Sunday, 30 August 2015

Emmett Elvin - Emmettronica 1998 - 2012

Following on from the artistic triumph that was last year's appropriately titled Bloody Marvels album, Emmett Elvin, keyboard and electronica wiz of this and all other parishes has re-released his eclectic compilation Emmettronica '98 - '05, that traces his imaginative and wide-ranging solo recordings all the way back to a time of hope, now with 13 extra tracks, being the first 13 of the download accounting for the extra seven years added to produce the 1998 - 2012 tag.

Emmet tinkles ivories, plastic or real, and does odd things with synthesisers for Guapo, Knifeworld, and Chrome Hoof, but here he is let loose to follow his own peculiar and individualistic muse to his heart's content, and we are privileged to be able to hear the results of Emmet's 14 years of messing about in studios.

Sparse Eno-esque electronica collides with alien Herbie Hancock funk, mangled techno beats, avant garde larking about, and an ear for a decent melody as the good spaceship Soyuz Elvin travels back and forth through time on a never-ending quest to seek out the unusual. Setting the scene with the eerie spacewalk of Cosmonautilus, we drift into the alt-jazz-techno of My Headless Tortoise and a veritable cornucopia of sounds and ideas is laid out before us on this highly entertaining rummage through Mr Elvin's musical attic.

The grubby hull of the speeding craft is scrubbed clean to the accompaniment of Burn & Shine, hurtling through the asteroid belt with furious glee, disembodied voices muttering with dark portent. Scatter-gun beats chatter while synths gabble on The Burnt Ocean, on Lunopolis classical keyboard arpeggios chime in quasi-religious incantation to unknown deities...and so we rise, so we ride.

The modern film-noir feel to Those Shirts is followed by Starbuck's End, where piano tensions rise and a rare and sharp guitar line cuts through as previously avoided dues are paid. The classical influences return on the Bach influenced Poor Zokko, and several rugs are cut by seven-limbed three-clawed aliens doing the Magellan Shuffle to Bugshutter. Like Philip Glass on speed, Electropipe charges along on a runaway rhythmic stream of consciousness, while the following blissful and appropriately titled Marshmellow gives the listener time to gather his or her thoughts.

Rare vocals swirl through Wayfarer as the metaphorical journey continues. This whole thing would be great to listen to on a long train journey as Europe endless speeds past the rain-flecked window. Dream reveries are cut short on the industrial Sturm und Drang of Andromeda Backwash, only to return with the haunting Last Sunrise On Earth. More Philip Glassisms pervade the gently bubbling Phantom Arboretum, and some lovely treated guitar follows on Secondary. The warm bath of bass on Soltair soothes our weary space traveller, returning from the first part of the album contemplating insignificance while stargazing. The album ends with the elegiac Fergetit, a short piece of anti-choral multi-tracked vocalising with the most minimal arrangement, and it is quite lovely.

While Emmettronica 1998 - 2012 is not as coherent and is more minimalistic than Bloody Marvels, as it is a collection of snapshots of a mad professor at work in his evil sound laboratory rather than a planned album, it is definitely well worth your time, especially as it is only £5 (or £10 for the double CD) for an hour and a third's worth of intriguing, beguiling, and in places quite bonkers music!

01. Cosmonautilus (2:10)
02. My Headless Tortoise (2:11)
03. Burn & Shine (3:55)
04. The Burnt Ocean (3:18)
05. The Croaker (3:23)
06. Lunopolis (3:36)
07. Fergetit (2:24)
08. Occurzaalite (3:42)
09. Those Shirts (3:58)
10. Starbuck’s End (3:42)
11. Mattmath (2:23)
12. Monkey Fist (3:09)
13. Polly & Joan (1:46)
14. Overbaked Overture (1:19)
15. Poor Zokko (1:28)
16. Bugshutter (3:15)
17. Interfog (1:01)
18. Blue Nails (4:02)
19. 3AM on the River of Sleep (3:15)
20. Marshmellow (2:58)
21. Wayfarer (4:22)
22. Andromeda Backwash (2:06)
23. Last Sunrise on Earth (2:53)
24. Phantom Arboretum (3:16)
25. Secondary (1:28)
26. Electropipe (3:18)
27. Soltair (2:14)
28. Nostar (2:00)
29. Radar Search (1:50)

Total running time – 1:20:22

Line up:
All instruments by Emmett Elvin, except where noted below:-
Dr Matthew Day – “for his contribution to Mattmath“.
Mr Henry Platt – Jen Synthesiser on Lunopolis.
David Wright – Sliced, diced and reconstituted tenor saxophone on My Headless Tortoise.
Duncan Western – Sliced, diced and reconstituted drums on My Headless Tortoise.
Ms Miranda Barber – Sampled voice on more than one track, principally on Fergetit.


