[Mix for Self-Titled] OMG Japan 2: Japanese Pop 1980-1989

cover art by Jeff Velker (SC / Twitter)

I’m very pleased to finally share Volume 2 of the OMG Japan mix via Self-Titled Mag.

That proclivity towards inventive genre splicing is all over this mix, actually, perhaps most noticeably as a reggae influence in three very different incarnations. First, Akiko Yano’s steel drum-flecked synth-reggae cupcake “Ashkenazy Who?” is replete with gleefully gnashed vocals, twisted and slung in the mouth as if to mimic warped synth pulses. Next, Junko Yagami leans even more explicitly into reggae fusion on “ジョハナスバーグ” (“Zyohanasubargu,” i.e. a Romanization of the Japanese pronunciation of Johannesburg), a thick synth-funk ode to a global love for reggae, winking with drum machines and synthetic accordian. Last is Pecqre’s “Kylyln,” a spaced-out dub rendition of a song originally written by Ryuichi Sakamoto for Kazumi Watanabe, which comes from one of the most slept-on records in the Japanese canon. It was largely recorded in Jamaica at Channel One and Tuff Gong Studio on a trip organized by Bob Marley himself, as the story goes, at the urging of drummer and diehard reggae fan Masahito Hashido (aka Pecqre). It’s an incredible lineup: between Aston Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Carly Barrett and Sly Dunbar on percussion, Minako Yoshida’s lead vocals, and Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt singing back-up, one can only dream of being a fly on the wall during those sessions.

Read the rest HERE, and if you like it, you can download it HERE.

Tracklisting:
1. Tabo’s Project – Feel
2. Imitation – Narcisa
3. Jimmy Murakawa – Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World
4. Zabadak – 蝶
5. Akiko Yano – Ashkenazy Who?
6. Junko Ohashi – I Love You So
7. Junko Yagami – Zyohanasubargu
8. Tatsuro Yamashita – Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)
9. Yukihiro Takahashi – Konchu-Ki
10. Sandii & The Sunsetz – The Serious Game
11. Pizzicato V – The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
12. Pecqre – Kylyn
13. Joe Hisaishi – The Winter Requiem
14. dip in the pool – Rabo Del Sol
15. Masami Tsuchiya – Never Mind
16. Mami Koyama – Love Song
17. Toshifumi Hinata – サラズ・クライム
18. Ayuo Takahashi ft. Koharu Kisagari – 流れる
19. Hiroko Yakushimaru – 透明なチューリップ (Transparent Tulip)

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 19

Here’s my most recent episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. It sort of feels like a continuation of last month’s mix–slinky, flirty, loungey, and never picking up too much speed. I recently revisited Dusty Springfield’s version of “Spooky” in headphones, and while I’ve been a longtime fan of hers, I was particularly floored by her vocal quality and intonation, so that was the jumping-off point here. I hope you like it! You can download an mp3 version here.

Tracklist:
1. World Standard – Pasio
2. Frank Harris & Maria Marquez – Campesina
3. Miharu Koshi – Tohboh-Sha
4. Yves Tumor – The Feeling When You Walk Away
5. Dusty Springfield – Spooky
6. Márta Sebestyén & Levente Szörényi – András
7. Karin Krog – Just Holding On
8. Quarteto Em Cy – Caminho De Pedra
9. Lena d’Água – Tão
10. Fred Manda – Cartoon In Kartoum
11. Patrice Rushen – Let Your Heart Be Free
12. Solange (no, not that Solange) – Quero Um Baby Seu
13. Gal Costa – Baby
14. Nora Guthrie – Home Before Dark
15. Hiroyuki Namba – Hiru No Yume

George McCrae – Rock Your Baby, 1974

This post is a little out of character, as George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby didn’t exactly fly under the radar at the time of its release. The title track single was a massive chart-topper that sold 11 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the early hits of disco. But I’ve been in a months-long habit of listening to “You Can Have It All” on repeat on my commutes home from work when I’m feeling deflated or overly cynical: it’s a song about deliberate and joyful vulnerability, delivered with infectious open-handed sincerity, and it always makes me feel better. As a record, Rock Your Baby is a relatively rare instance of a disco full-length that’s consistently solid all the way through, so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might be new to some people.

The title track single came to McCrae somewhat by accident: though he had been a longtime musician, at the time he was largely acting as manager to his then-wife Gwen McCrae, who had been asked to contribute vocals to a track for Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine band because they were unable to reach the high notes that they had written in. The story goes that Gwen was late for the session so George recorded the vocals in her place, and his falsetto was so impressive that he went on to make an entire record with Finch and Casey, who produced and co-wrote Rock Your Baby.

