I remember We were walking up to strawberry swing I can’t wait ’til the morning Wouldn’t wanna change a thing
People moving all the time Inside a perfectly straight line Don’t you wanna curve away It’s such
It’s such a perfect day It’s such a perfect day
Now the sky could be blue I don’t mind Without you it’s a waste of time…
I forgot how much I enjoy watching good music videos. The kind that’s almost an art unto itself.
It’s not easy to make a good one (I reckon). You’re trying to tell a complicated story in a little more than 3 minutes and most of the time, people don’t have very much to say. But on the rare occasion where one does get it right, even a mediocre song can be elevated to something great. The music videos become tiny movies where the song evolves into the soundtrack of a little piece of film. Two elements sharing a dance on an empty stage.
Anyway, here’s a list of some of my favourites. I’m afraid they’re quite predictable. Most of them have some form of dancing, stop-motion, single shot takes, brilliant colours or just silly, romantic things…
Falling Water – Maggie Rogers
They say all Maggie Rogers videos are sort of the same (take a look at the Alaska or On + Off music videos) and while I agree, I just love the way she dances in this one. Half-possessed, half in total control. Hypnotising.
Carried Away – Passion Pit
Relatable. Also, Michael Angelakos and Sophia Bush make a cute couple.
Someone That Loves You – Honne
Love the direction and cinematography of this video and how it portrays night-time Tokyo, a city of pink and yellow neon, breathing new life into the tired storyline of a one-night encounter with a beautiful stranger. And the scene of the sakura billowing around the male lead at the end is just breathtaking.
Lost Things – A Fine Frenzy
Did I mention how much I love stop-motion?
Why Do You Let Me Stay Here – She & Him
Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt may be the biggest friendzone of the 21st century, but they do a mean 60s-inspired look and dance together.
Friends – Francis & The Lights feat. Bon Iver
Before I started listening to Francis & The Lights, a friend of mine told me that he had caught their live show and had never seen a more enigmatic and compelling artist in his life. He couldn’t be more right. I also never thought I’d live to see the day where Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) agrees to be in a synchronised dance with another grown man while singing a song about friendship. The bromance is strong in this one.
It Hurts! – Bad Bad Hats
Two and a half minutes of juvenility. A necessary thing.
Chateau – Angus & Julia Stone
Ever since watching Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere some years back, the Chateau Marmont has become an old and untouchable relic in my mind, shrouded in mystery and other dark things. While the cinematography and chemistry between the leads are lovely, I think I just dig this song a whole lot.
Dark Blue – Jack’s Mannequin
… And here’s a classic to round things off in style.
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.
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.
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
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…
The magic of folk music is derived primarily from the center stage that lyric takes in the performance of a song, a quality so rare in this day that it harkens back to a time past, back to the days of confessional poetry & its giants: Sylvia Plath & John Berryman & Anne Sexton.
If one were to analyse it, one would find that good folk lyrics perfectly balance the extremes of self-obsession & low self-esteem, landing on that stark line of idiosyncratic story-telling. To put it simply, good folk lyrics are honest & by that effect, allow others to express themselves in the same way. Music doesn’t always have to be about making a political statement. Instead, let’s talk – talk about childhood, faith, love, depression & death.
I don’t know how to be What I wanted to be when I was 5 Sometimes blue eyes sometimes green
Bike rides Snow hikes & Christmas lights Sometimes freezing sometimes warm I don’t know if I can love that anymore
Cause I got it all I’ve got it all mistaken for a meaningful life & a fun family vacation like when I used to ride roller coasters with my dad when a swimming pool in a hotel was a gift from God
like love or like a family I don’t know how to be…
(Vacation – Florist)
You don’t know how to be, but neither do I. I’m figuring it out, so take your time.
Here’s one more.
Call me in the morning I’ll be alright Call me in the morning I’ll be alright Call me little honey & I’ll be fine
Call me in the morning I’ll be okay Call me in the morning I’m far away Call me little darling & I’ll be fine
(adj.) Short for lo-fidelity. The production or reproduction of audio characterised by an unpolished or rough sound quality. First known usage: 1957.
Once, I hitched a ride with an older couple from Malaysia to Singapore after a weekend church retreat & we got stuck at the causeway for a couple of hours. That was when the husband said that we should all take turns to play some songs off our own devices because all the radio waves were still staticky & it would be interesting to know each other’s music tastes & so I plugged in my phone & played them a few tracks off Gold Motel’s Brand New Kind of Blue record. I thought they would like the songs because they were bright & nostalgic & summer-y but then when I asked what they thought, the husband turned around & said, they’re alright I guess, but they’re a bit juvenile, don’t you think?
Oof. Well, I suppose they are:
“Forget it all, it’s just a sun-drenched dream I bet you make a good memory I’ll come back soon, when you least assume Oh, Santa Cruz”
(Santa Cruz – Gold Motel)
“Pluck a heart-string, duck for cover Hear the phone ring, start to stutter He wants to know why I sit & sigh so I yelled your name like a secret out the window Oh, the night is so young It hurts!”
(It Hurts – Bad Bad Hats)
The thing is, I would like to write a lo-fi, “juvenile” love song but I just don’t know how. I think it’s one of the hardest things to write. I did a gig last Saturday with some friends & while it was fun to play Quiet Man & Santorini & Waves, the artists before & after us all had their fair share of juvenile love songs about high school crushes / cheesy declarations of love / bad break ups & I just realised that I didn’t have anything like that in my song repertoire. Just songs about cities or fictional creatures. Hmmm.
I suppose that artists like Gold Motel & Bad Bad Hats appeal to me because the songs they write always seem raw & tender & almost Bukowskian in all their juvenility. No frills or poetic anguish to hide behind. Sometimes that summer road trip really feels extraordinary & transcendent, or that break up just plain sucks. Sometimes, the best way to describe what you’re feeling is to write a two-minute, two-chord song, & shout: It Hurts!