Music to make your guests think you're cool
January 22, 2019 4:42 AM   Subscribe

What are the coolest cats playing to soundtrack their lives and good times?

I now have my own place where I can host guests for the first time (woo!) I like to have music on in the background, but I'm stuck in a loop of old faves and my spotify recommendations are all out of whack because of Christmas music.

I'd especially like tunes that fit perfectly into the background of a coffee morning or wine evening, and are just plain cool and will make my guests think my place is the best place to hang out ever. Any genre (I tend to like jazz, classical, experimental electronic stuff, very chill hip-hop, folky indie strummy, post-rock). Spotify or youtube playlists, or specific artists or albums. Bonus points if it's non-English. Thanks!
posted by mymbleth to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 131 users marked this as a favorite
My partner and I often start the day with Berlin Community Radio. We’re on US Eastern time, so we’re tuning into what is early afternoon there. Right now there’s a great jazz track playing (that just transitioned into a funky synth disco-y song in German) but it varies a lot. It’s always great.

We’ve always loved Chances with Wolves as well for their fantastic mixes. They often play (funky) non-English covers of well known songs. One very special episode consisted of nothing but Eleanor Rigby covers.

Finally, take a listen at The Lot Radio, yet another Internet radio with a very diverse set of shows. The video feed of the DJ booth is great to have in the background.

... also forgot to mention WEFUNK, a well established radio of funk and mostly old school hip-hop. That online radio’s 20 years old..!
posted by vert canard at 5:02 AM on January 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

I've been loving the new stuff from Circles Around the Sun. Kinda like a funky Grateful Dead mashed up with the music from the Peanuts cartoon.
posted by oh pollo! at 5:15 AM on January 22, 2019

Superorganism is an international experimental electro pop collective. Very cool imo.

Jain is French, and spans a wide variety of electronic genres, also pop.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:29 AM on January 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Pink Martini might fit the bill
posted by jtexman1 at 5:42 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by exogenous at 5:52 AM on January 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

i recommend delving into the nts archives, all former shows are online and include (usually) decently annotated track lists. the track listing is searchable so just search on some stuff you already know you like and go from there.
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 6:10 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:27 AM on January 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Anything by Washed Out.

Some things by STRFKR.

Pretty much any Beach House album.

(Caveat, these are all pretty whitey-mcwhite, so ymmv.)

Congrats on the new place!
posted by Temeraria at 6:38 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't say I'm cool for for the vibe you're looking for I would 100% put on What's Happening in Pernambuco, a comp of contemporary jazz/electronic music from northeastern Brazil. Standout track for me is "Bob," by Otto.
posted by escabeche at 6:45 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Apocalyptica's early instrumental tracks work well for this. It's easy to talk over because there are no lyrics and cellos play under most people's speaking voices. Plus, they started off as a Metallica cover band, so a lot of people get moments of, "Whoa, is that Enter Sandman? Sorry, what was I saying?" (in a good way).

Zoe Keating, cello and looping has many of the same properties but often a smoother, more relaxed air.

Michelle Mclaughlin does a bunch of light tinkly piano music that fades well into the background.

Anyway, the key is no lyrics and mostly not in the same frequencies that people use to talk.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:50 AM on January 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Soma FM has lots of great feeds that fit your descriptions. Not much non-English language, but plenty of electronica, jazz and downtempo stuff.
posted by slogger at 6:56 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Radio FIP from France covers just about everything you are looking for. The "main" channel is pretty wildly eclectic, which can be a little jarring for "background" music sometimes for my tastes, but they have separate channels for Jazz and other genres. They have just the right amount of DJ narration in French for a non-French speaker (a little bit for atmosphere, but not so much that you feel totally lost).
posted by Mid at 7:09 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Came in to say Chances With Wolves, but vert canard beat me to it! It's our go-too party/game night/drinks soundtrack. International rarities and deep cut gems served up in a radio show format, complete with the occasional interlude of DJs shooting the shit. They've been running for years, so there's a healthy backlog to root through.
posted by prewar lemonade at 7:14 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nothing bores me at a gathering like people racked by what to play next. It's worse these days when we live in a singles world instead of the album world I grew up in.

