Mix

Sophisti-Pop Summer now on Mixcloud!

sophisti cover

LISTEN HERE

It was way past midnight
and she still couldn’t fall asleep.
This night the dream was leaving
she tried so hard to keep.
And with the new day’s morning
she felt it drift away.
Not only for a cruise, not only for a day.

– Double, “The Captain Of Her Heart”

To mark it’s year anniversary I re-upped one of my best mixes with a few new songs for Mixcloud, a much more convenient way to listen. Go here for the Youtube list if you prefer that.

A summer mix invoking the romance, mystery, scenery and varying emotions of a lavish cruise as it begins a long journey overseas. Think sipping a cocktail as you watch the sunset, a romantic embrace by the docks or a suited pianist enchanting the crowd during their buffet.

This naturally doubles as a spotlight for the sophisti-pop genre best known for Sade and Prefab Sprout. Its cross of slick production and synths with elegant piano, strings, clean guitars, sax and/or brass has close ties to this imagery.

Track listing

1Double – The Captain Of Her Heart3:49
2Alain Delon – Comme au Cinema4:23
3Viktor Lazlo – Clair Obscur4:36
4Marcos Valle – Fogo Do Sol3:49
5Jeanne Mas – Lisa4:14
6Gazebo – Lunatic3:59
7ABC – Confessions of a Fool3:55
8Muriel Dacq – Tropique3:32
9Prefab Sprout – Michael3:02
10Ice Choir – Peacock In The Tall Grass4:11
11The Bernhardts – I Hear You Calling3:55
12The Style Council – The Boy Who Cried Wolf5:04
13Alaska y Dinarama – Un Hombre de Verdad4:30
14Luxury Elite – blush2:42
15A.V. Walker – Night Silk3:20
16Moodoїd – Kasbah5:32
17Kim Wilde – European Soul5:20
18Isabelle Antena – Laying On The Sofa3:41
19Miami Sound Machine – Surrender Paradise4:50
20Presuntos Implicados – No Hay Palabras3:53
21Djavan – Oceano4:56
22高橋幸宏 [Yukihiro Takahashi] – Brand New Day2:46
23西松一博 [Kazuhiro Nishimatsu] – 残照3:37
24Anna Domino – Bonds of Love4:49
25George Michael – The Strangest Thing6:00
26Bryan Ferry – Windswept4:20
27Deborah Harry – Strike Me Pink4:02
28Beata Kozidrak – Żal mi tamtych nocy i dni4:27
29The Painted Word – Night After Night5:32
30Vanity – Romantic Voyage4:48
31Enzo Enzo – Pacifico4:04

hidden treasure

Djavan – Lilás, 1984

More like this – Elza Soares’ “Lá Vem Você”, “Marcos Valle’s Marcos Valle

One reason I adore sophisti-pop is it’s SUPREME breeziness. Albums like Lilas have such a luscious yet steady groove that I lose myself in a blissful fantasy of the most refreshing morning walk. It’s something about the way the glittery keyboards shimmer over the smooth bass and such clear, idyllic pillows of harmony. On a song like “Esquinas”, the saxophone gets me lost in the image of endless cities or candle-fit cocktail parties. Music for having an easygoing Good Time, but the wistful way it frames the vocals leaves room for deeper thought without disrupting things.

I’d say the only thing that can enrich this further are some strings.. oh wait, they’re here, and they have a gorgeous way of flourishing into the arrangement just enough.

Well then, how about some Brazilian flavor? Evocative, romantic singers like Nascimento or Jorge Ben are sophisti bait, are they not? Having a past in samba himself, Djavan brings plenty of that, and the result is true ear candy if you like it smooth and don’t mind some subtle eighties-isms. (I don’t, of course.) As you may guess, the elegance of Portuguese and the samba-like atmosphere makes a breezy genre like sophisti even more breezy. For one, “Obi” brings a bossa nova vibe and the album’s richest strings, meaning Lilas has about anything I could ask for in a sophisti album.

