Let’s say you’re Mario Hernandez. You used to be half of indie hero act Ciao Bella with your high school buddy Jamie McCormick, but then McCormick moved to NYC and you were left all alone. So you formed From Bubblegum to Sky, released an album a couple of years ago that got some great reviews and sold well in Japan, but now you’re a little bored. You record for Eenie Meenie Records, a tiny little label out of L.A. specializing in funky electro-twee pop bands like Irving, DJ You DJ Me, and your own band, and you manage to convince Eenie Meenie to release a comp of a lot of your friends’ acts. How the hell are you going to call attention to it? After all, comps get shunted aside all the time. How can you make it stand out?
Here’s what you do: you create the single greatest concept pop CD of all time. I’m not kidding. Cookbook CD is an 11-track compilation of music, and that is probably the “important” part; but it’s also a masterpiece of album art, as well as an actual working (if short) vegetarian cookbook. This is the way to do it.
This art is completely bonkers out of bounds mentalism all the way. The dominant strains, both on the cover and in the accompanying booklet, are pop-culture collage and Japanese comics (hentai, anime, what have you). Cute little ass-kickin’ monsters rub shoulders with robots everywhere; adorable slogans like “Are You Vegetarian?” and “Who Can You Trust?” pop up everywhere. The color-separation costs alone must have run up in the high squizillions. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s a beautiful freaking artifact of the best design (credited to “electric 69”, which/who deserves a lot of Grammys for this shit) that I’ve ever seen. Pop CD design should be wacky and loud and Japanese-inspired and way-too-colorful like this, instead of the dour wackness that usually tries to “disguise” happy silly pop music. Therefore, this is perfect.
Inside the booklet, nearly every act gets its own page to decorate, which is the way every compilation should work. Furthermore, most of the groups actually include real live recipes that one can prepare, hopefully while listening to the music. The Anubian Lights weigh in with a yummy mushroom pie, Seksu Roba come up with a “Bossa Blanco” all-white salad, and so on—all without meat, all looking pretty great. Of these, the clear standouts are the ones written with personality—McCormick’s “Spinach Soup with Onions” features such great asides as “There’s a mutherfucker outside honking his horn looking for a wine bottle through his windshield” and “When I got the onions where I wanted them, I sautéed a huge handful of mushrooms in them until they were godly”. And Evolution Control Committee wins all kinds of prizes for their great “Hash Browns to Lay Yer Ass Down”.
I want more indie-rock cookbooks, except that I’m afraid that they’d consist mostly of “Taco Bell Surprise” and “Day-Old Stuff We Found in the Van”.
Anyway, this irreverent fun approach to the design and the food works perfectly with the actual music on the CD. It’s 43 minutes of diverse crazy pop music from several different labels and in several styles, from the shoegaze pop of Rocketship’s “Pretty Saro” to the jangle of “Come On Come On” by Kiara Geller to the nu-wave synthomatic “Contact High” offered up by the Ray Makers. (The Ray Makers get extra points for their recipes: Lance Rock’s “Spicy Veggie B.L.T.” and Hypnotique’s “Heavenly Tofu/Veggie Pot Pie.” Ace.) “Girls & Shoo Be Doo Wop” by From Bubblegum to Sky is about as close to Elephant 6 pop as anyone this side of Dressy Bessy or the Apples in Stereo, and its presence on the same disc (and label) as DJ You DJ Me’s wild Pizzicato Five-style collage turntablist piece “Please Enjoy” is a testament not only to this disc but the Eenie Meenie enterprise as well.
There are some truly wonderful songs on the disc, and no bad ones. I wish that the opener, “Charles Bronson” by the Japanese Tigers, was a little longer than its 1:55, just so I could hear the crucial lines “Fine like Charles Bronson / And playin’ like Mick Ronson” more than once but that’s why the “repeat” button was invented, innit? Irving’s “The Curious Thing about Leather” recapitulates every single style of music over the course of its seven minutes, including British Invasion bounce, Sonic Youth squall, Tortoisey post-rock, and folky singalong. I can’t say that it’s especially innovative, because I’ve heard The 3-Way by the Lilys, but it’s an amazing piece of work nonetheless, and embodies the anything-goes spirit of the Cookbook CD—throw it all together and then make it work. (Memo to self: check out Irving’s 2002 CD Good Morning Beautiful at earliest available opportunity.)
Which is not to say that every track is dopeness personified. The Evolution Control Committee song “Magnetize Your Food” is Ridiculosity personified (it’s adorable but, y’know, kind of annoying too), and the Anubian Nights are trying too hard to channel Trans Am on the cute but trifling faux-Can/Kraftwerk/Neu “Fur Immer und Ewig”. But if you’re not hung up on stuff like that, and if you like great new fun music wrapped up in candy-colored packages together with delicious recipes humorously written by the maybe-stars of tomorrow, you won’t find a better thing in the world than this disc. Good on you, Hernandez. Now get yer ass back in the studio and do another FBTS album.