Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Fandomentals Guest Playlist: DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ

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Much has happened since we interviewed DJ Sabrina last October. The release of her sprawling masterwork, Charmed, has lead to a wave of much deserved acclaim and visibility for the artist. We are delighted to publish a suitably epic guest playlist from the DJ Sabrina herself, replete with her own interpretations of and connections to the tracks.

Some entries have been edited lightly for clarity.

DJ Seinfeld – Time Spent Away From U

I’d always been a fan of Chicago House, but after Aphex Twin finally released the Caustic Window LP, I wanted to really figure out how to get a sat-on-cassette type sound with the late-80’s acid sound. I made a couple of tracks in mid-2014 and didn’t think much more of it, but then when I heard Time Spent Away From U on HypeM, I was inspired to have another go at it. I don’t think the first few tracks I made were particularly Chicago House-y or lo-fi house-y, though.

DJ Boring – Winona

Love the production, mixing and arrangement – everything about it sounds like it was made 20 years earlier (even the FM-synth sounds) and this track heavily influenced the first bunch of DJSTTDJ tracks I created. All the Beautiful Things That You Do was a sort of follow-up to this, but I wanted to take the music into a less minimal place and use a similar sort of spoken-word part that had more of a motivating, anthemic edge to it.

Janet Jackson – Young Love

Incredible funk-pop, beautiful breathless vocals, amazing groove in a verb-drenched disco room. One of her all-time greatest.

Bon Iver – Beth/Rest

I’d always loved 80’s ROMplers, but this track pushed me to finally figure out which sounds triggered that nostalgia. It proved that fever-dream/sleep-synapse versions of late-80’s/early-90’s pop music is possible to make unironically.

The Avalanches – Live At Dominoes

I’ve loved this song since the album was released; it’s one of the greatest songs of all time on the greatest album of all time. It’s impossible to imagine this track being assembled, and now it’s the blueprint for garage-disco-house/psychadelic-rock-funk – an absolutely masterpiece of sampling and production (even if The Avalanches thought they never got the sound in the studio as it was meant to me).

Patrice Rushen – Never Gonna Give You Up

An epic funk-room masterpiece in two parts, this track has drums that fold up as the track gets longer and a tragic vocal performance. It’s tearfully powerful, an all-time great.

Crowded House – Something So Strong

A legendary track. The synth chime part in the outro is one of the greatest ideas in rock-pop music history.

Fatboy Slim – Santa Cruz

The greatest build-up in the history of dance music, this always inspires my structuring – especially with the riff’s unexpected, euphoric, triumphant emergence from the distant depths of a low-pass filter.

The Chemical Brothers – Where Do I Begin

Perfect combination of nice and nasty, sweet and sour, the two extremes working in perfect harmony. This track blew me away when I was a kid, and it still blows me away. It’s impossible to imagine it not blurring directly into Private Psychadelic Reel.

Daft Punk – High Fidelity

An incredible feat of proto-glitch-hop, brash punk, pounding 4-to-the-floor and sidechained minimalism, Daft Punk managed a verse/bridge/chorus structure without relying on any traditional methods of composition or production. A cure.

Lemon Jelly – Come

A true late-night-drive chillout classic, Come combines studio layered acoustics with a sample that asks more questions than it answers. Come is the last lullaby ever sung, an underrated gem whose true genius lies in a climax built around a 1-4 chord structure that simplifies itself down to a single root chord.

Genesis – Living Forever

Programmed jazz brushes that break into live drums, amazing wavestation synth solo and a warm-up for the final showdown result in a track that’s equally beautiful and unsettling. Perfection.

Genesis – Fading Lights

A swan song for all swan songs, this track contains a powerhouse instrumental section that pays tribute to the band’s previous instrumental sections. It’s also a showcase for the Korg Wavestation and a stone-walled drumroom. Fading Lights is pentatonic bliss in vector-synth heaven.

Fleetwood Mac – Sisters Of The Moon

There are three versions of this on the Tusk remaster: one has an even more beautiful melody on the middle-8, one has an incredible solo, and all are incredible. The drumming is amazing and plays back-2-front at times (as usual with Mick Fleetwood). It’s so perfectly syncopated with the interval riff.

