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Pleasure Island keeps it real faux on Argentine recorded EP





Pleasure Island keeps it real faux on Argentine recorded EP

If Elvis Costello’s Attractions or The Clash were primarily into world music, perhaps they would sound something like Pleasure Island—an unorthodox and quirky band that combines touches of new wave-ish rock with a variety of Latin styles. These guys are hardly purists, and therein lies the thing that makes Faux Porteño so much fun. Showing an adventurous spirit, Pleasure Island are consistently unpredictable and draw on everything from Afro-Cuban salsa to Mexican ranchero/polka to Brazilian choro. On the tango “Imagination”, P.I. rejects the suit-and-tie sophistication that characterizes much Argentinean music in favor of a tougher, harder-edged approach. And on “Intentaré" they successfully take a Tex-Mex approach to traditional Italian songs…

…all of which is complete bullshit of course, but not entirely necessarily, and either way you should know that I copied the paragraph above nearly verbatim from an allmusic.com review of Brave New Combo’s classic 1990 LP A Night On Earth (classic in my mind at least!) and especially songs like "Hey There" and "Do Something Different", a band that Paste magazine once called “the Grand Pooh-Bah of Denton bands…in many ways the template from which all the rest are cut: eclectic and artistically ambitious, with a high degree of musicianship and a strong DIY aesthetic” which is a statement I can vouch for having seen Brave Combo multiple times back in the day and having been raised in North Texas not too far from Denton which is home to the University of North Texas which is known for its prestigious jazz-leaning music program but I digress…

…and so hearing the new EP by the musically adroit veterans of Pleasure Island (*emerging* veterans!) who self-describe as “surf-deprecating loungecore from Ridgewood, Queens” made me harken back to those perennial purveyors of worldbeat rhythms for the denizens of Denton and beyond (if only Pleasure Island had a polka number or two up their sleeves they could maybe win a Grammy!) equally amenable to lounge lizards and ethnomusicologists alike and when I looked up the above-quoted review it was like wow this fits Faux Porteño like a glove except for a couple missing fingers like the bits about “Brazilian choro” and “Tex-Mex approach[es] to traditional Italian songs”…



…except as it turns out there *is* an Italian connection as we’ll soon see and even more so an Argentinean connection seeing as how Faux Porteño was recorded in Buenos Aires last spring and sounds like it too with the code switching of the record’s title (in French and Spanish, and it rhymes!) that’s apropos to the record’s code switching across multiple dimensions (musical, ontological, etc.) not to mention the revealing titular contrast between faux (fake) and porteño which is a word used to describe the realest-of-the-real authentic denizens of Buenos Aires a.k.a. “the Paris of South America” and here again I’ll quote at length and really it’s too bad I don’t get paid by the word count…

…a term that according to therealargentina.com is “used to refer to the citizens of Buenos Aires where porteño literally means “person of the port”, and harks back to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Spanish and Italian immigrants in the first half of the 20th century. So while the porteños might share the same country as their compadres from, say, Salta or Rio Gallegos, they look and act more like Italians. Buenos Aires is proud of its identity, so you’ll see and hear the word “porteño” (or ‘porteña’ in the feminine) all around, to describe restaurants, taxi firms, football teams and tango. But porteño is more than just a geographical indicator, it’s a way of being. Porteños have their own slang (‘Lunfardo’), their own fashion, their own complex psyche and their own attitude” revolving according to this website around big shoes and big hair, potent beverages, football (the kind that’s actually played with one’s feet) and machismo so there’s a North Texas connection here too in a sense…

…and right from the EP’s opening track entitled “Imagination” the porteño vibes comes across thick and strong as a really strong, thick cup of yerba mate opening with a rhapsodic solo accordion intro that segues into a laid-back tango groove but honestly I’d have to consult a musicologist to know if the underlying rhythm of the tango is more marcato or síncopa or tres-tres-y-dos which not too many gringos such as myself could even differentiate anyway even though real porteños may set their clocks to tango’s rhythms…

