February 2014: Dream of the'80's

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Hollywood (Africa) - 2003 Digitally Remastered Without actually meaning to, I've established a habit of making a mad dash to visit friends in warm places sometime every February-March. Thanks to my impulsive, travel-fixated girlfriend I got to escape the pure stupidity of this winter for five days in Southern California visiting my good friends Jon and Kenley. The culture of that part of the country kind of cracks me up, with at least a surface adherence to stereotypes - lots of very fit, very tan white people unloading surfboards from the roofs of their cars, hoards of unintentionally androgynous little skater kids, lots of bright colored clothes, fish tacos, good vibes, etc. I'm not complaining, mind you, it felt amazing to be there - although the lack of brown people in the places we visited clearly speaks to serious segregation/stratification. Gabe knowingly made me the happiest man in Encinitas when she requested Red Hot Chili Peppers on our drive down the coast to the airport in San Diego. "Wait, old Chili Peppers or new Chili Peppers?," I asked skeptically. "Old Chili Peppers, of course." Synchronicity was achieved, zooming south parallel to ocean beaches full of shaggy dogs and bronzed bodies listening to this music which changed my life as a 15-year-old and drips Southern California from every funky nook and cranny. Listening to the whole album, it really hit me how big a part of their early success was due to their facility for honoring their musical heroes with covers, including this superb colonization of the Meters' "Africa." It's possible that the Red Hot Chili Peppers' true talent lay in being the best cover band of their generation, and I don't think it's a coincidence that their abandonment of recorded covers coincides with a marked decline in the quality of their music. That's just my opinion, man!

Fishbone – I Wish I Had A Date Reflecting now on this entire playlist, I realize it's basically one big nostalgia trip. Part of that comes from a Saturday I spent cleaning up my cassette tape collection when I realized the cases they'd been in for about twenty years were disintegrating around them. Like most people my age, the different eras of music listening in my life are signified by different formats of music, with tapes representing my musical taste from about 11-16. Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers feature prominently in my tape collection. I love this music, and my fascination with Fishbone's early music has not diminished. I don't know of another band who could synthesize such an incredible range of musical ideas, be completely original, and make it all sound like a bunch of complete goofballs. Seeing them live as a teenager broke my brain, and nothing I've ever seen lives up to the mix of extreme mania and unparalleled musical skill they threw up on stage. A recent New York Magazine feature listed a 1992 Fishbone concert in Tokyo as one of the top ten full-length concerts available on Youtube, placing them in the company of James Brown, Frank Sinatra, and Charles Mingus.

Kendra Morris – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) I stumbled on Kendra Morris through some twisted path I can't quite recall now, and have given this album of imaginative, sometimes inspired covers serious time in my ears this month. A good cover honors the original and puts a new spin on it. A great cover can make you completely reevaluate an original (no matter how mediocre) by seizing the kernel of genius within and spinning it into something barely recognizable. I played this for Kenley in California and watched the sheer confusion on her face as she tried to figure out why she was so familiar with this song she'd never heard. Listening to the whole album is kind of like a really great mixtape.

Mexican Institute Of Sound – Sinfonia Agridulce Speaking of unsettling covers. Jon played this for me in response to Kendra Morris. I have to say, the ease with which this instrumentation accommodates the original arrangement is the most startling aspect of the whole thing.

Moondog – Autumn For about six hours one Tuesday I fell down a deep, deep Moondog rabbit hole. As a composer, he's incredibly versatile, original, strange, and sort of timeless. His biography is kind of bonkers, too. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of all this great music, but in the meantime here's a pretty succinct sample, one part proto-hippy-mystic, one part Mingus. Jon mentioned to me that he got turned on to Moondog through electronic music, which makes perfect sense somehow.

Neneh Cherry – Blank Project Neneh Cherry staged a critic-fueled comeback in 2012 with a collaboration with the Swedish avant-garde jazz outfit The Cherry Thing (named after a tune by Neneh's stepfather Don Cherry). Although I really liked the idea of an 80's pop star reentering the popular zeitgeist from such a sideways direction, the music was just a tad too out for me. This new album retains the angular, confrontational spirit of that recording, but does so through extreme subtraction - stripping arrangements down to the vocal+beat formula of contemporary pop, but keeping it gritty through the tension of programmed beats and a great live drummer, who is recording to sound exactly that.

Alice Russell – Citizens All my Kendra Morris-ing led me to Alice Russell. I like this song.

Baloji – a L'Heure D'ete/Saison Seche Since I used Baloji's comment and Bob Boilen's reaction to kick off last month's screed about World music, I thought it would only be fair to actually play some of Baloji's music. Juicy and meaty. I'm trying and not succeeding at finding the lyrics (+translation) online.

Tinariwen – Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam A new one from this Malian band that has started to become classic, regularly making waves well outside of the World music scene (ex. - I knew there was a new record because Pitchfork reviewed it). Recorded in the U.S. with guest musicians, including country fiddler Fats Kaplin, who melts right into the dry tumble of this song.

Willie Scott – Jamie Reaburn A while back on the great FB music discussion group I'm in, someone posted a link to a new service called Forgotify, whose tag line is:"4 million songs on Spotify have never been played. Not even once. Let’s change that." Essentially, you go to their website, press the big green button, and start listening to something totally random. I love the idea of it, and actually got turned on to some great classical music and then this great a cappella piece by Willie Scott, who after a bit of googling seems to have been an actual shepherd and definitely a Scot. It's kind of a challenge to believe that some of this stuff has never been played by anyone on Spotify, but it does make some sense.

Машина Времени – Наш Дом Steve insisted I listen to this ditty from 80's Russian superstars Time Machine. I think it sounds like Russian dudes trying to do American Country music, which in the context of the Cold War is pretty stellar.

Grateful Dead – Truckin' (Remastered Album Version) I feel bad about inflicting this on other people, but after a late night music listening session with Gabe, in which it came out that I did not know this song, I had it stuck in my head like age-hardened gum under a diner table for about a week. I've heard some Grateful Dead I like, and although I wouldn't put this on that list, you gotta respect a song that gets so incredibly lodged in your brain (no matter how out of tune the harmonies are).

INXS – Suicide Blonde Phew. Goddamn I love INXS when they are hitting it, as they most definitely are here, having absolutely mastered their special sound. The production is so so shiny. Hutchence sounds great. And I love that harmonica. At age 11 or 12, when I first started buying my own tapes, INXS was the first band I got into, and I still think Kick is one of the best records ever. Tapes and tapes and tapes and tapes....