Super Selections and Wonderful words by Balearic Mike.
A couple of absolutely mind-bendingly great compilation LPs were released last week…
Skyrager – Traces Of Illusion – Spacetalk Records 2023
I love a good compilation and I’ve been eagerly anticipating arrival of this one for some time. Skyrager is the sometime pseudonym of Psychemagik’s legendary musical archaeologist Danny McLewin, and to say that his compilations are essential would be an understatement. His ‘Magik’ trilogy of comps on Claremont 56 subsidiary Leng are now almost as sought after as some of the tracks they contain, as are the ‘Ritual Chants’ trio on Eskimo Recordings. After a lengthy gap, and for the first time under his solo Skyrager alias, he now presents this simply stunning selection of sounds on the Spacetalk label that he co-runs with Simon Purnell of Leng and Paul ‘Mudd’ Murphy of Claremont 56.
From the moment you clap eyes on the stunning cover art – by Elvis Barlow-Smith – with its Dali-esque image of some otherworldly place you know that you’re in for an out of the ordinary experience… and from the moment the opening track hits, you’re instantly transported in to that world. That opener is by Tao, a Japanese rock band, who accidentally made this proto-ambient Balearic unclassic on their second LP in 1983. It sounds like it could be Jean-Luc Ponty recorded live at The Café Del Mar! And we’re off! The following 14 tracks then taking you on a wonderful journey through a trippy, fantastical sonic landscape. The mood and intensity ebbs and flows from near ambience to sexy-shuffle, without ever feeling the need to go ‘main-room’ on you. This album seduces you and drags you slowly from your hammock to the dancefloor and back again, almost by stealth.
Next up is Larry Yanez, with a sensual mix of electronic pulses and rhythms created on various early Korg and Roland devices, and accompanied by haunting guitar work which recalls Ashra. This lost gem was previously available on cassette only back in 1989. Each track really deserves a deep examination all of its own, but I’m going to leave that for you to enjoy. I’m just going to pick out a couple of immediate personal highlights. On side B we get the should-have-been a synth-pop classic Tempted by YMA – a US duo who only released one record, and decided to put this on the B-side. It reminds me of a slightly spikey, more angular take on the sound of YMO. That’s followed by the slo-mo synth opus of Daniel Sofer’s Dewdrops, a track made by, and used to promote Oberheim drum machines. Daniel was part of Oberheim Engineering staff.
On side C we have the Italo-disco-meets-top-pop of Brenda Kane’s French Kissing, a Belgian 7” only release. Then a track so beautiful you`d swear blind it was a Terry Callier tune, Gregory Paul’s sublimely gorgeous, bossa-nova tinged Sun.
Side D opens with the song that lends the compilation its name, The Bob Bath Band’s Traces Of Illusion – a slo-mo Balearic groove which slinks along somewhere in a no-mans-land between kosmiche funk and yacht rock. All solid drums, spacey synths, and skittering guitar parts. The album closes with another astonishing track, Scott Fraser’s Communique, a spoken word opus with echoes of Ry Cooder’s wonderful Paris, Texas soundtrack… and then were gently back on planet Earth! What a trip! And what a selection of rare, obscure, and previously under-appreciated music. This is a beautiful record. It manages to achieve that rare thing of capturing the essence and vibe of a long, lazy weekend spent in the Californian wilderness, on a Mediterranean island, or a Mexican beach, partying and relaxing to incredible music, in just under 80 minutes of aural delights. You should grab a copy while you can.
Hidden Waters: Strange and Sublime Sounds of Rio de Janeiro – compiled by Joe Osborne & Russ Slater – Mr Bongo Records 2023
Local Brighton label – and sometime shop – Mr. Bongo are on quite a roll of releases right now, and hot on the tails of their essential Terry Callier reissue and Mike D’s brilliant Brazil 45’s box set, comes this absolute beauty of a comp! Put together by Joe Osborne – founder of specialist Brazilian music platform Brazilian Wax – and Russ Slater – editor of Sounds and Colours – we have a selection of 21 tracks from contemporary Rio-based artists… and quite literally, every one’s a winner baby! The music included here is surprising, beautiful, eclectic, diverse, exciting, and really bloody wonderful! Plus, it’s all a complete revelation to me! Again, every track deserves your attention, managing to blend the unmistakably Brazilian styles of MPB, Tropicália, samba, bossa nova, effortlessly with distorted rock guitars, sun-soaked disco, fuzzy psychedelia, Balearic synth-pop, and experimental electronica. Again, I’m just going to pick a few personal highlights.
Album opener, the utterly sublime Ana Frango Eletrico’s Saudade sets the tone beautifully, combining traditional Brazilian musical styles, with a subtle hint of modern electronica and heavenly voices, to conjure the feeling of ‘happy melancholia’ suggested by its title. Then it’s straight into a killer slice of disco-funk with Pedro Fonte’s Cliché.
Side B begins with one of the most experimental tracks on the album, the quite sensational Thiago Nassif’s Soar Estranho, which features the legendary guitarist Arto Lindsay. It starts with harsh, distorting synth squelches, then Thiago’s voice, fed through multiple effects pedals joins in, before the track breaks down into a section which sounds like Midnight Vultures-era Beck, or Prince even, but again, heavily processed. It’s quite brilliantly genre-defying.
