Sunday, May 18, 2008

Smooth Science 2: Midterm

[Handwritten Caption:] "There is so much evil coming off this page I had to send it away. Please don't try anything funny."

Norvorg is the name for the legendary Swedish evil spirit that preys on unsuspecting vacationers near bodies of water. This is nothing exceptional: pagan Swedish mythology is rife with malevolent forces that embody aquatic anxiety. In Norvorg's case, however, the method developed to hold the spirit at bay was unique: over generations, rural Swedes passed down brief, inanely cheerful songs, called abbania, intended to subdue the demonic entity with their breezy effervescence. Such is the direct origin of Swedish pop music as a genre, as well as Abba, the name of its most successful export.

Thus in Sweden, smooth music, at least in the bubblegum variety, was created as a mythological means of reckoning with nature, being functionally a mixture of art, technology, and religious ritual. It wasn't merely a means of accentuating a chilled-out maritime soiree, but of securing the chill-out by staying in tune with a potentially hostile universe.

Should you in the coming days find yourself in a leisurely state by the waterside, let us recommend these six sonic talismans:

- Lenny Kravitz - I Belong to You

Yep. Listen to this track and tell me it's not sick. Back when Lenny also produced "Justify My Love" for Madonna. Could you put this on while you made out with somebody, or would you laugh?

- Gabor Szabo - Azure Blue

From the Hungarian jazz guitarist's album High Contrast, which also contains the original version of Breezin', the instrumental later made famous by George Benson. Like Christopher Cross' "Sailing," "Breezin" is so programmatically smooth, it's a blueprint for the revolution. "Azure Blue" is included in the playlist instead, however, because this is the midterm: Breezin', Sailing and other such master classics are pre-reqs for the course.

George Benson - Breezin' (Live on the Old Grey Whistle Test)

- American Analog Set: The Magnificent Seventies

In high school my friends and I wore out this track and the accompanying album, From our Living Room to Yours. Wistful and lightly propulsive, like staring out of your suburban bedroom window while listening to Ege Bamyasi, the track is a jewel of airy melancholia and poppy-tinged daydreams, and is great company when navigating late at night those endless asphalt tracks that comprise the Texas highway system, and which arch in the dark like the backs of prehistoric beasts feeding on the dead.

- Lee Ritenour: Morning Glory

In crate-digging, the actual pilfering through milk crates, or Google reader or whatever it is you use, is only the first step. The second is scouring a whole album looking for that one song, the one that strikes a nerve. Smooth noodley jazz is certainly rough waters for the impassioned digger, because there is a very low diamond to shit ratio. But as Lee knows, such excursions are all part of the captain's journey. "Morning Glory" is well Steely, with a bit of CSN and some elevator thrown in for good measure.

- Azymuth: Montreal City

Azymuth [album]

Alan H. sent this in, and I've probably listened to it every day since then, Azymuth's '74/'75 Brazilian jazz debut. Alan quite correctly anticipated that I would be well down with this, as it matches nimble tropical rhythms with tinny martian synthesizers like something from the second half of either Bowie's "Low" or Closer by Joy Division. It's a fantastic record, one that rewards repeated listening. It might be a case of creeper beats: they might not hit you in the face at once, they may wait until you think you're safe and sound to deploy their weapons of sunbaked smooth....highly recommended. Alan and I had an extended follow-up conversation in which he made the observation that alot of American yacht rock ends up following a curious class trajectory, being the product of ennui-ridden rich California rockers living in the lap of luxury, sulking amidst their cuervo gold, white lady and nineteen-year olds, and making its way via muzak-systems to the quotidian world of the midwest supermarket.

- Quiet Village: Singing Sand

Another track from QV's new "Silent Movie" LP, a distant smooth cousin to DJ Shadow's Entroducing. Or as one bulletin boarder put it, beardo disco = the new trip-hop.

After three or four days in a row of epic band practices interspersed with late night brooklyn loft parties I was totally worn down and brain-dead, so while, framed by my old white window, the evening light settled softly behind the williamsburg bridge, I lay with headphones on and passed out to this new record. It is an afternoon springtime nap masterpiece. It is also shit-smooth gentle tide disco made by two bald DJs. I want to share it with you, Like a lot of very good music, it is highly practical to listen to, being a kind of sonic frozen margarita, or light Mexican beer. This track makes me think of coconut-infused suntan lotion and the gentle movements of brown skin in the dark. It's what doin' it on the beach sounds like.

1 comment:

Alex B said...

Although I agree that the Kravitz song is "sick," I must admit that in the event of making out with someone to this track, I would laugh.