Sep 30, 2018

WOODENBOX - Foreign Organ (Olive Grove Records OGR0021, 2015)

When Woodenbox entered Chem 19 recording studio in Blantyre back in August 2011, the Glasgow based sextet were fuelled by the sound of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Kayne West. They set about recording "End Game". Four years later, it was a much more subdued Woodenbox that began recording their latest album "Foreign Organ", which was released on Olive Grove Records. The reason for the change in Woodenbox’s mood, was they, like forty-five percent of Scotland, had the post referendum blues. 18th September 2014 could’ve, and should’ve, been the most important date in Scotland’s history. It should’ve been the day that Scotland became an independent country. Sadly, the fickle, feeble and greedy had their way. Proud and progressive Scots, like Woodenbox and myself were robbed of the chance to be part of an independent country. So, it was no wonder that we had the blues. Despite having the post-referendum blues, it was time for Woodenbox to begin work on the followup to "End Game". This time, Woodenbox weren’t making the pilgrimage to Chem 19. No. Now they had their own studio. This was a game-changer

At their newly built studios, the six members of Woodenbox got to work. Vocalist Ali Downer played acoustic guitar and piano. He was joined by a rhythm section of drummer Nick Dudman, guitarist Jordan Croan and bassist and organist Fraser Mckirdy. They were joined by the horn section of trumpeter Phil Caldwell and saxophonist Sam Evans. This time, when Woodenbox entered the studio, they were free of time constraints. At last, they had built their own studio. Over a five year period, the members of Woodenbox had transformed their rehearsal rooms into a studio. This was no mean feat. Building a recording studio is a perilous project, one that can go drastically wrong. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Woodenbox’s Glasgow studio. Woodenbox managed to create a state-of-the art recording studio. This allowed Woodenbox to begin work on what became "Foreign Organ". In the wake of the Referendum, recording of "Foreign Organ" began. Although Woodenbox had the post Referendum blues, they approached the sessions with a renewed sense of purpose. It helped that Scotland was changing. Scotland’s governing party, the S.N.P. had a new leader, Nicola Sturgeon. The baton had passed from one political generation to another. It was a masterstroke. Straight sway, Nicola Sturgeon imbued a spirit of positivity within the nation. This rubbed off on Woodenbox.

Woodenbox approached the recording of "Foreign Organ" in a different way. They decided to reevaluate how their songs took shape. For the next few months, Woodenbox found their own voice, and began to hone then ten songs that became Foreign Organ. Now that Woodenbox had their own studio, there was no need to rush. So they took time writing and recording the ten tracks. Some song came with a message; others offered words of advice; while others painted a picture of Scotland circa 2015. "Foreign Organ" was an articulate, accomplished and cerebral album from Woodenbox. It’s fitting that Woodenbox chose to release "Foreign Organ" on 8th June 2015. The General Election had come and gone. Scotland had been transformed. Fifty-six out of fifty-nine seats were one by the S.N.P. It was changed days from the morning of 19th September 2014. Back then, much of Scotland was in mourning. Not now. It was a joyous time. There was hope for the future. What better time for a group that represented the new Scotland to release their third album. When critics heard "Foreign Organ", they liked what they heard. The reviews called "Foreign Organ" Woodenbox best, and most accomplished album. They had come a long way in seven years. 

Woodenbox’s roots can be traced back to 2008. Back then, they were originally called Woodenbox With A Box Fivers. What brought them together was a love of The Beatles, mariachi and spaghetti westerns. A year later, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers would release their debut album. "Home and The Wildhunt", Woodenbox With A Box Fivers’ debut album was released in 2009. It was no ordinary album. Not at all. This was part of their college project. Just like Belle and Sebastian before them, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers had to release an album. Having written and recorded "Home and The Wildhunt", it was released through the Electric Honey label, which was home to Biffy Clyro and Belle and Sebastian. What started as a college project quickly grew legs. Critically acclaimed upon its release, "Home and The Wildhunt" featured a band who were certainly not lacking in talent. So a decision was made to shorten the band’s name. After all, Woodenbox With A Box Fivers didn’t exactly roll off your tongue. Now called Woodenbox, the Glasgow-based folk sextet started the next chapter of their career. By 2010, Woodenbox’s debut album "Home and The Wildhunt" was being played on national radio. Mark Radcliffe, Huw Stephens, Steve Lamazq and Vic Galloway all were championing Woodenbox. Meanwhile, Woodenbox were touring throughout Scotland and further afield as they sought to hone their trademark sound. By 2011, Woodenbox were festival favourites and one of the hardest working bands.

During 2011, Woodenbox played some of Scotland’s biggest music festivals. T In The Park, The Wickerman Festival, Celtic Connections, Belladrum, Insider and The Hebridean Celtic Festival. When Woodenbox weren’t appearing at festivals, they played at venues across Scotland and England. Woodenbox also supported Gomez and The Alabama 3. Somehow, Woodenbox found time to record their sophomore album "End Game". With recording beginning in August 2011, this meant Woodenbox would have a single released to coincide with their first American tour. "Everyone Has A Price" was released in March 2012. After touring America, Woodenbox returned to the Britain and embarked upon a tour. After that tour was finished, "End Game" was completed in October 2012. Five months later, the ten-track "End Game" was released to critical acclaim on Olive Grove Records in March 2013. Since then, Woodenbox have played numerous live shows, completed building their own studio and recorded a new album "Foreign Organ", which should introduce Woodenbox’s music to a much wider audience. You’ll soon realise why.

"Foreign Organ" opens with "Somewhere New". It features a philosophical Woodenbox. They wonder if utopia is the place where you live, and what would happen if the buildings were no longer there ? Who and what would be left ? It’s a fascinating thought. Especially when pondered against a backdrop of flourishes of piano, flute and ethereal harmonies. A lone trumpet sounds. It adds to the wistful, dreamy nature of this cinematic tracks. Jangling, Glasgow School guitars accompany Ali Downer’s hopeful vocal on "Life Decays". Straight away, you’re hooked. It’s obvious something special is unfolding. Woodenbox’s rhythm section, searing guitars and cooing harmonies unite with a rasping horns. Meanwhile, Ali warns against spending your life always wanting more. As he does, a joyous, stomping, hands in the air anthem unfolds. On "More Than A Friend", Alex Kenzel and Cat Calton from Skinny Dipper join Woodenbox. It’s like a who’s who of Olive Grove Records. All we need is Henry and Fleetwood. From, the get-go, a scorching guitar cuts across the arrangement as the rhythm section provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. Ali delivers a needy, rasping Tom Waits’ inspired vocal. He’s caught between friendship and love. He wants his friend to become his girlfriend. She’s not so sure, and doesn’t want to potentially, loose a friend. It’s like a short story played out over four melodic, and hook laden minutes. Woodenbox, aided and abetted by Alex Kenzel and Cat Calton take you on a roller coaster journey of emotions where Woodenbox and Co., showcase their considerable skills.

