New Yorker Squashy Nice (real name: Joshua Montcalm) is one half of American instrumental hip-hop production duo DJ T-Rock & Squashy Nice. Over the last eight years the duo has released three albums of sample- and turntablism-heavy beatscapes through New Zealand record label Why Records. Late last year they unveiled their third collaborative album, Getting Through. Here are five albums Squashy Nice is loving right now…
1 – Noah and the Whale, The First Days Of Spring: These guys are indie folk from Twickenham, England – On a random note Twickenham is the horseracing capital of the world. The mere mention of the word ‘Horseracing’ will forever connect me with the Sopranos episode where Tony Soprano decides to get a horse painting commissioned, all good until Uncle Paulie gets involved…. Anyway..!
I heard a single from Noah & the Whale recently called L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N – quite simple pop chorus, but worked for me – a friend played me the video actually. I liked it – they have some great taste the way they film their music videos – always something quite captivating about the Whale’s video visuals. Quite probably they have friends in the film industry, always handy. The Whales have an appreciation for writing cinematic music, and I share that same passion too.
The First Days Of Spring is the album I got into – liked the tracks Blue Skies and Our Window – there’s some melancholy there that I really enjoy. It seems to follow a trail of broken hearts, a throwback to the downbeat vibe of Joy Division (if Joy Division were ever to have been a folk band) – Err, “sorry Ian, RIP buddy”. The track First Days of Spring takes me personally walking around inside the film Fargo – wading through the deep snow, looking at the ice crystals that dangle from the pine trees catching the breeze. Noah are a modern take on a lot of 1960s stuff that has gone before us like the Kinks/Ray Davies, Velvet Underground. They have some very apparent American influences too. Much of the Noah’s music features great strings, lovely keys and killer lyrics.
2 – Elliot Smith, From a Basement on the Hill: One album leads quite well into the other here in terms of sentiment. Elliot too has had his share of matters of the heart, and other complicated situations. Elliot unravels these in different ways on this album. It’s a walk through a period of the guy’s life mostly exposing a healthy dose of sadness. There is a rare appearance of a more upbeat island in the track Memory Lane. The music might be upbeat but the lyrics are still definitely Elliot’s tussle with dark and intense subject matters. Gee, so far I’ve been all about the sober music. Am I giving-out the wrong messages here? I think at this point I better say that the sober mood is an enormous part of this album’s charm.
Elliot completed all of the tracks for this record before he committed suicide in 2003 – the album was then apparently finished, mixed, mastered etc by his family and friends then released a year after his death. Elliot was an outstandingly talented songwriter & musician – King’s Crossing has a very John Lennon sound about it – which really drew me in upon first hearing. Elliot definitely shares the quality of lyricists that John Lennon was famous for – but naturally will never be given any of that kind of glory.
In this album Elliot writes extremely intense songs exposing very private thoughts and emotions – he approaches difficult subjects within beautiful music treatments. For delicate acoustic music, Elliot is at the top of his game – if you give this album time, this album might shake you, and stir you, but all in a good way.
3 – Bumpy Knuckles Freddie Foxxx (aka Bumpy Knuckles), Industry Shakedown:When we’re talking hip hop this album is a timeless classic, Bumpy Knuckles, this O.G is guaranteed to get you psyched. Bumpy drips style and talent, there’s no sell-outs here, and no fake-arsed shit. This album marks the glory years in hip-hop after which time hip-hop (as we knew & loved it) changed. This record features a huge line-up of East Coast O.G heavy hitters all in their prime. DJ Premier (RIP Son), Pete Rock and Diamond D. There’s club anthems here one after the other. Bumpy Knuckles Baby, Inside your Head and 24 Hours. Bits of good advice thrown down in Industry Shakedown – & the killer joint Part Of My Life. Pete Rock lends a hand on the production – all good with me, I’m a big Pete Rock fan. If it was up to me I’d have Pete Rock’s When They Reminisce Over You blasting from a satellite in space. To my mind a far more solid decision than the recent Black Eyed Peas single which premiered from Mars – W/T/F?…Please!
When a dose of testosterone is required, or if you had to pick one hip-hop album to take with you to the remote Pacific One Foot Island in Aitutaki or to throw into a time capsule – look no further. Watch out because deserted island or not, a party could magically appear out of nowhere complete with video chicks the moment Industry Shakedown gets thrown on tables!
4 – Charles Mingus, Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife: The thing I love about jazz is the surprise I’ve had on the odd occasion when I’ve walked into somewhere like a breakfast spot after a big night out. That heart-warming surprise when the coffee spot just happens to be playing a jazz album. Me (Squashy Nice) in tatters and in desperate need of coffee and serious piles of eggs dripping with hollandaise sauce! Ah, that’s my idea of perfection right there, and the best remedy to sooth any late night haze.
This brings me to Mr Charles Mingus’ Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife. The album cover features a very pissed-looking Mingus tying luggage to the top of a Dodge Polara station wagon. I can’t quite recall, but I may have actually come across this album one Sunday morning listening to it in a cafe as I have just described to you above.
I have to say – the early recordings featured on this record are some of the best jazz tunes of all time. In the title track Charles takes us on a lovely ride through various moods and tempos. One fully enjoys the stellar line-up of musicians that play along with Charles – each of them a pure genius in their own right and each of them adding their own sprinkles of style. Slop is a funky-arsed tune with the ‘Oh Yeahs’ and handclaps placed perfectly to add that extra dose of‘!!!’.
That classic jazz swing as described in Song With Orange, and Mood Indigo are to my mind the most life-changing compositions ever. I love the expression of tenderness here in this music. The horns take me back home to the South, a funeral procession shuffling through the streets of New Orleans.
Shame so many of the jazz greats never got the recognition they deserved while they were alive and remained, for the most, part of the underground. Super sad many of them died alone with 99 problems and nothing more than moths in their wallets. Tragic for musicians who contributed so much but were returned so little. They were some mean-arsed times back then, but I guess those times were instrumental in shaping that sound. To say that jazz has influenced and inspired me would be an understatement. Always good to bring that beat back and remind ourselves that before we had hip hop, we had jazz and blues and for me it’s always a pleasure to go gun slinging with Bird.
5 – The Best of Thelonious Monk, The Blue Note Years:Me and Monk go a way back – I had a pretty sweet childhood memory of a Monk record my Dad owned Monks Music – The cover pictures a 1957 Monk in a classic dark 50s cut suit, hat of course, black shades, smoking, sitting cross-legged in a child’s red pull cart, looking as cool as fuck. As a kid I loved staring at the cover, getting lost in it – but my history with this record is a whole other story. Later I hooked into the album The Blue Note Years, this album really changed my life. How can you go past smoking jazz jams like Straight No Chaser, the phenomenal vibe of In Walked Bud, the beauty of April In Paris, where you can hear Monk vocalizing along faintly in the background while he’s tapping at the piano keys – and my personal favourite Misterioso.
I recently moved to New York City, and since I’ve moved here I’ve been totally intrigued by how jazz is the perfect soundtrack to this city whatever the season. The best headphone accompaniment as one walks the city in the day or night. The Blue Note Years is a true classic – marking a special time in music that came and went, never to be repeated, but was thankfully for us, captured.