Saturday, 13 December 2014

2014 - A Year In Review

You're all still here, then? I thank you profusely for sticking with my outpourings of malcontented grumblings!

Another year has flown by, which can only mean it's a good excuse to make a list, as if I needed one, so yer t'is, as we yokels might say.

2014 was a good year for musical strangeitude, and leaving no stone unturned in my unending quest for the new and different, here are my musical highlights of the last 12 months, caught in my tattered net as the ceaseless tsunami of releases surges by. Before you ask "Where's Mordor's Weakness by Richard Volestrangler & The Mutant Discharge?", please bear in mind that even if I had had the assistance and advice of the ghost of John Peel, a man who lived the metaphor "snowed under", I still could not hope to listen to every vaguely progressive album that hits the shelves, virtual or otherwise.

Right then, all these are in highly approximate chronological order, and as ever, my top recommendations are in bold - though they are all worth a listen - and links to my endless blatherings on said platters are present and correct, should you wish to investigate further.

With a few exceptions, rather than slow down this page's loading speed to that of an eerie approximation of the swiftness of David Cameron's thought processes by cluttering this missive with embedded videos, I have created a Spotify playlist that features a track from everything I can find on that platform. For those that are missing, if you're curious head over to the review where you'll find links to YouTube, Bandcamp, etc.

So, sit back, crack open the gravy, load your bong with sprouts and transmutate...or summat!


...

Susan Clynes - Life Is
A delightful start to this or any other year, jazz chanteuse and pianist Susan Clynes gave us this charming set of highly personal songs.

Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas - Other World
The first of two Hammill releases this year sees Hammill's ongoing preoccupation with the march of time set against the blues-psych guitar of the Magic Band man. A good pairing.

Machine Mass feat. Dave Liebman - Inti
As respected reeds player Dave Liebman put it, this progressive jazz fusion album is "post-everything" and lays a new path for the sometimes tired old genre.

Sand - Sand
AKA Sam Healy from nu-prog wonders North Atlantic Oscillation, here letting his dreampop instincts off the leash, with no little panache.



Billy Bottle & The Multiple - Unrecorded Beam
In with a shout for Album of the Year, this wonderful release has lost none of its magic charms in the ten or so months since I first heard it. All hail the New Canterbury in Devon!

Spoke Of Shadows - Spoke Of Shadows
A Warr guitar class with plenty of soul. 

Gazpacho - Demon
The Norwegian wizards weave their dark storytelling magic with the consummate ease you now expect of them. Beguiling. 

Jack Bruce - Silver Rails
In what turned out to be his last album, the master bassman leaves us at the top of his game. RIP.

Chat Noir - Elec3Cities
A combination of piano trio jazz and electronica results in a cinematic and emotive album.

Factor Burzaco - 3
Hidden away in Argentina, it is a sad fact that this always surprising band will be largely ignored. The full album is up on YouTube, and is well worth checking out.

Messenger - Illusory Blues
A truly lovely album of acid-folk-prog that succeeds in every way. Marvellous!

Seven Impale - City Of The Sun
OK, it's derivative but it's a blast. No Van der Graaf Generators or King Crimsons were harmed in the making of this album.

Univers Zéro - Phosphorescent Dreams
An album that is nigh on impossible to get hold of at a reasonable price in a physical format outside of Japan may mean it will be overlooked, which is a shame. New boy Antoine Guenet ruffles some feathers with good effect.

Necromonkey - (a glimpse of possible endings)
Sophisticated instrumental progressive rock with a smattering of the more eclectic influences.

Beck - Morning Phase
Lush. Impeccable. Gorgeous. Sad. Redemptive...all in a dream.

Pingvinorkestern - Push 
This is fun, first and foremost. No mournful shoegazing allowed.

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
This is what became of the brokenhearted; masterful melancholic soul mining performed as only Tim can. Another contender.

Aquaserge - A L'Amité
The très agréable offspring of Planet Gong and Hatfield & The North gone very wonky. 

Jack O'The Clock - Night Loops 
Eclectic but not heavy in the slightest, an example of uncategorisable but accessible progressive music making.



Poil - Brossaklit
Punk-jazz and avant chamber music are just two ingredients in this sonic food blender of an album.

Led Bib - The People In your Neighbourhood
"Pigbag played by Gentle Giant" sez moi. That'll do for starters...

Earthling Society - England Have My Bones
Lancashire acid-rock wizards with the second of a declamatory trilogy, issuing forth righteous krautrock'n'roll from their cave lair at mouth of a foul estuary. Possibly.

Tohpati - Tribal Dance
To my ears, the best of the many Indonesian guitarists brought before a larger audience by the intrepid Moonjune label, here with a fine mix of fusion and ethnic stylings. In a word, class.

