We’ve previously featured San Francisco, CA-based artist John Dylan and today we have the pleasure of promoting him again, as he shared with you a list of some of his TOP dreamy psyche songs. Psychedelic poppy rock, lo-fi, post-rock, harmonic spacey ethereal walls of sound, analog oscillators… some of the ways he labels his own music. Well, whatever the association, all you need to know is that it’s damn good and more than worthy of your time. Check out the playlist and Dylan’s latest offering Open Source Music Volume 2: If I Want You To.
10. The Smashing Pumpkins – “Obscured”
– A b-side, “Obscured” was some of my earliest exposure to the use of “distance” as an instrument. By employing some long-decay stereo reverb, you can place instruments, like the listless, high-octave guitar chimes, and the vocal reverie that starts 2 minutes in, in the “background” of the mix, using its smearing effect as a relief against the more detail-bearing elements like the acoustic guitar and tambourine. Embracing the use of texture and distance and letting the song interact with them as though it were written that way was fascinating to me as a young teenager, for sure.
09. Land of the Loops – “Marshmellow Pillows”
– This album, Puttering About a Small Land, came out around the same time as I was experimenting with creating loops and beats myself, and it embodied a DIY spirit and love for dreamy textures that didn’t eschew songwriting, showing me that indeed there was a place for my aesthetic in the world of digitally-created music. I took inspiration from the rough edges of it and how it was kicking around in Seattle because it was on Up! Records, which worked with some friends bands. “Oh, we could all be doing this!”
There are few things cushier than “Marshmallow Pillows.”
08. Unrest – “So Sick”
– This song is absolutely the sound of me clutching my Trapper Keeper to my chest and walking down the hall of my high school, trying not to be noticed. It’s the first sound of me moving past the loud/quiet/loud gimmick of early 90s grunge music and actually starting to think of things like getting my learner’s permit to drive, and maybe what I liked well enough to maybe do as a job someday. To be honest, grunge was always a little more macho and tortured than I was ever capable of truly being, nevermind that I was too young during its heyday anyway. But the beautiful chime of harmonizing, shiny clean guitars with that high-neck bassline rounding out the interval was clever in this poppy way that I found doable. It was okay to be a little bit softer than the screaming heroin addicts. “I can pull off clever and melodic,” I thought. The comforting sadness of this music was my happy little secret. It was so unassumingly pretty and accessible in a way that was telling me that it was okay to be me.
07. Azusa Plane – “Tycho Magnetic Anomaly and the Full Consciousness of Hidden Harmony”
– Using only his guitar, the wonderful, late Jason DiEmilio, painted abstract, evocative pictures of incredible depth. I was honored to know of him through the tape label scene and appear on some compilations with him (such as Cactus Gum’s Whiskey You’re the Devil CD), and he almost singlehandedly turned me and my dear friend (and the founder of Cactus Gum) Brad Rose, into experimenting with what we called “ambient music.” Brad would ask Jason what in god’s name he was doing to his guitars to make him sound like that because we mostly thought it sounded like keyboards or something. He came back with some pedal recommendations, as I recall — such as the wonderful Boss PS-3, which is capable of both delay and harmonizer effects. I still have mine and use it all the time. Jason committed suicide in 2006. I wish I could’ve told him how his work was so important to me and how obviously ahead of his time he was. His pioneering work is an influence to this day on great “ambient” artists like Noveller, Eluvium, and Microstoria.
06. Do Make Say Think – “Fredericia”
– “Do Makes,” as they call themselves, are to my ears the most lasting of the so-called instrumental post-rock bands, by virtue of employing more eclectic and dynamic arrangements than the staid formula of “buildup, buildup, annnnd CRESCENDO — cue the monophonic reverb-drenched guitar trilling!” Instead, in wonderful songs like “Fredericia,” they build a song around a beat that is somewhere between disco and jazz, performed in perfect synchronization by their two drummers, and on top of that paint beautiful arrangements of interweaving guitars parts constructed of infinite-loop delay and reverse-envelope delay, a hypermelodic and fearless bassline, a horn section, beat drops, beat restarts, and a penchant for keeping you absolutely on your toes from one repetition to the next. It doesn’t rise and fall, it zigs and zags. It’s not a long slog with one big payoff, as the genre might demand — it ducks and weaves, seducing you with a new idea every few moments while the musicians brainstorm out loud with their most vibrant and unusual expressions of beauty. It should be more challenging to like than it is, but their ability to write such melodic and engaging music is the tonic that makes such daring compositions go down smoothly.
