Icelandic singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds had this to say about coping with Nordic winters: “When it’s dark, what you do is, you light a candle. You play music.” I kept this image in mind while choosing the music for this mix, which includes several of the warmest, coziest voices I know. It also includes several Nordic artists, including Ólöf herself at track 12.
Gaussian Curve, an Italian-Dutch collective, sets the mood for the warm and engaging voices of Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack. This track comes from their only full album as a duo, released in 1972.
I don’t always pay attention to lyrics, and sometimes after I’ve chosen a song for a mix, I realize that the words don’t quite fit the mood I’m after. This has happened before with lyrics by Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl. I had to toss out one of their tracks from a previous mix when I realized that, despite the beautiful vocal and production, she was singing “It’s never gonna be alright”. Ouch! You might think I’ve fallen into the same trap this time: “With your troubled mind, you’re like a goods train running through my life” (I’m assuming that a “goods train” is what we Americans call a freight train – big and noisy). However, I think you’ll find that her concern for the person with the troubled mind is comforting indeed.
I recently revisited my Pat Metheny Group albums looking for midtempo tracks that would fit into a mix. I was pleased to find that one of the best has a convenient title for a winter mix, “Spring ain’t here”! Next up is the first Nordic selection. Kommode is a side project of Eirik Glambek Bøe, best known for being half of Norwegian duo Kings Of Convenience. In that group, Eirik is the quiet, smooth crooner to Erlend Øye’s hyperactive nerd.
Thanks to WBRU’s Exposure for introducing me to Japanese Breakfast, a.k.a. Philadelphian Michelle Zauner. Her 2017 album Soft Sounds from Another Planet is top quality from start to finish. Two more Nordic artists follow, Yagya from Iceland and The Legends from Sweden. The Legends is one of many projects involving prolific songwriter, musician, singer, and label head Johan Angergård.
Paul Buchanan, the singer for The Blue Nile, always has a cozy effect on me, although a hint of melancholy is usually present as well. (OK, sometimes more than a hint!) Their best-known music was made in the 1980s, but they maintained high standards through to their final album in 2004. This track is from that album, called High.
If instruments can be considered cozy, I’d say the vibraphone (a.k.a. vibes) and the harp should certainly be on the list. They’re represented here by two of the greatest on their respective instruments, Milt Jackson and Dorothy Ashby.
I wanted one of my Nordic selections to actually be sung in a Nordic language. I chose “Barn av en istid” (Child of an ice age), another appropriate title, by Det Vackra Livet (The Beautiful Life). Det Vackra Livet is a sort-of-alter ego for Swedish band The Mary Onettes.
I don’t usually find room in my mixes for my beloved 80s guitar bands and their various offshoots. However, for this mix, a song called “Candleland” by one of my heroes was hard to ignore. Echo And The Bunnymen is one of the mightiest 80s guitar bands in my world. If you know Ian McCulloch’s voice from songs like “Do it clean” or “The killing moon”, you might not think of it as exactly cozy; dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that his rich baritone can also be very soothing. “Candleland” is the title song from his first solo album, released in 1989. He gets help from Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins, who adds her unique ethereal magic, as she did at the end of my Spring 2011 mix.
Listen to this mix at Mixcloud.
1. Gaussian Curve – Ride
2. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – When love has grown
3. Everything But The Girl – Troubled mind
4. Pat Metheny Group – Spring ain’t here
5. Kommode – Shoes
6. Isley Brothers – For the love of you
7. Omara Portuondo – La sitiera
8. Japanese Breakfast – Road head
9. Yagya – Crepuscular rays over the horizon
10. The Legends – Smoke and mirrors
11. Dusty Springfield – Who (Will take my place)
12. Ólöf Arnalds – Patience
13. The Blue Nile – I would never
14. Milt Jackson with Ray Brown and Al Aarons – Enchanted lady
15. Tinashe – Aquarius
16. Toco – Minas
17. Dorothy Ashby – Come live with me
18. Det Vackra Livet – Barn av en istid
19. Ian McCulloch with Elizabeth Fraser – Candleland
This mix started taking shape when I revisited the music of Bent, an electronic duo from Nottingham who were active from about 2000 to 2006. For me, they were part of a second wave of artists making intelligent midtempo electronic music and redefining chillout, lounge, or downtempo (pick your favorite description) around the turn of the century. The first wave, in the mid to late 90s, was led by Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Air, and Nightmares On Wax, along with the DJs José Padilla and Stéphane Pompougnac. In addition to Bent, the second wave in the early 2000s included Zero 7, Röyksopp, and Afterlife.
To illustrate my very subjective history lesson, I’ve included one of my favorite Bent tracks, along with two others that remind me of the early 2000s: the opening track by Jimpster and a track by Rinôçérôse. If you’d like to continue the history lesson, all of the artists I’ve mentioned are well represented in my earlier mixes!
Here in 2018, producer/songwriter/DJ Mark Barrott is doing a good job of keeping the turn-of-the-century chillout feeling alive. He has released an impressive amount of music in the 2010s under his own name and with side projects Future Loop Foundation and Talamanca System. I chose a track from the 2016 album by Future Loop Foundation. As a DJ, Mark has the enviable job of soundtracking sunsets at Hostal La Torre in Ibiza, which sounds like a place I’d like to spend all my summer afternoons.
Another DJ at Hostal La Torre is Chris Coco, who was part of the early 2000s wave as a BBC DJ and artist. Besides his sunset soundtracks, Chris hosts a popular weekly show on Mixcloud called Melodica. Pete Gooding, another regular at La Torre, also has plenty of creative mixes online to soundtrack your sunset, wherever it may be.
Jumping back a few decades, Antonio Carlos Jobim appears twice in this mix. I don’t consider that excessive, because I see him as pretty much the godfather of chillout music. The first track is from his 1967 instrumental album, Wave; the second is a sparser, jazzier selection from his 1974 album with Elis Regina. From there, I return to the current decade for the final selection, some tranquil neo-bossa nova by Melbourne producer Tornado Wallace.
Listen to this mix at Mixcloud.
1. Jimpster with Simon Jinadu – State of mind
2. Cassandra Wilson with Fabrizio Sotti – Red guitar
3. Antonio Carlos Jobim – Triste
4. Bibio – Light up the sky
5. Françoise Hardy – Parlez moi de lui
6. Christian McBride & Inside Straight – Uncle James
7. Sade – Nothing can come between us
8. Rinôçérôse – Brian Jones: Last picture
9. Ebo Taylor – Saana
10. Future Loop Foundation – Monika’s summer
11. Wild Nothing – Whenever I
12. Cal Tjader – Moonlight in Vermont
13. Erykah Badu – 4 leaf clover
14. Bent – A ribbon for my hair
15. Héctor Lavoe – Sombras nada mas
16. Chris Rea – Shine, shine, shine
17. Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim – Bonita
18. Tornado Wallace – Healing feeling