Rumour Cubes - Appearances of Collections
I haven't just put this here to prove that not everything I listen to is a left-field angular racket, you know! Lovely album, this band are a kind of noisy cousin of North Sea Radio Orchestra. I came to this late, so no review, but you can find it on Bandcamp.

Ut Gret - Ancestors' Tale
Great songwriting combined with an avant-rock sensibility and another of those very good female singers currently plying their trade in the progressive scene over The Pond makes for a fine album that improves every time you hear it.

Matt Stevens - Lucid
Purloining Steven Wilson's "Hardest Working Man In Showbiz" gong from the shoeless one's trophy cabinet while he was having his first snooze in years, Rushden's Finest, aka Matt Stevens found time in his restless schedule to make this highly varied and enjoyable album.

Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels
In the singular, it sure is. One of those rare instances that deserves the well-worn adjective "cinematic".

Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin
A song cycle depicting "a lifetime of emotion in 36 minutes". Probably his most Sugar-like solo record.

Knifeworld - The Unravelling
Another strong contender for album of the year, this kaleidoscopic and sprawling album is a distillation of the unbounded musical ambition of chief Knife Kavus Torabi. I was far too busy to write about this at the time, but my good mate Jez sez it all.

Swans - To Be Kind
Michael Gira continues on his singular declamatory path, funded by the equally intense fervour of his many followers. Cathartic is another of those over-used reviewing adjectives that finds a for once appropriate home.

Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials
An immovable object is battered by an unstoppable force. The result is atramentous and serene.

Kermit - Litoral
Not half as green as their chosen name, Kermit play space-jazz for the modern age.



Moraine - Groundswell
Consummately skilled and highly individualistic, Groundswell is a place where progressive jazz-rock for the 21st century collides with blistering improv and ethnic influences.

Moe Tar - Entropy Of The Century
Moorea Dickason is a lady who could sing a page of Hansard and make it sound like the most natural pop hook laden lyric ever written. It's pop, Tarek, but not as we know it, and bloody good it is, too!

North Atlantic Oscillation - The Third Day
Shimmering and dazzling. That is all. Another Album of the Year qualifier.

Goat - Commune
Tribal-psych lunacy and quite barking...woof woof...inspired my silliest review of the year.

Trojan Horse - World Turned Upside Down
Ah, it's those "Noisy Prog Bastards" confounding expectations of what "prog" means these days. I'm still convinced Hypocrite's Hymn is at least partly a pisstake!

Cheeto's Magazine - Boiling Fowls
A prog band looking like they're enjoying themselves? Is that allowed? The album is infectious and goofy, and of course, fun!




Robert Plant - Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar
A return to form for Percy, no-one does the world music/rock'n'roll face-off as good as this. Not that Band of Joy was bad, far from it.

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused
Just listen to that croon on Brando...and the spiky guitar...and the cracking bullwhip. Glorious, and almost accessible...almost.

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
Great songs and a slightly improved sound on last year's sonically grating debut - see later entry on this list.

Accordo dei Contrari - AdC
Deep eclectic progressive rock music for the connoisseur.

Regal Worm - Neither Use Nor Ornament (A Small Collection Of Big Suites)
The charmingly bonkers Jarrod Gosling returns from a brief sojourn to regale us with more asymmetrical tales of derring-do with titles like Odilon Escapes From The Charcoal Oblivion, But Endeavours To Return And Rescue The Cactus Men. An obscuranist's deelite of a follow up to last year's wonderful and wacky Use And Ornament album.

Kayo Dot - Coffins on Io
No metal here, the chameleon-like Kayo Dot morph into My Bloody Valentine's even moodier nephew.

Flying Lotus - You're Dead
I never imagined I'd be recommending an album with Snoop Dogg on it, but there you go. Inspired by the song suite idea that informs Soft Machine's second album, apart from being imbued with a jazz sensibility this album is nothing like the then emerging Cantabrians, or indeed like anything else at all. A lesson in production techniques as much as muscianship, it is both eclectic and brilliant. Apparently Mr Lotus is Alice Coltrane's grand-nephew which explains a lot. Death never sounded so groovy!  

Wrupk Urei - Kõik saab korda
Estonian mekanik spacerock, escaping the yoke of Russian oppression past and present. It's a good laugh, too!

The Mercury Tree - Countenance
The American side of a coin that flips to reveal The Fierce And The Dead. Must be played loud, natch.

The Blue Ship - The Executioner's Lover
This is certainly different. Although originally released in 2013, this year saw its first physical release, on the esteemed Italian label AltrOck. A Kurt Weill-inspired operetta performed by a Scottish chamber-rock collective. it works!



