This way to happiness
It doesn’t happen all too often that I am at a loss of words. Yes, sometimes I come across an album that will astound me, give me joy, surprise me in the most wonderful way. The paradox here is – the more you know about music, about artists, about what they do and what you can expect, the lower the chance that you will be blown away by something new. Discoveries become less probable.
I have spent decades digging through crates of vinyl, and part of the joy has always been to increase my knowledge, to know a lot about the music I love. In my world, an album like this is virtually impossible. It just doesn’t happen that someone drops a compilation with seventeen pieces of music that I have never heard, that I look at a list of fifteen artists and I only know two – and then love every single track.
How is this possible? How can such beautiful music exist without me having even the slightest clue about it? How can I know absolutely nothing about these wonderful people? Where have they been all these years? I really don’t get it. None of the songs on this compilation come from a genre of music that I am not familiar with. They all sound like they should have been part of my life since forever.
Of course, there is an explanation. It’s the concept that Rakei has chosen for his contribution to the LateNightTales series. In his own words: “The main idea was to create a certain atmosphere, but also to help some of my favorite collaborators and buddies to give their songs a little push out into the world.” This is not an entirely new approach to the series as other artists have given these kinds of pushes to artists they thought were brilliant. One of the main catalysts of Khruangbin’s rise to fame was the inclusion of their beautiful “A Calf Born In Winter” on Bonobo’s LateNightTales mix.
But a whole album full of discoveries? And every track an absolute gem? That’s like hitting seventeen hole-in-ones in a row. It just doesn’t happen.
Well, sometimes it does. And even if this will lead to a pretty long review, I will give them all a bit of an introduction.
I’m not sure whether Rakei did this on purpose, starting the mix with a track by Fink, the veteran of the crowd with a long list of publications, all of them on or supported by Ninja Tune. “Covering Your Tracks” probably is the least surprising track – and that’s anything but a minus. It just lets you expect a mix that sort of follows the path that Bonobo or the Cinematic Orchestra have taken on previous installments.
And then the next song already takes a very classy turn towards soulful contemporary Jazz, adding a touch of warmth to the contemplative mood introduced by Fink, and this warmth will only increase over the course of the mix. “Mulago” is a great selection from Alfa Mist’s 2019 album “Structuralism” and features fine work by Johnny Woodham on Trumpet.
One of my absolute heroes on this album is Charlotte Day Wilson – her deeply soulful and spiritual “Mountains” is simply beautiful and will let anyone fall back in love again with R&B that might have lost touch with it after decades of always the same-same. The slight application of folksy and electronic elements fit wonderfully in a rendition that effortlessly weaves back and forth between lavishness and simplicity.
Rakei shows a lot of touch lining up the tracks, keeping thing close to the heart while varying the elements that locate the songs there. The soul of Charlotte Day Wilson is followed by slightly artrockish playfulness delivered by an Australian band called Moreton (backed up by Rakei himself) in a song that somehow manages to mix M83, Múm and Patrick Watson (on his second album).
And then there’s Puma Blue, the solo project of Jacob Allen, a truly gifted singer from South East London. A beautiful silky high voice accompanied by nothing but a bluesy guitar, and we wonder how a guy from London is able to let us think of Billie Holiday. “Untitled” is close to unbelievable. Or Connan Tant Hosford from New Zealand, a.k.a. Connan Mockasin, a guy that looks like a very young and very blond Klaus Kinski but sings like he’s from the golden age of Soul.
Another unbelievably beautiful piece is C Duncan’s “He Came From The Sun” – it literally has the power to let your eyes get all watery. Theatrical, melancholic and super lavish with plenty of strings and an attitude that will let you think Freddy Mercury might have come back to whisper some of his most precious secrets about arrangement and composition into Christopher Duncan’s ears.
Good thing we get back back from the verge of emotional overload and to a more relaxed form of keeping our hearts warm. Not that I would call Oso Leone’s “Virtual U” unemotional, it’s far from it. It’s as cool as it is smooth and warm and silky, rolling along on a laid back drum beat and some nicely swirling synths. Time for a really good drink.
Towards the middle of the mix Jordan Rakei picks up the tempo for a few minutes, letting us extend the happy hour while Joe Armon-Jones and Oscar Jerome give us a classy and jazzy Deep House groover. “Idiom” would effortlessly blend into any of the housy tracks on Bugge Wesseltoft’s “Moving” album.
Snowpoet – a duo that consists of lyricist Lauren Kinsella and producer Chris Hyson – provide the next deeply emotional and stunning highlight with “Eviternity” when Kinsella recites her poetry over Hyson’s simple yet effective electronic frame. It will make you swear this must have been on the soundtrack of “Arrival” or “Interstellar”.
I really tried hard to find out who Maro is, providing another slightly Folk tinged moment with “Forever & Always”. Too many Maros on Discogs, and none of them fit. In Rakei’s succession it is a bit of an interlude – but a nice one for sure. Homay Schmitz was easier to find – not a real problem with a name like that – and her music is just as unusual as her name, easily blending ambient, modern classic, experimental and electronic. Her “Speak Up” adds another dreamy and contemplative moment before Bill Laurence takes us for an extended ride through space and time, combining airy pads, 80s funk bass synth themes, jazzy piano excursions and slightly African sounding vocal samples.
Time for Jordan Rakei to submit his own contribution to the mix – and it’s only fitting that it would be a Jeff Buckley cover. His version of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” is even more reduced than the original, stripping the song of all its rhythmic elements and taking out the folk and country touch and replacing it with just his soulful voice, an organ and a few very hushed string synths. A great way to honor a great song.
Cubicolor close the guest list with an elegiac suite that borders on the radioheadesque – maybe not necessarily the most spectacular piece of the mix but surely deserving its place just before Rakei returns for a last round of verses, piano and strings.
As with all LateNightTales mixes, we get a Spoken Word encore – this time delivered by none other than Alejandro González Iñárritu, picking the same topic Rakei just sang about: “Imagination”. All in Spanish of course, and gratefully this time it is not just the bare words, the director gets a tiny bit of ambient soundscape to support him.
If you ask me where the weaknesses are in this hour and twenty minute long piece of art I will have to answer that it would really be inappropriate to make a deliberate effort to find any. This series has delivered quite a few superb mixes already by truly great artists – but this one is special.
To use a title of one of Señor Iñárritu’s films: Biutiful.
Release for review:
JORDAN RAKEI – LATENIGHTTALES – LATENIGHTTALES – ALNLP61X