Bad Elephant Records

Double CD version available from The Merch Desk

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Metallic Taste Of Blood - Doctoring The Dead

With a name as redolent as Metallic Taste Of Blood, in addtion to the gruesome cover of their second album Doctoring The Dead, it is indeed a surprise that the music this multi-national trio make does not make one feel queasy, but rather conjures an atramentous and shifting sonic ague that draws in the listener, whether they are willing or not. While metallic, this music is not metal, prog or otherwise, for it transcends genre description.

Doctoring The Dead inhabits the outer reaches of a similar universe to Mike Patton's gloriously visceral Fantômas and their literally and metaphorically bloody great Delìrium Còrdia album, but while Fantômas is cackling to its collective self and getting deep down into the process of the operation without anaesthetic, Metallic Taste Of Blood are merely observing through a two-way mirror, later to dissect the corpse of Fantômas's bloody offerings.

Not as obviously demonic as Patton's wilfully strange band, but nonetheless as dark as a bottomless pit, Metallic Taste Of Blood meld the disparate influences of their members to produce a throbbing mass of sound that will reverberate through your headphones or floorboards and shake your very core. Colin Edwin I'm sure you know all about, and drummer Ted Parsons has hit things for the mighty Swans, Prong, and Killing Joke to name but three strikingly feral bands on his CV. Let's just say that Colin Edwin's bass is monstrous, a gentle giant intermittently roused to fearsome growls, in tandem with Ted Parsons' drumming that shifts from a deft lightness of touch to a  Bonham-like insistent rhythmic brutality that not so much propels, but forges the music, a sixteen-ton lump hammer shaping the molten core on an anvil of sound.

Opening track Ipsissimus is about as upbeat at gets, a mid-paced beast lurching along, bouncing off the walls, with great work from the rhythm section and a cheeky Fripp-like "guitar as wonky piano" interjection from band leader, Italian guitarist and sonic manipulator Eraldo Bernocchi. Eraldo is a man of many talents who can lend proceedings anything from a dark ambient howl to some huge post-rock riffery as and when appropriate. Early PiL come to mind in the way Colin's dub bass and Ted's snare drumming enmesh on Pashupati, with Eraldo supplying blissful glissando above the wall-shaking bottom end.

The spooky and evocative title track is an eerie swirling mist of a thing, where Eraldo is joined by Roy Powell, a keyboard player of some repute at the more obscure end of the telescope. Powell adds layers of Gothic strangeitude to the track Doctoring The Dead that make for an unsettling yet oddly trance-like listening experience.

At the conclusion of Blind Voyeur the threesome lock together on the heaviest of riffs, the kind of thing that would give Mogwai the night terrors. This leads into the contrasting ambient intro to Day Of Bones, another track featuring Roy Powell's textural keyboard work. Parsons reprises the beat from the previous song, and this is another example of the thematic links running through the album. Colin's bass on this one isn't so much heard as felt. This band would be a killer proposition live.

The wonderfully verbose but erudite press release claims that "listening to this will lift you into a state not unlike that of cognitive dissonance, one of deep, uncomfortable enjoyment" - it's not wrong.

01. Ipsissimus (4:54)
02. Pashupati (5:54)
03. Synthetic Tongue (6:17)
04. Doctoring The Dead (7:17)
05. Blind Voyeur (6:31)
06. Day Of Bones (6:24)
07. Murder Burger (6:03)
08. The Death Of Pan (6:28)

Total running time: 49:51

Line up:
Eraldo Bernocchi – guitars & electronics
Colin Edwin – bass guitar & ebow
Ted Parsons – drums & percussion

Roy Powell – keys & electronics (1,5 & 6)
Matilde Bernocchi – electronics (3 & 4)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Nerve Institute - Fictions

This latest album by The Nerve Institute has a rather strange backstory, in that it was recorded back in 2008 and released in 2010 under the name Ficciones by Sinthome, a name given to an earlier one-man project operated by American composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Judge - not the Beavis & Buthead guy by the way. As Mike says in a highly informative interview with my TPA colleague Jeremy Rowden: "Nobody really heard Fictions, which was originally called Ficciones, on its first release, so I thought it might be worth reissuing now that a few people know who I am. The new version has been remastered by Udi Koomran, who’s a wizard, and sounds way better."

