In 1978, I bought an album called Music for Films. It was by some guy named Brian Eno. I didn't know much about Mr. Eno or his new album, but the idea of a collection of "New Wave" soundtrack pieces for imaginary films intrigued me enough and I wound up taking it home. As I listened to these haunting, moody pieces, a whole new world of music opened up to me...an almost visual genre that produced distinct images in my mind. As someone else once said about the album, I sure would have liked to have seen those imaginary films and those imaginary scenes. A few of the songs did make it into the movies...everything from John Woo's A Better Tomorrow to Derek Jarman's Jubilee to Rock 'n' Roll High School. But the secret to enjoying Music for Films is wondering what kind of films were running through Eno's mind when he composed each piece.
32 years later, I have that same feeling listening to 20 Beats, the new release by Boy Eats Drum Machine (aka Portlander Jon Ragel). While the newer album is much more dynamic and cheery and danceable (Eno's masterpiece would surely be filed under hyperdub or some other grime-induced sub-genre if released today), these 20 instrumental pieces still evoke very specific images that seem to be culled from contemporary films. From the staccato bird chirps that end Shells to the twangy '60s guitar samples from 4 Parts 6 to the exotic Middle Eastern vibe of the closer, En Farruda, Jon reveals mood after mood, scene after scene, film after film in a fluid, punchy and thrilling attack.
20 Beats comes on the heels of Jon's earlier release this year, Hoop + Wire. That release is probably Jon's most accessible to date, with his smooth and passionate voice taking center stage among his wild, frenetic samples (mixed, of course, with Jon's live drumming and saxophone playing). Beats, however, seems to be a bit freer and open, prompting images of Jon escaping from the confines of his studio, going for a long inspired run through the Portland rain and coming back to record with his wet hair dripping all over the mixing board. And, as the title implies, Jon is much more dependent upon the strengths of his drum beats (supplied by the ever exciting Bridgetown Beats) to produce a work with more momentum, drive and style. I do miss Jon's voice, but I still love the direction in which he's heading with his music.
And as readers of this blog already know, Jon gives you 20 different album covers to match each of the 20 beats, and the scared-bunny-vs.-angry-carrot motif is the best artwork I've seen on a album cover this year. And because it's available right now as a digital release (other formats will come later), it's only $7.49...roughly half of what you would spend on a CD. You can download it here: http://boyeatsdrummachine.bandcamp.com/. You can also get it on Amazon for $7.99...if you're in the mood to hand them 50 cents for no particular reason.
I credit Jon for opening my eyes to what turntablists/Djs are capable of doing in the 21st century, and he has introduced me to an entire world of music I previously and wrongfully shunned. So even if you're not "into what the kids are listening to," grab your old LP copy of Music for Films, download 20 Beats and be prepared for one great double feature.