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MÄRZ LOVE STREAMS, 2002, Karaoke Kalk

Back in Los Angeles again, we watch the last days of January drop off the calendar like petals of a fragrant rose. January in Los Angeles is, perversely, the most beautiful month of the year. Perfectly perverse, maybe, to those patriots who think L.A.'s the opposite of all that is good and true and sacred in this country. Be that as it may, I'm here now and this beauty around me all the live-long day is not to be rivaled anywhere, anthem be damned. In a few days February arrives, with rain and pink jasmine. March brings mock orange, espresso-colored mud, electric green grass and calf-high yellow broom all over the canyons. Then, the constant shift from April through June of too hot, too early or windy overcast grey, intercut with a jaunt to Joshua Tree or Big Sur, for variety’s sake. By the Fourth of July, standing on a tinderbox brown hillside around a propane grill, drinking cheap chardonnay out of a 2 liter jug, watching a police chopper circle the shimmering towers of downtown as heavy drone crunches through old outdoor speakers and a fat joint is passed like a kidney stone, we'll be squarely in the middle of the Apocalypse.

But that's six months off and today, tonight, tomorrow everything everywhere in this city is soft, lush and crystal clear. Radiant, lovely. You realize how close the ocean is, and Catalina Island unveils itself on the horizon. In this magnanimous spirit we take a moment to toast L.A.’s sister city, Berlin (What, you didn’t know? There’s a plaque in Griffith Park to prove it…), which must not be quite so climatically fortunate. No, this is not another half-baked desperation advertising ploy by the producers of Valkyrie who will go to their graves proclaiming that turkey was a hit. Just a feeling of Gemutlichkeit on our part. Because with great nightclubs, the best electronic music in the world, an awesome film tradition, one of the best World Cup’s in recent memory, and a national ban on Scientology, wir sprechen ein biechen Deutsch, ja!

März’s (German for “March”) Love Streams came to my attention through an unusually circuitous route. My good friend Mike Johnson, a fellow college-radio DJ and voracious music lover, was scanning the web for all things Nick Drake-related (this was in 2004, in the high old days of endless Acquisition downloads). He gave me a burned CD of Pink Moon to which he’d added two random tracks at the end that he claimed sampled Drake’s “From the Morning." The first one I didn’t like and can’t remember, but the second I put on my 10GB Ipod for safekeeping—untitled, with the odd artist name, Marz. As the track occasionally popped up in my shuffle (Trust the Shuffle!), it grew on me, working its way into a private, personal bay window of my brain. Finally, a year later, I took the time to unlock the mystery. It turned out the song I had on my Ipod wasn’t the song Mike had intended to download. That track, with its Nick Drake sample in all its glory, is actually the lead-off song, “Introductory,” and the accidental one, the one I had fallen in love with, was the title track, “Love Streams.” At that time, Love Streams wasn’t available as an mp3 download, but luckily, I was able to order the vinyl from Forced Exposure in Massachusetts, and it's very precious to me.

The album is a beguiling creation. At first listen it seems simple, modestly charming, a bit repetitive, sampling the same melodies again and again over synth beats and digital chirps, with studio chatter, instrument feedback, hums, scratches, even the boot clicks of the artists entering and leaving the studio left in the mix. There are very little vocals, and those are mostly interpolations and sung choruses of old Sixties folk songs side by side with voiceover German that sounds lifted from old PSA’s or radio broadcasts. This mix of modern, albeit warm electronica and familiar snatches of Sixties classics (the aforementioned Drake, as well as Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Velvet Underground) creates an appealing, comforting contrast, the equivalent of hearing a grown person chanting the songs he was sung as a child, giving them a modern context and purpose.

The repetition has an interesting effect as well, which reminds me of the John Cage adage, “If something is boring, look at it for five minutes. If it is still boring, look at it for ten.” The more you focus on the sampled loops and hooks, the more you begin to notice the minor instruments and tones and chord changes that appear and dissolve like sea spray from a wave.

Imagine an old building—out of use, decrepit, but retaining a romantic character: a country barn nestled in rolling hills covered with snow; an abandoned factory with a view of the railroad tracks in the industrial part of town; a warehouse loft overlooking the dockside of a limitless lake. You walk into this abandoned building, up a creaky ladder to a second floor. It is filled with electronic machines, very old and new, of every assortment and function, capable of making every possible sound. Some of them are phonographs with old records that spin incessantly, stuck in a groove, replaying the same bars. You sit down in front of a large glass window with a view out onto the landscape below all the way to the horizon. All at once the machines whir to life, their individual tones and noises amassing into an orchestra of tiny sounds that plays the same familiar pattern. You fade into a timeless trance aware only of the sunlight melting the hard snow; the raindrops oxidizing on the rusted rails; the clouds brightening and darkening their shadows on the surface of the lake…

You could debate whether this album is neo-folk, electro-pop, down-tempo or some other arcane designation. To me its daydream music, pure and simple. It reminds me of Saturday afternoons sitting with my dad in our living room, listening to Francis Lai’s A Man and A Woman soundtrack, his favorite record. He died three years ago, and whenever I hear the song "Love Streams," it makes me think of him, and I feel his presence acutely, very close. He minored in German in college and because of that the U.S. Government deemed him talented at languages and sent him directly to Intensive Vietnamese Language School in El Paso, TX, which earned him a desk at Combined Intelligence Center-Vietnam (CIC-V) in Saigon (a warning to would-be German majors out there). He didn't like the Army; he liked musicals. And records. His birthday was this week, so I dedicate this post to his memory, in lieu of white carnations.

Happy Birthday, Steve. Auf Wiedersehen. Tschuß.