Spring 2021 Editors’ Mixtape: Our Albums of the Moment

Beyond bicycles, one thing our whole team loves is music, and today we’re sharing our Spring 2021 Editors’ Mixtape, a varied collection of 30 albums that are currently in our heavy rotation. Find the entire compilation here, along with Spotify playlists and some thoughts on each pick…

Last year, we shared our favorite bikepacking films and travel stories of all time. Earlier this year, we offered up our bike industry predictions for 2021. But as part of developing our community here on the site, we also want to share more of what excites us beyond the world of bikes. One such passion that unites us is music, and today we’re sharing a taste of the tunes that are playing behind the scenes while we’re working, riding, and relaxing.

We hope you find something new to enjoy in this compilation of our editors’ favorite albums of the moment. Taken together, it runs the gamut from classical, to indie rock, to black metal, to electronic, and a little bit of everything in between. Without further ado, here are the albums that are currently in our heavy rotations, accompanied by some thoughts on each and a short playlist to give you a sense of their sounds.

Joe Cruz

My notes on the records I’m spinning these days indicate something of the music I like. My tastes are, I’m told, an eccentric orbit around black metal, progressive metal, opera, Broadway show tunes, early hip-hop, and commercial pop with women singers (Taylor Swift, JLo, The Veronicas, Julieta Venegas, and, of course, the queen herself, Avril). When I see live music, what I hope for most is that the performance sounds exactly like the recorded version, especially if that’s exceedingly hard to do. Growing up, I played electric bass in prog metal, blues, and funk bands.

Rush – Signals (1982)

This has more or less been on my heavy rotation list since the year it came out. My favorite record by my favorite band, it reached my imprintable psyche with the most adherent narrative drama: the toil of optimism against dispossession, meaninglessness, and the sense that the world had already turned the corner toward oblivion. Mostly optimism prevails here, but it is a titanic struggle. This was written at the height of Rush’s fame and power, but they chose to make an album that neither fans of their 1970s proggy indulgence (Hemispheres) nor converts to their improbably pop-infused muscular rock (Spirit of Radio) would love. The production on Signals is painstaking but comparatively spare and there are keyboards all over where they shouldn’t be. The focused bass still growls, the guitars are all telegraphed emotion, and Neil Peart, RIP, plays drums like a lead instrument. The searing compressed punch of Signals is the overlap of the two decades that are my musical youth.

Fates Warning – Live Over Europe (2018)

Fates Warning is—alongside Queensrÿche and Dream Theater—one of the “big three” of progressive metal, a genre that took the complex compositional aesthetic of progressive rock and played it through walls of distorted metal guitar sounds. Fates was always my favorite of the holy trio since to me they deftly steered between the straightforward time signatures of QR and the virtuosity-at-the-expense-of-songwriting of DT. The distinctive tastefulness of Fates Warning is largely due to the flawless textural playing of guitarist Jim Matheos, who owes more to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Rush’s Alex Lifeson than to Yngwie Malmsteen. Fates Warning’s songs also tend to be reflections on human relationships, rather than the sci-fi themes that are common to the genre. The key to FW’s compositions is the interaction of the two guitars, where the chords complement each other in unexpected ways. This live record is a comprehensive summary of their 35+ year catalog and is to me the last word on this corner of metal.

Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain (2006)

I go through spans when I think that black metal is the only honest authentic musical genre and the only one worth listening to. Variously pagan, spacious, lo-fi, humanist, and feminist, the best records don’t forgive you for your self-deceptions or pat rationalizing bullshit. Black metal vocals much of the time dispense with ordinary melodic singing: the post-musical point is meaning devoid of distracting form, since most music just rehearses and reifies commercial superficial simplemindedness. Agalloch is in my view the best of the USA black/folk metal bands and rivals anything from the Nordics. Their music is melancholy and nature and incorporates eclectic inspiration from ambient and doom. I like all of their records but end up listening to Ashes Against the Grain most because it maintains that wide-open feel of drawing diverse influences. The previous offering, The Mantle, is straight-up folk metal (and fucking amazing) and the subsequent records seem to me more statically visceral. In Ashes we have repetitive droning guitar lines punctured by strange and simple leads. Agalloch’s songs tend to be about nothing, though not nothingness, and instead are vignettes of emotion. Black metal is music to asphyxiate stupidity.

Between the Buried and Me – Colors (2007)

There’s progressive metal and there’s black metal, so of course there will be cross pollination. To me, the pioneers of this intersection are Mercyful Fate, Death, Opeth, and Cynic. Those are mandatory. But the most innovative, wild, and technical-but-listenable playing these days is by North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me. Hearing to them is kinetic, it makes no sense to not play it at high volume, and, depending on your mood, you can be boggled by the artful instrumentation or exalted in the global brutality. The lyrics are social transhumanism and the politics of futurism. There’s a reasonable case to be made that Opeth’s “Deliverance” has the best outro in the genre, but BTBAM’s “White Walls” on this record gives it a run for its money.

