One thing you will never catch me composing is any sort of love paean to Los Angeles. Call it my Northern California-roots snobbery. However, I am glad that someone is taking the time to do it because this disc is a quirky, thoroughly enjoyable romp through the City of Angels.
Malcolm Cross (aka “Mal”) is the brains and the brawn behind the band Morello. Their 2003 debut album Minimal (Bumbo Songs) is, as Mal (a Londoner by birth) says, “A total celebration of just being in L.A. – all the friends I made, the spirit of discovery and good times and being in California for the first time.”
At first listen, one might think Minimal to be a bit uneven, since there is so much variety. Literally, no two songs sound the same at all. But open your mind, and look at it through the rubric of the city of Los Angeles, and it all falls into place. From the kitschy opening montage of vocal snippets of conversations about Los Angeles over a bluesy jam beat, to the recurrent lyrical themes of California, this is one man’s representation of the city he loves in a sonic nutshell. Here’s a traipse through how I hear it:
If we’re talking vistas, “Turnaround“ would be the approach into the city, driving over the San Gabriel Mountains. Slide guitars lend this track a bluegrass vibe over a clean drumbeat and pleasant harmonic vocals. Clearly a car song.
“It’s All Good“ could be my new theme song for the summer just for the sheer-good-naturedness of it all, even though I am not in L.A. My contender for best song of the album, this gem begins with some lazy piano noodling, the track builds easily into a retro-pop love song in the tradition of all the ’60s greats. Give it ’til 1:15 or so to hit its (ace) stride.
“Too Sweet” is suitable for bumping in your car with the windows down on the smoggy freeway; it incorporates a bit more dance beat & synthesizer experimentation, which I love. “Say You’re On My Side” is full of straight-up brass funkiness that would make Stevie Wonder bob his head from side to side with a huge smile on his face.
“Summer Haze” is the classy July evening tune you cue up when you are having a fancy grown-up dinner on a terrace somewhere overlooking the ocean with strings of those little globe lights strung up everywhere. And to wrap things all up in true California style, the closing doo-wop harmony of “Joy Sangalang” is the equivalent of your basic California gay men’s chorale.
Plucky & eclectic, this record reflects a good-hearted love of music in all of its styles, and a solid representation of place amidst the variety of the tracks. Like the city itself, Minimal has a thousand different faces, depending on where you look. It’s a fun little discovery.
Morello has a new album coming out in September called Handheld. Cross calls it “a celebration of love, video games, and electronic synthesizers.” (I laughed and remarked that only a guy would make a album celebrating both love and video games). The samples I heard are funky, dance-inspired Prince grooves and Japanese pop jangle. Sounds good, can’t wait.