Well-crafted, sample-forward tropicalia
Speaking of trumpets (see previous post), here we have that trusty brass contraption contributing to an entirely different aural universe. The trumpets on display here evoke the tones heard in Latin horn charts, while tracing a languid melody, against a swaying beat, that sounds like shade on a sunny beach day.
This is music as constructed collage; Havana Swim Club mastermind Dan Koch utilizes samples from vintage and/or global vinyl to create what he labels “nostalgic instrumental dream pop.” However digitally manipulated it is, “Lagoon” flows with a well-constructed sense of purpose and a gratifying feeling of space. One of the savvy things Koch does is reveal the song’s principal melody only once near the beginning (0:34-0:54) and once near the end (3:04-3:27). The rest of the song functions as variations to the main theme: there’s the theatrical introduction, itself a riff on the second half of the primary melody; there are dream-like snippets of the main motif, offered in minimalist segments; there indecipherable voices, shimmering sound effects, and subtle countermelodies and electronic flourishes, all nodding in the direction of the primary theme without delivering it. In the song’s second half we are teased by the return of the introduction (2:00), but the central melody remains withheld until just past the three-minute mark. At this point, the returning trumpet solo sounds luxurious and triumphant, and yet doesn’t overstay its welcome–one simple pass through the melody and the song shuts itself right down.
The evocatively-named Havana Swim Club is, as noted, the project of the Seattle-based Koch, who is a founding member of the indie rock band Sherwood. “Lagoon” is a track from the debut self-titled Havana Swim Club album, which was released last week. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy a digital copy, via Bandcamp. MP3 via the artist.
Feighan constructs his tunes by mining old records for sounds to cut and paste together, and you can surely hear bygone decades in the instrumental tones—those saxophones all but scream 1940s to me, in the most delightful way.
And then there are sounds I’m so fond of that I love a song from its opening notes, and willingly follow it wherever and however it goes. If you want a more detailed idea of what Monster Rally is about and why I like this so much, you can read what I wrote when I first featured the project back in September 2013. All still holds true for me, despite the years that have passed and the dismal situation we find ourselves in since then. Though I suppose here in 2019 there’s an added air of escapism attendant to the tropical amalgams served up by Ted Feighan, the singular musical brainiac behind Monster Rally.
In any case, listen to this and just enjoy the heck out of it, from the funky tropical groove (those splat-y bass notes from what sounds like a tuba are priceless down there at the bottom of the mix) to both of the two lead melodies (the upward/downward swing of the saxophones; the smooth-as-silk answer from the trombone), to the clunky thump of percussion holding it all together. Feighan constructs his tunes by mining old records for sounds to cut and paste together, and you can surely hear bygone decades in the instrumental tones—those saxophones all but scream 1940s to me, in the most delightful way.
“Menagerie” is the lead single from the new Monster Rally album, Adventures on the Floating Island, coming in September via Gold Robot Records. Note that the project’s previously featured song, “Orchids,” also made its way onto an Eclectic Playlist Series mix (5.07, September 2018), for those keeping score at home.
Unlike almost any other electronic creation I have heard to date, “Orchids” sounds like something that might have been conceived in three dimensions and played in real time and real space.
An instrumental of pure invention and relentless groove, “Orchids” is an unusually cogent example of 21st-century song-as-assemblage. Monster Rally master mind Ted Fleighan mines sounds from old records, re-imagining them into sonic environments with their own logic, momentum, and—this is the strange part—organic vitality.
Listen here to the two main interacting motifs—a jazz-guitar-y lead riff, with its syncopated flair (heard first at 0:31 and repeated throughout), answered by a downward melody (0:34 et al.) described by the jittery strumming of some exotic stringed instrument or another (I’m afraid I’m not entirely schooled in exotic stringed instruments). Theirs is a simple but intriguing conversation, accompanied by the easygoing percussive sounds of a tropical lounge combo; add the recurring “conclusion” of sorts (0:47 et al.) from the jazz guitar, subtly undergirded by strings, and this is our whole song. A fan neither of mash-ups nor claustrophobic laptop rock, I find myself unaccountably charmed by the alternative acoustic reality created by Feighan’s unfathomable fabrications. Unlike almost any other electronic creation I have heard to date, “Orchids” sounds like something that might have been conceived in three dimensions and played in real time and real space, and while some might consider it a failure of imagination on my part to admire this condition, I consider it a failure of humanity to overlook it. We remain flesh and blood, despite the wires and wavelengths that connect us.
Feighan is from Ohio but is now based in Los Angeles. “Orchids” is the first available track from Return to Paradise, the third Monster Rally full-length release, due at the end of October on Gold Robot Records. You can download via the link above, as usual, or via SoundCloud.