Liner Notes for Endless Playlists: Learning to Love Deeper and Stepping Outside Yourself Through Mixes

Mixtape Week
Dusty Henry

From Aug. 26-30, KEXP celebrates our first ever Mixtape Week. All week we'll be featuring on-air mixes created by our listeners and celebrating the art of the mix – whether it be cassette, CD, or digital playlist. We'll also be sharing stories on our website from writers, KEXP staffers, and more – like this piece below from writer Dusty Henry.

Two of my favorite things to do are buy records for other people and making friends mixes. And while I’m sure my friends would appreciate a mix out of the blue, my introverted self often shies away from pulling the trigger feeling that I may be coming off too strong. I’m not sure if there’s anything truer to the spirit of Mixtape Week than being awkward and weird about making someone a mix.

But there is one person who’s been the recipient of many of my mixes – my wife, Kristin. Music has connected us since we first met and bonded over our love of Rocky Votolato. It continued when we hung out in her dorm room and exchanged heaps of music over thumb drives. As we started dating, it was only natural that I’d start making mixes. I haven’t stopped. 

I name each mix pretty basic, as numbered volumes. Recently, we broke into the 70s. But that number isn’t entirely accurate – I had built up that vol. 69 (nice) had to be on another level, so after vol. 68 I stalled with mixes 68.5 and 68.75. Ultimately the self-imposed pressure was holding me back from making more mixes, so I ended up just making a playlist of mostly love songs to keep the momentum going. Time waits for no bad joke. 

Mixes one through five are lost to the sands of time. Okay, that’s skirting the real story. The first five were all burned on CDs. CDs which were in her car. Her car which I totaled just a few months before our wedding trying to make a turn on Elliott Avenue. Whoops. The only place I had those mixes backed up was on a laptop that my former roommate drunkenly spilled water all over. Clearly, I had my shit together at this point in my life. Through the advent of streaming, which was fairly new when I started these mixes, I started to make digital playlists instead. 

In all this time of prolificity, I’ve hardly ever taken stock of what’s been created. I may reference a mix here or there, but primarily it’s a constant look forward to the next one. But I do think there are things that I’ve carried with me throughout this near decade long pursuit. 

I need a lot more words than the attention span a blog can contain to cover all these mixes. But as we’ve gone through Mixtape Week, I’ve been going back and re-listening to many of these artifacts from our relationship. It’s a curious experience, not unlike looking through an old photo album and seeing old haircuts and the way “things used to be.” Beyond nostalgia, I’ve found not just a document of our relationship but revelations of what these mixes have taught me. Lessons I didn’t know I was even learning.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to share some pseudo liner notes on some of these mixes. 

Vol. 6
The Magnetic Fields - Love Is Lighter Than Air
The Roots - Make My (feat. Big K.R.I.T.)
LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great
Yuck - Rubber
Remy Zero - Belong
Real Estate - Green Aisles
Rihanna - We Found Love
St. Vincent - Marry Me
Pedro The Lion - Whole
The Shins - Caring Is Creepy
 Say Hi - All The Pretty Ones
 James Blake - A Case of You
 The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You
 M83 - Wait
 Bryan John Appleby - Backseat
 Rocky Votolato - Om Ma

“Love is lighter than air
It floats away if you let go
Love is lighter than air
It rises through the falling snow”
The Magnetic Fields, “Love Is Lighter Than Air”


Because of the aforementioned car crash, this is the oldest mix for Kristin that I have. Dated Jan. 10, 2012, it’s likely the first mix I made for her after we got engaged. At the time, I was wrapping up my last quarter of college and working a few different internships – one at an arts venue, the other writing for a property management blog (I know, right?). It was an exciting and nervous time. The future seemed bright but uncertain. We had a life to look forward to together, but I had questions about what my career would look like and if I'd be blogging about home improvements forever.