As a long time record dealer, the coolest thing you could do to impress me as your guest is to stop fiddling with play lists, remotes, and tracks, and put on an album that is great beginning to end. Bonus points if I haven't heard of it before. Here are some suggestions from various genres that work in my house:

Junior Wells - Hoodoo Man Blues
Sonny Clark - Leapin and Lopin
Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid
Ike Quebec - Blue & Sentimental
Charles Mingus - Ah Um, or Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, or The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, or Blues & Roots (Mingus is America's greatest composer, imo)
Scott Engel - Scott 4
Geater Davis - Sweet Woman's Love
Gregory Porter - Be Good
Billie Holiday - Lady in Satin
Steve Reid - Nova
Amadou & Mariam - Dimanche A Bamako
Leon Thomas - Spirits Known and Unknown (might be too cool for some folks)
Star Room Boys - Why Do Lonely Men and Women Want to Break Each Other's Hearts
Brian Eno and Rick Holland - Drums Between the Bells
Bill Evans - Waltz for Debby
richard skelton - landings
Heptones - Party Time
Art Blakey - Moanin
Alice Coltrane - Ptah the el Daoud
Fela Kuti - most anything
Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou - anything
William Onyeabor - Who is William Onyeabor
The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love
The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Ali Farka Toure - The River, or Niafunke
Lounge Lizards - Live in Berlin vol 2
Omar Souleyman - pretty much anything
Dexter Gordon - A Swingin' Affair
Curtis Mayfield - Superfly
Clifford Jordan - In the World
Colleen - The Golden Morning Breaks
Casino vs Japan - Whole Numbers Play the Basics
Susumu Yokota - Grinning Cat, or Sakura
Ahmad Abdul-Malik - The Eastern Sounds of...
John Lee Hooker - It Serves You Right to Suffer
Cairo Records' 6 LPs of American Soul Music 1955 - 1972
James Carr - You Got My Mind Messed Up
Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land
Cliff Martinez - Solaris
Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (pretty much anything on Sahel Sounds is worth a listen)
Roll the Dice - Self Titled aka RTD (on Digitalis records)
Sonny Rollins - Saxophone Colossus, or Tenor Madness
Abner Jay - The True Story of
Chrissy Zebby Tembo - My Ancestors
Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece
julia kent - Asperities
Nina Nastasia - Outlaster
Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
Harafin So - Bollywood Inspired Film Music from Northern Nigeria

If you want suggestions in a particular genre or style based on any of these recommendations, feel free to memail me.
posted by dobbs at 7:24 AM on January 22, 2019 [46 favorites]

The Shimizu saxophone versions of the Bach cello suites are completely amazing and ethereal, and work really well as either foreground or background music.

Ethiopian jazz in general, and Mulatu Astetke in particular, is also really good for this. The Ethiopiques complilation albums are a really good source.
posted by implied_otter at 7:36 AM on January 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

For this purpose I always recommend Miles Davis's electric stuff, like the Panthalassa compilation.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago is also good.

There's also a lot of prog - no, wait, hear me out! - European prog rock that is really different from what people think of in the US. Matching Mole, Soft Machine and any number of projects associated with Henry Cow are interesting to play in the background.

Also Neneh Cherry's project with The Thing and Bjork's Gling-Glo. I mean, everyone likes Gling-Glo.

If you want music with, like, words, you might enjoy Francoise Hardy's self-titled album.

The album I can't stop playing right now is the Clientele's Music for the Age of Miracles, which is actually quiet and good in the background although it also repays attentive listening.
posted by Frowner at 7:39 AM on January 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

Of course as soon as I post I think of some others:

