Archive | April 2013

“Horrorscension” by Behold…The Arctopus

Monstah! Monstah! Boogie Woogie Woogie!

Behold the…what? Arctopus?! What the fuck is an “arctopus”? Nothing, thank you very much. Which is something may detractors of this rather strangely named math-metal band have said about their music.

I first discovered them on YouTube in a guitar workshop video entitled “Worst Band Ever.” It was a huge hit with my friends: two dudes, one on guitar and another on a WARR guitar played some of the most dissonant sounding “shred” music we’d ever heard in our lives. Every time the guitarist flew up the fret board for another Satriani wannabe moments, we’d tear up and laugh.

Naturally, being the inquisitive person that I am, I looked up their music a bit more. I watched a video on YouTube with a drummer: the drummer gave it a sense of structure that was missing in the previous video. The distortion on the guitar was thicker and it gave it a more menacing, alive edge.

Even more curious, I do some more research and find out that the band isn’t mindlessly jamming: instead, they actually compose their music (that is, write it down with pen and paper) far in advance and carefully arrange everything. There is actually NO sense of improvisation in their music once you give it a further listen. And (thank God) there are no vocals as I generally hate metal vocals.

So, while I was living in Detroit, I ended up picking up their two albums at the time “Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning” (a collection of two EP’s and live material) and “full length” (as in half an hour) debut “Skullgrid.” The art was awful: horror, metal-skull nonsense that made me semi-embarassed to own the albums.

As for the music on the albums…well, it’s of a piece. That is to say, Behold the Arctopus (hereafter known as either Behold or BTA) have a signature sound that infects each and every one of their songs: complex instrumental interplay that constantly shifts and rarely, if ever settles on a single riff; wild solos that sound like a free jazz genius forgetting all theory and letting his hair down; strangely melodic Warr-bass sections that show off some real composing skills; bash, crash, smash diddle diddle, wank wank zaweee woo!

“Nano-Nucleonic Whatever” was probably their best release for me as it had something approaching song structures, riffs and melodies. “Skullgrid” took the complexity to whole new levels and had moments of musicality but had more moments of seemingly pure chaos.

And then the drummer quit. So, after several years they found a new drummer and released a new album “Horrorscension” in 2012.

I know I’m not mentioning band member names (Mike Lerner on guitar, Colin Marston on Warr guitar and new comer “Weasel” Walter on drums) and this may seem an oversight but this is purposefully: this music is (for good and bad) the most personality free music I’ve ever heard.

That is to say, there is plenty of personality in the music (I’ve never heard anything that sounds like this but I’m sure it exists): it’s an exact mixture of modern classical, free jazz sounds and metal that either inspires instant fan hood or instant derision.

In spite of that, the band members themselves don’t really have any personality. Apparently, all members compose (Marston and Walter composing the ahem SONGS while Lerner composes his guitar solos and guitar parts) but I couldn’t tell you what a Colin Marston song sounds like as opposed to a Weasel Walter song. And Lerner’s guitar parts don’t betray a lot of his personality and sound nearly like a robot could have composed them.

Which is what makes this band (and this album) stand out to me: this could be robots simply playing composed music that their composition software tells them is “complex” and “hard core” though how a computer would measure “hard core” is beyond me.

“Horrorscension” continues the trend set by “Skullgrid” in that the music is more complex than before to a point of absolute absurdity. Some fans have complained that Walter is an inferior drummer to whoever their first drummer was (please don’t ask me to name names) but I don’t hear any huge difference: it’s all “bash bash bash” with cymbals being used and abused into oblivion.

The songs are even less “songs” than before: opening “Disintegore” sounds like a pure blast of complete improvisational fireworks that sets no mood, creates no tension and which gives even the toughest listener a headache.

Perhaps that’s the point of the song. If so, good job.

However, the band does have a few moments of actual musicality and interest. “Monolithic Destractions” (btw, these song titles are ridiculous and not misspelled, but obviously done tongue-in-cheek which makes me like the band a bit more) has an interesting repeated “stop and start” section that gives the manic playing some semblance of structure.

There are other moments that stand out but less so than even on “Skullgrid” which had moments that honestly sounded near genius level: this album sounds more like a band constantly spazzing out and while that does have some appeal to me, it’s much less than the more structured abandon of previous albums.

The last two pieces on the album (another short one at 30 minutes) actually take up just over a third of the album and are the best parts of the album. “Putrefucktion” (yuck) was apparently written by my mom, according to the liner notes (I doubt that) but is a very tight and very fast unison piece that sees the band playing a short burst of variations on a riff. Nothing special but it sounds planned and controlled as opposed to completely chaotic.

