Looking back over the first five weeks of this fantastic blog feature, I realized I’d been keeping things pretty gloomy. To be fair, I like creepy, subdued music, so it’s not exactly surprising or accidental. On the other hand, some kinds of work demand music with a little more action, a little more presence in the room. So today, I picked out some of the more upbeat techno and electronica tracks from The Short List and called them “Thumpers.”
I’ve never cared for that term (nobody does), but I’m not sure how else to put it. These things thump. I guess that means a strong backbeat, pulsing rhythm, sorta dancey, whatever. These ten tracks all live roughly in the same world, but they cover a lot of ground. I threw them in a playlist at the bottom, but here are each individual tracks for you as well (Please watch the Chemical Brothers’ video in full).
Best if you work in: the Getting Shit Done business.
1. Patrick Cowley: “Journey Home”
Patrick Cowley was a pioneer of electronic dance music in San Francisco in the 1970s, through to his death in 1982. If this is the first time you’re reading his name and this music does anything for you, please dig deeper. His sound might seem elemental or hackneyed to modern ears, but that’s only because his influence was that significant (the same way Steve Ray Vaughn fans might find Robert Johnson simplistic). His album School Daze is mandatory listening for anybody interested in seminal dance music. It’s a double album compilation of music Cowley wrote to score two gay porn films in 1981, Muscle Up and School Daze. It's possible you'll hear evidence of it, the music is pretty carnal and sexy and slightly playful in that porno-humor sort of way. Even if you don't hear that, this is a great track for getting things done.
2. The Field: "Sequenced" Don't know if you've noticed, but I really like repetition in music. And this track, from Swedish producer Axel Willner (why would you possibly use a stage name with a stunner like that?), is about as repetitive as it gets. If you don't like the first minute, you probably will not like the following 14.
3. Jon Hopkins: "Sun Harmonics" This song is the reason I wanted to make this list. It's the closing track from his widely-celebrated 2013 album Immunity. The album more than deserves the praise, though at times it's almost too pristine, too well-made. Hopkins spent the mid-2000s working with Brian Eno on (not great, over-produced) Coldplay records so maybe that tells you something. Either way, this song is a beauty. Side note: this British producer Jon Hopkins is not the same as the 19th century philanthropist and hospital-founder Johns Hopkins.
4. Moderat: "Milk" How did you pronounce this band's name? "Moderate" or "mode-rat"? Just curious. Anyway, they're something of a supergroup comprised of two big-leaguers of German electronica: Apparat and Modeskeletor (I guess that's how they got the name). There are three albums to date, of varying quality, but this track is an undeniable gem (also check out "New Error" or "Seamonkey" if you like this).
5. Biosphere: "A Circular Path"
Every plate of spicy wings needs its celery, and "A Circular Path" is this playlist's celery (please nominate this for Analogy of the Year). It's a little creepier and more ambient than the others on here, but it's nice to have a change of pace when you're putting in work. (No video, sorry).
6. Chemical Brothers: "Star Guitar" In addition to the song's contagious mood and sound, "Star Guitar" is one of my favorite music videos of all time (directed by Michel Gondry). Watch it please.
7. Dominik Eulberg: "Der Tanz der Gluehwuermchen (Rone Remix)"
If you don't listen to electronic music, this song might sound like a cartoonish parody of the genre. It's kind of by-the-books mainstream IDM (Intelligent Dance Music, a nauseating genre-term if there ever was one). But it's expertly produced and at times, downright beautiful.
8. μ-Ziq: "Johnson's Q-Fab" This guy's name is pronounced "music" which is pretty annoying and I don't know why. But he's a terrific producer, a good step-two into 90s British IDM if Aphex Twin was your step-one. It's more restrained than some of the others on this list (it's another celery song), but just as mesmerizing.
9. Giraffage: "Moments"
With Patrick Cowley, Giraffage is the only American on this list (why are Europeans so good at this kind of music?). He's also the artist on this list I've discovered most recently, so I'm in the midst of a pretty serious Giraffage kick at the moment. This was the song that kicked it all off. It's energetic but oddly kind of sweet in a way that thumpers usually are not. I also just really like the name "Giraffage."
10. Aphex Twin: "Xtal" What would a Music To Sweep To mix be without old Aphex Twin? "Xtal" is one of his earlier tracks, from his Selected Ambient Works 85-92 release (the predecessor to the album that inaugurated this blog, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II). Thumpers are generally direct and confident, that's what you get with a strong backbeat, but "Xtal" delivers a refreshing alternative to that mood. It's a lot wetter (reverb-wise) than what you might expect from tracks like these, and the result is thoroughly gratifying. If you're a later-era Aphex Twin fan, you might want to spend some time with this one.