Tina Brooks - True Blue
Rhys Chatham - die donnergotter, or Guitar Trio is My Life
The Dirty Three - Horse Stories
Neu! - Neu!, or '75
Bobby Bland - 2 Steps from the blues (more soul) or His California Album or Dreamer (more disco)
Can - Tago Mago
Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians
Irma Thomas - Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans
Benny Golson - The Modern Touch
Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here
Chet Baker - Let's Get Lost (either the greatest hits or the soundtrack, both are great and share a title)
Betty Davis - s/t or They Say I'm Different
Jackie Shane - Live
John Lee Hooker - Live at the Café au Go-Go
Candi Staton - self titled compilation
Stanley Turrentine - That's Where It's At, or Look Out
Skip James - Killing Floor Blues
Sonny Criss - Sonny's Dream
Jackie McLean - It's Time, or One Step Beyond
Getatchew Mekuria and The Ex and Guests - Moa Anbessa
posted by dobbs at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

James Blackshaw - Cloud of Unknowing
Bobby Birdman - Born Free Forever
posted by dobbs at 8:32 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I recommend the album "The Golden Age of Danish Pornography" by Alex Puddu. It'll make your living room feel like a swinging 70s bachelor pad in an instant.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:44 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here are my favorites for this sort of thing:

--Anything by Kamasi Washington. It's jazz, so it makes good background music, but it's really interesting and groovy.
--Anything by Flying Lotus. More on the electronica side, but lots of instrumentals with some hip-hop verses.
--Similarly, anything by Thundercat. More singing than FlyLo, still pretty jazzy and electronic, also has some hip-hop verses.
posted by zeusianfog at 9:59 AM on January 22, 2019

Oh! Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat.
posted by witchen at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

electronic/instrumental/jazz/hip-hop based:
Wax Tailor - Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies - 2005
Nujabes - anything
Lemon Jelly - either album
Thievery Corporation
The Robotic Hands of God

Death - for the whole world to see
Incredible Bongo Band - Incredible Bongo Band
posted by fizzix at 11:16 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Won't what's "cool" depend entirely on the company you keep? One person's cool music is another person's Nickelback (Nickelback is very cool to someone presumably).

My suggestion for a whole cool album to play is Tyondai Braxton's Central Market. It's kind of hard to describe, orchestral but surprising and exciting, the kind of thing that can be listened to intently for your own internal imaginary Fantasia, or left in the background as the alien but curiously familiar OST to a Disney cartoon nobody could never produce.

Here's a spotify link, but if IIRC spotify won't let you actually just play an album start to finish in order, and this album I heavily recommend listening to in such a way. Might as well be one long track, for all the good dividing them apart does.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tom Waits
posted by knapah at 11:42 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Khruangbin, maybe?
posted by juv3nal at 12:00 PM on January 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

This is going to be a random list, because I'm pulling from memory and from my saved song list on Spotify.
+1 on Can and Khruangbin. If you like Khruangbin, try Paul White's recent release.
On Spotify I've been listening to an artist named DreamCast for a minute, very chill hip hop, organic instrumentation.

On YouTube, look for the Boiler Room session with Maseo from De La Soul. He covers a lot of ground, very soulful stuff.

Georgia Anne Muldrow has some great releases, though they're a little inconsistent genre and quality wise. Try Oligarchy Sucks for something more hip hop.
HA, a hip hop collaboration between Hodgy and Alvin Risk. Don't see a full length, but I've like the singles on Spotify.

Bill Evans, Live at the Vanguard Sessions. Everybody Digs Bill Evans is a good backup.
Jon Hopkins, Singularity or Immunity
Fourtet - New Energy and Morning/Evening
Hot off the presses, a new D'angelo track, "Unshaken"
Sneaks might scratch that global pop itch, getting an MIA vibe from the recent single.

Prince's posthumous "Piano and a Microphone" release.
Charles Lloyd's band collaboration with Lucinda Williams is top notch. Improvisational, but more roots than jazz.
Christian Scott's trilogy (the name is escaping me, red covers) is very good modern jazz fusion in the Robert Glasper vibe, but with trumpet at its heart. I believe there's also a supergroup with Glasper/Scott/Taylor McFerrin and some others. Check his Tiny Desk Set on NPR (Youtube).

Wish that everyone knew a little more about Steve Gunn and Hiss Golden Messenger. Re-exploration of some of the better intentions of 70s "back to the land" rock. Rootsy with a tasteful amount of jagged. "Saturday's Song," "O Little Light" and "Ancient Jules."

