I was a teenage skater, which back in the eighties meant I didn’t meet many girls. But there was one – Brynn was what we affectionately called a “Skate-Betty.” She stood out from the others with her sun-bleached bowl-cut, hi-top Vans, a flannel tied around her waist and a warm California smile that gave me the courage to ask her out. We instantly bonded on music. She was into many of the same Skate Rock bands that I listened to like JFA and Agent Orange. But she also turned me on to stuff I’d never heard before like Voivod and Reagan Youth.
Do you remember the first mix-tape you made for a crush? What about the opposite – a mix that you curated following a heart-bludgeoning break-up? As we approach Valentine’s Day, it’s easy for me to flashback to the very first amorous mix that I recorded…and my first break-up tape. Allow me to share a few of the lessons that I learned from building those mixes.
One of my favorite things is to hear a band for the first time without knowing a single thing about them, not even their name. It’s like having someone put a blindfold on me, lead me somewhere, then pull it off. I have to figure out where I am sonically, how I got there, what’s around the corners and behind the closed doors. It’s part detective work, part speculation, part historical research, part forensic analysis. The warm distortion on the drums in the intro sounds like analog tape; this song might be from the 60s or 70s. The fast, downstroke strumming and grit on the guitars is influenced by punk, but when the vocalist comes in, her full, smooth voice and abstract lyrics give it a more modern feel. The breathy synths that enter on the chorus sound like a tongue-in-cheek reference to New Wave, placing the song in the contemporary indie-pop realm. But I’m only a minute-forty-five into a four-minute song. Anything could happen. A scratchy, atonal viola solo could tilt the whole thing further away from the mainstream. Maybe when I go to look up the band, I’ll discover they’re from the 80s, in which case the synthesizer thing and the intentionally dirty production would be revealed as forward-thinking. As much information as I pick up along the way, I won’t really know anything until I’ve heard everything. …