And the last song, the 10 minute “Annihilvore” (I really hate typing such stupid words) is easily the best song on the album with actually musical sounding riffs that maintain within the BTA style of instrumental spazzing while moving through several different sections logically and building to an actual climax in a relatively normal way.

Final verdict? While the “complete chaos” of most of the album is relatively interesting (when compared to more cookie cutter music in this style) it’s simply a bit too much for these ears and for most people in general. I actually feel that the album is simply less well written when compared to past albums and that the band’s sound and style simply got the better of them this time around.

Hopefully, the band will move in the direction suggested by “Annihilvore” and streamline JUST A LITTLE. Doubtful, as the band is no commercial prospect and is an “underground” group. Much more likely is that future work will just sit in the “chaosphere” (to quote Messhuggah) until nobody cares any more.

Songs to YouTube:

“Monolithic Destractions” to give you a bit of a feel for the “chaotic” nature of the album combined with a bit more structure than is typical for the album.

“Putrefucktion” for the mind boggling speed and tightness of the playing and for its relatively short nature.

“Annihilvore” for a taste of what the band could do if they stopped fucking around and composed a bit more tightly. Just a BIT: past albums show they have it in them.

Advertisements

“Litanies of Satan” by Diamanda Galas

Booogie oogie oogie!

 

Now, to break up the monotony of reviews on either a) classic 60’s pop bands or b) classic 80’s-00’s era pop bands I will review one of the most avant guard performers to ever get a deal with a reasonably big record label and who pushed the boundaries with her vocal and instrumental intensity.

I am, of course, taking about Amy Grant.

Wait! No. I’m talking about Diamanda Galas. Does the name not ring a bell? That’s okay: her peak period was in the early 80’s to about the mid 90’s and she never hit any sort of commercial success.

That isn’t so say that she wasn’t infamous: former drug addict, prostitute, classically trained pianist who wrote album length mourning pieces to AIDS victims, the insane, beaten down women, marginalized prisoners and more she was also arrested for blasphemy for performing “The Plague Mass” nude from the waist up, shrieking “Sono L’Antichristo!” and being bathed in sheep’s blood in a CHURCH.

However shocking Galas may have been (she once remarked she wanted to “rape Snoop Dogg” in an interview and wrote a (playful and light hearted) song about women ganging up to kill a rapist male) she has always stood out amongst the crowd for her sense of righteous MORALITY not immorality. She cavorts, shrieks and shocks to bludgeon her audience with a stunning sense of right and wrong and of the amorality of the treatment of the victimized.

In other words, there’s always a POINT to her work beyond simple noise making. She’s saying something.

I realize I’ve gone 300 words without mentioning her singing voice. Galas was actually forbidden by her parents to study vocal work in college so she would perform her own unique style when she had the chance.

Basically, Galas has something like a four octave vocal range: she goes for the deep, dark spots when singing the kind of heart wrenching blues that make up her numerous cover albums. But she can also shriek (and I mean shriek) in a high, high soprano tone that should send shivers up and down the spine of even the toughest man.

And her vocalization goes beyond simple singing: she babbles, stretches out her vowels, strains her vibrato to the stretching point, gasps, grunts, mumbles and chants all for the sake of expressing the inner torment that lies not only in the heart of all of her work but within heart own heart.

That’s 408 words without mentioning the album, her debut album called “Litanies of Satan.” This album, released in 1982, was released before the moment that helped focus and define her career for decades: the AIDS related death of her brother, renowned playwright Philip-Dimitri Galas in 1986.

Diamanda and her brother were intensely close and influenced each others work and his death (the painful, dementia suffering wasting away that took early AIDS victims) shocked, troubled and appalled her in that nobody seemed interested in helping; millions of people turned their backs, plugged their ears and sang hymns as thousands and millions died agonizing deaths, murmuring under their breaths that perhaps these victims “deserved” their fates for their sexual deviancies (remember, AIDS was primarily thought of as a ‘homosexual’ problem at the time).

Okay, okay fine: that’s all great to know but what about this album? What is IT’S concept? Well, honestly, it’s basically an adaptation of “Litanies of Satan” by Charles Baudelaire, the celebrated decadent poet and semi-satanist. Naturally, he was Galas favorite poet.

This adaption is a 17 minute (not 12 as indicated on the CD reissue which messes up the titles of the TWO tracks on the album) tone-poem that…well, it truly sounds like the Demons of Hell are crawling out to Kill You.

It starts out with muted, looped Diamanda babble-screams that slowly build in intensity, overlaid with other sounds. Incredibly, she did this type of material live (with multiple microphones linked to various effects, leading to the incredible sight of her clutching three microphones and screeching) but one wonders about this particular track.

