Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

Cocteau Twins made some of the most unique music of all time. I could hear a two second clip from any song in their catalog and know instantly who it is. This is the only dream pop band that sounds like it came from actual dreams.  People tend to love everything they’ve done, or nothing at all. I’ve been addicted for years.

At the center of that iconic sound is Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal, incomprehensible vocals. Her voice is so expressive and inscrutable, it conveys worlds of emotion and narrative without the crutch of recognizable vocals. Concrete words float to the surface now and then, throwing the mood into sharp relief. Most of the time, we’re floating along a string of syllables, interlocking melody and tone without language. It’s a real life special effect.

Here’s the title track from their greatest album, Heaven or Las Vegas.

One thing that stands out with this track is the fact that I can actually make out a portion of the lyrics, including the title phrase. It’s a rare moment of total clarity that crystalizes the punchier sound they were going for on their final release for the legendary 4ad label. Heaven or Las Vegas mutated the band’s somnambulent drift with crisper, more overtly electronic production that, to me, teased out the inherent chest-pounding catchiness of their best songs. It’s not exactly club music, but the technicolor dynamic is far better suited for high volume enjoyment with friends.

The band, including guitarist and producer Robin Guthrie and bassist Simon Raymonde, always created a consciousness-defying, holistic sound. Listening to their albums is like hearing a single living instrument more than a group of actual humans working together. With this album, they cranked up the saturation and surrendered to the groove.


Who have I got to thank for this great musical love? Probably Gregg Araki, director of weird and weirdly tender masterpieces like Mysterious Skin and Nowhere. His aesthetic runs all over the place, sometimes feeling like nihilistic Looney Tunes, but every single one of his films are tied together with perfect dream pop and shoegaze soundtracks. For the last 25 years, Araki has introduced millions of people to the joys of Slowdive, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course Cocteau Twins. While I can’t pinpoint exactly where I first heard this Scottish trio, it’s a safe bet that one of my teenage VHS rentals contained a song or two.

This is how I celebrate black Friday: staying in, writing, and listening to old favorites. Seeing some friends later. I’ve done buy nothing day for years now, so it’s usually like this. If you’re out and about in the shopping madness reading this, plug your headphones in and enjoy the oasis. If not, you’re probably already relaxing in your own way. For me, there’s few artists better suited for a peaceful day.

The Weeknd “The Morning”

Here’s that moment, almost 5 years ago, when I realized The Weeknd was my jam.

While Abel Tesfaye is currently riding a wave of stardom with Can’t Feel My Face and spots on the Fifty Shades soundtrack, here’s the original slow jam that seduced the world. It’s called The Morning.

It’s great seeing more of my friends finally recognizing this dude, thanks to his latest single, but I’ve been proselytizing for years now. For all the fine work he’s done since, the original Trilogy of albums from 2011 stands as his obvious masterpiece. I’ve got fond memories of walking down the sidewalk with friends in San Francisco, belting out the verses to this tune. We were ecstatic and laughing at the seemingly sudden and magical way R&B had re-entered our lives as a vital force. It had returned older, wiser, and a lot more psychedelic than we remembered from the 90s.

I’ll just leave you with a link to those evocative lyrics. It’s just not the same to quote them in print; you’ve gotta sing ’em.

2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生

Sometimes there’s no better way to discover music than aimlessly sliding through the dark dream of the internet.

One day at the office I was looking for something that I could drift to. I wanted a sound that stretched like taffy until it reached the horizon. I needed my surroundings blurred beyond recognition, smeared into the very fabric of reality. With 新しい日の誕生 by 2814, I found exactly what I was looking for.

As a writer, I rarely listen to vocal music while doing my job. The lyrics work their way into my hands, spilling into whatever piece I’m trying to finish. It’s too much of a distraction; I lose all focus. Some people do fine with hip-hop or pop music blasting while they write, and I almost envy them. Instead, I’ve settled into a groove with certain genres that help me stay on task, creating an aural environment to work in. This means that I end up playing a whole lot of jazz, techno, and ambient music for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It also means that I’m forever seeking new music with a similar hypnotic effect.