Amidst a wall of feedback and then searing, scorching guitar Roberto takes shape. All the time, drums pound and a pulsating bass bounds across the arrangement. It’s joined by a  rasping horn. It weaves in and out of the arrangement. Meanwhile, Ali delivers a vocal that literally bristles with emotion, as he sings about the worries of financial problems. In this case, it’s a broken relationship. A despairing Ali sings: “why did you have to go away.” He literally lives the lyrics, and his despair becomes real when he sings: “I only ever feel alive when I don’t care…why did you have to go away ?” The way Ali delivers the lyrics, it’s as if they’re personal. Proving the perfect foil for his vocal are Big Country styled guitars. They ensure  Woodenbox combine power, emotion, hooks and a social conscience. The spartan introduction to "A9 North", briefly reminds me of Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air. Just a lone tack piano sets the scene for Ali’s vocal. He’s later joined by harmonies. That’s all that’s needed. They frame his vocal, as he remembers the journeys he’s taken up the "A9 North" with his partner, and the plans they made. It’s as if they’ve been reinvigorated by the journey somewhere new. Sadly, when they return home, their plans are forgotten, until the next journey up the "A9 North". "Directions And My Boy" is a message from father to son. Don’t ever waste your time in a job you don’t like; and don’t let money get in the way of your dream. Against, just an understated introduction, Ali delivers a heartfelt vocal. It grows in power. So does the arrangement. A thunderous, stabbing rhythm section, piano and blistering guitars accompany Ali’s impassioned powerhouse. He seems to have been inspired by Glasgow’s one and only Alex Harvey. So it seems, have the rest of Woodenbox, when later, they add singalong, chanted harmonies. Along with the horn section, they take this empowering anthem to its glorious crescendo.

"Face Able" sees Woodenbox breakout their guitars, as Ali delivers a strutting vocal. He sounds not unlike Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, as he decries the social networking, and those addicted to it. His message seems to be get out there, and meet people, like we used to do. Behind them, the rest of Woodenbox cut a rocky swathes across the arrangement. The rhythm section pound, horns soar and guitars scream, as Woodenbox pay homage to the Gods of rock, and Ali becomes The Rocker. "Carbon Mold" sees Woodenbox drop the tempo, on what’s an intriguing track. Ali sings the song to  Woodenbox as he existed as a man. He’s accompanied by lush strings, chiming, jangling guitars and a vortex of melancholy horns. Together, they play their part in a quite beautiful, cerebral song. "Rust" is about the ability to be confident without always having to back down. Punchy horns lock horns with the keyboards and rhythm section. They set the scene for Ali’s despairing vocal. He hasn’t the confidence to do what he wants. Against a backdrop of lushest cascading strings, harmonies, braying horns and blistering guitars, lays bare his soul and shortcomings. It’s like a cathartic outpouring of emotion. When Ali’s vocal drops out, Woodenbox cut loose and jam. This allows you to hear how far they’ve progressed as a band. They’re up there with Scotland’s top bands. "Scotland", which closes "Foreign Organ", was written in the wake of the referendum. Ethereal harmonies are joined by a piano. It accompanies Ali’s wistful, rueful vocal. In the first line, Ali sums up the 55% who voted against independence: "give him a choice and he’ll probably say things aren’t meant to change". From there, Ali ponders Scotland’s past and future, against a backdrop of piano and harmonies. As the song closes, the sound of a baby can be heard. There’s an irony to this. It only brings home the selfishness of him in the song. His apathy affected the future of generations of Scots.

"Foreign Organ" is without doubt, the best album of Woodenbox’s career. Woodenbox came on leaps and bounds on End Game. It was released to critical acclaim in 2013. However, "Foreign Organ" is a game-changer. "Foreign Organ" should see Woodenbox become one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports. It showcases different sides of Woodenbox’s music. For much of "Foreign Organ", Woodenbox unleash hook-laden, joyous, feel-good music. Anthems aren’t in short supply. These are bound to win friends and influence festival goers during the summer months. Then on other tracks, the music is beautiful, cerebral, dramatic, edgy, ethereal,  melancholy and melodic. Ali Downer breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. That’s the case whether Woodenbox are in a reflective mood, or unleashing a hands in the air anthem. It seems Ali, and the rest of Woodenbox have grown and matured as a band since they recorded "End Game" in 2011. They’re a much more assured band. That’s apparent throughout "Foreign Organ". It’s the album that could, and should, introduce Woodenbox to a much wider audience. There should be no stopping Woodenbox. Woodenbox are now one of Scotland’s top bands. Surely Woodenbox are about win new friends and influence people, with their album "Foreign Organ", which showcases their unique brand of hook laden, anthemic music ? 

Sep 29, 2018

JUDAS PRIEST - Rocka Rolla (Gull Records GULP 1005, 1974)

"Rocka Rolla" is the debut album by Judas Priest, released in 1974. It was produced by Rodger Bain, who had made a name for himself as the producer of Black Sabbath's first three albums. This album was played entirely "live" (i.e. all musicians playing simultaneously as in a concert, vs. the more popular method of each musician's parts being recorded separately and then mixing them). According to the band there were technical problems in the studio, resulting in poor sound quality and a hiss through the album. The band further claims that the producer had too much control over track selection, and omitted their more popular stage classics. These songs were eventually included on their next album. Many of the songs were written before Rob Halford joined the band. The track "Caviar and Meths" was originally a 14-minute epic penned by Halford's predecessor, Al Atkins, but due to time constraints, only the intro is recorded for the album. A longer version of the song appears on original vocalist Al Atkins's 1998 album "Victim of Changes". Though not the full-length version, it is notably longer at seven minutes. The album also contains covers of the songs "Winter" and "Never Satisfied". 

At this point of the band's career, they had not yet developed their signature look of leather and studs. They had appeared on a British television programme called The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, performing "Rocka Rolla" and "Dreamer Deceiver", and their wardrobe was very hippified as journalist Malcolm Dome put it. This footage was included on the "Electric Eye" DVD. In addition, the album has some slight progressive rock influences that would continue through to Stained Class, but to a lesser extent, and would be abandoned in later releases. Drummer John Hinch would be dismissed in 1975, before the next record was to begin being recorded, for what Glenn Tipton would later call him being musically inadequate. Let us put our brains together and guess the potential repercussions of the Beatles releasing their first LP not in 1963, but, say, around 1959 or so. Well, no repercussions, actually. But most probably every critical guide to the Beatles would be starting with a one-star review and acid lines like "this is certainly not the Beatles the way the world later learned to respect and love them" and be laced with predictable tags of having yet to show their potential, copycats lacking self-assurance, far removed from the revolutionary inventiveness of the future, and the inevitable (in unpublished form) fucking sucks. Oh yes, the greatest cliche of them all: a historical curio.

This imaginary approach has in reality been applied to everybody from David Bowie to Tori Amos, but there are few bands to whom it could be applied better than Frankie Lee, er, I mean, John Wesley Harding, that is to say, Judas Priest. Some sources claim that the band actually invented the dual rhythm guitar attack on "Rocka Rolla". Could be, but who the heck would care ? The thing that matters is that "Rocka Rolla" is simply generic mid-Seventies hard-rock, with occasional lame claims for artsiness, occasionally annoying levels of dumbness, and a few fun tunes scattered here and there whenever the band isn't too busy wallowing in dated guitar effects or pointless instrumental jamming. The sour news is it took the band about five years to rise on its feet, assemble a steady lineup, get a tink-tink in the songwriting department, and release an album - this ? Little more than the humble sum of its influences, which are many indeed, ranging from Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple (hats off) to Uriah Heep and the newly-emerging Bad Company (hats back on). They even hired Black Sabbath's original producer, Rodger Bain, to give 'em the edge. But "sum" this is indeed: the band's biggest flaw is a complete lack of direction, which is, I must say, pretty disturbing when coming from a bunch of gritty axemen. One minute they're doing this brawny barroom stuff, then they suddenly launch into epic suites, then it's basic rock'n'roll and then a heavy rock mantra with signs of trippiness. I like my hard rock focused; when it's running all over the place, it's simply in no position to perform its main, vital, visceral function - namely, kick serious booty.

