…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
Tympanik Audio: CD TA079 Time: About 49 minutes
Music – Zinovia [Arvanitidi]: www.facebook.com/ZinoviaMusic
Label – Tympanik Audio: www.tympanikaudio.com/artists/zinovia
Artwork – Shift: http://www.futurorg.com/
Mastered by Alexander Dietz Mixed by John Valasis
Tracks: 1) The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin, 2) Communicating Vessels, 3) Chimera, 4) Entangled, 5) Emerge To Breathe, 6) Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open, 7) Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips, 8) Beneath A Stellar Sky, 9) A Time To Make Amends
I suspect that most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but every once in a while finding oneself on the cusp of an adventure seems rather tempting. A while back, author David Schickler wrote a book Kissing in Manhattan; it’s mysteriously haunting and strange—as if eavesdropping on people, places and their situations; the kinds of experiences that only happen to others. So, imagine arriving at home some night and seeing a note pinned to the door: “Meet me at ___ at 9 pm”, signed “___” (you fill in the blanks). Would you go?
I’ve mentioned it before: my strongest connection to music is when it takes me somewhere—whether an escape, a fantasy, to relax or to find a groove, and Zinovia’s The Gift of Affliction is a nearly perfect connection; even better, it’s beautifully recorded and produced. This album has the broad pulse of a city, its dark spaces and verve with occasional tender moments. It tells a story with many possible beginnings and endings.
First, I posit that the sounds in this album have a connection to the vast works of fellow Greek countryman Vangelis Papathanassiou (listen to his 1990 album The City, and passages in the dark soundtrack to the film Bladerunner)—if only for historical influences or connections, yet Zinovia’s album has a clear and freshly expressive voice of its own. I also wonder, given the recent political and economic times in Greece, if there are any political undertones or foreboding woven into the narrative.
Second, I am most familiar with Zinovia Arvanitidi’s recent collaboration (on Kitchen Label) with Hior Chronik as the duo Pill-Oh, their Kitchen Label release Vanishing Mirror was a favorite of mine in 2012. I love the reflective track Melodico. It’s a compassionate album, but The Gift of Affliction is quite different in every way, except in the strong musicianship and production.
Throughout the entire album there is a constant shift from the ethereal to the grounded, reality to fantasy, electronic to acoustic; and as quickly as we are in a sonically amorphous zone, the vibe moves from solitary to a full ensemble of electronica or jazz undertones—a genre-bending and cohesive swirl.
It could be late at night or in the early hours of a morning; from the first plaintive beats of The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin all the characters are furtively introduced into the narrative with an broad ambience, beats, melodica and piano (the latter two, perhaps being the voices of the main characters). Unexpected sounds enter and vanish in Communicating Vessels; there is movement of people, vehicles and information in this new place, yet despite all the motion there is a comforting presence of the familiar (the recurrent melodica and piano). One doesn’t want to be swept-away too quickly. But adventures are not without complications, but why not enjoy the ride?
The mythic shift begins in Chimera, a fantasy of sound and voices, expansive, getting absorbed into the experience and the implausible. Momentary introspection follows in Entangled—the deep and centered beats, one of the most absorbing (and longest) tracks on the album—I think my favorite too. The narrating melodica returns, in conversation with the piano, they weave into each other, in and out of the pulse. Emerge To Breathe is a shift from interiors to exteriors, traveling, sounds of rails and stations (like Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, but more ominous).
Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open is the darkest and most vulnerable of scenes on the album, yet there is an alluring comfort in the melody of a solo piano (with string accompaniment). Key shifts are slowly introduced, along with an emotional realism and sense of doubt, yet still one is drawn further into the fantasy of…
…Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips and its out-of-focus depth of field with moving colored lights—a sonic tilt-shift in a smoky jazz club with the liberation of dream-like voices. The adventure nears its end with Beneath A Stellar Sky, out in the open, holding onto the escape. It’s a reluctant emergence and one last taste of the vibrations of the night. A Time To Make Amends is the return from fantasy, the pensive melancholy, with a reflective and intimate close, accentuated all the more with the sounds of the internal workings of Zinovia’s piano.
In case you’re wondering, I did take the note from my door and went on the adventure, and you should too.
This is a solicited review.
Hush Hush Records # HH011 CD: About 38 minutes
Tracks: 1) Following, 2) Secret Angle, 3) Animal Totem, 4) Night Valley, 5) Looking Out, 6) Red Touch, 7) Inner Portal, 8) Kicking In, 9) Melt Down, 10) I’ve Got A Feeling, 11) Night Rising, 12) Myself Inside
I’m thrilled that Cock & Swan have a new album. With each release it’s apparent that their confidence is growing, and even better, they’re still experimenting. From their earliest albums like Drawing From Memory (2007) and Unrecognize (2010) their sound ranged from rough synthesized foundations, tape and microphone experiments to nearly extreme lo-fi acoustic recordings. The 2012 album Stash (I reviewed early last year) had moved their sound from more electronic towards “…a record focused on acoustic instrumentation…” For their forthcoming album (to be released on September 10th) Secret Angles they are combining the acoustic instrumentation with more of their electronic roots—the sound is fuller, rhythmically engaging and more up-beat. Secret Angles moves between many different genres: progressive, electronica, acoustic and electric folk, house, dance and many others—it doesn’t dwell in one realm for long, but the album is not at all disjointed—it’s quite cohesive.
The acoustic and analog roots of Cock & Swan are still strong, and they appear as Following begins with the sound of tape mechanisms and immediately a seductive pulse, electric guitar riffs and Ola’s soft voice initiate their hypnotic spell. By contrast the title track shifts to a darker, looped and gritty electronic foundation (and we are awakened briefly from our pastoral spell). Animal Totem is quite reminiscent of the latter day Everything But The Girl’s track Before Today from their album Walking Wounded, when ETBG’s music shifted from coffee house to a darkened house vibe, but C&S’s Animal Totem is earthier and more acoustic with broad clarinet washes added by Hungerford.
With Night Valley, the album shifts to an even glitchier more experimental sphere where Ola’s voice and some of the instrumentation are bent and shifted and the sound enters a mysterious territory. Looking Out continues with electronic, vocal loops, an almost Mellotron Brass sound and what I call “heavy drums.” As I noted with their album Stash—tracks like these are reminiscent of King Crimson’s earlier work as on In The Wake of Poseidon. The album also contains some short instrumental and vocal links (Red Touch and I’ve Got A Feeling) which are samples disguised elsewhere in other tracks.
Tracks often start with samples and a vibe that are then absorbed into the mix of a song; Inner Portal illustrates this with Ola’s vocal and breath loops coupled with what almost sounds like a ship’s steam-powered horn and it’s woven together with a heavy dub beat and coarse under-pinnings. The chorus adds an acoustic guitar (a contrast of the heavy with the delicate). This is a great track and one of my favorites on the album, along with the first three. By comparison Kicking In is quite stark in its percussion and rhythm section before gathering momentum into the vocals. Melt Down is the most electronically layered of the songs, and Ola’s vocals calm the mood and fill the spaces.
Only once did I feel like I had a sense of some monotony drifting in during the track, Night Rising—after a while it didn’t really take me anywhere…a bit like some of Edgar Froese’s (Tangerine Dream) solo work of the late 1970s. It’s a vocal and rhythm-section drone. The album closes with Myself Inside, which harkens back to Cock & Swan’s stark early work—an acoustic guitar (in the character of a child’s toy piano), a simple rhythm and Ola’s vocals layered with deep breathing.
Since I’m working with a promo recording, I don’t have access to the lyrics or the personnel list for the album, so I’m not sure if there are other musicians on the album besides Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford. It’s also worth noting that Johnny Goss provides engineering and recording support for other Seattle-based musicians, including one band that recently caught my attention, La Luz (absolutely infectious 60s surf-pop) fronted by Shana Cleveland.
After Secret Angles, I’ll be very interested in hearing where Cock & Swan takes us next. Don’t miss this album, and seek out a copy of their last, Stash too.
Cock & Swan – Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss – Photo by Angel Ceballos
This is a solicited review
CD: Emarcy B0018605-02 Time: About 62 minutes www.johnscofield.com
Band: John Scofield: Guitar, Avi Bortnick: Guitar and Samples, Andy Hess: Bass, Adam Deitch: Drums, Louis Cato: Drums, Special Guest: John Medeski: Organ, Wurlitzer and Mellotron
Tracks: Camelus, Boogie Stupid, Endless Summer, Dub Dub, Cracked Ice, Al Green Song, Snake Dance, Scotown, Torero, Curtis Knew, Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely
Between his solo and collaborative work, John Scofield has appeared on more than a hundred albums since the 1970s (including his early work with Miles Davis). His first Überjam album was released in 2002. As with the first album, Scofield moves all around and in between music genres, Jazz, Rock, Blues and Funk. Many of the tracks on Überjam Deux start with a sound or rhythm sample and the quartet (switching between drummers Adam Deitch and Louis Cato) build a groove and just chill there or get their funk-on. My two favorite tracks are Boogie Stupid (which reminds me of Roy Buchanan’s work) and one of the five tracks with John Medeski Curtis Knew, where Medeski brilliantly has his way with a Mellotron—just delicious. In recent years I’ve greatly enjoyed Scofield’s collaborative work with Medeski, Martin & Wood. Überjam Deux is a joyful album and I can’t help but think that John Scofield was sending positive vibes to his son Evan during the recording of this album earlier this year (Evan died far, far too young in July, from a rare form of cancer). A bitter-sweet album, yet excellent for a road trip or listening at home.
