Monday, February 16, 2015

Shows I Miss: Sounding Out the City

The def pool
The Sounding Out the City podcast's city skyline key art is too boring as both an opening image and a visual representation of how killer and tasty many of the grooves were during the Sounding Out the City playlists, so this photo of a skyscraper rooftop pool party will have to do. (Photo source: meh.ro; photographer: Alexander Tikhomirov)

Since 2009, the AFOS blog's "Shows I Miss" series has focused on preserving the memory of entertaining TV shows that were gone too soon and were too clever to last on network TV, from 2003's Keen Eddie, starring Mark Valley as a New York cop in London and a then-unknown, pre-Layer Cake Sienna Miller, to the more recent Selfie, an Instagram-age reimagining of Pygmalion starring Karen Gillan and John Cho. Keen Eddie and Selfie happen to have three things in common: 1) an ability to juggle slapstick with pathos without causing viewers to suffer from tonal whiplash; 2) a final episode that hints that the love/hate relationship between the two leads, who never got to share a kiss, will blossom into something else after the end credits roll; and 3) a distinctive and pitch-perfect soundtrack.

Keen Eddie music supervisor Liz Gallacher, who went on to music-supervise Layer Cake (thanks to her, you'll never hear Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" again without thinking of the mayhem of Layer Cake) and Masters of Sex, picked the most un-Miami Vice-y tune for a drug raid sequence on Keen Eddie: the Archies' "Sugar Sugar." She came up with several other odd but somehow fitting existing song choices for Keen Eddie, while original score composer Daniel Ash, the former frontman for Love and Rockets, lent J.H. Wyman's irreverent fish-out-of-water show an appealing Brit-rock sheen. As for Selfie, which opened each episode with the amusingly titled original theme "I'm Looking at Me: Ballad of a Narcissus" by Jenny O. Kapnek and Selfie score composer Jared Faber, the sublime use of musical acts to define each Selfie character as much as their flamboyant fashion choices do was all the work of music supervisor Kasey Truman, who previously worked with Selfie showrunner Emily Kapnek on securing existing songs like Full Force's "Ain't My Type of Hype" for Kapnek's three-season wonder Suburgatory. Uptight Henry's idea of wilin' out is a Blues Traveler concert, while his cordial and outgoing boss Mr. Saperstein would, of course, be a fan of someone as smooth as Terence Trent D'Arby, the one part of Mr. Saperstein where David Harewood's Britishness shines through. The choice of TLC's "No Scrubs" as a way for Eliza and her previously unfriendly co-worker Charmonique to bond was also the work of Truman, as were Eliza's attempt to catch Henry's eye with the help of Wiz Khalifa's "We Dem Boyz" (it looks like John Cho is trying his damnedest not to laugh during Eliza's dorky sexy dancing scene in that office) and a much more serious karaoke party moment where Eliza belts out Sia's "Chandelier" in despair over Henry's refusal to take his friendship with her to another level (and Karen Gillan's otherwise well-hidden Scottish accent surfaces, especially when she sings the word "anything").

For someone who's a Shaolin monk on the ones and twos, your Impact font's really lousy!

Music curating was also central to the first-ever entry in the continuing "Shows I Miss" series that's not a TV show: the half-hour Canadian podcast Sounding Out the City, which was at its most active from 2006 to 2009, a.k.a. the years before comedians not named Gervais forever changed podcasts and made them the more polished-sounding medium we know today. Sounding Out the City selector Driftwood, whose real name was Rob Fragoso, never got on the mic during his show, which appeared to have been named in tribute after the 2005 debut album by El Michels Affair, the Brooklyn retro-soul band that's best known for doing instrumental covers of Wu-Tang joints. Driftwood's podcast was closer to the DJ mixes that Okayplayer links to every Monday (and that I clog up too much of my MacBook hard drive with) than to a popular podcast that emerged during the '00s like the Gervais show or Coverville or a typical present-day podcast like WTF with Marc Maron, Comedy Bang Bang or StarTalk Radio. So without any interruption, save for the presence of sweepers like "Light on the attitude, heavy on the beat: Sounding Out the City" and "Beats, breaks, jazz, funk: Sounding Out the City," Driftwood would smoothly segue from classic breakbeat to lesser-known breakbeat to newly released retro-soul tune.

