Mix – Stefano’s Wisdom

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Yuppie A stares at himself in the mirrored closet door.  He’s having a crisis in white male fragility. Wife II divorced him, taking both the SAAB and son Jonathan. Passed over on the big promotion due to “passivity.” Spilled V8 on the white over-stuffed couch. But a mysterious new client, Stefano, understands.  He knows the “way.” Won’t you listen?

This is a playlist about the paradox of sentiment and spiritual bankruptcy in post-jazz music of the late 1980s early 1990s. I wanted to musically explore the debasement of jazz in this period, the feeling of excitement and wrongness when Miles Davis covers Scritti Politti. But most of all, I was thinking about the heternormativity, gender binarism, and hyper-masculinity of early 1990s commercial advertising, adult contemporary music, and any film with James Spader from 1984-7.

I tried to curate tracks that stood-out from the usual sludge of New age/Rock/Smooth Jazz/R&B fusion, and I hope each song hits that perfect blend of almost inspirational sincerity, non-reflexivity, and musical virtuosity.

Be warned, this is a playlist unafraid of passionate sax and guitar solos, which were in just about every imaginable song of the period and genre. Sanford Ponder’s “Oly” sounds like Bill Clinton playing a personal concert at your 1994 McDonald’s birthday party. Specific attention was paid to songs with odd or one-off production details, whether it be a random pitch-shift in David van Tieghem’s “Flying Hearts,”  stock whip noises in David Benoit’s “Wild Kids,” or basically the Duracell battery sound-trademark in Michael Colina’s “The Shadow of Urbano.”

Much of the concept shines through in song titles (which I swear to god I did not make up) like “Masculine Magic,” “Wild Kids,” “You Understand,” and “I Hate You.” It’s the perfect soundtrack for sharing Folgers coffee with a generic nuclear family,  finishing a marathon, or careening down the Golden Gate Bridge in a mid-sized sedan.

Enjoy!

1. The Shadow of Urbano – Michael Colina -1988

2. Flying Hearts – David Van Tieghem – 1989

5. Many Chinas – Mark Isham – 1983

6. Sky Juice – Patrick O’Hearn – 1987

6. Winkin’ Blinkin’ & Nod – Carlos Alomar – 1987

7. Redstone – Synergy – 1987

8. Perfect Way – Miles Davis – 1986

9. Oly – Sanford Ponder – 1986

10. Heart of the Matter – Jonathan Gibbs -1983?

11. It Was You After All – Richard Souther -1986

12. Amber Whispers – Wally Badarou – 2001

12. Gib Mir – Purple Schulz – 1987

13. I Hate You – Jerry Goodman – 1988

14. You Understand – The Zawinul Syndicate – 1988

15. Masculine Magic – Software – 1991

15. Wild Kids – David Benoit – 1989

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Futurista- Ryuichi Sakamoto – 1986

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And now for an obligatory Ryuichi Sakamoto/Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) post.  This a worthwhile Sakamoto solo-album from 1986 that’s often overlooked – forgivable given his massive discography. Despite having a unifying conceptual focus on the avant-garde/facist Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century [which once tried to abolish pasta] this album somehow manages to be all over the place. But this is why I like this record, and why I love Sakamoto.

Who else on earth would throw together musique concrete, needless 80s guitar solos, operatic arias, R&B stylings, and techno-pop? More importantly, who would then have the audacity to just drop a speech synthesis program reading an encyclopaedia entry on Futurism into the middle of a song? Sakamoto that’s who.

I sometimes see myself as a bigger fan of Haruomi Hosono’s solo works of this period because he never does wrong, even when he tends to be more predictable. But what I like about Sakamoto’s solo work is its sheer ecclectism, iconoclasm, and musical risk-taking. Whether he’s literally so ahead of the curve that he incidentally invents electro as a genre on B-2 Unit (1980), makes medieval synth-pop with Danceries in 1983, or creates a beautiful album of sampler-heavy “4th World Music” on Esperanto (1985), Sakamoto was always trying something new and pushing himself outside his comfort-zone.

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Is Sakamoto’s appropriation of R&B vocalists kind of problematic? Perhaps, considering these naked frankenstein drawings from the back cover.

There are a lot of memorable moments on the record. “Daikoukai” is a smooth diet-coke take on Naughty boys-era YMO,  “Variety Show” is a  dramatic  and metallic sampler frenzy, and “G.T. II” is a 1980s funk romp that will be stuck in your head for a while. But the song that both puzzles and entices me the most is “Ballet Mécanique.” It starts off with a beautiful sound-collage of camera noises,  but then suddenly breaks into a R&B vocalist Sakamoto hired to sing lyrics so corny they’re literally non-sensical:

“When I look out of my window, all I ever see is cloudy grey-skies, when you look into your mirror, how d’you think you’re ever going to see me. Look into my eyes”

It must have been a bad translation or something. But then Sakamoto comes on singing the exact same cheese in Japanese (a language I can’t understand) and the song immediately becomes consumable again. I guess this points to something problematic with my/our collective fascination with Japanese music from the 1980s that would sound hollow to those who can understand the language? And also with the frequent appropriation of R&B singers by Japanese pop musicians of the period?

Enjoy!

Buy/Download 

Variety Show:

Ballet Mécanique: