Month: May 2017

Blessings from the Beach Boys…

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Here’s a geeky question for you. Ready ?…because I’m telling you it’s really geeky. Okay, so what would your “dream band” sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way ? Vocals, sound, songs, everything. I love hearing people’s answers to this because they are often weird as hell, simultaneously awesome and distressing. I’ve spent (too) many waking hours pondering this question and know without question that my mythical band would involve ’70s era Chaka Khan or Gladys Knight fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973. It shouldn’t surprise that I’m still waiting for this unicorn to arrive. Okay, I had a false alarm a few years back when Laura Mvula first came onto the scene. She had the voice and there were some Brian Wilson-esque flourishes production-wise on her debut LP both of which were enough to raise my childish hopes for a second…but no, as sweet as it was in parts, it just wasn’t it. And so, in the interim, I’ve had to make do with other stuff . Maybe “make do” is a bad way to put it as there have been a whole lotta beautiful, singular songs that have surfaced over recent years by a new generation of artists that have been touched by that Wilson genius ( not just Brian’s but Dennis’s too). Songs that proudly wear their Pacific Ocean saturated hearts on their sleeves.

Here’s a playlist called, “Beach Boy-esque” and I ask that you forgive me on that title. It’s been in my iTunes with that name for ages because basically, that’s what every song in it is. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing and is suitable for both extended driving excursions or solitary sessions of introspection in your room (where else). There are some truly beautiful things out there so have a listen and hey, if anyone out there has any recommendations, I wanna know a.s.a.p. !

The Beach Boy-esque Playlist:

p.s. The playlist doesn’t include Lewis Taylor’s The Lost Album which is basically the sound of a one man British-Soul-Beach Boys. This is because I insist you listen to the whole thing. It is ridiculously, mindblowing-ly gorgeous.

Wavy ID “Every Day”

This is peculiarly hypnotic, as in, was compelled to play it roughly 5 times in a row after first listen. It’s a mournful, lush thing that absolutely smacks of 1985, with an early Prince-style synth, and Green Gartside-esque vocal ( he of Scritti Politti)…yet despite that, it sounds like a demo, so there you go.

Le Pie “He Gave You a Smile”

Le Pie’s love for the legendary girl groups of the Sixties is brazen, and blatant, and this track, off her new “Sad Girl Theory ” EP, is one shining, handsome homage. With the “Be My Baby” drumbeat as it’s foundation, it somehow manages to be melodic, desperate, and laid back, all at the same time. Good, good,good.

Curve “Coast is Clear” (1991)

Toni Halliday of Curve was not a warm, sweet girl next door. No. She was all mean and scary and beautiful like Fairuza Balk in “The Craft”. This persona was to me best exemplified during a show Curve played at Irving Plaza, in NYC, back in the ’90s. In between songs a guy predictably yelled out “marry me !” to her. Toni, the human embodiment of a raven, stood at the mike, totally deadpan, then said and I quote “In your fuckin’ dreams mate“. It was uttered with such hostility I still have nightmares about it. “Coast is Clear” is a chilly, cold, wondrous piece of alternative shoegazery, is basically the blueprint for most songs by Garbage and is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Curve is concerned. Definitely check out their first 2 studio albums ” Doppelgänger”, and ” Cuckoo”, as well as “Pubic Fruit”, a compilation of their early EP’s. It’s all scary good.

Camp Howard “Juice”

Pretty heavenly harmonizing enveloped in a slightly post-punk-ish groove, yes, this is a handsome thing. It’s also slightly reminiscent of the Split Enz classic “One Step Ahead”,  all understatement, and melodic twists, and turns, and that’s a fine thing to be sure.

Sneaky Boy “Turpentine”

Can’t go wrong with a song named after a flammable liquid ( see: Miranda Lambert “Kerosene”)…but seriously, this is short, sweet, and tuneful, features the most gentle of vocals, and chugs along with a real grace.

War “City Country City” (1973)

Here’s a show of love from Guest Rediscover-er, Andy Moreno, of the Brooklyn Food Monkey blog. Take it away Andy….

Even though War’s “The World is a Ghetto”, was the #1 selling album in 1973, I don’t feel they’ve received their deserved accolades: they were, and are, a treasure. Recently I’ve been revisiting key albums from my brother’s 70’s record collection, ones that moved me enough to ultimately include them in my own pile.   He’s 68 now, and battling liver cancer. This ritual helps me to feel close to him while examining that time from an older perspective.