Gong - I See You
Even in his 77th year Daevid Allen can still show folk a third his age how it's done. Last I heard he was recovering from illness - get well soon!

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere - O2
Improv with Krautrock and jazz-rock leanings, via Terry Riley, all expertly done. Industrial soundscapes with no meandering.

The Amorphous Androgynous & Syd Arthur - A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble
I have often wondered what Syd Arthur's cluttered and murky self-produced studio sound would turn out like in the hands of a dedicated producer. Well, now we know, sort of! Bloody brilliant, that's what...this is an album's worth of remixes by psych-heads Amorphous Androgynous (aka FSOL) as part of their ongoing A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble series, and well worth £6.99 of anyone's money (or £15 for the LP version).



Peter Hammill - ...all that might have been...
Less guitar than the last one, perhaps obviously, and heavy on the synthscapes and atmosphere. Look, you can't go wrong with a bit of The Thin Man, now, can you?

Jumble Hole Clough - 202 Days
"No-one releases albums in December" or "December and January are graveyard months for new releases" are two statements of common sense. Sod common sense, eh Colin? December 6th saw this slab of Spartan Space Funk from Hebden Bridge land on my hard drive, and a bloody good job it did, too!

Markus Reuter - 6 Reflections
No-one told Markus Reuter about December either. A sublime set of layered guitars and effects resulting in expertly controlled harmonics and resonance. Another reviewing cliché applies, as these are indeed sonic cathedrals in the sky. The best ambient album I've heard for quite a while.

...

After all that I have to tell you that my Album of the Year is Beck's Morning Phase. There are many good reasons why this superb album features at the top of, or in the top three of probably every non genre-specific "Best Of" list, and if you have not heard this little beaut you really ought to seek it out.

You should see her when she's angry...
And now, please give a big Yuletide welcome for the plate spinners and fire-eaters who will entertain y'all while I regale you with more of my searing rapier-like opinionated bollocks...

Gig of the Year
A Celebration of Lindsay Cooper - The Barbican, London 21st November 2014. Not so much a gig as an event. A truly wonderful occasion.

Flop of the Year
Yes - Heaven & Earth. An album that henceforth will be used as the musical yardstick for a damp squib, or as Mick Farren once succinctly put it "Yes? No." The cover's a tad garish, too, if you ask me.



The view from the office was most distracting...
Label of the Year
A rather fine stable, run by an East End hard man (heheh...) and home to those Horses otherwise known as the "Noisy Prog Bastards", come on down Bad Elephant Records.

This fine boutique has come up trumps on more than a few occasions this year. I think this is the first time I've given this particular limp banana to a British label. Huzzah!

Track Title of the Year
Research and Destroy from the Rumour Cubes album up there in the list. Heheh... 

Other nonsense
Bob & Bonio - shut up already...oh...it seems you have.

Mr Fripp has let it be known that there is a "possibility" of a UK gig (or even gigs) for Crim MK8 in September next year, if a "suitable" venue can be found. I won't believe it until I have the tickets in my gnarled and malfunctioning digits.

Endless River was instantly misunderstood even though Gilmour and Mason had been at pains to point out it was not a Pink Floyd album in the fully realised sense. It has grown on me, and it is a fitting tribute to a dignified gent who was treated appallingly by the bass player. Don't go and spoil it by releasing any more previously buried studio noodles, eh?

Facebook - we all moan about it sometimes, but 2014 saw a few more "Friends" being met and hopefully made in the real world, so it certainly still has its plus points. You know who you are and you're all damn fine people!
...

In conclusion

"Prog" to me continues to simply be an abbreviation of progressive, which may well explain why most of my list is some way removed from "prog" the syle. In an era where everything musical has already been done, progressive music does not necessarily have to push boundaries, but as a minimum requirement it should at least be able to see the boundary on the horizon. It seems to me that prog the style is barely aware that there is a boundary at all, much preferring to stay at home where it's safe and warm, surrounded by mementos of the past, with little threat of anything deviating from the tried and tested.

A fellow blogger reckoned that prog releases were "a bit thin on the ground" in 2014, and if by that he means conservative music for the over 50s that readily displays one or more instantly recognisable musical tropes from the first half of the 1970s, then maybe he is right. Me, I wouldn't know, much less care.


Finally...
Thanks again for reading my nonsense this year, there's much more where that came from, you lucky people! Have a great Winter Solstice break, see you on the other side.