As it builds in intensity it eventually stops with a percussive “THUD” as a loud, slow, slow percussive beat begins. Galas begins reciting the poem in a mock demonic tone as if she is, indeed Satan Him (or Her) self.

Then she begins chanting a specific passage (I don’t know French) over and over again as deep, deep, bowel moving, pitch shifted voices layer underneath her basic chants as a synthesizer swirls in the background, low, deep and moaning.

Yes, there are variations throughout the track but this is its basic pitch: hellish, twisted, boiling, turning and sounding like a particularly GREAT horror movie soundtrack (as there are times when it locks into a truly scary groove) that mimics the ideas of the power of chants (Galas spends minutes at a time repeating key phrases) the hair raising power of a true, guttural shriek and the seemingly instinctual revulsion at deep, deep bass tones.

It keeps doing this till the end.

The second track, “Wild Women With Steak-Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)” (seriously) couldn’t possibly live up to that as the looking effects are minimal and its mostly just Diamanda screeching out insane lyrics about wanting “steak! Steak steak steak steak steak” and exploring the furthest possible limits of her voice.

So is this worth hearing? I think so but with some serious reservations. If you’re a religious person this may somewhat offend you (but I think you’d have to be pretty fundamentalist for that to occur) or may even truly terrorize you as a truly satanic work.

It may also give you a headache.

But if you’re looking to get into some of the most “out there” music released in the last 40 years, you could hardly go wrong with ANYTHING by Galas. Later albums bring in more music, more composing and even a weird flirtation with “rock” starring John Paul-Jones that got her onto late night television.

However, her basic sound, approach and singing styles are completely realized on this debut. Listen it with the lights off.

Tracks to YouTube:

Honestly, you can find the whole album on YouTube. Give it a listen. You can even find her performing this LIVE though the quality is shoddy at best.

“Live at the Fillmore 1969” by the Move

Stinking Hippies!

The more I listen to the Move, the more I frigging love them. Case in point: I have now given all four of their studio albums a single listen and am currently listening to the second disc of the 2012 live album “Live at the Fillmore 1969” the only document (and only likely document) of a full concert by “The Move” on their only tour of America in 1969.

Nominally, my new review style is supposed to avoid repeating bands too many times but I simply have to comment on this album: it really proves to me the fantastic nature of the band and really makes me lament how overlooked and under valued they are in general.

The story behind this album goes as follows: singer Carl Wayne held onto the tapes of the show for decades hoping that they could be cleaned up as recording technology improved. And they were: the sound isn’t exactly “crystal clear” but it’s clear enough to be enjoyable with a minimum of muddiness or dissonance. The only problem that bothered me was the balance between vocals and instruments: when all the band members start singing in intricate harmony, it tends to overshadow the instruments.

Nevermind that. Let’s go on to the good signs of the album, which are many.

In the studio up to this point (1969, before the simultaneously heavier and more intricate days of the Jeff Lynne era) the Move had been more…delicate in the studio. They had only released one album, 1968’s “The Move” which was a masterpiece of pop songwriting, diverse arrangement ideas and bizarre lyrical ideas.

It also showcased a tight band that had mastered a solid interplay of rhythm guitar, lead, bass, drums, lead vocals mixed with four and five part harmonies. It was the only album to feature original rhythm guitarist Trevor Burton and bass player “Ace” something or other who suffered from a bad acid trip that caused an early departure that switched Burton to bass.

By the time the band travelled to America, Burton had departed to be replaced by Rick Price, who stayed with the band for two more years. Burton departed due to the “softness” of the singles that he felt betrayed the band’s hard rocking roots.

One wonders how Burton would have felt hearing the band performances on this album? The set starts with the riff heavy “Open My Eyes” by The Nazz and the band fully adapts to the purpose, stretching it out to nearly seven minutes with wild Wood guitar (who knew the guy was a super star?) and wild, wild drum bashing by Bevan (nearly Moon level, which makes me feel the man is severely under rated as a drummer) with solid bass from Price and Wayne…

I feel like Wayne is the big discovery listening to this album. Wayne always had a great voice but always seemed more set to “croon” (as he pushed the band to the lucrative cabaret circuit) but he really roars on the album in a way I wouldn’t have expected from him.

He really reminds me of Rod Evans from the first period of Deep Purple: a rather smooth, yet powerful voice that fits in well with the general style of the band. It may not be the “Gillian-esque” or “Dio-style” scream that has set the style for heavy metal vocalization but its no less powerful for its intricacies, subtlety and power.

Another huge discovery is hearing Wood unleash on guitar: it’s no shock that this band was as big as they were on the touring circuit. Wood is a minor master on guitar, more in the vein of “Hendrix” or garage rock superstars as opposed to the flash of Ritchie Blackmore and his tone is satisfyingly thick, his leads and solos solid (and integrating direct classical approaches from time to time) and leads the band through song-after-song with an amazing fluency and grace while maintaining a steady, hard rocking groove.

