Cargo/Headhunter Records (released 03/04/97)
“Spotlight On Optiganally Yours” was OY’s very first release. Please have a look at the main text on the Optiganally Yours page for the lowdown on this album.
*12.30.00* Cargo/Headhunter has just done a new pressing of the vinyl edition of Spotlight On Optiganally Yours. This time it’s on clear vinyl. All you vinyl fetishists out there can order a copy at www.cargomusic.com.
“…The Optigan is one of the coolest instruments ever created: an organ, manufactured by Mattel in the early ’70s, that produced full-band renditions of notes, chords and rhythms, recorded on a series of LP-sized optical discs. It’s appeared on records by everyone from Devo to Tom Waits to Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, but Optiganally Yours-a duo of Thingy singer/guitarist Rob Crow and Optigan expert Pea Hix- is the first band specifically devoted to it. Spotlight On could have been a noble experiment, and not much more. Instead, it’s one of the most unusual, delightful pop albums in recent memory. Crow has to write around the Optigan’s capabilities and limitations: one key can summon up a waltz-time string quartet, a funky drummer or a cackling Les Baxter-style monkey, all with that great scratchy-old-record sound, but it can only handle about eight different chords. He rises to the challenge, with songs that don’t just show off the organ’s capabilities but are charming and catchy in their own right-the wry, pointed ‘Hugs’is one of the best love-of-nature songs ever written, and a hell of a tune to boot- and vocal arrangements whose rich harmonies complement the dusty strangeness of the Optigan’s sound. Twenty-five years late, its time has come.”
DOUGLAS WOLK, CMJ
“…A NOVELTY record, in the best sense of the word. Meaning you won’t have heard anything quite like it before.
Honestly, “Spotlight On…” is such an oddity that it would have the massed forces of “Antiques Roadshow” and “The ForteanTimes” scratching their heads. The Optigan the band take their name from was a chord organ made by Mattel in the early Seventies, an ungainly proto-sampler which stored sounds, taken from actual instruments, on special discs. You guess that Rob Crow and Pea Hix, the Optigan maestros here, found their model hidden at the back of some childhood cupboard one stoned aftemoon and decided to, hey, see what it could do. Given the aged technology end sampling difficulties, every track has the grainy, fuzzy immediacy of sitcom theme music taped from the television on a Fisher Price tape recorder. Instantly an old friend, then.
The opening track, a muted thump of tribal drums, conjures up visions of Fay Wray being lowered into cooking pots while “Mr. Wilson” is the kind of thing an 11-year-old Evan Dando might have bashed out. That’s nowhere near as horrid it sounds- the cheering tendency towards the maudlin and that opaque Optiganal texturing mean that Crow and Hix never veer into the dread waters of kitsch, instead making the songs an affectionate rummage through disposable culture. The only real low point is a cover of “Wichita Lineman,” something that should no longer be attempted.
For all the technology involved, old and new, this is naive art of the most endearing kind. Optimum Optigan, in fact.”
VICTORIA SEGAL, Melody Maker
“Remember when Nixon ruled the free world and rock and roll was groovy? Well, today even the temporally challenged can jump on the retro bandwagon with the Virtual Optigan – an online version of the optical organ that took its sounds from flexi-discs encoded with waveforms of actual instruments. This cheesy proto-sampler, coveted by collectors and rock stars alike, was made buy Mattel in the early ’70s. With a little help from Java, Randy Antler has created one of the most swingingly brilliant [apps] around. The Virtual Optigan lets you experience the real thing from the comfort of your own browser. You have all the talent you need to play, so with the click-n-drag of a mouse you’ll be grooving like a pro before you can say “Moog-a-delic, baby!” … Next time the party train stops at your pad [try] some truly mello enbtertainment… laugh-in riot is more like it.”
“…From the day I got my copy of Spotlight on Optiganally Yours [Cargo/Headhunter, a San Diego indie] it hasn’t left my stereo for very long. The best way to describe its highly original blend of sounds is with what popped into my head the first time I heard it: “It’s Nilsson hanging out with Beck at Sid & Marty Krofft’s house! And after much listening, I stand by that thought. The gimmick here is pretty obvious. Using an Optigan (it’s sort of a circa early 70s sampler: a chord organ which uses optical discs encoded with the waveforms of real instruments. and manufactured by Mattel!!), the duo of Rob Crow (also in Thingy and formerly in Heavy Vegetable) and Pea Hix have crafted some superb pop songs, full of inventive daredevil arrangements, amazing overdubbed vocals and, almost inevitably, a toy piano.
