Playlists are fun. The bastard son of the mixtape the modern playlist is a big part of most of our listening lives. Making mixtapes was a fun nightmare. Forwarding that little tape until the leader was juuuuuuust up to the middle of the play zone before starting. Listening to songs over and over to make sure the flow felt just right from one song into another. Using your calculator to make sure you used up as much of that 45 mins as humanly possible. Thinking about your intended recipient and how he/she would feel about it. Trying to toe that fine line between music you know that person knows and loves and injecting a few choice deep cuts to show that A – you care. B – you know some shit. I won’t drone on too long here. Watch “High Fidelity.” Cusack and Hornby do a much better job explaining this kind of thing than I ever could.
But playlists are easy. Hell with the help of the Spotify suggestions you can create one in 5 minutes, right? But do you trust Spotify to make the proper suggestions? I don’t. Just the other day I was making one and they wanted me to add a Maroon 5 song. WTF? Thank you, no. I have a reputation, Spotify. I can’t be seen with that shit on my playlist. What if LemonJello randomly thought “wonder what Bloc has been up to?” and checks out my current playlist and there’s Maroon 5 on one of them. Dear Lord I’d be mortified. He’d unfriend me. Lickity split. AND RIGHTFULLY SO. This is a man I share a birthday with. And yet I’d fully understand his complete dismissal of me if such a travesty occurred.
So we kinda have to make our own playlists. But with the freedom of virtually unlimited music at our disposal most people completely lose the plot when making a playlist. Here are a few points I try to consider when making a quality playlist.
#1 – Keep it about an hour. Obviously if you are making something for a party and you want it to go on and on let your freak flag fly and by all means make the thing as long as you want. But other than that what’s the point of a 3 hour playlist?
#2 – Mind that flow. Flow is everything in a playlist (quick caveat: this rule does not apply to the genius playlist artist Silas Wegg. I will never understand exactly how his seemingly random flow of artists works. But I assure you IT WORKS. If you are not familiar with the playlist mastery of Silas you should become so. And quickly.) Ok, sorry. Back to flow. Some people have a flow that moves from mellow to heavy or vice versa. And typically it’s a continual flow in one direction. This is a very typical blunder. It’s all about ebb and flow. Perhaps you start slow but then build a bit before pulling the carpet out and chilling out for a track or two? It’s a slick move, I assure you. Blocland’s own boss lady Doris Montgomery is famous for the “spacer song.” She typically goes for some kind of loungey jazz number to break things up. I’m a big fan of the small “run” of three very like minded artists before moving on to the next motif within the playlist. IE – A quick little Balam Acab, Holy Other, oOoOO witch house triplet in the middle of a playlist is a stone cold killer move. It tells the listener “we’re moving out of the mellow portion now. But before we start really getting busy here’s some freaky shit to whet yer whistle.” I’m reticent to give away one of my personal secret weapons but if not now then when? EVERY playlist is made better by the inclusion of some form of Rostam. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solo joint, Vampire Weekend, Discovery, one of the tracks from his collaboration with Hamilton Leithauser, or some random track he did with another artist. Rostam songs are great on playlists. It’s like the guy thinks about playlist dorks when making music. You are a prince, Rostam. A PRINCE.
#3 – The Penultimate Track. This is the make or break point on every playlist. Blocland’s expert on all things penultimate, Raptor Jesus, spends more time thinking about that second to the last track than is probably healthy. But it’s a very important track. There should be a definitive feeling that the playlist has taken a serious little turn with this track. And it should let the whole thing feel like it’s coming to some kind of closure.
#4 – The Closer. If the penultimate is important the closer is crucial. The listener should absolutely know they have hit the closing song when it starts. Hell they should’ve felt it coming with that penultimate we just discussed. Are you skimming this!?!? Sorry. Got worked up there. I invariably end up with a chill closer. Some favorites are “White Ferrari” by Frank Ocean, “Space to Bakersfield” by Black Mountain, and the ULTIMATE closer “Days Of Candy” by Beach House. You simply cannot go wrong with that song as your closer.
#5 – The Methodology. Coming up with that hour long playlist simply cannot involve the first songs you select. The odds of nailing the exact tracklist on the first try is nil. Cast a wide net. Get 2 or even 3 hours of music on there. Then listen to it and feel for that ebb and flow. It’s in there. Is this an artform? Of course it isn’t. But to say it doesn’t require some skill and training is equally silly. The best playlist compilers spend WAY too much time trying to get these damn things just right. What defines “just right” is up to you. But you’ll know it when you nail it.
Welp that’s enough poorly worded pontificating for one post, doncha think? Here’s a playlist that I put together for this post. Is it perfect? Well as beloved bloccy artist, and member of the aforementioned playlist gobbinjr would say “I just want to be perfect. Anything less is shameful”
UPDATE: Since by music geek standards this playlist was pretty “basic” I have decided to get rid of several deep cuts and just go to the monsters. The front end remains kinda artsy fartsy. But the back half is super MEGA HIT LOADED.