Rest in Peace, Evan.
More on the album in this video
RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53 (LP version coming soon)
Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued
Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums
Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today. Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance. Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.
A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010). Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever). Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:
Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction. In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film. There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble. The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*. There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”
The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies. As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album). One can make up their own story to accompany the music.
The Vindicator Returns
There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts. Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates. The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp. The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.
Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano. There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days. The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.
This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!
Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords
* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA
This is a solicited review.
Volume One – SoundSignals – #HCC001
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/soundsignals/
CD 1 (Time: 39:08): Sound Signals: Act 1: On Land, Act II: On Water, Act III: A Year, Coda: Route Six
CD 2 (Time: 46:24): Signals Remixed: 1: Goldmund, 2: Marcus Fischer, 3: Loscil, 4: Taylor Deupree, 5: Neara Russell, 6: FourColor, 7: Steve Wilkes, 8: Simon Scott, 9: FourColor & SoundSignal
Volume Two – Upstream by Fordham Wilkes – #HCC002
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/upstream/
CD (Time: 37:08): 1) Gates of Summer, 2: The Language of Birds, 3: GP Road Resonator, 4: Dive Down, 5: Upstream, 6: June, 7: Shifting Sand, 8: Fog, 9: The Message
Sound Archive: http://www.hearcapecod.org/ListView.php
Recordings mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering
Since the middle of 2011, Berklee College of Music professor, percussionist and Blue Man Group alum, Steve Wilkes has been working on a project to capture the sounds of Cape Cod over a year and to map those sounds as an aural history of the region (the far eastern end of Massachusetts in the northeastern United States). The project was funded in part by the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship. The region has undergone many environmental and man-made changes, from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to residential development. It was Wilkes’ feeling that the region is measured and analyzed in many ways (like bird population counts, temperature and sea levels), but there was yet to be a base-line environmental sound analysis examining animal, environmental and cultural activity in the region.
At this point, the project consists of 3 CDs: 1, a collection of regional sounds; 2, the sounds remixed by a number of musicians who will be familiar to many, and 3, a song-cycle inspired by the region at various times throughout the year (which also incorporates many of the environmental sound recordings and the detailed credit links give an excellent overview of the variety on-location recordings). The album artwork evokes pleasant memories of worn edged blue-green beach-glass.
CD 1 is a sonic time capsule, and at first it reminded me of a number of sound effects and spoken word recordings of the 1940s and 50s, and for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing a snippet of the old records by Bert and I. It also had the immediate effect of taking me back in time to the days when I summered on “The Cape” as a child with my parents in the early 1960s. The documentation of the region also harkens back to some of the expansive sound archive work by Alan Lomax. This CD chronicles the sounds of land, water and activities that mark the course of a year from a First Night Noise Parade to the calming summertime beach surf. It closes with the reading of the poem Route Six by Stanley Kunitz (being the road that travels down the center of the “flexed arm” of Cape Cod, reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean).
Having lived in a beach-town region in nearby southern Connecticut, I am also reminded that a resort region like The Cape has two lives—the times when the summer-folk occupy and the off-season when only the locals remain. The off-season is the time when locals can take long walks on the shore beaches and see very few people. Life goes on in a different way after the tourists have left in the autumn.
Taylor Deupree’s Remix
Wind Chimes Field Recording That Inspired TD’s Remix
CD 2 is a sensitively created set of interpretive remixes by many well known artists in the current electro-acoustic, ambient and electronic music communities (see list above). The field recordings from CD 1 are delightfully co-mingled with the offerings from each of the artists (well documented at the web link also noted above). I was immediately struck by the opening notes of the first track by Goldmund (Keith Kenniff), the piano melody being very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ Death of a Knight from Henry: Portrait from Tudor Times (from the album The Geese and The Ghost), before drifting into a dream-state with seaside, night-time crickets and Morse Code pulses.
Field Recording for FourColor Remix
Most of the remixes are by artists who have done work strongly connected with outdoor environs and water (as in the Flaming Pines label Rivers Home series), like Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree and Simon Scott (to name a few). The character of this disc ranges from contemplative to glitchy (FourColor) to playfully rhythmic (as in Loscil’s remix). The remix by Steve Wilkes includes the first HearCapeCod recording made in Truro at Corn Hill Beach in the summer of 2002. The CD closes with a collaboration of FourColor and SoundSignal (Wilkes) and is the most melodic and rhythmic of the tracks of the album. This CD forms a strong connection to the foundation provided by Wilkes’ research and recordings. As much as I’m tempted to suggest that this CD be made available separately, after spending time with the entire set, it is actually a quite inseparable part of the whole.
CD 3 Upstream, is a song cycle by the duo Fordham Wilkes (Ginny Fordham: vocals, Steve Wilkes: drums with Crit Harmon: guitars and Keiichi Sugimoto: guitars) and is inspired by years of memories of time on Cape Cod and it is the most personal of the three discs. Fond recollections of places run deep for many and they have different effects on people. This is where the project transforms from being objective (CD 1) to the most reflective and personal (while avoiding sentimentality).
The album has a sense of welcoming and ease, enjoying summer breezes, wading in tidal pools, walking in sanctuaries or along beaches. There is no heavy foreboding or hand-wringing of what was or could be; the feeling is that of the now and hopefulness, and Ginny Fordham’s voice brings a relaxing calm to the album. Gates of Summer opens CD3 and is forms an instrumental and melodic transition from the last track of CD2. The Language of Birds plays rhythmically with a juxtaposition and syncopation of the instrumentation and avian field recordings.
GP Road Resonator
The Field Recording Forming Basis for GP Road Resonator
The ever-present drone of automobile traffic is also a reality of summers on The Cape (whether passing over the Sagamore or Bourne bridges before necking down to Route 6 or at the half-way point to Provincetown, in Eastham) and these sounds are merged with fleeting views to salt marshes in the pensive GP Road Resonator. As in CD 1, there are songs of Land as well as Water, as in Dive Down and Upstream (as much a metaphor for returning to and rebirth of the area as it is the traffic on Route 6 that one is “swimming” against!).
CD 3 is also a reflection of CD 1’s A Year, The Cape in song over the course of a single circumnavigation of our Earth around the Sun. As the album progresses through the summer and into the end of a year (June, Shifting Sand and Fog) it grows more contemplative with the advancing of the calendar, melding dreams with reality. Each Spring many look forward the approaching time outside and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, Summer is over. The album closes with The Message, an inspiration left in a voicemail, which ultimately is the beacon announcing the sense of place of The Cape that inspired the HearCapeCod project.
The release date (May 28, 2013) for this set is at the unofficial “gate of summer” season, just after Memorial Day weekend. These albums will be available at: Booksmith Musicsmith, Orleans, MA: https://www.facebook.com/BooksmithMusicsmith , Muir Music, Provincetown, MA: https://www.facebook.com/muirmusic5 , The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: http://ccmnh.org/, CD Baby: SoundSignals On CD Baby, iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes/ and Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/
RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)
Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water
Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.
We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies. The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind. Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.
Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often. The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!). There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.
Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”. The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp). The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard. The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame). Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.
The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton. Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2. There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip. The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!
Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen. I think you’ll feel better.
This is a solicited review.
Anthony Phillips: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/
Ant’s friend and illustrator Peter Cross: http://petercrossart.com/
Ant’s (too occasional) collaborator Enrique Berro Garcia: http://quiqueberro.com/
Although he was 18 when he departed from the band Genesis in 1970, many still associate Ant Phillips almost exclusively with that band (despite his approximately 40 commercially released solo albums and collaborations since 1970 in addition to his vast output of library music compositions and commission work). I have been very fortunate over the years to acquire all of these albums, and each time I place one of Ant’s albums on my turntable or a CD player his music takes me to another place and time (the ups and downs of a life). Ant’s music has been a big part of my life and I owe a great deal of my own creative work to being inspired by his. I think Ant said it best on his second Private Parts and Pieces album Back To The Pavilion (released in 1980): “This album is dedicated to all those who still champion the “old fashioned” ideas of beauty, lyricism and grandeur in art against the tide of cynical intellectualism and dissonance.” Many of Ant’s earlier albums are now being completely remastered (from the source tapes) and reissued (often in double CD releases).
Ant and Quique from PP&PPIII – Antiques: Old Wives Tales
Also spinning these days are albums by:
Three Metre Day – Coasting Notes
I have a ceramic artist friend (Hayne Bayless at Sideways Studios) to thank for getting me to these folks (often the best music comes from referrals by friends). At times their music is somewhat mournful, but always reflective and passionate—this trio from Canada is Michelle Willis, Hugh Marsh and Don Rooke with guest appearances by bassist David Piltch and drums by Davide Direnzo. The album is up-close, largely acoustic in instrumentation and delightfully musical.
Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere
At times the music is delicate and others it’s intense, but it’s always inventive and beautifully recorded. Rhian Sheehan is from New Zealand and has released 7 albums under his name as well as appeared on many compilations and soundtracks.
Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
I sometimes find Samuel Beam’s work to be a bit too intense and serious, but his latest album is open, hopeful and at times playful. The first single Joy is beautiful.
Wire – Change Becomes Us
I kind of lost touch with Wire after their albums Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, but I rediscovered their more recent albums when I updated my original recordings with CD reissues. If this new album sounds a bit like it comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s post punk era it’s because many of the songs were written back then, and haven’t seen the light of day until now. The recordings and production are full, with great clarity and this album just makes me want to turn up the amplifiers.