If they were actually to reduce the record to a 5-song EP I might have been wooed (then again, you'd never know because I don't review EPs unless they're turned into full CDs with massive amounts of bonus tracks - and what would be the use of that ?). These five rockers aren't exactly crown jewels, but this is where you feel that yes, this is a band with quite a bit of playing expertise behind its belt. Loud, ugly, clumsy (in the good sense), and the guitar tones range from standard mid-Seventies to kinda freakish. What's that they be doing on the title track, for instance? Running the sound through a 220V outlet or something? And I actually heard they'd recorded all of this live? Nice going. The one thing that sticks in my head the hardest is the looped riff to "Never Satisfied". Yes I'm ashamed. There's little else of interest to this song except for solos, echoes, and words, some of which are tied together to form virtual verbal Stonehenges like "love is gone, along with fun, now we're reaching for the gun". But the riff, whoo. Downing must have been heavy on Hawkwind fandom. Slow, draggy, druggy and it goes on for a period of time just enough for you to mash your occiput into a bloody pulp on the nearest wall. They never really tried it again because most of their fans would probably go mental and then where would Halford be picking up romantic pardners ?

Speaking of Halford, I'm not at all satisfied with his performance on this album. (Not that I care - not that he cares - not that anybody cares, but then Mick Jagger still hasn't found satisfaction either and everybody cares about him, so evidently these two things are not interdependent). On the operatic numbers, he sings opera, and that's awful; on the rock'n'roll numbers, he sings rock'n'roll, and that's generic. He simply hadn't found the famous "hiccupy" vocal style yet and mostly sounds like a more tightly wound up version of Paul Rogers, you know, like a Paul Rogers that suddenly lost interest in the female part of his audience (gee, I wonder why could that be ?) and simultaneously dropped all the silkiness and softness from his cords. At the very least, though, he doesn't directly ape any of his betters (Gillan, Plant, Byron, etc.), so we'll drop the case. Back to the songs - "One For The Road" and the title track can come in handy along with a Budweiser six-pack after a hard day's work at Burger King (boy, do I ever suck at elitist jabs), but, again, will hardly be of any use to classic Priest fans. The title track "Rocka Rolla", in fact, is about woman love, which is just plain wrong. It's like George Harrison singing Motorhead's "Don't Need Religion". And it's also got this weird minimalistic guitar solo which is just two or three notes repeated over and over, not because that's all Tipton could play at the time, but because they probably wanted to hit the pop charts with it or something. In the end it all looks so silly that I don't even have the strength to be offended.

The only song that remotely sounds like typical mid-Seventies Priest is "Cheater" (and the resemblance is already well visible in the title; Judas Priest are known for their little weakness towards the nominal suffix "-er" just as Dylan is known for his passion for the adverbial suffix "-ly"). And from what I can tell, it wasn't even on the original album, although it is included on my CD. It's got the twin guitar attack and a far more aggressive, viciously attuned vocal delivery - but it's still much too bluesy to be in the correct ballpark. And then the real fun begins. An 8 1/2 minute song, for instance, appropriately titled "Run Of The Mill". Don't tell anybody, but I actually think that some of the endless soloing on that track is kinda neat. It isn't just bluesy guitar heroics, it's atmospheric and minimalistic, and sometimes there are two guitar parts, quietly musing and conducting their quiet little countermelodies against each other, nonchalantly unaware that in a few minutes the fun will be ending and you'll have to listen to long winding vibratos out of Halford's throat when you could have been enjoying a first-rate La Scala performance instead. Then I come back to my senses and realise that, oh sweet Jesus, I used to scoff at motherfuckin' Led Zeppelin for doing those things, and now I'm praising Judas Priest for them ? What the heck is my problem ? Might as well be praising them for the completely non-descript folk-rock (sic!) instrumental "Caviar And Meths" that closes the album. (Rumours say that it was originally much longer but the nasty producer had them cut it down, maybe because it was lulling him to sleep, in which case I do empathise).

First prize for ridiculousness, though, unquestionably goes to the "Winter" suite. Okay, please don't laugh: Judas Priest actually wrote a mini-symphony about a harsh, cold winter and how it ended and the birds began singing again. I said don't laugh - put yourself in these guys' shoes in mid-'74 and God only knows what you'd have to be writing mini-symphonies about. Even Frank Zappa was writing about winter. (Okay, so he was writing about Eskimos eating the yellow snow, to be precise, but that was just his take on the subject). The thing is, that gives them a good excuse for some guitar hooliganry and a sissie ballad chunk as an added bonus. Yes, of course it's horrible, but at least it's curiously horrible. As is the album in general, I guess. No wonder it took them a whole two years to follow it up with something - so that the world could forget all about it and critics wouldn't be bringing it up with every next review. Wise move. Well, supposedly the law people in Coca Cola had their own reasons when they complained about the album cover - who'd want their brand's name associated with such a Quasimodo of an album ? Although, on the other hand, the cover is unquestionably the most stylish thing about it. Makes me thirsty just to look at it.

The album "Rocka Rolla" was reissued in 1987 with a different cover. Reportedly the band was unhappy with the original cover art and logo, as it didn't fit with their image as a heavy metal band. There are also rumours that the Coca Cola Company brought legal pressure because the original album art too closely resembled their most famous brand. The re-issue cover art (By artist Mel Grant, and originally used as the cover for the novel The Steel Tsar) was also used for the US cover of Ballistix for the Turbo Grafx 16 and Commodore Amiga. Since the album was released during the period when K.K. Downing was the band's frontman, this remains the only album on which he is the primary songwriter. Judas Priest have rarely performed any of the songs from Rocka Rolla live since the mid-late 1970's. However, "Never Satisfied" was brought back into the band's setlist for the 2011 Epitaph tour.

Sep 28, 2018

PRIMAL SCREAM - Screamadelica (Creation Records CRECD 076, 1991)

The meeting of unashamed, celebratory club music and rock star fandom is what gives Primal Scream's 1990 album "Screamadelica" its particular mood, half strutting with confidence, half yearning for transcendence. It’s a full-length manifesto not just for the brotherhood of clubbing but for the syncretic approach to rock Primal Scream were exploring. A trumpet riff; a louche, echoey, funk groove scoured by trails of guitar; a snatch of dialogue from The Wild Angels: "we wanna be free, to do what we wanna do". In February 1990, the "Screamadelica" lead single "Loaded" made for an odd UK hit. Its sample soup might have put you in mind of tracks by DJs like Coldcut, but more laid back, and with the magpie wit replaced by studied cool. The vibe of "Loaded" was unusual enough. The identity of its makers was what really startled. Primal Scream had already jumped from sweet-toothed jangle-pop, which Bobby Gillespie’s reedy voice suited well, to scuzzy proto-grunge, which it really didn’t. Reviewers found the band’s second self-titled LP an awkward experience, which explains why a further lurch in direction on "Loaded" attracted as much mockery as delight. Great single, everyone agreed, but was it actually Primal Scream in anything but name ?

"Loaded" had precedent: the warm, loping shuffle of the Stone Roses’ "Fools’ Gold" for one - but its status was set as much by what came after. Gillespie wasn’t the only indie bandleader to find himself a new groove, and the summer of 1990 was speckled with similar hits from the obscurest of sources: The Soup Dragons, The Beloved, The Farm. Like earlier psychedelic explosions, you might argue how much of this was down to the liberating effects of drugs and music on shy boys in bands, and how much was down to the more worldly urge to make some fast money and get on TV. The indie-dance bubble inflated, and a saucer-eyed version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" by unknown chancers Candy Flip probably marked the exact moment it burst. Months after that, the Primal Scream LP finally came out. If welding dance and rock was all it achieved, its 18-month gestation would have hurt "Screamadelica". The album might have been a mere appendix to a briefly promising scene. Fortunately, the power of "Screamadelica" isn’t in an abstract clash of two different genres, but in the marriage of two very similar sensibilities.

