Music has felt even more important in 2017, as a much-needed reminder of human potential in the face of an overwhelming deluge of our worst qualities expressed with increasing vehemence, violence and power. Sounds from the late 60s, the 1970s and the 80s have been particularly resonant–funk, post-punk, and singer-songwriter music born in similarly dark times feel deeply relevant. Almost out of necessity (for me at least), Musicophilia has been revitalized, exploring at a quantity and quality of production never matched in the last nine years, with 29 new mixes this year; and I’ve purchased hundreds of albums from those “home base” years. But simultaneously, music from the current day has been hitting home to a degree I haven’t experienced in a couple decades. My sudden introduction to the burgeoning revival of post-punk/new-wave music played a big part in opening my ears. But at least as compelling, I’ve been continually excited by sounds happening in hip-hop, R&B, electronic and dance-oriented music, and nebulous genre-defying things that seem to bridge all the divides.
‘The Four Ethers‘ began as a more typical “year-end” collection, but morphed into something more sonically coherent and emotionally resonant that spiritually (and sometimes musically) recalls the ‘Evensong‘ and ‘The Dawning‘ mixes that have remained favorites. The exact qualities that span the various genres represented on the mix and bind it all together are a little slippery, but they’re real. In some ways, it’s a matter of influence–or perhaps an ease-with-influence that seems newly confident–as all of this music draws from a rich tapestry of Musicophilia-favorite sounds: from J-Dilla’s rough-hewn crate-mined masterpieces; to the more adventurous sides of post-punk and new wave; to Stereolab and Broadcast’s hand-crafted space age sounds; to Bjork’s always-masterful marriage of the electronic and organic, pop and avant-garde. The past is present here, but things never feel “retro” or “revivalist”.
In other ways, the link is literally the sound, the production: there’s a slightly dubby, woozy, but warm, dream-like, widescreen but richly textured quality to a lot of the music that ties hip-hop and dance-pop and R&B and art-rock together with surprising ease–these eclectic tracks sound good in the context of one another. Perhaps the most significant common thread is that all of the musicians see no contradiction in being openly emotional and embracing beauty, whilst being forward-reaching, sophisticated and technologically omnivorous. The “post-everything” Internet-age has often been clumsy in its first couple decades, as when say “rap” and “metal” have been smashed together in ways that accentuate the worst of each. This music sounds, in contrast, like musicians learning that the fourth world, the future world, the classical world, etc. can all coexist and be mutually reinforcing, and that omnipresent availability of musical knowledge and technological opportunities can be employed with grace and discernment. While the future of the humanity feels hugely uncertain, this music also gives me hope that if the worst within us can be overcome, we could be in the darkness before the dawn.
Inspired by the original ‘annual’ intent of the mix, and by a lyric from perhaps my favorite contemporary discovery of the last two years, Serpentwithfeet, the mix is organized into four roughly 30-minute parts corresponding with the mood and atmosphere of the seasons. The arc of the mix is surprisingly emotional, from the thawing optimism of the Spring, to the humid playfulness of the Summer, to the wistfulness of the Autumn, to the introspection and loss of the Winter. I’ve generally chosen to let the tracks breathe, rather than heavily mixing or truncating them, but I hope you’ll find that the journey pulls you along and immerses you in a sound-world that rewards taking the time. And because we missed mixing favorites for 2016, about a third of the tracks are from that year, too.
Several favorites of youth have continued to make amazing music: Bjork, the spirit animal of a lot of the music, is here at her most deconstructed; Four Tet embraces beauty without reservation; Cornelius reins in the quirk and achieves gracefulness; !!! shocks by maturing from “dance-punk” into classic house; Fever Ray carries on her dark brilliance; Radiohead reaches a second career peak decades in; Dan Snaith (Manitoba/Caribou) continues to expand his palate as Daphni. The godfather of transgenre transmogrification, David Bowie, created one of his most moving works with his last months. Slowdive surprised with a sound more well-rounded than ever before. Perhaps most triumphant of all, A Tribe Called Quest produced what is surely some of their best work ever, even though their break-up was old enough to vote. But equally strong, artists who may well be art-children of these heroes are creating thrilling, bold, confident sounds: Moses Sumney, Ibeyi, Thundercat, Sampha, No Zu, Anderson Paak, Golden Teacher, Fujiya & Miyagi, Frankie Rose, Solange, Virginia Wing, Black Marble, Kendrick Lamar, Jane Weaver, Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, Joana Guerra, Andy Stott, Arca, and most of all Serpentwithfeet make me feel the future of music is bright–if fragile-ego idiot men without an ounce of art or soul don’t silence all the music first. I hope this music will soothe and excite you as it has me, and help you to keep fighting for what’s worth fighting for.