You can listen to the entire album here: https://soundcloud.com/wirehq/sets/change-becomes-us
Montt Mardié – Skaizerkite
Record Label: http://hybr.is/
David Olof Peter Pagmar has taken many identities and until a few years ago he was Montt Mardié (his website is now defunct) and he has since moved on to new projects, but in early 2009 this was his album of excellent pop tunes and ballads—beautifully recorded and produced. The entire album can be streamed here:
Jonas Munk – Searching For Bill (Original Soundtrack)
Jonas Munk has released many great albums and collaborations as Manual and more recently as Billow Observatory, but this is his first soundtrack. The documentary Searching For Bill is Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s debut and it explores the meaning of life for those living on the edge of American society. It’s a sensitive and contemplative soundtrack.
Many of these albums are available directly from the artists’ websites or at online merchants like http://darla.com/
Happy Listening and Spring (finally)!
Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
Please note that all photos are by wajobu.com unless the image is suffixed with “IAB”, in which case it’s by Isaac Burns. We retain all copyrights to the images, but if you choose to borrow or share an image, please at least credit one or both of us. Thank you.
Stick Men: https://www.facebook.com/stickmenofficial
Tony Levin: http://www.papabear.com/
Pat Mastelotto: http://patmastelotto.com/
Markus Reuter: http://www.markusreuter.com/
Stick Men dot Net will take you to: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep
I’m not often prone to numerical connections, but it occurred to me last night on the long quiet drive home from the woods of northwestern Connecticut that here I was in year 13 of this century and it has been (almost to the day) 31 years since I had last seen Tony Levin on stage in Syracuse, New York with the 1982 incarnation of King Crimson (Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin) in support of their incredible return album Discipline. Although Tony Levin might disagree, to my eyes his energy and spirit hasn’t aged a day in those 31 years. Last night’s concert in Norfolk, Connecticut was an incredible display of musicianship, sound and an intimate connection between the musicians and the audience (especially in a small hall like Infinity with great acoustics, sound system and a beautifully restored historic building).
In one way or another this trio of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter all have a connection to King Crimson (and Robert Fripp) in various incarnations and ongoing KC ProjeKcts, but Stick Men while embracing KC’s influential work, have continued to develop their own voices in progressive rock including vital relationships with other bands, artists in addition each members respective solo work.
The Bows Come Out!
The set list last night was largely from their new album DEEP (all but two tracks) in addition to some real treats. Tony Levin made a special point to express appreciation to the audience for being so receptive to the new material, rather than insisting on hearing only the old (including many King Crimson favorites)–in effect progressive rock music…PROGRESSES. One thing that I wanted to see after listening intensively to DEEP is just how much of the melodies each instrument would take, and I was surprised to see that many sections that I thought were coming from Reuter’s Touch Guitar turned out to be melody exchanges between Reuter and Levin (the Chapman Stick being an extremely versatile instrument—not just for the bass line). Here are the tracks (along with some brief notes…not on every track, and nothing that I can write will do justice to the intensity and clarity of the sound last night–something to be experienced first-hand!):
1) Nude Ascending Staircase: As is the beginning of the album DEEP, this performance set the tone for the entire night, a seriously raucous (and fun) sound with deep visceral notes from Levin’s stick.
3) Crack In The Sky
4) Breathless (from Robert Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure): This Fripp album is incredible, and it’s still as vital as when I first placed the LP on my turntable in 1979. This was an absolutely shredding performance of this piece. Markus Reuter’s faithful interpretation of Fripp’s work (searing guitar) was just chilling. The trio seriously cooked on this.
6) Infinity Improv (free improvisation): Tony Levin noted that they record each of their performances (and I had noticed some stage and ambient microphones on stage before the show) in the hopes that some of the improvisations and recordings could lead to future releases.
7) Horatio: Thunderous!
8) Whale Watch: Tony Levin noted that despite his many years of having played the Chapman Stick, he was still learning more about what the instrument could do (and its often unpredictable results). He noted that some nights Whale Watch could turn out differently, depending on whether the instrument needed to be wrestled to the ground (I’m paraphrasing). It’s the story of being on a whale watch, from the start of an ocean journey to spotting, pursuit and arrival to see a whale up-close.
9) Industry (from the 1984 King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair): The growl and electronic percussion.
Pat is A-blur
10) Hide The Trees: The growing tension, exchange and release in this piece is deliciously enticing.
11) Open, Pt. 3 (from Stick Men’s 2012 improvisation-based album Open)
12) Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (from the 1973 King Crimson album Larks’ Tongue in Aspic): It was exciting to hear this piece live again, as it was in the concert in 1982 (and previous KC concerts that I had attended)—also, on the heals of the recent 40th anniversary release of the re-mastered album.
Tony Levin playfully taking a stage photo for the ongoing Crimson Chronicles
13) Encore: A Stick Men arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird: Let’s hope that this ends up on a future live album—a forceful and experimental rendition of Stravinsky’s 1910 work.
After the Encore
It was a real treat to observe the persona of each musician on-stage: Tony Levin’s classic broad stance and kinetically expressive movements (resulting in many blurry photos!), Markus Reuter’s calm scanning of the crowd as he switched from touch-fingering his guitar to using it in a more conventional guitar-stance, and Pat Mastelotto’s highly expressive performance on percussion and electronic devices—and just when I thought that he had no more tricks in the bag, out he’d pull even more paraphernalia, including a bow!
At one point during the night Tony Levin noted that King Crimson was still alive, not broken-up, yet (somewhat comically) Levin noted that Robert Fripp had recently attended a Stick Men show (and paid for his ticket, despite a guest pass) and in response to a question about when a King Crimson tour might occur again, Fripp responded “Pain.” I think Mr. Fripp has moved on, and is enjoying his semi-retirement and over-seeing of the re-mastering and re-releasing of their massive archive of concerts and other recordings.
If you’re within striking distance of a Stick Men show—please go see them! They’re appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club this Friday (March 29) and Saturday (March 30) nights in New York City. I’m sure they’ll be on the road again soon. Bravo and thank you to the Stick Men! Oh, and buy their new album DEEP–see also this great review of the album by my friend over at Horse Bits: http://horsebits-jrc.blogspot.com/2012/11/deep-by-stick-men.html
Note: Click on any photo to see an enlarged version. Please contact me if there are any factual errors in what I have written above. I have many other high resolution photos of the show, and if you chose to copy or repost any of the photos, please credit me “wajobu.com”. You can’t see them, but the photos ARE watermarked.
12k Label – 12k1074 – CD Time: 47:00
When I was younger and had a completely untrained eye for seeing, as in art of any form, I didn’t realize how many colors went into what I saw, whether in a landscape or an object (same in the musical parallels). It was later, seeing artwork at a museum (paintings up-close), dramatically enlarged photos, and a friend’s work in college (artist, Allen Hirsch) that I started to understand the density and complexity of color–as well as in sound and music, the overtones, harmonics and phasing in addition to the pure waves.
The Endless Change Of Colour affects me in two ways, creating a state of peaceful timelessness (wondering where that nearly-an-hour went) as well as producing a state of nearly motionless cascades of blending sounds that transmute into a sense of relaxing in a stream bed of flowing water on a warm summer’s day–when all else falls away and what remains is that moment. All of this from a generative piece of music built from a single phrase on an old jazz record split into three audio stems. The sounds (and side-effects) that without closer examination and contemplation, we wouldn’t normally sense except for the benefit of the time that this work seems to warp and retrograde during its existence.
There are brief moments when almost familiar sounds enter, only to be absorbed back into the metamorphosing blend. I hear some parallels to the effects created by Nicholas Szczepanik’s brilliant album Please Stop Loving Me, although the feeling in Endless borders on that of a gentle voice on the edge of a dream–a peaceful sense of belonging.
When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory - Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Twice Removed Records – Time: About 39 Minutes – Limited Edition CDr (50 copies)
Tracks: 1) Anchors and Roots; 2) Either By Storm Or Low Frequency; 3) With Closed Mouth; 4) Melting Tines; 5) Waiting for the Rain; 6) From Ebb To Flow
Coming from Twice Removed Records on January 1, 2013 (a small label in Perth, Australia that releases short-run limited editions) is the latest (third) solo album from Benjamin Dauer. I have great admiration for the various interests that BD pursues. He has diverse accomplishments, from his design and digital media day-job at NPR (National Public Radio) in Washington, DC to raising awareness and environmental activism projects like Save The Pollinators.
I also appreciate BD’s musical pursuits as both a multi-instrumentalist solo artist and collaborator (with other musicians near and far), including his active participation with the Disquiet Junto (an ongoing music-making project where restrictions are used as a catalyst for inspiration). Recently, I’ve been following with great interest the sound-sketch development (posted on SoundCloud) for a forthcoming album by The Dwindlers (his ongoing collaboration with poet Michelle Seaman).
From what I have heard of Benjamin’s previous solo work, it tends to be less rhythmic, a bit darker and more saturated than his (often Jazz-rooted) work with The Dwindlers. There is an enmeshed yet subtle grittiness recalling earlier analog electronic and instrumental works (like the 1970 soundtrack to Frederic Rossif’s documentary L’Apocalypse des animaux by Evangelos Papathanassiou), while continuing to explore new aural horizons and narratives. BD has an interesting quote at his website, which I think reveals that his solo work is less about an arrival at a particular sound, but more about the journey:
“As a musician & composer, I explore the boundaries of modern music through experimentation and play.”
