The Needle Drop

starter pack

Happy Birthday, Björk! (Starter Pack Playlist)

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Today Icelandic singer-songwriter, composer, and pop innovator Björk celebrates her 50th birthday. In honor of this occasion, we've compiled the above career-spanning playlist for newcomers or those who just would like an overview of her catalog. This set was probably the hardest one yet to sequence, as over the course of the past three or so decades Björk has dabbled in such disparate genres as post-punk, vocal jazz, alternative dance, chamber music, glitch pop - the list goes on. But this is simply emblematic of the adventurous spirit that has made her work so fun and captivating over the years.

We hope you enjoy the tunes; let us know what your faves are. And to Björk, we wish a very happy birthday.

Merzbow Starter Pack

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We've been in a pretty noisy mood lately. Last week we brought you a sprawling noise rock playlist and now you're getting a 2.5-hour-long set of tracks from the master of harsh noise, Masami Akita (b.k.a. Merzbow). In a sense he is the perfect subject for one of these starter packs, as his career spans nearly 300 studio albums over the course of four decades and features a wider array of textures and recording techniques than just about any other harsh noise musician's. However, some of his great works (for instance Rainbow Electronics) are comprised of one very long track, thereby not lending themselves to playlist listening. And many interesting releases, like much of his 80's sound collage output and his masterpiece 1930, aren't on Spotify. Nor are his collaborations with Boris (with the exception of the too-long Sun Baked Snow Cave), which is a potential disappointment for those looking forward to next year's double-album Gensho.

With all that being said, hopefully you will find this set to be as varied and comprehensive as possible. We understand that harsh noise isn't the easiest genre to get into and we can't really help you "get it" if it's not your thing, but if you're looking for some insight into how this type of music can be enjoyable, check out Anthony's talk with Mike Rugnetta about noise, among other styles of experimental music. Whatever y'all get out of it, enjoy!

Further listening - the lighter side of Merzbow:

Mark Kozelek Starter Pack

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2015 has been a very busy year for singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek - since the release of Universal Themes (his seventh album with Sun Kil Moon), he has announced a new EP and spoken word project due out in October via his Caldo Verde label, as well as a full-length collaboration with post-metal act Jesu slated for February. Kozelek formed his first band, Red House Painters, in 1989 and hasn't seen much use in taking a break; his output has only picked up over the years. How he has managed to put out an emotionally resonant album almost every year of the past couple decades is beyond me. It's clear he loves and lives for music-making, but when you're writing songs that are sentimental and empathetic to the devastating degree he is, you've gotta figure it'd be exhausting. Yet it's hard to tire of it as a listener when Kozelek does well to complement the sentimentality and melodrama with a new approach to composition each time, marrying his lyrics with everything from elegant acoustic fingerpicking to lumbering hard rock grooves. He aims for an emotional reaction and I'll be damned if he doesn't get one from me every time. Hopefully this playlist brings you a few good cries and laughs, too.


The one glaring omission this time is something from Sun Kil Moon's debut, Ghosts of the Great Highway. It isn't on Spotify, so this song will have to stand on its own (which shouldn't be a problem):

Serge Gainsbourg Starter Pack

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Say what you will about Serge Gainsbourg, that he and his music were overly lewd or whatever; he was arguably the most significant voice in 20th century French pop music. Even when he was penning albums comprised mostly of shit humor (Vu de l'extérieur), the man was delivering some magnetic tunes. He was also pretty prolific during the three decades he was musically active, thus making him the perfect subject for one of these starter pack features.

Our friend Margaux helped us compile this hour-long playlist that spans Gainsbourg's career, covering his early jazz and baroque pop days, his adoption of rock and funk sounds, and his late-period stints with reggae and new wave styles. We hope you have fun with it!

Ghostface Killah Starter Pack

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The beef between New York MCs Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah thankfully seems to be cooling down. In the wake of the media frenzy, as well as the recent continuation of the Twelve Reasons to Die narrative, we feel it's as good a time as any to celebrate the music of Ghostface. In our opinion (and it's likely a common one), he has had the most consistently fantastic solo career out of all his Wu-Tang Clan brothers -- for a while he was turning out classic after classic and continues delivering inspired projects to this day, after nearly two decades.

Anthony has compiled the above 27-track playlist that ought to act as an hour-and-a-half crash course in the work of Ghostface, or hopefully a rousing recap if you're already familiar. Enjoy!

Frank Zappa Starter Pack


In honor of the recent release of Frank Zappa's 100th and final album Dance Me This, Anthony and I have compiled a career-spanning playlist to act as a gateway to the man's music -- or if you're already into it, a celebration. For his imaginative and lighthearted approach to composition and songwriting, as well as his mastery of rock, jazz, and classical styles, we consider Frank one of the greatest minds in 20th century music.

The above Spotify playlist is not presented in chronological order and dwells a bit on his 60's and 70's work (including a lot of material with his band The Mothers of Invention), but we find this jumpy overview to have a more interesting flow. Obvious omissions are his 1967 solo debut Lumpy Gravy, a half-hour-long musique concrète piece that is definitely worth checking out, but doesn't really suit a mix like this; and his late masterpiece Civilization Phaze III, his first posthumous release in 1993, from which I've embedded a choice cut below in the absence of a Spotify stream. Also below is Anthony's 2011 classic review for the seminal Hot Rats.

Enjoy! And remember not to take anything too seriously.