Well I was one of those who never heard the original, and judging (no pun intended) by this rather lovely and compellingly complex beauty currently occupying my soundstage, I'm glad that Udi Koomran and AlrOck took the time to re-release it as a Nerve Institute waxing, much to the surprise of the main man as I am led to believe.

The Nerve Institute are effectively a one-man band, with Mike Judge playing all manner of instruments, with the focus of his talents being on the guitar and the drums, as well as manipulating all manner of electronic sonic trickery found at the bottom of this garden of earthly delights. Married to his skill as an arranger, the end result is about as far removed from the dreaded "one man in his shed with a laptop" variety  of solo effort as can be imagined. Guesting on a couple of tracks is Jacob Holm-Lupo of White Willow, fleshing out Grimoire - which he co-wrote with Mike - with extra guitar, and City of Narrows with additional keyboards. Other than Grimoire Mike wrote everything here. A satisfying mix of art rock, psychedelia, off-kilter song writing and punky energy, the record rollicks along at a fair old pace.

This is a big, bold, psychedelic stew of a record, and labyrinthine in its complexity. Much like a good maze it is a delight to get utterly lost within its Gordian Knot-like twists and turns. Mike's guitar has a Zappa flavour, with occasional dashes of Bill Nelson, but it is a style that is his own. The cleverly put together ensemble playing is quite mesmerising, easily giving the feel of a full band.

Having started out as a drummer and bass player in the punk scene of Kansas City, Mike is no slouch behind a kit, and this is a pleasant surprise, for it is often in the drumming department that one-man projects tend to suffer. If he ever gets the chance, this music would come over just right in a live setting. No doubt intentionally claustrophobic in places, this dense sonic template would suit a cramped "club in a cellar" type surrounding. Mind you, unless Mike has had a change of heart since writing The Nerve Institute's Prog Archives entry, any live appearances are somewhat unlikely. He hasn't played his material live for years, apparently "due variously to a distaste for teaching people to play it to my tremendously anal standards, disgust with the whole enterprise of The Music Business and, frankly, with audiences in general..." That and the fact that his music now seems secondary to his writing - a novel is in progress - shame!

Opening song The Confidence-Man has an air of a more focused Syd Barrett about it, replete with early Floyd-like synth squiggles and jangling psychedelic guitar, taking the song through a lens backwards and on into a veritable zoo of sound and percussive rattles. A great start to a thoroughly absorbing album. This nascent psychedelia continues into the hypnotic City of Narrows, where we fly off down narrow dimly lit alleyways, zipping along just above the rough ground, our way lit by jazzy sparks in the sonic ether. A lovely guitar break winds its way round your heart and you are stolen.

Knives of Winter/Coronation Day skitters up and down an Escher staircase, presaging another great guitar break, this time with a definite Zappa feel, before ending on a fairground ride, the effects-drenched guitar screaming away with a fiendish grin on its face. And so we trip off into Mike's surreal sound world, perfectly complimented by the Hieronymus Bosch cover art, jarringly but effectively contrasted with photos of cityscapes at night.

Mike goes into deep analytical detail into the origins and meanings of his songs in the TPA interview, and he is obviously a highly intelligent man, and a deep thinker. In the Leprosarium for example uses disembodied quotes from J G Ballard and " the electronically-altered voices are reading something I found at a shut-down mental hospital in rural Missouri". Here's another brief lift from the interview: "Knives of about modes of unofficial, non-state-sanctioned reality which have fallen into disuse and been replaced by whatever the official epistemology of the era is – first it’s nature, then it’s religious dogmatism, then it’s Reason, then it’s empiricism, now it’s a toxic combination of scientific literalism and capitalist doctrine". Suffice to say that this does not and should not serve as background music. When you give it your full attention it will not leave you weary as some "difficult" music can do, for as complex as Fictions is, it is actually easy to listen to. However, easy listening it is most certainly not!

