Throughout August, Crate-Digging will be focusing on recordings that have been given a cassette release.
(Orchid Tapes, 2010)
Mickey Mickey Rourke is the idiot pseudonym of Los Angelino Miller Rodriguez. Again, Rodriguez releases music as Mickey Mickey Rourke. Let me be perfectly clear – this is almost as dumb a name as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. What is it with these celebrity-baiting band names anyway?
Whatever. That’s off my chest now, so I can get on with living my life in peace, free from TMZ-style celeb voyeurism as if some sleazy paparazzo would mistake Rodriguez from singular-Mickey Rourke. Because that paparazzo won’t, he knows better. I’m safe here, under M M R, stretched out on my deck recliner, pina colada in hand, and let this be the final time we conjure any plastic-surgeried beefcakes. Let’s talk about Orchid Tapes instead, the label that released M M R to the world last year. It’s an unassuming label, trading in ultra-low-run cassette releases and then offering the recordings as free downloads on the blog page. “Cassette limited to about 35,” saith the owners. Low-run indeed! We usually see at least 100, and more along the lines of 250 to 500 for the bigger names. If your hands haven’t touched an MMR cassette, don’t worry, the download’s still there, I checked (and linked, above and below).
Rodriguez plies the trade of an electric guitarist, crafting ambient passages with hints of pop leanings, all the while in search of the perfect chillout. He processes his guitar until it’s soaked in reverb and delay, lethargic in the afternoon heat, but sugary and refreshing nonetheless. But while the obvious tropical-drone tags apply, this record teeters on a thin edge that spans “pretty” on one side and “sickening” on the other, sometimes finding its balance and at others toppling into a hungover abyss. This is the charm of M M R, and it’s why drugs are probably necessary for its complete enjoyment. (I’m not condoning that at all, by the way.)
Want examples of “pretty”? Well alright, then, how about “CHANGE MY WAY” (Rodriguez’s song titles are mostly all caps, I’m not text-screaming at you), a swaying beachside meditation. Are you laying on a towel in the sand, soaking up some rays? You sure are, and you can make out the breeze rustling the palms over the sounds of the ocean. There are some actual vocals here too, as if a steel-drum island band’s melted tape is playing at half speed through a pulverized boom box. “G O R G E O U S” is just what its name implies, and the character spaces separating the letters in the title just serve to remind you to let yourself breathe and take it in. It’s a bit thicker and crafted with synthesizer, but you can almost feel the spray on your face from the waves. “LIQUID KIDS” and “LOVE SONG” are glimpses at the sky from underwater. “PRETTY PUKE” shimmers like sunrays reflected off a puddle of evacuated daiquiris.
“BUBBLES,” on the other hand, despite its suggestion of jacuzzis and soap wands, is disorienting in its dissonance – MMR has blown the most aggressive, unpleasant bubbles ever, apparently. But it’s OK, as it’s kind of fun dissecting the track to hear where one key ends and another begins. “DREAMCAST” is another misnomer on a grand scale, as instead of a pleasant drift into the unconscious, the warbling, candy-colored synthesizer and tambourine is nightmarish, volatile, and disorienting, the complete opposite of restfulness. It’s like someone is shaking you awake and you can’t fight your way out of your dream state. I don’t know whether to throw up or cram fruit snacks down my throat, and if I’m really asleep, I hope to God this ends soon.
But it’s all in good fun, and Rodriguez can get playful in his titling as he does on “I USED TO SMOKE METH,” which features distorted wordless vocals to go along with the trademark heavily reverbed guitar. The instrument would sound natural, i.e. played unadorned in a heavily echoed room, if not for the vocals, but it’s contemplative and mournful nonetheless, somewhat of a departure from the rest of the album. And therein lies MMR’s strengths: it’s the weird balance and subtle variety that makes an ambient album like it enjoyable, and raises it to a level of active interest. And Rodriguez keeps adapting and changing, as he veers closer and closer to pop territory in later records, especially in his collaborations with Lester Brown. But this is a good place to start. Did I mention you can download it?
RIYL: Lester Brown, Sean McCann, Foxes in Fiction