One is Bobby Gillespie’s. Primal Scream’s output has sometimes been dismissed as record collection rock, their versatility no more than a procession of learned poses, The Byrds, rave, Krautrock, post-punk. But Gillespie’s approach is less bandwagon-jumping and more a kind of aesthetic cosplay, where his fannish intensity of identification works to overcome the limitations of technique. The comedown blues of "Damaged" is the weakest song of "Screamadelica", but Gillespie’s conviction makes it essential to the record. The other is producer Andy Weatherall’s. Weatherall, along with Terry Farley who remixed the "Come Together" single, was part of the Boy’s Own DJ and fanzine collective in the earliest days of London Acid House. Boy’s Own loved big, uplifting records, played any genre they fancied, and everything they did, in print or on record, was touched with a cheeky swagger. The euphoric splash of Italo house piano at the climax of "Don’t Fight It, Feel It", the most floor-ready track on "Screamadelica", is a great Weatherall moment.

The meeting of these approaches, unashamed, celebratory club music and rock star fandom, is what gives "Screamadelica" its particular mood, half strutting with confidence, half yearning for transcendence. One result is that the record is often better when Bobby Gillespie is a presiding spirit rather than an actual singer. Compare album centrepiece "Come Together" with its single version, where Gillespie enacts a loved-up Ecstasy high in winsome style. The LP drops his vocals, reshapes the track around the gospel backing singers, and it becomes something titanic. It’s a full-length manifesto not just for the brotherhood of clubbing but for the syncretic approach to rock Primal Scream were exploring. "All those are just labels", thunders a sampled Reverend Jesse Jackson, "We know that music is music." If you want to know how joyfu, and how corny, pop’s discovery of rave could feel in 1991, this is where to start. Other high points use the frontman better. "Higher Than The Sun" casts Gillespie as an astral voyager in a post-rave take on Tim Buckley’s "Starsailor". He sounds as awed by its soundscape of hoots, harpsichords, ambient drift and trumpet blasts as the listener. 13th Floor Elevators cover "Slip Inside This House" is just as questing, but more earthy and urgent, with a ragged-voiced Gillespie pushed beyond his limits by the groove.

"Screamadelica" is a limit-breaking exercise in general, exploring a central question: what is ‘a band’ in the remix age? One reason the LP remains a classic is that its answer to this is so bold and open-ended, Primal Scream here is anything from a rock group having the time of their lives on "Movin’ On Up", to a vaporous but definite presence on "Higher Than The Sun (A Dub Symphony In Two Parts)". The scoffers’ question about "Loaded": is this really Primal Scream ? is firmly answered: it is if it feels that way. The fact that Primal Scream, and others, quickly retreated from this answer doesn’t make it less true. But even by 1992’s Dixie-Narco EP, the band were downplaying the clubbing influence in favour of something more rootsy, recording new tracks in Memphis. Ultimately, the group’s own preference for being a rock’n’roll touring unit, with associated debauchery, stopped them pushing harder on the doors "Screamadelica" unlocked. The record is in places ambitious, cosmic, showily wasted, but the thing it is most is a great party album. "Loaded", "Movin’ On Up", "Don’t Fight It, Feel It" are still immense dance-rock singles, and "Screamadelica" is one of alternative music’s great periodic rediscoveries of rhythm. Dance music threw open new wardrobes for British indie, and an inveterate dresser-up like Bobby Gillespie could, and did, take full advantage.

Sep 27, 2018

THE KISSAWAY TRAIL - The Kissaway Trail (Bella Union Records, 2007)

The four members of Kissaway Trail (Søren, Thomas, Hasse and Rune) originally recorded together under the name Isles, and did a self-released album called "We Have Decided Not To Die" in 2005. Since then, an additional guitarist, Daniel, while Thomas started to sing alongside Søren making the distinctive two lead-vocal sound that they have today. Various tracks from this early period of the band's history can still be downloaded from Danish music websites. The band’s musical existence very nearly ended when Søren lost his love for music after his father was killed under tragic circumstances. However, he made his own decision to start performing and recording again, and Kissaway Trail started to create their debut album. Their material is released in Europe (aside from Scandinavia) and Japan by Bella Union, Etch'n'Sketch in Australia and New Zealand, and Playground Music in Scandinavia. On their breakthrough album local producer Niels Høg helped them in the studio. The title of their song 61 relates to the number of days a band member had to wait to hear if their family member had a terminal illness. The member involved is kept under wraps for very personal reasons; some fans believe it is Hasse, the drummer, because he has a tattoo of the number 61 on his chest. In the Autumn of 2007, Kissaway Trail acted as the main support for Editors on their UK and European tours, alongside Ra Ra Riot in the UK and The Boxer Rebellion in Europe.

The band have cited influences to their music include The Beach Boys, Grandaddy, Daniel Johnston, Placebo and Sonic Youth, amongst others. Their sound has also been compared to that of the Polyphonic Spree and Canadian band Arcade Fire. The band have been known for their live performances, which have included songs from "The Kissaway Trail", as well as b-sides such as "Romeo And Romeo" and "La Mia". They have also performed at the Wireless, Latitude and SXSW festivals in 2007, and the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 2008, where they supported Interpol and The National, and Lollapalooza in 2010. Although Danish five-piece The Kissaway Trail have proven themselves to be a massively accomplished live act - recent turns at various venues across London have been witnessed by DiS, and they’ve seemed better each time - their self-titled debut album doesn’t quite capture the engrossing ferocity and touching intricacies of their on-stage splendour.

It’s not bad at all, but anyone whose witnessed the band live prior to listening to its eleven tracks will, most probably, feel a little short-changed. Opening in hair-prickling fashion with "Forever Turned Out To Be Too Long", the record sets its overall, overriding tone early: this is music designed to be epic turned down ever so slightly and re-geared for utmost intimacy. It’s music to be thought through and soaked in, music to fall in and out of love with a dozen could-be partners to, music to soundtrack the passing of ships in the night. Lead single "Smother + Evil = Hurt" is an exercise in perfect heartstring plucking. it squeezes your insides and makes you ache to be held, but it’s only half as powerful on this LP as it is when executed before your eyes as well as your ears.

The sole flaw of this record, then, is one of its creators’ own making: they’ve established such a fine reputation for themselves in the live arena, their set at The Camden Crawl being a particular highlight of late, that their studio work can only exist in their on-the-road shadow. It’s full of finely tuned, stomach-stirring indie-rock vaguely a la Arcade Fire if they’d bypassed widespread recognition for a career on the Deep Elm label, or The Appleseed Cast before they shuttled too far from Earth’s orbit, but few songs truly stand out; it’s a record of a generally consistent quality rather than a tumultous series of peaks and relative troughs.