In The Pace of Which, BD seems to be investigating different methods of creating musical atmospheres by blurring distinctions between musical genres (such as ambient, drone or others). Each track takes a different approach, but there are some common elements in varied intensities. Some of the pieces focus more on background with minimal foreground, whereas others the foreground elements are more pronounced, as well as the in between.
The background is predominant in Anchors and Roots. The sound is broad, resonant on the edges, and heavily blended. There are subtle placements of keyboards into the foreground, along with gentle clicks. At a point where there seems to be a recognizable rhythm or melody, it disperses back into the haze.
Either By Storm Or Low Frequency takes time to develop; initially it has more hushed surroundings, with distance pulses and slow waves. Sounds are buried down deep, almost immersed in rolling surf, reminding me of the analog warmth of Tangerine Dream’s album Rubycon (one of my favorite TD albums). BD is quite good at disguising the instrumentation—sounds seeming to be more keyboard-based, with purer tones entering the sound-mantra and slowly dissolving as if being pulled back into a sonic undertow.
The foreground takes a more prominent role in With Closed Mouth. The contrast of far and near is sharper. The more dominant sounds could be the concurrent mechanics of the music being created, or blended field recordings. There is interplay between reverberant sustained guitar and muted keyboards. The result is a feeling of suspension, yet with some of the most tangible sounds on the album. Melting Tines returns to clustered tones. It’s a gentle wall of sound, punctuated by an almost reluctant guitar, and then veiled appearances of a piano. An environmental-dominant foreground opens Waiting for the Rain. It could be an early morning street scene of a city coming back to life on a gray morning with placid breezes. The album closes with From Ebb To Flow, which again blends the sounds of the outdoors with an expanding tonal haze and an undercurrent of low frequency pulses before fading.
Since I tend at times to prefer more discreet sounds in mixes, I found that there were brief moments (particularly in the last track) where I was distracted by a “tape-saturated” ambience, but I stress that this is a particular quirk of mine. I listen to music in the ambient and drone realms as vehicles to either clear my mind or to transport to a different (and often more pleasurable) zone. Listening to works on the drone side of the spectrum, however, tends to be a more sensory intensive experience, even if the desired end result is a more numbed state of being.
Benjamin Dauer’s explorations in The Pace of Which will take you to many places with transformative and lush fabrics of sound—his work blurs the edges of the recognizable with richness beyond expected musical genre norms. I’m looking forward to the further results of his experimentation and play.
More on Benjamin Dauer’s band The Dwindlers here: http://thedwindlers.com/
The Pelican and the Girl – From Allegories
RealNoiseRecords RNR029 (CD & Digital) Time: 49:51
Record Label Websites: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/
Tracks: 1) Dust; 2) Dancing With The Demons Of Reality; 3) Garden Ghosts; 4) Orange; 5) Right Of Nightly Passage; 6) Yang Ming Has Passed; 7) In A Dead End With Joe; 8) Neither I
Ouroboros, the eternal consuming and replenishing serpent can be seen in the singular (nothing outside of itself) or in a broader societal context. In this case, my interpretation is more of a collective urban consciousness. This is an album of motion, not of rest, an album of experiences, not of contemplation (at least until after the intense experience is over). It’s a fusion-brew of industrial, urban and cosmic sounds, and a potent follow-up to the 2011 album Shizaru (the lesser-known fourth primate of see, hear, speak, and DO no evil).
Graham Haynes has joined the Naked Truth quartet on electric cornet and trumpet (following Cuong Vu’s departure) along with original members, King Crimson alum drummer Pat Mastelotto, English keyboardist Roy Powell, and Italian Lorenzo Feliciati on electric bass and guitars.
Shizaru from 2011
First a warning: Prepare your audio system (and your ears) for a workout. Ouroboros will shake out the cobwebs. The opening track Dust is the warm-up, the testing of the systems. It’s a more keyboard dominant, brass punctuated bookend before entering the fuzzed sonic maelstrom. It has the atavistic fibers of many eras, and I’m old enough to have been around for the many incarnations of King Crimson, Weather Report and other Jazz-Fusion, Progressive Rock variants, and it’s all there–the solid musicianship and the sometimes angst-filled drive. There’s also a hint of Miroslav Vitous’s 1976 spacey funk inspired album, Magical Shepherd.
Track One: Dust
Next, place yourself in a traffic jam with an impetuous case of not-so-mild road rage (in the aggressive spirit of KC’s Neurotica, sans vocals), and that’s Dancing With The Demons Of Reality. The pauses are the waiting at traffic lights, restoring momentary sanity, but tension builds with pressurized chromatics, electronics and percussion before subsiding. Garden Ghosts is a respite; at first a progression of sonic fragments, a meandering prepared piano, percussion and fuzz-bass. The trumpet is the roaming spirit joined by a languid beat, murky electronics and guitar background; ultimately it ends as a brass-teasing percussive danse macabre.
At the start of Orange it’s disguised as an atmospheric piece, a quiet evening perhaps—serenade with cornet, but then diverts quickly with syncopated rhythms (bass, guitar and keyboards reminiscent of Kazumi Watanabe’s work), before returning to the more sedate themes. Right Of Nightly Passage is an instrumental recasting of the driving rhythmic “heat in the jungle” anagram. Clustered horns interlace with the cadence of the frenetic scene. The spirit of Miles Davis’s later more electronic work is channeled in Yang Ming Has Passed. It’s a menacing and deeply rhythmic piece (sounding like it could be dock-side in a shipping yard) with traded riffs between bass, percussion and trumpet meshed together by a high-cover of electronics.
The heavy backbeat continues in the darkly raucous In A Dead End With Joe. The trumpet soars and trills against the syncopated drums, electric guitar and keyboard phrases. Neither I is the other keyboard-textured closing bookend of the album. It displays some Far Eastern influences, and is more experimental and atmospheric with clustered brass, melodic percussion and roving piano before finding its beat. By contrast to the rest of the album, it closes with a gentle yet furtive purity.
Ouroboros is an adventurous and deliciously brash album that reveals glimpses of the eternal and sometimes daunting cycle of existence from different perspectives. Naked Truth is a sturdy, tight and vibrant quartet, and I’ll be very interested to see and hear where they take us next.
Naked Truth – courtesy of RareNoiseRecords
This is a solicited review.
Record Label Website: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Soundcloud Page (Excerpts of Albums): http://soundcloud.com/kitchen-label/sets
Available at: http://www.darla.com/
I am always on the lookout for new music, especially from record labels that are doing something different, something special, and I don’t mind spending extra money for well crafted, limited or richly illustrated art editions. In a way, it’s my reaction against the trend of digital only releases, which include not only music, but e-books (I still prefer finely crafted, bound books).
I’ve missed some of Kitchen. Label’s earlier releases that have gone out of print, but to date I have acquired four albums from their US distributor, Darla (their first release being in 2008 and they are an outgrowth of their design firm Kitchen, founded in 2005). K.L is based in Singapore and specializes in releasing art-editions of talented emerging artists, and label founders Ricks Ang and April Lee take great care in all aspects of their work, from the engineering of the recordings to the diverse and creative designs.
ASPIDISTRAFLY – A Little Fable – Kl-007 – 2011
ASPIDISTRAFLY is composer and vocalist April Lee and producer Ricks Ang, and their work tells charming and delicate stories. Their second album A Little Fable was released in 2011 and it has the presence of a secret garden. I find the depth and airy quality of Homeward Waltz to be particularly enchanting–it’s like chamber music. Their first album I Hold A Wish For You was also released on K.L.
Landscape With A Fairy
FJORDNE – Charles Rendition – Kl-006 – 2011
FJORDNE is the solo project of Tokyo-based composer, Fujimoto Shunichiro. His work has a timeless richness that is brought to life with acoustic instruments and a laptop computer. Music for a quiet night of contemplation. Charles Rendition is his 5th album.
Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kl-010 – 2012
Pill-Oh consists of electronic artist Hior Chronik and classical pianist Zinovia Arvanitidi, both from Greece have been working together since 2009. They each have established solo careers of composing for theater, film, documentaries, and art performances. Zinovia is recording her 2nd solo orchestral album, to be released within 2012. Their album Vanishing Mirror is like the soft and hopeful first-light of a spring day. The feeling is sometimes reflective, but not sentimental. In this music there is restful comfort along with accomplished musicianship. The track Melodico is my favorite.
Szymon Kaliski – From Scattered Accidents – KL-011 – 2012
Szymon Kaliski is a multi-media artist from Poland. From Scattered Accidents is his fourth album. His work combines familiar acoustic and invented instrumentation. His work has a tranquility that often evokes a suspension of time within a vast sonic depth of field.
Interlude I (with Peter Broderick)
The music at Kitchen. Label is never strident, but it can challenge some norms of straight-up ambient, post-classical or electro-acoustic genres. There are even some jazz influences (FJORDNE, especially), yet the compositions are often ethereal and filled with memories of nature and surroundings of daily life—rediscovering the forgotten in the familiar.