This stuff is like gourmet strawberry pie as music; I’m sure my ears will always have room for that.

Mix

Don’t Disturb This Groove

Listen here

Track listing

B.Y.O.B. – sister sledge / let’s go together – change / she’s strange – cameo / driving satisfaction – grace jones / heartbreaker – evelyn champagne king /  still a thrill – jody watley / oh sheila – ready for the world / back and forth – cameo / have you heard the news? – high fashion / let it whip – dazz band / party train – the gap band / didn’t mean to turn you on – cherrelle / the character – morris day / don’t disturb this groove – the system / slow dancin – – phyllis hyman / thinking about you (prod. kashif) – whitney houston / all of you – pointer sisters / i love you too much  – stevie wonder / family man – kathryn white / why you treat me so bad – club nouveau / the glamorous life – sheila e. / i want my girl – jesse johnson / i betcha – klymaxx

Pictured: Phyllis Hyman

Deep Cuts · List

5 Grace Jones Deep Cuts You Can’t Miss

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Wishing Grace Jones a happy 72nd with this post!

Even during exciting eras like disco and the new wave, Grace Jones stood out and made many unique acts sound mundane. These were worldwide phenomenons that define the eighties’ myriad influences, but you won’t find anyone quite like Grace within them. That should say something.

Yes, Grace is a ‘muse’ (after all, she had an album with this name; she excels at it). So much appeal with learning her story is the way connects with fellow artists and producers. I felt I’d learn a new connection with every other page in her memoir. Still, I think it’s crucial to note that so much of that ‘larger than life’ character you see in her collabs revolve on her face, voice and personality in the end. None would wind up the same without her. It’s rare for anyone to mold her for real; she absorbs her surroundings, the extravagance of her voice shines through. No matter how poppy, how disco or how ‘weird’ she got, she rolled with it and made herself the life of the party. Grace brings glamor to anything without trying.

Her supposed ‘narrow’ range as a singer didn’t matter so much to me. I was too busy taking awe in her velvet-like elegance and unique dramatic flair. Her monotone brought hypnotic classics like “Private Life”, while others can rage with passion; let’s not forget “La Vie En Rose”. So often she comes off as this enigma, yet she can radiate this sense of warmth that draws me back again and again.

Most Grace tributes stick to her Sly/Robbie era, if they acknowledge the music, so I thought I’d break this ‘cycle’ by focusing on other eras this time.

1. “I’ll Find My Way To You” (Muse, 1979)

My defense for Disco Grace goes back years: I had each album on vinyl by 2013 and I wrote about “Autumn Leaves” for THE first MAM post. I see where some criticism comes from, since her delivery can grow awkward and on-the-nose, but I think any 70’s disco fan should take a closer look. This eager, younger Grace should endear true fans anyway, and the disco glamor suited her theatrics. Arrangements from the famed Tom Moulton, both punchy and luxurious, helped support her with every great disco trademark.

The interesting thing about Muse (her ‘lost album’) was the added synths. Not enough to make this ~electro-disco~, but with all the syntoms bouncing around like laser beams this makes a colorful decoration. This way, I got a feel for disco’s range through singular songs.

“Find My Way” demonstrates best, with the synths taking on a breezier tone that flourishes perfectly with the strings and and the lyric’s sweet yearning. The result has a nearly Cinderella feeling, painting dreamy portraits of romance in pastel and Technicolor. Disco as an idyllic walk in the park. I can’t believe this wasn’t a single.

2. “Slave To The Rhythm” (6:36 version / Slave To The Rhythm, 1985)

Never stop the action

Keep it up, keep it up

Anyone who says Grace lost her edge after new wave should hear Slave To The Rhythm. Here, Trevor Horn re-assembles her title hit with more creative measures than many modern remixes. Revolutionary at a time where most mainstream ‘remix albums’ boiled down to ‘make song longer with new drums and bass’.