Best of Years Gone By...
2013

2012

2011

2010

Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused


adjective: soused
  1. 1.
    (of food, especially fish) preserved in pickle or a marinade.
    "soused herring"
    synonyms:drench, soak, steep, douse, saturate, plunge, immerse, dip, submerge, sink, dunk More
    "a crunchy bruschetta soused in green olive oil"

    pickled, marinated, soaked, steeped
    "a soused herring"
    antonyms:fresh
  2. 2.
    informal
    drunk.
    "I was soused to the eyeballs"

When Sunn O))) turned up at Westpoint Studios in London to record their parts for this collaboration with Scott Walker they brought with them so much amplification it would not all fit in the studio. Along with Sunn O)))'s motto "Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results" which turns up on the back of the Soused CD cover you would be forgiven for thinking they are forboding portents of the album's contents, but actually you would be wrong. Soused, while drenched, nay, soused in sound is not the kind of full-on aural assault you might expect from Sunn O))), nor is it the wilfully difficult music-as-art-terrorism so beloved of Scott Walker of late.  

Soused carries with it a weight so heavy that one expects the thing to buckle under at any point, only Sisyphus just keeps on pushing, never defeated. The massed guitars of Sunn O))) fed through all manner of trickery boxes create dark industrial drones and screaming backgrounds for Scott to invent the melody as he goes along. 

Brando leaps out of the speakers from the get-go fully formed as if it one had turned it on halfway in. "A beating would do me a world of good" croons Scott in character, for Brando is a tale of the monosyllabic actor's perceived flirtations with masochism underlined by the cracking of bull whips. Tos Nieuwenhuizen's angry whipcrack guitar figure is a prominent repeated feature as the first half of the song sees Scott transmit rising angst, his voice nearly cracking, too. The song ends on Sunn O)))'s drawn out drone, a device that will occur elsewhere on the album. 



The tone has been set, and Sunn O)))'s monolithic fearsome noise played with the grim determination of infinitesimally creeping tectonic plates digs into your very core on Herod 2014, their menacing and barely changing low-end rumbles topped off with the piercing tortured seagull screams of (presumably) Tos' guitar while a moaning elephantine sound lumbers around.

Add to that the soon-to-be background noise that introduces the song sounding like the amplified heartbeat of a baby in the womb, and we are in familiar Scott territory, enhanced by some visceral and physical lyrics referencing disease, infestation and cigar ash. "The nurseries and creches are heaving with lush lice", another line amongst many over which imaginary therapists fight one another to use in dissertations.

The nightmare soundtrack grows until it is joined by an industrial hoover from Andromeda, sucking your brains inside out as the ante is upped with a now repeated four-note monstrously huge low-end guitar line, and later a reprise of the fragile feminine bell that introduced the song now transformed into an agonised distorted pealing. The pace never changes, and maximum volume does indeed garner maximum effect, as Scott mournfully sings in that distinctive baritone "she's hidden her babies away"...

Ah...the lyrics. No analysis of a Scott Walker album would be complete without at least attempting to describe the current literary obsessions of this most iconoclastic of writers. In actual fact the lyrics are less impenetrable than on Bish Bosch, and so a literary dissection is not necessary. For all that they remain flying around the listener in an esoteric orbit that bears comparison with no other lyric writer today.

Bull has sections that sound almost like a conventional rock song, but anchored by the crushing gravity of Jupiter - it is one damned heavy muvva. Here amongst the oblique lyric, repeating the phrase "Bump the beaky" we have examples of Scott's black humour; "Woke nailed to the cross. Could not give a toss", and "The leapin' - like a River Dancer's nuts". This song also includes the repeated phrase "Custodiunt migremus", which is Latin for custodial agreement. I have yet to unravel this dark treatise, and it may even be Scott's little joke - perhaps the clue is in the title? As if to confound earlier expectations of "rock" music, the longest drawn out drone of all plays out the ending of Bull for what seems like an eternity.

Fetish opens with avant-garde metallic shards of atonal sound, and is probably the closest track thematically to Bish Bosch. Peter Walsh is the star here, and the longtime sound terrorist partner to Scott's bloody and bodily lyricsmithery gets free range with all the dark effects he can muster, including a deranged crowing cockerel, before Sunn O))) return with another crushing blow of an Ur-riff. All highly unsettling, Scott intones blood'n'guts and catharsis by physical exorcism, as he "carves the ghost mascot the length of his skin".

Lullaby sees Scott chisel out his own version of a song written for musical polymath and modern day Dietrich Ute Lemper, one that appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of her 2000 album Punishing Kiss, but was probably more widely known from its appearance on the only Scott compilation that matters, 5 Easy Pieces. It is an interesting departure from the original, with Sunn O)))'s menacing one note backdrop and some lonely synth strings replacing the initially sparse and latterly cinematic sound of the original with its swaying orchestral arrangement and dramatic intent. Both versions work in their own contexts. For what it's worth I prefer the Lemper version.

