Karl Culley – Last
Format: Digital only
Time: About 74 minutes
Tracks: 1) Perfection Only Exists In The Mind 2) Nastassya 3) In A Sky Of Infinite Suns 4) Listen 5) Mistakes 6) The Föhn Wind 7) Wedding And Funeral Shoes 8) Amethyst 9) Devil In A Damn Fine Suit 10) Being Alive 11) 1, 2, 3 12) Delivered (My Maja) 13) Windows 14) Ghost Made Blood 15) Reality Is Like The Sun 16) How It Works 17) The Siege Of Antioch 18) Dale 19) St. Crispin’s Day 20) Embers 21) Looking Back Blues
Some readers may remember my review of Karl Culley’s 2015 album, Stripling. His new album Last (to be released on September 1, 2018) was recorded over the last three years in Culley’s home of Krakow, Poland. The good news is we have new music from Culley, and he is also now a father of a young daughter. The sad news is the turmoil in his life, a divorce, and due to various responsibilities he has decided this will be his “last” album of music.
The engineers for this album are Jaroslaw Zawadzki in Poland and Daniel Webster in England (the two tracks: Nastassya and Listen, with Webster playing all instruments, except for Culley on acoustic guitar). At first, I listened to this album at home, in my little studio, then I took it on a long road trip to and from the Adirondacks (in upper New York State), to get to know it better. It’s an excellent road trip album, by the way.
The subjects of this collection are both within the mind (things that can be imagined) and actual experiences (both joyous and painful). This album is pretty dense, and with 21 tracks, I found that I needed about two sittings to get through it, which is NOT at all a negative comment. Just the opposite, since the album is of a quality that demands a listener’s rapt attention. In my opinion, this is not a collection of background music. Coincidentally, at the mid-point of the album, is the metronomic instrumental 1, 2, 3, which serves as a bit of an intermission, before part two.
Culley deftly conveys the emotion of a given moment or the subject with only his acoustic guitar (ignoring the lyrics, for the moment), since the rhythms, strumming and picking reveal the intent of the song, like gently descending notes (like Embers falling in a fire) or a galloping heart beat (Being Alive) or the tender waltz (rocking cradle) beat and comfort and contentment in Delivered (My Maja). Maja also plays tricks with time, at first it’s the marvelous intimacy of having a newborn child on one’s chest, and then four lines later to “…unfurl to your consorts…” In a sense, preparing to release her to the world in her later years (children DO grow up quickly, as I can attest).
Without knowing (or wanting to know) the details of Culley’s private struggles over the last three years, it’s clear from this album that there are many complexities to love, relationships, and resentment. Have a listen to the darkness in Nastassya (which I am told is based on Dostoyevski’s The Idiot) or the anger and harsh reality in How It Works.
One of my clear favorites on this album is In A Sky Of Infinite Suns, with its snappy taut rhythm–I found that I kept hitting replay on my car CD player to keep the energy going. Another of the near-breathless pieces is Being Alive, with its galloping rhythm of angst “…just being alive hurt so much…looking into the mouth of a liar…like walking through the fire hurt so much…” (also sounding like a fast-beating heart with the lyric “…swells in the blood…”). By contrast there are contemplative meditations like Listen, and Reality Is Like The Sun that are both reflective and perhaps self-analytical (just like the more energetic and playful Mistakes). I wonder if KC finds that his own music can function as a form a therapy? I certainly find music to be quite therapeutic, whether energetic or comforting.
There are moments of keen observations of the bizarre, but absolutely true aspects of life, like in Wedding And Funeral Shoes, as well as moments of levity, Devil In A Damned Fine Suite. Overall, Last is a fine balance of musicianship and storytelling in a similar vein to the earlier acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot, and if one listens carefully, one might pick-up the descending tones reminiscent of the opening to Nick Drake’s Chime Of The City Clock in The Siege Of Antioch (a pretty heavy observation on the First Crusade). The last song on the album, Looking Back Blues, is a reflection of sadness for a time past, but (perhaps) an appreciation that the passage of time can yield after the breakup of a relationship…there will always be a connection, especially when a child is involved.
I am sorry that Karl Culley is leaving the music scene, alas the realities and responsibilities of life somehow do take over, but I hope KC finds other rewarding endeavors for his talent and creative spark, and hope he enjoys watching his daughter grow up.
Take care and best wishes, Karl.
This is a solicited review.
…in words, but not in music…
Please have a look and listen, and stay tuned.
Thanks for listening and reading.
Review: Almost Charlie – A Different Kind Of Here
Label: Words on Music WM43 CD Time: 36:55
Tracks: 1) Shadow Boy 2) Ambivalent 3) The Sadness Of The Snow That Falls In May 4) Defective 5) The Loneliness Of Sharks 6) Waiting 7) Robot 8) A Different Kind Of Here 9) Sunset In The Elysian Fields 10) Expect For Her Name 11) Gold 12) I’ll Still Be Missing You
At last, the songs of Dirk Homuth and lyricist Charlie Mason return, in the latest Almost Charlie album A Different Kind Of Here. It seems that the older I get, the more I lose track of how quickly time passes—it’s already been about 4-1/2 years since their last album Tomorrow’s Yesterday.
