Strangely Soothing Songs

As it is Claude Debussy’s birthday, I thought I’d share some music I find soothing, in my own way. What you have to understand, though, is that people are just born with differently wired nervous systems. When they want to wind down or reenergize, different people will go to classical, or coffeehouse, or chill lounge, or even Coldplay. I just happen to be soothed by loud music with a groove. It seems to help if there are metallophones involved. Cut up vocal samples, too. If you notice any particular trend, seriously, let me know. But for whatever reason, these songs all occupy the same musical space in my soul. When I need it, these are examples of what get me and my particularly atypical nervous system when I need them to.

I’ve linked each video with a little description, and at the bottom of this post is an embedded YouTube playlist that will play them in the basically arbitrary order in which I thought of them. So come back to this post whenever you need it, weary traveler. Make a cup of hot tea and rest your feet by fire. Then jam the hell out. Enjoy.

1. Jackson and His Computer Band – Utopia (2005)
Jackson Fourgeaud is a French electronic musician, and this is the song that got him signed to Warp Records. It features vocal samples from his mother, a folk and blues musician who goes by birdpaula.

2. Squarepusher – Iambic 5 Poetry (1999)
From Budakhan Mindphone, one of Squarepusher’s most unique albums, which is saying something. Nothing on this list hits me quite like this. I love most Squarepusher songs, and this might be my number one.

3. DJ Shadow – Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt (1996)
DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. was a gamechanger on so many levels. It changed hip hop forever, being the first album ever created entirely by samples, thus paving the way for masterpieces like J Dilla’s donuts and countless others. It is soulful, humble, and beautiful, and this is one of my favorite tracks from it.

4. Plaid – Rakimou feat. Mara Carlyle (1997)
Plaid’s Not For Threes a quiet little album, often overlooked by those who want to go back to the 90s for some groundbreaking electronica. This song always stuck out to me for the folky simplicity with which it integrates the practically unmanipulated Greek lyrics lilting across music. Translated to English, they are, “I love you, because you are beautiful / I love you, because it’s you.”

5. Banks – Before I Ever Met You (2013)
Despite just having written about Banks, I continue to be enamored of each new track she releases and can’t wait for the release of her upcoming, totally mysterious album.

6. RJD2 – Here’s What’s Left (2002)
The hidden track off of RJD2’s Deadringer, one of my favorite albums of all time. An extension of the non-hidden track “Work”, it features the vocals of Sam Brown’s triumphant return to the Intruders from 1973, reimagining them in a way only this DJ can. I once saw RJD2 play a set live, and Aceyalone rapped over it. It was incredible.

7. Apparat – Limelight (2007)
Walls was a big change for Apparat, and pretty much everyone agrees it was for the better. Now paired with Moderat in a collaboration that I really will get around to writing about here any day now, he has absolutely blown up. I would say about half his tracks really don’t jive with me, but this thoughtful beat and cutup vocal sampling hits me in the very best way.

8. Nalepa – Monday (Glitch Mob Remix) (2008)
Like most people, I heard the remix first. Steve Nalepa is a known-within-circles type of producer and does not generally make big beat stuff, but even then I was surprised to find how incredibly different the original sounded. It’s sort of awesome. As is whoever that vocal sample is from. I mean, damn.

9. Ulrich Schnauss – Between Us and Them (2001)
Though this debuted in Europe in 2001, it wasn’t released in the States until four years later. American record labels didn’t think it was unique enough to sell here, but Ulrich’s subtle yet masterful attention to sound palette eventually won out. Though the music might seem simple, it is anything but, and that kind of nuance and detail is like a warm blanket to my brain.

10. DJ Earworm – Reckoner Lockdown (Radiohead vs. Kanye) (2008)
I love Kanye West. And of course I love Radiohead (Street Spirit almost made it to this list) and have since the Bends. DJ Earworm is the undisputed champion of mashups, and I unironically, unequivocally love this track at least as much as either of the originals.

11. Chemical Brothers – The Private Psychedelic Reel (1997)
Dig Your Own Hole was another gamechanger, a crossover album that, along with You’ve Come A Long Way Baby and Fat of the Land, paved the way for popular electronic music as it slowly crept onto the American radio waves. This track is one of the lesser known, but because of the astounding, incredibly, completely wicked clarinet solo this is the one I always go back to. Especially if it’s raining.

12. Pretty Lights – Finally Moving (2006)
The most popular track from the Colorado producer’s first release and still one of my favorites, featuring actual record scratching alongside a lovely Etta James sample. Derek releases all his music as pay-what-you-want downloads at Pretty Lights Music. I can’t recommend doing this enough. His most recent release A Color Map of the Sun includes session outtakes from the studio which are pretty amazing in their own right.

13. Four Tet – Parks (2001)
A common choice for me when ending sets, Four Tet a.k.a. Kieran Hebden is a very special sort of producer whose soulful collaborations with Burial and Thom Yorke are some of the finest tracks every produced. This particular one from his album Pause features samples from jazz clarinetist Tony Scott and field recordings from, well, I’m pretty sure they’re parks.

As a bonus, I’d like to include one of my own collaborations with Cesilie Kverneland, a Norwegian choreographer I worked with at CalArts before she went back to Europe to conquer the world. It is not part of the above playlist, so here is the video below.


Above It All from Paul Matthis on Vimeo.
This track is available for free at my label’s Bandcamp page.

This was a very personal and reminiscent playlist for me. Thanks for listening and happy birthday, Claude.

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