Musically, the 70’s had so many faces, emotions, and ways of mirroring the world.  Wherever you were in your life, there were bands to perfectly portray that place.  War’s instrumental track “City Country City” is an excellent example of their moody variety of musicianship.  Like a song recalling better days, Lonnie Jordan’s organ gives a gorgeous sundowning feel, before he lights it all on fire. That pairs just right with Lee Oskar’s slightly somber, and hypnotic, genius harmonica chorus.  A sax solo was never so cool, with conga drums guiding you through it.  In this song, you hear all the energy of youth, as reality and struggles pour in. For me, this multi-cultural blend of Latin, funk and jazz especially in both this album, and “All Day Music” (1971), perfectly echo the bleakness, and grace of my Midwest factory hometown.

Nice Place “It’s Pretend”

“It’s Pretend”, jangles, and shines, is a little bit power pop, and a little bit Postcard ( Scottish label that was home to Aztec Camera, and Orange Juice in the 80’s). Also check out “Her Face” from last year above, for some joyful Suede like glitter, and romance. Make no mistake, these guys know their way around a tune.

Colourbox “The Moon is Blue” ( 1985)

Colourbox were an unusual, esoteric pop band that were on the 4ad label, and put out a grand total of 1 full length album, in 1985. It was a absolutely a pop record, with proper songs, and ear candy, but it also had an electronic tinge, and featured some nascent sampling experiments. It was unquestionably different, and sounded nothing like the other stuff that was big at the time ( that being Duran Duran, Culture Club and the like). The band consisted of Martyn, and Steven Young, who later went onto to fame, as part of M/A/A/R/S, creators of the massive “Pump up the Volume”, and a vocalist by the name of Lorita Grahame.

I stumbled upon them after reading a review of this song back in the day, their new single from summer of ’85, and bought it solely based on the positive review, without hearing it. When I did, I just fell in love, and couldn’t stop playing it. It sounds like the Ronettes in outer space, a big lush, melodic, and desperate waltz. And so here’s to it, 32 years later, and still a gorgeous thing.

West Coast: A Love Story

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“They say he’s got an ’81 Firebird, I’m still in my ’79”

( Paul Davis lyric from “Somebody’s Been Gettin’ to You”)

For me, that line kind of typifies the West Coast sound, a sound which during its 1978-1983 heyday, was as pervasive in the U.S. as hair metal was in later in the decade. During those years, the top 40 charts were littered end to end with the stuff. The “sound” was typified by supreme musicianship, slick production and melodic cleanliness, and the people that made it tended to be straight white guys within the age range of 25-35. And as the state of the art recording studios in Southern California were where the overwhelmingly majority of it was created, at some point, years later, it started getting referred to as West Coast. When it was actually happening, it was just pop music, but the latterly coined genre name and the sound are admittedly a perfect match.

As for the music itself, I loved it. It spoke to me in ways I did not understand since I had nothing in common with the people creating it or their life experiences ( I was also obsessed with soul man Billy Preston, so there you go). I listened religiously to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings with anticipation, hoping for a new smoothie to spend my allowance on. The deal was, if you had a neatly trimmed beard and were leaning on a sports car, in a crumpled yet clean linen suit, with the sun descending behind you on the cover, and your single was at least # 39 in the chart, I bought your record. I trusted you and I loved you. My big obsession for awhile was this guy named Robbie Dupree who turned out to be from Brooklyn, but to me, was the West Coast-iast of all the West Coasters. His self-titled 1980 album is full of sleek, lonely and lovelorn tunes, nearly all of which I just plain f-ing loved. I would play it endlessly whilst simultaneously attempting to draw portraits of Robbie’s sullen bearded face as he stared out sadly from the album cover.

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Come on and hold me,  just like you told me…

There’s been a major resurgence in the popularity of West Coast over the past handful of years. In 2014, the lovingly curated Too Slow to Disco compilations appeared on the scene, collecting favored vintage cuts by some of West Coast’s finest and garnering a surprising amount of attention and critical love from the requisite “tastemaker” music blogs and mags. Then in 2017, brilliant bass man Thundercat featured esteemed West Coast royalty Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on his super fine Drunk album. But of course it was the “Yacht Rock” phenomenon that really reignited the mass interest in the artists and songs of the West Coast world ( though the parameters of what qualifies as “Yacht” are ridiculously inconsistent…says a purist…me). It’s great that people are openly, brazenly loving these songs without guilt (as they should be) and artists that were “forgotten” are getting some attention. But the term “Yacht Rock” will never be an official part of my music vernacular. Never, because to me, especially teenage me, it’s never been an ironic joke. West Coast forever baby.

And with that here’s a playlist of spineless, wussy and awesome songs that continue to shine as brightly as a million suns, to play in your ’79 Firebird, as you drive to 7-11. They’re just waiting to be found