It’s so easy to get drawn-in by the inventiveness and wit in their well-crafted songs, the melodies, hooks and restrained arrangements. All of the songs in this album can be quickly committed to memory, and there they remain, added to the playlist of the mind, but they are not simplistic. These songs are deftly efficient, and don’t overstay their welcome—each of the twelve is about 3 minutes long, with the last, longest and most sonically impressionistic, I’ll Still Be Missing You. There are connections between the moods of the music, arrangements and subjects. Listen in …Missing You for the wistful sounds of an implied telephone busy-signal layered back in the mix of the sound effects. In Waiting, the rhythm is like the finger-tapping of impatience. Yet there are contrasts, the upbeat tune of The Sadness Of The Snow… deals with the unexpected and unwelcome shivers of a late winter storm after experiencing the tease of Spring.
Homuth’s singing (with a voice reminiscent of John Lennon’s) varies from near-whispers in Defective to full-throated vocals with a spirited string quartet arrangement in Gold. What’s different from their previous albums: A lyrics booklet is included with this album (YAY!), and while the subjects of the songs is still largely about relationships, they are far more introspective, and some are darker and tend more towards melancholy. The Loneliness Of Sharks is initially stark, and gradually adds layers symbolic of the pressures of the deep and the isolation of power. There is also a short and reflective piano instrumental, Sunset On The Elysian Fields.
Overall, the recording of the album is remarkably spatial. Initially, I listened to the album sitting at a distance in a chair, in my car while driving, and then sat closer to the speakers in my music room, and felt like I was in the studio with the musicians while they were recording—so praise to the musicians in addition to those involved in the recording (Rob Cummings in Berlin is credited). The title track, A Different Kind Of Here, in particular is just plain gorgeous, the acoustic guitar, especially.
And imagine, the two songwriters still have never met (according to all that I have read). Despite the distance, the magic remains. Next time Charlie, please don’t wait so long before returning. This album, like their others, immediately gets put in the “hit replay” category. The Words On Music label (celebrating their 20th anniversary as an independent music label) sells it direct from their website for a great price, but it’s also available through your favorite music sellers. While you’re at it, buy the rest of Almost Charlie’s back catalog, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a three track sampler of the album:
This is a solicited review.
Western Skies Motel – Buried and Resurfaced
Twice Removed TR051 CD-R Time: 29:21
Tracks: 1) Awakening 2) Black Sea 3) The Quiet Rust 4) Passage 5) Echoes 6) Behind These Walls 7) Thaw 8) Distances
Buried and Resurfaced is the final release, of 60 albums and EPs, from the Twice Removed record label. Label curator Gavin Catling, in far away (from me) Perth (western) Australia, has done a fine job of bringing artists and musicians to our attention since 2011, and I’m sorry to see him put the label to bed, but understand his desire and need to bring the project to an end.
This album arrived here at an interesting moment; I had recently done some reading on the gradual and tragic decline of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Some of what I have read and imagined about the decline of that landscape seems to have parallels in René Gonzalez Schelbeck’s musical creation, even the title. I have also just seen Guy Maddin’s adventurous, liquid-time-bending and bizarre film, The Forbidden Room, and in many ways Buried and Resurfaced could have been a soundtrack for that film. The film is an homage to old lost and often quirky movies, which Maddin reimagined, and they are collected as an amorphous omnibus that is almost beyond description and, at times, comprehension.
Another parallel to Buried is it can be beheld as either individual pieces or part of a larger whole with a real or imagined narrative. The tape-decayed and modulated passages in Buried blend remarkably well with Maddin’s visuals (firmly planted in my memory—it’s an intense film). The possible album storylines I have posited are two possible accounts, but there are many others, despite what might be the actual intent (if any) of RG Schelbeck.
There is an ancient and mysterious quality to the music from the start. Tape decay and flutter produces wrinkles in the perceived time continuum. The electric guitar is also well disguised with bowing, modulation, and effects, often yielding qualities akin to a long-neglected Mellotron or Chamberlin.
Awakening is the languid preparation for the journey and pending storm. Black Sea has a dark foundation and buffets with macabre winds lashing a hull at sea and occasional sonic breaching of the portholes (this piece is an especially perfect match for Maddin’s film). Quiet Rust is a peaceful yet unsettling aftermath to the storm with its sustained and reverberant atmosphere (this track is well mated with Schelbeck’s companion video: scenes of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake). It also reminds me a bit of Kane Ikin’s and David Wenngren’s collaboration Chalk from their 2012 album Strangers.
Being cast adrift in an increasingly dense fog is the texture of Passage with expanding and layered dark droning strings. Echoes pulses above and near before vibrating from the depths (a subwoofer helps to enhance this). Sounds move near, then are distant and fade into the ether. The most active and sweeping of the tracks is Behind These Walls, as if the storm of Black Sea returns, this time on land with squalls lashing relentlessly. I think I hear the warm and familiar hum of a tube amplifier in Thaw, with the percussive plucking of strings, as if water is dripping from ice in a warming sunshine. Buried and Resurfaced closes gently with the reflective and contemplative Distances with far off sounds of (perhaps field recordings of) nature absorbed into the haze.
My one criticism of the album (also a compliment), is the abbreviated timing of some of the pieces makes them seem rather elusive. Just when settling into the immersive aura of the music, some tracks fade away too soon, and I was left hoping that each would last longer for a more deeply enhanced experience. Perhaps extended versions might appear at some point in the future?
Trailer to Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room
This is a solicited review.
John Hackett – Another Life
Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
More info at: http://johnhackett.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/hacktraxmusic?fref=ts
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.
Karl Culley – Stripling
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.