Like a lot of people, I always look to see if there are any cover songs first. Covers can show inspiration, and humor. Plus, when done well, they add something to the feel/vibe of the artist. That said, I’ve never cared for “Wichita Lineman.” The song to me has always been a surefire reason to head towards the radio dial. However the version presented here, with its double tracked vocals and “well groovy” drum beat, is great. In fact I liked it so much, I went back and relistened to the original on the possibility I missed something the first go round. Sadly, I hadn’t, but this version here is absolutely one of my favorite things this year. As always, though, it’s the originals that make an artist, and the songs here don’t disappoint. If I were to refer listeners to a particular track that would best show off the band’s quirkiness as well as the heart and soul of the music, it would have to be with the brilliantly named “Stop Touching Me,” a jaunty little number, with so many voices blended into the chorus at the finale that the track actually seems to breathe. But most of the album dazzles, making it difficult to pick a favorite. “Mr. Wilson” with its piano intro and backbeat drumming is instantly memorableótry not having the melody in your head after one listen! Or “Hugs,” a playful song which manages to include environmental “feel,” as well as ferrets, meercats, llamas and cheetahs (among many others) in its verses. “Compressor/Expander” has a serious ’72 Nilsson vibe. I could go on track by track. Suffice to say all 13 songs (plus opening instrumental) have that one element lacking in so many things…fun!
In an odd way, this CD has a timeless quality to it, as if you’ve always known the songs. For that matter, with the “scratchy acetate” type of background noise (and distortion), the overall feel is of a long forgotten favorite LP from childhood. It’s that familiar. And of course that’s part of its charm. We also have an interesting sonic situation- it’s not just the songs or even the performances, fine though they are. The overall fidelity, meaning the clarity of each track brought into the mix, demands to be noticed as part of the whole, essentially becoming an additional instrument. What I love most about this album, though, is that every time I listen to it something new happens to me. Truly one of the year’s most entertaining releases- pop fans will be dazzled! I haven’t used the phrase “You’ve got to hear this!” so often in a long time.”
BART MENDOZA, Crawdaddy
“…If Harry Nilsson were born in the early 70s, he might have made an al bum like Spotlight On. Optiganally Yours is the duo of Rob Crow (also of Heavy Vegetable and Thingy), and Optigan player Pea Hix. These guys have written an album centered on the Optigan, a chord organ made by Mattel in the early 70s that drew its sounds from discs encoded with au ral waveforms of real instruments. You can hear the Optigan on albums bv artists like Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann and Tom Waits, hut never has there been an album en tirely devoted to the instrument, let alone an album with such charm and innocence. Hix uses the Optigan to great effect, creating aural images of so many things, and both Crow and Hix must spend an awful lot of time watch ing old television (on an old television, no doubt) and old movies, be cause this lo fi delight harkens back to places and times when life was simpler.
The songs on Spotlight On are evocative of anything from amusement parks (“Compressor/Expander”) to roller rinks (“Patio”), as well as time periods like the ’30s (“Remo”) and the ’20s (check out the Jolson-esque “Mr. Smooth”), all sung with melodic, har mony filled ease by Crow in a milieu of light record scratches and gentle beats. The best tracks, like those aforementioned as well as the Left Bankish “Mr. Wilson,” the biblical nursery rhyme “Hugs,” (“We hug around the monkeys, and we hug around the puppies, and we hug around the bats, etc…”), and the spinning “Beebo” will keep you humming for hours.”
DAVID BASH, Entertainment Today
Optiganally Yours / Spotlight On Optiganally Yours. Cargo Music HED 065 “…After hearing so much about Mattel’s strangely designed (and short lived) home mu sical instrument, The Optigan, it’s great to hear the real thing. There was even an article on the instrument in this humble magazine a few issues ago. Using optical discs like a primitive digital sampler, you basically could mix ‘n match saunds to create your own pastiche with the pre programmed, cheesy sounds that came factory designed on these discs. Optiganally Yours is a two man band, comprised of Pea Hicks on Optigan and Rob Crow on guitar and vocals.
