Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere. It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view. I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.
The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts. After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage? In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture). The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…” Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought. White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.
Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful). Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other. The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism. Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord). A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars. Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…” By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers. Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.
Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL. Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out. Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn. It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas. Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.
There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn). It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses. Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.
And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.
Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.
Label: Sound of Jura http://www.soundofjura.com/
SOJCD1501 CD Time: About 36 minutes
Tracks: 1) Semi-Precious, 2) Come Over To Me, 3) School Of The Heart, 4) Spinneret, 5) The River To The Cave, 6) If We Were Free, 7) Namesake, 8) Mote, 9) Infinity Pool, 10) Whey-Faced Phantoms, 11) A.J., 12) Memory’s Like A Hunting Hawk
Youth, on the verge of adulthood, in search of meaning and perhaps companionship. Young enough and determined to look forward and hope and old enough to reflect on memories and retain some wisdom from experiences; this I interpret to be the theme of Karl Culley’s latest album Stripling. This is Culley’s fourth album, and he now lives in Krakow, Poland, where the album was recorded, but still with strong roots remaining in the north of England and Scotland. His previous albums are: Bundle of Nerves, The Owl and Phosphor.
The songs on Stripling range from hypnotic meditations to something that might cause a gathering of folks (in a pub, perhaps) to spontaneously dance (or at least vigorously toe-tap). The sonics are relatively intimate and unadorned: It’s Culley, his guitar and his voice, but it’s a deeply resonant recording. Contrary to some of his finger-style guitar contemporaries like William Tyler, Daniel Bachman or James Blackshaw there are no lengthy rambling instrumentals. The songs are penetrating and get right to their point with an atmosphere, a memory or story. While others have made comparisons to the work of John Martyn and Bert Jansch, I’ll add the early acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot (with echoes of his subtle vocal warbles) and the technical crispness and vigor of John Jorgenson and Tommy Emmanuel.
Judging from the reflective nature of his lyrics, it seems like Culley’s work takes time to gestate, but once a piece is fledged it’s cohesive and thoughtfully formulated. There are curious ironies and juxtapositions between rhythms and words. The somewhat brief Come Over To Me seems to be based on heavy subjects, yet the meter, fingerings and melody are lively, but not exactly upbeat. Mote has lyrics (“Floating like a mote through sun or angels trapped in amber, we fall…”) that reference the abstract yet there is a steady grounded rhythm and melody. Whereas Semi-Precious, School Of The Heart, Spinneret and Namesake are reflective, even tender meditations, with the rhythmic fingerings of Spinneret reminiscent of some of Nick Drake’s work—and there is a humble elegance in Namesake.
The mood of a song and lyrics can also be direct and related like the more serious The River To The Cave—not sentimental or wallowing, but observant of circumstances. Vibrant lyrics and melody align in If We Were Free, with much of the verses being slightly-pitched spoken word observations with the final incantation “3 men are lowered into the ground…” abruptly punctuated with silence before returning one last time to the vigorous refrain (reminds me of Richard Thompson’s work).
Stripling isn’t without musing, delighting in the possibilities of enjoying a figurative or literal swim in the reverie of an Infinity Pool—it also is curiously similar rhythmically to the acoustic version of Layla that Eric Clapton recorded a number of years ago. There are also moments where advice is presented or experiences recounted as in Whey-Faced Phantoms, which evolves into a cautionary mantra and A.J. recalling the desolation of unexpected endings—in both, the melodies and harmonies echoing the starkness of a mood.
The album closes with Memory’s Like a Hunting Hawk, intensively focused with desire. There is, however, a pensive gentleness in the longing…solemn and hauntingly lyrical all at once. Also of special note are the pen and ink illustrations that decorate the CD and cover, as if from a notebook of youth: pondering, exploring, even brooding yet freely expressing. This CD made a long journey to me, and I’m glad it finally made it.
This is a solicited review.
Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)
Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)
LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea
LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)
After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music. He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.
I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental. The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love. I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.
Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty. There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre. Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.
Out of Body is the eerie wolf-howl call and then energetic overture to the album, a brief taste of what’s to come. Title track, Wolflight opens gently, setting a scene of calm, but the challenges of the tale are expressed in orchestral and sharp-edged guitar solos in contrast with the acoustic twelve-string verses—a powerful title track that has proven to adhere well in my memory, despite the complexity of the piece. In addition to the contrast of sound there is also the irony of subject—that of pleasure in pain and the attraction of potential danger, which is the exploration of Love Song to a Vampire with Hackett’s hushed verses (almost a lullaby), powerful refrains and soulful peregrinations on his Les Paul guitar.
