Hitsville, S.E Asia


Cambodian Space Project – Whiskey Cambodia

Despite Pol Pot’s mass murder of its western-influenced population, Cambodia’s rock and pop scene of the late 60s lives on amongst the stacks of tapes and CDs hawked on Phnom Phen street corners. Snapped up by American tourists like Paul Wheeler, and sampled on his 1996 Cambodia Rocks compilation, these mid-fi treasures sounded like The Ventures lost on Gilligan’s Island, and devotees of finer off-beat garage rock devoured them like so much banh chiao. In due time bands like Dengue Fever produced their own version of Khmer-beat and the Cambodian rock revival launched into orbit, even though most garage rockers are not in fact fluent in Kmher.

Meanwhile back in Cambodia, Srey Thy, a war child survivor, continued the tuneful tradition in her homeland tape traders despite growing up in dreadful circumstances that involved kidnapping, slavery and, as the story goes, having to sleep in an abandoned army tank. Srey persevered, pulling through long enough to discover the karaoke bar where she’d serenade hard partying (and paying) tourists. It was there Tasmanian rocker Julien Poulson heard her voice and knew he needed her to put together a band. The Cambodian Space Project was born.

In hindsight it’s easy to spot Poulson’s vision of marrying simple honest garage rock to Thy’s haunted, resonant vocals. Srey’s melancholy birdsong of loss and yearning compliments bashing drums and reverb drenched power chords with stage presence to spare. The Space Project recorded albums and toured everywhere. On the road with CSP, Srey entertained and inspired many, eventually utilizing her new high profile to become a prominent human rights activist.

On their 3rd LP – “Whiskey Cambodia” – the CSP drive their rocket ship into the heart of American 60s pop: Detroit, Michigan. Employing first rate Motown session players, the Space Project evolves past surf and garage without dropping the party vibe. After opening with surf stomper “Dance Twist” the new line-up shifts from ballads (“If You Go I Go Too”) and 70s soul/funk (“Black to Gold”) to dancehall pop (“Mountain Dance”) and the Doors-like soundscape of the title track as deftly as one would move from the beach to the hot tub. While some of the grit has been cleaned out on this go round the celebration and adventure remain.  Much of the adventurous spirit is supplied courtesy of guitar wizard Dennis Coffey who himself brought Motown into the space age (and the 70s) with his legendary guitar effects on Edwin Starr’s “War (What is it Good For?)” and the Temptations “Ball of Confusion”.

Overall this collection provides ample reasons to rip Love Shack off the hi-fi and elevate the party headspace to a more exotic chill-factor. As with most of what you’d call party rock, it’s sounds exceptionally better after a few Mai Tais and/or Thai sticks, creating your own personal space project in your mind. For added authenticity you may want to dub the album onto cassette a few generations and play it through a giant boom box which you’ve bungee corded to the back of a moped before heading off to Bamboo Island to catch some waves.

Originally published in Saachi Gallery Art & Music Magazine



The Rockin’ Dad’s Guide to Ty Segall


Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)

I’m not sure if Manipulator is the 8th, 9th or 13th album in 6 years by the psychedelic wunderkind Ty Segall. Numbers get fuzzy at my age, especially when you include the myriad cassette, vinyl and compact disc collaborations the 27-year-old California native has released under different guises (e.g. Fuzz, Sic Alps, Party Fowl, The Ty Segall Band -not to be confused with Ty Segall, the band, The Perverts).

Why do I mention his age? Because I’m an over-the hill hack who can barely muster the energy to type out words like “fuzztone” and “riffage” let alone write and record a bazillion new songs that recreate ever so lovingly the tone and energy of a Pebbles Vol. 6 or a Kinda Kinks, that’s why. But enough about me. You’re wondering if Ty’s new double platter is the dog’s bollocks, not whether some word jockey is having a mid-life crisis in the back pages of an art magazine. Alternatively, you might ponder whether the latest disc is a suitable entry into the oeuvre that can fill a wall of record bins.

A distillation of his previous work, be it the Blue Cheer ear-punch of Fuzz or the insular Skip Spence trip of the acoustic material, Manipulator finds Segall balancing the garage punk aesthetic with a flowing melodic inventory of west coast weirdo mixture of sun and clouds. Segall embodies these vintage styles with more affinity than someone who came into this world the same year as The Joshua Tree has any right.

While that alone garners him an “E” for effort, the fact is when you hear a real band blasting through their repertoire in a studio, sounding a bit tighter and tour seasoned (honorable mention of course to Emily Rose Epstein and Charles Moothart) having memorized all Ty’s new power chord riffs, amps mic’d within the boundaries of a 1968 sonic palette, it makes you wonder what the point is of writing about it. Rock and roll is fun and writing is hard work. Again, that’s not your problem as a reader.

As the album chugs along, halfway through its 56 minute run time, I wonder: is there a discrepancy between the “less is more” approach and the sheer overall volume of Ty Segall’s output? What was left on the cutting room floor? Not every track is a gem. Should it have been whittled down to a single length? Am I too old to write about what the kids are into these days? Maybe, I don’t know and nope. This music is older than me, older than my older brother even. If I could travel back in time and played this record for someone in 1968, it wouldn’t cause a warp in the space-time continuum.