I have blurry memories of piecing this mix together in the back room of the arts venue, not realizing at the moment that this would be the space we’d eventually have our wedding. As with most mixes I make, it started with a single song that inspired a “vibe.” That song being The Magnetic Fields’ “Love Is Lighter Than Air.” 

It’s natural for love songs to make you think about the people you love. The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merrit writes about love in such a profound way that always stops me in my tracks. I love how ephemeral he makes love sound on this song. It can float away, drifting from you if you’re not careful to preserve it. This song seems pessimistic on its face, but I think it’s more cautionary with hints of optimism. A reminder to keep the love that you have and not let it go. I think that’s pretty romantic. 

When I listen to this mix, I can feel those waves of blossoming love. But I also feel the worry, not about us making it, but about how to make our future attainable. A listless longing for certainty in everything else. The melancholic beat of The Roots’ “Make My,” the shoegaze slump of Yuck’s “Rubber,” and some Pedro The Lion to boot. 

If I’m being self-critical (welcome to my inner-voice, y’all) this is not the strongest mix I've made for Kristin, well-intentioned as it was. I love all these songs...and that’s sort of the problem. It feels like it veers too close to things I’d want to hear than what she’d want. Those things do cross over, obviously. But when you’re making a mix for someone else, I now realize there’s an aspect of removing a bit of yourself to make room for the other. It’s something I’d learn more as these mixes continue forward. 

Vol. 7.5
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass

“Boy you got my heartbeat runnin' away
Beating like a drum and it's coming your way”
Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”


This mix is pretty much just about sequencing. 

I made Kristin two mixes for Valentine’s Day 2012: a traditional mix and this spectacular ode to Nicki Minaj’s masterpiece. I’ll never be able to hear “Super Bass” and not think about Kristin. I love how much she loves this song, especially how much she loved it when it came out. When we’d venture to Hamburger Harry’s in Ballard (RIP) for some debaucherous karaoke with friends, you could count on Kristin eventually jumping on the mic to go off about booming systems and the “guy with the thing on his eye.” 

She has a beautiful singing voice but opts to rap a monster hit. She’s always defied expectations and done something even more spectacular. 


Vol. 13 
Jeff Buckley - Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan cover)
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Tigers
Dan Deacon - Lots
Wild Nothing - Nocturne
Swans - Song for a Warrior (feat. Karen O)
Horse Feathers - Drain You (Nirvana cover)
Christopher O’Riley - not half right (Elliott Smith piano cover)
Stagnant Pools - Dreaming of You
Frank Ocean - Super Rich Kids (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)
Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
Radiohead - How To Disappear Completely 
The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday
Glen Hansard - Rare Bird
Rocky Votolato - Like A Mother
Thom Yorke - Atoms For Peace

“Oh, you can have me
You can have me all”
Wild Nothing, “Nocturne” 


In contrast to Vol. 6, this was the first mix I made for Kristin after we got married. When I hear it, I can visualize our first apartment, still slightly bare as we acquired furniture and decor – learning how to merge our lives. We lived just a few blocks away from Sonic Boom Records. Stopping by after dinner to pick up a record became a recurring activity. Two of those pick-ups, Wild Nothing’s Nocturne and a bootleg of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange were on constant rotation. Our couch wouldn’t show up for months due to some issue at the warehouse, so we’d pile pillows on the floor while we binged Breaking Bad. We’d cook meals for ourselves, praising each other for “adulting.” 

Around this time, we bought tickets to see Glen Hansard at The Moore. We’d seen a rapturous performance by his band The Swell Season early-on when we were dating, so I bought nosebleed tickets thinking it’d be best to try and not replicate something when such a high-bar was set. But halfway through the set, Hansard asked everyone in the balcony to come to sit in the aisles and enjoy a close-up view. He’d later walk off the stage, beckoning us to follow him like a grizzled Pied Piper. He led us all out into the street, playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s “Passing Through” in the middle of 2nd Avenue. 