Twigs & Yarn – Still Forms Drift
Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53
Label: https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/still-forms-drift and http://www.eilean-records.com/
More on Twigs & Yarn: http://www.twigsandyarn.net/
Tracks: Hibernate, Sonora, Channeling, Cave Bears, In the Valley, Lend a Hand, Laelaps, Floes
Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak are Twigs & Yarn, and on their previous album (The Language of Flowers, my favorite album of 2012), the duo created it over a great distance (between Japan and Texas). Their work presses all the right buttons for me: it’s inventive, tender, melodic, and at times unexpected. T&Y takes me on a new journey every time I listen, yet there’s an inexplicable familiarity that I find comforting. There is also a curious child-like quality of discovery in the music.
On April 5th, 2015, Twigs & Yarn did a live segment on KOOP Radio in Austin, Texas that was (thankfully) streamed over the internet, and T&Y noted they hope to release another album later in 2015. I will link to the recording of the program if it is posted by KOOP (EDIT: Here is the link to the entire program: https://www.mixcloud.com/fadetoyellow/episode-164-fade-to-yellow-still-forms-drift/).
Over the course of their new album, Still Forms Drift I wonder if there is an intentional arc of how the pieces were developed. I detect that the tracks move from more melodic to experimental, and from rhythmic to more atmospheric and subdued, so there is a nice combination of moods and progression on the album.
A layered sonorous hum opens and eases the listener into Hibernate; sounds eddy between the channels (headphone or speakers). The music builds gradually and blends into a delicate yet immersive fabric where voices and distant cloaked sounds are revealed. Sonora is absolute magic—so romantic, delicately rhythmic, playful and with a hint of some of Raymond Scott’s electronic experiments of the 1950s and 60s. As it progresses, there is increasing comfort, dissolving enmeshed sound, then melodic humming. Exploring the layers, with repeated listens is like a treasure hunt, but then just listen again and disappear into it. It’s like a tender and pleasurable whisper during a dream.
Channeling moves to the outdoors, contemplating with the fauna and environs, then dissolving into a trance of gentle guitar, voices and comforting pulses. Gradually, the reverie subsides and a gentle reality emerges. Cave Bears opens a bit like an antique bell-chime clock, steady and somewhat glitchy. Beats, shifted repeating sounds and guitar harmonics are added and the rhythm slows. In The Valley is another memory of place, although more ambient and disconnected compared to Channeling. There is a slight grittiness to it as it progresses, with sounds that are less tangible, as in the edge of a dream. Lend a Hand is a song with two different parallel veiled spirits; an expression of yearning that moves in and out of focus…one voice moves to the distance, but then returns; as if eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation weaving in and out of gentle waves of guitar and entwined low resonant hums…a slowly rocking boat in the doldrums.
Perhaps the most meditative (and curiously metallic) of the pieces is Laelaps. I speculate that it’s an evening of lying on the ground outdoors with gazes cast to the sky in contemplation. If I have my Greek mythology correct, it was Zeus who cast the dog Laelaps into the stars as Canis Major in pursuit of the Teumessian fox, Canis Minor. With a largo of synthetic electronic sounds and somewhat compressed voices Floes closes the album with hints of a lullaby reminiscent of a well-worn music box.
There is so much wonderful in this album, and I was instantly smitten.
This is a solicited review.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
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)
Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html Shop: http://hackettsongs.sandbaghq.com/
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.
Chris Jamison – Lovecraft
Future Spin Productions CD – Time: 38:26 – Release Date: March 31, 2015
Available at: http://www.chrisjamisonmusic.com/
Other Links: http://chrisjamison.bandcamp.com & https://soundcloud.com/chrisjamisonmusic
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
Steve Hackett – Ridgefield Playhouse – 13 Nov 2014
A great show last night by the Steve Hackett Band at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Connecticut for the Genesis Extended fall 2014 tour of the USA and Canada. More information on the tour is here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
This will be the last tour with exclusively Genesis material in North America, with a South American tour scheduled for early 2015. Hackett will have a new solo album in early of 2015 with a planned late summer/autumn tour likely in 2015–stay tuned! The Band: Steve Hackett (guitars), Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums), Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick and guitars), Rob Townsend (woodwinds, keyboards and percussion) and Nad Sylvan (vocals and percussion).
Set List: Dance On A Volcano, Squonk, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Fly On A Windshield, Broadway Melody Of 1974, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, The Fountain Of Salmacis, The Musical Box, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), Horizons (acoustic, preceded by an excerpt from Bay Of Kings), Firth Of Fifth, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife, Supper’s Ready Encore: Watcher Of The Skies, Los Endos (including an excerpt of Slogans)
Acoustic section with excerpts of Steve Hackett’s acoustic solo material, plus Horizons from the album Foxtrot.
The opening section of Supper’s Ready.
From the opening section of Supper’s Ready.
More about the color and the mood, rather than getting a perfect focus.
Encore with Watcher of the Skies with Roger King on Mellotron and Nad Sylvan as the Watcher.
Allan Holdsworth Trio – Iron Horse Music Hall – Sept 17, 2014
Information on the Allan Holdsworth Trio Tour: http://www.therealallanholdsworth.com/allanlive.htm
What a treat to see Allan Holdsworth, Gary Husband and Jimmy Haslip last night at the Iron Horse Music Hall (I used to know it as the Iron Horse Cafe) in Northampton, MA. The lighting could’ve been better (so the photos aren’t great), but the food was pretty darned good (as was the company and others in the crowd). This was the first gig of the trio and there were some kinks with equipment (and some timing), but all three were in fine form and probably the most energetic I’ve ever seen Allan Holdsworth on stage during his solos especially. The trio worked well together and all took solos throughout the nearly 90 minute set. Jimmy Haslip scatted along with a couple of his solos and Gary Husband was explosive at times–really a treat to watch him play again (it’s been a long time!). Great humor and chemistry between the band and the crowd. The opening trio (Beledo and Friends) was a nice complement to the music of the night and members are from Uruguay, Ireland…and BROOKLYN!!). Gary Husband spent a great deal of time hiding behind the ride cymbal from where we were sitting, but he was pretty much a blur all night anyway!