The dreamy space-ballad Whistling Wire, a delightfully fizzy construct, contains some marvellously reverb-drenched power chording that had me recalling Brit psych rockers Levitation. Knives of Summer is a musical tour de force, and Rayuela, despite its slight oddness has an underlying Iberian feel. With a title like With Joy We Espy the Sacrophagus, this song was either going to be a Zappa-like construct, or head off into the more esoteric end of Canterbury, and it turns out to be both at once, but rising above its influences. There are nods to Dave Stewart in the keyboard stylings, and the arrangement and guitar give it the feel of Zappa fronting National Health. That ticks a couple of boxes for me!

Heading off into Phil Miller territory, the guitar in Grimoire, possibly by Jacob Holm-Lupo is a delight. Meanwhile, back in Spain, Abrazo y caminando - possibly "Embrace and Go" - swirls its skirts right next to your table, with a devilish glint in its eye.

The album ends with a stroll through the quarantine area of avant-symphonic rock and angularity with Docile Bodies/In The Leprosarium, cut off from the outside world in a haze of disease. More soaring guitar moves that remain elegant amid sundry time signature shifts take us through a place where all is not as it seems. Much like, say, The Mars Volta at their early peak, this music never quite does what you expect. Each time you listen to it, there is something else revealed. Listening to the ultra-complex drum patterns is enticing enough in itself, without even considering the avant-prog magnificence that is writing a many-volumed tome above the polyrhythms. After a short almost unnoticeable break the final three minutes - In the Leprosarium one assumes - is an ambient trip through the inner sanctum of the unholy and unloved. This may be ambient music, but you could not meditate to it!

Mike Judge is a rare artistic talent, and a restless one at that, having for the time being at least, seemingly left his music to gently simmer while he veers off into writing, which you can find HERE. I for one hope he returns to the studio sometime soon! 


1. The Confidence-Man (6:14)
2. City of Narrows (6:23)
3. Knives of Winter/Coronation Day (7:22)
4. Whistling Wire (4:38)
5. Knives of Summer (10:19)
6. Rayuela (4:42)
7. With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus (6:21)
8. Grimoire (3:34)
9. Abrazo y caminando (4:11)
10. Docile Bodies/In The Leprosarium (11:22)

Total running time – 65:08

Line up:

All music composed, performed and recorded by Michael S. Judge
~ except
Jacob Holm-Lupo – Co-writer & additional guitars on Grimoire, keyboards on City of Narrows



AltrOck Productions

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Fierce And The Dead - Magnet EP

The armour-plated muscle-ripped superhero NoisyProgBastard crashes though the door of the sleazy North London music venue, and announces its collective presence. "I'm a cult, gotta get out of it, out of it" the riff seems to be hammering into our skulls as the bulging beast transforms before us into a tightly wound rock quartet of serious intent. Thrashing his guitar around like a mountain bear on cheap speed, Matt Stevens, whom it is rumoured comes from a place where they practice the Olde Religion, is a man possessed, and his musical cohorts are right there in the melee with him.

Opening track Magnet In Your Face is just that; any closer and you'd be swapping eyeballs and iron filings. At only one minute and forty one seconds long, it has the effect of a rabbit punch to the solar plexus. Based on a fantastically taut riff in the manner of Five Horse Johnson, Matt and fellow plank destroyer Steve Cleaton push their instruments to the limits of endurance in a fashion that will rock your socks off, oh yes! Yep, they got my attention...

“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It is more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel" says Matt in the PR blurb, who is described therein as a "Dead guitarist". On this evidence I'd describe this genial giant of a man as more of a Fierce guitarist.

The EP features the band's first new material in two years, and after that riotous opener it hints at a more measured and electronic sound than was found on their last album, Spooky Action . You could say this is a progression if you like playing around with the preconceptions that that contentious word in all its forms and abbreviations carries before it. However, "prog" this most definitely ain't, for The Fierce And The Dead are an important cog in the current burgeoning British alt-rock scene, along with the likes of Guapo, Schnauser, and Knifeworld and others. All those bands are different but they share an electric current of restless energy that leaves behind any notion that "prog rock" has to be in any way associated with or in thrall to its glorious past.

