In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.
The mixer: For more than 20 years, John Darnielle has helmed The Mountain Goats, a folk-rock band with an edge. Darnielle is a somewhat enigmatic person whose forte is wordy, smart songs about misfits, lowlifes, and misunderstood characters. His penchant for the weird and lovely is especially evident on Transcendental Youth, The Mountain Goats’ new record, out now on Merge. Knowing Darnielle’s passion for all different kinds of music, including black metal, The A.V. Club gave him a little leeway to make a mix of his choosing, and that’s exactly what he did. It’s better if he explains.
John Darnielle: The idea behind mixtapes for me is that you should get completely lost somehow when you listen, and they should take you somewhere, and you shouldn’t have to wait all day to get there: One drive should do it. I grew up in southern California, and mixtapes, once I finally got a car with a tape deck, were for driving from Claremont to Norwalk, or Norwalk to La Puente, or La Puente to Pomona. They are, for me, one-place-to-another musical propositions. I started this one with the intention of making it Music To Take The Damn Edge Off, but I have spiritual goth tendencies, so it ran off into the dark eventually. It takes about 49 minutes to get there.
Anita Baker, “Lately”
JD: This is the new Anita Baker single. I used to have a white T-shirt on which I’d written the lyrics to “Sweet Love,” all-caps, in Sharpie, in a spiraling crescent sort of shape. That is just how it is with me and Anita Baker.
There’s a moment in the synths here where it’s suddenly a summer night in 1981 at a party somewhere, maybe on a rooftop or maybe on a wooden deck in somebody’s giant back yard, or maybe a much smaller yard, but it just feels big right now. Whose house is this, I don’t know. I just heard about this party from Leslie. Leslie red-glasses? With the Mandraxes? Yeah, her.
And then that water-drop Trem guitar hits, and the stacked backing vocals, and the beat creeps up and the cosmos is, for once, arranged exactly as I want it, and it’s going to stay night until I can stand for it not to be night.
Junior Boys, “Sneak A Picture”
JD: I’m always too close to any A-plus Junior Boys song to say anything about it that doesn’t come off hopelessly indulgent. I don’t think any popular music act has ever described the exact kind of sadness these guys hit, when they do hit it, anyway.
Prince Far I & The Arabs, “Dub To Africa”
JD: I’m sure there are plenty of people who might do more measurable good in the world if they could be brought back from the dead, but heads up: If I get that power, I will revive Michael James Williams, a.k.a. Prince Far I, without even giving it a second thought.
Glen Christensen, “The Friendly Cult”
JD: I don’t know what this is about, and I’d like to keep it that way. I could Google it and probably put the matter to rest, but what kind of fun would that be? Zero fun. Stay friendly, mysterious cult!
Animals As Leaders, “The Price Of Everything And The Value Of Nothing”
JD: It has taken me a very, very long time to embrace the idea of music as escape. More often, music has had a purgative value for me. I like things that make me cry, or help me dig through tunnels, and so on. I have recently learned also to listen to music that transports me to rich places in the imagination. Pretty sure everybody else figured this out years ago. I am a slow learner.
Helios, “Dragonfly Across An Ancient Sky”
JD: I have literally no idea how two songs by this act ended up on my hard drive. It’s totally a placeholder here, filling space between two tracks to make the end of one land in a cool place and the next one pop nicely from the background.
The For Carnation, “A Tribute To”
JD: This is one of those “put this on every mixtape until somebody says, ‘Yes, you are right, this is awesome’” songs. It’s years ahead of its time. When I listen, I want to hunt down bootlegs of the band to hear whether this was as good live as it sounds like it might have been. The For Carnation are or were a hugely underrated band, and probably my favorite of the “S(p)linter” bands. I literally despise myself for that joke, so any hate you give me for it is just extra.
Joni Mitchell, “Let The Wind Carry Me”
JD: It is of no consequence to anybody which Joni Mitchell album is my favorite, but I feel like for Joni lifers, the occasional shifting of the point from one number to another is something we just do. For The Roses is the album that gets the most play from me right now; I’ll put it above Court And Spark without apology, though I don’t think anything can ever top Blue. The ransoming of the captive souls from hell by Christ still ranks a distant second at best behind Blue, and really, I’d have to A/B the ransoming of the captive souls with For The Roses a little more before I could make the final call.