I love the rough, almost winkingly dirty quality of the production, the effortless and smiling quality of McCrae’s vocals, and the irresistible percussion, especially on “I Get Lifted,” which has famously been sampled by everyone and their dog. Oh, and that famous title track is as gorgeous as its sales would suggest–sunny, relaxed, and tropical, more of a groove stretched into six and a half minutes than a verse-chorus disco banger. It’s enough to sell the full-length on its own, but fortunately there’s plenty more to love here. Enjoy!

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Nkono Teles – Fiesta Dancin’, 198?

Guest post by Josh Permenter

Nkono Teles was a Cameroonian-born multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Nigeria. He worked under numerous pseudonyms on projects that spanned multiple genres, from disco and reggae, to work with huge artists like King Sunny Adé and Fela Kuti. Fiesta Dancin‘, his first solo record, stands alone as a superb African synth disco masterpiece, on which Teles was responsible for bass, drum machine, electric piano, organ, guitar, synth, lead vocals, production, and writing. Every song is bubblegum roller boogie perfection, guaranteed to fill any dance floor with irresistible electro joyfulness.

A note that this really suffers on laptop speakers, so save it for better speakers or headphones please!

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[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 16

Here’s my newest episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio. This is effectively about me wishing I had a car to drive around in all summer. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version here. Enjoy!

Tracklist:
1. John Martyn – Hole In The Rain
2. Afro-Cuban Band – Something’s Gotta Give (Todd Terje Re-Kutt)
3. Mave & Dave – You Are Delicious
4. High Resolution & Paolo Del Prete – Sweepin’ Off
5. Gaznevada – I.C. Love Affair
6. Taro Tokugawa – Here My Dear
7. Felix – Tiger Stripes
8. Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy
9. Salif Keita – Koukou (Hober Mallow Remix)
10. Miki Matsubara – 真夜中のドア/Stay With Me
11. Key Tronics Ensemble – Calypso Of House (Paradise Version)
12. Roxy Music – India
13. Commodores – Nightshift

Cristina – Cristina, 1980

So good. Cristina was a Harvard drop-out who was working as a writer for The Village Voice when she met (and eventually married) Michael Zilkha, who was in the process of getting the now-legendary ZE Records off the ground. He encouraged her to record a song called “Disco Clone,” written by a former Harvard classmate of hers, which became ZE’s first release in 1978 and featured John Cale production (and, moreover, is really good).

Cristina (later reissued as Doll in the Box) was the first of her two full-lengths. Short and sweet, it was produced by August Darnell of Kid Creole & The Coconuts, and you can hear his signature brassy tropical camp all over it. The heavily textured Latin-jazz percussion brings to mind some of New York no wave’s more polished, dancefloor-ready groups, except it’s fronted by a snarky, jaded Betty Boop. Cristina’s vocals are simultaneously flippant and flirty, often splintering off into multiple personas in dialogue with each other. She leans into that heavy-handed sardonicism even more on her follow-up, Sleep It Off, a grittier piece of electro boasting a proto-Slave to the Rhythm Jean-Paul Goude cover. While Cristina was met with moderate acclaim, Sleep It Off was a commercial flop (so dumb! it’s really good!), leading to Cristina’s musical retirement (though she’s still a writer). Thank you Caroline for putting me onto this!

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 9

I spent the weekend after the inauguration at the New York Women’s March and finishing this mix. I wanted to use all American dance music as a way of recognizing the enormous creative debt we owe to people of color and the LGBTQ community. Since I’m not great at cross-genre mixing (yet!), this veers mostly towards disco. As such, I was also thinking a lot about the recently departed David Mancuso as I worked on it. I recorded this live, so I hope you’ll excuse some imperfect mixing and enjoy some very perfect songs. If you like it, you can download an mp3 version of it here. Thanks for listening!

Tracklisting:
1. GQ – Lies
2. Finis Henderson – Skip To My Lou
3. Scherrie Payne – I’m Not in Love / Girl, You’re In Love
4. Vincent Montana Jr. & The Philly Sound Orchestra – That’s What Love Does
5. Kenix ft. Bobby Youngblood – There’s Never Been (No One Like You)
6. Karen Carpenter – My Body Keeps Changing My Mind
7. The Pointer Sisters – Telegraph Your Love
8. Mariah Carey – Make It Happen
9. Curtis Hairston – I Want You All Tonight
10. George Benson – Give Me The Night
11. Krystal Davis – So Smooth
12. Sharon Redd – Never Give You Up
13. Lace – Can’t Play Around
14. George McCrae – Rock Your Baby

Gino Soccio – Face To Face, 1982

Feeling heartbroken for peers, friends, musicians, and artists who have been affected by the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. Like so many others, I’m unable to imagine what my life would be like without DIY, and often illegal, spaces for art, music, and living. These spaces are increasingly vital as cities become prohibitively expensive, and the news coverage that blames the victims of such a terrible loss is deeply upsetting. To echo others: this could have been any of us.