On Side C Jonas Sa’s Gigolo hits you like some lost Northern Soul or proto-disco track – a massive, joyful, up-tempo dance record, sung falsetto style, and a total floor filler. The rest of this side consists of some of the nosier, rockier numbers on the comp, which on first listen I was less enamoured with, but which now, I completely adore – particularly the fuzzy, funky psyche-rock of Marcelo Callado’s Simbora and Ovo Ou Bicho’s Mocos. Even the noisy Brazilian artists are funky as hell!
Side D holds another astonishing set of songs, starting with Joana Queiroz’s Dos Litorias – a near ambient wash of synths, clarinet parps and voices, over which the lead vocals glide and soar. The track recalls something of Juana Molina and Stereolab and is completely beguiling. This side also includes possibly the most obviously “Balearic” number, the completely wonderful Dorme Com Essa, by Letrux – all warm synth pads over a shuffling drum machine groove, dreamy vocals, and chiming guitars. Gorgeous!
As well as being one of the best sounding records that I’ve bought this year, the record looks fantastic as well. The superb packaging features great artwork from Rio-based designer, Caio Paiva, spread over the gatefold sleeve, picture inners with photos, and comprehensive sleeve notes from all the artists involved, plus 2 essays on the artists and the Rio music scene. This really is an essential record. I think it’s Lauren Laverne’s compilation of the week on her BBC 6 Music show, and it’s thoroughly deserving of any accolades it might get. As someone who loves classic Brazilian music, this is a real kick up the arse to check out more contemporary artists as well. Astonishingly good!
Massive new Balearic dancefloor bomb alert!
De Lux – What’s Life (Idjut Boys Remixes) – Innovative Leisure Records 2023
We got a little bit spoiled last year on the old Idjut Boys front. After an excruciatingly long wait, it was like bleedin’ buses. Out of the blue they relaunched both their Droid AND Noid imprints, and we were treated to 4 new 12” releases in quick succession. Since then it’s all gone a bit quiet, and it was feared that they had once again gone into hibernation. Who knew how long it might be before they re-emerged with more killer dancefloor destroying musical treats… Well, not that long as it happens. Thank fuck! I stumbled across this 12 quite accidentally via the band De Lux’s Instagram reels some months ago, but was horrified to see the price of shipping from the US. Thankfully copies have turned up on these shores, but it’s limited to 300 copies, so be quick!
De Lux are a ‘post-disco’ duo from LA, who I must admit to being unaware of. The original version of this is rather great though, so they may well be worth investigating. The lead singer does sound a wee bit like David Byrne, and the track itself is a jolly, bouncy, synth-heavy slice of disco-not-disco that reminds me of This Must Be the Place / Little Creatures era Talking Heads. However, the real gold lies in the 2 remixes from Dan & Conrad, as they somehow pump the song full of so much energy, with the track on a seemingly constant upwards trajectory like some Escher painting made of disco breakdowns. They cut up the vocal, loop it, and drench it in echo and delay, as they also do with the insistent guitar part. The whole thing is drenched in handclaps and cowbells and other dubbed-out percussion, across both versions – the Idjut Boys Dub and the Idjut Boys Seven Slackers Remix. Although both are as dubby as you would expect, the Seven Slackers uses some lovely synth parts, so might just be slightly edging it for me. Both totally killer mixes. A future Balearic classic!
Massive bit of shameless self-promotion alert! I’ve been writing these posts about some of the records in my collection now for a couple of years, so I’m incredibly honoured that I’ve been asked to contribute actual proper articles to an actual proper printed music magazine.
Grace Jones – Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions Sampler 12” – Island Records 1998
Disco Pogo Magazine – Issue 3 – Grace Jones article – Out Now!
Following my feature on Donna Summer in Issue 2 of Disco Pogo, I was delighted to be asked to contribute to their bumper Grace Jones spread which can be found in the latest issue – particularly as they gave me the enviable task of writing about Grace’s Compass Point trilogy of albums. It was even more of an honour when I found myself sandwiched between contributions from music writers who I’ve read and admired for years, like Alexis Petridis and Frank Tope. I’ve known Frank since I used to buy promos from him and Rob Da Bank, back when they were writing for Muzik Magazine in the 1990s. To illustrate and celebrate my endeavours I’ve pulled out this lovely record which fits the brief perfectly. In 1998 Island released a fabulous compilation of some of Grace’s finest work, including loads of previously unreleased mixes and versions. Sadly, being the late `90s, this was only available on CD, so I was delighted to come across this US promo only 12”. Alongside Pull Up To The Bumper and My Jamaican Guy, as well as unarchived versions of Slave To The Rhythm and Pars, there’s also an exclusive of dub Private Life. It’s an amazing set of tracks, and Grace’s trilogy of Compass Point albums is an astonishing body of work. You can read what I have to say about it in the new issue of Disco Pogo, which is available from their website, as well as from some of the more discerning retail establishments. The magazine also has big features on Roisin Murphy, Network Records, Native Tongues, and loads of other stuff… go buy it!
For more from Balearic Mike you can find him on both Facebook and Instagram – @balearicmike.
Mike has a Mixcloud page packed with magnificent, magical, music, and you can catch him live on 1BTN, from 12 noon until 2 (UK time) every 1st and 3rd Friday.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print