Fivesongs from the 1970’s “Shazaam” are highlighted here: “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “The Last Thing On My Mind,” epic length Ars Nova cover “Fields of People,” reworked Wood classic “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and new Wood original “Hello Susie.”

Three tracks go over 10 minutes and two stretch to 14 minutes and 17 minutes. A highlight for this reviewer is closing “Under the Ice” one of The Nazz’s hardest rocking, tightest written tunes stretched to a bizarre 14 minutes.

“Fields of People” remains a classic as its a tightly written psychedelic classic extended with wild Wood ideas (including bizarre, near sitar style sounds from a “banjo-tar”) and bashing drums from Bevan that at times remind me of a less bass heavy Who…which is a huge, huge compliment from me.

The set is closed out with a further three songs from a second night at the Fillmore, repeats of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” “Cherry Blossom Clinic” and “The Last Thing On My Mind.” They’re good but don’t differ incredibly from the previous night’s versions. It’s still good to have them though.

Closing out the set is a great 10 minute interview from the intelligent and insightful Bev Bevan, reflecting on the tour with a humorous and self deprecating style that holds the attention all the way through.

I can’t recommend this enough to fans of hard hitting, yet ambitious, well played and tastefully arranged raw guitar rock. There are other drawbacks: the song set isn’t ideal for fans of “The Move”’s earlier, gentler singles and was in fact designed as a way to impress west coast audience; the endless jamming, while entertaining, can become a bit wearing after awhile if one isn’t ready for it; it’s not representative of the first line-up of the band which is said to have burned even tighter and brighter.

However, it’s highly unlikely that very many other shows were recorded by “The Move” (especially the first lineup which wasn’t around long) and in the absence of any other live album (not to discount the EP “Something Else by the Move”) this may be the only live set we ever get by the band.

Thank God it’s great! Get it.

Songs to YouTube:

Both Nazz Covers are phenomenal and blow poor Todd outta the water.

“Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” was always one of Wood’s best tunes and the rearrangement is great.

“Fields of People” may be the longest song of the set but its melodies are amazing and the band pulls them off with pizazz.

“I” by the Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields is the springboard for the sonic experimentation and songwriting skills of Stephin Merritt, a rather odd, baritone voiced fellow who espouses a rather morose yet humorous lyrical bent that he backs with catchy and straight laced melodies that are influenced almost equally by synth pop, folk, rock, experimental music, bubble gum pop, Tin Pan Alley and even country rock

Merritt made his name with a serious of synthesizer dominated albums that he tended to play all the instruments on but really made his name with the classic, triple album “69 Love Songs” which was exactly that: 69 songs, 23 per disc, that explored a wide range of musical emotional, lyrical and arrangement ideas that broke him through to a wider critical and (somewhat) wider commercial world. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of his busy career and the album that he’ll likely be remembered for 100 years from now.

However, Merritt didn’t retire from music: he even expanded into other bands with The 6ths, the Gothic Archies and even solo work taking up much of his time. However, the Magnetic Fields remained his most celebrated and renowned band and each new disc seemed to explore new ideas and concepts such as 2004’s “I” which was the first of several to ignore his normally highly synthesizer based style in favor of a more folk, acoustic guitar and piano oriented direction.

Merritt is a smart guy and doesn’t do things in half measures: the album is filled with guitars, banjos, pianos, harpsichords and a variety of other appropriate folk based instruments that explore a variety of moods and styles but which focuses on a single letter throughout…I…

The name of this album is no coincidence: Merritt thoroughly explores a more introverted, highly personal style which contrasts heavily with his more story telling based songwriting style of the past. Every single song starts with the letter “I” and eight of twelve songs would seemingly point directly at Merritt himself.

So many people want to point out the “introspective” albums as the obvious “masterpiece” by a songwriter or band: alternatively, people (like me) often find introspective albums to be a lame grab at getting critics to hail your album as a masterpiece.

I find this to be true of “Sea Changes” by Beck which, while a great album, felt a bit stiff and fake to me. A bit too much like a Bowie-esque change of style (which Beck had made a career pulling) and now, after his breakup, it was time to “get for real.”

I could be wrong about that album (and most people tell me I’m a complete idiot for that opinion and I’d rather not dwell on it) but I do feel that drive for creating a pain filled, heart wrenching masterpiece to be a bit at odds with reality.

I have a feeling that Merritt does too: he is obviously exploring more introverted music and lyrical approaches here but he’s not quite bleeding his heart the way I see other artists pull. He still sings his plaintive, simple (and some would say, awful) monotone baritone that doesn’t really pull any heart strings but gives each song a distance.