The Wheel’s Turning revisits some of the sights and sounds of works as far back as the album Please Don’t Touch—carnivals of inspiration and a bit of time-travel (with shades of his Squackett collaboration with Chris Squire in the marvelous song from the album A Life Within a Day, Divided Self). At first there’s the basic song then orchestral moves to a devilish romp with a brief homage to The Air Conditioned Nightmare (from the album Cured) and then his album Blues With a Feeling before returning to strains of Bach and the memory of that distant carnival. Creating a strong sense of place, Corycian Fire, after a gentle opening, Hackett uses his highly processed vocals like an instrument to accompany the orchestral, choral and regional instruments in exploring the history of an ancient underworld, which has some similarities to his earlier and less adorned instrumental Steppes (from the album Defector for those who have listened since the early days). Earthshine and Loving Sea are a respite from the album’s vigorous beginnings (an intermission similar to the days of changing a film reel in a theater). Earthshine, a classical guitar fantasy merges into the joyful twelve-string and vocal harmonies of Loving Sea, sailing freely.
Black Thunder rumbles with raw emotion; part history and part social commentary on slavery and civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King with an homage (in the liner notes) to Richie Havens (and his well-known song Freedom) who worked with Hackett on his second solo album. Dust and Dreams is at first a vamp of languid movements and drifting mirages that adds layers and builds to portray scenes of divergent impressions and ultimately it’s resolved in a returning to the comfort of Heart Song, dedicated to Hackett’s wife and creative partner Jo.
The bonus material on side 4 of the LPs (two solo guitar tracks on either side of a collaboration with the Icelandic band Todmobile) fits quite well with the overall album. Pneuma (translates as breath, soul and spirit) is a subdued rumination, a calming re-centering of sorts. Midnight Sun is powerful, melodic and pleasing in its chord structure and rhythms. Caress gently closes the album (which is on the LP, but not the CD).
Despite the sharp contrasts in the instrumentation and sources of inspiration, Wolflight is a very cohesive album, which upon a few listens will become deeply and solidly embedded in the canon of Hackett’s work. The Steve Hackett Band will be celebrating his 40 year solo career with a tour in 2015, Acolyte to Wolflight. I hope to attend a show (but tickets sell quickly!) and I urge readers to get tickets to a show, which will certainly be quite a visual and aural experience, as all of Steve Hackett’s concerts have been since the late 1970s.
Seeing John Edginton’s recent documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts, one might be left with the impression that after Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977 he went on to do a few minor projects and then disappeared into the ether. On the contrary, after his highly innovative work with Genesis during the tremendously creative period from 1971 to 1977, Hackett has had a varied and successful solo career of nearly 40 years with as many albums, including some well-known collaborations, songs in international charts (Wolflight is in the UK charts, as I write this), and a faithful legion of fans who are spreading his work to a new generation of listeners.
If anything, Steve Hackett is more vital and relevant than ever with new-found and ever-growing energy that belies the span of his career—continuing to blaze new frontiers in music and live shows.
Yes, I’m guilty. I haven’t written many reviews of late–no other excuse except that there are many other things going on (not to mention a really rough winter), but here’s some of what I’ve been listening to, and I will also soon be writing a review of a forthcoming album on the Eilean label by Twigs & Yarn (some may recall that their The Language of Flowers on the Flau label was my favorite album of 2012). I recommend any of these albums.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – ATOMOS: Kranky 190: I want to really like this album, but I struggle with some sections. I instantly loved their eponymous first release, but I continue to listen.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.: KScope 315: Follow-up to The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I frankly need more time with this album to formulate an opinion. The recording lacks the clarity and strength of the last (engineered by Alan Parsons), but I’m working through it.
M. Ostermeier – Still: Tench TCH07: Just started listening; minimal, soothing, and it is both in the background and can be for focused listening–a combination of melodic sounds and microtones. Helpful for calm…need more of that!
Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener – Universal Road: Soleil Apres Minuit SM1501 CD: Comfortably familiar sound and soothing lyrics–shoegazing for the Sun.