Trevor’s colorful palette shouldn’t surprise Art of Noise fans, and it’s a perfect fit for Grace given her pop-art aesthetics. You have new age lotion in synth form (“The Crossing”), an operatic dance mix and even a fashionable R&B revamp on music from the Bruton library. (“The Fashion Show”; and I heard every Grace album long before I knew a thing about library music!) Funk from eighties heaven meets surreal spa music from Utopia.

“Slave To The Rhythm” is a flashier example (no, this isn’t the single). Matching the lyrics, Trevor mechanizes the go-go rhythms and Grace’s wordless ‘oohh!’ into an earth-shattering force. You have Chic guitars, an infectious mix between digital and organic beats, and synth horns adding quirky chrome futurism.

Grace seems to command this rhythm like her horde, all while dropping some enigma to reveal the upbeat spirit that brought so much charm to her ‘pop’ era. And before you know it? The most heavenly bridge in all 80’s pop, where gentle guitars and background voices wash over like a fountain. This is the same song? And it FITS? Time to kick myself for the hundredth time over hearing so few Horn productions.

3. “Victor Should Have Been A Jazz Musician” (Inside Story, 1986)

I went to a concert, to see Nina, Simone,
The concert was over, there was still a band playing, the rap up…

Hollywood jazz meets sophisti-pop at it’s peak luxury. I’m yet to hear a jazz/pop crossover that captures this much impeccable late-night-cantina romance. Just as “I’ve Done It Again” provided a surprise ballad to close Nightclubbing, “Victor” shows Grace in a wistful, even sensitive light. She plays a dreamer, falling in love and losing herself in this subdued, big-city glamor.

With that sad little keyboard I can feel the guests coming and going, the flickering billboards and a band playing for what feels like forever, serenading everyone. The instrumental break at 3:08 is most hypnotizing with the groovy 80’s guitar that screams of yachts, plus the most haunting trumpet solo I know. Jazz isn’t the first thing I’d expect hearing ‘Grace Jones’ but well… Read that again, this is Grace Jones.

4. “Seduction Surrender” (Bulletproof Heart, 1989)

I’ll always remember

Light inside your love

Bulletproof Heart holds a unanimous status as ‘worst Grace album’. I say you should give it a chance if you appreciate her voice and don’t mind a few predictable lyrics. The mechanized late-80’s beats and cavey reverbs are bound to overwhelm certain people, but such kitsch-futuristic antics fit right in with Grace’s flamboyance.

Some critics will lump Bulletproof with Inside Story, but I’d say that was her sophisti-pop/soul album while this is her ‘party’ album. On the other hand, “Seduction” stands out through it’s weirdness. It sits somewhere between nightclub nightmare and demented cave. Gigantic drums tumble in all directions rather than stick to a simple beat; sampling makes trippy, ambiguous distortions on her own backing voices.

Once again, Grace mixes a powerful delivery with warmth and over-the-top fun. Her jumping from giddy monologues to a theatric sung chorus sounds near-effortless. The result demonstrates her nuance as a vocalist just as well as her prime; I’d LOVE to see it live.

“SS” resembles the theme for a b-movie villain, and sure enough: it originates from her villainous role in Vamp. At least two movie mixes exist. This one loosens further with it’s turbulent melody. Leave it to Grace to make groovy 80’s pop verge on gothic.

5. “Devil In My Life” (Hurricane, 2008)

You’re the architect of my destruction

Hurricane is the best ‘comeback’ album I could want. It modernizes the artist’s classic sound without losing any initial charm. It takes a sound that began unique to new places as Grace sings about new topics herself. No covers here, but the auto-biography feel creates it’s own intrigue. This is ever-mysterious Grace revealing her story here, after all. No matter how long she spent away, certain songs resemble a re-arranged lost entry from her new wave heyday.

Remove Grace’s enormous personality and “Devil” stays a unique instrumental. Isolate the drums and they alone mesh trip hop, slo-mo reggae and gritty electropop. Before half-time rhythms were everywhere, this song was fast and slow at once thanks to it’s bursts of distortion and film-worthy suspense. From the sad, smoky piano that opens it to that vulnerable shiver of strings, this had me wishing she dabbled in orchestral sounds more often. (The one other time I recall aside from this era is her thrill-ride of an Avengers theme, “Storm”.)