"Sometimes I’m Always Black" is a cut above the rest, though, propulsive drums guide a gradually building, steadily soaring song to a climax that could, conceivably, have ended the album. Live, it’s way beyond a mere corker,  it’s the set’s shining centrepiece. Here, at track eight of eleven, it feels underused. Actual closer "Bleeding Hearts", pretty though it most certainly is, is a parting shot that really doesn’t do The Kissaway Trail justice,  it’s so wet a dozen white towels from backstage couldn’t dry it out. "Soul Assasins", meanwhile, is the only skip this now offering: it simply should not have made the final sequencing. "The Kissaway Trail" is something of a frustrating listen, then - it’s a very good debut, a very good debut, but one that’s lacking in the bombast department; it’s a rather flat representation of a band that, live, can truly steal the breath away from all attendees before them. As a foundation for an absolutely stunning sophomore, though, this is good enough for sure.

Sep 26, 2018

TRIUMPH - Allied Forces (RCA Victor Records AFL1-3902, 1981)

Triumph is a Canadian hard rock band formed in 1975 that was popular in the late 1970s and the 1980s, building on its reputation and success as a live band. Between the band's albums and DVDs, Triumph has received 18 gold and 9 platinum awards in Canada and the United States. Triumph was nominated for multiple Juno Awards, including Group of the Year Award in 1979, 1985, 1986, and 1987. Triumph is most known for its guitar-driven rock songs, such as "Lay It on the Line", "Magic Power", "Fight the Good Fight", and "World of Fantasy". The band was formed by Toronto music veterans Rik Emmett (guitar, vocals), Mike Levine (bass, keyboards), and Gil Moore (drums, vocals) in 1975. This lineup, spanning nine studio albums, lasted until 1988, when Emmett left the band to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by Phil "X" Xenedis, and Triumph recorded only one album with him, which remains their last to date, before going on indefinite hiatus in 1993. The classic original lineup of Moore, Levine and Emmett reunited for two live concerts in 2008.

Guitarist Emmett's songwriting style showed a progressive rock influence, as well as displaying his classical music influence; each Triumph album included a classical guitar solo piece. Moore also doubled as lead singer on many of the band's heavier songs and in their later years, some softer ballads; bassist and pianist Levine produced their early albums. Triumph's style proved unpopular with rock critics, much like many progressive rock and heavy metal bands. Rolling Stone reviewers labeled them a "faceless band." Moore and Levine scouted Emmett one summer night in 1975 at a west-end Toronto club on The Queensway, called The Hollywood Tavern, where Emmett was playing in a band called ACT III. The three musicians subsequently got together for a jam session in the basement of Moore's house in Mississauga, after which Moore and Levine showed Emmett promo materials and contracts they had already secured for gigs starting in September of that year. They offered Emmett a guaranteed minimum weekly paycheck of $175, and Emmett agreed to join as an equal founding partner. Triumph's first paid concert was at Simcoe High School on September 19, 1975, for $750. By August 26, 1978 they were headliners at the Canada Jam Festival at Mosport Park playing before a crowd of 110,000 people.

Triumph signed their first record deal with Attic Records in Canada. They later signed with RCA Records in the US covering all areas except Canada. After the RCA deal ended in acrimony, MCA Records picked up the band and re-released all their music to date in 1984. After the shift to MCA, the band began to work with outside producers, and their studio albums became increasingly difficult to replicate onstage. Triumph later added Rick Santers, a Toronto guitar and keyboard player, to support their last three tours. Triumph's first album (originally self-titled but later renamed "In the Beginning") was rare outside Canada, but their widely released second LP, "Rock & Roll Machine", received some scattered airplay in the US, with Gil Moore's cover of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way." In mid 1978 Triumph subbed in for Sammy Hagar on an FM radio-station promotion date in San Antonio, Texas, followed by a run of 5 shows in Texas for JAM Productions (a promoter named Joe Anthony), then toured across Canada with fellow Canadian rockers Moxy and Trooper. San Antonio remained a popular location for the trio throughout its career.

Triumph's third album, "Just a Game" (1979), featured a moderate U.S. radio hit, "Hold On," which reached No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Hold On" became a significant song in some select markets, for example, in St. Louis the song made it to No. 1 on KSHE, an album-oriented/classic rock FM radio station. "Hold On" peaked at No. 33 on the RPM Singles chart in Canada. More significantly, the second single "Lay It on the Line" received even greater acceptance at album-oriented rock FM radio across the U.S. and Canada. The heavy-rotation FM radio airplay of "Lay It on the Line" solidified the band in the minds of classic rock audiences, although there was no Billboard Mainstream Top Rock Tracks chart at that time to tabulate the popularity of rock songs at album-oriented rock radio stations. "Lay It On the Line" reached No. 86 on the Hot 100. In 'oldies' classic rock formats radio stations in the US, it remains the most widely played and recognized song from the Triumph catalogue. The album eventually went gold in the US. In 1980, "Progressions of Power" was released and peaked higher in the US (No. 32) than "Just a Game" (No. 48) had, although overall sales were less (Gold instead of Platinum). The album did not have any breakout songs, although "I Can Survive" did reach No. 91 on the Hot 100.

1981's "Allied Forces" sold over a million copies in the US, while attaining the highest chart positions any Triumph album would attain; No. 23 in the US and No. 13 in Canada. It included the songs "Fight the Good Fight" and "Magic Power", the later of which reached no. 5 at Canada's largest Top 40 radio station, CHUM-AM in Toronto. "Magic Power" peaked at No. 14 on the national Canadian RPM Singles chart, their biggest hit in their native Canada. "Magic Power" reached No. 8 on the Billboard Mainstream Top Rock Tracks chart and No. 51 on the Hot 100, while "Fight the Good Fight" went to No. 18 on the Top Rock Tracks chart. "Never Surrender" was initially released in 1982 on Attic Records in Canada, and was not released in the United States until January 1983. The album attained gold status in the USA, and peaked at No. 26 on the US album chart. It saw the band's compositions take on more political overtones. Previously, Rik Emmett seemed content to limit himself to a single political theme on each previous Triumph album. ("Just a Game," "Hard Road," and "Ordinary Man" portray Rik Emmett's strong populist leanings.) However, "Never Surrender" featured no fewer than five anthems. The Jimi Hendrix-inspired riff-rocker "Too Much Thinking" even samples Ronald Reagan from one of his presidential speeches. "All the Way" (No. 2) and "A World of Fantasy" (No. 3) became Triumph's highest ever charting songs on the Top Rock Tracks chart, while the title track peaked at No. 23. The album earned gold record status in the United States (sales of 500,000 units). However, Triumph's relationship with RCA Records soured at this point, and the label did little to support their albums. MCA Records executive Irving Azoff demonstrated his faith in the trio by co-opting their debts and signing them for five albums. Following their 1984 label change, MCA took over distribution of their old catalogue for ten years.

"Thunder Seven" was released in late 1984, but initially only as a compact disc. Despite two hit singles and videos, "Spellbound" (No. 10 on the Top Rock Tracks chart) and "Follow Your Heart (No. 13)," the album failed to achieve expected levels of sales, even though cassette and vinyl formats were soon also released. "Thunder Seven" is perhaps the band's high mark, with Rik Emmett's lyrics addressing social concerns in a surprisingly adult context and Rik Emmett and Gil Moore singing alternating vocal parts within some songs, such as "Follow Your Heart" and "Killing Time." Continuing in the direction of "Never Surrender," the entire second side forms a loose concept focusing on different perspectives of time with "Time Canon" mostly featuring multiple part voice harmonies. "Thunder Seven" became an RIAA certified gold album in 2003. In 1985, the band released "Stages", a double live set culled from the previous three tours. It also included two new songs, including "Mind Games", for which a video was filmed, but the song failed to chart in either Canada or the U.S. On June 7, 1985 Triumph was ranked #2 in Performance Magazine's 6-week period ending "Tops in Performance" list. That year the band performed with Mountain at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Illinois.