…but it’s not so concerning for our purposes here cuz the record is called *Faux* Porteño after all meaning that a little bit of inauthenticity and/or pure imagination is fully expected and to quote from the lyrics of “Imagination” at some length: “I like colorful clothes / the redder the rose / and the wonderful city lights / but I’d much rather kiss you, my lady / in black and white // with my foot on the gas / the things we pass / the breeze in your hair you’d feel / but I’d much rather run with you, my lady / in slow motion through a field // I’m in love again / I’m in love again / at least in my imagination” all building to a stated preference for Hollywood fantasies over the more mundane fulfillment of real friends…

…all of which reminds me of when Courtney Love first informed the public that “I fake it so real I am beyond fake” which was a startling statement at the time but today the better part of the body politic lives by these very words cuz really who even knows what the hell’s real anymore and what’s fake and speaking of fake did you know that none of The Beach Boys even surfed except for Dennis and he ended up drowning for his troubles but still they’re among the most iconic of surf bands to ever exist and also among the realest purveyors of the collective California imaginary that’s like essentially the skeleton key to the entire bigger American Dream and it’s in this spirit of “true lies” that Pleasure Island addresses their listeners on the EP’s subsequent track “Kokomo 2” which is most definitely the most impressive musical homage to Mike Love to be composed this side of The Fall’s “Mike’s Love Xexagon” from back in 2003 and one of my favorite Fall songs to boot but I digress…

…and returning to “Kokomo 2” here’s a song that pays homage to The Beach Boys’ left-field late-career #1 hit song “Kokomo 1” released back in 1988 which itself paid homage to The Beach Boys’ glory days but which in reality had little to do with the real Beach Boys apart from Mike Love’s co-writing credit and tepid vocalizing (Carl’s vocals are totally majestic as always even when in service to trite material such as this and even without his brother Brian present) plus “Kokomo” isn’t even a real place but rather an imaginary “tropical paradise” invented just for the song and despite going to the top of the Billboard charts it also routinely charts on critics’ “worst songs of all time” lists and so it’s undeniably perverse for a band like Pleasure Island to write their own sequel to what is likely The Beach Boys’ most widely despised song…

…but here at The Deli we’re totes on board with “undeniably perverse“ and we’re also on board with novelty songs that take a nearly-35-year-old novelty song taken from a nostalgia-infused soundtrack to a movie that features Tom Cruise at his most Tom Cruisiest with lyrics about a locale that’s nothing more than a mirage in reality but which in the hands of Pleasure Island is transformed from the realm of idealized “pure imagination” subtext into a less-than-idealized supertext that at once actualizes and then deconstructs the mirage in question…

…starting with the song’s admission that “I hate chores / so I got divorced / I wanted more / than Zsa Zsa Gabor / my future’s waiting for me / at the shore” where the narrator is intent on “havin’ a Kokomo party” even if it’s somewhere in the vicinity of the Jersey Shore in reality that is until the song’s end where the facade briefly slips in hopes that “whatever happened before / we’ll like each other again” but it’s a difficult to swallow last ditch bit of sentimentalism given the song’s smarmy lounge lizard tone up to that point and the synthetic sounding but still butt-shaking ‘80s-esque tropical grooves that link the song directly to it’s predecessor…

…which get at just what I dig about this little record and that’s how it works on multiple levels at once but without being showy about it like how it’s simultaneously lo-fi and DIY-sounding but sonically ambitious at the same time with songs about the stark reality of having to fake it 'til you make it (or, worse yet, don’t make it) with a lyrical POV that’s equal parts entitled and ineffectual, carefree and neurotic, and a musical POV that’s equal parts laid-back and uptight and while one could write a passable thesis on these and other dialectical oppositions in the works of Pleasure Island it’s also true that when I first heard these songs performed live at a mellow tree-shrouded backyard bar during a pleasant late summer evening all I remember thinking is how these gently humorous, gently propulsive tunes were the perfect straight-forward antidote to the worries and stressors of the day. (Jason Lee)

Published: November 21, 2022 |

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