I’ll likely have more to say on these soon, but for now, rest assured that my recommendation will not disappoint.
I’m hoping for Spring, and SOON!
Future Spin Productions CD – Time: 38:26 – Release Date: March 31, 2015
Available at: http://www.chrisjamisonmusic.com/
Tracks: 1) Always, 2) Blue Melody, 3) Juniper Blues, 4) What About Tomorrow, 5) Pedernal, 6) The Mockingbird Song, 7) Waves Of The Wind, 8) Roadside Bar, 9) Old 81
When first meeting some folks, it often takes time to get to know them. It might take months or even years until an acquaintance becomes a friend. For reasons that can’t often be explained, sometimes with a certain person or people, there’s a sense of ease or a bond and it just seems right from the start, and that’s how Chris Jamison’s forthcoming album Lovecraft feels and sounds to me.
Formerly of Texas, Jamison now lives with his young family in Arizona and he has self-produced four previous albums, and contrary to my normal listening preparations, I didn’t listen to any of his previous work, initially. There is a grounded familiarity in Lovecraft, like being at a favorite place or in a well-worn cherished piece of clothing, and even if a song’s subject is somewhat melancholy there’s a comfort in it that brings some hope for better things ahead. The album is tastefully humble and original in many ways, yet with a lilt of roots, blues and country, and it does kick-up some dirt too. Most of the songs are quickly memorable, but the substance is far more than just catchy hooks.
As much as I try to resist comparisons, it’s clear that there’s an homage to some musicians reaching back into the 1970s (instrumentation, vocals and studio vibe) like Jackson Browne of the Running on Empty era and earlier as well as the timing and presence of vocals in earlier works of Van Morrison. It’s also clear that Jamison not only cares about the songs and instrumentation, but how the recording sounds, and he sought Sam Kassirer for the mixing who has worked with Josh Ritter, as well as mastering by Scott Hull of Master Disk in New York, who has worked with many well-known musicians. Click on the photo below to view other album credits and musicians.
The album opens with Always, which has a steady awakening beat that features organ and electric guitar with Jamison’s strong vocals, yet the vocals don’t demand attention. There are reflective and slow-swinging moments with languid electric guitar or piano as in Blue Melody and Waves Of The Wind, and whether the vocals are slightly saturated or clean, they are clear, but not over-powering. The meditative slow-dance Juniper Blues channels some of Vince Gill’s work from The Reason Why album (These Days tetralogy); the sweet memories that still haunt, to paraphrase the lyrics. Jamison also plays a bit with a sense of time, starting What About Tomorrow with sounds reminiscent of an old radio tuning into a memory and discussions of what could have been. The song’s construction evokes the instrumentation of Al Stewart’s On The Border with Sebastian Cure’s guitar solo paralleling Peter White’s solo in Border.
In addition to telling stories, Jamison also remembers places, as in Pedernal, which I believe is the northern New Mexico mesa (Cerro Pedernal) that Georgia O’Keefe used as an occasional subject for her paintings. The piece is at first instrumental, ambient and contemplative, then the vocals blend with the cello, vibes and organ, it’s a humble entreaty to listen, “May I sing you a song…” The Mockingbird Song is an observation and appreciation with a soft spacious opening, almost trance-inducing. It’s of chasing dreams, with a strong vocal and is reminiscent of Josh Ritter’s The Temptation of Adam, but more hopeful. Mockingbird is an elegant song, and the harp along with hushed organ and vocals are just…perfect. Another place, real or imagined is the intimate Roadside Bar with piano, percussion and the feeling of enjoyment and jamming with friends who sing along. The album closes with the reflective, visual and optimistic returning depicted in Old 81.
So much music (or what passes for it) these days seems synthetic and lacking an authenticity that pushing the “SKIP” button on a CD or MP3 player might be a better option than wasting the precious time to be inundated by sound that is over-processed with samples and pitch-correction. As much as I seek music that is more experimental and somewhat edgy, I also enjoy and have a deep respect for songwriters who take great care to compose and record with understated yet effective arrangements and skillful musicianship.
This album is the real deal and it’s a great companion for a road trip too. Hit “REPLAY.”