The strings throbbing with her voice soaring at the end makes this song one of her most emotionally intense. In one corner, she invokes a long-standing inner fear (Devil in my life / Treading on thin ice / slowly mesmerize / always in disguise). In the other, she has her own sinister aura as she observes a seedy gathering (Collaborate while being exploited, And we celebrate by drinking poison).

Mix · On other sites

Cottage Lullabies – Guest mix #2 for I Heart Noise!

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🌻 I Heart Noise 🌻

🌲 YouTube 🌲

Excited for the debut of my new spring-time mix and 2nd guest post for I Heart Noise! (Here’s the first one)

The legacy of vintage stock music usually centers on edgy funk samples, but it’s soft side is notable for it’s own reasons. For one, the ever-present ‘pastoral’ category brought the gentlest, most touching sounds in the field. These were nostalgic chamber pieces filled with harp, strings and timid flutes; the soundtrack to barns, cabins or a grandmother’s cottage.

The pure tenderness of this music was quick to strike a nerve with me. Like an unspoiled garden or antique, this is a very straightforward and fragile kind of tenderness. It seems many generations could find something nostalgic in here. Fitting as it sounds that it wound up stashed away like a dusty farm diary, they’re too beautiful not to un-dust.

Dedicated to my grandmother’s backyard ❤

Track listing

  1. John Cameron & Paul Martin – Moment Of Warmth (Little Creatures, Bruton)
  2. Fiachra Trench – Reminiscence (Pastorale, KPM)
  3. Paul Williams – Wistful Dreams (Memories, Parry Music)
  4. Eugene Cines – Natures Colours (Seeds In The Wind, KPM)
  5. Brian Bennett – Drifting Shapes (Tone Poems, Bruton)
  6. Richard Harvey – The Water Garden (life cycles 2, KPM)
  7. James Clarke – Running Waters (Nature Study Vol. 1, Bruton)
  8. Dick Walter & Eugene Cines – Quiet Reflection (Seeds In The Wind, KPM) [YouTube Only]
  9. James Clarke – Midsummer Haze (Country Calendar, Music House) [YouTube Only]
  10. Joel Vandroogenbroeck – Romantic Garden (Open Air Impressions, Coloursound)
  11. David Snell – Recollections (Reflections, Bruton)
  12. Adone Grossi – Fiumi e Salici (Agreste/Bucolico, Commenti Musicali) [YouTube Only]
  13. Andre Tschaskowski – Personal Mood 2 (Emotionally, Coloursound)
  14. Volker Kriegel & The Groove-Combination – The Gentle Old Man (Leaf, Biton)
  15. Johnny Pearson – Autumn Reverie 60-Second Edit (Piano and Orchestra 1, KPM)
  16. John Fiddy & Norman Candler – Tender Feeling 2 (Softly, Sonoton) [Mixcloud Only]
  17. Andre Tschaskowski – Sentimental View 1 (Emotionally, Coloursound)
  18. Keith Mansfield – Wonderlust (Soft Horizons, KPM)
  19. Brian Bennett – Summer Reverie (Love’s Themes, KPM)
  20. Robert Viger – Limpidite (Climats, Musique Pour L’Image)
  21. Paul Williams – Pretty Flowers (Electric Piano Solos, Bruton)
  22. Jim Lawless – Rest (Reflections, Bruton)
  23. Nino Nardini – Morning Dew (Nature – Nocturne, L’Illustration Musicale)
  24. John Tender & Mladen Franko – Sweet Dreams 2 (Children Pets And Clowns, Coloursound)
hidden treasure

Thomas Newman’s score for Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985

Thomas Newman’s knack for synths surprised me seeing he got his fame later on through classical Pixar scores. Susan doesn’t get much talk beyond “Into The Groove”, but the score is ear candy if you enjoy Vangelis or the mid-80′s digital gloss in general. (Dare I say vaporwave too?)

