Back To The Future

We’ve heard it over and over again through the years – everything old is new again. It seems to be true. White is the new black. Don’t throw anything out because it’ll be back in style again, etc. Who can argue with these sentiments, especially when they make such common sense. Just look at those statements and tell me if you’ve heard it all before. Of course you have. So why should music be any different?

When disco was declared dead back in 1980, it was just given a different title: Dance. It still reigns supreme today in clubs all over the world. When 60s, 70s and 80s music is being played on the air, it is called Oldies Radio. But if you listen really close, all of the elements that made music so harmonious and so lyrically interesting 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago is still being played and sung, only by a new generation. The best part of this equation is that some of these artists can actually carry a tune, and they can actually play instruments, just as they did in the good old days. Not everything is auto-tuned and cut and pasted.

If you need proof, just listen to the latest great music that comes courtesy of two new recording acts that are making beautiful noise in the industry as well as the club scene – and now with their debut albums. They are Penguin Prison and Graffiti 6, respectively.

Penguin Prison: Penguin Prison
Downtown Records

Much to my chagrin, I have yet to find out what Penguin Prison means, except that it’s an alias for an artist whose real name is Chris Glover. Once I got over the confusion of why he calls himself by that name and started listening to his debut album, the name seemed less relevant than the music itself.

Let me start by saying, if you’re a fan of 70s disco music, synthesizers and gorgeous melodies set to 120 BPM (beats per minute) to 150 BPM, then chances are you’re gonna love this debut record from a man whose obvious influences were the great disco acts from the New York club scene back in the day. When I say “day,” I mean Studio 54, The Saint and all of the other clubs that glorified this wonderful, harmonious, happy music that was the soundtrack for so many of us who had the privilege to experience it as it happened.

The album kicks off with the retro sound of “Don’t Fuck With My Money,” a track reminiscent of some of the Bee Gees’ best dance songs, minus the falsettos, and keeps a thumping beat of disco-drenched heaven that doesn’t let up until the final track, “Someone Got Everything,” which is a perfectly sequenced cool-down-mid-tempo-ballad after 43 minutes of non-stop thumpercizing.

In between those two tracks, we’re treated to songs that are reminiscent of  George Michael (“Multi-Millionaire”) and Prince (“Golden Train” and “Something I’m Not”), while other influences such as Chic, Tears For Fears, The Cars and Barry White waft through the air with the greatest of disco-ease.

There’s not a bad track on this brilliant debut. If you’re a fan of this genre, you’ll fall in love with this self-titled debut from Chris Clover – you know, the man who calls himself Penguin Prison.

Graffiti 6: Colours
Capitol Records

In similar fashion to Penguin Prison, this debut album by Graffiti 6 is not led by a barrage of musicians, but it’s a two-man band with the sound of a symphonic disco psychedelic orchestra. Graffiti 6 is made up of singer-songwriter Jamie Scott and songwriter-producer Tommy D.  In addition to the disco sound that was, and still is, so popular, this collection also brings an awareness to the 60s psychedelia movement that’ll bring you straight back to the best music of that time (Jefferson Airplane, Vanilla Fudge, late 60s Beatles) with a fresh update that twinges on the sound of the 21st century.

Colours begins with a ferocious beat and piano-synth organ on the lead-off track “Stone In My Heart,” just before Jamie Scott’s multi-layered vocal brings you back to the best mind-altering sounds of the 60s and 70s.

Track after track, the album keeps its hi-energy yet soothing appeal, just before it slows down for “Calm The Storm,” a song that comes midway through this session of multi-layered harmonies and crisp-clean production.

“Goodbye Geoffrey Drake” is a smart departure from the set as the storybook song takes us on a mid-tempo acoustic trip that rings true with the alternative songs that made the albums of the 60s and 70s so interesting and unpredictable.

The album then takes an unexpected turn and picks up again on an upward hallucinogenic swing with the superb kicker “Stop Mary,” before it comes to a screeching (but ever-so-beautiful) halt with the final track “Over You,” a scorching heartbreaking vocal by Scott declaring the end of relationship…again.  “I’m over you/this time’s the last time…” Unfortunately, we’ve all been there.  But don’t judge this album just by the description of the final track. Through Graffiti 6’sdisc, we get to experience all the shades that make up our relationships – love, joy and pain, with a beautifully melodic backdrop that practically forces us to feel all of our true colours.

© 2012 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.