05. Black Flag – “Depression”
– The dark side of mental illness and depression doesn’t always take the form of a mopey ass introvert holed up in their bedroom. In my worst bouts with depression as a teenager I was an angry, unknowable person. I had left home when I was 16 and was living with my then-girlfriend in her parent’s basement, having dyed my hair blue and dedicated myself to running a record label, making zines, and making “punk” “music.” All of which was insufferable as it sounds, of course. But turning my lack of commitment to the ways of the world outward, into a rejection, was my best way of coping at the time. Either way, the point of your actions is to self-isolate and comfort yourself, and I wanted to live in a world where ideals were encouraged instead of discouraged. That’s when punk music was there for me, and the community it offered as I worked through my issues, meeting bands, reviewing records for Punk Planet, and affirming my own commitment to creativity and doing it yourself, was absolutely healing and formative. The fact that punk offered songs like “Depression” by Black Flag, which would talk openly about such dark feelings in a frank and unglamorized way, was exactly what I needed.
Got “Depression?” We do not. This song does not. Hit play.
04. Polvo – “Thermal Cupid”
– Unlike the great sounding but more straightforwardly-arranged “Thermal Treasure” on Todays Active Lifestyles, “Thermal Cupid” (the live version that Polvo performed for their Peel Session in 1993) is an absolute marvel of angular and dissonant interlocking guitar work. Reverse-engineering such a performance seems utterly impossible; they are clearly not playing in standard tuning, whole swaths of the transcription would have to just say “(raygun noises intensify),” and there is no accounting for the frequently semitonal bending and whammying techniques being so brilliantly employed. Notable is the fact that they amped up the aggression of the song by several fold, culminating in absolute shrieking vocal intensity and thrashing out on the crash cymbals. But it’s really all about those guitars. As far as I’m concerned, the metalheads who pontificate on optimal guitar technique should listen to this and realize how boring and straightforward their favorite guitar performances are in a world where music like this exists.
03. Godspeed You Black Emperor – “Moya”
– In my whole life I will never hear a more emotional instrumental song by any band. Godspeed taught me not to fear making big statements, not to fear the darkness (or fear talking about it), and how to absolutely overwhelm the listener like a kraken grabbing every limb and enveloping their tiny body inside its mighty tentacles before dragging it into the deep. I get insanely vivid visions when listening to this song. I imagine a run down medieval village being set upon by an invading force on horseback that easily overtakes the poor inhabitants, burning the meager structures with torches. I see a trapped mother making a break for it and running out of her burning abode at the crescendo (at 8:25). And the crescendo sustains itself at that intensity, so I even have time to see her in rags, running in slow motion with babe in arms, knowing that to run into the occupied streets is to be tracked down by horse-mounted invaders and killed. Somehow the terribleness and doom of all this is conveyed to me without this band ever saying or singing a word; they only need rely on their ability to conjure the actual motherfucking apocalypse with their instruments.
Check John’s single “(I Can Feel Myself) Getting Over It” and Other New Songs
02. Pie – “U Will B Interred”
– The baked sound of an overloaded cassette 4-track is another aesthetic that results in the smearing of detail that I absolutely adore. Analog pathways respond to oversaturation in ways that people spend a lot of money trying to capture and emulate in DAWs using VST effects. When that overload is combined with spacey guitar and synths and a penchant for glam and drama that belongs on records produced by Bruce Dickinson in the 70s rather than tapes recorded by stoned musicians at home, the result is the ironic but earnest, hilarious but seriously great, tasteless but tasteful world of Pie. When I first encountered them I was both participating in and rabidly consuming music from the tape label scene of the 90s (see: Shrimper, Union Pole, Sonic Enemy, Sing Eunuchs!, Cactus Gum, Catsup Plate, Doormat TX, etc). Pie stuck out as a band that embraced the punk rock ethos of DIY, but also the glitter and vamp of Bowie and Prince, and their ability to cram such grandiosity into such modestly produced recordings consistently astounded me.
01. Landing – “Blue Sky Away”
The gentle cotton candy cloud textures created by the massively under-appreciated dreampop band Landing on this song are so comforting to me. “Blue Sky Away” breathes slowly, floating at a single level of intensity, meditating in a space that is the opposite of pain and anxiety. It ends by simply disintegrating into dual synths that harmonize both with each other and with the note intervals still ringing in the perfec tape-delay tail, which invariably makes me misty-eyed just from how sensually it touches the most tender spot in my inner ear as a music lover.