Phillip Glass – Akhnaten (1983)

In the fall before the global pandemic, I got to see a performance of Akhnaten at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. I knew Phillip Glass’s work from here and there, but this performance was like the sky cracking open, and now I basically listen to it all the time. The opera follows the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his failed attempt to unite Egypt under a monotheistic worship of the Sun. Glass’s composition is famously minimalist and repetitive, with small motif changes building up over time to move the listener. For me, the dominant affect is of menace and majesty in change. The movements are a series of tidal waves, and the singing is always divine.

Logan Watts

My musical preferences are a little eclectic, to say the least. I came up nurturing my pre- and post-pubescent daze with a playlist of gateway hard rock like Led Zeppelin into a blizzard of metal with the usual suspects like Iron Maiden and Metallica, morphing into a thick slew of punk rock, speed metal, and every other metal subgenre. Nowadays, I listen to everything from a wealth of bebop and progressive jazz to a variety of indie rock, and from all varieties of metal (still) to folk-rock/songwriters (mostly women, such as my recent crush, Phoebe Bridgers). I don’t listen to music while I ride very often, but when I’m in the photo editing or graphic design cave, I dig in. Here are a few that have been in the mix lately (nothing too heavy—aside from The Body). Many of these are longtime favorites that I’ve recently dug back into because of a new release by the same artist.

Logan's Mixtape

Have a Nice Life – Deathconciousness (2008)

Back in 2017, this album (and HANL’s other albums) was on heavy rotation as I was pretty much incapacitated during a back injury. I immersed myself in programming and design work at the time and would consider this a seminal album that helped pull me through this bleak time, despite it being a rather bleak album. But, there’s much more to it that requires one—or several dozen—listens to fully grasp. Given that there’s a 70-page manifesto on this album, it goes without saying that it transcends its unique mix of shoegaze, doom, black metal, synthpop, and noise. This band also led me to several others in this post-metal shoe-gloom genre, such as Giles Corey and Planning for a Burial.

the Body

The Body – All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood (2010)

The Body is a guitar/drums metal duo out of Portland, Oregon. After the 2021 release of I’ve Seen All I Need To See, I revisited their catalog, particularly their collaborations with Uniform and the record that drew me to this band back in 2010. All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood was a truly groundbreaking album at the time and blends everything from throat singing, a 13-member gospel choir, harsh noise, and black metal into an explosive, mesmerizing, and terrifying masterpiece… that is, if you like this kind of thing. All the Waters is a visceral, grim, and sometimes disturbing record with lyrics that chaotically deliver the failure of everything in an unintelligible series of melody and cacophony, as any true black metal work should. I wore it out in 2010 and it’s getting re-worn out again as of late.

Logan's Mixtape

Deftones – White Pony (2000)

It’s hard to define the Deftones. Formed in Sacramento, California, by frontman Chino Moreno back in 1988, they started off with a moniker as a rap-metal band, but morphed over the years and have settled into something of an indie-alt-metal band. Either way, they have their own sound. Originally released in 2000, White Pony was recently remixed and released. It’s long been my top album pick from the Deftones, so I was happy to find a reason to revisit. I pretty much like all of Deftones’ albums, but this one’s definitely special. Back in an era of “nu-metal” folly bathed in sex, drugs, and hair, this album rose to the fore as something unique.

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (2012)

Despite her relatively recent (~decade-old) debut, Sharon Van Etten quickly became one of my all-time favorite indie-folk-rock musicians back in 2012. I recently dug into an album that I missed upon its release, and while Remind Me Tomorrow might be her best album to date, it led me back to the record that sold me on her in the first place. Notice a trend here? Tramp is a spellbinding look into Sharon’s own personal tragedy and rebirth. From the opening track on it take you through a menagerie of emotions, all of which are accompanied by her brilliant vocals and compositions.

J Mascis

J. Mascis – Several Shades of Why (2011)

Better known as the lead vocal and guitarist for Dinosaur Jr.—one of my top 10 bands—I might consider J. Mascis one of my all-time musical heroes. As with many of the bands and individuals I’m perpetually drawn to, J. has a sound and approach that’s utterly and completely his own. While not as eardrum ripping as Dinosaur Jr, his solo work has a similar feel that can be attributed to his guitar work, which exhibits a particular clarity that’s playful and intricately his own. Recently, he released a compendium of live performance—from his first acoustic set to newer stuff—which led me back to this album.

