Deep Voices #41: Happy music

almost stupidly positive

Deep Voices #41 on Spotify

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Earlier, when my son was taking a nap, I wrote a short essay, meant to be an intro for this issue of the newsletter, about how I was sad this week, about the mechanics of capitalism abutting the life of a family, about my instincts to simmer in misery rather than escape its constant low boil, about blah blah blah. Then Renzo woke up and he was a little cranky and so my wife said, “Why don’t you give him some milk?” which was a great idea. As I was walking to the kitchen with him, I started to sing a silly song in his voice. It has one line. “I’m gonna get this DILF to give me a bottle of milk.” In between repetitions of the line, I kissed him on the cheek twice, like a little percussion break. He finished the milk and his crankiness vanished and that made me feel pretty good.

The one takeaway from this trashed essay I do want to convey is that I did ever so slightly try to change my sad mood by embracing the week’s warm weather. I’d been listening to a lot of death metal but one I was outside and I remarked to myself that it was a beautiful sunny day, which reminded me of the song “Sunny Day”' by the band Pigbag, so I put it on. A burst of horns, the song is almost stupidly positive. That song is on this week’s playlist, alongside the uplifting music I’ve been listening to the last few days, largely disco and house. Many of these songs are the cornerstones of my record collection, songs that I’ve loved for a long time but don’t get the rotation that maybe they should. 

I don’t always feel bad, but upon reflection it always seems like that’s the case. Be it in writing, therapy, or, as is pertinent to this newsletter, choosing music to mirror an overarching mood. Consider this playlist 60 minutes of changing the narrative in real time.

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Playlist notes:

  • Cloud One is the pinnacle of disco to me. You just don’t get better than this. The project of producer Patrick Adams, he took the fundamentals of disco and freaked them. There’s a wiggly synth sound that is his signature and it shows up across all of his productions, some of which are blissful escapism, others which are wound up and funky. “Flying High” is both. From 1981, it encompasses a bit of the pitter patter rhythm of early rap with the cadence of its digitized nonsense vocals before leaning into a deeply hand-clappable rhythm. The squiggles of the synth, and the processed vocals have always made me associate this song with outer space. “Flying highhhh,” are the only actual words, and it sounds like two aliens are singing it while joyriding across the galaxy. Note to old school DC readers, I bought this record at Capital City Records in maybe 2003. Really wish I could go back in time and shop there with some disposable income and 18 more years of musical knowledge. Anyway, an unstoppable song. 

  • Tevo Howard is a relentlessly reliable producer from Chicago whose music spans house and disco. “Into the Groove - House Mix” is a solo instrumental track but has the feel of a real band, with the drums sitting in the pocket, but not tightly.Some of his tracks do have vocals, notably those of his father Rick “Poppa” Howard, and they’re always a bit off kilter in a truly beautiful way. Everything he does feels human. Sometimes I think electronic music feels emotional or ethereal but it’s much more difficult to just feel like it’s sentient. I’ve always thought his productions actually sounded a lot like James Murphy’s. I realize this will not be a selling point for some folks.

  • Speaking of James Murphy, this mix opens up with a track from his label DFA, 2004’s “Sunplus” by J.O.Y. Around that time, just after the peak of the Rapture and before LCD claimed the label’s narrative, DFA put out a series of adventurous and weird records that have largely been forgotten. J.O.Y. features Yoshimi from the Boredoms on vocals, kinda scatting over a big funky drum beat and two organ sounds: one that is very close to the noise of dialing the phone and another that sounds like a bell. A guitar shows up later, like it was late to the party, and then there’s a ’60s-style freakout/breakdown. No idea why no one cares about this because it is super playful and infectious. You can (and should!) buy a copy for a dollar right now. 

  • If you ignored the lyrics from Ace Spectrum’s “Live and Learn” you’d not know it was anything other than a steady chugging soul disco track. But as the song moves along, you notice touch of mourning to the strings. That’s because the song is about a breakup, told from outside the relationship. Towards the end, its point of view pivots, with the narrator becoming the woman’s new boyfriend, conscious of his need to treat her better. All well and good. The weird thing is, though, the song ends with the singer shouting, with absolutely no context, as the music fade, “Ham hocks! Collard greens!” Was he trying to order lunch in the studio? I I feel like the lyrics could have been about the Lizzie Borden axe murders and this would still turn it around. 

  • If there are any true notes of sadness this week, they come from the closing track, Pharoah Sanders’ “Moonchild.” I’ve included it as something of a comedown from the rest of the playlist’s sugar high. Overall, “Moon Child” has a pretty chill vibe, though it’s slow, not typically the happiest musical pace. I think the song is peaceful, not somber. Sanders is best known as a saxophonist, but he sang frequently throughout his career, as he does here, with an eye towards astrology: “The moon in cancer! Moon child!” The song is a little sweet, a little sexy, a little smooth. And a little sad, too. But that sadness gets canceled out by its other moods. Or maybe it gets balanced. That feels truer.

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