By Chad Wys
1. “Sebastian” (from the Brideshead Revisited soundtrack by Adrian Johnston (composer))
A lot of what I do as an artist involves manipulating, muting, mutating, destroying, and questioning beauty. For me, this song represents untouched, unspoiled beauty in an exquisitely lean package’piano is the only instrument involved here. It’s equal parts lovely and menacing, which will always make for great juxtaposition. It’s a short one, at just over two minutes, but it does for me in that time what some of the best classic novels do—transporting me somewhere outside myself. In a word: elegant.
2. “Insan” (from the album White on Blonde by Texas)
Texas is no doubt my favorite artist. A retro rock and pop band from Scotland—headed by the incomparable Sharleen Spiter—they have managed to churn out consistently great music since the late 80s. Pulled from their most commercially successful CD, 1997’s White on Blonde, this song has got to be their slickest, smoothest, and chilliest. It sounds like it ought to be a theme from a James Bond film there’s that much drama and theatricality here. This song informs us that we’re all at least a little bit insane, and that’s quite all right, particularly, I might add, if you’re a creative professional.
We want so much but need so little, the song imparts. The sad thing is most of us know that, but do nothing about it—myself included.
3. “Hey Boy Hey Girl” (from the album Surrender by The Chemical Brothers)
One of the highlights from one of the strongest albums ever assembled, in my opinion—1999’s Surrender—this Chemical Bros. track is massively habit-forming, easy to bounce to (if you’re so inclined—and often I am), and delightfully strange. I also don’t actually know full well what it’s about. Within the song we’re told repeatedly “here we go”, but where we’re going is fully speculative and totally up to the listener. In a word: energy.
4. “Oh Lonesome Me” by Don Gibson
Gibson’s entire oeuvre is essentially flawless, but this song has got to be the shiniest gem. He wrote and recorded it in 1958 and it become his first number one smash—the first of many awesome songs. While I personally tend to thrive when I’m “lonesome,” there’s a melancholic aspect to that state of being that’s hard to ignore (and within this song Gibson plays with the pros and cons of being a loner better than anyone ever has). Even though he’s singing about the irksome effects of love in an ironically jovial fashion, I like to apply the tenor of this tune to virtually every aspect of life.
5. “Frontier Psychiatrist” (from the album Since I Left You by The Avalanches
You’re not likely to hear many songs like this one and for that fact alone it’s well worth a listen. Remarkably, it has been 12 years since The Avalanches released their debut, and as yet only, album: 2000’s Since I Left You. This tune is easily the most referenced track from that release (watch the hugely popular music video on YouTube!), and you’ll soon hear why. It’s as bizarre and unexpected as they come and without a doubt one of the best examples of audio sampling (or appropriation, if you will) ever produced.
6. “Renfield from Dracula for Solo Piano” (from Philip Glass Sampler) by Philip Glass
Glass, one of the most noteworthy living avant-classical composers, is never one to bore a listener. While this is a relatively traditional song—a short piano work with a fairly linear progression, a la ‘Sebastian” already heard on this playlist—it’s nonetheless refreshing. It’s a refined, pressure-cooked little movement with a pronounced, entrancing melody. Pulled from the 1998 re-scoring of the 1931 Dracula film, one senses an awful lot of tragedy and melancholy here—Bram Stoker himself would surely approve.
Take note kids (please): classical is the new hip-hop.
7. “Uprising” (from the album The Resistance by Muse)
Within my life and my artwork I like to think I maintain some sort of kinship with the anarchical tenor of this song. That it’s performed to perfection by one of present day’s best all-out rock bands doesn’t hurt matters. My politics and my desire for sometimes radical social change is echoed in the song’s lyrics; and I often attempt to court those sorts of politics in my visual art. The blood flows hot with this one pumping through the speakers. In a word: timely.
8.”Audacity of Huge” (from the album Temporary Pleasure by Simian Mobile Disco)
Such a brilliant concept for a song and executed to perfection by one of my favorite electronic artists. We want so much but need so little, the song imparts. The sad thing is most of us know that, but do nothing about it—myself included. My art critiques the objects and things we inundate our lives with—particularly the luxury stuff—and this song broaches the same critique with a whole lot of acute irony and skill.
9. “Poor Misguided Fool”(from the album Love Is Here by Starsailor)
This is one of the songs from my youth that has stuck with me. Aside from the title applying so well to my status as a human being, it’s a stunner of a track. The blend of guitar and piano is so lush and spot-on—and rare in the genre. I melt each time I hear it.
10. “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme” (from the Lust, Caution by Alexandre Desplat (composer))
Desplat composes scores for movies, ranging from Twilight and Harry Potter to the obscure, like Tree of Life and Lust, Caution (the latter the film this song was composed for). But his scores exist entirely as art pieces of their own, totally functional and enveloping no matter if you’ve seen the movies they were created for or not. This song is affecting, beautiful, and so emotionally wrought it’s difficult not to be moved in some way. This song is representative of a much broader body of Desplat’s work that is a constant fixture in my art studio. Take note kids (please): classical is the new hip-hop.
11. “Tristan and Isolde, Prelude (to Act 1)”by Richard Wagner (composer)
Lots of melodrama here, but it’s done so exquisitely that we forgive Wagner almost instantly and delight in what he’s created for us. This piece was recently used to great effect in the Lars von Trier film Melancholia—it served as the entire film score, popping up time and again throughout the film’s entirety. Like many of the things I enjoy, this song is awkwardly retro and soapy, but it can function beautifully in the present if you allow it.
Chad Wys is an artist, designer, and writer from Illinois.