Scott intoning "The most intimate personal choices and requests central to your personal dignity will be sung" indicates that the song may be referring to assisted suicide as apparently confirmed in interviews by Lemper at the time - I have not found proof of that, but it fits. So, here we have a lyric possibly about assisted suicide, with added night-terror, juxtaposed with a chorus from William Byrd's innocuous poem My Sweet Little Darling to the backing of high-pitched synth screaming - would you expect anything else?

The much anticipated collaboration between these two utterly wilful but also utterly different groupings of musical visionaries is an undoubted success. Sunn O)))'s Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have added heavy layers and a sense of infinite weight to the production of music-as-high-art espoused by Scott Walker and Peter Walsh, all to great effect. Soused is probably the most accessible collection of music to have come out of either participant's stable in the 21st century, but have no fear, you can't dance to it, and neither is it an easy listen.

Soused is not an album to be dipped in and out of. An album in the proper, if unfortunately old fashioned sense, it requires your concentration for 48 minutes, you are not permitted to wander. It demands "You will sit down and listen to me whole, or not at all". You cannot argue with it, for that would be pointless. Five tracks of roughly equal length and pace make for a hypnotic and totally immersive experience. Walker describes being in the centre of the sonic maelstrom as "like entering a furnace...a furnace of sound", where "you can feel it right up through your knees".

Turn the lights out and jump in!

Soused website


Tracklist:
1, Brando (8:44)
2, Herod 2014 (12:01)
3. Bull (9:25)
4, Fetish (9:10)
5. Lullaby (9:24)

Total running time - 48:43

Line up:
Greg Anderson - guitars
Stephen O'Malley - guitars, re-amped hi synth
Ian Thomas - drums
Tos Nieuwenhuizen - lead guitar, Moog
Mark Warman - keyboards, drum programming, shaker
Guy Barker - trumpet
Peter Gamble - bull whips
Dot Allison - girl vocal
Sam Walsh - boy vocal
Andy Findon - saxophone
Peter Walsh - keyboards, FX, drum programming
Scott Walker - vocals 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

My DPRP Reviews

I have re-organised the page "My DPRP Reviews" - link over there on the right. It's nearly up to date, I'll add the missing ones over the next few weeks...

Aquaserge - L'Amitié

This album came out back in May, but up until a few weeks ago it was nigh on impossible to buy in any format. Originally released as vinyl only with a download code, the album was "available", and I use the term advisedly, from a French website that...well "didn't work" is a kind description. The online shop is called Chambre 404, and the deep irony in that number suffix was not lost on me!

As it was a pointless exercise reviewing an album that the prospective listener could not get hold of, I have held off until now as thankfully the band have recently created a Bandcamp page which means one can now obtain the album in any format desired. Huzzah!

I am glad I persevered as Aquaserge are a bit special. They were a band unknown to me until a chance scroll through Udi Koomran's always informative Avant Progressive Facebook page a few weeks ago, after which I obtained a review download. As said download came sans press release, I have very little info to go on other than my limited attempts at translating the "Histoire" tab of their website. Aquaserge have been going since 2005 and this is the band's fourth album. The core members are Julien Gasc, along with Benjamin Gilbert and Julien Barbagallo.

Their sound is a spacious groove, a collision of art rock, post-punk and Canterbury references, but with a Gallic twist that gives it a certain laid-back "je ne sais quois". The louche harmonies of the opening tile track recall the Hatfields filtered through Gong at their most relaxed. Guitarist Julien Gasc (presumably) contributes a short and gorgeously wonky guitar solo to proceedings, adding just the right amount of otherworldliness.

The band reveal a punkier side to their nature on Serge Singe, which is led by a spiky guitar figure that delves deeper into Gong territory. For Bob returns to the off-kilter Canterbury-thru-a-gauze, and by now I am well and truly hooked.



The instrumental song suite Sillage progresses from calm beginnings to a fraught charge in part 3 that could easily soundtrack an alternative reality James Bond boat chase. They slow the pace down on the dreamy but slightly edgy Je Viens (I'm Coming), with its heavily plucked bass, whistling and bells to the fore.

The train rolls on down the track during the metronomic Travelling, glimpses of disinterested faces flashing past your window in black and white. Preparation is a composition that sounds like a cut-up but isn't, and then we reprise I'm Coming which shows the band have a knowing sense of humour. It is a grandiose epic sweep of almost-rock that leads into Ceci ("She", presumably?) that crystallises the avant-classical sensibilites of the band amid chirping agitated percussion and a heavenly choir voice.

A suitably strange end to a beguiling album that is most certainly progressive in the only and proper definition of that over-used term. Make L'Amitié a friendship that lasts.


