Track By Track : Bob Lord - Playland Arcade
By John A. Wilcox
Put on a clean shirt and let's go have some fun! Composer / musician Bob Lord has released Playland Arcade. It's an audio journey through lands of adventure and fun! I asked him to fill us in track-by-track and he graciously agreed! Read on...
Track 1: Fry Doe (Lord/Wyman)
BL: The boardwalk at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire is not unlike other seaside boardwalks around the world, with many of the same sights, sounds, and scents, and there are numerous other Playland Arcades on these boardwalks too. This Playland Arcade however is the story of my own hometown boardwalk, my own arcade, with my own memories, experiences, and impressions.
Fry Doe starts with deep-focus audio mise-en-scène of the beach created along with my longtime collaborator, engineer, and friend Jon Wyman, whose fingerprints are all over this album: the rising clamor of bells, whistles, quarters, footsteps, and a slam of the car door to start the ride. Featuring percussion recorded in Havana, Cuba (another seaside community where I’ve worked for many years), an atmospheric rhythm guitar track by my pal Ed Jurdi (with whom I’ve made music over the course of more than three decades), and a slew of bass guitar tracks slathered in various effects (by yours truly), this lanky, rubbery cut is as greasy as the food that inspired it.
Track 2: Hey (Lord)
BL: A couple years back I released an album of seven seven second songs, and while this was not on it, it most certainly could have been since it indeed is seven seconds long. Even though I’ve been deeply influenced by long-form stuff like Close To The Edge, Supper’s Ready, Quadrophenia, and large-scale symphonic works by composers like Copland, Stravinsky, William Schuman, and others, I’ve just got a soft spot for brief music.
TV theme songs, jingles, cartoon music, radio bumpers, you name it, I’m into it. From a creative standpoint, the constraint of time is a wonderful one – how to create something logical, enjoyable, and memorable within an incredibly short time frame? Fun problem to have.
Track 3: Yo Soy Miguel (Lord)
BL: I’ve found that sometimes my music comes from the simplest of inspirations, just a brief pattern I feel as I’m walking around a new place or a few notes I pick out of the wind or something someone says. This is one of the latter, and all it took was my buddy Tony saying the words “yo soy Miguel” (his name is not Miguel, it’s Tony, but whatever) and this came to me immediately. The idea of ‘maximalist minimalism’ is something I’ve tried to work toward on this record, to take incredibly simple concepts and blow them way the hell out of proportion.
Yo Soy Miguel is essentially just a three-note theme amidst an absolute deluge of drums by Jamie Perkins from the #1 Billboard chart-topping band The Pretty Reckless (I’ve lobbied him to legally change his name to “Jamie Perkins from the #1 Billboard chart-topping band The Pretty Reckless” but he is resisting). In the studio Jamie played what I had indicated on my demo, and I told him that wasn’t really what I wanted at all, I wanted to hear the Jamie-est of Jamies, I wanted to hear him. I told him to play like an angry, petulant child, like a selfish baby-ass (and those are in fact the precise words I used). He did just that, which is the take you hear on this track.
When he got back into the booth he said, “That’s the most fucked up production direction I’ve ever been given.”
Track 4: In For The Kill (Lord)
BL: The soundtracks of Mark Mothersbaugh have been an influence on me over the years and this piece is more than a little Wes Anderson-inspired, albeit with a much more sinister edge. To conjure up the vibe of this extraordinarily strange seasonal seaside settlement, I knew I needed to have all sorts of instrumental colors ready to deploy, from 8-string electric basses to 8-bit synth sounds, but I also knew that the picture wouldn’t be complete without a symphonic component. There aren’t many prog-rock bass-playing, experimental music-composing, classical music-producing CEOs out there, so why not tie it all together on this album? This miniature comes and goes quickly, but the tension reverberates…
Track 5: Night Sweats (Lord)
BL: A distress call from the cosmos or perhaps simply the memory of the effects of a bad meal the night before, your choice. Tense, repetitive guitar and bass patterns bookend a monstrous straight-from-the-70s synthesizer eruption from keyboardist Duncan Watt.
Track 6: Lobster Roll (Lord)
BL: There are no cruise ships at Hampton Beach, but this cut sounds like it could herald the arrival of a fleet of madras shorts-wearing, fluorescent drink-sipping, yak-yak-yakking tourists at the very least. Brass, woodwinds, strings, and a little bongo fury fill to the brim a track which is equal parts sarcastic and earnest – I really do love lobster rolls! And for the record, a proper New England lobster roll should have cold meat, light mayo, and a warm buttery bun. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Track 7: The Backward Swan (Casey)
BL: When I was assembling the repertoire for this project, I decided to include a cover or two to reinforce the idea that this is a ‘producer’s album’ and make clear that this isn’t just about my own stuff… it’s about the stuff I love. On an album in which the bassist doesn’t actually play a ton of bass, I did however want to find a few key settings for my 8-string and I thought, Hey, I really should do a Duane Eddy tune, that would be perfect.
The background: in the early-to-mid 1960s, Hampton Beach experienced numerous violent riots on the sand, and in 1964 it reached an apex, achieving national coverage. I thought a tune from that period would be a nice addition.