On the one hand, this avoids the problems with “heart ache for the sake of heart” that I feel from so many albums but on the other hand it makes it hard to really “feel” for Merritt on these songs. Merritt often skirts with emotionality (and the song “I Shatter” makes me cry every time) but it’s usually a more formal, songwriting emotionality rather than a true confession.

Which is why I enjoy this album more often than not: he isn’t puking his emotion all over an overly emotive audience but simply singing simple (but not too simple) songs with introspective (but not too introspective) lyrics giving you a slight glimpse into the mind of one of rock’s true curmudgeons.

For example, take a look at “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend.” Merritt, one of rock’s most “whatever” homosexual artists (he never hides it but never forces it in your face and did name is record label “Big Gay and Loud” or something to that effect) addresses a lover who loved and left him directly. He’s had similar songs but not one where he seemingly addressed a lover in such uncertain terms.

And in songs like “In An Operetta” he combines his love of non-rock music with a seemingly sincere desire to watch a beautiful operetta that soothes his aching heart with its plaintive melodies and simple minded lyrics. Of course, all this talk of “Violetta” makes one wonder if Merritt had somebody in mind or if he was stretching for a rhyme.

“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin” is an intensely darkly humorous song that finds Merritt wishing he had an evil twin that could do all the things to people, the dark things, that he wished he could do himself. You laugh along with him but part of you believes him which makes it rather disconcerting and one of the more effective songs on the album.

In the end, there isn’t a bad song on the album (Merritt is one of our most consistent writers) and while it lacks the “epic” feel of “69 Love Songs” it maintains a similar vibe (without synthesizers) while probing a bit more deeply and touching lightly on unhappy and heart wrenching emotions.

Does it feel a bit like a “Sea Changes” time-to-get-serious moments? In a certain way: the formal conceptual idea of “I” means Merritt probably forces a bit of the introspection that highlights the album. However its diversity of approach and high melodic and lyrical content helps it rise above the doldrums, similarly to “Sea Changes” but without the same sense of “trying so damn hard to break your heart” that I get from “Sea Changes” meaning it actually hits me a bit harder.

Maybe I’m a freak. I dunno. Both are good albums. Own both.

Songs to YouTube:

Any of the songs I just mentioned work fine although “I Was Born” is worth a spin due to its morbid lyrically concept. I won’t ruin it for you but it should give you a feeling of what it would be like to hang out with Merritt for a few hours.

“Looking On” by The Move

Looking on…the top of some heads!

Since I just reviewed Jeff Lynne’s “The Idle Race” and am currently listening to a wide range of Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood related products (having purchased the discography of both men recently) I decided I’d try out a review of the first of their “The Move” collaborations: 1971’s “Looking On.”

I actually listened to the first two albums by “The Move” before getting to this one and thought of reviewing them first but I decided to stick with “Looking On” because a) it was the first of three collaborations between these two talented men b) it’s rather underrated and ignored throughout both men’s careers and most importantly c) I’m currently listening to it. Talk about “real time” reviewing!

“Looking On” came at a point when the original line-up of “The Move” had completely collapsed, leaving just Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and replacement bass player Rick Price left to pick up the pieces.

Wood had been trying to seduce Lynne to join “The Move” for a few years but was unable to due to Lynne banking on the success of “The Idle Race.” After the failure of their superb second LP, the Lynne written and produced “The Idle Race” it became clear to the ambitious Lynne that he had to change things up. And moving to a highly successful band like “The Move” was a great idea.

In theory: Wood was already moving past “The Move” (pun not intended) as a sonic idea and wanted to integrate strings and classical ideas into rock and roll. He and Lynne were on the same page (“Come with Me” from “The Idle Race” should be all the proof you need of that) and both were ready to create a group called “Electric Light Orchestra” to explore those ideas.

But contract obligations ruined their plans: “The Move” owed their record label a few albums. So the two decided to stop touring and crank out the albums they needed to finish their contract. “Looking On” was designed as a swan song but they would record one more album before retiring “The Move.”

Wow! Sorry to drown you in so much history but I think it’s important to understanding this rather…unique album. “The Move” were a highly successful psychedelic pop band that had been turning towards a heavier sound for some time (being in the band’s natural inclinations) and Lynne was fresh out of the idyllic “Idle Race” and was perhaps hungry for a…more ballsy sound.

So, “Looking On” sees the two (Bevan and Price are good at their instruments but aren’t exactly key creative forces for the band) creating a heavy, heavy, heavy sound that completely betrays their past styles. Of course, going “heavy” made sense with the times but…not the way these guys went heavy.

They basically go heavy while betraying their pop sensibilities.