Tracklist:
1. A L'Amitié
2. Serge Singe
3. For Bob
4. Sillage 1&2
5. Sillage 3
6. Je Viens
7. Travelling
8. Preparation
9. Je Viens (Reprise)
10. Ceci

Line up:
Benjamin Gilbert - guitar, bass
Julien Gasc - keyboards, guitar, vocals
Julien Barbagallo - drums
Manon Gilbert - clarinets
Audrey Ginestet - vocals
Lucie Antunes - vocals

Links:
Aquaserge website

Bandcamp





Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Simon McKechnie - Newton's Alchemy

Just over a year ago I reviewed Simon McKechnie's second album Clocks and Dark Clouds. A highly intricate work recorded under the most difficult of circumstances, it is with some relief that I can report that Simon is well on the way to recovery from his long-running health problems, and that the recording of third album Newton's Alchemy took place under far more "normal" conditions, although Simon did have to take many breaks during the recording process. Clocks... arose from a series of improvised musical sketches that Simon recorded mostly while flat out on his back, not that you'd guess, for the end result was surprisingly cohesive given the circumstances. Newton's Alchemy on the other hand is a through-composed piece, written as one piece of music, and therefore it evolves more organically as a consequence.

Simon retains his fascination with mathematics, and Albert Einstein, the inspiration for Clocks... is here replaced by the father of modern mathematics, one Isaac Newton. Newton's Alchemy as the title suggests, is based around the Renaissance Man's other obsession, the transformation of elements, or alchemy to you and me. In common with many scientists of his era, Newton's quest for knowledge led down the path of the possibility, later debunked, of changing one base element into another. The Age of Reason idea that everything is connected to everything else is not that far removed from modern dark matter theory, and Newton was not after gold, but was attempting to unravel the deeper mysteries of existence in a thoroughly modernistic fashion with the tools at his disposal.

The lyrics include direct quotes from Newton's notes, and from his translations of the Emerald Tablet, also included in the CD booklet. The Emerald Tablet was an ancient text said to contain the secret of transmutation, a Bible for alchemists. Newton's translations and musings are linked by Simon's own weighty words, and it is all set to music that while split into separate tracks forms a developing whole in the grand prog sense.

Simon plays all the guitars, keyboards, the bass, and does all the singing, and the drums and percussion are supplied by Adam Riley. Extra textures are given by early music specialist Clare Salaman and flute expert Jan Hendrickse. The music is never bombastic, but certainly complex. There is a lightness of touch that perfectly compliments the at first glance impenetrable lyrics, which are all on Simon's website if you are curious.



Simon's voice is well suited to the mysterious subject matter as it has the otherworldly quality of a wizard casting spells. The guitar is Simon's instrument, and he plays everything from acoustic, through classically tinged plucking, ending up with spiky almost avant electric web weaving. This is the kind of eclectic prog that ticks a fair few boxes for me, and it is thankfully cliché free.

This is not an album you will be singing along to in the shower, but anyone into complex music that requires a bit of concentration, which probably means you will not be able to absorb it in one sitting, music that on the other hand is in no way inaccessible, should find plenty to enjoy here. This is definitely an album for prog fans, and one that lends itself well to a long session with the headphones accompanied by a good single malt and the lyric pdf on the laptop. Actually, you don't need the headphones, for my personal "racket barometer" aka my better half has not commented at all!

Simon McKechnie is a talented guy who deserves more exposure, and I recommend Newton's Alchemy to those who like me are always on the look out for something a tad different.


Tracklist:
1. The First Matter (7:50)
2. Miracles of Only One Thing (Emerald Tablet 1) (3:47)
3. The Work Begins (8:50)
4. The Father of All Perfection (Emerald Tablet 2) (3:24)
5. Star Regulus (7:25)
6. Force Above All Force (Emerald Tablet 3) (3:25)
7. Philosophic Mercury (9:14)
8. A Great Secret (3:14)
9.Turning of the Wheel (8:23)

Total running time - 55:30


Line up:
Simon McKechnie - Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Dulcimer, Psaltery, Percussion
Adam Riley - Drums
Clare Salaman - Nyckelharpa
Jan Hendrickse - Bass Flute


http://www.simonmckechnie.com/

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Saturday, 29 November 2014

The MOJO CD - The Best Of 2014

It's that time of year again when the "Best Of" lists start coming out. In order to give any band daft enough to release an album in December a chance, I always hold off until the Xmas holiday, but MOJO are there already with their picks of the year on January's cover CD.