There was an undeniable feeling of magic at this time. That every moment could be spectacular. This mix is just a small piece of this beautiful moment. 

Vol. 28 - Valentine’ Edition (AGAIN!)
The Magnetic Fields - The Book of Love
My Bloody Valentine - Sometimes
Childish Gambino - V. 3005
Mac Demarco - My Kind of Woman
New Order - Age of Consent 
Glen Hansard - Fallen From The Sky
Death Cab For Cutie - Stay Young, Go Dancing
Mark Mulcahy - Love’s The Only Thing #2
Nick Drake - Place To Be
R.E.M. - Electrolite 
Paul McCartney - Maybe I’m Amazed
Red House Painters - Revelation Big Sur
Jeff Buckley - Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin
Frank Ocean - Forrest Gump
The Avett Brothers - The Ballad of Love and Hate

“Over there, and I want true love to grow
You can't hide, oh no, from the way I feel”
– My Bloody Valentine, “Sometimes”


There’s making a mix for someone you love and then there’s making a mix about love for someone you love. It’s a paper-thin difference, but something I think is crucial to consider. 

Valentine’s Day playlists are especially tricky. Right away, it comes with a bit of baggage – depending on your view of the holiday as a commercial vehicle. Over time, I’ve come to accept Valentine’s Day as just an excuse to celebrate love as long as you approach it genuinely. In a mix, that means avoiding major song tropes. Putting “I Will Always Love You” in a mix isn’t terribly original (though exceptions can be made for personal significance). I got dangerously close with Vol. 28, indulging in “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Making a love mix is both an extension of your view of love and telling the story of your love with the other person. It needs to invoke the spirit you share, mirror your romance. For me, love has always been mysterious. I love the sarcasm embedded in The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love.” Before I was ever in love as a dorky, lanky teenager, I’d cite this song as “what love really looks like.” I guess I got lucky in finding someone on that same wavelength, who can scoff at corniness while indulging in corniness when the time is right. 

Made two years into our marriage and four years into our relationship as a whole, I feel this mix starts to see our love coming into focus. But it’s the wooziness of “Sometimes” I think that gets me most. Kristin showed me My Bloody Valentine before anyone else and this was the first song she showed me. I’d never heard anything like it before. The faint vocals cooing in the maddening distortion. You can’t quite make out what’s being said, but you feel the intention behind it. Love is just as elusive and alluring. 

Vol. 35 
A$AP Ferg - Shabba (feat. A$AP Rocky)
Parquet Courts - Stoned and Starving 
Bill Fox - Song of a Drunken Nightengale
Teen Daze - Orange
Mac Demarco - Chamber of Reflection 
Real Estate - Navigator 
Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
Strand of Oaks - Goshen ‘97
A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Crushin’
Guitar - Sunkissed
 Kanye West - Flashing Lights
 Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
 Phantogram - Black Out Days
 Shabazz Palaces - They Come in Gold
 Drake - Too Much (feat. Sampha)

“We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble
And in the night time, we go out and scour the streets for trouble”
– Alvvays, “Archie, Marry Me”


We probably listened to “Shabba” nearly every day during the summer of 2014. Every time I hear it, I think about hot Seattle pavement and the shitty speakers in our old Ford Escape. I remember watching him together with our friends under the scorching sun at Capitol Hill Block Party, feeling free and weightless. 

When it wasn’t “Shabba,” we’d blare out “Stoned and Starving” – shouting out the lyrics in a mimicked monotone. Then subsequently rushing to turn down the volume because the ending guitar feedback would drive us crazy driving back from a bubble tea run on the ave. 

I remember listening to “Chamber of Reflection” on repeat working a desk job with little to do, crammed in a room with two other people and frosted over windows, feeling directionless before going home to work a night shift at a music blog to “follow my dreams.” Kristin was there to endure my constant complaining and voiced self-doubt. 

A trip to San Francisco, where she insisted we buy an album by a band called Alvvays that I’d never heard of. 