A huge thanks to my friend Eric, who once again has gifted me the use of his amazing photography! This is music made by working musicians, so it’s extra important that you buy all you can that you hear here. Help keep at least our musical future bright–it’s essential! You can stream or download below–and please pass this post on to anyone you think would enjoy it. And also, please follow Musicophilia on Twitter and join the Musicophiliacs group on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss any new mixes in 2018.
Various – ‘The Four Ethers‘
Part I: Spring/Life/Earth
01 [0:00:00] Moses Sumney – “Doomed” (Aromanticism, 2017)
02 [0:04:27] Four Tet – “Scientists” (New Energy, 2017)
03 [0:09:12] Ibeyi – “When Will I Learn” (Ash, 2017)
04 [0:12:12] Bjork – “Utopia” (Utopia, 2017)
05 [0:16:47] Mount Kimbie – “Audition” (Love What Survives, 2017)
06 [0:20:57] Thundercat – “A Fan’s Mail” (Drunk, 2017)
07 [0:23:27] Sampha – “Reverse Faults” (Process, 2017)
08 [0:27:34] Cornelius – “Dear Future Person” (Mellow Waves, 2017)
Part II: Summer/Warmth/Fire
09 [0:32:11] No Zu – “Spirit Beat” (Afterlife, 2016)
10 [0:36:40] Daphni – “Medellin” (Joli Mai, 2017)
11 [0:42:50] Anderson Paak – “The Bird” (Malibu, 2016)
12 [0:46:23] A Tribe Called Quest – “Whateva Will Be” (We Got It From Here. . ., 2016)
13 [0:49:16] !!! – “Our Love (U Can Get)” (Shake The Shudder, 2017)
14 [0:53:31] Golden Teacher – “Sauchiehall Withdrawal” (No LUscious Life, 2017)
15 [0:58:36] Fujiya & Miyagi – “Synthetic Symphonies” (Fujiya & Miyagi, 2017)
Part III: Autumn/Light/Air
16 [1:03:24] Frankie Rose – “Dancing Down The Hall” (Cage Tropical, 2017)
17 [1:08:45] Solange – “Don’t You Wait” (A Seat At the Table, 2016)
18 [1:12:51] Virginia Wing – “Grapefruit” (Forward Constant Motion, 2016)
19 [1:16:35] Black Marble – “A Million Billion Stars” (It’s Immaterial, 2016)
20 [1:19:46] Kendrick Lamar – “Feel” (Damn, 2017)
21 [1:23:17] David Bowie – “No Plan” (No Plan EP, 2017)
22 [1:26:52] Jane Weaver – “The Lightning Back” (Modern Kosmology, 2017)
Part IV: Winter/Sound/Water
23 [1:30:21] Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – “Stranger Things (Extended)” (Stranger Things Vol. 2, 2016)
24 [1:35:18] Fever Ray – “Red Trails” (Plunge, 2017)
25 [1:39:59] Joana Guerra – “Carpideiras” (Cavalos Vapor, 2016)
26 [1:43:40] Andy Stott – “First Night” (Too Many Voices, 2016)
27 [1:48:33] Radiohead – “Daydreaming” (A Moon Shaped Pool, 2016)
28 [1:54:45] Slowdive – “Falling Ashes” (Slowdive, 2017)
29 [2:02:29] Arca – “Reverie” (Arca, 2017)
30 [2:05:34] Serpentwithfeet – “Redemption” (Blisters EP, 2016)
[Total Time: 2:08:13]