Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Foals and the Return of the Retro Mixtape

To many of my generation one can remember fondly the mixtape. With the advent of the cassette recorder in the late 70’s and early 80’s, how we consumed music changed. Not only could we record our albums and send to our friends instead of lending each other cumbersome records, it also allowed for a more individual and intimate way to interact with music. We could tailor what we could listen to more efficiently, placing various songs from multiple albums on to one device, removing the fillers. When Sony created the ingenious Walkman, the tape became portable and listened to anywhere with the aid of earphones.

What the cassette recorder also unintentionally created was the concept of the mixtape. It deviated in intent from the collection of various songs from different artists you cobbled together on one tape for your own consumption. To many people it in some ways became a new form of communication, imbued with its own emotions and intent. It is fair to say that many of us laboured intensely making one for a friend but most importantly to someone you like or love. Through the medium of music we tried to convey what we may or may not have been too shy to say in person or even at times to impress the receiver with your music taste. Considering this, it’s quite surprising that one doesn’t hear much these days about hipsters in Brooklyn making retro mixtapes with cases covered in their own artwork.

There are signs the mixtape is returning and in a more interesting way, albeit utilizing the modern-day CD and mp3 formats. The contemporary music scene is festooned with mix compilations, such as the Fabriclive collection. However the majority of these are composed of mixing songs together, not allowing the full composition from the start to finish. It is rather a soup with all its products glooped-up, held together by a stock of mix machines whereas the traditional mixtape is like a twelve course tasting menu; each little gem to be savoured, consumed in full and work together seamlessly like a fabulous aural journey.

The mixtape also gives one an insight in to its makers’ personalities and what kind of music they listen to. It is with this in mind that K7 Records recently invited some bands to compose their own mixtapes, releasing them in turn. Two bands, including The Rapture have released a mixtape via K7 Records and this month saw the turn of The Foals. Having released two albums of their own in the past number of years, including the Mercury nominated Total Life Forever, the mixtape seems to be something to give to their fans while finishing their next album.

The Foals were known initially for their angular sound that had them being lumped in with the math-rock scene a few years ago but showed a more broader, dare I say it ethereal sound in their most recent album. While their music overtime has taken a path to a more delicate and mature sound, the mixtape will probably be seen as a welcome surprise to many a fan. Conceived as a mix of some of the band’s favorite songs to listen to on the long slugs on tour buses, it is enlightening to hear a strong dance sound on many of the tracks.

The Foals’ mixtape is split in to two in the style of an old cassette, the first part being what you would kind of expect the band to listen to and the second part with a dance edge to it. There is a strong early 90’s bent to the second part where one can see comparisons with the kind of music band member Edwin Congreave plays in his DJ sets. There are some great gems to be found in the second part but like any mixtape the whole thing worked very well together as an ensemble. It took you by the hand and brought you on a lovely exploration of music. The compilation seems almost intentionally designed like a night out, starting with something you would listen to getting ready all the way to what you would be dancing to by the end of the night. For that I give it extra credit as a mixtape.

It is refreshing and somewhat reassuring to this writer with fond memories of the good old days when MTV played music videos and house parties weren’t soundtracked by a dogs meal of random youtube videos to see bands taking on the old school mixtape. It is, like penning a love letter an old art form neglected by technology but nevertheless can still have a relevant place in today’s society. 

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