Monday Mixtape: The Raconteurs, Mark Ronson, Prince & More!
Every Monday, I make myself a playlist of (mostly) new songs. It gets me in the habit of hunting for new music and hopefully gets me embracing fresh trends. This is the Monday Mixtape.
Mark Ronson feat. King Princess, “Pieces of Us”
Ronson has been promoting his new album Late Night Feelings as a break-up record, and he’s not kidding: None of the throwback froth of his previous effort Uptown Special can be found within, replaced instead by icy beats and nakedly emotional longing. On paper it’s a recipe for disaster, but in execution it is exquisite and bracing. That’s largely thanks to Ronson’s keen ear for collaborators, including a bunch of well-established stars (Miley Cyrus, Camila Cabello, Alicia Keys) and plenty of people nobody has ever heard of (Yebba, Diana Gordon, Ilsey). Somewhere in the middle of those two poles lies King Princess, a gender-fluid bedroom folk-popper who got a bit of attention on alternative radio for her song “1950” and who possesses both an exquisitely broken voice and a knack for making melodies shine. This is not as good as the Ronson/Cyrus joint “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” (one of the ten best songs of this decade), but this thing still cries while it bangs.
Prince, “The Glamorous Life”
The Purple One’s posthumous releases have been a bit of a mixed bag so far—the estate seems largely focused on re-packaging songs you already know. While last year’s Piano & A Microphone 1983 was a fascinating lark, it was also essentially loose demo versions of tunes whose finished versions sound way better. Prince supposedly kept dozens of full albums under lock and key, and I hope that we eventually get to hear these prolific blasts of inspiration. (Supposedly there’s a lot of mid to late ‘90s stuff that’s never been heard, and Emancipation and Crystal Ball-era Prince remains the most elusive and fascinating, particularly among obsessive bootleg hunters like myself.) That all being said, Originals is a perfectly reasonable release, featuring Prince’s original recordings (most of them in rough-ish demo form) of songs he gave away—many of which were made hugely famous by the people who ended up releasing them. Sheila E had a big hit with “The Glamorous Life,” and while Prince did reclaim that song as his own in concert, this is an intriguing alternate reality version. Honestly, I like Sheila E’s better, but if nothing else it’s fun to hear the way Prince phrases the verses.
The Raconteurs, “Only Child”
Of all of Jack White’s projects, I probably like the Raconteurs the least. (The White Stripes remains his top outlet, followed by his solo work, then the Dead Weather, then the Raconteurs. His acting career is several levels below all of this.) I’ve just never found his collaborations with Brendan Benson (a guy whose solo albums I really enjoy) all that game-changing. I’ve never heard anything from a Raconteurs album that couldn’t have also been on a White solo record (conversely, White’s tag team with the Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart in the Dead Weather always felt transformative for both). The new album Help Us Stranger, the band’s first in a decade, is largely more of the same, but it kicks much harder when White turns the volume down a bit. Such is the case with “Only Child,” a ruminative little corker that sits at a slow simmer rather than boil over. It’s a cool energy-shifting show of restraint that White is so good at and almost never pursues.
Mustard feat. Quavo, YG & Meek Mill, “100 Bands”
Only a handful of years ago, DJ Mustard seemed like he would ascend to crossover status as the next great cult of personality hip-hop producer, just as Diddy, Pharrell, Timbaland and Kanye had done previously. It didn’t shake out that way, but I still get excited every time an eerie bit if Cadillac trap fires up and he mutters “Mustard on the beat.” He got big tag-teaming with West Coast roughneck YG, so obviously those guys know each other, but both Quavo and Meek—two very different MCs—also find ways to ride the bass thwomps in their own unique way. That’s the magic of Mustard!
When they first debuted, Travis were dismissed in critical circles as one of the many bands trying to lock into Radiohead’s The Bends-era sound (these bands became particularly in demand in the U.K. once Radiohead made it clear they were no longer interested in guitars). They had already scored something of a novelty hit with the cheeky “All I Want to Do Is Rock,” but their second album The Man Who sent them into the stratosphere. They scored hits on both sides of the pond, and they won a ton of Brit Awards. I had heard “All I Want to Do Is Rock” thanks to a glowing mini-profile in a 1998 issue of Spin, but I was blown away when I saw the video for “Driftwood” on MTV some time in early 2000. The line “I’m sorry that you turned to driftwood” remains personally devastating even if it doesn’t make a ton of rhetorical sense.
The Flaming Lips, “Race For the Prize”
I have two stories surrounding the Flaming Lips’ remarkable 1999 evolutionary leap The Soft Bulletin, which just turned twenty over the weekend. The first: I bought this album in the summer of ‘99, while with my family on a vacation in Newport, RI. (Shout out to the Music Box, which like a lot of record stores from my youth no longer exists.) I was not actively tracking the Lips at that point, but I spotted The Soft Bulletin in the new releases section and I was full-on obsessed with the band’s 1995 album Clouds Taste Metallic. So I grabbed it and immediately put it on in the car on the way back to our beach house, and I was instantly entranced by its first track, which is a garage-psych sprint about a pair of scientists competing to find a cure for…something. My mom heard Wayne Coyne’s belabored tenor and remarked how bad he sounded; it was at that moment that I, an aspiring singer, realized you don’t have to sound good to sound awesome.
The second: Smash cut to the summer of 2006. I was at Lollapalooza in Chicago, covering the festival for Spin. I spent most of the weekend trapped in the press tent interviewing bands for a photo spread we were doing, but I snuck away to see two acts. One was the then-retiring Sleater-Kinney, and the other was the Flaming Lips. I had interviewed Coyne earlier in the day, and as we were wrapping up his publicist told me to meet him by the side of the stage before the Lips set. So I booked it to the opposite end of Grant Park in oppressive August heat, and it was there I was handed a Santa Claus costume and invited to dance on stage with the band during their hour long performance. I’ve never sweat so much in my life, but I’ll never forget the moment when I first looked out onto the sea of people gathered to see the lips right as the summer sun was setting, and just as I was about to become too overwhelmed (and dehydrated) to function, the first ass-slap of a drum hit landed and “Race For the Prize” kicked off. I’ve rarely had a more joyous experience as a music lover, and all it took was a bit of red rayon and arm’s-length access to one of my favorite bands.