Triumph would take a more commercial turn with their 1986 studio album, "The Sport of Kings". Rik Emmett's "Somebody's Out There" reached the American Top 40 in late 1986, a significant amount of radio and video exposure. Written and recorded in the 11th hour of "The Sport of Kings" sessions, in an attempt to deliver a hit 'single' to satisfy the demands of the record company, "Somebody's Out There" made it to No. 27 on Billboard Hot 100 during October and November 1986. "Somebody's Out There" still stands as the highest-charting song from the Triumph catalogue on the Hot 100. It also reached No. 9 on the Top Rock Tracks chart, although it did less well in Canada, only reaching No. 84 on the Singles chart there. Gil Moore's "Tears in the Rain", cut from the same cloth as "Mind Games", did not fare as well in the charts in the US, as it peaked at No. 23 on the Top Rock Tracks charts. The third single, the slow-tempo "Just One Night", which also had a video, did fairly well in Canada hitting No. 33 on the Singles chart in April 1987, but did not chart in the US. Adding Rick Santers to their line-up, Triumph toured with Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen across the United States.

In 1987, the band attempted a return to form with "Surveillance". While Gil Moore and Mike Levine remained firmly planted in blues-rock, Rik Emmett took a more modern progressive turn, even involving Dixie Dregs and Kansas guitarist Steve Morse. They collaborated on a dual-guitar solo for Gil Moore's angst-ridden vocal on the Emmett-penned "Headed for Nowhere". The first single released to radio stations in Canada was "Let the Light Shine On Me", which did well on certain Canadian rock stations, such as reaching number 1 at Q107 in Toronto (as the lead one or two singles on most Triumph albums since 1979 had) while reaching No. 61 on the Canadian singles chart. It did not chart in the US. The first single released to radio stations in the US, "Long Time Gone," reached number 23 on the Top Rock Tracks chart; the song did not chart in Canada. A video was released for the single "Never Say Never," but the song was not able to chart on the Top Rock Tracks chart or on the Canadian Singles chart.

The 1988 tour concluded amid growing disharmony over business decisions and artistic direction; however, their final concert on September 3, 1988, was a spirited show on the Kingswood stage at Canada's Wonderland, just north of Toronto. In late 1988, Rik Emmett made a total break with Triumph. He subsequently began a modest but distinguished solo career, with his first album, Absolutely, yielding four hits in Canada. Meanwhile, Triumph released 1989's "Classics" as their obligatory fifth album owed to MCA Records. In 1992, the remaining members of Triumph recruited Phil Xenidis, a Canadian guitarist known for his work with Aldo Nova and Frozen Ghost. Moore was the principal songwriter and lead singer for 1992's "Edge of Excess", with additional help from guitarist-producer Mladen. Rick Santers also remained on hand as touring keyboardist and singer for the 1993 North American tour, singing Rik Emmett's parts in fan favourites "Magic Power" and "Fight the Good Fight." Initial reception of the album from American radio seemed quite favourable, until Triumph's recording label, a subsidiary of Polygram, dissolved unexpectedly in 1993. After this downturn, the remaining members of Triumph effectively disbanded.

In 1998, Rik Emmett resisted overtures from his former bandmates for a potentially lucrative twentieth anniversary US tour, stating he was not interested. Nevertheless, Moore and Levine purchased and acquired back their entire album catalogue from MCA and launched their own label TML Entertainment, and they continue to release live recordings and videos from their long career. In 2003, TML released a live DVD album called "Live at the US Festival" originally recorded in San Bernardino, California at the US Festival in 1983. This historic festival, attracting nearly 250,000 rock fans, also featured Van Halen and The Clash. Triumph had earlier released this concert on VHS following the Never Surrender tour, featuring two videos from the forthcoming "Thunder Seven" album. In 2004, TML released a second DVD concert, "A Night of Triumph", filmed in 1987 at Halifax Metro Centre during The Sport of Kings. The most comprehensive Triumph anthology, "Livin' for the Weekend: Anthology", was issued in 2005. A CD of extended versions of some of the band's most popular hits called "Extended Versions: Triumph" was released in 2006.

Gil Moore now owns and operates Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, originally opened in the early 1980s for Triumph's exclusive use, which also trains engineers and sound technicians for Canada's music industry. On March 10, 2007, Triumph was inducted to the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel. All original members of the group were present for the event. This first meeting in nearly twenty years appears to have broken the long silence between Rik Emmett and his former bandmates, but a recent interview with the guitarist did not promise a Triumph reunion. Emmett cited Gil Moore's full-time career at Metalworks, plus the fact Moore has not performed as a drummer since 1993. Bassist Mike Levine also does not seem to have much interest in touring at this late date. But Triumph's one-time camaraderie seems to have rekindled, and there may still be future collaborations on some musical level. For example, Nick Blagona mastered Rik Emmett's latest hard rock project, "Airtime" (2007), in the Metalworks mastering suite. On April 6, 2008, Triumph was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as part of the Juno Awards. "Lay It on the Line" was released as a DLC song for Guitar Hero 5 on October 22, 2009. In 2011, the band reissued "Allied Forces" as a vinyl package for their 30th anniversary. On July 14, 2011 Triumph Lane, in Mississauga ON, was officially dedicated in honour of the band. On August 28, 2012 the band released a CD+DVD package of their June 7, 2008 reunion concert in Sweden titled "Live At Sweden Rock Festival" on Frontiers Records in Europe and on the TML label in Canada and the United States. In 2013, Triumph was inducted into Legends Row at the inaugural ceremony held at Mississauga City Hall. In 2016, Rik Emmett released the album RES9, which included the song "Grand Parade," on which Gil Moore played drums and Mike Levine played bass. The song is a ballad reminiscent of "Suitcase Blues" and even includes the line "Me, I'm hanging out with Johnny Walker once again."

Since the group’s inception, individually and collectively, Triumph have contributed time, energy, music, facilities, equipment and funds in support of a wide range of charitable, educational and humanitarian causes. Triumph’s largest single charitable contribution was its final appearance at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, January 22, 1987. Staged by Gary Slaight for the "Sounds United" campaign of the United Way of Canada, Greater Toronto Division, all proceeds of $179,356.66 were donated. More recently, the trio has raised over $250,000 (and still counting) with its Signed Guitars Program. Since 2009 Triumph has signed over 100 Fender guitars and donated them to various charities for live and silent auctions, raising between $1,500 and $6,500 each. Individually, Emmett has also contributed guitars for Kids With Cancer, CNIB Ride For Sight and Barrett House Aids Hospice. In 2011 Triumph donated their music and business archives to the University of Toronto Libraries, which were valued by University of Toronto appraisers at over $1,000,000. Moore, Levine and Emmett have participated, together and alone, in many major fundraising events, including the latter’s appearance on “Tears Are Not Enough”, the Canadian music industry single for Ethiopian Famine Release in 1985, which would eventually raise over $3.5 million. Moore was on the committee, along with Tom Cochrane and Rush’s Alex Lifeson, and others, who spearheaded the tsunami relief effort, Canada for Asia, in January 2005.