InsideOut Music 0506240 (Ltd 2 CD & Book, also 2 CD & 4 LP)
Time: CD 1: 73:18 CD 2: 71:27 minutes
Record Label Website:
Photos of Musicians on the Album:
Tracks CD 1: 1) The Chamber of 32 Doors; 2) Horizons; 3) Supper’s Ready; 4) The Lamia; 5) Dancing With the Moonlit Knight; 6) Fly on a Windshield; 7) Broadway Melody of 1974; 8) The Musical Box; 9) Can-utility and the Coastliners; 10) Please Don’t Touch
Tracks CD 2: 1) Blood on the Rooftops; 2) The Return of the Giant Hogweed; 3) Entangled; 4) Eleventh Earl of Mar; 5) Ripples; 6) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…; 7) …In That Quiet Earth; 8) Afterglow; 9) A Tower Struck Down; 10) Camino Royale; 11) Shadow of the Hierophant
It has been 16 years and many life changes since the last Genesis Revisited album by Steve Hackett (subtitled Watcher of the Skies) in 1996. Although the span of time recounted musically is similar, 1971 through 1976; the breadth of the work on GRII is far more comprehensive. It’s also worth noting that in 1987 Steve was a special guest on an orchestral reinterpretation album of Genesis work, We Know What We Like: The Music of Genesis (led by arranger David Palmer conducting The London Symphony Orchestra), although in that case it includes works after Steve had left the band (from albums And Then There Were Three and Duke). On that album is perhaps the best example of how well the work of Genesis transfers to an orchestral format: Can-utility and the Coastliners. As much as I love the instrumental section with waves of Mellotron on the original recording, the full orchestra adds great depth and power to that track.
I’ve read (and I’m paraphrasing) that Steve didn’t want to literally re-record these works (as some Genesis tribute bands so painstakingly perform), rather enhance them with the lens of time, since many were recorded somewhat hastily between concert tours in the 1970s. Another added benefit is that some recording technologies have improved, and this is quite clear in the warmth and clarity of GRII. Frankly, I rather liked many of the reinterpretations on the last GR album, and there was the added track Déjà vu originally penned by Peter Gabriel and SH, then set-aside, to be revived and beautifully completed with Paul Carrack’s vocals.
As much as I wanted the limited 4 LP vinyl set, I opted for the 2 CD version along with the extensively illustrated and annotated small format hardbound book—a quite worthy trade-off (designed by Harry Pearce of Pentagram Design). It’s clear that this album was an enormous undertaking (with a special mention for the co-production, recording and mixing by collaborator and keyboardist, Roger King), with some 30 guest musicians and vocalists (including brother John Hackett, SH Band alum Nick Magnus, and the members of the most recent touring and recording SH Band: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend). I have provided a link above to a page on the SH Website showing a complete list (with photos) of all who participated on GRII. A matrix of the album track performers in included in the credits.
Throughout the album there are a number of acoustic guitar introductions (like the opening to the potent The Chamber of 32 Doors), variations and electric guitar solo fills by Steve that are not on the original recordings; they reflect journeys and musical influences from his many years as an artist. Horizons and Supper’s Ready are preserved in their pairing from the original Side B of Foxtrot. The solo acoustic guitar of Horizons has long been a mainstay of Steve’s live shows since the early days of his solo career, and here it’s just as pure, unrushed and striking as a morning sunrise or evening sunset at one’s favorite place to be. The vocals and instruments on Supper’s Ready are powerful, clear and Steve’s guitar is “up” in the mix (as it is on much of the album). The treatment greatly invigorates the original, and made me want to take the time to listen to the entirety of the track repeatedly. The Apocalypse in 9/8 and the closing section of As sure as eggs is eggs (aching men’s feet) just sends chills up the spine as from those concert days long ago.
The purity of Nik Kershaw’s vocals on The Lamia is different from Peter Gabriel’s more raspy treatment of the song, and to my ear it’s a stunning performance (brighter than the original). Again, the instrumentals have a clarity superior to the original (although, I’ll never turn my back on the Charisma/ATCO recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—too many aural historic memories there). SH’s closing solo echoes the original while adding a smooth lyricism. I’d be interested in knowing how and why Kershaw was chosen for the track. After a brief acoustic guitar link of Greensleeves, Francis Dunnery’s (It Bites et al) vocals on Dancing With the Moonlit Knight are probably the closest to channeling Peter Gabriel and the Selling England by the Pound performance as on any of the album’s tracks. As has been the case during recent concerts, drummer Gary O’Toole performs the vocals on the Lamb’s two tracks Fly on a Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974. Both are broad and authoritative performances. O’Toole’s voice is his own.
I have always wondered why Anthony Phillips isn’t credited as a songwriter on The Musical Box, since he and Mike Rutherford wrote and recorded the early demos in 1968, when the track was known as F Sharp, but anyway… TMB opens with an almost Raymond Scott-like musical box fantasy, before entering into the realm of the long ago Nursery Cryme album. Sung by Nad Sylvan (who also provides vocals on Chamber and Eleventh Earl), this interpretation has an intimate sound, chamber-music-like, with clustered and freer vocals, before breaking into the raucous guitar-centric bridge and to the familiar closing that was performed in concerts during the mid to late 1970s.
As noted above, I think one of the most powerful and diverse Genesis tracks from the early days, which is frequently overshadowed by Watcher of the Skies or Supper’s Ready, is Can-utility and the Coastliners. Steven Wilson (solo and Porcupine Tree) provides the vocals. This version has the “soft bits and loud bits” and combines the oceanic strings (violins/violas) and bass pedals with the rawness of Foxtrot. Please Don’t Touch (from the 1978 album) closes CD 1 and was a track originally to have been linked with the instrumental Wot Gorilla on the 1976 album Wind and Wuthering. One of the reasons SH left Genesis (well documented) was he felt at that time his contributions to the band were being overlooked, so when he appeared officially as a solo artist, this track was the perfect, aptly named, composition to strike out on his own. It has had many incarnations, including sections of a 1986 track Hackett to Bits from the eponymous GTR album with Steve Howe et al. I remember concerts from the late 1970s and early 80s that would end with this track at ear-splitting volumes. This version is dark and authoritative.
CD 2 contains many tracks co-written with single Genesis members rather than the full band (exception is Hogweed and In That Quiet Earth), and one of my personal favorites is the timeless (and still topical) track penned with Phil Collins, Blood on the Rooftops. For years, SH played small sections of this track as a teaser during his acoustic “breaks” at concerts, and then in the early 2000s, the full track appeared in concerts and live recordings. This piece has a great deal of meaning to me—like entering a time machine to another place. Steve opens with a small fantasy on his nylon string guitar before the track begins, and I consider it a great gift to his fans that it has been recorded again (vocals by Gary O’Toole and woodwinds by Rob Townsend).
The Return of the Giant Hogweed is a different type of track in the Genesis oeuvre that starts with an attack (or rather, an infestation!). It also displays SH’s early fret-tapping technique. Although this video is not the recording from the album, it has a similar spirit and same vocalist, Neal Morse (taken from the 2010 High Voltage Festival by Transatlantic with SH as the guest guitarist).
Entangled was written by Hackett and Tony Banks—the dreams and nightmares of an altered mind. The vocals (fuller than on A Trick of the Tail) are by Jakko Jakszyk with backing vocals by Amanda Lehmann (guitarist and vocalist in the SH Band, and Jo Hackett’s sister). Eleventh Earl of Mar (Banks, Hackett, Rutherford) has a much deeper and clearer sound that I always found lacking in the original recording (and all of the reissues…for some reason the David Hentschel engineering that sounded so great in the Seconds Out live album, just sounded so flat and compressed). Nad Sylvan also adds layers to the spirit of the original Phil Collins vocal harmonies and channels the voice of Noel McCalla at times. Nick Beggs’ bass energetically drives the piece. Amanda Lehmann skillfully adapts the Collins’ vocals on Ripples, adding lyrical depth to the chorus (also a tribute to the engineering, recording and mixing of co-producer Roger King). The instrumental sections are faithful to the original. Lehmann returns again on the closing track Shadow of the Hierophant, which was co-written by SH and Mike Rutherford on Hackett’s first solo album from 1975, Voyage of the Acolyte.
Grouped together are (Hackett and Rutherford’s) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…, followed by the group-written …In That Quiet Earth, and Tony Banks’s deeply melancholic Afterglow, the closing tracks of the last official album that Hackett recorded with Genesis (excluding the 1977, 12 inch EP Spot The Pigeon). SH improvises more freely on his guitar in …Quiet Earth and the solos that close (including Rob Townsend’s soprano sax) are more rugged than the original. The strong and familiar voice of John Wetton anchors the close of the trio from W&W.
It’s exciting to hear a reinvented A Tower Struck Down (from 1975’s VotA) with a true orchestral opening (Dick Driver on double bass, Rachel Ford on cello, Christine Townsend on violin and viola and John Hackett on flute). The solid bones of the Tower from Acolyte are present, but in a completely different, even darker skin. Steve Hackett notes that he had dreams of Genesis playing the chorus of Camino Royale (written by SH & Nick Magnus). This track dates from the 1982 solo album Highly Strung, and was always a great concert piece, from when Nick collaborated with Steve in the late 1970s and 1980s—full of spirit and rhythmic precision, a great addition to this collection. This track also includes jazz influences from the Hungarian band Djabe (Steve has collaborated with Djabe on some of their recent albums and concerts). As does Voyage of the Acolyte, Genesis Revisited II closes with Shadow of the Hierophant. This version is more up-tempo and potent, and Rob Townsend’s flute peregrinates throughout the shadows. It closes as it has since it was first recorded with the hierophant traveling on the long journey of seeking and interpreting the sacred and the arcane.
The one thing some (purist) listeners might find missing in GRII is the grittiness of the original recordings, but the defects of these compositions from long ago have been deftly exorcized, and the sonic foundations treated with such care that Hackett not only preserves the legacy of his former band, but enhances it for future listeners. These recordings are not meant to replace the originals; they are akin to variations by composers of the past. In a way, Steve Hackett is the archivist of the musical spirit of Genesis from that time. Sit back and enjoy this brilliantly crafted set of recordings with all the 21st century enhancements. You will not be disappointed.