Assessing my options, I decided on a piece from Eddy’s catalog called The Backward Swan originally released on the unfairly neglected Water Skiing album. Not only did I love his music from a young age – I think Rebel Rouser was included with my operating system – but he was also the inspiration for my own inspiration, John Entwistle from The Who, and the sound of Eddy’s ‘twangy’ guitar was embedded in my own bass tone from the moment I picked up the instrument.
So I was beyond delighted when Duane not only gave me his approval but his encouragement as well. “I love your version of The Backward Swan," he wrote to me. “I listened to the tracks on your album and found them to be very creative and extremely good... I would describe your approach as music for the intellectual, with broad hints of classical and jazz as well as pop and rock. I loved being taken on a musical journey with surprises like you have in the songs as these tracks unfold.”
Too cool for school!
Track 8: Air Hockey (Lord/Watt)
BL: One of my goals with this album was to put down my instrument to a degree and make music through others, to give agency to my collaborators to do what they will with my ideas – and to make those ideas theirs as well. This is a micro-rhapsody on a theme of my own making, with Duncan Watt taking my melody and chords and transmogrifying them singlehandedly into something of his own. How’s that for a game? Don’t let the puck hit your teeth.
Track 9: Intermezzo (Lord/Watt)
BL: Over the years, New Hampshire has seen many incidents which have remained essentially inexplicable. The Betty and Barney Hill abduction in 1961, the UFO Incident at Exeter in 1965, that strange stain which kept reappearing in the butter compartment of my fridge during college – no one can really say what happened. I like to think this Intermezzo is another entry in that strange seacoast series.
Track 10: Skee Ball (Lord)
BL: There are many faulty machines of my types in the world. The key is figuring out which ones they are so you don’t waste your quarters.
Track 11: Wyoming Vice (Lord)
BL: Meanwhile, back at the ranch, orchestra and rock band collide in an imaginary TV theme song as if performed by Booker T & the MGs with Al Jackson on copious amounts of steroids, cocaine, and beef jerky. Saddle up.
Track 12: Get Yer Drink Up (Lord)
BL: Freaky-deaky party time down at the strip. For most of its duration, this heavily treated, fully electronic percussion piece has no melody and no harmony, just pumping, percolating rhythms. The only exception is the auditory psychotic break in the form of a fleeting electric guitar solo which occurs in the bridge, performed by Shaun Michaud. It’s like a needle scratched across a vinyl record, rudely interrupting the vibe fully and completely, and the return to the groove is all the more welcome because of it.
Track 13: Beach Pizza (Lord)
BL: Something fast and tasty to be consumed quickly before moving onto your next stop. My friend Mark Saliba’s bright, sunny arrangement of the piece, with its interlocking deployment of the orchestra’s sections, makes this undoubtedly the most optimistic track here.
Track 14: Tenderly (Gross/Lawrence)
BL: Chet Baker would be pissed. I mean, I think he was pissed in general, but this would really set him off. An 8-string bass playing a melody he made famous with his sultry trumpet? Bonkers synth-up basses whizzing around everywhere? An utter deconstruction of a beloved classic? It’s not your grandfather’s Tenderly, but I dig it. And hey, at least it morphs into a more traditional jazz combo by the end, though by that point Chet probably would have assaulted someone with his horn. To my mind, there’s a connection between the sparse, shiny, glistening treatment of this tune and the moment when you open your eyes after a long nap on a beach blanket.
Track 15: Opening Day (Lord)
BL: Imagine you come in from the heat and sun to grab a cold one at the bar, and as you wait you look up to the TV and see the hard opening of the local news show with a baritone-voiced talking head hyping up the day’s game, filled with excitement and hope. But then the game begins.
Track 16: Fanfare for a Losing Team (Lord)
BL: Frantic and desperate at some points yet meditative and reflective at others, with moments of explosive surprise throughout, and dissonant, off-kilter harmonies contrasting a plaintive melody carried by the trumpet… it’s not your usual baseball tune, sure, but it does capture the unpredictable nature of the game. There’s a bittersweet quality to this piece which doesn’t really exist anywhere else on this album.
Track 17: Mighty Forces (Lord)
BL: Four chords, that’s all ya get. Furthering my concept of maximalist minimalism is Mighty Forces, a slow-boil electronic piece with sparkling synthesizers, a mammoth drum performance by Jamie, and my pal Andy Happel on violin. The contrast of the metallic, inhuman, ever-evolving arpeggios coupled with the woody sound of Andy’s fiddle at the conclusion of the bridge (2:50 mark) and beyond is one of my favorite moments on the record, it sounds like you’ve just made your way through a serpentine maze of back alleys, dark hallways, and green rooms only to burst out into fresh air.
Track 18: Last Word (Lord)
BL: A final orchestral cocktail before the ultimate challenge.
Track 19: Siege (Lord)
BL: SIEGE! Mount the castle, eat the ghost, stab the cross! These are my 8-bit dreams from the 21st century, closing out a hallucinatory, phantasmagorical collection of music. Siege is an imaginary video game console I sure would love to play – in my mind’s eye it is like a sci-fi version of Gauntlet crossed with Tron, Dragon’s Lair, and Spy Hunter. Distorted 8-string bass and sizzling chiptune synths are juxtaposed against Cuban percussion and Hammond organ, all battling with Jamie’s over-the-top drumming while sprinting through raging prog-rock, a semi-fugue, and an ominous and pointillistic side trip before finally arriving right back where you started.
The trip is over and the day is done, but tomorrow is already here. Ready for another ride?
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