Other causes Triumph and Metalworks have supported and/or sponsored include: MusiCounts, Rock Star for a Day Program, the Children’s Wish Foundation, Canada's Walk of Fame Emerging Artist Program, Canadian Music Week National Songwriting Contests, many High School Battle of the Bands, Full Circle, Camp Rock, Bike for Betty, and Friends of We Care - Easter Seals. The state-of-the-art facilities at Metalworks Studios have also been donated many times to help causes, including the Canadian Live 8 Concert, held in Barrie, Ontario on July 2, 2005. In 1996, Triumph donated royalties from one million units of the song "Magic Power" on the certified Diamond "Oh What a Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music" compilation CD in support of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science and Juno Award, as they have done many times in support of charitable initiatives. Moore has participated in and donated Triumph autographed guitars to countless celebrity golf fundraising tournaments over the years, Levine has bowled for TJ Martell Foundation and Emmett regularly performs at fundraisers for many causes, including AIDS, Food Bank and Shelter benefits.

In 2013 Emmett was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for Community Service and Moore was given a star on the Mississauga Music Walk of Fame for contributions to education and community support. Metalworks Production Group was given the 2014 Sam McCallion Small Business Community Involvement Award by the Mississauga Board of Trade. Metalworks Institute coordinates volunteers for Make Music Matter, a Calgary-based charity (formerly Song For Africa), by going to Africa and sharing their technological and musical training; and the music curriculum from the school has been donated for use by Drake’s Strawberry Mansion High School studio project for underprivileged in Philadelphia since 2013. In May 2015, Moore Received the Mississauga Arts Council, Laurie Pallett Patron of the Arts, MARTY Award for his contributions to the Mississauga arts community. In April 2016, Moore received the Mississauga Board of Trade, Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedication to business in Mississauga and the community. The group members have also served on various boards over the years. Currently, in 2014, Moore is on the Advisory Boards of Music Canada and CAAMA (Canadian Association for the Advancement of Music and the Arts) and Levine serves on the Board of Directors and Advisory Board for the Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC). In the past Emmett has served on the Advisory Boards at Humber College and the Songwriters Association of Canada. Moore has also served on the Executive Board at Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science (CARAS) as well as the Toronto Musicians Association (TMA).

Sep 25, 2018

(United Artists Records UA-LA188-F, 1973)

I really, really like this album by the Electric Light Orchestra. "On The Third Day", the band finally got it right, and this album initiates a glorious streak of constant winners that lasted all through the Seventies. The weirdest thing about it is that I actually remember seeing a Rolling Stone review of it that came out on the album's release, in which the author, while speaking more or less in favour of the album, was criticizing it for having shorter compositions than its predecessor and so lacking the epic character of "ELO II". Can you imagine it - Rolling Stone panning an album for not being enough pretentious ? Oh man, those were the days. Anyway, the compositions are indeed shorter, and they are generally more up to the point, concise, catchy and, well, rational than last time around. Not that Jeff Lynne had really figured out where he wanted to lead the band to; everything still sounds as if the only point of the band's existence was to prove that cellos and hard-rockin' electric guitars can live together within the limits of one song. But on the other hand, one can ask the same question such albums as "Abbey Road" - what's the point of "Abbey Road", for Chrissake ? What's the point of the medley on the second side ?

Okay, let me stop digressing. I find a lot of melodies on this here record to be creative and exciting, with Jeff Lynne managing to again recapture some of his early Beatlesque inspirations and going on to create something complex and lightweight at the same time. With pretty, memorable tunes like "Bluebird Is Dead" and "Oh No Not Susan" , and more or less convincing pieces of prog-boogie like "Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle" and "Showdown", this is a definite improvement over the endless clumsy orchestral jamming of "ELO II", and I'd easily recommend it - while it never features any particularly high points like there was on the band's debut album "No Answer", it is certainly more consistent than that record. Once and for ever, Jeff Lynne gave up on the idea of lengthy multi-part rock-classical suites, significantly simplifying and, I'd say, commercializing the sound, but without sacrificing its artistic value and uniqueness.

The pretentious compositions on here are mostly limited to the instrumentals; in particular, the album closes with the band's take on Grieg's "In The Hall Of The Mountain King", which is certainly inferior to the Who's chaotic, paranoid take now available on "The Who Sell Out" as a bonus track, but at least it hardly sounds like they were intentionally butchering the composition or something. Maybe six minutes is a bit too much, but for the most part of that time the musicians are inspired, and you can't deny the greatness of the theme in the first place. And "Daybreaker" actually rocks, too. Imagine that. Other than that, the tunes mostly fall into three groups: the more cosmically conscious ones, the ballads and the rockers. Needless to say, the ballads are the best among the bunch, since Jeff's Beatles influence couldn't yet go wrong, and would, in fact, only grow stronger in the nearest few years. "Bluebird Is Dead" is highly emotionally resonant, much as I dread to utter that word combination as applied to such an early ELO record - wonderful refrain, charming vocal harmonies, excellent "Eleanor Rigby"-type string passages, what else is needed ?

"Why do they say, Bluebird is dead" - Kudos to Mr Lynne for figuring out the essential principle - the secret of greatness often lies in nothing else than vocal modulation. Lower your pitch here, heighten it there, extend the right notes, do not, for God's sake, make it all sound like you're chewing an endless piece of gum, and you can't go wrong. Provided you got talent, of course, but I doubt even the worst enemies of Lynne would ever want to dispute that. And yes, "Oh No Not Susan", while slightly marred by primitive bored with high society pattern lyrics, is still equally soothing and filled with equally wonderful vocal hooks. The rocking tracks are somewhat more bizarre, as it's still hard to imagine a complex rocker highlighted by weirdly arranged strings all over the place. And yet, both "Showdown" and "Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle" chug along quite convincingly, although the latter is a bit primitive. Isn't it ? Lyrically, at least. "I got three or four babies sittin' on my knee ?" Pardon ? But on the other hand, it's the most obvious showcase for Jeff's electric guitar playing on the album, so it adds a little diversity.

And I simply love "Showdown" - the ominous string riff is unbeatable. It's the more ambitious tunes like "King Of The Universe" and "New World Rising" that slightly spoil the general effect of the album - they are way too erratic and too often get bogged down with their own pretentions and weirdness to be truly enjoyable throughout. But quite often, the vocal melodies are constructed carefully enough to justify the song's existence: "King Of The Universe", in fact, gives the impression of being an inferior re-write of the "10538 Overture" from the band's debut album. Not a thoroughly bad impression. In all, you should definitely give the record a chance to grow on you - for the first time in ELO's story, it is able to fully demonstrate us the band's magnificent songwriting skills (the existence of which I once foolishly doubted), and it is unquestionably one of the most well-balanced ELO records, giving you a brilliant sample of their classic sound without introducing you to any of their worst excesses and without being particularly boring. And I did become convinced that the inclusion of cello and violin players as official band members can be a good thing, too.

Sep 24, 2018

SISYPHOS - Mujokan (Moon Records MOON L016, 2002)

Overall, very similar to German Iskander with the advanced, nicely rocking (up the hill and back down again ad infinitum) progressive symphonic, almost always featuring electric instruments, usually two well-tuned and loud el. guitars. It's quite shocking both how prolific and therefore how underheard these guy are, to this day. First of all look at their discography, beginning 1981, shortly thereafter crossing through into the CD world, 30 years later transitioning into the digital world and ending only a few years back with 2009's Retromania. In total, 8 albums listed. There's a couple of caveats here the most important being that they had an unfortunate tendency to recycle certain tracks, admittedly often good ones, and sometime changing their names, which therefore trespasses further onto the territory of annoying, like a friend you like who eats all the leftover meat-lover pizza you wanted for breakfast. But you couldn't say no when he asked because it's not polite so instead you just complain to your wife who rolls her eyes and walks away.

