The Coconuts – Don’t Take My Coconuts, 1983

The Coconuts were an offshoot project of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the brainchild of August Darnell, a Bronx-born composer who’s an absolute genius with big band sounds, Latin jazz textures, and cuttingly clever lyrics. The Coconuts were initially the trio of backing singers in Kid Creole & The Coconuts, but went on to release two full-lengths on their own, with production from Darnell (who was married to Adriana Kaegi, member of The Coconuts and co-founder of the original Kid Creole lineup. Less relatedly, I just excitedly realized that Fonda Rae was at one point a member of the Kid Creole band).

Don’t Take My Coconuts is killer song writing, fully fledged arrangements, and charismatic vocals together in full force. To be clear, the ladies of The Coconuts (Kaegi, Cheryl Poirier, and Taryn Hagey) were creative powerhouses in their own right–their vocal delivery is razor sharp and manages to be seductive even while covering “If I Only Had a Brain” (this is my second Wizard of Oz-related post this week, so make of that what you will). They were incredibly strong performers, able to stay in impeccable character while flawlessly executing fairly complicated choreography in perfect unison. The video for “Did You Have To Love Me Like You Did?” is a showcase of amazing outfits, spot-on choreo, and some, uh, monkeys–it’s embed disabled, so it’s different from the video previewed below, but you can watch it in full here.

I still haven’t found any clear origin story for “Ticket To The Tropics” (no relation to the Gerard Joling song, as far as I can tell), which has a different melody but the same lyrics as the Cristina track of the same name. I can’t find detailed credits for either of the two songs, but given the overlap in sensibilities I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some personnel cross-pollination going on in there somewhere. Enjoy!

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Yoshio Ojima – Club, 1983

Another early 80’s anomaly, this one released on only 50 numbered cassettes in wooden boxes with silkscreen and Russian constructivist paper inserts. Ojima is probably best known for his catalog of significant environmental works, most notably the gorgeous 1988 two-album collection for the Spiral in Tokyo’s Wacoal Art Center (volume one of which has been lovingly catalogued here), but also for the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery and the Living Design Center OZONE. He also produced Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Pier & Loft and Motohiko Hamase’s #Notes Of Forestry. (For more Japanese environmental music, see here, here, here, and here.)

Club takes somewhat of a departure from his more ambient works, but you can still hear his propensity for small motifs that build and layer into complex, embroidery-like compositions, particularly on tracks like “Boy In Vision.” Closer “Graduation” is similarly stunning and somber: between its whale-like, slow-motion horns rearing and arcing in the distance, and its deliberately distracting tinny mechanical whirring in the forefront, it reminds me of Hosono’s “Air-Condition,” released the year prior.

Still, if the cover art wasn’t sufficiently indicative, there’s a sense of humor here that isn’t necessarily evidenced elsewhere in his catalog: a spronky suggestion of mechanical toys on “Entrance,” a childlike wonder and marching-feel on “Orientation,” and perhaps most noticeably on the confoundingly good “Club-A.” People who know more than I do about the history of electronic dance music might be able to label this more accurately, but to me this sounds a whole lot like raucous, gnashing proto-techno, or even proto-acid. And then, just like that, we’re returned to the gleefully spaced out synth whirring of “Club-B,” as if nothing unusual had happened. (Though there are a few small nods to futurity on “Days Man” and “Schooling,” whose drum-machine-going-for-a-walk sensibility sounds like a nod to Testpattern–which is a good thing.) As much as I feel like a broken record, this is largely uncategorizable stuff, and a really special window into a genius stretching his legs and taking some worthwhile risks along the way.

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Francesco Messina – Medio Occidente, 1983

Francesco Messina’s name has come up quite a few times around here. I’ve been very vocal about my admiration for his stark and gorgeous split with Raul Lovisoni, and have included tracks from it, and from this, in a handful of mixes. And while Messina’s name is frequently lumped in with iconic Italian minimalists like Roberto Cacciapaglia, Franco Battiato, and Giusto Pio (all of whom appear on this record), there’s not much information floating around about Messina himself–though this record seems to have acquired a cult following. Messina was born in Sicily in 1951 and studied design in Milan, where he met Battiato and his art entourage, with whom he collaborated musically and visually for many years. He’s currently a graphic design professor. That’s about all I’ve got.