Why do mags release issues in one month and call them by the month after next? Anyway...most of these are new to me, and here are my opinings:



1. Beck - Blue Moon (from Morning Phase, MOJO#1 album of 2014)
A typically lush and downbeat anthem from Beck's wonderful rise'n'shine album Morning Phase, which MOJO have as their album of the year. Do I agree? That would be letting the cat stick a tentative paw out of the bag now, wouldn't it?

2. Jack White - Lazaretto (Lazaretto/#4)
I quite like Jack White, the guy has a way with a choon and a dirty geetar. This noisy charge through White's garage rock workshop is enjoyable enough, and will certainly shake the dust off your shelves.

3. Robert Plant - Turn It Up (Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar/#19)
Percy's world music and rock'n'roll mash-up gets ever more eclectic. I might buy this album.



4. Sharon Von Etten - Nothing Will Change (Are We There/#11)
The first name new to me, this cathartic soul-bearing wouldn't have sounded out of place on Beck's album. Nice.

5. Temples - Keep In The Dark (Sun Structures/#32)
They do glam rock too, apparently. OK, but a bit tame. Goldfrapp does this kind of thing better.

6. Ty Segall - The Faker (Manipulator/#13)
Another 70s stompathon with freakbeat tendencies. If you had never heard this kind of thing before it would get you jumping like like a loon.

7. Steve Gunn - Milly's Garden (Way Out Weather/#6)
My first boss was called Steve Gunn, and our cat's sister that lives two doors down is called Milly. Actually, this is rather good - more wistful singer-songwriter stuff, from a guy who reinvented himself in a plaid shirt, for he was once an avant-guitarist, apparently. A bit Steve Earle-ish.

8. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All The Way Down (Metamodern Sounds In Country Music/#15)
As far as I can make out, that mouthful of an album title translates as trad Nashville with a bit of sampling chucked in. Pass

9. Julie Byrne - Holiday (Rooms With Walls And Windows/#7)
Yep, singer-songwriters seem to have been this year's thang, at least as far as MOJO are concerned. You can imagine what this sounds like from the album title I'm sure, and it does. Gossamer-light and quite lovely.

10. The War On Drugs - Under The Pressure (Lost In The Dream/#2)
Ah...a band I've heard of at last...
Definitely the hipster group of choice at the moment, I struggle to see the appeal of this band with the wettest name imaginable. Listen to this and tell me it's not one of The Waterboys' lesser moments. It's a nice tune, but way too earnest and probably twice as long as it needed to be...does that make it prog?



11. Kasai Allstars - Yange, The Evil Leopard (Beware The Fetish/#29)
The only non-Western record in MOJO's top 50, this Kinshasa band play some nice Afrobeat, all hip-shaking rhythms and liquid guitar runs. This sort of music is timeless, and a nice change from the shedloads of angst elsewhere on this CD.

12.Wild Beasts - Wanderlust (Present Tense/#16)
Sounds like Cabaret Voltaire meets Depeche Mode. Singer's quite good, but musically it's a bit dull.

13. Caribou - Your Love Will Set You Free (Our Love/#12)
Mildly interesting electronica from Canadian Dan Snaith that doesn't live up to the Pseud's Corner hyperbole the mag lays on with a trowel.

14. Sleaford Mods - I Keep Out Of It (Divide And Exit/#3)
Described as "grot-hop", this Nottingham duo sound like the kind of fellas you'd cross the street to avoid. They look like it too. If I was 16 I'd love this. I'm not and I don't. Seems I've turned into my dad...



15. The Bug (Feat. Flowdan) - Dirty (Angels & Devils/#10)
Now this is how you do attitude. Dystopian rapping ain't my thing at all, but I can see where it's coming from. Makes Sleaford Mods sound like 14 year-old football hooligans, which is probably what they once were.


Well, if that lot represent the best of 2014, I must have been on another planet for the duration...oh...hang on...




Tuesday, 25 November 2014

London (Jazz Festival) Calling

Well, we have not long returned from a long weekend in "That There London" as it is now henceforth known to us mere yokels, or hicks, if you're on the other side of The Pond. The weekend came after another visit a few days earlier, and taken together we have now attended four events sponsored by the EFG London Jazz Festival in under a week.

This cultural extravaganza started on Tuesday 18th November with a gig by Snarky Puppy at the famous rock venue, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse. The actual raison d'etre of this particular soirée was to meet up with a handful of regulars from Pete's Nice Enough To Eat Facebook page, a place where several stoned hippies (and me) gather together in a cave and groove with...YouTube videos of psych and prog music past and present.

Pete I've met before, but it was great to put faces to "Dave Maximum Darkness", "Arv Lotus", and "Diane Sofer", which could well be her real name! :)
Also, a shout for Toby Mearing, who actually got us all interested in Snarky Puppy in the first place but circumstances conspired to force him to miss the pub meet-up and the gig.