I recognized most of the set from albums like The Sixteen Men of Tain, IOU, Sand, All Night Wrong and it’s always a treat to hear Zone, Water on the Brain, Lanyard Loop, Fred and one of my (more ambient) favorites Above & Below. In the middle of the set there was a piece that I didn’t recognize and it was rather free form with three equal solos.
Thanks for a great night, and by all means–get tickets to see this trio!
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
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
Artist Information http://www.mergerecords.com/hiss-golden-messenger Samples: http://www.mergerecords.com/songmgr/radio.php?album=60195&song=61865
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.
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String
Sleeping Man Records SMR005 – CD Time: 70:16
Also available on vinyl from Unwork Inc. or cassette from Beacon Sound
1) This Is The Kiss 2) Once Upon* 3) Song, Woman & Wine 4) Agoa 5) Like A Clock 6) Jonah 7) Get Together 8) The Dance* 9) The Big Lie* 10) Fifth 11) Technology 12) Noon 13) Nunca Jamás 14) Harmonics 15) Two Trains 16) Climbing 17) Amber Sky*
* – Not previously available as a studio recording
These are live recordings from a 2012 tour in support of Dickson’s album Quite A Way Away (and includes songs from his Collected Recordings CD, resissued by 12k) with concerts in Reims, Istanbul, including an apartment lobby in Caen, France. I reviewed Quite A Way Away in early 2012.
From the moment this album begins, it’s magic.
The deeply resonant chords, the natural reverberation, the open tunings and Gareth Dickson’s hushed voice all combine to create a captivating and magnetic sonorous atmosphere. Whether it’s gentle incantations, trance inducing vocal meditations or arpeggios this album is exquisitely gentle, yet curiously riveting and at times hypnotic.
There isn’t much more that I can say except buy it, and see if you can find the source of the album’s title.
Silmus – Shelter
Volkoren 58 – Time: 39:46 Format: CD, also available as a limited edition of 35 copies (see Bandcamp link), recorded in the northern Netherlands
Website: http://www.silmus.com/ Record Label: http://volkoren.com/
Available at: http://silmus.bandcamp.com/
1) Deeply Beloved 2) Remembrance 3) Set In Stone 4) You Are Tenderness 5) Leaving Darkness 6) Shelter 7) You Have The Words And I Listen 8) Bare 9) Sadness Covers Me 10) Follow Me
The word shelter has different connotations, and I recall an assignment in my early design studio days exploring that word in terms of space, light and structure. I think the new Silmus album is perhaps less about spaces or places, rather being more about people and seeking or finding the comfort and shelter of a person, friends or within a family. It’s the soft comforting embrace of a loved one—the holding on or the letting go, the giving or receiving shelter in or from a given situation.
Dutch musician Gert Boersma (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, ukelele, samples) returns along with producer Minco Eggersman (electric guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, effects), Jan Borger (piano and bass) and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals). In his debut album Ostara that I reviewed last year, Boersma explored the delight and wonderment of the cycle of life and parenthood.
Shelter is presented within a soothing yet relatively controlled dynamic range and shorter form instrumentals are more dominant on this album compared to Boersma’s last. There are moments when rhythms appear and a direction is established (as in the initially stark then hopeful Leaving Darkness or the firm acoustic presence of Remembrance). At other times the music peregrinates for a time and suddenly expands into a broad sound-scape (as in the stark moodiness of Bare, punctuated with electric guitar that emerges from the cover of an acoustic steel guitar). Some pieces are like brief visions of a mood or an experience, but others are self-contained and complete. Each track has a foundation, whether it starts with acoustic or electric guitar or piano, and gradually layers and responses are built to establish the atmosphere. It does seem that the album, taken in its entirety, represents a full cycle of feelings or reactions to a particular set of circumstances.
The CD opens with the meditation Deeply Beloved with repeated phrasings offering a gentle mantra of stability. Set In Stone has a clear voice of electric guitar, which is ever so gently treated with a phased chorus effect. You Are Tenderness opens with restrained orchestral strings and then a gently voiced piano, which is enhanced with light electric guitar.
The title track Shelter expresses the intent of its title—it starts delicately then the melody and harmonies are held firmly and uplifted within a secure bass line. In You Have The Words And I Listen the piano is treated as a voice. An enmeshed drone opens until the voice appears, then a conversation begins. The voice remains steadfast throughout the responses and delivers a message. A reflective piano opens Sadness Covers Me and is later coupled with a softly bowed electric guitar. The album closes with the steady hopefulness of Follow Me.
For those seeking a point of reference, I place this album within the gentler versions of Robin Guthrie’s solo work or perhaps the more contemplative instrumentals by Cocteau Twins. There is indeed a sense of warmth and comfort in this album, and it’s a pleasant place to be.
This is a solicited review.
Spring At Last! What’s Spinning at Studio wajobu
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.