Lucas Winzenburg

Try as I might, I’ve come to realize I’m the kind of person who doesn’t do silence very well, so I almost always have some kind of music playing in the background, regardless of what I’m doing. As of late, it’s usually something ambient, a genre I’ve been growing to appreciate more and more in recent times. My current project is slowly listening my way through the entire Pacific Notions playlist from KEXP on Spotify (search for “kexp ~ pacific notions”), which features a growing list of more than 3,000 blissful tracks that are almost guaranteed to help improve your frame of mind. My other favorite genres are electronic, post-rock, and world, and I’ve tried to assemble five albums that capture all those sounds below:

Four Tet – Parallel (2020)

Last year’s Parallel by Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet, was my go-to riding album all through Berlin’s grey and dreary winter, especially while bundled up out on solo rides. It opens with a moody, engrossing 26-minute track. Once you’ve journeyed through the opener, the album moves into some brighter and dancier tracks, then closes with a couple of melodic tunes. All in, I find Parallel to be a beautiful soundtrack to frame a quick morning spin.

Mogwai – Young Team (1997)

Mogwai’s music has a way of finding its way back into my usual shuffle every so often. Though it’s hard to pick a favorite album from the Scottish post-rock group’s deep catalog, their 1997 classic, Young Team, is one I consistently make my way back to, especially when I’m riding and I need something to pick myself up. It’s helped propel me through the last few kilometers of a long ride on more than a few occasions.

Mum – Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today is OK (1999)

The experimental Icelandic group Múm has had an ever-changing lineup of members during their time as a band, and as such I’ve found their albums to be hit or miss. But their first release, Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today is OK is something truly unique and worth experiencing. I don’t have the faintest idea how to explain this particular kind of noise, but I’ll never tire of hearing it.

Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate – Ali and Toumani (2010)

Both masters in their own right—Ali Farka Touré of African desert blues and Toumani Diabaté of the kora—this 2010 collaborative album is such a gift. It blends their two sounds in an unexpectedly harmonious way, and tracks such as Ruby never fail to transport me someplace else, which is an especially welcome relief as we enter month four of lockdown. Ali & Toumani is one of my top picks for cozy nights in.

Bicep – Bicep (2017)

Because I’m almost certain no one else will include any electronic music in this list, I want to highlight Bicep’s self-titled 2017 release, which has been one of my most-played albums in the past few months. The second track, Glue, is sounding especially resonant as of late. If you enjoy it, I highly recommend checking out the beautiful music video on YouTube.

Miles Arbour

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a music aficionado, it has played an important role in my life and I love listening to something while I’m working and riding bikes. I tore up my high school in a comedic band called Rocket Dogg, and one of my favourite pastimes is making up songs with funny (to me) lyrics. I’m also open to nearly any genre of music. My dirty little secret? I can’t get enough of top pop playlists while riding solo, and often find myself bobbing and grooving so hard you’d think I was leading a disco-light, bass bumpin’ spin class. Find my latest musical contribution over at the Bikes or Death Podcast.

Miles Album Picks

Born Ruffians — Red, Yellow, & Blue (2008)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Born Ruffians. Back in the early 2000s, they recorded one of their first albums (albeit under a former band name) a few kilometres away from my childhood home in Wyebridge, Ontario. It’s been really cool to follow them over the years, creating quite the name for themselves in process. Their earlier work is definitely the most nostalgic for me. Fun fact: Steve Hamelin, the drummer, slept on our living room floor after one of my older brother’s high-school parties.

Miles Album Picks

Bahamas — Bahamas Is Afie (2014)

I’ve been able to see Bahamas live twice now, and it’s always been a truly special experience. Afie and Felicity’s vocals are so on point every time, it’s hard not to get shivers when listening to some of their slower songs. I’m a huge fan of their newer stuff, but Bahamas Is Afie is a reliable favorite.

Miles Album Picks

Shad — A Short Story About A War (2018)

Like a lot of the music I listen to, I discovered Shad while listening to CBC Radio. While I was converting my Ford Transit into a camper, Shad quickly become my album of choice during long nights throwing wrenches and bleeding from my knuckles.

miles album picks

Ratatat — Magnifique (2015)

I can’t tell you how many days I walked around Trent University, where I studied after high school, jamming hard to Ratatat. Their music has a strange way of being perfect for any situation. Whether I was getting ready for a night out, riding my longboard through campus, or working through a breakup, there was a good chance I had Ratatat playing on my old iPod.

miles album picks

Future Islands — Singles (2014)

A good friend introduced me to Future Islands after seeing them play on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2014, the same performance that led to the band going viral. Samuel T. Herring’s incredible dance moves and death-metal growls are anything but off-the-shelf, and they are definitely worth checking out if you haven’t heard of them.