Listening to the new Drake album, debating if it was on par with his last one but eventually both of us gawking at the ballads like “Too Much.” 

A cramped midday show at The Crocodile back bar with A Sunny Day In Glasgow, friends in tow. 

Another perfect summer that we didn’t realize was perfect at the time. 

Vol. 45
Majical Cloudz - Downtown
Kurt Vile - Wild Imagination
All Dogs - Blackhole
Radiohead - Idioteque
Childbirth - Siri, Open Tinder
Kendrick Lamar - These Walls
Wilco - Magnetized
Father John Misty - I Went To The Store One Day
Broken Social Scene - Guilty Cubicles
Majical Cloudz - Downtown

“And if suddenly I die
I hope they will say
That he was obsessed and it was okay”
– Majical Cloudz, “Downtown”


Hardly ever will I put a song by the same artist twice on a playlist, sometimes making exceptions for solo projects and offshoots. But to put the same song on a playlist twice? Blasphemy. 

Then I heard “Downtown” by Majical Cloudz. I was in the car after a botched “audition” to join a friends band, feeling insignificant. I pulled up the song, having heard considerable hype behind the release. As fate would have it, I was driving toward downtown Seattle to pickup Kristin who had been visiting a friend. 

I had to put the song on repeat. Listening again and again as the rain darted against the windshield in the October night. It was like a stereotypical movie scene. Smudgy streetlights glowing hazily in the dark. The lazy pace of cars on wet pavement, passing apparel stores. Reverent silence in the car, while I let the music wash over me again and again. 

When I finally got to Kristin, I knew I had to show her the song right away. We listened. And then we listened again.  

Flo Rida - Birthday
Nicki Minaj - Feeling Myself (feat. Beyonce)
Rich Gang - Lifestyle (feat. Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan)
Charli XCX - Vroom Vroom
J Dilla - So Far To Go (feat. Common & D’Angelo)
Wilco - Either Way
Father John Misty - I Went To The Store One Day
Justin Bieber - Sorry
Kate Tempest - The Truth
 Kristin Kontrol - X-Communicate 
 Kero Kero Bonito - Lipslap
 Daft Punk - Something About Us
 Mitski - Your Best American Girl
 Ben Kweller - Thirteen

“You have come so far
You've got so far to go”
– D’Angelo, “So Far To Go”


My philosophy with mixes for other people usually involves mixing in things they love with things I think they’ll love. But birthdays are an exception. This is their day. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to impose my will. 

This mix was a shorter, more personal companion to a much larger playlist I made for Kristin this year called “KRISTIN IS A PARTY,”  appropriately made for a back bar birthday celebration with friends, family, and Sailor Moon episodes on loop. That mix was pretty much just completely made of party bangers – heavy doses of Rae Sremmurd, Future, Young Thug, Fetty Wap, Usher, Spank Rock, and Lana Del Rey. 

A birthday mix should be fun. Kristin may not be a Flo Rida devotee (at least to my knowledge), but a bit of goofiness goes a long way. It’s meant to feel like a celebration. You should indulge yourself on your birthday. Have your cake and (literally) eat it too. Maybe drink a little more than you typically would. Put on that guilty pleasure pop song and say fuck the haters. 

That last part is one of the biggest lessons Kristin has taught me. To let yourself be who you are and not let other people take that from you. Making this playlist was so fun because I felt as free as she appears to me. Slipping in The Biebz between Father John Misty and Kate Tempest is so Kristin to me. 

I remember how free she seemed at the birthday party. All the people we love surrounding her and showing her love. Bringing giant cat-shaped cakes, buying fancy looking drinks, and joining her in a chorus of “Safe Sex Pay Checks.” 