Within a minute, each piece reflects the movie’s wide metropolis and/or the lead character’s curiosity. While keeping with the film’s playful mood, it subtly counters the hijinks with a strong atmosphere unique to the era’s shimmering textures. His use of echo, reverb and high notes leaves a gorgeous panoramic effect. “Leave Atlantic City” demonstrates with it’s bubbly sequencer and subtle bass echoes that hit like a cool breeze. “Port Authority” continues the formula with a more tender mood and a sweet new-agey flute. “Key And a Picture Of” mixes it up with it’s murky slow tension and “Rain” adds some elegance with it’s thoughtful piano.

The closest to a ‘theme song’ is “New York City By Night”, a catchy synth-pop tune capturing the glitz and glamor of Prince’s Revolution era. One year after Purple Rain after all!

Deep Cuts

Aleph – “Silver”, 1989 (sampled in Luxury Elite’s “Empire”)

I’m addicted to that intro with the little echoing bell. Cinematic, fierce, even a little tragic. Skyscrapers are peering over the TV credits.

I considered Luxury Elite’s edit a main theme for my mix Is It A Crime?, AKA my ‘dream Miami Vice soundtrack’. At the original pace it’s a slamming euro-disco tune with more urgency than most in it’s genre. It’s that glittery maximalist sound you come to expect, but even with the expected hammy vocal, “Silver” sounds more like a confrontation than another melodramatic love story. Why it wasn’t a single is beyond me.

hidden treasure

Eurythmics – In The Garden (1981)

new wave / art rock / neo-psychedelia / synth pop

RIYL – Annie Lennox, Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope, early Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Conny Plank productions

Offbeat, ‘leftfield’ or plain weird early work from soon-to-be chart toppers are a phenomenon that never fails to draw me in. Beyond an already unique path in sound and genre, Eurythmics’ commercial-flop debut was a great example. 1981 had Annie Lennox and David Stewart in an odd spot between their upbeat power pop with Tourists and finding their niche as a minimal synth-pop duo. They had the icy keyboards down by now, but a backing band as well, playing an ambiguous new wave-jangle-neo psych hybrid.

In The Garden is a studio creation first and foremost, but it’s knack for ghostly surrealism isn’t too far from how Goldfrapp recorded their debut in a cottage. Picture Annie as a half-woman half-ghost haunting an old mansion or farmhouse in the English woods, and you have the right idea. She hasn’t sounded so haunted before or since. If the cover is any hint, she tones down her usual powerful belts and soars for chilly falsettos and sinister, abstract poems. They tend to echo off into the music in a way that would do wonders for a 4AD group; now I wish Annie sang in such a band. The lyrics follow suit:
‘I’m never gonna cry again / I’m never gonna die again’
’Dust is collecting / But she doesn’t notice / counting forever / she’s a calculator’
‘Another change of light / The underlying truth / request to pack it in / no solutions’

Combined with the uneasy, resonant wide-open space distinct to a krautrock giant like Conny Plank (“All The Young”), this is an album full of surprises. The result highlights many interesting parallels between krautrock and early new wave.  You’ll hear foresty atmospheric touches, bizarre sound effects, and creeping post-punk twang among other curios Eurythmics left behind within a few years.

For all the weirdness (“Sing-Sing”, filled with samples chattering away and Annie singing in French) and sinister undertones (“Caveman Head” with it’s edgy goth rock tease, the horror-inspired b-side “Le Sinistre”), songs like “Belinda” approach a normal pop-rock sound. Part of me wishes they engaged more with those thrilling goth/experimental hints than these upbeat grooves as a result. Still, you can find some fulfillment for that on the bonus tracks “Le Sinistre”, “4/4 In Leather” and “Take Me To Your Heart”’s live version. As it stands, In The Garden is worthy curiosity for anyone drawn to the oddball early eighties.