I’ve avoided sharing this record for years because, aside from not knowing how to talk about it, I don’t even know how to classify it. Discogs has it catalogued as “Jazz, Pop, Folk, World, Country, Italo-Disco, Abstract, Ambient.” I would argue most of these, especially Italo, are inaccurate, but I don’t have any better suggestions. Slinky, smart instrumental pop with pristine drum programming that hints at balearic as much as Berlin school. Thick with candy-toned new age synth pads, nods to Latin percussion, and rotary melodic motifs suggesting (duh) Italian minimalism, though this is definitely not minimalist. If this hadn’t come out a year before Echoes, I might guess Messina had been listening to Badarou. Tinged with mysticism in ways that are much harder to define than the album cover would suggest, and with a few tracks that remind me of Lena Platonos or even Vangelis in that they manage to simultaneously be operatic, melancholic, synthetic, and evocative of patriotism. (The first track is the real wildcard–if it’s not for you, don’t be put off!) If you can better explain what exactly this is, please enlighten us in the comments. In the mean time, enjoy!

David Astri – Do It Right, 1983

Very mysterious record! The only release from Baltimore artist David Astri, and also the only release (I think) from PCM Records. Rereleased (I think) in 2014 on now-defunct Award Records, and not much information available about any of it.
This is essentially a boogie funk record, and for fans of the genre, it doesn’t get much better than “Get Down To It” and “Do It Right” (RIYL George Benson, RAH Band, etc.). The song that I immediately fell in love with, and has since wound up on an embarrassing number of mixes that I’ve made, is “Safe and Sound,” which sort of reads like a slow funk ballad, but between the inadvertently creepy lyrics delivered with saccharine little girl breathiness, the unexpected moments of warped dissonance, the impeccable percussion details, and the oddly muffled production, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard. The seven minute closer, “Dancing Digits,” is an ecstatic instrumental disco stomper, but with what sounds an awful lot like an acid house synth line riding on top. Oh, there’s also a five minute tropical steel drum interlude that sounds like it could score a ride at Disneyland. In a good way, sort of.

I really, really wish this record were 15 minutes longer. And speaking of, apparently there are four unreleased tracks floating around from these sessions–if anyone has them, I’d really love to hear, will bake you cookies, etc.

Alec Mansion – Alec Mansion, 1983

Guest post by Ian Hinton-Smith

A YouTube forage on a late-night mission to find everything related to early 80’s Telex eventually led me to Alec Mansion. The first track to hit me was “En Volant” (a sublime slice of uplifting disco-boogiefunk and well worth sniffing out) from his first LP Microfilms, but his self-titled follow-up album has an excellent run of dance floor bangers and so gets our attention here today. Instant winners are “Ou Es-Tu,” which gives RIPrince a run for his money in fizzy funk synth territory, and “Laid, Bête, Et Méchant” (roughly “Ugly, Stupid, and Mean”), which snaps harder than a stretched pair of disco knickers. 

Impossible to find a hard copy and commanding high prices when it does rear its head in the vinyl market, so I highly suggest you grab this and save yourselves a few months waiting time…and a scramble to find a few hundred clams when it does.
High recommends for fans of Telex and Lio. Repress please!

The System – Logic, 1983

A terrific and confusingly obscure French synth-pop release; not to be confused with the 80’s New York boogie funk band of the same name, or Hideki Matsutake’s proto-techno project Logic System. Zero information is available about it on the internet apart from its Discogs listing. With its moody synth pads, watery vocals, relentless bass riffs, and surreal lyrics, the album delivers a satisfying familiarity to fans of contemporary dream pop and lo-fi. John Maus, Ariel Pink, and Connan Mockasin come to mind immediately.
The epic dance floor jam “Almost Grown” (below) is a standout that could have wedged itself nicely in between Tears for Fears and Gary Numan on the radio in 1983. I’m curious to find out how this masterpiece was lost–this is way ripe for a reissue. For now, you can download below!