Vol. 62 - Five Years!
Kendrick Lamar - LOVE (feat. Zacari)
Dude York - Love Is
The Drums - I’ll Fight For Your Life
Jay Som - I Think You’re Alright
Childish Gambino - Redbone
Bon Iver - 33 “GOD”
Frank Ocean - White Ferrari
Beach House - She’s So Lovely
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
 Kanye West - Bound 2
 My Bloody Valentine - When You Sleep

“I'll be your cigarette ashtray 
Come back when it's too late 
Worship you till morning comes 

Oh, I think you're alright” 
– Jay Som, “I Think You’re Alright”


I make a lot of rules for myself. That goes for almost every facet of my life but especially mixes. You’ve probably picked up on that. Despite what I said about Valentine’s Day mixes, I couldn’t help but give in to gooshy love songs with this mix for our fifth wedding anniversary. 

Rounding out my 20s, I already feel myself getting softer. I never used to cry at movies and now I’ll start bawling at an impassioned Nicole Kidman monologue (Lion was fire, my dudes). Yeah, there’s no “Maybe I’m Amazed” here, but it’s about as straight-forward of an “I freaking love you” mix as I’ve ever made. It’s also one of my favorites. 

It makes me think about how I’ve overthought love. Whenever possible, I steer toward melancholy. It’s almost automatic. The playlists I make for myself are exponentially darker than the ones I make for Kristin. Maybe it’s masochistic, maybe I just really vibe with sad music. Who’s to say? 

Something is refreshing about just embracing a straightforward sensation. Allowing yourself to embrace love as something not mystical, but alive and beaming. The punchy pop-punk promise of Dude York’s “Love Is.” The quiet moments captured in Jay Som’s “I Think You’re Alright.” Even Kanye’s breakneck beats and one-liners in “Bound 2” flash with affection. 

Maybe I’ve always been corny (I can almost hear Kristin say, “ya think?!”), but it took me at least five years to really embrace it. 

Vol. 67 - SufcakKe

Sufjan Stevens - SuperSexyWoman
cupcakKe - Crayons
Sufjan Stevens - I Walked
cupcakKe - Duck Duck Goose
Sufjan Stevens - Drawn to the Blood (Sufjan Stevens Remix)
cupcakKe - Spoiled Milk Titties
Sufjan Stevens - Too Much
cupcakKe - Best Dick Sucker
Sufjan Stevens - I Want To Be Well
cupcakKe - Jesus
Sufjan Stevens - Visions of Gideon
cupcakKe - Cartoons
Sufjan Stevens - Chicago

"I fell in love again
All things go, all things go"

 - Sufjan Stevens, "Chicago"


For the most part, Kristin doesn’t make requests for the playlists I make her. Her input, when it comes, is often vague – like “make me a punk mix.” This one was posed to me as a challenge. After over 60 mixes following my whim, I was excited to push myself to my limit. 

If two artists represent ends of the spectrum of Kristin’s taste, it’s most definitely these two: Sufjan Stevens and cupcakKe. In the car, it’s not uncommon for her to play a soul-wrenching ballad from Townes Van Zandt and then immediately request bombastic bops from Rico Nasty or Megan Thee Stallion. I love that about her. Sufjan and cupcakKe couldn’t be more different musically, but we all continue multitudes, right? Sufjan’s whispery vocals often facilitate tender ballads of existential and spiritual longing – woefully looking into the abyss. cupcakKe raps about sex with unabashed vulgarity and tactical rhymes that would make 2 Live Crew blush. 

Anyone can throw a bunch of Sufjan and cupcakKe songs on a playlist and call it good, but that wasn’t the goal here. How do you make these artists make sense together? What’s the common thread between them? How do you make a mix between the two flow naturally? These thoughts weighed in my head as I approached this playlist. 

On its face, this is the goofiest mix in the Kristin’s Mix canon. A novelty, if you will. But I had to put some serious thought into this one. Where do these two artists intersect? What does Kristin love about them? In the description, I wrote “Sufjan and cupcakKe uncover the real mysteries of love,” which became a sort of thesis statement. Just because cupcakKe raps extensively about sex, that doesn’t make her work any less thoughtful. Sufjan gets praised for his vulnerability in his songwriting. But what’s more vulnerable than what people do behind closed doors? 