Photo of Chris Jamison by Lillian Reid
This is a solicited review
2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Temporary Residence TRR 227 LP (CD and D/L) Time: About 39 Minutes for 11 LP Tracks
1) Good Graces 2) Great Equator 3) Hegemony 4) Henry Lee (Trad) 5) Need Some Sun 6) Don’t Be A Tool 7) Electricant 8) IO 9) Stop Counting 10) Sinker 11) Your Time 12) Codebreaker* Bonus on Deluxe LP download with silkscreened cover
Many scientists have labs and equipment, and there are parallels between science and the creation of music. Discovery and creativity take hard work, inspiration and many tools—some of the work is also drudgery and can take a long time to complete. Some experiments succeed and some don’t, but research presses on.
Nick Zammuto’s lab is in Vermont and while Zammuto’s current work is more accessible and song-oriented than work of his previous collaboration with Paul de Jong (The Books), Nick and his bandmates are still looking for music and inspiration in unexpected places (sometimes in quirky infomercial videos, physical inventions, admonitions from a parent and odd audio samples). Sounds are discovered, altered, created and spun into a fabric of song, and more often than not the results are downright fun.
It took about a year from the very successful IndieGoGo campaign to the release of Anchor, but along the way Nick Zammuto kept backers well informed on progress and entrusted early previews of the final tracks, along with the background for inspiration and in-depth technical information on how many of the sounds were developed. The resulting album varies from calming drones to chest pounding beats along with idiosyncratic melodic turns and spirited lyrics. Many of the tracks are based around odd rhythms, some created with scratches deliberately made on LPs at planned intervals.
Although I’m not always an advocate of loud music, I think this album better with the volume knob UP—it’s often an absolute romp. Most of the music is also well suited to their live shows, where Nick Zammuto and his bandmates know how to have a good time, often with accompanying videos. I can attest it’s also a great album for driving (at safe lower volumes!). In general, I find this album to be more reserved (almost cautious, at times) compared than their first.
After Good Graces eases-in, the more dynamic tracks like Great Equator, Hegemony, Need Some Sun, Electricant and the aggressively percussive IO give the album its verve. Anchor also has its quieter and more drone oriented moments, and can be quite introspective at times, as in Henry Lee, Stop Counting, Your Time and the acoustic percussion and guitar swells of Sinker. The bonus track Codebreaker is a syncopated keyboard, guitar arpeggio and electronic percussion pattern study.
I think my only criticism of Anchor is that Zammuto might consider exploring some longer form works. Peculiar and energetic always work for me.
The limited edition deluxe LP with silkscreen print cover
Photos are courtesy of Zammuto’s website, but I participated in the campaign and got myself a deluxe LP.
Merge Records MRG 523 LP CD FLAC and MP3 Time: About 43 minutes
1) Lucia 2) Saturday’s Song 3) Mahogany Dread 4) Day O Day (A Love So Free) 5) Lateness of Dancers 6) I’m A Raven (Shake Children) 7) Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses) 8) Southern Grammar 9) Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song) 10) Drum
I got to know Hiss Golden Messenger’s (M. C. Taylor) music after perusing the online catalog of Tompkins Square, where I had purchased William Tyler’s solo album Behold The Spirit (prior to his Merge Records release Impossible Truth). I ordered the HGM album Poor Moon, and that was all it took for me to go off hunting for more, which led me to his 2013 album Haw (on Paradise of Bachelors) and ultimately to his first complete album Bad Debt, recorded in his kitchen shortly after the birth of his son in 2009. There are overtones of concern in that album, since it was created as the global economic crisis was hitting financial markets and was having tangible effects on people. It took Bad Debt a long time to see the light of day due to a warehouse fire during the London riots a few years back—most of the original CDs were lost. Amanda Petrusich has a brief essay about Taylor at the Merge Records link above, and it will give further insight on the roots of his music and her impressions.
Lateness of Dancers is quieter and a bit slower in pace compared to Haw and the recording is more intimate, even introspective with some of the qualities of Bad Debt. It includes some musicians from the previous albums along with primary collaborator Scott Hirsch (most often on electric and bass guitars) and William Tyler. Taylor’s songs appear to be largely personal self-reflections, laments on vulnerability, restrained joy, explorations of faith and optimism. This album sounds to me like it’s rooted in the early to mid-1970s in sound.