Whitney Houston – Lover For Life

Amazingly smooth with that slightly-grainy production, Lover for Life also features a melody develops incredibly, especially in the second verse. It also has genius adlibs in the second pre-chorus. It’s my personal favorite of hers.

Christine McVie – The Challenge

This track has the most perfect guitar solo ever – every note is exactly what it should be, and every chord beneath accentuates the perfection. A minimal drum part with offbeat interplay guides the beauty. It’s breathtaking.

Jai Paul – Jasmine

DAB-radio-style drop-outs in exactly the right places, vocals drowned in non-linear reverb…too much has already been said about this legendary album so I won’t repeat old sentiments.

Daryl Stuermer – Wherever You Are

Pure beauty from start to finish and note-perfect in every way. The combination of gentility, blazing speed, serenity and euphoria makes this a treasure.

The Streets – Empty Cans

An absolute genius, Mike Skinner is an amazing voice actor (something I’ve never seen him credited for) and every thought and feeling is perfectly conveyed in his phrasing. Somehow he managed to take anger and paranoia – two sides of the speaker’s psyche – and flip them 180 degrees in the track’s second half. Best heard as part of the album in sequence.

Malcolm McLaren – Soweto

An unlikely emotional combination of township jive and dance instruction, this track’s synth playing style isn’t quite the style South African pop had at the time (not even Graceland did the synths quite like this). However, Duck Rock was the original blueprint for continuous hip-hop radio album sequencing.

Phil Collins – Both Sides Of The Story

One of the finest drum riffs of all time with one of the most inspired ideas for an outro – synth bagpipes and sampled fuzz guitar – Both Sides is a legendary one-man showdown of Korg 01/W FD and home recording.

Eric B. & Rakim – I Know You Got Soul (The Double Trouble Remix)

This is one of the earliest songs I ever listened to in my life (since I was about 5 years old). It laid down the groundwork for some of my favorite production and arrangement ideas. The Jackson 5 sample weaves in and out under one of the greatest eighties rap vocalists ever, the penultimate (final on the edit) verse culminates with the rap finally layering over the top of the recurring sample, and there’s an excellent quick stab scratch on the concluding hook lyric. A masterpiece.

Elvis Costello x Burt Bacharach – The Sweetest Punch

There are so many amazing songs to pick from both of these beasts of songwriting, so I’ll just make it easy and pick this one. Painted From Memory is an incredible album with an antepenultimate closer of beauty, power and simplicity. Burt’s integral one-note/interval piano comps are some of the best I’ve ever heard – true minimalistic genius. Bells one the outro and trumpet odd-even-ing the final melody make this an insanely good arrangement.

Moby – Find My Baby

For once, Moby got it perfect. A flawless arrangement and one of THE most inspiring ideas for a finish of overlapping vocal loops (I stole it for This Is For The Lovers), bedroom-blues slide guitar arrangement and an unexpected phrygian-eqsue pre-outro; I need to include this just for it’s sheer ingenuity.

Bee Gees – Paradise

The Bee Gee’s have far too many songs I could pick, but I’ll go with this – one of their best examples of sleep-cry music. Sleep-cry is where you dream of a song so impossibly beautifully written that you wake up feeling like you’ve been crying in your dream, and in fact you were. Maybe you woke up crying too. Its melody, chord sequence, arrangement and performance is enough to make you tear up a little just thinking about it now, but when you awoke you couldn’t remember how it went. It’s gone forever in a brief glimpse into the dimensional void of sleep. Thankfully, this one made it out.

Ratau Mike Makhalemele – Slow Drive

A South Aftrican pop classic, this track has an amazing bassline, chorused guitar and beautiful brass melody – it’s definitely a standard.

Badly Drawn Boy – Slient Sigh

The final melody on piano and sample strings is always a huge inspiration, coming out of nowhere and fading into oblivion.

Prince – Little Red Corvette

As everyone’s favorite, this track is too irresistible to not include. With a flawless, perfect arrangement, not a melody note out of place, an impeccable solo, and almost nothing repeated without a subtle change, this is one of Prince’s absolutely immaculate pieces.

Prince – Still Waiting

A truly genius minimal drum part, this track is on one of the greatest-mixed and recorded albums of all time to rival Steely Dan. Often overlooked, this is a gorgeous country-pop track from Prince’s ultimate crossover album.

