The 80’s. A time of excess and lurid neon. At least that’s what I hear; I’m a child of ’85, I missed all the good bits. Though the one thing I can say with all honesty is that the 80’s was a fairly complicated time for music. All those electronics, man; and whammy bars; and hairspray. So much hairspray. I mean, as I fumbled around in the late 90’s trying to find my own personal style, I did experiment with hair product. Teasing little spikey curls over my forehead in a futile attempt to gain ‘cred’. I hated every moment and count myself lucky I never had to glue the whole of my head into some angled monstrosity because if I’m honest, it would just look rubbish. Ditto shoulder pads. The nearest I came was an accidentally machine-washed blazer with a twisted left side. I spent a year and a half distinctly lopsided. It was not a good look.
Make it stop, Mummy. I want to get off.
But I don’t want to mock the 80’s. The 80’s were cool, man! True Colours by Cyndi Lauper. Live Aid. The Golden age of Hiphop. These were pretty impressive times; pretty surprising times; and packed with lost albums that need revisiting. That is why we are sharing this time together and that is why I present for your listening pleasure ‘Holy Cow’ by Martini Ranch. This short lived group comprised Andrew Todd Rosenthal on vocals and guitar and Jeff Tracy himself, Bill Paxton on samples. You know you’re in good hands when a man is in charge of samples. Now, when Hollywood tries it’s hand at music the results are often sketchy at best. The majority are either vanity projects in that they provide a platform for the starlet to shine just that little bit brighter for a fleeting second (such as Robert Pattinson), or they profess an anti-vanity where they function as part of a strongly defined group; any star power becomes weakened so that “the music” can “breathe”. It’s a tactic David Bowie used to confused success with Tin Machine. But that’s for another time.
To me, Martini Ranch fit somewhere in between in a Goldilocks zone of actual, when you strip away the shell and get right down to it, awesomeness. Especially taking into account their still active website which is indescribably glorious with it’s classic web-design and unstoppable phantom music. But it’s good music so we can forgive. Well at least I think it’s good music; because it has energy and weird tonal patterns and glossy production and most important of all; fun. Who doesn’t like an infectious 80’s bass line? Who doesn’t like hitting samples repeatedly purely because it’s fun and sounds weird? I know I do. I know I did (DJ, DJ, DJ!). And yet amongst all the plastic production lies some really interesting songs. For every wry comment on society (‘Fat-burning formula‘) there’s an honest plea for hope (‘World Without Walls‘). And to balance the beam of pop genius that is the mightily named ‘How Can the Labouring Man Find Time For Self Culture‘; there is an awkward sonic experiment (‘Hot Dog‘). Seriously; pop genius. I don’t mince my words about it. If you don’t believe me now, go watch this video and educate yourself.
This is an album that shouldn’t work. It should be bloated and vapid and dull. It should make as little sense as the samples it employs. Yet it all hangs together, taking you on a journey that could only have made in the 80’s. We can try and pastiche it now, and we do; but it’s not the same. When artistically we mock and ape an age that is not our own we’re not only highlighting our lack of ideas; we’re trying to breathe life into a soul that doesn’t exist. We could never write music like this anymore because our experiences have changed. Our concept of fun has been brutally over-ridden by a need to be accepted; to be ‘cool’. Well maybe that’s a little harsh, but this album is cool in a manner that has become ironic and mean nowadays; that alone keeps it vital and alive. Kind of. You should definitely give it a listen if only for the confused conversations about sushi.