Produced as ever by bassist and mixing desk wiz Kevin Feazey, the sound is wonderfully clear and crisp, every nuance of this fearsome racket is laid before one's shell-likes in all its splendid sonic malevolence. The second new number Palm Trees sways in the breeze and soothes after that cataclysmic opener, but the slow math-rock melody is intermittently cajoled by blocks of post-rock chording that remind you that this band don't let the intensity slider fall for long. And so it is that the two guitars charge for the climax of this song on a tsunami of MBV noise that will leave your ears ringing. Bloody marvellous!

Flint is a re-recording of a tune from the band's first album, and Kevin's production has opened up the spaces in this song and added some electronic effects for good measure. The drum pattern by Stuart Marshall makes the tune skip along with joy in its heart. This is a nice exercise in "less is more", and not something you'd expect from these otherwise full-on chaps.

The enigmatically titled Part 6 (The 8th Circuit) commences with some sci-fi keyboards and motorik rhythms as the mothership lands in a fog of smoke. NoisyProgBastard has reformed and feeling sated and fully justified, having demolished the cavernous sleazepit it leaves behind, ascends the ramp, which closes behind it as the spaceship disappears in a cloud of dust.

The EP ends with two old songs recorded live in rehearsal, giving you a taste of what to expect from the live assault this band are said to deliver. Yes, I've yet to experience that, but I know it will happen at some point soon!

This EP is out on 14th August, and you can preorder it via the links below. The band are appearing at the Arctangent Festival a week later with, amongst others, Deerhoof, 65daysofstatic and the superbly monikered Dillinger Escape Plan.

Pre-order the EP HERE

...or here...Bandcamp

1. Magnet In Your Face (1:41)
2. Palm Trees (4:00)
3. Flint (4:24)
4. Part 6 (The 8th Circuit) (3:59)
5. Let's Start A Cult (rehearsal recording) (3:19)
6. Spooky Action (rehearsal recording) (3:12)

Total running time - 18:53

Line up:
Kevin Feazey - Bass, keyboards
Matt Stevens - Guitars, loops, keyboards
Steve Cleaton - Guitars, effects
Stuart Marshall – Drums

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Van der Graaf Generator – After The Flood - At The BBC 1968-1977

There is one album that encapsulates the original era of what came to be known as progressive rock better than any other, and that album is Close to The Edge by Yes. The record is a flawless masterpiece, and transcends its genre to stand as one of the best albums of “popular” music made by anyone, ever. However, when it comes to true progression and a fearless desire to consistently push the envelope, there are really only two contenders from the top table of that golden age. One is King Crimson, and the other is Van der Graaf Generator, the latter here delighting us all with a definitive collection of sessions originally recorded for the BBC.

Mark Powell’s comprehensive essay in the sumptuous 24-page booklet tells you all you need to know about this unique band, right from their chaotically naïve beginnings, later becoming the reason for the formation of Charisma Records, as amazingly manager Tony Stratton-Smith couldn’t get any other label interested! The essay follows the group through various triumphs, trials and tribulations, splits and reformations, and ends right up to date. This double CD, as the title indicates, concentrates on the classic era, ending with the string-driven late 70s incarnation of this wilfully singular group.

Passing through the early years on CD1 I am struck by the youthful purity of Peter Hammill’s voice, a device that developed into an instrument in its own right by the time of the band’s early magnum opus Pawn Hearts in 1971. As the years passed, ravaged by years of a forty-plus-a-day cigarette habit, the pure tones of Afterwards became the enthralling declamatory beast that marauds through Scorched Earth, Still Life, La Rossa, and beyond. As far as I am aware there was no Faustian pact involved, unless Old Nick was the major stakeholder in British American Tobacco.

Hammill contends, quite rightly, that Van der Graaf Generator only properly got underway with their second album, 1970’s The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other. Prior to that there was no David Jackson, aka Jaxon, who was a vital cog in the VdGG machine, a cog that to my mind is missed greatly in the current incarnation of the band. The pre-Jaxon VdGG is represented by the first three tracks: People You Were Going To, a jaunty off-kilter psych-pop single, an angelic version of Afterwards, and the menacing future-indicator Necromancer, all recorded for John Peel’s Top Gear show in 1968. Peely, an early champion of the band, as ever knew a good thing when he found it.