Hallock Hill – Kosloff Mansion
Hundred Acre Recordings HA06: 12” LP (copy 18/40 signed, 200 total LPs & digital download)
Label: http://www.hundredacrerecordings.com/ Arrangement and production by Tim Noble
Hallock Hill Website: http://hallockhill.com/
Tracks: Side A: 1) I Light The Lamp And Sit Down, 2) The Good Dead, 3) The People Without Tears, 4) Death Was A Bird, 5) Villages Of The Black Earth, 6) A Secret It Remains, 7) Another Light; Side B: 1) Workbench Atheist, 2) Demons In The Birchwood, 3) Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, 4) The Immortalisation Commission, 5) We Looked For You For 52 Years, 6) Massed Bands And Megaphones
Ask a person cold about a particular moment in time and the recall on specifics might not be immediate or complete, but drop a needle on an LP or press play on a CD and the instant the music starts (even if it has been unheard for 30+ years) that same person’s recollection of a memory could be lucid, with the place, time and circumstances remembered in vivid detail. Music is often a key that unlocks chambers in a memory palace. While not necessarily as far back as 30 years, there are moments while listening to Kosloff Mansion that visions of the past coalesce and the aura of the album further enhances that experience. Perhaps Tom Lecky had different intentions from my own experience for the inspiration of his fourth album, but that’s the power of music when combined with synapses, dendrites, proteins and whatever…
I often associate the works of HH’s with layered compositions for acoustic and electric guitar (as in the albums The Union or A Hem of Evening), but this LP is mostly rooted in solo piano with production and treatments by collaborator Tim Noble (of The Lowland Hundred). It’s hard to know where Noble’s contributions specifically appear, but I think of Lecky’s work as being mostly austere, without apparent structure at times, although intricately layered (some juxtapositions being left to chance). I was fortunate to have ordered this LP early enough to obtain a copy signed by Lecky and Noble, along with a hand written short poem by TL.
Kosloff Mansion starts gently, like the rising Sun with beams of light reaching into the morning, or rather, a candle’s flame penetrating the darkness. It could be an unhurried day or evening in a cabin in the woods, just sitting contemplating nothing (or everything) and listening without distraction—the types of moments of which we need more. Briefly, a storm interrupts in The Good Dead and this triggers the vision of a very late night deep in the Adirondacks (of New York) with lightning and thunder that a (then) very young son wanted to end, but I wanted (privately) to continue, to hear the storm echoing through the mountains. With assurances that the storm was increasingly distant, there was comfort enough for the younger to sleep and so the elder could continue listening and pondering that particular night before a loon emerged and greeted the dawn.
Instrumentation sometimes changes from solo piano to bells, or perhaps it’s a celeste, but they fit while shifting with the breezes, moonlight and stars reflecting in the lake of the vision. A Secret It Remains blends liquid and tones before landing in the austerity of Another Light with only hints of ominous strings rolling in on an imaginary tide of a lurking then emerging spirit…before fading.
Workbench Atheist seems to be more of the morning; soft music with a light rain or is it the creaking of an ancient wood floor? Demons In The Birchwood is a darker, but livelier spirit and the celeste returns with a deeper Leslie-esque treatment, before merging into a wraith-like Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, which at times is unsettling yet ironically at peace. A reverie is freed to peregrinate in The Immortalisation Commission and it builds to a crescendo and then gently disperses. There is a firm perseverance in We Looked For You For 52 Years, a feeling of reverence is also present. Massed Bands And Megaphones punctuates Kosloff Mansion with a blend of a celebratory whimsy and sounds reminiscent of fireworks echoing in the distance.
At times Kosloff Mansion is mysterious, yet halcyon moments come forth and while different in sound and instrumentation from his previous works, it’s very much rooted in what I have come to appreciate in Lecky’s work—a really brilliant and different kind of music experience.
Added bonus! Hallock Hill live on WFMU, along with Tim Noble (HH segment starts at about 30:00, but enjoy the entire show!): http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/55533
Nick Magnus – n’monix
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
Nick Magnus – Website: http://www.magnus-music.com/ Discography: http://www.magnus-music.com/discography.htm Solo Albums: http://www.magnus-music.com/solo_albums.htm
Record Label: http://www.esotericrecordings.com/antenna.html & http://www.cherryred.co.uk/
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.
Orbit Over Luna – Transit
Label: http://polarseasrecordings.com/ Artist: http://orbitoverluna.com/
Available at: http://polarseasrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/transit
Polar Seas Recordings PSR-007: CD-R Limited to 50 (Time: 64:02) with hand stamped numbered envelope, 8 page booklet and unique numbered art card by Shannon Penner. Review copy is 35/50. Album is also available as a digital download, but the first seven tracks only.
Tracks: 1) The Breathing of Roots, 2) Saturnine, 3) Chambers of the Sea, 4) Sungazing, 5) Ylla, 6) Un Jardin Des Cieux, 7) In The Decay of Shadows, Bonus CD tracks: 8) Equinox, 9) In The Decay of Shadows (Piano)
It’s all a matter of relative perception…a transit at sea, in the sky or on land and the paradox of experiencing the direct speed of travel from within or observing from afar a celestial body in space, a vehicle on land or a jet in the sky moving very slowly, when in reality in it could be traveling hundreds or even thousand of miles per hour. Time can seem to stand still…
Shannon Penner is Orbit Over Luna and he is an animator, sound designer, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada. His work draws from many influences and instrumentation in his work varies, but it’s primarily guitar-based (often with ample reverb) with select moments of piano.
Penner’s album Transit is both about being in the moment and observing from afar while experiencing the sense of movement on land, at sea or in air (or perhaps even floating in space). The album is quite serene and comforting, but it holds one’s attention weaving through a variety of sonic territories. I compare the album (as much as I like the competitive side of sailing) to spending a delightful afternoon on a sailboat in the warm sunshine with gentle breezes and my hand occasionally creating a gentle wake in the water.
The Breathing of Roots announces what follows almost like a distant fog horn at dawn, to gently nudge one’s attention that it’s time for a journey. Saturnine seems a bit of a misnomer, because rather than being gloomy, it’s a slow drift on that boat (and not in the doldrums) allowing the distractions of the world to dissolve and to focus instead on the gentle and calming movement…a languid afternoon on the water.
