A collection of otherworldly slow jams and soul burners from the far side of the sun.
I grew up in one of the whitest areas of the country: the Pacific Northwest, where diversity is as historically low as segregation is high. I was just in high school when hip hop and R-n-B were breaking into mainstream. The white-wash of my childhood only reinforced the feeling this was not for me. Authenticity, poser-ism and appropriation were wrought subjects. Even when I went backwards, and started exploring classic soul—which today feels unanimously accepted—I wrestled with a fear of trespassing.
Interestingly, this also coincides with the time that my tastes started drifting ever more avant garde—and the two things are probably related. Feeling like popular music was not an allowable option, I was given license—or even obligation—to go further afield. The hair metal of the 80s wasn't for me, but that felt like opting out. With the rise of hip hop, I felt excluded. Looking back, with the benefit of years and experience, I know this is nonsense, but it was my experience at that time.
So today, my relationship to R-n-B is fractional and tangential at best. I keep tabs on only the most obvious artists and developments—even then, mostly to make water cooler conversations. Of late, though, some of my favorite sources of music news have begun including soul-kissed albums and tracks I've found myself taking a shine to.
What I'm hearing almost feels like spotting an emerging trend, but in truth, I don't have enough investment to possess the requisite context. It's not discovering a cohesive insurgency, so much as uncovering an entire world of non-mainstream soul unbeknownst to me. I was ignorant of the self-sustaining underground soul, which much like the indie-rock ecosystem I love, thrives entirely independent Superbowl half-time world.
It makes easy sense. Hip Hop and R-n-B have been the dominant force of music for decades now, and soul music's deep well of inspiration could be charted over a century, soon enough. That kind of influence will seep into virtually everything. Now, there are even experimental metal bands grafting soul-inflected vocals over their gnarly drones.
As I came across these indie-soul tracks, I would file them away in a playlist. At some point I realized that pile was over 3 hours long and it was high time to do something about it. This mix went through a lot of permutations, since I didn't understand what I was grappling with, and was vain enough to believe I did. Where it's ended up is a collection best described as exosphere slow jams: soul burners from across a spectrum of music produced outside the mainstream R-n-B industrial complex.
Each of these songs has a soulful element, but they're coming at it from different angles. I think the appeal, the reason they gelled as a group, is their scale and scope. If there is a world of underground soul, one of the things it could presumably better than big-time productions is small. Mainstream music is stadium-sized. Even when it's intimate, it's huge. It plays to the fences, by necessity. Most of the songs I've chosen are far more living-room-to-small-club sized. It's a luxury of scale that top-shelf artists just don't have.
This mix is very much a personal exploration. I don't have the bearings yet to give you a map. Maybe you're in the same place as me; maybe you're willing to come along for the ride—for the ride itself, rather than having lay of the land.
Mattewdavid: Perpetual Moon Moods
Weval: Thinking of
Heterotic featuring Vezelay: Triumph
N'Conduit with Jack Fuller: Ooooo
Mala: Como Como (Theo Parish mix)
John Wizards: Lusaka by Night (LV mix)
Sandro Perri: How Will I?
Elodie Lauten featuring Nirosta Steel: Miracle 2 (GB mix)
Jerry Paper: Everything Is Shitty
Felix Dickinson: Seven Measures
Braille featuring Angelica Bess: Ports
Sunless 97 & Palmistry: Aia
Jamie Woon: Skin
Cloud Boat: Bastion
Thundercat: Lone Wolf & Cub
Wildbirds & Peacedrums: The Offbeat
WIFE: Heart Is a Far Light
James Ferraro: Close Ups
King Midas Sound / Fennesz: We Walk Together
Will Samson: Rusting Giants (Ritornell Rerustle mix)
FKA Twigs: Papi Pacify
Kelis: Rumble (Actress Sixinium Bootleg mix)
Samuel: Steam Train
Hot Chip: Ready for the Floor (Smoothed Out on an R-n-B Tip)
Uther Moads: Easy
How to Dress Well: Words I Don't Remember