After a brief split, the band reformed, now with David Jackson on board. The compositional leap forward to The Least We Can Do… is practically tangible, as the band’s second Top Gear session, recorded in 1970 attests. Hammill’s deeply intoxicating lyricism is now developing apace, and Jaxon spurs Hugh Banton along into ever more dark corners of home-made Hammond distortions and swells. The version of After The Flood included here will have your neck hairs standing to attention – marvellous stuff!

The first of five previously unreleased tracks on this set is Vision from a 1971 Sounds Of The Seventies session. This is a plaintive piano and vocal song from Hammill’s first solo album Fool’s Mate, hence its non-appearance on the now superseded Maida Vale single CD album of BBC sessions. That same session also includes the first of two versions of ManErg, a live staple almost from the day it was written right up to the present. That it is one of only two songs included here twice is rather fitting. Magnificent and otherworldly, this beast of a song captures VdGG at their two extremes, veering from deep introspective romanticism to musical and lyrical paranoid declamation - “Am I really me, am I someone else?” The Thin Man screams over Jaxon and Banton’s taut stridency, all held together by Guy Evans’ powerhouse economic rhythms.  Another triumph, and proof to me, if any were needed that choosing a favourite VdGG song is an impossible task.

The other song included twice is Darkness, the second version of which, again from the Sounds Of The Seventies session includes some incendiary blowing from Jaxon, highlighting why he was such an important constituent of VdGG’s sonic template. By this time, the band had no bass player, Banton playing the bass parts with foot pedals, which added a different, more sonorous timbre to VdGG’s by now instantly recognisable sound.

CD1 ends with one of VdGG’s more accessible songs, and the version of Killer, the final of three from a BBC radio concert from 1971 lurches along in theatrically menacing fashion, Hammill getting well into the mindset of the solitary predator.

CD2 commences with a fitting song to end the second era of the band, Refugees being a melancholic paen to time and people moving on. Burned out by the relentless cycle of gigging, writing, recording, and touring again, the band stopped for around two years sometime during the late summer of 1972 after a particularly crazy tour of Italy where they were bona fide counter-culture stars. During his time away from VdGG, Hammill threw himself into his solo career, and was often joined in the studio by his erstwhile bandmates. Perhaps inevitably the four eventually regrouped and the astonishing result was 1975’s Godbluff, the first of three albums in quick succession that saw the band reach a plateau of perfection where the rollercoaster thrilling visceral excitement of before is channelled into controlled bursts of intense energy fuelling life-soaked matured lyrical and musical romanticism.

Just as the first CD witnessed a giant leap forward with the first version of Darkness, so the process is repeated with the seismic shift from Refugees, taken from a December 1971 Peel session to second track Scorched Earth, recorded just over three and half years later, again for Peel. The Godbluff tune shines with a new confidence in both arrangement and execution. This is a band that knows what it wants and how to get it. By now, Van der Graaf Generator have invented their own musical language, where incorporating the cha-cha-cha into a song’s structure as if it was the most natural thing to do makes Sleepwalkers yet another timeless classic. Incidentally, you are probably well aware of John Lydon’s love of VdGG, but one look at the stark black/white/red cover of The Fall’s Fall Heads Roll album and its similarity to Godbluff will tell you that Mark E. Smith is a fan, too.

Arguably, Still Life was even better than Godbluff, the band now reaching a peak of savage beauty unlike anything else extant at a time when the music scene was stagnating all around them. If there was a reason prog had to die, it certainly wasn’t Van der Graaf Generator. By April 1976 VdGG were out on their own in the world of mainstream eclectic rock music, as King Crimson had come to a halt well over a year previously, and the sonic and social upheavals of punk were still some nine months away. This was cutting edge rock music in spring 1976, and were it not for John Peel I would have had little idea it existed, such was VdGG’s low profile. A truly great version of La Rossa shows a band at the top of their game. A mere six more months passed before the final album from this incarnation of VdGG saw the light of day. World Record is sometimes overlooked when classic VdGG albums are discussed, but it continued to mine the same rich vein of inspiration, and the consummate versions of When She Comes and Masks bear this out.

Hammill says that VdGG’s music has stood the test of time because they never paid any heed to what was commercially popular at the time, much to their continual impoverishment, and he’s right. Also, his lyrics spoke of real human concerns, you will not find any cod-philosophising or songs about faeries on VdGG albums, making the songs as relevant now as they ever were. For these same reasons the group withstood the fury of punk, Hammill having foreseen its coming with his character Ricky Nadir back in February 1975. The late 70s version of Van der Graaf , with its prescient punchier name was a furious proposition live, with Graham Smith’s violin and Hammill’s spikily primitive guitar replacing the now departed Banton and Jackson’s contributions, and because of this they fitted in with the zeitgeist rather well. 

