Track by Track – On Mixtapes & Why People Made Them

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  1. Mercury – Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner & Nico Muhly
  2. I Know You Know – Ásgeir
  3. 715 – CRΣΣKS – Bon Iver
  4. Glue – Fickle Friends
  5. Love Song – Lucy Rose
  6. Goodbye Soliel – Phoenix
  7. How Can It Be So Hard – Billie Van
  8. Tired as Fuck – The Staves
  9. Get Not High, Get Not Low – Feist
  10. Like Real People Do – Hozier
  11. Naiads, Cassadies – Fleet Foxes
  12. The Universe – Gregory Alan Isakov
  13. The Professor * La Danse Fille – Damien Rice
  14. True Care – James Vincent McMorrow
  15. Someplace Beautiful – Alfred Hall

Follow this rotating playlist of new releases & old classics here


In the eighties, they used to make mixtapes with cassettes.

To make one, you would stick the original cassette with the song you wanted into one side of the stereo & a blank one into the other & press the “play” & “record” buttons simultaneously. That song from the original would then be recorded on the blank as it played. Three, four, five minutes would pass. You would hit the “pause” button exactly when the song ended, change the original cassette, repeat twenty times over, & out of the hundreds of rewinds & tape hisses would emerge a cobbled-together tapestry of songs. 

This is why mixtapes are such a labour of love – because they had to be made in real time. It’s hard to imagine an age where one was unable to assemble a playlist in a matter of seconds like how you would on Spotify but yes, there was. Before iTunes & digital streaming, it wasn’t uncommon to spend hours ruminating on the perfect sequence of songs and compiling them for a certain mood, a certain season, a certain someone. Why do you think there have been so many movies made & books written about mixtapes? They are soundtracks to the beat of love unraveling, stitched together by fictional characters.

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Adventureland – Greg Mottola’s retro, ’80s inspired indie features Jesse Eisenberg as James & Kirsten Stewart as Emily. It tells their unlikely love story that unfolds over a summer spent working at Adventureland, a run-down theme park. In characteristic Eisenberg-esque style, James makes Em a mixtape called “J’s Favourite Bummer Songs” & they kiss in the car while it plays. 

In the film High Fidelity, the main character Rob (played by John Cusack) summed up my feelings about a good mixtape when he said this: The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.

Rob was right – it is a delicate thing, especially when they’re made as gifts. The best mixtapes were the ones embedded with coded messages, not unlike song titles. A good mix didn’t just say: Here, This is For You, but also Hey, I Love You, or This Is Who I Really Am, or This Was How I Felt That One Hot Summer Night When I Was Thinking of You but You Didn’t Have a Clue. 

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Perks of Being A Wallflower – Charlie’s mixtape, with The Smiths’ “Asleep” put in twice for good measure

The word “mixtape” was foreign to me for a long time because I was born in a time of discmans & their accompanying CDs – yes, those long-gone, shiny circles of music. When I was eight or nine, the first iPod had not been invented yet & I spent most of my school allowances at HMV, picking up whatever looked interesting & rushing home to stick it into my CD player & listen to the delicious morsels of music under the sheets (as detailed in this long spiel about my love for Fleet Foxes).

The first time I ever heard the word “mixtape” was when I was at a sleepover with my friend Liz (who loved The Dresden Dolls & The Academy Is & who was always introducing me to interesting music) & we were falling asleep in the attic after a night of eating too much pizza & watching bad chick flicks. After hours of dancing to Cobra Starship (!), we finally collapsed, exhausted, our bodies splayed out on the floor. She put on this CD at a low volume & this amazing, piano-driven rock started to play, & as we drifted to sleep, I asked her what it was & she whispered drowsily, The Mixed Tape

Where are you now?
As I rearrange the songs again
This mix could burn a hole in anyone
But it was you I was thinking of

Since hearing that line in Jack’s Mannequin’s record Everything in Transit, I don’t think I’ve stopped making mixtapes, whatever form they may take. When I was thirteen & broke during Christmas, I bought blank CDs by the dozen & make a “mixtape” for each of my friends. I’m sure most of them went unlistened to, but I loved making them all the same, loved the gentle whirring of the disc in my dad’s laptop, designing album covers with magic markers while I waited for it to burn, the click of the CD tray as it delivered its gift to me twenty minutes later, warm & complete.

Where are you now?
As I’m swimming through the stereo
I’m writing you a symphony of sound
As I’m cutting through you track by track
I swear to God this mix could sink the sun
But it was you I was thinking of

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Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – Post-breakup, heartbroken Nick makes many mixtapes for his horrible ex-girlfriend Tris, including this one devastatingly entitled “Road to Closure”. Unimpressed, Tris tosses them into the trash each time, only to be salvaged moments later by her friend Norah, who as it turns out, is the real deal.

