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The soundtrack to your pandemic
If it sounds too depressing, try side B. Or, better yet, make your own mixtape.
Welcome to Uncultured, shown in early trials to be 67% effective against just finding something to re-binge on Netflix.
We’ll get to the mixtape in a minute, but if for some reason you just can’t wait, skip to the bottom of this post.
In the meantime, this is the cover.
Now here come the liner notes.
Making a mixtape shouldn’t be stressful.
Just throw a few tracks together on your streaming platform of choice, click “share” and you’re done, right?
That’s what I had in mind when I put out the call to readers a few weeks back asking for the songs that they’ve kept coming back to over this last, long year. What music speaks to the moment for you? And what songs are the antidote to the trauma and monotony of 2020 and early 2021?
People have very different responses to those questions. And very different ideas of what music should be featured on an ultimate pandemic playlist. Who knew?
One friend on Facebook responds with some very on-the-nose titles, including “Mad World,” “Road to Nowhere,” “History Repeating” and “Your Racist Friend.”
Another rings in some classic rock titles that have no discernable connection at all, such as “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” and Elton John’s John Lennon tribute “Empty Garden.” Though they all speak to a certain loss or alienation.
Still another offers up the nu-metal anthem “Bodies” by Drowning Pool.
Not the sort of song that plays well with mixtape neighbours like Dolly Parton and David Byrne.
I also enlisted contributions from other members of the Toronto letterati. Friends of the letter, Get Wit Quick’s Ben Errett and At the End of the Day’s Hannah Sung, serve up Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” and The Weeknd’s “Starboy,” respectively.
“I was into his Super Bowl halftime show,” says Sung of the Weeknd, “and it was an awesome montage of just 100% hits.”
Rapper Cadence Weapon, aka Rollie Pemberton, who peddles his own eclectic tastes over here, has a new track from an upcoming album called “SENNA (feat. Jacques Greene).”
“It's inspired by the legendary F1 race car driver Ayrton Senna,” Pemberton explains. “There was a documentary about him that came out in 2010 that really resonated with me. It's about taking the road less travelled.”
The track lands on Feb. 19. In the meantime he offers “my anthem for 2021 so far: ‘Back Together Again’ by Jean & Trevor, a lovers rock reggae cover of the original by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.”
“I hope to blast it at top volume DJing somewhere like the Garrison when it's all safe for us to be back together again.”
Ben has several playlists of his own, most of which start in a dark place and take you somewhere darker, but I managed to salvage a few gems.
I asked Nobu for a couple picks. He ended up sending me an album’s worth and put them in a Spotify playlist of his own. It’s a well-observed list, but some tracks are so obscure, the artists themselves may never have heard them.
While I want this mixtape to be a collaborative affair, I take my responsibilities as a curator seriously. The mix needs to contain songs I’d be happy to listen and relisten to, so a lot of suggestions didn’t quite make the cut — or I’d make modifications. If I considered a song too overplayed for the mix, I’d replace it with a deeper cut or a cover version.
The final product — three hours, 45 songs — wallows in misery, anger and futility for the first half, then takes a joyful turn in the second, beginning with “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’” by Scissor Sisters. Have a listen:
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion, even if the actual tracks didn’t make the final edit. Got some better candidates? Hit me up in the comments. This is, like everything else, a work in progress.
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See you soon.