I’ve read Shannon Penner’s oeuvre being compared to a number of different musicians, but the closest for me is the work of Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and in particular his trilogy of recent EPs entitled Angel Falls, Songs To Help My Children Sleep and Sunflower Stories. Penner’s work, however, is not as rhythmic or melodic when compared to Guthrie’s; instead it focuses more on atmospheric imagery. Throughout the album there are occasional broad wave motions that yield gossamers of a tangible melody, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. In The Decay of Shadows, which follows the transit of the Sun in the sky, has a minimal and complementary piano melody to the guitar chords that emerges and disappears gently like shadows created from clouds passing across the sky until the Sun sets below the horizon (one of the bonus pieces is the isolated piano track).
Sungazing has moments of distorted guitar as if shielding one’s eyes from the Sun’s glare and as a more comfortable view emerges the sound clarifies and the panorama of the landscape comes into focus. Ylla is a celestial passage and it makes me wonder if it’s a nod to one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles of the same name. And the farthest and most ethereal transit of all is in Un Jardin Des Cieux (The Garden of Heaven). In The Decay of Shadows is the postlude to the album, but there are two bonus tracks on the CD, the first is Equinox, the two points in our year on Earth where we travel about the Sun and where day equals night, before summer or winter, as we pass through time…and the older we are the shorter our relative perception of time becomes.
Enjoy the ride!
twincities – variations for the celesta
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.[vimeo http://vimeo.com/86956807]
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
Steve Hackett Band – Scottish Rite Auditorium
We were fortunate to be in the audience for both the afternoon soundcheck and evening’s concert on Friday night March 28, 2014 in Collingswood, New Jersey. We had seats at the head of the mezzanine and also had a chance to see sound engineer Ben Fenner and lighting engineer “Tigger” perform their magic–they’re on their toes the entire evening! I have a photo of the set list, but I won’t give it away entirely, but rest assured that there are minor changes each evening according to those who attended the Thursday show. The added songs last night included: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife (from the Ant Phillips days!) and many other favorites from the early to mid 1970s. The Scottish Rite Auditorium is part of Masonic arts complex and in the interior of the building has an eery Moorish feel to it, so the music was appropriate, if not haunting at times.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this “Genesis Extended” Tour, do so before the ship sails (as in The Cruise To The Edge) and then the band is off for a European tour. More information here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Thank you, as always to the Band (Steve Hackett, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan and Nick Beggs) as well as their fabulous crew, tour manager and Jo Hackett.
Last night’s encore opened with Watcher of the Skies, always a favorite of mine!
All Photos are copyright 2014 by wajobu, please do not use without permission and credit–thank you.
ILLUHA – Akari
Label: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/akari/ CD 12K1080 Time: 58:54
Artist Website: http://illuha.com/
1) Diagrams Of The Physical Interpretation of Resonance 2) Vertical Staves Of Line Drawings And Pointillism 3) The Relationship Of Gravity To The Persistence Of Sound 4) Structures Based On The Plasticity Of Sphere Surface Tension 5) Requiem For Relative Hyperbolas Of Amplified And Decaying Waveforms
ILLUHA’s new album is a more introspective progression from their previous works, some of which have been recorded in large spaces with vast natural reverberation (like their last studio album Shizuku – 12K1067). Akari is like the successively magnified views in Charles and Ray Eames’s film The Power of Ten, while still being in the dome of the sky, the experience of the sound moves inward, and despite being ever closer to the point of focus a vastness of even more detail is revealed. The album has a comforting intimacy, and from the first quite unexpected (to me!) muted acoustic guitar harmonics there is also a deeply tactile quality. The instrumentation on the album is diverse, but it never distracts; each sound or ensemble has the space it requires and it tangibly enhances the experience.
The recording is profoundly crystalline and as one meanders through the scenes there are moments of illumination to be discovered…finding light in the darkness where color and detail are exposed. The broader ambient sounds that open many of the tracks are subtle (like The Relationship of Gravity…) forming a backdrop for the journeys that Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date lead us through.
I think the quality of sound-light in some of the passages of Akari is like the photo below that I took on a walk, early in the Fall of 2012.
Find a comfortable place to rest and get lost in this.
One of my favorite ILLUHA pieces is a live recording from their CD Interstices (see the excerpt of Interstices III below, CD also available from 12k).
Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal at Infinity Hall
In the past few months I’ve heard and seen a number of interviews with Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in support of Rosanne’s latest album The River & The Thread (produced and arranged by John). In particular, check out her interview from the CBS Sunday Morning program—it’s a great piece about the roots of most of her music, but also the inspiration for the songs on River, and how blues legend Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement, Rosanne’s parents (Johnny Cash’s childhood home and her own first home) and a bridge all mixed together to form a thread that makes up her story.
I can’t say that I have all of her back catalog of albums, but I have many of them. Rosanne noted (with her dry wit) last night, “…this is a song from back when I had hits…” and in describing the journey that led to the latest album (paraphrasing) “…you spend a great deal of time wandering around in your 20s figuring out who you aren’t so you can figure out who you are when you’re…older…”
John Leventhal is an extraordinary musician and arranger, and the two of them have the same chemistry on stage as they do on River. At one point Rosanne noted (after a guitar solo by John, with heavy country and blues roots…again paraphrasing), “…hard to believe that this guy is a native New Yorker…” John treats his guitar like it’s a full band. It was also really nice that John played soft lead-in vamps on many tunes as Rosanne recounted stories related to the development of the album.