The band Sisyphos has been playing in the same formation for more than 30 years. Their music is somehow a reminder of the progressive rock sound of the seventies as well as of classical music - spherical music but with a hard rock touch, which is transformed as rough as it is produced. Members are René Senn (Guitar), Boris Bühler (Drums, Vocals), Herman Peter (Bass) and Peter Scheidegger (Keyboards, Vocals). Sweet but accurate blurb, gets to the heart of the matter for sure. On this wonderful LP, titled "Mujokan", the old almost 19th century style vocal composition "The Language Of Acceptance (Martins Garden)" is superb.The first chord, which is added minor 6th on top of the G7 (resolving to the key of Stevie C) with its harmony vocals, just gives me chills, referencing as it does the old pop tunes I heard as a kid blasting out of the cabinet-sized radio/amp/turntables we once had, but this song is so much more than a nostalgia homage ode, as it changes through various keys and sounds, never straying from the darkness and sudden turns down strange alleys.  Keeping it together is a melody that climbs up and down like Sisyphos's rolling rock over a couple of octaves even as the song ostensibly in the genre of pop promiscuously accepts all classical influences in its chords and structures. To me this is really a masterpiece composition, automatically making it to my top ten list of best progressive songs heard in many years.

I've listened to all their albums by now and can tell you that in the beginning they were almost plain hard rock with some, but few, inventive changes, always eschewing the standard rock progressions of I IV V or its inverted form of V IV I which was clicheified so badly by the Rolling Stones, but nonetheless not much prog. As far as I remember, most of their songs were even in E or A back then, sometimes G. But after the 80s period they had a change of heart almost and went the wrong way completely, the right way for us, in the direction of more prog, and in 1996, the year alternative ruled the world, they came out with an album called "Moments" that to me is their masterpiece for all time. And it's really shockingly good, made more so by the fact I had never heard it, or heard of it, until quite recently. And I thought I knew all about prog!

Virtually the same album was made into a live release shortly thereafter, and today's LP called Mujokan came next after, in 2002. Of course it must be that these true heroes suffered from their dedication to the old school vinyl format, since I see from the info there was no CD release of this particular work. But that doesn't matter to you guys: here it is, digital and easily consumed like baby food but with all the flavours of adult mature mastery. Mention should also be made about the album called "Exit", by 7Pines which is Sisyphos keyboardist Peter Scheidegger in a trio with even more classic progressive rock nitrogycerine blasting out all the hallmarks of the genre: odd time signatures, original chord progressions often in minor seconds, crazy unison arpeggios in fourths, fast runs of atonal 'melodies', prolifically tossed minor seconds and tritones in every song.

Sep 23, 2018

(Grunt Records CYL1-0437, 1974 - Original Recordings from 1965 - 1970)

Contrary to legend, Jefferson Airplane weren't the first major band to have a rarities and outtakes collection released - earlier precedents like Traffic definitely come to mind - but they were certainly one of the first bands to prove such collections could be more than worthwhile. This stuff was released only a few years after the band's demise, and is quite short even for an LP, but nevertheless manages to briefly touch upon every aspect of the band's existence: the early pre-Slick days, the classic poppy 1967 period, the folksy revival of 1969, the proto Hot Tuna jamming, and the rambling, formless decline of the early Seventies. In fact, I couldn't heave enough praise on how classy the compositional structure of the record is - with its nine songs, Early Flight could show all these latter days thirty-track long CDs where only half of the songs are worth listening to and the other half have to be picked out like lice from an inmate's hair a thing or two - not to be naming any names, that is.

Not all the songs here are great, but some are, and every single one is at least mildly interesting. From the early days of the band, the Signe Anderson/Skip Spence epoch, you get a minor masterpiece, "High Flyin' Bird", a song that, for no apparent reason, had evaded album release before, but nevertheless turned into a live staple for the band (apparently it can be heard live performed by the Slick lineup on the "Monterey Pop Festival" album). That song just illustrates everything that was so great about the early band. Balin and Signe each share verses, with him enunciating everything in his takes some time to get used to shakey vulnerable voice and she ushering in a wall-rattling soulful delivery (a rare case, actually, when you can hear Signe singing lead - Balin was probably too jealous to let her do it more often). The other two early songs aren't that interesting, showing way too much dependence on the classic Byrds sound, but if you dig the early Byrds, you're guaranteed to dig these, two. They're just not as powerful as "High Flyin' Bird", 'sall. Still, like I've already pointed out above, 1966-era Airplane aren't just a carbon copy of the Byrds - they've got radically different vocal stylistics, and their love for echoey production and Cassidy's rumbling moody basslines all make their approach significantly darker than McGuinn and company's.

"In The Morning" is a nice, if not breathtaking, early example of a blues jam, with Jorma (who else) taking lead vocal and John Hammond contributing harmonica runs. Then again, the Airplane's bluesmaking was never breathtaking, but Jorma always made sure there was a little creepy swampy feel about their mucking around, and this one's no exception. His trademark vocals are already firmly in place as well. In case you're not aware, Jorma's trademark singing is in accord with a simple principle - "keep your mouth tightly shut and your nose widely open". A pretty defiant, if not all that unique, approach to singing. The "Surrealistic Pillow" era is represented by the Skippy reject "J.P.P. McStep B. Blues" (you could tell Skippy wrote the tune by merely looking at the title, couldn't you ?), a decent, but not too hook-filled folksy shuffle (cool friendly harmonies on that one), and particularly "Go To Her", the second great lost gem on here. One of the Airplane's most energetic, dazzling rockers ever, with the entire band working as one tightly oiled mechanism, something they really could only demonstrate on "Surrealistic Pillow" before cracking and splitting under the influence of too much acid - Balin and Slick duet on here and, once again, bring out the best in each other, and each verse climaxes in that mega-powerful "Go To Her", she lies waiting for you!' scream that, in a better epoch, could serve as the Airplane's visit card just as well as 'Don't you need somebody to love!'.

Next there's another jam ("Up And Down"), this time drifting off into more a funk/hard-rock direction - actually, it's more of a Hot Tuna number with Balin guest sitting on lead vocals, and that's the only minus because frankly, Balin isn't much of a cock-rockish screamer, he sounds like a watered-down version of David Coverdale on this track. Apart from that, they get a grizzly heavy rock sound going on that's almost nearly in the Led Zeppelin ballpark, and could have been right out there had Jorma simply bothered to lower the guitar tone just a wee bit more. Then again, Cassidy's elephant herd like bass sort of compensates for that. And the track just keeps growing, with Jorma and Kantner getting it up, adding extra distortion and, towards the end, going funkier with the wah-wah and stuff and really getting it on. Whether you like it or not, it's inarguably the heaviest thing to bear the Jefferson Airplane moniker, and that alone deserves a listen or two.

Finally, there's a late 1970 single included - incoherent and unmemorable, like pretty much everything the band did from 1969 on, but at least energetic and inspired-sounding like the best tracks on their two last albums rather than lethargic and directionless like on "Volunteers". The Grace-dominated "Mexico" is my favourite (because the more Grace there is, the more you can count me happy), but Kantner's "Have You Seen The Saucers" is not that bad either - particularly due to some blazing guitar work from Kaukonen. Much of this album has been incorporated into later anthologies and compilations and boxsets, so I've heard, but if you're a completist and don't care much for compilations, you can get this without any fear of being ripped-off. In fact, hey, I don't mind if anybody uses this as an introduction to the Airplane, strange as that may sound. Diverse, well-recorded and well mastered on CD, it will provide you with more insight into the band than the brief bits of Woodstock which usually initiate people into the Airplane mythology.