Mute Records: 40 Essential Tracks

Essential Mute Records tracks

aptbs-explodingA Place to Bury Strangers – “In Your Heart”

from Exploding Head (2009)

Merging shoegaze’s monstrous feedback swirl with the chugging, tinny production of classic industrial and synth-pop, this Brooklyn trio constitute a fine place for millennials to start to experience each. After their indie bow repurposed their earliest EPs to critical acclaim, Mute snatched up the so-called loudest band in New York for an album of new material. Its first single cleans up and smooths out the APTBS formula just enough without completely disrupting it: Jono Mofo’s bass from deep in the post-punk vaults, Jay Space’s drum programming and robot-like arms, and the obsessive moodiness of Oliver Ackermann’s guitar and vocals hanging over it all like a fog. – AB


fever-ray-albumFever Ray – “If I Had A Heart”

from Fever Ray (2009)

When Swedish electronic duo The Knife aligned with Mute, it resulted in a fairly short though nonetheless productive partnership that saw the release of their two best albums, a highly ambitious “opera” and the beginning of Karin Dreijer’s solo project, Fever Ray. Though the whole of her debut contains some spectacularly dark pop music, its leadoff track “If I Had A Heart” is the true standout for how minimal and sinister it is. It moves with a slow lurch, always seemingly on the verge of escalating into a climactic moment, but instead remains in the shadows, its red eyes glowing, fangs glimmering. – JT


yeasayerYeasayer – “O.N.E.”

from Odd Blood (2010)

Yeasayer released their first three albums on Secretly Canadian in the U.S., but the band’s had a long relationship with Mute, which continues to this day. It began with the release of 2010’s Odd Blood through Mute outside of the U.S., which featured a selection of some of the band’s strongest singles. “O.N.E.” balances an infectious, synthetic funk driven by the echoing guitar riffs and synth hooks, not to mention some fun falsetto vocals. It’s far more aligned with the synth-pop of Hot Chip than the exotic psychedelia of the band’s debut, but they pull it off well. It’s also what makes them a good fit on a label that’s long championed synth-based acts.


best M83 songs Hurry Up We're Dreaming

M83 – “Midnight City”

from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)

Mute is the rare label to represent both experimental acts and electronic hitmakers, and M83 has been both in the course of one career. While Anthony Gonzalez and his former partner Nicolas Fromageau once excelled at dense, graceful electro landscapes, M83 later became Gonzalez’s own solo project, and a much more pop-minded one at that. “Midnight City” found him delivering the alt-rock hit song that earlier records always hinted at, a heroic anthem to after-hours ecstasy. At the time, radio was overrun with songs about how this-one-night-means-everything, but Gonzalez looked beyond the bedroom or the discotheque. Midnight became a metropolis, and the city his church. Amen. – JT


immigrant-songKaren O, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – “Immigrant Song”

(2011)

Film soundtracks are largely rare and recent in the Mute catalog, and often dusty affairs created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. While they’re beautiful, it’s tough to peg a single song from them that leaps off any background. Fortuitously, Mute signed on to distribute the follow-up to Reznor and Ross’ digitized film music for The Social Network. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t earn the same industry accolades, but it did have a secret weapon of commercial appeal. The composers backed Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O on this taut Led Zeppelin cover for the film’s instant-classic opening titles sequence, “the land of ice and snow” no longer proud and majestic but unforgiving and torturous. – AB


cold-specksCold Specks – “Winter Solstice”

from I Predict A Graceful Explosion (2012)

Canadian singer/songwriter Ladan Hussein made a powerful debut in 2012 with I Predict A Graceful Explosion, several years after introducing her lo-fi recordings via MySpace. But “Winter Solstice,” though stark in arrangement in its opening, is a maximalist production with dreamy guitars and stoic piano chords backing Hussein’s bold and soulful voice. With the eventual introduction of a choir of singers behind her, the song transforms into an art-pop gospel anthem, both warm and deeply moving. – JT


essential Mute Records tracks Arca

Arca – “Thievery”

from Xen (2014)

Alejandro Ghersi made a name for himself through production for artists such as Kanye West and Björk, though his own compositions reveal an even more exploratory, avant garde sensibility. His debut album Xen finds a fusion between glitchy electronic sounds and a heavy industrial sensibility. “Thievery” is the rare song that actually sounds like a single, constructing gothic towers of synthetic melody atop a cumbia beat. It’s a short track at only two and a half minutes, but there’s so much going on that it demands repeat spins just to fully absorb all of its nuances. And that’s before one even gets to the more challenging, puzzling material in Arca’s catalog. – JT


Ben Frost Aurora review

Ben Frost – “Venter”

from A U R O R A (2014)

Listening to “Venter” is like watching a volcanic eruption happen in real time. Australian-born, Icelandic-based producer Ben Frost has a way with tense electronic soundscapes. It’s disingenuous to call it “noise”—this is like the difference between a torture-porn flick and a suspense thriller; Frost doesn’t so much antagonize the listener as bring them into a realm where thrilling and dangerous are synonymous. It’s a sophisticated form of electronic maximalism, a far cry from the lo-fi strictures of “Warm Leatherette,” yet cut from a similar cloth. – JT


Swans To Be Kind review

Swans – “Oxygen”

from To Be Kind (2014)

The 10 tracks on Swans’ 2014 album To Be Kind represented some of the most epic and intense music of the band’s career, which says a lot considering they very literally began their career with an album called Filth. “Oxygen” is one of the shortest tracks on the album, but it’s most certainly one of the most intense, with an explosive post-punk-funk progression and an escalating howl from frontman Michael Gira. Considering it was inspired by an episode in which he couldn’t breathe, it does a good job of capturing that moment of panic. It’s impossible to feel a sense of ease with music this tense. – JT


essential Mute Records tracks Diamond VersionDiamond Version – “Were You There” (feat. Neil Tennant)

from CI (2014)

Olaf Bender and Carsten Nicolai are German producers and boutique label heads who also ran the Raster-Noton imprint together. Signed to Mute as Diamond Version, the duo exploded with a series of releases full of tightly clipped, dead-note techno. On the CI album they invited Pet Shop Boys vocalist Neil Tennant to be the lone melody for this 19th-century American spiritual, covered in the past by the likes of Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, and Diamanda Galas. There are few things smarter in the music biz than the Pet Shop Boys’ selection of cover songs. Technically this shouldn’t join the list, but I’d be okay with putting an asterisk next to it. It’s an aggressive extreme in PSB’s universe, and a slyly welcoming invitation to Diamond Version’s. – AB

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