Opening “Looking On” starts as a plodding, mastodon of a song with heavy, heavy guitar tones and a slow, slow tempo. Wood was never a great “riff” writer so the song sort of sits there looming at you angrily without affecting you for quite some time.

Thankfully, the band was smart enough to throw in an excellent, emotionally engaging instrumental section with wild guitar solos, sitars, saxes and an epic, moving melody that helped end the song on a high note and get the listener engaged.

Basically, “experimentation” is the name of the game here and the band goes all out. “When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” starts out as a precursor of Wood’s later “Wizzard” group: it starts with a heavy, slide riff with a bluesy, nearly “country” feel that is nice without being incredibly catchy.

Then, out of nowhere, the music stops and a striking and loud cello riff pops up for a few seconds. Why hello, ELO! I knew you were coming. Roy then overdubs an army of saxophones during the verses and choruses that has to be hard to be believed.

And then there’s the infamous “Brontosaurus” with it’s “Lady Madonna” rip riff that lumbers along like a…brontosaurus with the insane and inane “you know she can really do the brontosaurus” chorus gradually transforming into a completely convincing and exhilarating fast paced rock and roll jam.

Lynne makes two huge contributions with the slowly building, immaculate, melodic epic “What?” that serves as a precursor to his ELO approach to writing ballads. It builds in a slow, slow way as Lynne pops out great melodies, one after another while he and Roy overdub as many manic instruments as possible to create a near symphonic sound without the use of a symphony or mellotron.

Even better is Lynne’s “Open Up Said the World at the Door” which is highlighted by a wild multi-part song structure, great Lynne melodies and harmonies that sound EXACTLY like Queen (who had yet to emerge on the scene, I remind you) with great drum performances from Bevan (including a drum solo highlighted by a section being played backwards). Later in the song, a pounding piano riff is balanced with a delicate yet hard hitting oboe part by Wood that sounds EXACTLY like Roxy Music (who, again, hadn’t yet emerged).

A stern piano, bass and guitar rhythm pound out an epic coda as Wood shows off some epic guitar moves that illustrate how sadly underrated the man is in ever aspect of his musical career.

“Feel Too Good” is basically Wood’s version of “Open Up” and features some of his wildest guitar playing of all time and an out of nowhere and mind boggling accapella“doo wop” outro.

The whole album is like that: if the song is under written or potentially unengaging (which most, frankly, are), Roy and Jeff throw in wild instrumental sections, weird slide guitar solos, overdubbed saxophones, odd chanting voices layered with special effects, thick, thick bass tones and wild, ear catching melody and rhythm changes.

Does this sound like a head spinning, exhilarating art metal experience? It mostly definitely is all of that and more. However, those looking for the delicate melodies of the earlier “The Move” albums, the quaint psychedelia of “Idle Race” or even the ambitious classical stance of “Electric Light Orchestra” are going to be sorely disappointed.

And this lack of pop sensibility is a flaw: none of these songs will stay in your head for very long unless you sit around and listen to the album for days on end, which I would avoid: you may end up going quite mad and end up in the “Cherry Blossom Clinic.”

But weird sonic details will stick around in your head, like the odd moog bass that pops up out of nowhere in “Brontosaurus” and thickens the sound even further. Or the relatively simple yet hard driving boogie of “Turkish Tram Conductor Blues.”

And then there is the lyrics. You won’t really remember any lyrics or song concepts beyond “She can really do the brontosaurus” which should give you a sense of the lack of lyrical sense common throughout the album. Which is a shame, as both Wood and Lynne have some minor, yet solid lyrical insight: gone are the intriguing looks into insanity and obsession, replaced with…odes to dinosaurs.

Roy and Jeff were obviously more concerned with fully expressing themselves for the first time without the interference of a record company or the confines of writing pop singles. They quite obviously focus on the music arrangements before anything else (including, concise, clever melodies and biting lyrics).

However, fans of weird, wild music that maintains some sense of focus without dipping into pointless avant guardisms or dissonances should really enjoy this album. Especially if they like early “Led Zeppelin” and “Blue Cheer.” An obvious must buy, along with everything else by “The Move.”

Songs to YouTube:

“What?” should give further evidence to “Lynne Haters” that the man does have godly talents.

“When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” gives a little insight into the future development of the first Electric Light Orchestra album.

Finally, “Open Up Said the World at the Door” is worth it just to hear the sounds of Queen and Roxy Music before either existed.

Television “Adventure” Review

Even the band seems a bit unsure…

The last 70’s was a magical time for debut albums: 1976’s “The Ramones”, 77’s “Nevermind the Bollocks,” 77’s “The Clash” as well as “Talking Heads ’77.” All these bands had something to say about old guard music and that message was: fuck off, we gun do our thing now.