"I started out making mixes for myself to listen to during drives and subway rides. Somewhere along the way, I thought other people might enjoy the music in the mixes as much as I do, so I began posting them," wrote Driftwood in a podcast synopsis that's no longer online. There was nothing really extraordinary about Sounding Out the City. It was just a solid DJ mix podcast that any crate digger or beathead would enjoy. It also happened to be the first place where I encountered the likes of TOKiMONSTA and Mayer Hawthorne, as well as the first place where I heard--and fell in love with--the late Amy Winehouse's "Valerie," a cover of a Zutons tune she sang for producer Mark Ronson.



In the days before my phone took the place of my much larger-spaced but constantly malfunctioning iPod as my portable music player, I used to fill my iPod with mixes like the ones Driftwood assembled for Sounding Out the City. I managed to back up five Sounding Out the City episodes on a data CD before the demise of my PC wiped them out, and the reason why I'm bringing up the now-defunct podcast is because I rediscovered those episodes over the weekend while leafing through stacks of data CDs and kitchen cabinets full of mix CDs, hip-hop and R&B albums and pop soundtrack albums that were reserved for the now-defunct AFOS block "Rock Box," just to track down an audio file of Henry Mancini's "Something for Sophia" from the Arabesque soundtrack album, which I was thinking of adding to rotation for "AFOS Incognito."

The albums inside those kitchen cabinets that are the wackest albums also double as great dinner plates.

Those five episodes are all I have of Driftwood's podcast, plus one information-less episode somebody preserved on YouTube. Out of all the unidentified bangers during that info-less Sounding Out the City episode on YouTube, I was only able to recognize a remix of Darondo's "Didn't I" at 29:45 and a remix of Mos Def, Q-Tip and Tash's "Body Rock" at 47:26. Unlike either Keen Eddie, which lives on in clips of raunchy Eddie/Moneypenny scenes and in its original and unedited form as full-episode bootlegs on YouTube, or Selfie, which is still streamable on Hulu and will probably remain there for a while unless Keen Eddie DVD-style music clearance issues force the show off Hulu, not a single trace of Sounding Out the City content remains online aside from that YouTube posting. That's due to both Driftwood completely disappearing from the Internet and the long-ago demise of the site that hosted his mp3s.

All that remains of Driftwood's digital footprint are an abandoned MySpace page where his profile pic is simply a pair of navy Adidas Gazelles and some episode playlist info depressingly surrounded by dead links. Shit, I really hate that I didn't save Driftwood's playlist info for my copy of the episode featuring Mos Def's "Twilite Speedball" because my search for the unknown artist who sang the really funky "Love for Sale" during that episode is leading me nowhere (the Wayback Machine failed to archive Driftwood's blog post about that episode, and not even Discogs has been helpful). And shit, shit, shit, I really want to hear the film score music-heavy Sounding Out the City episode where Ocean's Thirteen score cues like "Shit! Shit! Shit!," which can be heard during the AFOS morning block "Beat Box" and "AFOS Prime," were joined on the playlist by both "The Riot" from Fritz the Cat, which can be heard during "Beat Box" and the AFOS animation score music block "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," and Mighty Ryeders' "Evil Vibrations." I don't know what Driftwood is up to these days, but if it weren't for him, my train rides to and from work in 2007 wouldn't have sounded as amazing.


3 comments:

  1. Hey Jimmy, the track you're after is "Love For Sale" by Ernestine Anderson. Thank you for the kind words about my podcast--I miss it too! lol

    I still have a digital copy of every episode I ever recorded (except for #14, which is odd). Not sure how I would get them to you, but would be happy to.

    Cheers,
    Rob

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  2. Rob, wow, I would really appreciate hearing those episodes! We have to talk outside this blog. I had isolated an audio file of "Love for Sale" from that episode for you to hear again because that definitely wasn't Ernestine Anderson. But now that you've correctly identified her as Lillian Alexander, I don't have to send it to you anymore. Thanks! We still gotta talk though.

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  3. You bet Jimmy! Catch me on twitter @robfragoso and msg me. We can figure out a way to get the mixes to you.

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