NEEDLE EXCHANGE 017: An Exclusive Mix By … ARMS

A few years back, there emerged a promising Brooklyn band named the Harlem Shakes. It released a solid debut of jangle rock titled Technicolor Health, gained momentum and buzz by touring relentlessly, and just when it seemed that the Shakes were breaking out:they broke up.

All the while, guitarist Todd Goldstein was working on a bedroom-pop side project called ARMS, which has already released an album (Kids Aflame) and a free EP. With that in mind and a remix EP (featuring such major acts as Passion Pit and Tokyo Police Club) on the way, we asked Goldstein to serve up a special Needle Exchange mix, from Arthur Russell to Aphex Twin, Kate Bush to BARR.

“I wasn’t actually trying to create a mood,” explains Goldstein. “Although, if I had to identify one, it would be either ‘naively heroic’, or ‘a little misty’.”

Scritti Politti, “Perfect Way”
Scritti Politti made (and still make, actually – their new stuff is fantastic) pop music that sounds like a filthy-rich person’s apartment in the ’80s. Everything sounds great, everything is exactly where it should be, the hooks are huge and melodic and shiny. It’s devastatingly funky, too, despite the fey white-english-dude vocals. It’s perfect pop music — almost too perfect, which is why it creeps me out a little, as well.

BARR, “The Song Is the Single”
A friend of mine once described BARR’s Brendan Fowler as a sort of Ferris Bueller character, talking to the camera and pulling the curtain back on the idea of rock-singer-as-protagonist. I really appreciate this weirdo’s sincerity and wordiness, either way. He really puts himself out there and doesn’t care that his music is a little embarrassing, ultimately. Kinda gets me when he chants “I just want to hold someone”.

Kate Bush, “The Big Sky”
I will never get sick of Kate Bush – her songs are anthemic but nuanced and odd, her voice is magnificent, and she creates these unearthly sound-worlds for her music that just don’t resemble anything else. Cartoon-opera backing vocals, gigantic acoustic guitars, super-fast claps, and some pretty impressive/terrifying caterwauling over the outro makes this one of my favorite KB tunes.

The Verlaines, “Lying in States”
This is a band from New Zealand who I believe were involved in the whole Flying Nun Records, Kiwi-rock thing that gets nerds excited. But man, this is just great music — it’s like Husker Du with clean-toned guitars. So much energy, excellent songwriting…and screamed harmonies? Who screams a harmony? I also appreciate music this aggressive and excited-sounding that still has the presence of mind to pour reverb all over everything. Sounds like jangly punk rock in a barn.

Lusine, “Two Dots”
Full disclosure, I wrote the press release and artist bio for this guy. It’s a day job, what you gonna do? Still, this is one stunning piece of sound-design and songwriting and beat-smithery and all that. Jeff McIlwain is a producer’s producer — the sheer level of detail in his stuff just makes your head spin. This reminds me a slightly more upbeat cousin of Massive Attack’s great “Teardrop”. Lovely singing, tons of pretty blips and bleeps, and all expertly organized into a pop song. Bravo, mister Lusine.

Thunder & Lightning, “Animal Space”
This is from the as-yet-unreleased album Kangaroo Court by Thunder & Lightning, aka former Harlem Shakes drummer Brent Katz. Brent was always the most secretly talented out of all of us, i think — his album is truly extraordinary, and i’ve probably listened to it 100+ times since he finished it. It’s impeccably classy, from-another-era pop music, sitting somewhere between Harry Nilsson, Magnetic Fields, and Van Dyke Parks (to my ears). The lyrics are hilarious and touching, the arrangements are tasteful and sophisticated… i could go on forever. Brent wanted me to mention that this recording is unmastered, but can you tell? I can’t. I think it sounds awesome.

The Walker Brothers, “Night Flights”
Scott Walker is a hero to me. This is from his old band, The Walker Brothers’ “comeback” record in the late-’70s, 60% of which is awful because it was written by his “brothers”… but the four opening songs are all Scott’s, and they’re all amazing. This stuff sounds like a more melancholy cousin to Bowie’s Berlin period — it’s another one of those made-up sound-worlds I like so much, all sad synthesizers and Krautrock-y drums. Bless Scott Walker, I just find this stuff impossibly affecting.

Ultra Vivid Scene, “Mercy Seat”
Not much to say about this one except that it’s an excellent song by a 3rd-tier shoegaze one-man band from the late ’80s…. and it’s just a sick tune with great, dreamy production. There’s one odd chord in the chorus that gives me skin-prickles every time.

tUnE-YaRdS, “Real Live Flesh”
I saw tUnE-YaRdS at the Bell House in Brooklyn not too long ago, and it was, no lie, one of the top five live-music performances I’ve seen in my entire life. She builds all of this stuff out of loops on the fly — which is, admittedly, something folks do a lot of these days, but trust me when I say she does it in a much more impressive/dazzlingly musical way — and has this joyous, crazy voice that my brother remarked “sounds like it was passed down from an older talent.” The recordings don’t quite do her live show justice, but this song is still pretty sexy.

Aphex Twin, “Window Licker”
This is, apparently, a bit of a well-worn mixtape classic, but i’m throwing it in here anyway. “Window Licker” just has incredible musical sounds, beautiful noises, a unique integration of vocal samples, and it’s fun to dance to. It sounds like a living thing, too — you can almost hear its insides shifting around, gurgling and whining with the beat.

Arthur Russell, “Arm Around You”
One of my favorites songs ever. The clangy lo-fi drum machine and little pops of keyboard are all you need, they’re the perfect frame for Arthur Russell’s voice, which takes up much of the mix and is so sweet and hopeful that it breaks my heart every time. He coos and sighs and burbles all over this weird propulsive drum track until it ends far too soon. Hear “Arm Around You” at 8am on a warehouse dancefloor after dancing for 10 hours, and you’ll understand exactly how perfect this song can be.