Most of last night’s show was taken from River, her previous albums The List, Black Cadillac, King’s Record Shop, and Seven Year Ache…I haven’t yet compiled the full set list (but see the photo below). One of the highlights (in addition to TWO power failures during the show…it was sleeting outside) was a perfect (even with power interruption) cover of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, which has a strong connection to The River & The Thread (the Tallahatchie Bridge is on the cover of the album).
Their encore last night included taking some requests from the audience (including a verse from Runaway Train) along with a gorgeous version of 500 Miles from The List. John’s one trip to the piano with an arrangement that had elements of gospel and the light touch of Count Basie—brilliant; even better, it’s a song that one of my cousins used to sing to us younger cousins in the 1960s. It was a special moment, and a lovely evening of music. Thanks to Rosanne and John, and all at the Infinity Hall (in snowy Norfolk, CT).
All images are by wajobu and copyright 2014. Please contact me if you’d like higher resolution images and all I ask is that you credit me if you use an image.
Ed Cherry Trio at The Sidedoor Jazz Club
A chance to listen to some great music locally, and thanks to a recent Facebook post by guitarist John Scofield (photo with Ed Cherry at JFK Airport) that was the nudge I needed to see what The Sidedoor Jazz Club (located in Old Lyme, Connecticut) is all about*. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, New Yorker Ed Cherry (among his many music associations) is known for his decade long work with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. I think Cherry’s sound is somewhat like Grant Green with a playing style akin to Wes Montgomery.
The two sets by the trio of Ed Cherry – guitar, Chris Beck – drums and Matt Bianchi – organ included works by Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter, George and Ira Gershwin (Summertime), Duke Ellington, Duke Pearson and others, including a gorgeous interpretation of the Heyman/Sour/Eyton/Green standard Body and Soul (one of the best known versions is the 1939 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins).
The trio played a number of selections from Cherry’s latest album It’s All Good including Edda and Cristo Redentor.
The music varied from spirited to soulful, and blues to smooth and with the warmth of (here’s hoping!) an early Spring sunny day. There was a great chemistry between Cherry, Bianchi and Beck whether it was a nod to take a solo, a swell from the organ or syncopated fill on the drums. At a few points the microphone was close enough to Cherry to hear brief moments of humming like Oscar Peterson, echoing his guitar melody and phrasing. It was a very enjoyable evening of great music.
Ed Cherry’s Website: http://edcherrymusic.com/
Record label for It’s All Good: http://www.posi-tone.com/itsallgood/itsallgood.html
Ed Cherry’s Selected discography: Solo: It’s All Good (2012), The Spirits Speak (2001) , A Second Look (1997), First take (1996). With: Hamiett Bluiett – With Eyes Wide Open, Mark Weinstein – Three Deuces, Paquito D’Rivera – Havana Cafe, Dizzy Gillespie – Live in Montreaux 1980, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Royal Festival Hall, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Blues Alley, Jon Faddis – Hornucopia, Henry Threadgill – Makin’…A Move, Jared Gold – Supersonic
Here’s a late 2012 WGBO recording of Duke Pearson’s Cristo Redentor by the same trio that played last night:
* – The Sidedoor Jazz Club is part of the Old Lyme Inn (http://thesidedoorjazz.com/) and is laid out a bit like a smaller and narrower version of The Blue Note Jazz Club (in Greenwich Village). The acoustics and sound system are quite good, most of the seating is clustered a bit like a dumbbell (seats near the bar at the far end of the space and near the entry with minimal seating in the middle in front of the performers). If seeing the musicians with a clear stage-front view is important to you, it’s best to get there early for good seats (there can occasionally be a large party of dinner guests with reserved seats ahead of you), but the space is intimate enough that seeing the artists and hearing the music is generally good no matter where your seat is. I appreciate that the house PA system is kept at a very tasteful volume level—easy on the ears. Desserts and cocktails are served and are reasonably priced.
Review: Benoît Pioulard – Hymnal Remixes
450 CD copies, first 15 copies signed by BP, also digital (to be released January 21, 2014)
Remix label: http://losttribesound.com
Available at: http://losttribesound.bandcamp.com/album/hymnal-remixes
Artist website: http://pioulard.com Original recording label: http://kranky.net
CD 1 Remixes – 44:51: 1. Mercy (Fieldhead), 2. Margin (William Ryan Fritch), 3. Excave (Squanto), 4. Litiya (The Green Kingdom), 5. Homily (Cock and Swan), 6. Florid (Brambles), 7. Censer (Field Rotation), 8. Reliquary (Part Timer), 9. Margin (Zachary Gray), 10. Foxtail (Graveyard Tapes)
CD 2 Remixes – 53:29: 1. Hawkeye (The Remote Viewer), 2. Censer (Segue), 3. Knell (Widesky), 4. Florid (Loscil), 5. Foxtail (Radere), 6. Gospel (James Murray), 7. Reliquary (Benoît Honoré Pioulard), 8. Margin (Ruhe), 9. Gospel (Window Magic)
I want to note that sound quality and production are very important to me, almost as important as the music itself. So, given that statement, please read this review carefully. Comments seen as criticisms are not of the music or the writing, but largely on the choice of production methods and sound quality. I think very highly of the music penned and played by Tom Meluch (in his guise as Benoît Pioulard). With that in mind, please read on.