The Hackett Band will be on tour with many of these recordings in Europe, the UK and America in 2013. I can’t wait!
Karaoke Kalk 69LP – Time: About 34 minutes (LP, CD & Digital Files)
Record Label Website:
Recorded & Mixed By: Florian Frenzel & Will Samson Mastered By: Nils Frahm
Tracks: 1) Oceans Are Wilder; 2) Cathedrals; 3) Hunting Shadows; 4) Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat; 5) Painting A Horizon; 6) Music For Autumn; 7) Storms Above The Submarine; 8) Dusty Old Plane
Some may recall my review of Will Samson’s last album Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends (there’s a link to it on the right of this page, near the bottom of the list or use the Search box). HFGF was timely; it rang like a beacon of hope. It was a pretty special thing to think that a 20-something had such an affect on this 50-something, but there are all kinds of wisdom floating around and sometimes age really doesn’t matter. I don’t mind admitting this at all, as it has been music that has helped me at many times throughout my journey in this life. So, at the first mention from Will that he had another album in the works, I was excited; resisting temptation to listen to early previews, preferring to wait for its full and formal release. So, I ordered the LP, with the striking cover photo by Scott McClarin.
It was worth the wait.
From the first celeste (vibraphone?) notes and soft vocal harmonies of Oceans Are Wilder, I knew that there was a great synergy in Will’s work with Florian Frenzel and Nils Frahm—complementing the music and lyrics so well. As the album progresses it moves from a soft state of consciousness to a deeper meditation (with one brief diversion). There is a lovely balance of instrumentation, vocals, ambient sounds and the outdoors. These are songs of friendship, strange journeys, and visits to places real and imagined. The mix of six vocal songs and two instrumental respites is a bit like Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter.
Samson continues to use his upper register (and falsetto) voices prominently, although there are times when full-throated harmonies are blended. Vocals are also fuller in the mix of this album, and the overall sound is different; the result of using venerable analogue equipment, tapes (old cassettes, a Tascam 8-track) and working with Florian Frenzel’s salvaged organs, analogue tape delays and old microphones.
The ambiance of the analogue equipment is strongly present in Cathedrals, it gives a misty quality to the sound, a sense of the ancient, like the foxed pages and deckled-edges of aged books or the opening title sequence to an old film. In particular, I think the layering of sound is particularly strong, starting with simple acoustic guitar, then unadorned vocals, then vocal harmonies added ending with the lyric “That spin so separately…” and then an abrupt and lyrical chord change into “Impossible became much easier…” and shifting to an electric guitar drone to the end—it’s mystical and soulful.
Hunting Shadows is an outdoor walk, and the music and treatments take the place of moving light, shadows and the lightly moving breezes of a new day. Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat has the ambiance of being aboard a ship at sea late into the night, composing (acoustic) music by candlelight and the stars, with slow swaying movements, as does the more electric (with broad vocal harmonies) Painting A Horizon. The trombone solo in Eat Sleep is an impeccable complement as are the banjo and cello on Painting. There are similarities with the more plaintive side two of Brian Eno’s album Before and After Science, the three tracks Julie With…, By This River, and Spider and I.
Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat (Premiere Video)
The second instrumental piece (again, with cello) on the album is Music For Autumn. It’s as if the sun is lowering in the cool night sky and as the track closes, Samson adds a warming chorus of voices. The brief diversion noted above is Storms Above The Submarine, which starts playfully, with furtive notes, sounding a bit like some sonic experiments of Raymond Scott. Then a somber throaty organ mixes with Will’s overdubbed voices (which are treated to sound a bit like a mournful saxophone) and altered guitars. Dusty Old Plane (and oh so beautiful, it is) closes the album, with practically a whisper of droning keyboard, reverberant electric and acoustic guitars and Samson’s harmonies. Listen carefully; there are birds in the background. This peaceful track is a sonic blessing, and a farewell of sorts. I also note that this album is dedicated to his father.
Please keep making music Will; you have a true gift.
A postscript: I have only one (hopefully received as constructive) comment on what is otherwise a brilliant album, and that is to recommend to not let the desire to use aged and lumbering analogue equipment for ambiance shroud the quality and beauty of the music too much.
RareNoiseRecords RNR028 – Time: 76:59 (CD & Digital Files)
Label & Soundfiles: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/animation/transparent-heart/
Artist Website: http://www.animationismusic.com/
Band: Bob Belden: sax/flute; Peter Clagett: trumpet & effects; Jacob Smith: bass; Roberto Verastegui: keyboards & samplers; Matt Young: drums
Tracks: 1) Terra Incognito; 2) Urbanoia; 3) Cry In The Wind; 4) Transparent Heart; 5) Seven Towers; 6) Provocatism; 7) Vanishment; 8) Occupy!
Bob Belden is a composer, arranger, conductor, musician as well as past head of A&R for Blue Note Records. He is also has a strong sense of the history of Jazz, including being a scholar of the works of Miles Davis, and having received Grammy Awards for the reissues of Miles Davis’s work on Columbia Records. In his own work, Belden is a story-teller of the lives of others, whether orchestral, jazz-fusion or soundtracks.
Perhaps his best known works are the 2001 Grammy Award-winning Black Dahlia (the mysterious tragic death of actress Elizabeth Short’s in 1947) and the more recent collective world jazz fusion productions (with Miles Davis alums) Miles From India (2008), and Miles Español – New Sketches of Spain (2011). In the guise of the project known as Animation, Belden released the album Asiento in 2010, a live interpretation of Miles Davis’s 1970 album Bitches Brew, along with a 2011 3D60 surround sound remix of the album, entitled Agemo (both on RareNoiseRecords).
Belden’s latest album Transparent Heart represents a shift in his work; this time the story is his own. It is a musical memoir of his life in New York City for more than the past three decades, and the dramatic changes seen since his first arrival in Manhattan in 1979 with Woody Herman’s band—the post-disco era. Not only is this album personal, it’s also a social and political history and commentary of this period. There are common threads throughout the decades (not the least of which is fear: from Communism to terrorism and the latest, the corporate takeover of America and the rise and fall of Wall Street and the financial sector and the revolt against it and corporate dominance).
During this period there was a gradual change from the mean streets of the 1970s (as depicted in the films French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and especially my favorite Taxi Driver) to the gentrification and commercialization of many areas throughout the five boroughs of NYC. We have seen huge changes since the 1970s in the music and arts scene, and in places like Times Square, Harlem and Greenwich Village. New York City in 1979 was a LONG way from Belden’s own home in Goose Creek, South Carolina. For Transparent Heart, Belden assembled a group of young musicians from his alma mater, the University of North Texas, ranging in age from 19 to 32.
Like the opening to a 1970s era film, Terra Incognito is the overview, the panning shot of Manhattan with its cavernous avenues of towers, and Belden’s first impressions seen wide-eyed with young optimism. It’s a majestic and confident arrival, although a view from above. By contrast, in this new city, there is another side; despite the city’s size and population there is isolation and the unknown, and living in the rough neighborhoods, a long way from home is what Urbanoia is about (and the old NYC time clock on the other end of the phone, a companion to some). The track also has a contrasting section, more up-tempo giving the impression of a city on the move; pulsing and lurching. Trumpet and soprano sax trade solos like people dodging the traffic of the rhythm section in mid-town or up-town. There are phrases in this track that remind me of works by Weather Report (funk and fusion), Miroslav Vitous’s Magical Shepard, and even sections of Deodato’s (popular at the time on the radio) 2001 Space Odyssey, a reinterpretation of Strauss.
As big as New York City is, there is also the personal side to the city, and encounters with people in need. Cry In The Wind recounts the aftermath of a woman in Belden’s neighborhood being stabbed, and him staying with her until help arrived. It’s the somber voices of solo flute and trumpet, and the isolation of the moment. Some of the hopeful opening themes are reintroduced in Transparent Heart, this time with a more turbulent undercurrent pulse of the city and stronger rhythms. This is the era of Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock (with the ground-breaking hard-hitting percussive and inventive track Rockit) and a bit later, Miles Davis’s Tutu. This was also the time when there was a great effort by NYC authorities to fight crime and clean-up the streets.
In some respects Seven Towers begins its life in February of 1993 with the first terrorist bombing on the World Trade Center. First-responder and air-traffic control radios open the track, and the undercurrent of rhythm and state of alert and fear that surrounded the south of Manhattan for eight years until September 11, 2001 when the bottom fell out of everything (security and economic). The track deteriorates into a frenzy of chaotic and searching rhythms and solos as the events unfold. Scattered electric piano, flute and drums continue in the middle of the track as if they are the ongoing cloud of debris and smoke that existed for days after the attack as determined rescuers cleared the debris and searched for survivors. The track closes with a building and re-energized rhythm and trumpet solo, as if Manhattan is determined to recover, and get back to normal.
After the 9/11 attack lower Manhattan was a different place, businesses closed, clean-up began, people were searching for missing loved-ones, and NYC was in a constant state of alert. Posters and memorials appeared spontaneously as people ventured out onto the streets to see the aftermath of the attacks. Provocatism is about the post-9/11 experience, survival, surveillance and exploration in the neighborhoods, with an energetic pace of fighting for survival. Much like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, many residents in lower Manhattan, including artists and musicians left the area and could no longer afford to return as damaged neighborhoods were redeveloped. Vanishment is the embodiment of this sense of loss; a lone flute, mournful rhythm, and the lament of a muted trumpet.
