Earthworks/All Heaven …

fall of rebel angels

All heaven breaks loose on Earth’s sordid works

Sit up straight and pay attention, everyone, because if you don’t what follows will be terribly confusing. For this Album of the Month piece I’m going to review two albums by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. Yes, Smithers minor, this is cheating but it provides a partial solution to a difficult problem. You see, I am very familiar with All Heaven Let Loose and I really want to blog about it but I can only find one track from that album anywhere online (see below).

So, what to do? Well, there is exactly one Earthworks album on my favoured streaming service and it matches All Heaven … for style, quality and inventiveness. That album is called Earthworks. (You see why this might get confusing?) Here’s My Heart Declares a Holiday from the band’s first, eponymous album, the one with the big ‘E’ on the cover.

This particular track has an almost latin beat to it, which sets it apart from everything else on the Earthworks album. In all other respects, though, it is typical of both albums. Django Bates swaps effortlessly between keyboards and tenor horn, Iain Ballamy adds soulful saxophones, Mick Hutton anchors the ship on double bass and Bill Bruford sits at acoustic and electronic drums in the engine room. All four players lock unerringly into the beat, even when it deliberately skips and stutters for rhythmic effect.

In contrast, the title track from All Heaven Broke Loose is a melodic piece in two parts: Psalm and Old Song. I don’t think you’ll find the psalm in a psalter or the old song in any hymn book but I can’t deny that the instruments sing as sweetly as a church choir. On this track Bill Bruford’s chordal drums prove that percussive instruments can carry a melody, too.

Those two tracks mark opposite sides of the Earthworks repertoire. In between there are delightful tunes, pulsing grooves and inventive riffs. If Frank Zappa’s band were the mothers of invention then Bill Bruford’s Earthworks must be their jazzier children. There’s nothing quite like the scintillating horn and saxophone duets by Ballamy and Bates, both ex-members of the legendary Loose Tubes jazz orchestra. The bass playing of Mick Hutton (on Earthworks) or Tim Harries (on All Heaven …) simultaneously holds the sound together and drives it on. And there’s no better exponent of electronic and acoustic drum kits than Bruford himself, rock drummer turned jazz percussionist.

Of the two albums, Earthworks is the more rhythmic, solid and earthy, All Heaven … the more melodic, dreamy and heavenly. Both are very fine examples of the jazz fusion genre and fully worthy of the Album of the Month slot in these pages.

Earthworks (the album) was released in 1987, All Heaven … in 1991. In between, Earthworks (the band) released Dig?, an album that Crotchety Man is not familiar with. If you want to hear more from that late eighties/early nineties period there are a few YouTube videos of live shows. This one is a bit low in volume but otherwise of decent quality.

Now, class, I’m setting a test to see if you were paying attention as I asked.

Question 1: Which band have we been discussing?

Question 2: Which two albums have I been talking about?

Question 3: What makes these albums so enjoyable?

Question 4: There is no question 4. You may now leave the room.

Quietly, boys! The other classes may not have finished yet.

Feathers

feathers

As promised in the previous post, here is my review of Feathers, the 2014 album by Poppy Ackroyd. It will be brief, not because the music is dull but because no dictionary in Crotchety Man’s extensive library has adequate words for the soothing, susurrating sounds that emanate from the hi-fi when it is commanded to play this album.

poppyPoppy Ackroyd is a classically trained pianist and violinist. She is also a composer and a permanent member of Hidden Orchestra. In her solo work she uses piano and violin instruments almost exclusively. But the piano might be her own Blüthner grand, a modern electronic piano or borrowed museum keyboard instruments – harmonium, clavichord, harpsichord and spinet can all be heard on Feathers. Her violin is a twenty-first century electric model whose body looks like the skeletal remains of an ancient sea-creature and whose sound would please the ear of Antonio Stradivari himself. Further sonic variety is provided by guest cellist Su-a Lee and percussive sounds obtained when Poppy tapped the frames of her instruments.