But is it retro? That 1980s buzzword from the first 60s revival is no longer relevant.  At this point in time, every obscure, low-budget, regional, vanity press, garage punk reissue of a reissue has been unearthed, yet  those of us waiting to discover the next forgotten Wimple Winch or Q65 will never be sated. Well there isn’t any more. It’s all been dug up. That is why it rules that these “millennials” sidestep the usual doubts that block GenX Debbie Downers like myself from creating such joyous rapture just because it isn’t necessarily “original.”

Of course most of the people who made the original versions of this music are dead now so I should consider myself lucky. We all should. And we should be grateful that folks like Mr. Segall exist and are doing the saintly work of filling our lives with more and more vintage organ sounds and Pretty Things pastiche to which we would wake and bake to if weren’t so damn old.



The Los Angeles Folk Festival

Less than an hour away from the glitzy facade of Hollywood (Tinseltown, Lipstick City. Plasticopolis) (the idea, not the actual neighborhood), to the north lies a sleepy suburb called Altadena, CA. It is there, on top of a mountain (or giant hill) that you’ll find the magical, burn-out oasis of Zorthian Ranch.

Ten years before Disneyland opened, Jirayr Zorthian created this wild, untamed 45-acre art retreat that has welcomed outsiders and gentry alike to groove among rusted out husks of classic cars, art from kitchen sinks, railroad ties and old movie sets, hang out with llamas, swim in a hillside pool and just do whatever. And for the past three years the ranch has hosted a first-class festival of young folk, country-rock and psych-influenced groups,.

Sure, we all hate rock festivals, with their corporate sponsors, beer tents, loudmouth yahoos, weekend warriors and complete absence of Llamas. This is … not that. This is the L.A. Folk Festival. It has plenty of llamas, a swimming pool and it is splendorous.

Sure, Altadena can be a hassle to get to for L.A. denizens more used to driving their motor vehicles to the corner 7-11, however once you arrive – well, you have to park a couple of miles away, but, after you walk uphill through a suburban neighborhood that apparently saves taxes by not having streetlights, you arrive finally … at the foot of the mountain that must be climbed.

At night, the mountain path is pitch black except for a some LED torches and the stars in the sky (Big Dipper and whatnot). There’s something quiet and not-at-all foreboding about this particular mountain path, because you know that on the other side is a veritable Valhalla of good vibes and art damaged rock and folk.  Without the gift of sight, you find yourself staying close in concert other bodies moving up, trusting that they are not wolf people or maniacs and that you will NOT trip on a crack and sprain your ankle in three places. Yes, I should have brought a flashlight. If only I’d known. And yes, if I had read the website for the L.A. Folk Festival, specifically the bit under the heading “Prepare for Zorithian Park”, I would have.

When you reach the top of the mountain, at last, you’re greeted by two friendly young women at a table with Macbooks and there’s a food truck to the right – civilization.  But when you walk past that what happens is you’re dropped into the set of Goonies, transported to a timeless land, or if you wanted to put a time on it, the 1960s. Just over yonder, some warm, trippy country psych from the Outpost Stage (one of four) sets the mood.

If I may fall back on Hollywood reductionist spin for a minute – because who doesn’t love the old “something meets something” trope? – it’s the Grand Ole Opry meets the Manson Family, Mad Max meets Hee Haw, Nashville meets Alice in Wonderland.

It takes awhile to get a feel for the layout, which on this steep hillside unfolds like an Escher drawing. You walk over bridges built from telephone poles, navigate steep hills next to art that will literally impale you. There’s genius and creativity to spare and not a hacky-sack in sight. And with 26+ acts on four stages, there’s never a shortage of tunes.

For a guaranteed good time, leave it to great female country folks like Jenny Long, Leslie Stevens or Emily Lacey who stick to the essentials of classic country rock and folk – good songs, solid arrangements and a woman’s voice to melt your heart.

Easy going L.A. stalwarts Beachwood Sparks reward mountain climbing musos with their pretty folk-rock melodies, and the haunting harmonies of Yellow Red Sparks take you to Laurel Canyon in the 1960s. It’s not mentioned in the website guide, but you really want to keep a one-hitter handy for transference and transportation purposes. That’s just me saying this though.

Some electrical issues up on the Dustbowl Stage delayed but did not deter the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack stomp of Spindrift. The Dustbowl offers the best view of the stars and is flanked by some old mobile homes in which people seemed to be living.

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister opened their stellar set on Jerry’s Stage with The Mommas and Poppa’s ‘Straight Shooter’ and continued to dazzle with their joyous brand of garage rock stomp, brother/sister harmonies, slide guitar and tap dancing (!) drummer.

Even more than the high-quality headliners, I liked the weirder stuff at the Lemon Tree Stage, like the morbidly whimsical Dirt Bird or the strange and intense folk of Guy Blakeslee.

As the night comes to a close (around 1ish) with the exquisite Tall Tales and Silver Lining and the exotic Oliwa and The Pleasure Circus you begin to contemplate the walk back down the mountain. It’s a wonder old Zorthian hadn’t devised a zip-line for this purpose.

All in all, it’s a tremendous privilege to see so many great acts in such a magical setting and well worth the uphill trek.

– Gregg Lopez