With the Recession economic meltdown of the mid to late 2000s, it was the big banks and Wall Street financial institutions that received the bailouts, not the people whose jobs, assets and homes were lost due to risky bundled investments sold by the very institutions that received the bailouts (perceived by many as economic terrorism by corporations against citizens who ultimately would pay the bill). The reaction was (and still is) the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread across America. The final track Occupy! expresses the anger and frustration of the protesters and law enforcement trying to contain the crowds. In this the full band plays the part of the crowds of protesters (sometimes organized chaos) and solos are the voices of the town halls and mike-checks interlaced with field and law enforcement recordings. Glimpses of the original (although altered and subdued) trumpet and sax theme return from Terra Incognito to illustrate that it’s still Manhattan, but things have changed with the passage of time.
Transparent Heart is an album of discovery, wide-eyed optimism, conflict, activism, conflicting ideologies, displacement, and the results of terrorism (warfare and economic) on a city, its art-scene and most of all, its people. This is not an album for sitting down and relaxing to; it’s a thoughtful, skillful and eye-opening musical diary that forces reflection about the state of our world, politics and economic foundations in the spirit of composers and activists like Stravinsky and Copland. It’s thought-provoking and riveting.
This is a solicited review.
Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod
Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable
I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads. In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases. Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located). I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine. So, another record label on which to get hooked!
Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere). Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.
For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day. Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening. The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort). There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.
Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation. The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night. There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been. It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).
The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration. Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away. Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn. By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view. A somber piano responds, the balance. It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.
The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor. It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources. I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album Encore. Charcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.
Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels. I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles. While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey. His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.
*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.
This is a solicited review.
Words On Music – WM33: CD Time: 42:17
Record Label Website: http://words-on-music.com/
More on this release:
Artist Website: http://www.almostcharlie.com/
Available at: http://darla.com/
1) Hope Less; 2) Open Book; 3) Sandsong; 4) Man Without A Home; 5) A Nice Place To Die; 6) Tomorrow’s Yesterday; 7) Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years; 8) Cummings; 9) Youth Is Wasted On The Young; 10) Undertow; 11) When Venus Surrenders
I have a broad rotation of albums, all sorts of genres (I listen to more than ambient and electro-acoustic works, despite what some might think from my reviews). Since its release in 2009, Almost Charlie’s album The Plural Of Yes (TPOY) hasn’t been too far away from my CD player. It’s a great album of songs written in the tradition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Burt Bacharach and Hal David, musician and lyricist working separately. In the case of Berlin’s Dirk Homuth (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and New York City’s Charlie Mason (lyricist), they still haven’t met in-person and aren’t separated by “two rooms”, but two continents and an ocean. It’s evident, however, from their work together that they communicate well, no matter what the distance.
Tomorrow’s Yesterday is the latest release, and I’m really happy that Almost Charlie has returned after three years with more beautifully crafted and skillfully recorded songs. There are familiar faces in the band: Sven Mühlbradt on bass and Pelle Hinrichsen on drums and percussion with the addition of Bert Wenndorff on piano as well as other supporting musicians.
For those unfamiliar with Almost Charlie, I find similarities to the songwriting and sound of bands like The Beautiful South, The Autumn Defense and some of the less raucous songs of the Fountains of Wayne. I’d even compare some songs to works by 10cc (either written by Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman or Kevin Godley/Lol Creme). Similarities to the Beatles are also unmistakable (especially the voice of John Lennon with a bit of George Harrison on the track Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years). There are marvelous wordplays, edges of wit and subtle metaphors in the lyrics resulting in this latest collection of musical gems.
The feeling of Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a bit more pensive and acoustic than TPOY, but there are upbeat, playful and spirited tracks too. Instrumentally, the foundation of most of the songs is guitar, bass, drums and piano, but many of the tracks are delightfully punctuated with brass, woodwinds, sitar and dobro guitar. Some of the finest moments are simply acoustic guitar and Homuth’s vocal harmonies, as on Sandsong, which is a bit melancholy and reflective. In this album there are songs of relationships, a sense of realism, but not resignation; acceptance and contentment, but also a feeling of hope as in Cummings. I also appreciate that the recording is crisp and sounds like a live performance in the studio with minimal processing. There was only one point (at the end of the last track) where the recording was sounding saturated on my equipment, but I stress this is a minimal issue.
Hope Less (a song of setting expectations) begins with acoustic guitar and harmonies and then advances into a march of sorts. This and Open Book are great examples of the smart wordplay in the lyrics, double-meanings, literary references and a deft efficiency of expression. Man Without A Home and Youth Is Wasted On The Young are ironically upbeat ruminations with shades of The Byrds (electric guitars), syncopated rhythms and are gently arranged with brass and strings respectively. A Nice Place To Die has a lively rhythm and bluegrass roots-music vibe with dobro and violin solos. Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a stark and melancholy observation on the passage of time, and perhaps more than any other track Homuth is channeling John Lennon’s voice (literally and figuratively).
Undertow (a favorite of mine) has power in its symbolism and realism; the words and music combined are indeed greater than the sum of their parts. The passage “The more I try to fight it; Its grip on me is tightened…Overwhelmed by the undertow” is about as close to perfect as it gets. The closing track When Venus Surrenders builds from a quiet beginning, and is the longest and most ambitious song on the album, similar to the spirit of The Monster and Frankenstein from TPOY with a nod, I think, to The Beatles’ Let It Be.
As The Plural of Yes was in 2009, Tomorrow’s Yesterday is one of my favorite song-albums of 2012. Perhaps next time lyrics could be included in the package, since they are such an integral part of the songs. The Homuth and Mason formula works, the chemistry is still there, and I hope they continue to write songs together and we hear much more from Almost Charlie in years to come.
CD: RareNoiseRecords RNR027: 70:39
Album samples: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/mole/wtm/
Also available at: http://darla.com/
Mole Productions at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MoleProductions
Tracks: 1) PB; 2) Stones; 3) Trees And The Old New Ones; 4) Flour Tortilla Variation; 5) What’s The Meaning; 6) Greenland; 7) Grass; 8) Grubenid
Spirited, funky, and at times reflective is the vibe of the debut album What’s The Meaning from the Mexican, Argentinean and American contemporary jazz quartet known as MOLE. Originally started as a duo about eight years ago, Mark Aanderud (on piano and composer, from Mexico) and Hernan Hecht (on drums, from Argentina) sought out New York guitarist David Gilmore for his diverse recording credits and touring experience with Wayne Shorter, Steve Coleman’s Five Elements and others, as well as Jorge “Luri” Molina (on bass, also from Mexico).
Mark Aanderud and Hernan Hecht
So, the music? Think food…GOOD food…Mōl-eh! The album starts quietly and mysteriously with PB. The individual ingredients are being prepared for what will become a great meal. PB develops as the quartet gradually mixes together, an exchange of themes and solos. In Stones, the drums take a powerful lead and the solos gather around. With each track the intensity of the album grows, although there are some pauses along the way. The most delightful is Trees And The Old New Ones. It has some calming shades of Metheny and Mays’ 1981 album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (September Fifteenth in particular). Bowed bass and cello (played by Dorota Barova) almost mournfully open the piece. The woven piano and guitar themes echo each other throughout along with skilful and gentle percussion.
Flour Tortilla Variation has a driving drum, piano and bass opening. Solos are traded and echoed between guitar and piano, including a closing guitar solo reminiscent of Al Di Meola’s expressive work. Brooding and syncopated is the feeling at the start of the title track, What’s The Meaning? Initially, a gentle piano and drum exploration between Aanderud and Hecht (think Bill Bruford’s Earthworks), which then weaves in Gilmore’s guitar to explore with piano interludes, and builds to a closing solo by Gilmore with chops reminiscent of Carlos Santana. Hecht and Molina lay down an upbeat foundation on Greenland for Aanderud and Gilmore to vamp and solo over—it’s a spirited romp.
Grass is a languid piano and bass pulse with a repeated piano and guitar theme and is one last pause before the last track; Grubenid gets its funk on. This is a great piece with plucky shades of Stanley Clarke. After the guitar and bass opening vamp it stomps and Aanderud and Gilmore carry the somewhat off-key main melody. Gilmore then leads the rhythm with a growling and energetic solo and Aanderud responds. Guitar and piano return to the original theme before the rhythm section fades.
Let’s hope MOLE does some touring to support this album—they’re cookin’!
This is a solicited review.
CD: RareNoiseRecords RNR025: 60:51
Also available at: http://darla.com/
Album samples: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/fiuczynski/pmj/
Tracks: 1) Micro Emperor; 2) Mystic MicroJam; 3) Meditacion; 4) Sun Song; 5) Horos Fuzivikos; 6) Drunken Longing; 7) Madoka Blue; 8) En Secreto; 9) Green Lament; 10) Apprehension; 11) Ragaku
Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance that you might see every five or ten (even fifteen) years, and then for some inexplicable reason they disappear into the ether? When you next see the friend the conversation picks-up where it left off, without skipping a beat? The intervening years are important and they might filter into the new conversation, but immediately the old connection is solid again.
The last time I saw David Fiuczynski he was with John Medeski and I am embarrassed to say that it was…eighteen years ago…it was a Lunar Crush back then. I have stayed in touch with Medeski and his compatriots, Martin and Wood, but I do not have any excuses for why I have not seen Fiuczynski in quite some time. So, after all these years, we reach again, this time on Planet MicroJam. This is where Brand X could have traveled after Moroccan Roll had they hit the teleport button to a laterally warped microtonal universe.
