The Beatles version of “Till There Was You” was taken from her arrangement, and Sinatra actually conducted the orchestra on this Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern masterpiece. It was released as a single in England and has a haunting Nelson Riddle arrangement. This song gets me every time and is one of the best things she ever recorded.
Grant Green, “Idle Moments” (Pearson) Rob: Green, during his Blue Note years, was a brilliant jazz guitarist who had great tone and feeling. This lengthy instrumental, written by Duke Pearson, who also plays piano, is the perfect Sunday-morning come-down tune after a late, troubled Saturday night.
Frank Sinatra, “A Cottage For Sale” (Robinson/Conley) Bob: From No One Cares, an LP that is sometimes jokingly referred to as “the suicide album.” It’s easy to see why with this stark song, which is taken at a funeral pace. Gordon Jenkins was the perfect go-to arranger when Sinatra was in a somber mood.
My Little Hum, “Ever Fallen In Love” (Shelley) Rob: I love how these guys take this frantic, furious song from the oh-so English Buzzcocks, slow it down, soften it a bit and turn it into a poignant oh-so California pop song! Love the dreamy guitars, and the vocal is really beautiful. I could also point out that the overall production is stellar, but I’m going to declare a conflict of interest since the band and I share the same producer. (But nice work, Allen.)