It’s hard to believe that this year will mark a decade for me of attending the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. I started in 2001 by attending just the Interactive festival, and that’s still the core of what interests me, but over the years, I’ve extended my stay and now take in film screenings and panels and as much free music (along with beer and food) as I can squeeze in. One of my traditions has been to make a mix CD each year of songs that have meant something to me in the previous 12 months. I used to make about 20-30 copies on CD and then give them out in person each year. It was a nice way of reinforcing the connections I’d made and giving a small token of friendship to some of my new pals. But each year, it got more onerous to create something that most people would end up ripping to their hard drives anyway. The only place most people play CDs these days is in their cars, and I expect that’s changing, too.
So, this year, behold the mighty .m4a compilation! It has album artwork and everything. All that’s missing are the liner notes, which I’m going to provide for you right here. You don’t need to be attending SXSW to download and enjoy this 10th annual SXSW edition of Compilation Champs. But if you are, make sure you say hello if you see me. In any case, please let me know what you think about the songs. I love putting this together each year and writing a little bit about music, which I don’t do often enough.
You can stream the whole thing by hitting the play button, but it works best as a download, so go ahead and click that link (or the image).
Download .m4a file (67.8 MB)
- Intro – The XX (2009, from the album XX): I named this my Album of the Year for 2009 and this song does indeed make for a perfect “intro” to the rest. The XX sound to me a bit like what would have happened if Young Marble Giants had listened to more James Brown growing up. Minimalistic dance music that’s both cool and hot at the same time.
- Shadow – Delta 5 (c. 1979-1981, from the album Delta 5: Singles and Sessions 1979-1981): I only recently discovered the amazing Delta 5 after watching a documentary about the history of Rough Trade Records in the UK. This unique band had two bass players and were at the forefront of the feminist and anti-racist movements. Plus they’re from Leeds, home of one of my all-time favourite bands, The Wedding Present.
- Blessed Brambles – Múm (2007, from the album Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy): My fascination with Icelandic music continues, and with Múm’s in particular. There’s a mechanical sound to their music that reminds me of sewing machines: industrial and yet homey at the same time.
- My Love Life – Morrissey (1991, from the EP Morrissey at KROQ): An old favourite from the tail end of my college days. A plaintive plea for sympathy, and who couldn’t use “a little something” for our love lives?
- Overground – Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978, from the album The Scream): Stark and cool, this song is from the band’s very first record. Despite being criticized at the time for their lack of musicianship, I find the stripped down sound energizing and kind of epic, actually.
- I’m Confused – Handsome Furs (2009, from the album Face Control): In a lucky accident, I stumbled into a show by this husband-and-wife duo at last year’s SXSW. I couldn’t believe how energetic they could be with just a guitar and a keyboard. It pleased me that they’re Canadian, from Montreal, but it’s strange that I haven’t really listened all that much to Dan Boeckner’s other band, Wolf Parade.
- Time for Heroes – The Libertines (2002, from the album Up the Bracket): Another discovery from the Rough Trade Records documentary. I’d only ever heard of Pete Doherty as the drug-addled boyfriend of Kate Moss. His most recent band, Babyshambles, never crossed my radar at all, but listening to The Libertines makes his subsequent troubles all the more sad.
- Hell Yeah (Pimp the System) – Dead Prez (2004, from the album RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta): Dead Prez impressed the hell out of me in the film Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and so I went looking for more from them. This song is powerful enough to both frighten me and make me see things from the other side. Muggings and fraud are survival tactics, but there’s also a thrill, that of “pimping the system” that tries to keep you down.
- The Major Lift – Years (2009, from the album Years): Years is a side project from the impossibly-named Ohad Benchetrit, multi-instrumentalist for Do Make Say Think. It was the horn section in this particular song that grabbed me, especially the tuba, which is a bird seldom-heard in most of my music.
- A Prophecy – Close Lobsters (1987, from the album Foxheads Stalk This Land): Scottish band Close Lobsters were part of the C-86 “movement” spawned by a compilation put out by the NME. Though they weren’t prolific, this entire album is a treasure chest of jangly goodness. I have no idea why the song speeds up at the end, but I sort of like that it does.
- Footsteps – Bricolage (2009, from the album Bricolage): This Glasgow band seem to be mining the same territory as Postcard Records acts like Orange Juice and Josef K, which is just fine by me. If I had actually heard this album last year, it might have been my album of the year. Also, what is it about Scottish bands that compels them to make electric guitars sound like something else? First it was Big Country making guitars sound like bagpipes, and now on this song, Bricolage give the guitars a steel drum feeling. Or am I crazy?
- Broken Rifle – Evening Hymns (2009, from the album Spirit Guides): Closer to home this time. Evening Hymns is essentially Jonas Bonetta, from tiny Orono, Ontario. Over the years I’ve introduced a few people to some great Canadian music, and I hope this year it might be this lovely song that reaches you.
- Peach, Plum, Pear – Joanna Newsom (2004, from the album The Milk-Eyed Mender): I had heard OF Joanna Newsom for quite a while but had never heard her music until the closing credits of a short film called City Paradise, which featured “Peach, Plum, Pear.” It worked so well there that I’m stealing the idea here for my own “closing credits.”
I have no way of determining how many people download the compilation this year, so if you’ve read this far, would you mind just dropping a comment to say Hi after clicking the download link? Of course, it would be great if you came back to tell me what you thought of the music, too.