Taylor’s voice is at times like a melodic version of Bob Dylan as on Lucia, which has a gentle sway to it (as do other songs on the album). I immediately felt like I was back in the early 1970s during Saturday’s Song (a time when I listened to albums for hours on end). Saturday has a Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes vibe to it and is instantly familiar and comfortable. The spirit of Mick Fleetwood was present for the back beat of Mahogany Dread along with an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (for those of us old enough to remember!). No doubt, Taylor’s son’s voice opens Day O Day (A Love So Free) with his self-assured proclamation (present in younger children) of the song’s title. It’s quiet and contemplative and the subtitle gradually becomes an incantation of joy. Lateness of Dancers is one of the more serious sounding tracks on the album, the other being Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song), which is revealing and very contemplative. I’m a Raven (Shake Children) growls with a heavy beat and is a contrast to the slow-dance quality of Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses). Southern Grammar channels a gentler (yet still funky) version of Lowell George and Little Feat of the Dixie Chicken era (oh, how I miss Lowell George).
The album ends with a lightly orchestrated version of Drum (that first appeared on Bad Debt) and it has the spirit of a recessional, and it sounds hopeful “I’ll rise in the morning, take the good news and carry it away…” Lateness of Dancers is good news indeed, and it seems like Hiss Golden Messenger has landed at a good spot with Merge, where his work will hopefully get to a wider audience, and they will let M. C. Taylor continue unencumbered to do what he does best: write thoughtful and beautifully crafted songs.
Lest you all think that I only listen to Ambient and Progressive Rock music, I also listen to many other genres including Country music…wait, WAIT, don’t close the window–you won’t regret it!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain): This new album by SS is the real deal. Great country songs about real stuff with great music, and even better the first single released is Turtles All The Way Down (with a nod in the title to Stephen Hawking) and it’s deliciously psychedelic with reverb, phasing-shifting and Mellotron. Give it a listen:
Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (SubPop): From Record Store Day 2013, I missed this single, but I found it on RSD 2014 in the back of the singles bin—aha! The A side is by Tom Petty (which I can take or leave), but the gem is Jonathan Meiburg’s A Wake For The Minotaur—it’s just plain stunning. This live version features vocalist Jesca Hoop.
Songs: Ohia – Journey On Collected Singles (Secretly Canadian): Not much I can say about the tragic loss of Jason Molina that hasn’t already been written. Thank goodness we have Molina’s musical legacy, including his last band Magnolia Electric Company—great songs and music and many of subjects of Molina’s songs turned out to be prophetic. Long before he died, his last label Secretly Canadian was discussing releasing a boxed set of the early singles of Songs: Ohia, many of them quite rare and long out of print. Unfortunately Jason didn’t live to see it. It’s a beautiful blue cloth wrapped boxed set of nine 7” singles with a separate book of the original artwork and song histories and a CD compilation of all the singles. These were available on Record Store Day 2014 and they disappeared quickly…I was very fortunate to find a copy. Here’s a video on the set. If you can find one, buy it, you won’t regret it.
Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond (Other Music Recording Co.): Bob Boilen from NPR’s All Songs Considered got me to this album. Part folk, part psychedelic and reminds me a bit of a softer Grizzly Bear (the band) at times.
Ben Watt – Hendra (Caroline – Unmade Road): I’ve been a fan of Everything But The Girl (ETBG) since their early days and then Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt put that project on an indefinite hold while they pursued other musical endeavors and had a family. Tracey has released a number of excellent solo albums and this is Ben’s first solo album—very introspective. My favorite song is The Levels and David Gilmour plays slide guitar. This is a live version:
Lee Gobbi – Purple Prose (www.leegobbi.com): Lee is a fan of Progressive Rock music and the influences are clear on his self-produced debut album of mostly original songs with guest appearances by alums of the original 1970s and 80s Steve Hackett band. There are strong shades of The Beatles, ELO and the vibe of George Harrison’s work in this album. There are a couple of covers, a Stu Nunnery tune Madelaine (remember Stu Nunnery from the early 1970s?!) and a haunting version of Nick Drake’s Parasite. A brilliant first album, and I hear that there is a second album in the works—stay tuned. I’ll post some sound samples when they are available.
John Pizzarelli – Double Exposure (Telarc): This album from 2012 is of song interpretations and some pairings by Jazz guitarist (and son of Bucky Pizzarelli) and Popular song-man. The album is largely covers, with an original by Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey Take A Lot Of Pictures (picking up where Michael Franks left off with his song Popsicle Toes). My favorite is the soulful Neil Young song Harvest Moon.
