Marcy Playground – Marcy Playground (1997)
One band that got lost in the shifting sands of the post-grunge years was New York’s Marcy Playground. They were never gonna be a revolutionary band, but I think they were certainly victims of bad timing, and changing trends within the industry. This, their debut, produced the single “Sex and Candy” which became quite a big hit and propelled them into the spotlight for a while. But it soon faded. And they seemed to disappear from the radar. The thing is, this band wrote some really good songs. Their sound was undeniably Nirvana-influenced, especially songs like: “Poppies” and “Saint Joe on the School Bus”. But it was their other tracks where I feel they came into their own. Songs like: “Ancient Walls of Flowers”, “A Cloak of Elvenkind”, “One More Suicide” and “The Vampires of New York” that came to symbolise what I dug about Marcy Playground. Catchy laconic tunes with a weird obscure semi-acoustic bent. The lyrics have an ironic detachment that makes them kinda boring on paper, and you’d think kinda (not very funny) jokey to be sung, but what made it all work was the melody being sung, that carried these words was usually so instantly friendly – like old songs you knew at school or nursery rhymes – that the irony became (at its best moments) a kind of sweet and tender poignancy that came across sadly defeated and nostalgic rather than maudlin or navel-gazing or whatever. Really an underappreciated band and album…
Girl Talk – Feed the Animals (2008)
Gregg Gillis…a mild-mannered Pennsylvanian biomedical engineer by day…and by night, as the moon rises and the lunatics come out to play, he tears the lab-coat off (quite literally, sometimes) as he morphs into his dance-crazed mash-up DJ alter-ego: Girl Talk. A 21st century superhero, armed with his trusty laptop and FM radio, mashing together all manner of songs and samples and beats into a juicy form of dance pop. The songs he uses as source material for his digital alchemy are so disparate (eg: Jay-Z, Toni Basil, Rod Stewart and Aphex Twin – within one song) that it’s a true feat of sonic collage to combine such wildcard elements into a highly listenable context. And it’s these skills as an arranger that stands out after repeated listens. Even though upon a first taste one is seemingly bombarded with countless pop references, the restraint exercised allows the listener to identify the samples and enjoy the fresh juxtapositions (or if you’re slow, like me, at least get a sense of them – and it’ll come to you later, probably while you’re brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed). The tendency for some would be to push it to further extremes into Breakcore territory. Which is still interesting, but stops being as much fun for me. (Plus, who can dance to breakcore?) And that’s what this music is, above all else – Fun. With each release, he has always pushed more samples into each song, clocking up something on the order of thousands of pieces of song. He has continually tested the limits of the form without losing the playfulness. Perhaps one day we’ll see the logical extension of his ideas, and he’ll release a one song album that contains a snippet of every song ever recorded! His Mash’em Opus. Now there’s a challenge…do it, Mr. Talk…I’m there dude.
(I should probably point out that despite my love of music, I can’t dance to save my life. My free & easy use of words concerning dancing are simply meant for you…if you are so inclined to shake it. And I hear you saying: ‘Hey, Decoy, that’s classic, me too, I can’t dance either -’…well, let me just stop you right there – nah, friend, you can dance…okay?…compared to me, you can dance…trust me…)
Jaco Pastorius – Jaco Pastorius (1976)
One of the saddest stories in 70s/80s Jazz, is the untimely death of Jaco Pastorius at the age of 35. The man could play electric bass like no other. And he made some great recordings with other 70s jazz hounds like Pat Metheny and Paul Bley. I first heard him on Joni Mitchell’s jazz-laced Hejira (1976), where he played on four tracks. But that same year saw the release of this, his first official solo effort. Here, with songs like, “Come On, Come Over”, “Continuum” and “Okonkole Y Trompa” he finally got to show the world he could back up his lofty claim: “I am the greatest bass player in the world.” Upon meeting this cocky cat, Joe Zawinul (the acclaimed jazz keyboardist who played with Miles Davis during Miles’ groundbreaking electric period, and who went on to form Weather Report) thought he was full of shit, and himself. But Joe went home and listened to Jaco’s demo tapes and subsequently recruited him for Weather Report’s next album, Black Market (1976). Jaco would stay with them for five more albums as a full-fledged member of the band, before releasing his second solo album Word of Mouth (1981). His playing was very influential not only in the world of Jazz, but you can trace his sound and style through funk’s evolution and even the alternate-grooves of Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He had an effortlessly smooth style, and his dexterity is really something to behold. Shifting from rhythm-section to lead and back again, he could be at once a blur of notes and then a big bulbous drone throbbing behind the scenes. Even if you’re not a fan of jazz or funk or whatever else you’d call his music, he probably remains an influence on something you’d like, such was the impact of this outrageously talented (and unfortunately tragic) musician/composer.
By Decoy Spoon