Well, here we are. We weren't thrust into a new dark age oblivion, the world didn't end and neither did my workaday quest for the best music for the day. This year was rife with records that just had to be snatched -- reissues, compilations, and a fair few newbies too.
Here follows my personal, "show and tell" style best-of list for 2012: the year that didn't stop the big wheel a-turnin'. Rather than just dicing up a list of cold-cut favorites, I've included personal events and trends herein that shaped the music I sought and gravitated towards within the past year.
BEST NEW ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Jessica Pratt - JP. No contest. I have naught but the best of things to say about this disc of spun gold and I'm not alone. It seems every Barry, Rob, and Maurice in the blogosphere has been falling all over this record like autumn leaves in the rain. If you really want to know my take check out my real talk review of JP here, otherwise please do enjoy the album's opening track, "Night Faces" below.
BEST 2012 REISSUE: It's a tie between two (Numero related) comps: WTNG 89.9FM: Solid Bronze and & Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974 - 1984. Both platters piled high with private press oddments and rarities one could hardly go more wrong than to miss out on these two exemplary feats of the compilation arts. The former being a point of revision for many in that it is essentially a mix of largely unheard "yacht rock"/AOR triumphs of seventies song-writing sensibilities (man, is it ever sensibly sensitive) that confronts one's moral definition of guilty (listening) pleasures. The latter comp, Personal Space - a seemingly dark horse among the usual reissue fare fleshing out the the soul comps shelf space, made the rounds among Amoeba staff regularly thus enjoyed a healthy amount of in-store play as well. Chock full of rhythm-box workouts a la Sly Stone, Timmy Thomas and Shuggie Otis, it's a far-out soul/funk excavation of the highest order. Both of these are solid front-to-back listens for the home vinyl library/curio corner.
If there's one thing an appreciation of music micro-genres has taught me it's this: work in a record store long enough and you'll eventually get into everything. Being predisposed to an appreciation of all things nautical by nature and developing a fondness for "theme" restaurants during my formative years it was only a matter of time before I would incur an full-on addiction to Exotica. At first I admit I mostly overlooked the jazz elements inherent to the genre, however pleasantly tropical, but obsession has a funny way of broadening ones taste for the far flung and curiously obscure. While I cannot trace my collection back to one single acquisition I can proclaim without a doubt that this squaw has stalked the warpath for Exotica, in all it's varied and as-yet-unconfirmed aspects, for quite some time. I'm so hot for it I'm on fire and, with that admonition out of the way, I'm pleased to report that a vinyl reissue of Eden Ahbez's seminal contribution to the genre, Eden's Island: The Music of an Enchanted Isle (out on Moi J'Connais/Black Sweat via Mississippi Records), is once again gracing the selections in Amoeba Music's Lounge section at long last!
A beach-bummin' beatnik guru by nature, Eden Ahbez was famous for three things: penning the pop/jazz standard "Nature Boy" (made famous by one Nat King Cole), looking a lot like Jesus (both on the original Eden's Island cover art, circa 1960 above on the left, as well as the updated screen-printed jacket housing the current reissue pictured above right), and thriving on a diet consisting of raw fruit and vegetables, living outdoors with his family beneath the first L of the Hollywood sign in the grassy Los Angeles wilderness. His music is a strange arrangement of piano, flute, and exotic percussion instruments fused with nature sounds (rolling surf, the creak of a wood-masted sailboat, squawking birds, breezy gusts of wind), and features a mixed chorus or Ahbez's own cheesy vocal musings, waxing poetic about a snake-chasing mongoose, living in an old shack by the sea, fires on the beach, and knowing "the thrill of loneliness" -- charming, to the last.
Eden Ahbez - "Full Moon"
From here we embark upon a new adventure in film.
I've spent countless, happy hours fantasizing the paradisiacal ideal while imbibing perilous quantities of rum disguised as exotic cocktails courtesy of my favorite local tiki temple --- an activity that always serves to spur my desire to explore the visions of other folks who, like me, possess a natural inclination for romanticizing the genre Exotica in all it's mythic and delightfully bogus configurations. Specifically, a designated fantasy realm as glamorized almost as much as it is spoofed by the so-called civilized world, or tropical ersatz: the non-native, pseudo experience of Oceania and other enticing ports of call.
Until now I've kept these mental meanderings mostly to myself, only occasionally sharing my ruminations with whomever occupies a bar stool nearby and all the while becalmed beneath the warming fog of grog. From this day forward, however, I seek to nourish my untiring preoccupation with genre by delving into a more conceptual, considerate means of satisfying these vivid tropical itches I keep having. The time has come to put some sober thought into this journey beyond the music in favor of a more lively, animated intoxication I like to call Cinema Exotica (not to be confused with that mid-nineties Canadian film about a Toronto strip club).
But where do we begin? Perhaps with a question: if Exotica, the musical genre, provides the adventure-seeking listener an array of quasi-tropical aural impressions with which to induce a mini mental holiday, then how would these cerebral spells manifest if they could be fully realized? That is to say scripted, financed, and committed to film for the ages. Mulling this query has inspired a sort of personal silver-screen safari: my quest to find films that I feel qualify for classification into a logical Cinema Exotica film genre -- a genre that doesn't really exist as far as I can surmise. I mean, research suggests that the words have more to do with adult entertainment than anything else (google it any way you can and see what I mean).
What do you get when two nerds from the same record store meet regularly to discuss all manner of music, art and general enjoyment over rum flights and multiple cocktails at San Francisco's best stocked "tiki" lounge? Hmmm, somehow I can't rememeber...
Martin Denny & Si Zentner "Tiki" from Exotica Suite
...oh right, "Ports O' Call" --- three hours of uninterrupted Exotica mixed live on the wheels of steel as a part of Amoeba's weekly, in-house "Mandala" DJ series! DJ Martin Baxter Lyman (a.k.a. Amoeba jazz-man extraordinaire, Mr. Scott Walker) and DJ Long Gone Gamelan Gong (that's me!) will be exploring the experimental themes and concepts of Polynesian infused grooves from the founding fathers of Exotica and their Tiki temple grounds to popular Hapa Haole and Surf styles, with respect to native influences inherent to and modern music influenced by the genre. So if all sounds Exotica are your thing then this Friday, February 25th, from 6 to 9pm is the best time for you to come down to Amoeba Music in San Francisco to do a little vinyl treasure hunting while we mix up some island fever inducing south seas sonic realness. Requests welcome!
Martin Denny & Si Zentner "Tiki" from Exotica Suite
Howdy and Happy New Year, one and all. I've spent about a week and half, that is the first week and a half of 2011, listening only to the music I purchased last year and I've come up with a list of stuff that I am not only not sick of but ready to live happily ever after with. Here's what I love the most, my best picks for music released in 2010, and you know it's gotta be firm 'cause it's all I've been living on. Let's go:
Sun City Girls - Funeral Mariachi (Abduction)
This is the kind of record that you listen to repeatedly, one side at a time. I think I must have replayed side one at least five times before moving on to play side two again and again --- it's just a mesmerizing and solid piece of work, enchanting and haunted by an astounding breadth of world music influences (no doubt culled from field recordings, transmissions and the like Sun City Girls has gifted to the public via their Sublime Frequencies label, which pretty much makes them, alongside Mississippi Records, the Smithsonian Folkways of our generation). This release is held even more dear by the fact that it is the last Sun City Girls record due to the death of drummer and vocalist Charles Gocher Jr. in 2007. It's also a limited release, so get it while you can. In fact, it's the "get it while you can" of 2010.
Sun City Girls - "Blue West" from Funeral Mariachi