Neil Beltchenko

I don’t really have a particular taste, I kind of like it all. Well, except metal, but I’ll give every album at least one shot. I typically listen to music in one ear on bike rides that are somewhat longer, but I also enjoy listening to music very loud on Friday or Saturday night with a beer in hand. I grew up going to Umphreys McGee shows in high school. I would lie to my parents, saying I was going to the school dance, and instead drive down to Indianapolis from Chicago to see a show. I was pretty dedicated. Here are some albums I’ve been listening to regularly as of late:

Van Morrison – Moondance (1970)

I downloaded this and Astral Weeks (1968) after some random person on Twitter told me there were no better back-to-back albums ever produced, so of course, I had to download them both. I came to liking Moondance slightly more but they both have that incredible Van Morrison songwriting and infectious vocals.

Phish – 12.31.95 New York, NY (1995)

If you’re like me, you’ve really been missing live music. Thankfully, we had Trey’s Beacon Jams broadcast this fall and Phish’s rebroadcast of this show on New Year’s Eve as their annual Madison Square Garden New Years shows were canceled due to COVID-19. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this show, but watching it on new year’s eve was a whole different experience. This concert showcases the band’s musical talents, their goofiness, and how well they can just rock! This hiatus of live music is just a reminder that the visual experience is just as important as the sound.

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill (1995)

This one was on the heavy rotation as I was exploring my musical appreciation growing up in the 90s. Fast forward 25 years and here we are again, but if I’m being honest this one is on constant rotation. Alanis crushes this album from front to back and it’s a 90s gem. Looking back at it, I’m not sure how I was able to listen to this as a kid, but I’ll blame my older sisters on that one.

Pearl Jam – MTV Unplugged (1992)

It’s hard to keep Pearl Jam off this list. Remember MTV Unplugged? These shows seemed to bring the best out of bands. If you get a chance, head to YouTube and subscribe to our channel, then go and watch this concert. It’s an emotional roller coaster that gets me every time. “Jeremey” gives me the chills and “Porch” is an absolutely incredible finale.

Tea Leaf Green – Destination Bound (2020)

Tea Leaf Green was an up-and-coming band when I started going to shows as a teenager, and while I never saw them live I would often download their shows on Napster and the like. But then they went dark, or so it seemed. A seven-year gap between albums is typically not a great thing but the wait was well worth it. Destination Bound brought back all the old feels.

Virginia Krabill

I don’t listen to music very often while I’m cycling. Our local trails have too much traffic and our roadways have too many aggressive drivers for me to safely compromise my hearing. As such, the only time I ever listen to music on my bike is when I’m on remote dirt roads, far-removed from any hustle and bustle. Often, that means I’ve landed in some pretty spectacular scenery, and I find that the right choice of music can make the experience really magical. At other times, I use music as a tool. Just getting to these more remote locations usually requires hours in the saddle and some long, steep climbing. When I’m feeling spent, listening to more aggressive tunes gives me the energy to keep pedaling.

I haven’t been getting out on too many long-distance rides lately, so there’s nothing new in my music mix. That said, these are some of the albums that I tend to fall back on time and time again. They’re old, but they reliably get me where I need to be, whether that’s in a zenned-out, hippy freak-out kind of space or a super-charged, conquer-the-mountain rhythm.

Ween – The Mollusk (1997)

The Mollusk was Ween’s sixth studio album and, in my opinon, it’s their best. It’s a nautically themed concept album that is playful, energetic, surreal, oddly touching, and beautifully executed. As an interesting side note, the album was purportedly a major inspiration for Stephen Hillenburg’s creation of Spongebob SquarePants.

Tinariwen – Aman Iman: Water is Life (2007)

Tinariwen is a group of Tuareg musicians from northern Mali. Their music is reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré’s desert blues with some hypnotic groove and extra funk thrown in for good measure. Their 2007 album, Aman Iman: Water is Life, is their most acclaimed and is a truly transcendent work of art.

Sleep – The Sciences (2018)

I’m not a smoker, but the slow, crushingly heavy and repetitive rhythms of these stoner/doom metal pioneers puts me in a meditative headspace that’s hard to beat on long rides. The Sciences, released on April 20, 2018, was the band’s first studio album in nearly 20 years, but it proved that some things just get better with age.

The Mars Volta – Deloused in the Comatorium (2003)

The Mars Volta formed after the break-up of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López’s post-punk band, At the Drive-In. The band’s progressive rock sound is imbued with jazz and classic Latin rhythms in their Grammy Award-winning album Deloused in the Comatorium. This concept album’s frenetic vibe is fierce and just the kind of thing I need at the end of a long day in the saddle.

Bad Brains – I Against I (1986)

I Against I was the third album produced by the DC-area icons of hardcore punk. It’s more of a rock album than their earlier works, but still gives heavy nods to punk and reggae, while being a little more approachable to a wider audience.

Spot any of your favorite albums in this list? What else should we be listening to? Let us know in the comments below!

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