Feathers, though, is not an album of contrasting styles. It is 40 minutes of relaxing, ambient music. All eight tracks would be a perfect accompaniment to an idle browse through an incense and trinkets shop. I can just hear the assistant asking, “Scented candle, sir?”, or “Javan bead necklace, madam?”. (All the wood products are from  ‘sustainable’ sources, of course.) Poppy Ackroyd is completely at home with electronic gadgets but she uses them to add subtle tonal variations to the sound of her traditional instruments rather than to create outlandish effects. “Feathers Unplugged”, if it should ever be made, wouldn’t be very different from the album we can hear today.

piano

If piano and violin duets are not your thing you might want to skip the rest of this post. If ambient music, no matter how elegantly constructed, only sends you to sleep perhaps you should save Feathers for a restless night. But, if you like the occasional bit of Mogwai and you have a quiet evening ahead of you, put on the headphones and give this album a spin. It will while away the time most pleasantly, I assure you.

In the meantime, here’s a live performance of the title track and Rain from the Feathers album. Are you sitting comfortably? Then press Play and imagine yourself on Brighton’s stoney beach where seagull feathers huddle against the breakwaters and a light rain makes the streetlights shimmer and twinkle. The shore is deserted and the sound of the sea murmurs in a spiral shell that you hold against your ear. It is a time to savour the peace that comes from solitude.

Strange Angels

Crotchety Man has been on holiday – one week in Devon with the missus and a tottery old man I call Dad. The weekly blog for 3rd September was written in advance, the draft was called up on the phone as we sat in the holiday cottage watching the rain stream down the windows and the Publish button was clicked there. It must have worked because something on Hotel California appeared in these pages that very day.

Returning home, the usual schedule was resumed for a San Francisco Drive last Sunday. And then, as I welcomed the start of a new working week on Monday, my thoughts turned to the Album of the Month for September. It’s good to know there are people out there tapping frantically on computer keyboards, manufacturing consumer goods and transporting things from one side of the globe to the other, thus keeping the economy going so that I can spend my state-provided pension being frivolous and enjoying myself.

But, I digress. The self-appointed Crotchety Boss wanted an Album of the Month blog on his desk by close of business Thursday. What was I going to write? That stifling black cloud of blogger’s block descended ominously for a moment and then, suddenly, it evaporated. I had already decided on the album; I had made a note of it before going away. Sure enough, my list of candidate albums had an entry for this month, but reading it just filled me with dismay. “Laurie Anderson, Strange Angels”, it said. And a thoroughly confused inner voice replied, “Huh?, Who? What?”.

portrait

Laurie Anderson

The Crotchety mind felt as though it had fallen into a swollen, swirling river but, after a few seconds of intense effort, it found an overhead branch and grabbed it with both hands. Before going away I had been reading an article in The Telegraph newspaper entitled “50 amazing albums you’ve probably never heard“; the album on my list must have been one of those. Sure enough, album number 19 in that newspaper article was Strange Angels by Laurie Anderson.

So I had the album but I still had no idea who Laurie Anderson is/was or what Strange Angels sounds like. I had pulled myself out of the River of Confusion but I was not yet out of the Woods of Ignorance.

Sitting on the river bank the ignoramus made a plan: step 1, listen again to the music, for it must have had some remarkable quality to be on the list; step 2, search for Laurie Anderson online and see what comes up; step 3, write down a few pertinent facts and try to describe what it is that makes Strange Angels worthy of the Crotchety Readers’ time. It was a good plan. Following it my Mind and I would force a path through the Woods to the scrubland of Superficial Knowledge and there the travellers would erect a marker, a post that will show others the way.

album cover

So I listened. At first there seemed to be nothing at all remarkable about the music. The album opens with the title track, which is a fairly ordinary pop song – pleasant enough but certainly not something that warrants The Telegraph‘s ‘amazing’ tag. Then again, there’s an unusual selection of instruments – you don’t hear castanets very often in pop songs – and there’s an intriguing quality to Laurie Anderson’s voice that makes you wonder what the rest of the album has in store.

Track 2 is anything but ordinary. Called Monkey’s Paw it sounds as though it has been excised from Paul Simon’s Graceland and given a growling, half-spoken commentary warning that no good will come from our attempts to bend Mother Nature to our will.

Nature’s got rules and Nature’s got laws
And if you cross her look out!
It’s the monkey’s paw.

The instruments swing like a monkey in the trees; the words carry a profound and disturbing message. There is a depth to this album that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

As each song passes you become aware of ever more variety. Sometimes the singer’s voice swoops and trills, sometimes it grumbles. One song has Andean pipes, another features a harmonium; there are bongos, horns, drum machines and synthesisers. And the songs grow on you. By track 6, the funky Beautiful Red Dress, Crotchety Man’s ignorance was flowing away faster than the River of Confusion. There really is something precious glinting just beyond the thinning Wood.