Recent discovery - The Waterboys. Unclassifiable, think 80s singer songwriter rock. "Some of my Best Friends are Trains" or "Pagan Place." Spawned World Party in the 90s.

Robyn Hitchcock's Propellor Time or Tromso, Kaptein Well-edited psychedelic songwriter rock. Like Ringo Starr and Dylan dropped acid and had a baby.

Guilty pleasure is Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam's "1000 times," a lyrical reboot on the Llewwyn Davis folk duet (not the Proclaimers') "500 miles" - can't stop playing it, the familiarity of the melody filtered through a lofi garage arrangement.

I've been really digging Colombian and Peruvian electro-cumbia downtempo on SoundCloud.

For the none more ambient hipster bonus: try the Spotify playlist built by NY Times, a list that Ryuchi Sakamoto for Kaijitsu, a restaurant whose food he loved and whose background music he hated. Search on Kaijitsu.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

We like putting on DJ Joshua James on Soundcloud.
In addition to clubs, he also DJ's on sunny days on the best restaurant patio in Victoria.
I made a playlist of a bunch of his mixes and we just let it run for hours, brunches, dinners, parties, lounging on our deck, you name it.
posted by drinkmaildave at 4:14 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been really enjoying Anderson Paak's stuff lately and Come Down was a huge hit when I put it on a friend's playlist a couple weeks ago.
posted by FakePalindrome at 5:07 PM on January 22, 2019

IMHO Grant Green makes for great instrumental background.

A few of his albums, via Youtube playlists:

Grant's First Stand

Feelin' The Spirit

The Latin Bit
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:41 PM on January 22, 2019

I typically make 8-10 hour playlists to use when we have company on the weekends. I usually try to minimize the amount of lyrics because I prefer for the music to be background. Instead of trying to communicate any entire mix, I'll just name a few artists that I like who always seem to go over well:

The Dining Rooms
Force of Nature
Empire of the Sun
Hot Chip
DJ Krush
Pete Rock's Petestrumentals albums
Wagon Christ

If I'm playing electronic music that sounds retro at all, I like to throw in a few songs from old console games for fun. Or if I'm playing 70's or 80's music, the theme song for a TV show from that period.
posted by heatvision at 4:38 AM on January 23, 2019

I like listening to Kevin Cole on KEXP. The genre is generally indie rock with hip hop and electronica thrown in the mix. He does the weekday afternoon show. KEXP has a 2 week online show archive that is searchable by DJ. He also does the “KEXP music that matters” podcast every month or so (it’s a weekly podcast).
posted by natasha_k at 5:08 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks all! Masses of stuff I've never heard of before to explore.

@GoblinHoney: You can play full albums if you pay for spotify premium. And download stuff to your phone! It's good.
posted by mymbleth at 6:07 AM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

from "Weekend" by Anne Beattie, published in the New Yorker in 1976:
In the living room Lenore turns the pages of a magazine, and Maria mutters a refrain of "Blue, blue, dark blue, green blue, noticing the color every time it appears. Lenore sips her tea. She puts on a Michael Hurley record on George's stereo. Michael Hurley is good rainy-day music. George has hundreds of records. His students love to paw through them. Cleverly, he has never made any attempt to keep up with what is currently popular. Everything is jazz or eclectic: Michael Hurley, Keith Jarrett, Ry Cooder.
Emphasis mine.
Specific rec? Maybe try Leo Kottke. Here's a sample.
posted by Caxton1476 at 1:43 PM on January 23, 2019

Hrm, the chill factor eliminates a lot of my go-tos.

Timelessly cool even when dated:
Neue, some Can, most Kraftwerk.
Surprisingly, Stereolab.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:36 AM on January 24, 2019

If you'd like giant series of mixes, I'd recommend
- Back to Mine, "based on what the artist would play at home after a night out, rather than as part of a nightclub session."
- Late Night Tales, a similar series
- DJ Kicks - Less focused as the ones above, but for me the mixes by Kruder & Dorfmeister and Thievery Corporation are the pinnacle of this series
posted by knile at 6:32 AM on February 7, 2019

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