In the spirit of cultures that will, by necessity, continue to build beautiful things in marginal places, I wanted to share a favorite disco record (though to be fair, this record was a heavily produced chart-topper, not a homegrown experiment). This is one of my favorite records to dance to, and is also a rare instance of a disco LP that’s solid all the way through. Impeccably tasty production–hard to say no to this one. Please keep dancing!

Kiki Gyan – 24 Hours In A Disco 1978-82

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Mancuso, founder of the Loft party, disco enthusiast, instigator of the record pool system, DJ, audiophile, activist, and New York legend. Mancuso devoted his life and resources to creating safe spaces for many, but especially for the gay community, to dance to the best music in the best possible environment. He rejected beatmatching and mixing in favor of respect for sound quality and unaltered recordings played in their entirety, he prioritized dancing by refusing to overcrowd his parties, he avoided slavishness to genre, and he pushed back against inflated alcohol prices and club profiteering by instituting a BYO policy. He also fought in the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs’ longest administrative trial to date against their insistence that he get a cabaret license (which he ultimately avoided by not selling food or beverages). He believed a DJ should have good taste, push the envelope, and use songs to spin narrative arcs, but not show off or get in the way of the music. He drew inspiration from time spent outside as a child, having grown up in an orphanage in rural upstate New York:

“I spent a lot of time in the country, listening to birds, lying next to a spring and listening to water go across the rocks. And suddenly one day I realized, what perfect music. Like with sunrise and sunset, how things would build up into midday. There were times when it would be intense and times when it would be very soft, and at sunset it would get quiet and then the crickets would come in. I took this sense of rhythm…”

In the spirit of David’s work, I wanted to share a record that, though not a canonical Loft favorite, embodies the ecstatic, high energy disco for which the Loft is known. I wish very much that I could share Feeling So Good, the original LP that produced one of Gyan’s more famous singles, “Disco Dancer,” but it’s all but nonexistent (jen@listentothis.info if you have a decent rip you’d like to trade!). Several tracks from Feeling So Good appear on this compilation, though everything I’ve heard from the record is excellent. I’m realizing as I write this that it’s a bit odd to make two very remarkable, very different people share one post, so I hope this comes off alright.

Kiki Gyan was a Ghanaian musician and child keyboard prodigy who went professional at the age of 12, dropped out of school (“There was too much music in me, I couldn’t stay in school”) and was recruited to the British Afro-pop band Osibisa when he was 15. He toured internationally with the band until beginning his tenure as a very in-demand and expensive session musician in the best London recording studios before he was 21. His musical skill earned him a reputation as Ghana’s answer to Stevie Wonder, and he went on to make a series of very ambitious disco records, aiming at international stardom. Drug abuse interfered, and despite numerous attempts at intervention and rehabilitation, Gyan quickly declined, became unable to make music, and died at 47 from AIDS and drug-related complications. It was a terrible loss in many ways.

24 Hours In A Disco is entirely long tracks, befitting Gyan’s style—his wicked musicianship and joy predisposed him to long-form relentless disco funk jams that were tailor-made for the dance floor. These are songs that impossible to sit still through.

Thank you Kiki, thank you David—here’s to hoping that love saves the day.

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 4

Listen to my fourth episode of Getting Warmer for NTS Radio below. I tried to make a make out mix, but I think it got too heavy-handed to be actually sexy and might be better suited for roller skating or something. Slo-mo disco, sleepy funk, breathy vocals. Lmk if anyone successfully soundtracks a make-out session with this. You can download an mp3 version here. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
1. Vera — Come With Me
2. Karen Carpenter — Midnight
3. Andrea Lyn — Hold On To Your Heart
4. Virna Lindt — Underwater Boy
5. Zenit — Waitin’
6. Marti Caine — Love The Way You Love Me
7. Lustt — Pillow Talk
8. Linda Di Franco — The Look Of Love
9. Susan Cadogan — Feeling Is Right
10. The Makers — Don’t Challenge Me
11. Hector Zazou & Barbara Gogan — Dangerous
12. Rare Silk — Storm
13. Craig T. Cooper — Sweet Water