Some of the original songs an this CD are experimental in nature, but a best of them are clever little pieces of pure pop. “Remo” with it’s Lawrence Welk Champagne Orchestra sounds, is the kind of Thirties style tune that McCartney might have put on one of his past albums. And “Mr. Wilson” and “Stop Touching Me” are a couple of the zippy, happy go lucky tunes Optiganally Yours write and perform that can just plain make you feel good. These guys are bursting with talent, and it’s great to see their creative juices sparked by the Optigan.”
LORENZO WALKER, Cool & Strange Music Magazine
“…I think that no matter how fucking rad this album is, it does not even compare to seeing these two guys live. Their loungy sound and wacky 70′s disco beats are nothing compared to seeing Rob Crow in a dress shaving with a safety razor on stage, while Pea Hix plays the optigon in a spooky mask. Rob is such a dynamic person. He can play acoustically or electrically or like he does on this album. My favorite song is “Mr. Wilson”, followed closely by “Dr. Smooth” and “Hugs.” “Hugs” is the song in which Rob names about two hundred different kinds of animals (this is really good live) This album is a must get for anyone under the age of 134.”
NICK, Happy Happy Kill Kill
“…OH, THOSE ker-razy Californians! Optiganally Yours are a pair of unrepentantly lo-fi, sonic explorers from San Diego who exist solely to promote the use of a bizarre and long-forgotten piece of musical hardware known as the Optigan.
Originally produced by toy manufacturers Mattel in the early-’70s, the Optigan was a Heath Robinson-esque chord organ which was driven by a series of optical discs encoded with the various waveforms of existing musical instruments. Or that’s what it says here anyway.
Rob Crow and co-conspirator Pea Hix, for reasons known only to themselves, have chosen to shun the use of reliable contemporary samplers in order to embrace this humble and archaic gizmo, which is, by their own admission, hopelessly impractical on almost every level. Yet, against all the odds, ‘…Optiganally Yours’ is a stunning collection of quirk-driven genius. Dreamy, feather-light Beach Boy harmonies float across keyboard-drenched oceans of vaguely-jazzy, cocktail lounge cheese-whizz. ‘Mr Wilson’ marries exuberant, vocal effervescence with a musical back-drop straight out of a Charlie Brown cartoon. ‘Remo’ is a shuffling, uptempo approximation of how ‘Smile’ might have sounded if Brian Wilson had been working with Spike Jones & His City Slickers instead of Van Dyke Parks. And the Optiganally-enhanced version of Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ is shameless eccentricity at its most irresistible.
Of course, it’s pure fluff. Mind-massaging, marshmallow music for your most languorous chill, but ‘…Optiganally Yours’ is a rare cove in these homogeneous times: a singular example of bloody-minded, anomalous singularity.
Or perhaps I’m merely the victim of an Optigal delusion. 7/10 as a bird.”
IAN FORTNAM, NME
“…The mission of Optiganally Yours is to bring recognition to the Optigan, an early ’70s Mattel made chord organ which reads encoded instrument sounds from optical disks (hence the name Optigan). Each interchangeable disk is encoded with prerecorded sounds from real instruments. The instrument often sounds like a child’s one button playtoy sampler with an analog scratchiness, but its original cost was well beyond a child’s grasp. Spotlight On… is an educational record that offers an entertaining side to the learning process.
Pea Hix is the veteran Optigan player while Rob Crow sings along. This badass team (who also play in the oldschool punk outfit Fantasy Mission Force) ebbs and flows in truly creative ways. From the cartoonish harpsichord and galloping samples of “Remo” to the Tarzan jungle sounds of “You’re In My Heart,” this recording is adorable well beyond its suggested novelty. More animals and fuzzy thoughts by Crow on “Hugs.” The waltz of “Dr. Smooth” makes you want to break out those old 78 rpm records and dance, while the choo choo train ambiance of “Johnny Largo On The Snowball Special” has a strong resemblance to “The Little Engine That Could” fairy tale. Unfortunately, songs like “Sleepytown Train,” “Patio,” and the nondescript “Beebo” are less memorable than others. But the mere challenge of resurrecting a near deceased instrument like the Optigan makes Spotlight a worthy cause and a worthier album.”
CHRIS WOO, Slamm