As for the group, well until a few months ago I had never heard of Snarky Puppy, and it's not often that a band you've never heard of can quickly sell out a venue the size of the Roundhouse. Around 3000 mostly 30-somethings amongst whom was a large smattering of bearded hipsters got well into the band, who have been going quite a few years now, and seem to have built their audience through ceaseless gigging. Their music is beat-driven jazz-fusion-lite with world music influences, and while certainly very well played I found it a tad difficult to make a connection.

There was even a twenty-minute drum solo, augmented by furious bongo-bashing, the likes of which I thought had ceased to be around 1976. During this overlong percussive interlude one poor chap behind us slipped and fell near the bar, banging his head and passing out, causing much panic among the venue staff. One hipster wag near me said to his mate "maybe the excessively long drum solo made him come over all unnecessary". I hope he was OK...the tumbler, not the hipster.

Much as the music did not do that much for me, it was great evening from a social point of view.

On the Friday, off we went "darn sarth" again, this time for a long weekend with our better halves, as Phil W and I had a gig on that night, and a book launch on the Sunday night. The gig was A Celebration Of Lindsay Cooper, and my full review can be found HERE.

Again the social side of things made an already memorable evening into a special occasion. Phil and I met up with Billy and Martine from Billy Bottle & The Multiple, whose delightful album Unrecorded Beam is certain to make my "Best of 2014" list. Much post-gig nattering initially in the foyer of the Barbican Centre and later at a nearby overpriced yuppie pub by the name of The Jugged Hare meant we did not get back to our hotel until some time well after 1am.

I often consider that some amateur scribblers have far too cosy a relationship with some of the bands they write about, and I rarely go out of my way to meet the objects of my keyboard tappings in order to retain a modicum of objectivity, but in this particular instance I am glad I did, for Martine and Billy are genuinely nice people without a hint of the infamous artistic ego.

I had a bit of a thick head on the Saturday morning, and Phil and I and our partners spent a rather nice relaxing day at Chartwell, the country house of Winston Churchill. The building looked suitably mysterious and spooky in the unshifting winter murk, as you can see.

A very wet Sunday was sensibly spent under cover in the Science Museum, and after a late afternoon meal, we sauntered on down to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre for An Evening With Robert Wyatt, the book launch for Marcus O'Dair's biography of the great man. This was to take place later in the evening, and the reason we got there early was to catch Billy and Martine's bandmate Roz Harding playing as part of the free concert in the foyer.

Roz Harding's Wave were performing as one of four female-led ensembles as part of jazz club and label Blow the Fuse's 25th anniversary celebrations. We got there early enough to catch the Chelsea Carmichael Quartet too, and damn good it was! Roz Harding's Wave followed and she was supported by Mike Outram on guitar, who also appears on Unrecorded Beam, and Jim Bashford on drums, the trio playing out an enjoyable sparse modern jazz set.

The free concert was headlined by Blow the Fuse founder Alison Rayner's Arq, playing tracks from their new album August. Despite Dierdre Cartwright's guitar amp spluttering and eventually going FUBAR and having to be replaced mid-song (well done the guitar tech), the set was hugely enjoyable and perhaps more melodic than Wave's. That was a shame as our partners had decided to call it a day before Arq came on, leaving us two reprobates to our own devices.

Alison informed us all that their new CD was for sale from the merch desk, to the bemusement of the guy standing behind it who thumbed through the box on the table without finding it. Phil informed Alison about this, and the CD seller reaped the whirlwind, as the dozy sod had a full box of Arq CDs under the table by his feet!

And so on to An Evening With Robert Wyatt which commenced with Marcus O'Dair interviewing Robert, who arrived onstage to a long and thunderous ovation. As Robert does not play live this was as close to a gig we are ever going to get, so we took the opportunity to let him know how much he is appreciated. Marcus's questioning took in Robert's songwriting and collaborations, with a brief detour into his radical politics. There then followed a Q&A session with the audience, and the all too brief encounter was over.

Next up was a short set by vibraphonist and software manipulator Orphy Robinson, another and recent collaborator with Robert. Taking in sound samples that included a humorous take on the shipping forecast of all things, Robinson played his looped vibraphone to create a dark soundscape. The evening was concluded with an airing of the BBC documentary Free Will and Testament:The Robert Wyatt Story.

By now it was a lot later than we had expected and we had to dash across town to get a tube train and then an overground train back to our hotel in south London. This was compounded by an enforced detour up the Northern Line due to some unspecified problem on our preferred line, but we managed to get "home" a minute before the witching hour, so all's well that ends well.

We didn't get the chance to say our goodbyes to Billy and Martine, so, if you're reading this, I can't wait to hear your new single!