Perhaps my favorite debut and band from that period is “Marquee Moon” by Television. Anybody that’s heard the album can understand why: creative, sprawling guitar interplay; a non-faked sense of epicness; concise, catchy songwriting; drive, power and intensity; wild dynamics; beautifully crafted, intricate guitar solos; truly poetic (yet biting) lyrics. All of this combined with a garage rock punch that made Television stand toe-to-toe with “The Ramones” in intensity but with better chops and more diversity.

Such an album would be hard to follow in any circumstance: as a result, 78’s “Adventure” by Television is often ignored, overlooked and disparaged. “How could Television top ‘Marquee Moon’?” is a question that has haunted the band, main songwriter, singer and co-lead guitarist Tom Verlaine and their fans as soon as the album came out.

Naturally, they couldn’t and the band was smart enough to realize that fact. Instead of trying to top it, they simply made another Television album: a collection of well written, catchy songs with intricate, unique guitar interplay and great lyrics.

The big difference between this album and “Marquee Moon” really lay in one single word: softer. The band has toned down their energy and rawness considerably on this album. The rawness of the Andy Johns production has been replaced with a “cleaner” production with more “sheen” (if that makes sense) to it that definitely puts it a notch lower in the eyes of many fans.

There is also a distinct lack of “epicness” on the album that seemed to be the stock in trade of “Marquee Moon”; no longer are there 10 minute songs that seem to contain the drama of 10 songs. Instead, songs are written around self contained song structures, easier to understand melodies and simpler ideas.

So, the band has softened up, simplified and lost much of the “raw” and “epic” feel of their first album. Clearly, “Adventure” is crap right? Not even close. Tom Verlaine and Television were too smart and too good to release a bad album. Instead, this is an album of “smaller” pleasures and “simpler” ideas.

Let me put it this way: I feel its only a disappointment compared to “Marquee Moon.” If this was their debut album, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of songwriting and guitar interplay that strikes a solid balance between punk aggression and folk simplicity.

Yes, a song like “Fox Hole” would have hit much harder with “Marquee Moon” production but isn’t that song something as it is? The intricate two guitar riff and great “pinch harmonic” at the end of the riff that helps give it a unique sound; the simple but catchy riff and chorus of “Fox hole! Fox hole!”; the solid (but not exceptional) anti-war lyrics and the occasionally dissonant guitar playing of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

Lloyd really doesn’t get enough credit for Television’s success: his rawer, edgier, less schooled style of guitar soloing is a great contrast to Verlaine’s smoother, more technically adept style. Some of the best leads on the album are Lloyd’s and help add an edge to the album.

Plus, things don’t really get much better than “Glory.” What a great way to open the album: a somewhat simple but catchy riff opens things up, Verlaine pops up with a complex but catchy verse melody that leads flawlessly into a catchy and uplifting chorus and a lyrical message of celebrating the greatness of life.

And how could an album be bad with songs as effortlessly complex and moving as “Careful’? The way if shifts between simple verse riffs (with great country rock-ish leads popping up here and there) into a simple but catchy chorus and a great bridge section with solid piano, organ and even hand

claps makes the mind boggle at how easy it all goes down without drawing attention to itself.

Not everything is perfect, of course: Television had a hard time with “dirges” (“Torn Curtain” from “Marquee Moon” being perhaps the slowest and weakest song on the album) and “The Fire” is perhaps the weakest tune on the album. Its slow, slow and has a nearly funeral-esque atmosphere that doesn’t really work with Television or the album in general. And it’s six minutes seem infinitely longer than “Marquee Moon”’s 10.

Plus, the opening riff to “Ain’t That Nothin’” sounds way too close to the riff of “Marquee Moon” for its own good. Yes, it’s different and the song itself sounds nothing like that classic song but I always get uncomfortable when the song starts as I keep expecting a different song to pop out of the ether.

However, not even “Marquee Moon” was perfect so we shouldn’t hold these problems too heavily against the album: even “The Fire” has interesting melodies and guitar ideas but simply drags for far too long.

“Adventure” is a fine album with great songs, great playing, great ideas and great lyrics that is worth a place in any Television (or punk) fan’s collection. However, I do feel that the opening riff repetition in “Ain’t That Nothin’” does speak of a certain limit in Television’s sound: a third album after this may not have been a good idea. It was perhaps a good thing the band broke up at this point before they made a bad album.

And yes, I know of the self titled album but that was a long time later and was basically a Verlaine solo album. I haven’t heard it though so I won’t judge it.

Welcome Back (Or Why I Disappeared, Came Back and Reviewed “Idle Race”)

Great Album Cover which resembles a real birthday party invitation. Should give you an idea of the silliness in store.

