By Ty Breuer
Thanks for tuning into my wordless mix. I compiled these tunes in a week, but have listened to some of them for years and in the past year even made some instrumental music of my own. Here is an overview of my 100 vox-less jams:
Selections can be placed into the following crude categories: Indie Rock, Classic Rock, Cumbia, Acoustic, Ambient, and Improvised/Avant-garde music. That might be a good way to get through this without any silly singer telling you what to do!
The Indie Rock selections could just be all Yo La Tengo instrumentals, but in choosing one I went with "Green Arrow"– though you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em. More exciting jams from Cave and Goat will make you upset you are just hearing about these bands now. Julianna Barwick could also take over this section, but I chose her tune with Jónsi to satisfy that Sigur rush. No instrumental list is complete without Mogwai and “Kids Will Be Skeletons” is probably the snowy walk theme song for any person reading this. Other highlights include a funky Air track, the rare mellow release from The Fucking Champs, some steel from SUSS, and some lo-fi perfection from Purling Hiss. Back to the steel, or pedal steel guitar, it's all over this playlist - be sure to check out Chuck Johnson, Ducks LTD, and my buds Hamilton Belk and Patrick Lee. About a quarter of these tunes have the sad machine in the mix.
Strokes member Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo work is wonderful and I am happy to include his composition “Spooky Couch” – its a beaut. Be sure to give “Swamp Song” by Oasis, yes Oasis, or “Lower the Heavens” by San Diego’s The Donkeys or the 107 Faunos (outta Buenos Aires) or El Mato a un Policia Motorizado (La Plata) entries to remember you are listening to rock n’ roll.
Classic Rock starts with “Classical Gas” and passes through Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” and wraps up with ZZ Top’s “Asleep in the Desert.” Some acoustic Sabbath bridges the gap to some punishing prog rock by Rush and even Maiden and ‘Tallica. The Allmans, The Who, and Edgar Winter, and Floyd fill out your popular names. For more guitar fireworks, be sure to check out the Babe Ruth entry and don’t listen to anything after “Eruption” cuz there is no point (except for any swaggering Booker T. song, the slide on “Sleepwalking,” or dirt on “Rumble”). Those are untouchable. New to me the past few years: Ashra for you Kraut-rawkers and Federale for more of that Morricone cinescape.
I included some classics in the sense of standards, like a cumbia version of “In the Hall of The Mountain King” and “In A Sentimental Mood” (the latter being the first dance song at my wedding, the former being a chicha cover of my band, Don Chicharron - an act previously mentioned on this blog).
The actual Cumbia section of this list hints at a few different takes of the genre. Cumbia has an incredible amount for branches in its tree – each country/state/city/part of a city that plays it has a multitude of approaches to its sound and lucky for you, plenty of wordless catalogs to step to. A fine start is the rebajada (or slower bpm) trance of Ezmeralda or take your pick of the grip of Peruvian artists on this list, including Los Mirlos, Los Wembler’s, or Los Destellos (the only band on here twice). These guys are heroes. Electronic influence in cumbia works quite well for this playlist as does the entire discography of Nicola Cruz or El Buho (largely 4-on-the-floor club grooves). Psychedelic sounds weave in perfectly and rip in live settings – see CDMX’s Sonido Gallo Negro. Ondatrópica's “Swing de Gillan” is my favorite song to DJ. Although distinctly Reggaeton, Tainy put out his first solo album this year and did an instrumental version of it too. He is behind some of Bad Bunny’s biggest hits and on his own is very fulfilling.
Acoustic instrumentals are all over this list and could find themselves in any of these other categories but here are a few selections that you can really hear some fret noises and pedal dampening throughout. “Juvenescence” off of Yasmin William’s Urban Driftwood is wonderful, the whole album is perfect. Marisa Anderson is a great follow up. Steve Gunn in whatever capacity gets a lot of play on the family hi-fi, and here is a collaboration of his that you can stare off into your couch with. Denver dude Miles Eichner put out an EP this year and I am just putting the first track on here in hopes you will give it all a spin. Add some bird noises to your dreadnought and you get Hayden Pedigo. Harp does good on this list, but it's Mary Lattimore’s compositions that make it great. How the hell did Lee Ranaldo make it on here? Paul Maroon from the Walkmen too?
Ambient is the throughline for most of this list if you remove “Grazing in the Grass” haha. Of course there is Eno, but have you heard Eno + Harmonia? Heavy electronics layer out this Fennesz entry and get intense on “Dissolution Grip” by KMRU. There’s a ton of this kind of stuff out there, but trying to get some more ambient cosmic country on this list was important – give North Americans, William Tyler, or Luke Schneider a long desert drive. Denver metal-gawds, Blood Incantation, are known to do straight ambient synth and if you dig that give This Will Destroy You a shot. War on Drugs can chill with the best of them too – check out this transition track that holds up to any of their anthems. And if anthems is what you want, Stars Of The Lid made a career out of doing them ambiently. Lastly, Emily Sprague puts out a great album every year.
Let’s wrap up by letting loose with this Improvised/Avant-garde section (or that is what I am calling it). Nicolas Jaar’s album Telas and the tune “Telehora” captures textures and tones not heard elsewhere on this list – it's a wild ride. Not relaxing. Hilarious person Ryley Walker and ripping band Kikagaku Moyo link up for this strictly improv release – check out both acts for lots of wordless exploration. Wheelchair Sports Camp did a soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland a couple years back that was mixed to the point of absurdity – like I don’t know how they did it. I love when the Dead improvised (at least during certain stretches of their career) and this excerpt between China-Rider is a lesson in trashing mixolydian scales. Banjo sounds good in this setting – thanks Daniel Bachman. Bitchin Bajas is more relaxing but just as long as some of these other jammier selections.
OK that’s it – those are all of the words I can write about these songs given the circumstance. Final thought: my favorite song on this list –"Claire de lune."
(If you've got your own favorite wordless music to share, check out our open and public collaborative playlist. And if you want to create one of these mixes and write a blog about it, send us a note! wordlesscollective[at]gmail[dot]com.)