Ustad Ghulam Ali & Asha Bhosle – Meraj-e-Ghazal, 1983

It would be totally nuts to suggest that I’m sufficiently well-versed in Asha Bhosle’s catalogue to argue that any one record is her best, since she’s the most recorded musician of all time and has performed over 12,000 songs. I’m not even sure how this one wound up in my hands, as it doesn’t seem to be online or in print anywhere. I stumbled across it in my library by accident a few weeks ago and have been stuck on it ever since. There’s not much that can be said about Asha Bhosle’s voice that hasn’t already been said–it’s weightless, luminous, and radiates joy like nobody else’s. Additional vocals by the esteemed Ghulam Ali on four tracks. Ideal spring soundtrack.

Ippu-Do – Night Mirage, 1983

Ippu-Do was founded by Masami Tsuchiya in 1979 alongside Akira Mitake and Shoji Fujii. The band released five records, but Tsuchiya went on to release a slew of solo records as well as tour as a guitarist with Japan. With Steve Jansen replacing Shoji Fujii on drums, Night Mirage is a hulking play between towering new wave guitar, skewed synth pop, and avant-garde synth murk, with shades of calypso and a nod to Erik Satie.
The version I’m sharing is the 2006 Japanese re-issue, which includes Masami Tsuchiya’s six-track experimental mini-album, Alone (1985). They’re entirely instrumental, brooding, and very, very beautiful. Enjoy!

Don Slepian – Sea of Bliss, 1983

Classic, extraordinarily detailed synth swirl heaven. Snowglobe music. Not too much to say about this one, except that all three of these tracks were composed over the course of two days in February of 1980 and were reworked once for the Sea of Bliss cassette release and then again in 2000 for its CD release, this time with the inclusion of “Sonic Perfume” (included here).
From Don’s notes about the CD release:

Computer music was born back in 1958 in Max Mathew’s sound lab, at what was then the Bell Telephone Labs research center in Murray Hill, New Jersey. From 1979 through 1981, I was “Artist In Residence” at the Labs. Most of my time then was spent working with the Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer, also known as the Alles Machine (pronounced “Alice”), named after its designer Hal Alles. The Alles Machine was disassembled in 1981, with Sea of Bliss the only full length piece of music ever realized on it. Using that machine, the three pieces that make up Sea of Bliss were composed, performed and recorded February 3–4, 1980 and released on cassette. I revised these tracks in the year 2000 for the first CD release, adding a few touches of acoustic piano. Sea of Bliss may change one’s state of consciousness. People have often used it for meditation and massage. In hospitals, it has been used during labor and childbirth as a sonic analgesic. In the car it combats rush hour/traffic stress. I consider it a form of aural fragrance, or “Sonic Perfume”…Stochastic sequential permutations (the high bell tones), lots of real time algorithmic work, but who cares? It’s pretty music. No sequels, no formulas. It was handmade computer music.

There’s some more technical information about the recording here, as well as a nice writeup about Don’s work here.

Eitetsu Hayashi – Messenger Of The Wind, 1983

Experimental work and first solo album from Eitetsu Hayashi, musician best known for taiko, traditional Japanese drumming.

Messenger Of The Wind is a perfect example of the rich history of experimental and ambient music of Japan. From an outsider’s viewpoint, it’s evident that experimental music was the natural evolution of the country’s traditional music in the 20th century, making use of new and non-traditional instruments as well new recording techniques. On this album, Hayashi nods to his taiko background, using a wide array of Japanese drums and other traditional instruments such as janggu, gayageum, koto, gong, stainless balls, and Mokugyo. Elsewhere, he uses synth, marimba, thunder sheet, and an airplane. Things get interesting when he employs tape looping on “Cosmos” and when he plays with natural reverberation on “Karabinka” (below).

If you’ve enjoyed our previous posts like Midori Takada and Mkwaju Ensemble, you might like this too–it’s a little more challenging but possibly more rewarding!

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