When Tucson-based Monitors frontman Vikas Pawa sent me Stuck on Stupid, a solo album under the moniker On the Corner (Miles Davis reference?), my first reaction was in regard to the uniform excellence of the material and arrangements, my second the complete departure from the Pixies-spiked rock 'n' roll that is at the foundation of the Monitors' sound.
While the songwriting skills that Pawa is known for are fully displayed on Stuck on Stupid, as are his smooth, Elvis Costello-inflected vocals, the rest is alien territory. To simplify the premise, On the Corner picks up where David Byrne and Brian Eno left off on their groundbreaking 1981 masterpiece My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a pioneering and endlessly influential collage of non-first-world found sounds, early sampling and electronics.
By the late '90s, the innovations of Byrne and Eno were mangled by the short-lived ethno-techno subgenre and best forgotten one-hit wonders Cornershop. Stuck on Stupid rectifies these errors with the seamless integration of traditional Near Eastern and Middle Eastern sensibilities with instrumentation, great writing and modern electronics.
There are no weak songs. "On the Corner," "The Crisis Commission" (a distant sonic cousin to Bowie's "Yassassin," which also featured input from Eno) and the Afro-funk closer "When I Watch the News" particularly standing out.
The reason Stuck on Stupid succeeds in combining the ancient with the modern is simple: When you hear the tabla percussion, it's supposed to be there, silly.