Elaine Radigue – Trilogie de la Mort (Experimental Intermedia): When I reviewing Nicholas Szczepanik’s latest album Not Knowing, I noticed the dedication to French composer and electronic music pioneer Elaine Radigue (born 1932) and I was reminded of this 3 CD trilogy that was composed as a tribute to her son upon his death. It’s very minimal with gradual layers in parts and intense at others. Like most of her other work it was composed on an Arp 2500 modular synthesizer. Since 2001 she has composed on and for primarily acoustic instruments.
Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge Records): This is the band that started Merge Records (http://www.mergerecords.com/i-hate-music) and if you have a chance read their book Our Noise – The Story of Merge Records. I heard FOH (stands for Front of House) just before the album was released and ordered it instantly (and then waited, since it was a preorder). Be careful, it’s raucous!
Tomotsugu Nakamura – Soundium (Kaico): I have Tench and Words On Music label’s Marc Ostermeier to thank for getting me to Nakamura’s work. He is a sound artist from Tokyo and Soundium is an album of microtones, springy and glitchy rhythms and fractional sound samples. The sounds and instrumentation are so pure—this is a great album and delightfully quirky at times. http://naturebliss.bandcamp.com/album/soundium
Lateral reference: Soundium reminds me of the absolutely enchanting album In Light by 12k label’s Small Color (and I think that everyone should buy this album): http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/in_light/
Federico Durand – El estanque esmeralda (Spekk): I find this album to be Durand’s most melodic work so far. Many of his previous albums and collaborations focus on longer form field recordings combined with bells, wind chimes and other instrumentation. This album concentrates on childhood memories of places and times, presented in delightfully concise pieces . The three latest Spekk label releases are in the larger format CD sleeves and they are a welcomed change from small digipacks, jewel boxes or (worse yet) plain sleeves. The music AND the art matters. http://www.spekk.net/catalog/esmeralda.html
Celer – Zigzag (Spekk): Will Long AKA Celer is well known for his extensive ambient works and soundtracks. This is a more rhythmic (albeit subtle) electronic work. Have a listen: http://www.spekk.net/artists/celer.html
Melodia – Saudades (Kaico): Melodia is a collaboration of Federico Durand and Tomoyoshi Date. I missed the original LP on the Own Records label, so I was quite pleased that Kaico released a CD version. More here: http://kaicojapan.tumblr.com/
Opitope – Hau (Spekk): This is the first album by Tomoyoshi Date and Chihei Hatakeyama. Micro-tones, found sounds, ambient and field recordings along with instrumental (acoustic and electronic) improvisation make up Hau. The album is charmingly subtle at times and crystalline at others. The pieces are observations and explorations of places and experiences. http://www.spekk.net/artists/opitope.html
Opitope – Physis (Spekk): This is the latest CD from Opitope. The pieces are longer form than on Hau and curiously feel more like minimalist Jazz, at times. The instrumentation is more direct (recognizable), yet the environmental and visual influences are still present.
William Tyler – Lost Colony 12” 45 RPM EP (Merge Records): Unlike Tyler’s recent (and fabulous) album Impossible Truth, which is a solo guitar album, this EP is a band release and Tyler reinterprets the track We Can’t Go Home, covers Michael Rother’s Karussel and the entirety of Side A is devoted to Whole New Dude. Dude is a ramble with a meandering opening (with excellent pedal steel by Luke Schneider) and then sets off on a driving rhythm (drums, guitar, pedal steel and bass) for the duration. It’s a traveling song, heading out “there” to explore, and Tyler lets it rip towards the end. http://www.mergerecords.com/lost-colony
Orcas – Yearling (Morr Music): Orcas are Benoit Pioulard (another guise of Tom Meluch) and Rafael Anton Irisarri. This is the follow-up to their first eponymous collaboration in 2012. Yearling is part environmental instrumentals and part songs. The opening instrumental track Petrichor reminds me of Brian Eno’s The Spider and I from the 1977 album Before and After Science. I complained about the tone and mastering of BP’s most recent album, but this album sounds MUCH better. The songs are lush with vocals and harmonies by Pioulard—really nice music with oft-catchy refrains.
EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.