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Stereolab’s Ticker Tape Of The Unconscious

I know I just wrote about Stereolab, but I’m in the middle of a binge. Indulge me?

I just listened to my brand new vinyl edition of their 1997 masterpiece, Dots and Loops. It reminded me that, of all the jazzy sprawl and monastic focus of the album, this dreamy pop song lingered in my mind the clearest.

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Brian Eno’s Windows 95 startup sound, slowed down 23x

Oh wow. This is suddenly wonderful.

Today at work, the Mac OS startup sound was mentioned, and I offered that I always liked the original Windows 95 sound, created by Brian Eno. Besides; I associate that sound more with Wall-E than my office computer. It’s true; the godfather of ambient music has been in more ears than even the biggest pop stars. Searching youtube for the clip, however, brought me this little treasure.

I hope you’ve already hit play.

There’s really nothing much to say about this other than: listen to the massive difference that a simple, yet drastic change of tempo can to do a song. Suddenly we’re in echoing-angel, gossamer synth territory, and it feels great.

I hope some of my friends see this and get the same kick that I did.


Jo Johnson – Weaving

This is one of my favorite albums of 2014. I’ll be publishing a few full album streams before and after my Best of 2014 list, so stay tuned.

Jo Johnson popped onto my radar with brightly minimalist cover art on and a promise of synthesized dreaminess. I got exactly that and more. Listen now with this full album stream.

The appeal of this album, for me, is how she blends a loosely spiritual feeling, akin to Alice Coltrane (who she apparently nods to with the first track) with the cold kosmiche arpeggios found in the best work by Manuel Göttsching (Ash Ra Tempel) or Vangelis’ iconic Blade Runner score. This is as computer-based as anything in the psychedelic synth world, but there’s a warmth and pathos permeating every second of the brief album.

The title track and final piece are big highlights for me. In the latter, she breaks the futuristic-meditation mold and cracks straight into some twisted ambient techno, the likes of which Future Sound Of London or early Aphex Twin may have delivered.


Here’s that lush cover art. If you want to purchase, the LP can be found at Forced Exposure and Juno Records.

Aphex Twin – minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]

Aphex Twin is dropping a new album for only the second time since I became a fan, and the first time I have been aware, this month. Since the neon blimp soared over London I’ve been excited beyond words. The build-up to this album has seen a newly unearthed side project from two decades ago, art stunts on two continents, and a series of listening parties set to occur in the next week. We should have expected it at this point, but this week birthed surprise as we finally got a taste of things to come. Richard D. James has truly delivered.

This feels like a Windowlicker sibling raised in the nocturnal, neon soaked grid of Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Familiar touchstones abound: skittering percussion moving like a current over melodic bedrock, dynamic shifts birth crystalline synth tones, and a sort of broken cyberpunk tone colors the whole thing. Over halfway though, warped vocals enter unannounced, striking in their warm candor. The most unexpected aspect of minipops 67 might very well be how welcoming and open it is. This is Aphex Twin as pop auteur, working in an understated, head nodding aesthetic that he’s rarely approached.


The reaction I’ve seen around the world has ranged from exultant worship to cries of heresy – which is par for the course, as far as I’m concerned. This track sneaks up on me, sinking its knives before I even realize 5 minutes have passed, before I hit “replay” again. For an artist known for bold moves (the entirety of Drukqs, his confrontational, arresting videos), perhaps an ambient pop song was the boldest move of all. Is he setting us up for a full frontal assault when Syro drops later this month? Will the album pull this thread, becoming his most accessible release yet? In a few weeks we’ll know. I expect that we will see how far the internet can bend that day. It’s good to have Richard D. James back.

Buy Syro at Bleep, Amazon, iTunes, or wherever. This is the one indulgence I’ve allowed myself this fall: the 3LP set is destined for my home in a few weeks.