I will say it now: I think this is a great and colorful album. This is one of those times when the connection for me is instantaneous, even when it is challenging. The reason is the interest in exploring, pushing the edges of musicality, and at the point where it seems like it might break apart, there is a sonic magnet that pulls it all together, and that is the Fuze.
This time guitarist David Fiuczynski is microtonally jamming with Evgeny Lebedev on keyboards, David Radley on violin and Takeru Yamazaki on keyboards. Special guests also include Kenwood Dennard, Jovol Bell, Jack DeJohnette and Eric Kerr on drums with appearances by Trout (Fuze’s pup).
The album opens with Micro Emperor (based on a fragment of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto) and it slides and twists immediately into stimulating fretless territory. Mystic MicroJam starts with a lazy vamping rhythm, strums on the piano soundboard with twisting guitar and keyboards syncopating. After a speedy refrain, meandering violin joins and all peregrinate and then return to edgy indolence and then solos play off each other.
Meditacion starts with playful chordal-quartertones by Fiuczynski and then drums, violin, guitar, bass and piano meander in a delightfully light-hearted banter. The piano at times harkens back to Corea’s work on Romantic Warrior. Sun Song is based on Sun Ra’s piece of the same name with polite melodic percussion and guitar on the edges and in between. As the piece continues, layers are added into a soothing fabric. Horos Fuzivikos is a spinning tarantella that does stop and then romp with a great spirit.
Drunken Longing is a traditional Chinese interlude. Madoka Blue’s guitars and keyboards cascade then guitar, bass and drums have a layered conversation with strategic interjections from a treated piano—a bit like a herd of wrens in the trees. En Secreto’s trio furtively creeps and is based on a quartertone string quartet by Julian Carrillo. Green Lament is a subdued guitar solo. Apprehension starts by taking it easy, then the rhythm quickens, sound expands and dissonance appears. Takeru Yamazaki solos on violin, trading themes with guitar and piano and the structure switches between chaotic and rhythmic. There are times when John Goodsall-like phrases appear. Ragaku is a Far Eastern postscript and there are percussive stops emphasized with growls and barks by Trout.
For some, this work will be an acquired taste (quarter and micro tones can take some getting used to…for dogs too), but if you are in for a tonal adventure, I say take the leap and turn it up.
So David, let’s stay in touch more often, OK? I know; it’s entirely my fault.
Photo of Fuze by Gaspard Duroselle
This is a solicited review.
Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Label: CD/LP/Stereo/5.1Mix EANTCD #21002 46:20
Label Website: http://cherryred.co.uk/
Chris Squire Website: http://www.chrissquire.com/
Steve Hackett Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/
Squackett Website: http://www.squackett.com/
Tracks: 1) A Life Within A Day; 2) Tall Ships; 3) Divided Self; 4) Aliens; 5) Sea Of Smiles; 6) The Summer Backwards; 7) Stormchaser; 8) Can’t Stop the Rain; 9) Perfect Love Song
Collaborators include: Roger King (album producer, keyboards, programming, and 5.1 Surround Sound Mix), Jeremy Stacey (drums), Amanda Lehmann (backing vocals), Christine Townsend (violin and viola), Richard Stewart (cello) and Dick Driver (double bass). Songwriting credits are Hackett/Squire/King with Nick Clabburn on Divided Self, _?_ Healy on Aliens, Gerard Johnson/Simon Sessler on Can’t Stop the Rain and Johnson on Perfect Love Song
It took a while to get to these fair shores, and I resisted listening to the previews…
Progressive Rock is by now a fairly broad genre and I am quite happy that it has seen resurgence in popularity recently, with both younger and older listeners (thanks in part to artists like Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree). At its worst, some Prog Rock tracks can carry on far too long and collapse under the weight of their own bombast, instrumentation or blatant commercialism, and at best can yield some really inventive music, pulling from a variety of influences and periods (rock, blues, folk, classical, instrumental, vocal…). This is not at all to say that longer pieces are all bad—far from it (my lasting fondness for the Genesis works Firth of Fifth or Cinema Show support this). Since my primary experience over the years has been with the works of Steve Hackett and Genesis, my point of reference is more Hackett than with Chris Squire and his band Yes.
This has been a busy and very productive time for Steve Hackett (SH), since the release of his album Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth in 2010. Chris Squire (CS) appeared, somewhat mysteriously, on the tracks Fire on the Moon and Nomads, and again on the 2011 SH album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon on tracks Looking For Fantasy, Catwalk, Turn This Island Earth and bonus CD tracks Four Winds: North and Enter The Night. Some may recall my recent review of SH’s album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon:
The Squackett project had apparently been brewing for about four years while SH could settle personal matters and scheduling with CS. I more or less parted ways with the works of the band Yes at about the same time that Bill Bruford left for King Crimson; I remained laterally interested in their subsequent releases and followed Jon Anderson’s earlier solo career before his work got a bit too mystical for my taste (although I enjoyed much of Anderson’s collaborative work with Vangelis).
Chris Squire’s work comprises some twenty studio albums, ten live albums and numerous compilations with Yes in addition to his three solo albums and many collaborative works with Rick Wakeman and others. The Yes Album is perhaps my strongest connection to CS’s work. The song I’ve Seen All Good People, and in particular part b: All Good People (penned by Squire) and then later the driving bass line in the song Roundabout from the 1971 album Fragile.
As for Steve Hackett, in his long career, he has constantly reinvented and explored many music genres, styles and formats (having practically invented the “unplugged” album with the acoustic/instrumental Bay Of Kings in 1983). SH has also explored shorter format songwriting, having penned beautiful ballads like the early Hoping Love Will Last (from Please Don’t Touch) to the sardonic Little America (from Guitar Noir).
A Life Within A Day may be too song-oriented for diehard Prog Rock fans that desire longer instrumental works. With one exception, eight of the nine songs vary from four to six minutes in length. Squire, Hackett and Roger King (long-time SH collaborator) have produced an album of concise, well-crafted and accessible songs. For the most part, the album takes few breaks and stays sharp with minimal forays into a more (and often dreaded, in Prog Rock circles) “commercial” sound. I appreciate that the songs are for the most part NOT overly polished; there are some rough edges, quick key and rhythm changes (Jazz and Blues fills). There are enough familiar Prog Rock elements present for this album to strike a successful balance between the shorter format and instrumentation.
A Life Within A Day: Although not as stark in instrumentation or spoken-word, the opener has an air of the SH song Darktown about it; majestic opening, sudden rhythm shifts, aggressive percussion, sharp guitar, bass solos and SH’s clustered vocals with Roger King’s sinister (and familiar) orchestral production. This is the most aggressive track on the album.
Tall Ships: A nylon string guitar opening followed by vamping guitar, bass and percussion riffs (constructed similarly to works penned by Mike Rutherford, but with sounds of Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson-like guitars) sail with this ocean-going journey. CS’s vocals coupled with a rather catchy rhythm, guitar reminiscent of Steve Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver followed by a broad vocal chorus—funky too.
Divided Self: Instantly, The Byrds Turn, Turn, Turn comes to mind—homage to the 1960s? SH sings lead vocals with an infectious rhythm, catchy and quick guitar solo chorus and melodic bass line. Following the main part of the song there is a hauntingly playful ending like that of SH’s Circus of Becoming (with whistling). Some might also notice a similarity to the Genesis song Tell Me Why. This is a great song!
Not An Official Video
Aliens: CS is the primary vocalist and there are times that this easily could be heard as a Yes track (the vocal chorus is akin to Jon Anderson’s sound); the lyrics being of future travels and science fiction. The keyboard opening is a bit timid. This also has a sound that is similar to the opening SH’s Loch Lomond (acoustic guitars sounding a bit like zithers). It remains relatively tame. Layered vocals and guitar solo fills.
Sea Of Smiles: Clustered vocal opening, melodic percussion, keyboards, bass line, up-tempo rhythm that repeats. A guitar solo coda that eventually develops into a dense almost relentless rhythm similar to Group Therapy from SH’s 1982 album Highly Strung.
The Summer Backwards: Is the shortest track on the album and it has a comfortable and reflective quality. The opening is very similar to one of my favorite vocal pieces by SH, Serpentine Song, descriptive of the scene—almost a waltz (trading three and four beats)—no pencil-grey days here though.
Stormchaser: Guitar, bass and drums open with more sinister vocal treatments; reminiscent of Duel from Till We Have Faces. It is the sound of raucous pursuit.
Can’t Stop the Rain: CS is lead vocalist, and at first the processed vocals threw me (auto-tune I find to be a bit distracting), and then the pleasantly layered vocal chorus by Amanda Lehmann washed that feeling away and the contrast seems to fit. It has a rather relaxing, but steady beat with Jazzy acoustic guitar fills. It then shifts to a more somber mood as it blends into a reflective…
Perfect Love Song: This piece seems to me to be more of a building coda to Can’t Stop the Rain than a stand-alone song. The vocals are shared by SH & CS.
Long distance and long-term collaborations are often tricky (compromises made and sometimes continuity lost). At times, A Life Within A Day seems a bit safe for Hackett, Squire and King aka Squackett who have been known as musical innovators throughout their careers. Yet it is a spirited gateway to the rest of their collective works and a solid introduction, I think, to a wider audience. A great change of pace, and I enjoyed many of the songs on this album, almost immediately.