When I was eighteen, a good friend moved to Australia for college. We had grown up together & shared common tastes in television shows & music & when she told me she was really leaving, I was happy for her but also quite morose. I was in that stage in my life where all my friends were making major life decisions, some of which scattered them across continents. Anyway, in December that year, she called to wish me happy birthday & we ended up speaking for a bit. I had missed her terribly & knew she had missed me too.

Finally, as we reluctantly said goodbye over the static of international airwaves, I thought I heard her say “I made a mistake!” before the line went dead & for the rest of the week, I wondered what mistake she had made… Was it her decision to leave Singapore? Did she want to come back? It wasn’t until I received a square package postmarked Australia a few days later that I realised that what she had really meant to say was this: I made a mixtape (for you).

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostagic and hopeful all at the same time.”
― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

& then finally, there was that time when I took a music composition module in university which turned out to be an “experimental” soundscaping class. The professor was a hippie who wore long, white linen shirts and whose eyes lit up when he talked about John Cage or Steve Reich. He was also a terrible teacher & had the tendency to drone on or get lost in the middle of his sentence, never to find his way back again. It’s a true miracle I managed to pass the class since I was asleep most of the time.

Once though, he told us about how composers would create “incredible masterpieces” by locating sounds they liked in certain tapes & painstakingly splicing the portions by hand – literally cutting & pasting sounds together to create an auditory landscape. This avant-garde work had to be precise & sometimes took months, all to create pieces of “music” that sounded like noise to me. In that moment, I remember feeling crestfallen because it seemed like those new pieces, like the hundreds of mixtapes I had made over the years, were not new per se & were just combinations of things that already existed. You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing…

The question of whether I would ever create something original haunted me all the way till I started to write in earnest. All the same, many poems & songs later, I arrived at the inevitable conclusion that everyone comes to when they set out to create something original – that we can’t, not really. But it’s quite alright, isn’t it? Artistic expression is but a combination of observation & imitation & influence. & we too, are undeniably made out of a thousand, indelible impressions from our pasts, & music is just a tiny slice of this inconceivable miracle that defines our humanity.

& where are you now?
& this is my mixed tape for her
It’s like I wrote every note
With my own fingers

Console yourself with this, dear reader: that we are more than the sum of our parts.

Even as I make playlists on Spotify today, some of them two hundred songs long, I try to think of what it was like for the original makers of mixtapes, how slow & torturous, but also how rewarding it must have been to find oneself in the immersive process. Sometimes the magic of music is lost on us because it has become so easy. But I won’t forget – no, I won’t.

I am from a time past, I fade onto squares of film, I am a mixtape… 

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The Perfect Moment – A Conversation with Nick

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I had the rare treat of having dinner with my friend Nick last week. Nick & I are the same age & we grew up together in church. I’ve known him for twenty years ever since I was a bespectacled nerd/tomboy who loved playing soccer & he was a chubby kid who liked to draw dinosaurs. One of my earliest memories with him was when he made a catapult out of ice cream sticks & craft glue & shot a little wooden arrow at me & I cried. Bully.

My fondest memories of friendship however, were the times when we travelled to Yangon for a mission trip when we were twelve & then to Sydney for Hillsong Conference a few years later where I think we both truly encountered God for the first time. We played a lot of music & wrote really bad original songs together with our friend Luki, talked about things like Naruto & the English Premier League (!), got on each other’s nerves, ate a lot of late night suppers, talked about our dreams & served in church together. Though our paths have diverged considerably, I respect him a lot because I feel like we have reached a certain level in our friendship where we can talk about things that are difficult to talk about & call each other out on certain things. He is my cell group leader & #1 antagoniser & a pretty amazing musician & it was nice to finally have a decent conversation him after the crazy 2016 we both had. Here are some snippets of our conversation that day.


[On Art]

Stacy: I took art history when I was in Sweden.

Nick: Really?

S: Yeah. I loved it so much because I always love going to museums when I travel.

N: Is it? I cannot do museums. Like I can look at a painting & I have no idea what I’m looking at. The only museum I kinda enjoyed myself in was the Louvre.

S: Yeah? How was it?

N: I mean, it was okay because I had the audio guide to kinda explain things to me. But I remember being SO disappointed by the Mona Lisa. I was walking down the corridor & the place was getting crowded slowly & I thought, oh, this is it, it’s coming & I saw that huge crowd of people & I was so excited & tried to get to the front & when I finally made it I thought… That’s it?!

S: It’s pretty bad isn’t it?

N: It was so ugly. In my opinion, there were so many other nicer paintings. But that being said, I feel like I have no context for judging art. I just don’t know what I’m looking at.

S: I totally get what you’re saying. Which was why my art history class gave me so much context to what was going on. I found out that if you laid out the different “creative” spheres such as art, music, literature, fashion, film, etc, side by side & looked at them at different time periods, there are so many similarities. They just had different names. Like if you looked at the 1920s, they call it the “jazz age” right?

N: Yes.