Hymnal – The Original
I’ve enjoyed Benoît Pioulard’s previous kranky releases as well as the more experimental vinyl EP Plays Thelma on Desire Path Recordings, so coupled with the early press accounts of Hymnal I was hopeful that it would be a great album…
I feel that there are many exceptional songs on Hymnal (Hawkeye, Reliquary, Excave, and especially Margin, and Litiya) along with some comforting drones (like Censer), but in general I feel there is a lack of presence in the recordings—they sound flat, out-of-phase and firmly entrenched in a claustrophobic mid-range (nothing at all like the sumptuous reverb of the intended muse “religious architecture”). Pioulard’s songs on this particular album are lost in a limiting boxy haze.
I’m a big fan of lo and mid-fi recordings and some musicians do it so well; East River Pipe (FM Cornog), more recently Will Samson and especially (one of my favorite albums of 2013) Bryan Ferry’s The Jazz Age (recorded in monaural with Jazz-era microphones). Granted, some artists and writers create works within strict limits and can be quite successful (shades of a single color, certain textures or excluding a specific vowel in a written work), but with all the praise I take a contrarian view on the technical execution of Hymnal. The quality and depth of recordings matter to me, unless there is a stated goal for why sound must be altered so dramatically.
I learned recently of Benoît Pioulard’s other off-label work, such as his 2011 digital EP Lyon (and in support of how I think Meluch writes some great songs). Have a listen to the gorgeous and unadorned song Tie:
It has some of the qualities of recordings by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch (think The Black Swan). I’m certainly not advocating that Pioulard chooses between one recording approach or another, I’m suggesting perhaps a sound somewhere in the middle, with the vocals higher in the mix and a fuller sound.
Hymnal – The Remixes
Original songs can find new life in covers or remixes. So, when Lost Tribe Sound announced this collection of Hymnal reinterpretations (by artists such as Loscil, Cock & Swan, Brambles, The Green Kingdom and William Ryan Fritch) I thought that some of the depth that I felt was missing in the original might be introduced or restored.
This is a really interesting collection, and the recordings in most cases have the clarity and sonic diversity that I had hoped for in the original album.
The two CDs are split loosely into two categories: 1) rhythmic with vocals and 2) more on the ambient side, largely instrumental. After a couple of listens I was quite surprised that I found myself leaning more towards the feel and sound of the more actively engaging CD 1.
As with the original album Mercy (I’ll call it track 1.1) opens the collection and it’s a bit of an assault on the ears (the original being a full-on harmonium before the vocals enter), but in the remix version the harmonium is tamed and a slow march beat is overlaid. The sound is far more spacious, as if entering a cathedral. William Ryan Fritch’s remix of Margin (1.2) is an almost frenetic orchestration compared to the original and Zachary Gray’s version (1.9), which starts off quite stark with lone guitar and vocal and gradually the instrumentation and soundstage expands—I think both are quite successful, and in Gray’s version the vocals are clear as the song develops (makes me wonder all the more why Meluch chose to shroud such a great song). Squanto’s remix of Excave (1.3) is a series of repeated fragments made into a rhythm and sounding very much like some of Peter Gabriel’s mid-career work.
The Green Kingdom’s and Cock & Swan’s remixes of Litiya (1.4) and Homily (1.5) are quite enchanting. The sound of Litya softer, fuller and more comforting than the original—the soft electric guitar and cello overlays give the track such an easy feel, and Pioulard’s largely untreated vocals weave right in, so well. I have to admit that Homily is one of my least favorite tracks on the original album and Cock & Swan have woven their unusual magic, making it an ethereal journey (supplemented with Ola Hungerford’s vocals) while maintaining some of the original grit, and I assume that the crisp nylon guitar overlay is Johnny Goss’s. Brambles transformed Florid (1.6) into a (quite unexpected) “chill dance” piece—it has a languid vibe. Field Rotation put Censer (1.7) into a time machine and it emerged from an old modular Moog during Tangerine Dream’s Stratosphere era. The original version of Reliquary is furtive and mysterious, and Part Timer (1.8) stretched this concept further with his stark (and at time minimally orchestrated) interpretation.
The Remote Viewer’s version of Hawkeye opens CD2 (2.1) and its origins are deftly shrouded, and at first I didn’t care for it much, but it has grown on me—it’s delicately fragmented with some quirky treatments (very Boats-y!) and at times it sounds like Mark Isham’s early experiments from back in his Windham Hill label days (yes folks, I’m that old). My two favorite tracks on CD2 are Segue’s version of Censer (2.2) and Loscil’s (at times, visceral) remake of Florid (2.4). Curiously, Censer is given a gentle heartbeat, which despite the motion has a rather soothing effect to it. The remix of Florid somewhat belies its connotation, elaborate in its sonic depth, but not ornate.
Widesky’s Knell is an expansive fragmentation of the cathedral bells of the original and then all is absorbed into a rather compressed package of the experience (kind of like a snow-globe)—it’s a bit edgy for my ears. Sorry, but Radere’s version of Foxtail (2.5) just didn’t work for me—too strident. James Murray’s Gospel (2.6) meanders and bends with a broad color palette and is a contrast to Window Magic’s version (2.9) that is narrower, more primary shaded.
Pioulard’s remix of his own track Reliquary (2.7) shrouds the original even further; the furtive character is diminished—a curious approach. Ruhe’s version of Margin (2.8) is an almost unrecognizable adaptation of the original with only the slightest of rhythmic and vocal fragments remaining—in kind of a trance beat.
Sometimes sequels or remakes are better than the original, and that’s how I feel in this case on the production side of things. Despite my comments on the source material, I urge listeners to purchase a copy of Hymnal and judge for yourselves—some might disagree completely with my assessment on the sound quality. I’ll continue to look forward to Benoît Pioulard’s future recordings.
This is a solicited review.