Hanson – Love Somebody To Know

Again, too many incredible tracks to choose. The demo version of this is incredible too. Sunnyside-up pop from their last stop before indie-hood, this track is a marvel of A-list pop producer songwriting collaboration and raw-neat production – an unsung hero.

J Dilla – Time: The Donut Of The Heart

All I Do Is Think Of You was always a little too hammy before Dilla sampled it and put it right. This is a synaptic-edit, alien-pop chop-up, chillout and punk at the same time. It’s truly awe-inspiring.

J Dilla – Airworks

To repeat the previous sentiment, Airworks is both relaxing and shocking. It features vocals that occasionally leap out of the painting’s frame to push you back so you can enjoy the canvas from further away. The raw energy and hypnotic beauty is incomparable.

Britney Spears – Lucky

A culmination of Cheron’s best princess-ballad ideas in a pop-strut classic, majored 3 chords make for Abba-esque dramatic beauty. Our protagonist is both tragic and dependent over a flawless melody and arrangement.

Bruce Springsteen – Walk Like A Man

A true sleep-cry masterpiece built on almost nothing besides Linn 9000 and M1. A jarringly morose and despondent performance juxtaposes perfectly with the bitter-sweetness of the music and the aeolian cadence before the outro. A bedroom-pop classic.

Backstreet Boys – As Long As You Love Me

A curiosity, two versions of this track were released. The unfinished version ended up on the actual album and the final arrangement showed up everywhere else. The track also has an unsettlingly eerie lyric set to pretty-pop tranquility. With a beautiful alternate canon IV-iii-ii-V substitution and adlibs from heaven, this is the BSB’s finest hour.

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens – Mme Ngwana Walla

There are so many amazing tracks of theirs to choose, and I’ve always been in love with the beauty/fun and happy/soul of township jive and South African pop. This is an endlessly catchy groove of interweaving melodies, non-repeating parts, and rehearsed improvisation – gorgeous.

Chely Wright – Till I Was Loved By You

Country-pop perfection. This track is the best distillation of every 3 minute country-rock classic broken down into its most effective and perfect parts – and it’s showcased in 2 minutes and 59, no less. Pure Nashville magic.

Stevie Nicks – Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind

This is a song that goes exactly the way you want it to go, the sort of song you hear in a dream one night and can’t remember. A lost gem on one of her many lost gem albums with not a note out of place.

Cher – One By One

Perfectly performed, arranged and written, One by One is pop rock at its finest. It’s an unabashed lust-letter for anyone who ever yearned – a ballad with legs, prodigious.

Lisa Loeb – Stay

A perfect song structure, a dynamic melody, and early-90’s piccolo snare – what’s not to love? Lyrics bounce between stream-of-conscious, hypothetical poeticism and real-time conversation. Amazing.

Teenage Fanclub – Fallen Leaves

Incredible chord-sequence riff. The outro has inspired me countless times.

Teenage Fanclub – Flowing

Ditto – the outro directly inspired The Dream.

Squarepusher – Greenways Trajectory

Where to start choosing Squarepusher tracks? Go Plastic is without a doubt his best album ever, and in my opinion, the greatest 34th Century Pop/beat-tonal/granular/glitch IDM album ever, so I had to choose one track. But really you need to listen to the entire album to do it service. This is one of my personal favorites, an absolute workout. Richard D. James described this album as “smooth”, and I can’t think of a better word to use. The middle nods to The Rockafeller Skank.

Norman Brown – Come Closer To Me

A smooth jazz beauty featuring nineties backing-vocal legends Bridgette Bryant and Lynne Fiddmont-Linsey (who also arranged their parts), this track features one of the most addictive guitar tones I’ve ever heard in smooth jazz. It’s a true night-driving classic.

Kid Creme – Don’t Stop My Roots

Flawless engineering and a perfect sample make for an immaculate example of disco house.

Santos – Steel Metal

I always loved the fuzz guitar build-up, its harmonics rising out of the low-pass filter – unexpected and soulful and working perfectly against the established pedal point. This is the blueprint of rock-house.

Paul Simon x Boyo Boys – Gumboots

Gumboots was always my favorite on an amazing cross-section of eighties South African pop music, an outsider’s interpretation yielding interesting results. This track has all of the soul, power and beauty jive music is legendary for in a bite-sized piece. Breathtaking.

