July 09, 2006

Music Discovery

Bob Lefsetz often complains that it's so hard to discover new music anymore, and that it certainly cannot be done on the radio. And usually within the same breath, he's back to recalling how great the golden seventies were, and how they just don't make music like they used to.

Baloney.

It's out there. And you can still find great music on the radio. You just have to look a little harder.

Whenever I travel to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is so often these days it feels like a commute, I tune in to two stations, KFJC-FM and KZSU-FM. That is, as soon as I turn the rental car on, I tune the radio to those stations and set the radio preset buttons so they're within easy reach. Well, I also pre-set KQED 88.5, but it's KFJC and KZSU that I seek out.

Now, you never know what you're going to get with those stations. They're college stations, with student DJs for the most part. Sometimes -- often, in fact -- the material being broadcast is downright weird. Which is why it's great to have two stations to toggle between. While one's in one of its deeply strange programs playing deeply strange experimental music, the other might, just might, have something to offer. (That said, I should add that many a time that something deeply strange and experimental has been playing on one of these stations, it's turned out to be very interesting and worth a listen. Even the Pirate show on KFJC -- avast! arrrr! -- can be a hoot.)

I found myself landing in San Jose just as the fireworks were beginning to go off on the evening of July 4th. It is odd to be flying at that time -- looking down from the window, one is likely to see many flashes of light that look like small gunfire skirmishes across the landscape.

I got into my Enterprise Rent-a-Car, did the usual tuning (wouldn't it be cool if Enterprise remembered your radio preferences and had them ready for you when you arrived?), and hit the road. It was late, but I hadn't had dinner, and I figured I'd stop along the way to the hotel and grab some junk food.

While driving along El Camino Real I was listening to KZSU and they started playing an interesting song that reminded me of the Talking Timbuktu album by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder. This also had the feel of blues, jazz, and a wonderful dose of African rhythm and vocals. As I kept driving down a near-empty El Camino Real, the music seemed like a soundtrack to the opening scenes of some movie. All that was missing was for credit titles to appear within the glass of the windshield..

This music was mesmerizing. I got my food, and the music was still playing. I pulled over to ilsten to it and be sure to write down the name of the artist and the album so I could go buy it. It's not often I do such things, but this was music I defnitely wanted to savor more.

Then it occurred to me, the DJ might not come on, the song title and artist and album name might not be mentioned, and I might not find out who was behind this fantastic music.

So I picked up the cell phone and dialed 411.

"City and state, please," the recorded voice said.

"Stanford, Califonia," I stated.

"Yes can I help you?" an operator asked.

"The number for the radio station KZSU-FM, the Stanford University radio station. Perhaps there's a number for the studio line?"

"One moment. I have a KZSU Stanford University radio in Menlo Park, CA."

"That's it."

"One moment."

A moment later the DJ answered the phone. I just knew it was the DJ.

"Hi," I said excitedly. "I just got off the phone at San Jose airport, got my rental car, tuned into KZSU like I always do, and here I am listening to this amazing music you're playing! What IS that song you're doing right now?"

The DJ laughed. "It IS awesome isn't it!?!?"

"It's frickin' AWESOME!" I told him. "I wanted to be sure I found out who it was so I could grab the CD some time."

"It's a band called Extra Golden," he told me. "It's two guys from America jamming with two African musicians. It's on ThrillJockey Records. Just go to ThrillJockey.com and you can order it."

"Fantastic! Thanks so much!"

Radio can still be a delight.

The song I loved? It's called "Ilando Gima Onge", and you can hear the whole 11-minute-long recording for free on ThrillJockey's website. The page to find is this one.

Look to the right-hand column for the clickable track list. But be sure to buy the album (the links for CD, LP, and DOWNLOAD are on the left-hand column). And be sure to read the bio of the band on that page. It's very sad.

Here is an NPR profile from May 2006 regarding Extra Golden.

Here's what AllAboutJazz has to say about Extra Golden.

More fascinating background can be had in this article from the Washington City Paper. To think this whole album was recorded on a laptop!

Finally, I needn't have called KZSU. Turns out the KZSU website is a great and rich resource, including detailed historical playlists. For instance, here's the playlist from 9pm to midnight on July 4th when I first made my discovery.

Posted by brian at July 9, 2006 08:48 PM

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