As I listened I kept hearing echoes of other musicians: Liz Fraser’s passionate voice, the ominous atmosphere of a Nick Cave composition, words from a Sally Barker song. It struck me that Strange Angels is a collage of musical fragments, fragments assembled so artfully that they create a wholly different work in which the individual pieces lose their identity. It is, I think, as much a tribute to the session musicians and producers as it is to the songwriting and the headline artist.

The album ends with the hypnotic Hiawatha which ambles through the Old West, accompanied by Native Americans and the occasional howling wolf, for nearly seven minutes. It is a timeless, wandering piece that fades into the sunset much too soon leaving this old timer hankering for more. Here it is on YouTube where an early fade reduces it to 5:24:

The enlightened Crotchety Mind had left behind the Woods of Ignorance and it was time to take step 2, an expedition into the scrub of Superficial Knowledge.

Upon opening Laurie Anderson’s Wikipedia page it is immediately obvious that she is a complex and interesting character. She is described there as “an American avant-garde artist, composer, musician and film director whose work spans performance art, pop music, and multimedia projects”. The key word, here, is ‘artist’. Strange Angels is a work of art; that it is delivered through the medium of music is incidental. And music is only one string to Anderson’s bow¹. She has also worked as an illustrator, art critic, film maker and performance artist.

Our increasingly confident explorer made two surprising discoveries on this particular expedition. The first was that Laurie Anderson had a number two hit in the UK charts in 1981. Was the Crotchety Mind asleep that year? Or had it just forgotten the name of a one-hit wonder? Listening to O Superman, the track in question, quickly eliminated the latter possibility. It is one of the most distinctive, surprising and unforgettable songs ever to have graced the charts. Borrowing words from Le Cid, an opera by Jules Massenet, it is over eight minutes of multi-tracked, half-spoken, heavily processed chanting and electronic organ, reminiscent of Ivor Cutler’s idiosyncratic warblings. Here’s the official video:

The popularity of that single is inexplicable. I have seen reports that it was used as the introductory music for a program on Capital Radio and that many listeners contacted the radio station to ask what it was. I have also heard that John Peel promoted it on his radio show. That may all be true but the support of a local radio station and an off-piste show on national radio isn’t enough to explain its success to my satisfaction. Still, it provides a welcome stimulation for the ears and the intellect and it brought Laurie Anderson to the attention of those of us well outside the orbit of performance art.

The second surprise my exploring Mind discovered was that Laurie Anderson hooked up with Lou Reed in 1992 and they were married from 2008 until his death in 2013. Now that makes sense. Those two strong, creative characters would either clash violently or build an unbreakable bond. In an article in The Guardian newspaper, when the interviewer asked what it was like to be a widow, Anderson replied that she thought of Lou Reed as more of a partner than a husband (although he was that, too) and that he is always with her.

We paused then as we contemplated step 3 of the plan. Slowly we began to gather stones from the River of Confusion, building a cairn to mark the path. A fallen tree was dragged from the Woods of Ignorance and from it we fashioned a sturdy post, painted with arrows pointing to Laurie Anderson and her Strange Angels. And we have now committed these words to the blogosphere, providing another pointer to a road less travelled and music heard unjustifiably rarely.

Note

  1. Laurie Anderson was, initially, trained in violin and sculpture. She invented the tape-bow violin in which recorded magnetic tape replaces the horsehair of a violin bow and sound is produced as the bow is drawn across a tape head in the bridge.

Finale

A new album by Pentangle was released last year. Given that the band had split up shortly after I saw them in Oxford back in 1973¹ and, more pertinently, that two of them have died, it couldn’t be a new recording. But it’s not just another compilation, either. The original line-up reformed in 2008 and did a 12-date UK tour that year. Finale: An Evening with Pentangle, released on 7th October 2016, is a two-CD album² of recordings from the 2008 tour. Why it took so long to get it onto the shelves of the brick-and-mortar shops and into the catalogues of the online retailers is a mystery that my Google Fu has been unable to solve.

