Playlist #001: Jen Monroe at The Lot Radio
Among fellow music obsessives, Jen is known for her blog Listen To This!, a site dedicated to New Age, Japanese pop, and ambient music. She is also the literal tastemaker behind Bad Taste, a food-based exploration of our sociocultural fabric, manifested most arrestingly in an ongoing series of monochromatic "color dinners."
As an artist, DJ, and chef, Jen's work is playful, thorough, and definitively sensual. We are lucky to have her as our first guest on Playhouse. Jen lives and works in Brooklyn.
In Jen's own words:
“Criança” by Marina Lima, 1991
Brazilian house. I embarrassingly don’t know too much about Marina Lima, but I love how this song doesn’t really have clear verses or choruses—it kind of just rolls, and it’s so effective.
“Always Unknowing” by Roxy Music, 1982
This was the b-side on the “Avalon” single, so it’s squarely in the Avalon world, except unlike Avalon I haven’t heard it 300 times (yet), so I’m particularly enthusiastic about it. Just perfect sunset jazz pop with the most gorgeous synth production. If I ever get married this is on the short list for first dance songs.
“I’m Still In Love With You” by Dip in the Pool, 1991
I’m realizing as I type this that so far all of these songs are fully living in their own groove and their own structural rationale, which is what makes them so nice to hang out in. I love everything these two do, and I love the reggae pop feel of this one. It’s so perfectly 1991.
“Pretty Lil’ Love Lights” by The Buttons, 1962
The Buttons were a short-lived early project from Dhaima, who went on to become an unofficial member of the Bob Marley family and make some searingly good reggae records. She was 13 when she recorded this song with her childhood friend, and was already a stronger singer than many artists twice her age. I love this type of gritty, garagey doo-wop.
“All I Wanna Do” by The Beach Boys, 1970
Oof, probably my favorite Beach Boys song, and a strong case for keeping the best songs extremely short. Dizzying, churning instrumentals, wall of sound blah blah blah, and a heartbreaking topline. Just when you think you’ve “arrived,” like it’s finally opened up and you’ve accepted that you don’t accidentally have two songs playing at once, it’s over. So good.
“Touch” by Colin Blunstone, 1983
Colin Blunstone was a member of the Zombies as well as a mega babe, and I regrettably haven’t heard much of his solo stuff but everything I have heard has been totally beautiful (consider this a note to self). I love this icy slick production—like the 80’s answer to “I’m Not In Love” or something.
“Let This Feeling Carry On” by The Manicures, 1983
I truly know nothing about this group. This was the b-side of the only single they ever released, and I think they were maybe French? Anyway, I love how “small” this track feels—the vocal line barely moves, and despite being extremely catchy and full of clever, detailed percussion, it sounds as if everyone is playing very quietly and mischievously. It feels like a song that three sneaky cartoon mice might sing while laying an elaborate trap for the big scary cat.
“Be In Two Minds” by Pili Pili, 1988
I can’t really tell if this song has been totally overplayed or what, but whatever. I love how restrained it is: moody and ominous but with a driving beat, and then the chorus arrives with the smallest tonal change that makes such an enormous difference. Perfect example of doing more with less. It’s almost five minutes long, but I always want it to go longer.
“You Know” by John Martyn, 1984
Perfect, driving sophisti-pop, catchy as hell.
“Out Of The Cradle” by Ryuichi Sakamoto, 2000
It looks as if this was composed for a Canon commercial. Icy slick, bass-heavy “chillout.” I’m so curious where that vocal sample comes from—I feel like Sakamoto loved to sneak surprising reference points into his commercial work, so this is probably from the coolest record we’ve never heard.
“Zajedno Srećni” by Boban Petrović, 1984
Ouch, so good. Warped slo-mo Serbian funk that somehow feels as if it’s going backwards. I’ve always wondered if this was an inspiration point for the Connan Mockasin camp of lo-fi lizards.
“Mysterious” by Luna Set, 1982
I’ve been so in love with this whole record for the past few months, and looking at this song in the context of these other songs is making me realize how predictable I am. Really restrained, hushed, kind of flattened-feeling minimal synth-wave. Chilly, coy vocals, dark drum machine, and some judicious sax. This always makes me think of Carol’s “So Low,” which is a good thing.
“Down? Down, Down! / Stay Outta My World” by Jimmy Murakawa, 1982
So weird in the best way. Between its cavernous metallic clanging, creeping synth lines, and echoey muttering, it feels more German industrial than Japanese, except then by the end it’s somehow morphed into a slinky hip-hop bass line that sounds uncannily like an unfinished Notorious B.I.G. track.
“One Who Cares” by Maryn E. Coote, 1982
Fucking brutal slow-burning funk with killer vocals. Estonian musician and songwriter Maryn, aka Marju Kuut, is a big musical hero of mine.