Thursday, November 3, 2011

DUSTY ASS DISCOUNTS: Enoch Light and the Light Brigade - Provacative Percussion

What's up internet? Yeah, I'm doing good too. Are you actually reading this? The lack of comments leads me to believe no. Let's make a deal. If you see this at all, just leave a random comment. It doesn't matter what: random punctuation, obscene pictures, telling me how much of an asshole I am. I don't care. Just let me know if any people are reading this. I also want to see some awesome obscene pictures.

But let us direct our attention to the matter at hand, namely the record you see to your left. A lot of people don't know that there is (maybe more like used to be) something of a culture among thrift store albums like the one you see before you. There was a loose movement in the 90s, occasionally dubbed the "Cocktail Nation" that was devoted to Goodwill vinyl-hunting for records much like this one, and recreating the type of sound and ambiance that is found on it. You might vaguely remember the band Combustible Edison; they were the progenitor of this revival scene. Basically, it was a celebration of the Space Age aethstetic and 60s style bachelor pad music. Like something you might see on the Jetsons, or that sort of Mad Men style early 60s feel (read up on it here). Now, I'm not the biggest Combustible Edison fan, but them and the rest of the Cocktail Nation certainly did a good job of bringing a lot of these forgotten artist back into the modern zeitgeist (somewhat, at least). Esquivel!, Les Baxter, The Three Suns, and of course Enoch Light were lost to the ages, until this Space Age Bachelor Pad Revival.

But while a lot of these great records have come back into the limelight, the physical records themselves have to be found. And where they're usually found is, as I said, under mountains and mountains of ancient records at your local thrift store. And lemme tell ya: it takes a lot of hours of internet research, and a lot of hours of sifting through piles of Linda Ronstadt and Kingston Trio albums to find a gem like this. You have to what what records to look for, and then actually look for them. But the moment you find's exciting to say the least. I had known Enoch Light for a few months before I found this album. I think he was on one of those Rhino Space Age Pop compilations, and I heard a few of his tracks on YouTube. And I enjoyed those tracks He reminded me a lot of my all time favorite Space Age Pop practitioner, Esquivel, (check him), with the smaller arrangements, trebley guitars, and spacey sounds. And while rooting around through the massive piles of no-name 60s garbage vinyl at a wonderful record store named Maya in Greensboro, NC (which I frequented while attending at music camp at UNC Greensboro), I found this diamond in the rough. And, in my excitement, I started yelling swear words very loudly, which seemed to upset the patrons around me. Go figure. BUT: not only did I find and purchase this very record, I also found TWO (count 'em, two) other Enoch Light records (the second volume in the fantastic Provocative Percussion series, and an album of Space Age covers of Cole Porter songs).

The actual physical appearance of the LP is, I think, the quintessential look of the 60s Space Age record. Just look at the cover. All the albums on Command Records (which this and most other Enoch Light albums were on) had the same sort of poppy, minimalist, modernist paintings for covers, and a lot of other albums of the kind made heavy use of colorful, loud dots and thick lines and circles. Another notable bit about the cover (although it isn't quite as prominent here) is the stereo label near the top. This one isn't so garish, but a lot of Space Age albums were basically created for the sole purpose of showing off your fancy new Stereo Set. And, dear Christ, did they let you know that that record was in stereo. Almost all records until the late 60s had this big thick bar on the top of the cover which contained some sort of phrase like "In Living Stereo", or "Ultimate in Hi-Fi" or something like that. And that's how I tell the weird, worthwhile records apart from the rest: the more adjectives that describe how great the stereo action is on that particlar album, the greater the probability is that that record is worth picking up. And that desperate, blatant appeal to arguably the most superficial aspect of the album is a part of the genre that most fascinates me. I was always interested with the hyper-commerciality of that whole era, and how dumb the record labels thought the general public was(or how dumb they actually were, seeing as how a lot of these sold millions of copies). But for how minimal the stereo braggadocio is, Mr. Light certainly makes up for it with another classic and beloved facet of the genre: the copious liner notes. And when I say copious, I mean copius. Copious to a rediculous degree. A lot of albums of the time would have a few paragraphs of text about the album, a lot of time allegedly written by the producer. And sometimes there would be some technical specs about the recording process. But this album takes it to a whole other level. On the back, there's a few densely packed columns of text about the albums and it's "place in the cultural landscape" (I was always delighted with how important the makers of these albums thought they were). But when you open that gatefold: thousands, and I mean thousands, of lines of copy about literally EVERYTHING that could ever been said about this album. Every track has huge paragraphs written about them. Lengthy descriptions of the music, lists of every piece of equipment (microphones, mixing boards, cable, instruments), where what instruments are in the stereo spectrum. There are graphs of the audio waves and filters. Detailed biographys of every musician who plays a note on the thing. It feels like I'm reading the liner notes of Infinite Jest. And I read the entire thing. A few times.

Come on Austin, how have you written a thousand words with out once mentioning the actually music on the album? You're such an asshole! Yeah, yeah. I'ma gettin' to it. As I previously mentioned, Enoch Light sounds a lot like the Space Age master, Esquivel! This means plenty of stereo wankery, spacey electronic noises, lots of punchy, Latin-influenced horns, and smooth slide guitar. All masterfully recorded, of course. Not a lot of original songs, usually covers of traditionals, or jazz standards (Enoch seemed to have a Duke Ellington fetish), and if not covers, than mood piece (i.e. the "Latin Piece" or the "Eastern Piece"). The relative cheapness of song choice, and the novelty of the arrangements are in fairly stark contrast to the intelligence and maturity of the production. Which is really a common occurance in Space Age Pop, and that sort of dichotomy is what made love the genre in the first place. Be expecting a lot more about it in the future. I like it. And it's cheap!