The latest album has several things going for it. For a start it’s a relatively recent recording that captures the sound of a live performance extremely well. Just listening to the deep, round, plummy tones of Danny Thompson’s double bass (he calls it ‘Victoria’) is enough to bring a joyful tear to the eye. The guitars of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn ring out as if all the paraphernalia of the recording process has dissolved. There are no pickups, microphones, mixers, equalisers, recorders or speakers between the instruments and our ears, nothing to distort or subtract from the musicians’ art. OK, so Terry Cox’s drums sound a little muffled and Jacqui McShee’s voice is a little indistinct at times but as live recordings go this is a good one, a really good one.

Then there’s the performance, fresh and vibrant as the day the band was born. If you’ve never heard Pentangle live, take this album for a spin. It has songs that will caress and delight you. It has folk tales that will enchant you, too, transporting you to another place, another time; and it will welcome you and your friends to the telling.

Finale has nearly all the fans’ favourite Pentangle songs on it: Light Flight, Hunting Song, House Carpenter, Cruel Sister, Bruton Town and more. In the past I recommended Light Flight – The Anthology as the one essential Pentangle album but with Finale it has a rival. The Anthology compilation has my own all-time favourite song, The Trees They Do Grow High, but Finale has the better sound and the immediacy of a live show. Sadly, neither include the heart-warming story of Willy of Winsbury (from Solomon’s Seal) but no album is perfect.

There are no bad Pentangle albums (as far as I know) but Anthology and Finale provide a magnificent summary of the band’s work. So, ignore my previous advice. Both albums are, I think, essential for any Pentangle fan. Get them both and when you fancy a little folk with a light frosting of jazz pick one or the other according to your mood.

Notes

  1. I had nothing to do with the band’s demise, I assure you!
  2. Finale was also released as a 3-disc vinyl LP in 2017.

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Love Rat

lovable rat

I first heard Sally Barker some time around 1990 when she was touring in support of her second album, This Rhythm Is Mine. Guest musicians on that album included Mary MacMaster¹ and Patsy Seddon, harpists from Scotland, who subsequently joined Sally and accordionist Karen Tweed to form the all-woman folk band The Poozies. If my memory serves me correctly the concert I attended at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester, UK was billed as Sally Barker but all four of The Poozies were on stage.

I particularly remember that evening for a story told by Karen Tweed. The band had arranged to rehearse at Sally’s house out in the Leicestershire countryside, a place that Karen had never visited before. When she arrived Karen found a rambling house at the end of a long drive and surrounded by a large garden with lots of trees and bushes. She knew from the directions she had been given that this was the right place but, at first, it seemed deserted. Karen had to ring three times before anyone came to the door.

When the door opened a stranger stood there with an expression on her face that seemed to say “whoever you are, don’t bother me now”. Karen hesitantly explained who she was and why she was there and the woman at the door ushered her inside saying curtly, “Go and wait in the kitchen, we’re a bit busy right now”. Karen followed the pointing finger down the corridor and as she did so she noticed a flustered figure scurrying through the house. Some furtive words were exchanged in the next room but all Karen could make out was “we may have to call the police”.

Karen found the kitchen and waited. From time to time far off voices could be heard from the garden. They were calling out to each other and sounded worried. They were looking for something, something important or precious. No-one came to the kitchen. Karen could sense that some emergency had happened and might take some time to resolve. In the meantime she thought it best to stay out of the way and decided to make herself a cup of tea.

As Karen started to search for mugs and tea she thought she heard a scratching noise from one of the floor-level cupboards. The building was probably an old farmhouse and she imagined the kitchen might be home to mice or even rats. Nervously, Karen opened the cupboard and a little girl’s face peered up at her. “Hello”, said Karen, “what are you doing in there?”. But the girl said nothing. Karen explained that she plays the accordion and she had come for a rehearsal. “Shhsh”, whispered the girl, “they’ll hear us”.

Puzzled, Karen asked the little girl why she was whispering and if she knew what was going on – what were they looking for out in the garden? “Shhsh”, said the little girl again, “They’re looking for me!”.

Sally

It was an enjoyable concert. Sally Barker writes unusually original songs and she has a warm, distinctive, soulful voice. The other musicians were faultless – I was particularly impressed with Karen Tweed’s accordion playing. So, yes, readers, I bought the CD. Although I didn’t know it at the time guests on This Rhythm Is Mine include some of the most respected musicians on the folk circuit: Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg and Danny Thompson to name but three. If that’s not a recommendation I don’t know what is.