What I didn’t want to happen was for cupcakKe to become a punchline. And admittedly, transitioning from the end of Sufjan’s experimental brooder “I Walked” into cupcakKe belting, “I thought I came but I peed on the dick” still makes me laugh. (I’m giggling to myself in a coffee shop writing this right now, probably confusing the other patrons.) Within that contrast contains the human experience. Emotions come and go in waves. 

Important to this mix was also not just relying on the “hits,” although I knew “Duck Duck Goose” had to get in there somewhere. It meant digging deeper into the artists and finding common ground. Rediscovering Sufjan’s “Supersexywoman” was the first breakthrough. Even though it’s backed with a chugging acoustic guitar, lines like “She's got superpower hips for super reproduction” could easily fit on cupCakke’s Ephorize. And likewise with cupcaKke, going back through her discography I discovered the track “Jesus” – a conflicted religious scree that feels just as tumultuous as Sufjan’s own blurry religious tomes. Tell me “I'm attached to my God like Siamese twins” doesn’t sound like something from Seven Swans.  

The mayhem of cupcakKe’s “Best Dick Sucker” plays nicely into the Sufjan’s frantic breakdown in “I Want To Be Well.” The hazy outro of “Visions of Gideon” fades into the clattering rhythms of “Cartoons.” And, of course, it wraps up with Sufjan’s classic “Chicago” – a not-so-clever nod to cupcakKe’s hometown on my part. 

Admittedly, Sufjan and cupcakKe are not artists I wouldn’t ever pair on my own. I can feel you shaking your head while you’re reading this, dear reader. But this mix reminds me to embrace dichotomy. To not let myself be boxed in. Something Kristin helps me with each day. Her fearlessness to love what she loves, to exist on multiple planes. It makes me feel brave to see her do it and to tap into that mindset for just a moment while making this mix. All things go. 

Vol. 72
Standing on the Corner - Girl
Yasuaki Shimizu - Boutique Joy
Y La Bamba - Una Letra
Adrianne Lenker - abyss kiss 
Chastity Belt - Ann’s Jam
Wand - Wonder (II)
Jason Molina - I’ll Be Here In The Morning (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Eyedress - Nice Girl From a Nice Part of Town
Lana Del Rey - Venice Bitch
Stephen Steinbrink - Become Sphere 

“There will never be another girl like you”
– Standing on the Corner, “Girl”


This is the most recent mix I’ve made for Kristin. Just a few weeks ago, in fact. It’s my favorite of all of them. But maybe that’s just because it’s the freshest in my mind. 

I think I love this one because it’s so simple. 10 tracks, 40 minutes even. There’s no special event tied to it. No birthday, anniversary, or holiday. Just a mix I started one day after I heard the sloppy, lovesick beat of “Girl” by Standing on the Corner. It came together with ease. Sitting with my fingers at the keyboard, I’d remember a compilation of breezy Japanese commercial jingles to then discover “Boutique Joy.” Suddenly recalling the romantic swoon of Y La Bamba’s “Una Letra.” Each track almost appearing out of thin air and spilling into the playlist. 

I love how it feels lovely without overstating it. Just a passing acknowledgment. No rules or limitations. A natural compulsion of the heart through songs I think she’d like to hear placed next to each other. And I guess that’s the whole point of making a mix, really. 

I wonder what I’ll think looking back at this one. Maybe I’ll have critiques or things I’ll appreciate and take note of. Only time can reveal those answers. No doubt there’s more I need to learn. But with each mix, I feel like I understand her more. And through seeking that understanding, I learn more about myself. How to put someone else first in your mind, to meet their needs, and to find joy in their joys. 

This won’t be the last mix and there will never be another girl like her. 

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