And so my little break stretched on and on until it had been nearly a year before I posted anything…so much has changed in so many ways but one thing remains…I love music…and I love writing about music.

Hello fans of “Culture Fusion Reviews.” I hope things are treating you well. I’m doing well. I won’t go into it but I will briefly explain my abrupt departure and my triumphant return as quickly as possible:

Departure:

  1. New jobs
  2. Love
  3. Life in general
  4. Sustaining interest

And there is the biggest problem with writing blogs: keeping up an interest and sustaining an interest. I decided to come back because my new jobs have balanced out, my love life is non-existent (in a good way) and I had a burst of interest to write about music again.

New format though: not doing complete discographies in a mad rush. This is part of what drove me crazy and bored me to tears. Just doing the last album I heard. And the last album I heard was…

“Birthday Party” by the Idle Race.

“Who the hell?” you may say and you wouldn’t be the only one. Idle Race is one of a million “also-rans” of the psychedelic era that had a somewhat unique vision, a decent songwriting voice and excellent production and solid-to-raving reviews (Marc Bolan of T-Rex was a huge fan) that simply didn’t have the “it” factor to make it big and which disbanded after a few years.

However, you can pick up a two CD collection named “Back to the Story” that includes everything they recorded: three albums and a variety of singles and non-album tracks. None of their songs were a huge hit and you hardly ever hear them mentioned but as a footnote…and the only reason they maintain that footnote status is because of their connection to Electric Light Orchestra.

That’s right, ELO: the pomp and circumstance, cello, violin and guitar “classical” prog-pop band led by somewhat controversial songwriter-guitarist-producer (and owner of huge hair and aviator glasses) Jeff Lynne. Basically, the Idle Race was an early proving ground for Lynne’s songwriting, arranging and production genius.

So, is it any good? That’s an interesting question. It’s not ELO: it’s very much a product of its era. This means the songs are generally very gentle excursions into musical whimsy: a 23 second orchestra version of “Happy Birthday to You” is the second track on the album; sound pans from speaker to speaker; music hall melodies clash again mellotrons and off-beat vocal harmonies; pianos, horns and strings take up a huge section of the sonic blueprint, sometimes drowning out the band themselves (also consisting of drums, bass, guitar and piano; catchy, sometimes complex melodies sustaining interest throughout as the arrangements shift on a dime to give the album a surprising sense of diversity.

Basically, it sounds like any number of minor first rate and major second rate psychedelic bands of the time (not an insult: second rate psychedelic bands are sometimes the most fun) falling more on the “whimsy Sgt. Pepper” vibe as opposed to the “psychotic space ravings” of early Pink Floyd. It’s gentle music for gentle people with an occasional burst of fuzz guitar and bass to wake you up. Basically, they often sound like a rougher, tougher “Left Banke” but without so many intense classical leanings.

The lyrics, however, are a different story. Lynne has never been a super amazing lyricist: for ELO: at his worst he’s competent while at his best he can be insightful and interesting. But the Idle Race, and especially this first album, is an interesting study in “musical and lyrical contrasts” similar to the “Steely Dan” method of contrasting gentle, smooth music with wild lyrics (but with different sonic focuses).

Lynne explores areas of madness, depravity, lust, love and the seedy, crazy side of the world in a way he never really touched in ELO. Songs like “I Like My Toys” are nearly child-like in the music and arrangements with a lyrical message that crouches the concept of “toys” with “madness” in a unique way.

To me, this contrast between musical gentleness and lyrical strangeness is what helps the album stand out a bit from the psychedelic pack: while not exactly a completely unique idea the band pull it off well and in their own unique style. Yes, the basic style is very similar to the whimsy sides of the Beatles psychedelic style but delving even deeper into near child-like levels of silliness and musical lightness.

The production is solid and typical of the time with lots of experiments in filtering, panning, sound effects and a dense layering of sound giving the album a somewhat uniform but still appealing sound. Of course, the album isn’t perfect and has some flaws (the uniform sound, the sometimes grating childishness of things as well as Lynne’s continuing obsession with de-emphasizing his great voice) but it serves as an early taster for greater things for Lynne and serves as a good case for understanding why the great Roy Wood held Jeff in such high esteem and why Jeff was able to briefly conquer the world with ELO.

Songs to check out on YouTube:

First song “Skeleton and the Roundabout” is a harbinger of their general style and of the silly delights of the rest of the album: carnivelesque melodies and arrangements, great vocal melodies, solid band performances and arrangements as well as a lyrical message that will have you scratching your head (in a good way).

“Follow Me Follow” continues in a similar vein but in a more sentimental manner foreshadowing Jeffy’s skills with love ballads.

“Lucky Man” a great music hall atmosphere with solid vocal harmonies, a great refrain and a lyrical message that touches on insanity.