This stellar compilation ends with a couple of tracks from that band’s only album, 1977’s  The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, including the marvellously punky Cat’s Eye/Yellow Fever. While still recognisably Van der Graaf (Generator), it was somewhat atypical in sound, and oddly it was also the first VdGG album I bought, making my later learning curve a somewhat weird experience! Perhaps it was a case of “I prophecy disaster, and then I count the cost” – speaking of which the strings-driven excerpt from A Plague… closing the second CD is far better than it had any right to be.

As you can see, I came to Van der Graaf Generator relatively late in the day, and it took me many years to get beneath the thick skin of their wilfully dense music, but once inside the belly of the beast there is no escape, and actually, I’m quite happy here, thanks all the same. Perhaps more than any of the other original progressive rock bands, Van der Graaf Generator were and indeed are something of a “Marmite” group. As Hammill says of the band’s early days “…in our live show we usually alienated fifty percent of the audience who used to walk out. The fifty percent who stayed would always come back to the next gig and became very loyal.” All I can say is, the fifty percent who walked out never to return and their modern equivalent who run screaming for the hills whenever VdGG is mentioned really did and do not know what they are missing – oh well, it was and is their loss. The rest of you need to buy this, if you haven’t already!

  1. People You Were Going To (3:29)
  2. Afterwards (4:41)
  3. Necromancer (4:08)
  4. Darkness (6:49)
  5. After The Flood (10:56)
  6. ManErg (11:08)
  7. Theme One (2:56)
  8. Vision (3:13)
  9. Darkness (7:15)
  10. ManErg (10:37)
  11. W (5:08)
  12. Killer (8:09)

Total running time – 78:58

  1. Refugees (6:17)
  2. Scorched Earth (9:40)
  3. Sleepwalkers (9:59)
  4. Still Life (7:19)
  5. La Rossa (9:56)
  6. When She Comes (8:09)
  7. Masks (7:23)
  8. Cat’s Eye/Yellow Fever (4:44)
  9. The Sphinx In The Face (5:32)
  10. (Fragments Of) A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers (9:28)

Total running time – 78:51

Line up:
Peter Hammill – Vocals, Acoustic guitar, Guitar, Piano, Electric piano
Hugh Banton – Organ, Piano, Bass Pedals, Bass guitar
Guy Evans – Drums
Keith Ellis – Bass guitar
David Jackson – Saxophones, Flute
Nic Potter – Bass guitar
Graham Smith – Violin
Charles Dickie - Cello


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Light Coorproration - Chapter IV - Before The Murmur Of Silence

Polish band Light Coorporation (pronounced "corporation") formed in 2011 to experiment with progressive jazz-rock. Unsurprisingly given the title, this is the band's fourth album, released in 2014.

Recorded live in the studio, these eight instrumental compositions were all written by guitarist Mariusz Sobański. The focus is often on the trumpet and saxophone that between them often sound like a full brass and reeds section, which serves to give the feel of an avant big band a la Centipede. Opener New States Of Mind (Repetitive) introduces itself in typically strident fashion, and is soon underpinned by a low rumbling bass line marking the rhythm with serious intent, another feature of the record. The tune is a tight jam with an open and spacious atmosphere in the manner of a very heavy take on 80s Miles Davis.

An intriguing feature is that the rather tasteful cover booklet, designed by Tom Lietzau includes lyric poems for each of the eight tracks on the record, all unsung! There is some nice prose here, too, and it is a shame none of it is used.

An obvious but effective trope is following a rousing number with something more laid back, as is often the case here, and the beginning of In A Tangle follows that tried and tested formula. Almost ambient, this is a quiet exploration of inner space that slowly rises from slumber accompanied by acoustic dub bass, muted trumpets and quiet sax, and the occasional spidery guitar interjections.

If the brass and reeds are the collective star on Chapter IV, never far behind are the dual bass talents of Piotr Oses and Krzysztof Waśkiewicz, who mark the rhythms with a thunderous purpose, often leaving drummer Milos Krauz to skitter around the edges in an effective manner.