From 1995 to 2006 Sally Barker put the music business on hold while she had two children and then cared for her husband who became ill with cancer and died in 2003. In 2007 Sally rejoined The Poozies and in 2013 she relaunched her solo career. The following year she became a contestant on the BBC talent show, The Voice, in which she finished in joint second place. As a result, according to her website, “Sally’s album ‘Another Train’ featured in the official indie charts and ‘ebayers’ were asking in excess of £100 for 2nd hand Barker LPs and CDs!”. That’s quite a comeback.

Sally Barker’s latest album, Ghost Girl, was released earlier this year but it’s not on Spotify² so I’ve chosen her Love Rat EP from 2015 as my Album of the Month. Here’s a live version of the title track. Listen to the words.

Did a chill run up your spine at the one minute mark? No? Then perhaps you’d prefer the studio version with drums, bass, organ and slide guitar supporting Sally’s vocals. (The link above is to the full band recording on Spotify.)

In addition to the title track the EP contains three original songs (Jealous Bones, Kissing a Stranger, Heart & the Shell) and two covers (Walk On By, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood). The covers are done in typical Sally Barker style; either you like them or you don’t. For me, nobody beats the original Dionne Warwick version of Walk On By, but Sally Barker’s take is pretty good, too. I do like Heart & the Shell, though. It’s one of those songs that has all the wrong characteristics for my taste: a folksy waltz, country-tinged slide guitar, not much of a tune. And yet, Sally Barker’s voice burrows under the skin and the poetry of the words sinks deep.

On the whole Sally Barker is an acquired taste. She’s no rocker and her mix of folk with a little bit of country and a soupçon of jazz will never appeal to everyone. She has a really good voice, though, and I’ll leave you with another live video that I think illustrates her talent. Anyone who can do justice to a song made famous by Sandy Denny must have something to blog about.

Notes

  1. Mary MacMaster was also mentioned in my earlier blog about the Archipelago album by Hidden Orchestra, a very different sort of music.
  2. There is a video of the title track on YouTube performed live as a solo piece but I don’t know if that’s representative of the album.

Oczy Mlody

eyes

The title of this post is not quite gibberish. The words are Polish. Individually they mean ‘eyes’ and ‘young’. Unfortunately, ‘oczy’ is feminine plural and ‘mlody’ is masculine singular. And, to make matters worse, the words are in the wrong order for the phrase ‘young eyes’. Not that this bothers The Flaming Lips who chose this as the title of their latest album more for the sound of the words than their meaning. Whether they had an English or Polish pronunciation in mind, though, I cannot say.¹

The Crotchety brain cells contain very little information on The Flaming Lips; all factual statements here are taken from their Wikipedia page. (You have been warned.) The Old Man’s ears, though, have met one or two of The Flaming Lips‘ tracks on the BBC 6 Music radio station and the Music Appreciation Meter has swung over into the light green section: pleasing, interesting, different.

A quick exploration of the band’s recent body of work looked very promising and caused the oxytocin² level in old Crotchety’s blood to rise far enough to trigger the purchase of Oczy Mlody, my Album of the Month for June 2017.

band

So who, then, are The Flaming Lips? They were formed in Oklahoma in 1983. Wikipedia doesn’t say what kind of music they played in those days, just that they were Wayne Coyne (guitar), his brother Mark (lead vocals), Michael Ivins (bass) and Dave Kotska (drums). That seems all very ordinary but there was probably more to it than that. By the time of their fourth album, In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1989), Wikipedia notes that “their previous experiments in tape loops and effects were given a more prominent role”.

Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins have remained with the band since its inception but on Oczy Mlody keyboards and electronic effects dominate the sound. Coyne himself is credited with contributing vocals, keyboards, theremin and guitar; Ivins has added keyboards and vocals to his bass playing; Stephen Drozd, who joined in 1991, supplies guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and vocals. Recent albums also feature Derek Brown, Jake Ingalls and Matt Duckworth who all tickle the mock ivory keys from time to time. And Nick Ley provides percussion and samples. If you’ve been counting that means that six of the seven band members play keyboards and the seventh augments the mix with sampled sounds.

lips aflame

And that’s not all that’s weird about The Flaming Lips. You may have noticed already a certain tongue-tingling piquancy in the album titles. Of their fourteen main studio albums only Embryonic has a fairly predictable title. The others include things like Hit To Death In The Future Head and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Then there are collaborations that have produced The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon, which is a cover of the famous Pink Floyd album.

