Saturday, May 23, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Portishead’s “Dummy”

Trip Hop – “a fusion of hip and hop and electronica until neither one is recognizable.”
Trip Hop – “dance music for the head, rather than the feet.”
Trip Hop – “the Bristol sound”

It was 2002 when Ana and I set out on a round-the-world backpacking trip, and one of our early stops was South Africa where we spent six weeks exploring the country. One of many beautiful towns we visited was St Lucia, located on the eastern coast and the sort of place where you can see a hippo or crocodile saunter across the road and not be too surprised. We were staying at Bib’s International Backpackers – a beautifully stereotypical budget hostel where you felt like a member of the family as soon as you walked through the door. Now this was in the days before smart phones, when travelers used to actually talk to each other, and I remember one evening we were relaxing and chatting with others in the common gathering area of the hostel after a particularly long day of touring a local game park. I remember sitting in a big comfy chair, with a cold Castle beer, surveying my enviable surroundings, and listening to the creeped out sounds of Portishead oozing in through the speakers. Despite being past their commercial peak, during those months it seemed like every hostel we visited was playing Portishead on constant repeat. There is something about that music that strikes a chord with backpackers, and it certainly struck a chord with me. It is hypnotic, engrossing, gritty, and irresistible. The genre was called trip hop, but besides Massive Attack and Tricky, I didn’t dive too deeply into other trip hop bands. Portishead was enough for me. I think I bought my first Portishead album in the UK in 1996 and was somewhat of a fan before that trip, but music discovered (or re-discovered) and consumed during life changing trips tends to impact one’s soul more than normal.

It is hard to draw a straight line between Portishead and anybody else, but I’m going to going out on a limb and name a few bands that I tend to gravitate to before or after listening to Portishead. Morcheeba is another British group and was introduced to me by my buddy James Hooley, turning me into a huge fan. Bjork has done some amazing albums, but my favourite one by far is “Dancer in the Dark” – a soundtrack from the movie of the same name and one of the most impactful, sad, and tortured albums I own. On it she does a stunning duet with Thom York from Radiohead, a band I’ve been listening to since “The Bends” but went full scale Radiohead freak after the “OK Computer” and “Kid A” albums. I went through a phase in the 90’s with my buddy Evan when practically all we listed to was Enya, and despite her rarely putting out anything new, I still listen to her music all the time. The unmistakable Lhasa de Sela, rest her soul, takes me on a spiritual journey every time I listen to “La Llorona” or “The Living Road”.

This may be a stretch, but there are three bands I’ve been addicted to for years that somehow seem to fit into this category – Gorillaz, Beck, and Queens of the Stone Age. Gorillaz for their innovative hip hop vibe and surprises bursting forth on every album. Queens for the dense wall of instrumentation and somber themes, and Beck for his profound catalogue of mysterious sounds and visionary lyrics. These bands express the most vital elements of trip hop but are decidedly not in that genre.

Lastly, I love so many bands that fit nowhere else but in this category of music, such as A Tribe Called Red, Tame Impala, War on Drugs, Beast, The Knife, Vacationer, Roosevelt and especially Toronto based Austra. These are all my go-to music for the post-party late-night listening sessions, which don’t happen very often these days, but when they do, that’s what’s on the playlist…mixed in with some Portishead.

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