With A Chance Of Cloudy commences as an atramentous thunderstorm, but clears to reveal a sunny day, but the threat is never far away. Three Headed Monster Sight Unseen was never going to be a sonic balm, and a very strange walking bass line, perhaps for someone with one leg shorter than the other deconstructs to one repeated arhythmic note and squalling guitar. The guitar often lends a psychedelic edge to proceedings when it appears, and that is certainly the case on the title track Before The Murmur Of Silence, where Mariusz gets to play at his most ferocious, albeit all too briefly. The unsung lyrics to this one cleverly illustrates the feeling of the protagonist's isolation within a crowd,  I would like to hear writer Mariusz Sobański turn these poems into proper songs.

The album ends with the seventeen minute Space Travel in an Old Painting, which takes a different tack to what has gone before. Neatly illustrating the "space" of the title, both literal and metaphorical, the piece is a long open road of eerie jazz ambience with the low-key trumpet lending inevitable comparisons to Miles. However, it is what is going on, or indeed not going on around the brass instrument that takes the tune somewhere else. Symphonic in construct, Space... takes its time to make a stately progress through the ether with a deftness of touch highlighted by the caresses of the ebow (?) guitar, as the bass begins to plot a path through the mist. Rhythms are are established only to disappear into entropy, The quietest of percussion is almost the only sound in a short sequence some ten minutes in, and the piece has become a supreme exercise of control. Eventually, silence...there is nothing out there. After around two minutes we are rudely awakened from drifting by the sudden entry of an atonal ensemble arrangement that brings us back into orbit.

This has not been the easiest of albums to get into, but it rewards perseverance, and fits neatly into the small but growing number of jazz-rock big band albums that seem to be around this year. I leave you with this extract from Mariusz's criminally unheard poetry... 

In a moment like this
even fear itself retreats
marking the stones 
with its blood

1. New States of Mind (Repetitive) (9:44)
2. In a Tangle (7:34)
3. With a Chance of Cloudy (7:15)
4. Three Headed Monster Sight Unseen (6:39)
5. Basements of Heaven (4:47)
6. Sealing Wind into Bottles (6:21)
7. Before the Murmur of Silence (Based on a True Story) (5:25)
8. Space Travel in an Old Painting (17:21)

Total running time - 65:12

Line up:
Mariusz Sobański - guitars, baritone cello
Paweł Rogoża - tenor saxophone
Kuba Jankowiak - trumpet
Witold Oleszak - acoustic grand piano
Piotr Oses - double bass
Krzysztof Waśkiewicz - bass
Miłosz Krauz - drums, percussion

Band website

Buy from ReR Megacorp

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Chris Squire RIP

We were thirteeen, my mate Steve and I were making the most of his parents being out by playing our records on his dad's state-of-the-art stereo system. It was 42 years ago, possibly almost to the date, and I remember Steve's cousin Mick, who was five or so years older than us and the source of our musical education in all matters underground, coming over straight from work clutching a carrier bag from Ireson's Records. Striding over to the stereo, he removed whatever we were playing, pulled this humungous weighty album out of the bag, opened its triple gatefold brown cover adorned with strange otherworldy designs and pulled out one of the three records it contained at random.

You could tell Mick was excited, and we had worked out that this package was the much anticipated triple live album by his favourite band Yes, a band then unheard by me. Placing the hastily plucked record on the Garrard record deck, the stylus slowly descending to hit the run in groove, the low-key piano and guitar hoedown beginning of Yours Is No Disgrace is quickly pummeled into shape by what would become familiar to me over the following years; the highly distinctive percussive bass playing of Chris Squire.

Although the studio version from The Yes Album highlights Squire's playing to better effect, that Yessongs Side 6, Track 1 was my introduction to Yes, a band that would figure in my playlists from that day right up to the here and now, and a band that made not only the best prog rock album, but one of the best albums regardless of genre in Close To The Edge.

Larger than life both physically and musically, Chris Squire's unique bass sound, courtesy of his boundless energy channelled through his trusty Rickenbacker, his writing and arrangement skills and his way with a vocal harmony marked him out as a truly individual talent and one that will be sorely missed by anyone who has been touched by his music. A part of our youth has died...

Chris Squire - 4th March 1948 to 28th June 2015