Doves – There Goes The Fear

As a kid, I always loved the video morphing into a carnival as the track effortlessly blends from indie-pop-rock into Batucada. This directly influenced Victory.

Mr Oizo – Flat Beat

If it hadn’t been for this song, I may not be making music today. This was the #1 music video on TV that week when I was a kid when the whole country was simultaneously listening to the most minimalistic pop record ever made. It made me want to grow up to be like Flat Eric. Soulful, dissonant, danceable, effortless. The whole album is a masterpiece – go check it out.

Brian Eno – 1/1

So ahead of its time it’s unreal, 1/1 is the original standard for ambient, featuring piano loops, pitch modulation, synthesis, tape-desk sampling and magnitude. It’s an incredible listen as an album. Start here and just keep going. Tip: Listen to 8-minutes of 2/1 heaven. Then, as it hangs for an eternity in silence before 2/2 comes back in with suspended minor melancholy, 2/1 surprises us again with its astonishing return.

Toto – Turn Back

A prog-pop-rock masterpiece. Toto isn’t known for their progressive rock music, but their first three albums are their best and Turn Back is the (almost) concluding part of an epic trio. The arp synth intro is incredible, as well as its subtle return briefly in the first chorus.

Michael Jackson – P.Y.T.

My favorite track on Thriller, P.Y.T. features stunning Rod Temperton disco-funk songwriting, Quincy Jones production and Bruce Swedien engineering. It’s an effortless, symphonic danceroom rock jam with an insanely genius outro with recorded-fast vocal callbacks.

One Direction – Little Black Dress

Hard time picking just one 1D song, but LBD is probably the best example of everyone’s strengths. It’s a track that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Rick Springfield’s 70’s albums. Incredible.

The Strokes – The Modern Age

I’ve been a fan of this album since it was released. It’s a perfect garage-rock album with an absolutely awe-inspiring minimal gem as its second track. Soulful energy, symphonic, soaring songwriting and timeless engineering – a classic.

The Jacksons – Good Times

A beautiful soul-ballad with tender vocals and wonderful harmonies. A pure delight.

Volcano Choir – Tiderays

Fuzz-hammond-post-cab, demo-vowels-to-lyrics-via-translation-software, ambient-song-with-pop-structure-and-length, delayed-Bruce-Hornsby-piano-sus-chords-on-upright-not-grand, ping-pong-guitar, virtually-no-lower-bass-freqs, guitar-play-along-to-vocal-on-last-chorus. PURE BRILLIANCE.

Murphy’s Radio – Hippo

Exceptional math-rock, Murphy’s Radio’s self-titled record is insanely good. Beautiful synth call-backs in chorus, crazy transient drum mixing, smooth as marble.

Camp Cope – Done

Thomo’s parts are pure genius (and always tuned and mixed incredibly), always syncopated to crazy standards. Kelso’s lead bass dominates the music, while GMaq’s upfront lyrics make a strong impact. The song’s melodies develop from start to finish, never to repeat themselves. The track has an amazing structure, power-vocal-cords, emo-but-screamo-but-emo, and a final chorus with back-to-back hooks. Tearful.

Dinosaur Jr. – What If I Knew

Paired with an amazing melody and riff, J Mascis’s voice floats gently yet powerfully on top of the blown-out-eardrums-but-still-blasting background. The outro is genius: 1-1-2-2-1-1-2-2-1 barely-there melody repetitions over a turned-down fuzz solo before it comes to the front of stage. This is completely unique, euphoric rock.

Liz Phair – Go West

A masterpiece with immaculate production, genius lyrics and melody, and a perfect arrangement. One of her absolute best tracks. Sidenote: Speed Racer and California from the GirlySound demos are also outstanding.

Liz Phair – Support System

Akin to God Only Knows, this has a perfect pop song structure and melody development. Its sample-and-hold synth, clean-n-blunt electric, dives in and out of the track. Legendary.

Thin Lizzy – Bad Habits

One of Thin Lizzy’s best riffs ever, Bad Habits features severely delayed 4th-note vocals creating a counter melody out of itself. The guitar is placed just out of the front of the mix. With gorgeous drumming, a gorgeous solo, and a spine-tingling breakdown (delay still on vocals!) before the suprising drum fill, this is a forgotten gem on a forgotten album.