S: It’s cause jazz & big band music was starting to become huge in America. This was accompanied by flamboyant literature from “The Lost Generation”, surrealist & expressionist movements in art, flapper girls & androgynous dressing in fashion & so on. These were all tied together by the same values – liberation, extravagance, boldness – even though they all had different names.

N: Right.

S: Same can be said of music in the baroque period, the romantic period, whatever… all of the periods run parallel to other artistic spheres. Art influences all art. & for someone who only knew a little about books & a little about music her whole life, it was cool to finally get perspective on creativity as a whole.

[On Hearing God’s Voice]

N: Sometimes do you wonder, what does “God’s Will” even mean?

S: Yeah. It’s so vague.

N: Right? Like for me, I feel like there’s this music thing that I really want to do, but I’m just not sure if I’m just being selfish & pursuing it instead of God’s will. & it’s even harder for me because I never ever hear God’s voice audibly, although I’m sure that there are people who do. I never really hear Him telling me to do something.

S: Maybe God’s Will manifests in the doors that opened & closed to you in that moment. Maybe those are the signs… but of course, you MUST be walking with God closely to know that these opened doors are from Him.

N: Right.

S: Also, I think God’s voice gains more clarity while you’re having a sabbatical, or right after. It’s like a period of “quieting your soul”.

N: Definitely. After I came back from Spain after exchange, man, was I on fire… I was so sure I was finally going to get it right this time – pray, read the bible, spend more time with God like how I did when I was in Spain. I was so sure that I wouldn’t let the busyness of Singapore get to me. But well… look at what happened.

S: Tell me about it. I’m horrible at it too.

N: But I know what’s right. I know what I should be doing – meeting up with people, sharing lives, knowing God. & I’m going to try to do it.

[On Music]

N: Words always fly right past me. I don’t know why, but they have the tendency to. Which is why I love instrumental music. I think sometimes it says things you can’t really express. Do you ever get that feeling, like right here *puts hand on chest, tightens fist* when you hear a piece of music & it just “hits”?

S: All the time.

N: Yeah, but it isn’t the case for me. I mean, there are exceptions, like recently there was this song by… 2Pac.

S: Tupac?! Shakur?! Since when did you listen to rap music?

N: Eh no, I know it sounds lame but I’m not kidding. I think the title had the word “mama” in it or something. You should definitely go check it out, it’s like a spoken word. The message was fantastic.

S: Okay, I’ll definitely check it out afterwards… (the song is called Dear Mama by the way, & yes, it is pretty good)

N: Yeah but you see, that’s a one-off. Usually it’s jazz, particularly instrumental jazz, that does it for me. Think about it, there are only twelve notes & yet there are so many combinations. You just have to hone your craft till you get to the stage that your expression isn’t limited by your instrument, & I feel like I’m not at that stage yet.

S: You mean like when the instrument becomes an extension of your body?

N: Exactly. & you just have the freedom to create on the spot. & when you get really into it, especially when you play in a band & everyone is just going together, you get that feeling…

S: The Perfect Moment.

N: The Perfect Moment. & it’s not just about the notes or the combinations or technique. There are so many factors that matter when it comes to playing music. Two people can play something simple like a C major chord, just three notes, & they sound totally different – one does so without any feeling & the other does so with…

S: Conviction. Yes, there are so many things that contributes to a person’s playing. To have a signature “touch” sounds vague, but I know what it means. It’s a combination of playing with intention & joy & awareness & so many other things.

N: Yeah, like there was this duo that I saw at Java Jazz a few years ago. Brad Mehldau & Mark Guliana. Wow, I’ll never forget that. I remember seeing them & it just inspired me because there was something special in the way they were playing, so filled with passion… I felt it. You know what I mean?

S: Yes, when I was in Sweden, I discovered this band Volcano Choir. The textures were amazing & kinda reflective of the landscape of the place I was in… but again, you see, it was the lyrics that really reeled me in. So maybe The Perfect Moment isn’t limited to instrumentals because each of us has things that we connect to at such a deep level, whether it is art, or literature, or food, or whatever…

N: Yes, yes, I don’t doubt that.

S: … & we need to respect everyone’s unique, deep connections. No one’s connection is better or more sophisticated than the other. Yours is instrumental music, mine is through words. They’re all just different routes to arrive at the same Perfect Moment. Remember we were talking about hearing God’s voice earlier?

N: Yeah?

S: Maybe it’s about learning to recognise God in those rare, Perfect Moments. I know you sometimes see pursuing music & pursuing God’s will as two very separate things because you connect the former with satisfying your own wants, but think about it this way – if you could just submit your entire being to Him & steward the gift of creativity rightly, the first thing you should feel when you arrive at that Perfect Moment wouldn’t be guilt, but peace. It’s because it comes from a very different place. Everything seems to make sense. & everyone can get to that place.

N: Yes. Maybe. Maybe.