242) Dengue Fever, Sni Bong, Lost in Laos, Ethanopium: Two California brothers infatuated with '70s Cambodian rock, scour clubs in Long Beach's Little Phnem Penh for a vocalist to sing the music in its native Khmer. Serendipity brings them to the recently immigrated (and coincidently gorgeous) Chhom Nimoi.
Further down the road, the band would expand its sound and include English language originals into the mix but I prefer their take on the Khmer. Their sound is constructed from a spy movie small combo owing more to John Barry than Southeast Asia. While there are heavy dollops of surf guitar, sci-fi keyboards, and lounge-y saxophone, the sound is much more than cocktails and retrophilia. Listen to Sni Bong below and note how the sum can be much more than mere fawning tribute (though, they can do that too) and unsubtle irony – a characteristic that handicapped much of the '90s Lounge fad. They succeed because they approach their source material with the sincerity of dedicated musicologists rather than with the fatuousness of winking hipsters or cultural tourists: Global Lounge Music for the post-ironic.
244) Tim Buckley, Starsailor: Buckley's recording career spanned nine studio albums. Recording his first album when he was 19, he offered a noir-ish take on modern folk, serviceable but unexceptional: By the time he reached six albums in, Buckley had become another creature entirely. Eschewing the generic folk for an avant jazziness, singing with more passion and improvisation, his songs taking flight over exotic meters, dissonant chords, and lycanthropic vocal sounds all set between stabs of eery beauty. But this Starsailor persona, which had evolved slowly through his previous albums, was all but abandoned by its follow-up. From there, his later albums would sound like he was more focused on chasing commercial prospects. Like a parabolic peak, Starsailor stands as his culmination and masterpiece. Other erstwhile folkies of the time also spawned their experiments with jazziness – Ellen McIlwaine, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Van Morrison. But none of them took to their voice to the places that Buckley did: going hard bop and treating his voice like Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy would treat a saxophone, pitching wildly and going feral. Recorded in 1970, Starsailor still stands as a grand experiment and a unwithering classic.
245) Vivabeat, Working for William: A synth band with guitar and drums like the way they used to do ca. '79. Man from China was their moment of glory but I prefer Working for William for its more oblique and melancholy vibe. The band had Roxy Music, Bowie, and early Sparks running in its veins and Peter Gabriel at their back (he helped to get them signed) but it was their ability to hammer out deep hooks that have abided so well. The Caribbean accents were a nice touch.
247) The Decemberists, The Wanting Comes in Waves – Repaid: The band claims influences from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Morrissey, and the 60s British folk revival. No mere nostalgists, The Decembrists bring some new meat to the musical abattoir. The arrangement adds blues riffery, punk noise, and spunky energy with generous vocal assistance from Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). Altogether it adds up to a sweet and jagged slice of pie.
248) Trilogue, Trilogue: Albert Mangelsdorff was a German trombonist who blew chords. And not just chords, but a polyphonic sound that churns like a church organ. In 1976 he recorded an album with the rhythm section from Hell in the persons of Alphonse Mouzon and Jaco Pastorious. The tunes are all Mangelsdorff's and the even though the rhythm makers are there for support, they can't help themselves: Mouzon's sticks strut like fairy flamenco dancers on nitromethane while "World's Greatest Bass Player" Pastorious inflicts calisthenic squiggling, bending and sliding sounds through treacherous angles, all held earthbound by his bass's lead-dense chords and tar-like harmonics. Like a pimp that just got paid, Pastorious's bass lines don't walk, they swag. Elsewhere, the trombone and bass bounce off of each other like choruses of brontosaurian farting, weaving grooves together with Celtic knots of intricacy. These cats can rage, taking Carl Stalling interludes and mewing like elephants and whales. Trilogue is a swinging kind of cosmic funk that sweeps jazz into new and transcendent triangulations.
249) Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger: The early Bond films were nearly as much about the theme song as they were the Ian Fleming's plots. The James Bond vamp is probably one of the best things to ever happen to pop music. In this iteration, a quintessential John Barry melody props up a classic Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse lyric, brassed up with those amazing horn blasts, and all given the proper cinematic push with the considerable capacity of Welsh-born Shirley Bassey's voice. With lungs like a leaf blower, Dame Bassey seems to sing only in 72-point exclamation points. Match this with the ecstatic pneumatics of a vibrato with the horsepower of four Judy Garlands in a paint shaker. A voice that provides the ultimate foil for a Bond villain squeezed here into the ultimate Bond theme song.
252) Anthony Newley, The Man Who Makes You Laugh: Cabaret singer extraordinaire and seminal influence on young David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, Anthony Newley was the epitome of the "song stylist." Not one to simply gesticulate and mug for emphasis, Anthony Newley staged every beat of his performances and wrung every nuance out of a song from glee to pathos and and back again. You have to credit those fuzzy bustling hedgerows of his eyebrows for doing half the work. But the real magic is when he does that thing with his voice where he mouth gapes open wide, his pitch defenestrates like a greased bandit making an escape, and his vibrato breaks into storm-sized swells. Besides being a major pop singer in England in the late 50s and early 60s, Newley is the cowriter (mostly lyrics) of many a classic including What Kind of Fool Am I, Goldfinger, The Joker, the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack as well as writing a couple of successful musicals with partner Leslie Bricusse. While all of that is impressive enough, it's his genius as a stylist of his own songs that gives him immortality. The Man Who Makes You Laugh is the perfect Newley storm and a song that only he could sing.