Daft Punk – Digital Love

With one of the greatest guitar solos of all time from a synthesiszer, too much has already been said about this classic. It has a classic sample, classic kick drum mixing, classic filter…the list goes on.

Blaque – 808

With beautiful vocals, an incredible bassline, brilliant telephone-callbacks, excellent Rhodes in the bridge, and a laugh on the outro (all songs with laughs on the outro are good songs), 808 is masterful.

Shanks & Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate

A snare drum that still eludes me after 20 years, Sweet Like Chocolate is another track that inspired me to make music. It’s an incredibly unique take on the two-step UK-garage of the day, simultaneously minimal and detailed. Pure brilliance.

Burt Bacharach – This Guy’s In Love With You

A technical feat of songwriting, this track has all of the classic Bacharach maneuvers: mVII-to-suspended-III-to-to-natural-VI, a minor V chord (fake II chord) to emulate lydian mode as a tonic key modulation, and then a minor VII chord (fake III chord) to emulate mixolydian mode as tonic key modulation. Noel Gallagher’s favorite song ever. Absolute genius.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Music Gets The Best Of Me

I’ve loved this since it was released. It’s a disco-house-soul-funk masterpiece with an incredible bridge and chorus. The bassline is a floating, hanging piece of genius. Incredible.

Vanessa Carlton – A Thousand Miles

With beautiful chord inversions and an incredible third verse with repeat lyrics and a brief synth part, this song is a standard-setting masterpiece.

Jessica Simpson – I Think I’m In Love With You

I Think I’m In Love With You works beautifully around its amazing John Mellencamp sample. The radio version features an amazing trimming of parts before its end. A true wonder.

Bill Bruford – One Of A Kind (Part One and Two)

This features one of the greatest Fusion solos of all time by one of the greatest guitarists that ever existed. This track has tremendous drum work and a euphoric climax. Mesmerizing.

Kate Bush – Cloudbusting

Drums come powerhousing in and drop off suddenly in the second verse to leave the vocal completely alone and innocent. Dramatic, beautiful magic.

Kate Bush –  And Dream Of Sheep

A spectacular end to a flawless first side of a pioneering album. Every track from the start of the album until this piece to be listened to in sequence to truly appreciate the unique feeling and awesome power Kate Bush has.

Keith Jarrett – As Long As Your Living Yours

So much talent in one piece of music. This contains some of the greatest piano comps of all time at 0:50-0:55, 4:34-4:41, 4:48, 5:47, but don’t just skip to them – make sure to listen in sequence. Keith Jarrett’s effortless just-trying-something-out, keep-recording style, octave jumping and country forths juxtapose euphorically with back-to-front drum licks and a solid, stable saxophone hook. Complete genius.

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah (Live In London)

The Hammond solo on this version of the track is without a doubt my favorite organ solo of all time – it sounds possessed.

Reba McEntire x Vince Gill – The Heart Won’t Lie

Perfect in every sense with not a note out of place. Tear-inducing vocal performances and genius melody/chord structure make this one of country rock’s all-time finest pieces of music.


Leo Sayer – Rely On Me

Rely On Me features one of the greatest pop guitar solos, flawless melody structure and adlibs, pristine SR-16 drums, live strings and genius outro chord substitutions.

Barbara Dickson – Only Seventeen

One of producer Alan Tarney’s most beautiful dreamwave-adult-contemporary tracks, this is a beautiful farewell to his former production and writing style before his wave hello to electro-rock.

Groove Armada – Jeanerette’s Groove

Groove’s finest track, Jeanerette’s Groove structures its sample in an absolutely genius way. There’s also studio brass and a live drum-solo sample that grooves out of the funk and stays for the remainder of the track like a unexpected visitor that works with the established piece perfectly. Yet, it never resolves to sounding conventional. This influenced many of my tracks.

Internet Club – Globes

Hypnotic beauty, Globes is one of IC’s best, powerful and dampened. A mantra, a treat.

Vektroid – Mango/Fuji

Dreamcast magic with tropical vibes and Ecco the dolphin. Awesomely punchy hi-res mixing from a legend.

Jay Electronica – Renaissance Man

This track puts J Dilla’s Marvin and the Fam to amazing use. It has an incredible style and vibe, featuring a perfect use of The Matrix. It’s absolutely magical.

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