But there’s yet more weirdness. In 2011 The Flaming Lips announced that they would be releasing a new song every month of the year. The first of these was released that February as 12 separate YouTube clips that had to be played simultaneously; it was called Two Blobs Fucking. In March they released the Gummy Song Skull EP, “a seven-pound skull made of gummy bear material with a gummy brain, which contained a flashdrive with 4 songs on them”. They went one better in June by releasing “a live-in-studio recording of the band’s 1999 album The Soft Bulletin which was on a flash drive embedded in a marijuana-flavored brain inside a strawberry flavored gummy skull”. Then, in September, they released a six-hour song in a special package and at midnight on the last day of October a 24-hour song, 7 Skies H3, was made available on a special website.

That’s enough weirdness to fry the internal organs of the more squeamish listeners out there. 7 Skies H3 exists as a standard-length album on Spotify but I haven’t listened to it and I have no intention of hunting down those flash-drive packages. So I can’t offer much comfort if you’ve been subjected to any of those and you’re feeling a little nauseous now. But there is comfort in the more conventional Oczy Mlody.

album banner

There are twelve tracks on the Oczy Mlody album:

  1. Oczy Mlody
  2. How??
  3. There Should Be Unicorns
  4. Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)
  5. Nigdy Nie (Never No)
  6. Galaxy I Sink
  7. One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill
  8. Do Glowy
  9. Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes
  10. The Castle
  11. Almost Home (Blisko Domu)
  12. We A Family

Several of those titles were inspired by a Polish translation of Erskine Caldwell’s Close to Home, titled Blisko Domu. Track 4 suggests that the album title was intended to mean “Eyes of the Young” (which Wikipedia says would be “Oczy młodych” in grammatically correct Polish). For completeness, track 8’s title translates back to English as “To Head”.

We can see in those track titles a playfulness bordering on the psychotic but fear not – if there is a theme it is one of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Yes, there really should be unicorns, ones with purple eyes … if you’re a child. And who hasn’t been out hunting for faeries and witches and wizards to kill in the dark woods where you played as a small boy?³

unicorn

The title track is an instrumental that takes us into the play den with a simple melody and the deep rumbling sounds of quaking hills. A strange beast lets out a cry but it is far away and we are safe in here for now.

Then comes a remembered warning, a warning that came too late or wasn’t listened to. How could I make you see what was happening? How could I make you understand? I was just a kid with a toy gun.

Back when we were young,
we killed everyone
if they fucked with us.

We were young with a ray gun.

I tried to tell you but I don’t know how.

Look! There’s a unicorn. I told you they exist. It has purple eyes just like I said, not green eyes. Mama says they shit everywhere. And the moon. The moon is in a very red orange state. Let’s leave it like that for at least three hours hovering just above the horizon. Oh, but I’m so sleepy now …

Sunrise brings a light and joyful tune shot through with deep ripples of sadness. “The sun rises and sets on a world full of gladness, but how can I be glad when my father is dead?”, the singer asks. How? Just look at the sun on the water, look at the pretty flowers, look at all those people having fun. No matter how bad things get the sunshine will soon wash away your tears. That’s what the music says. And the singer wants to believe it.

It’s time for a break. Nigdy Nie is an 80’s-style synthesiser, fuzzy bass and drum machine instrumental with caramel vocals. It sounds a little dated but a change of atmosphere helps the lungs to breathe and refreshes us before a scheduled trip to a galaxy far far away.

The journey is accompanied by disembodied voices singing to a bolero beat. Some slack strings pling unmusically. An orchestral interlude brings relief from the tedium for a while before sinking away down a black hole, leaving us moving tunelessly onward again through the vastness of space. The galaxy called I Sink is a god-forsaken place.

The next stop is a dramatic world with the sound of erupting volcanoes and bubbling mud geysers. This is our hunting ground. Faeries and witches and wizards beware! You can’t hide in these forests. Orion is coming for you. Alien sounds are all around but the hunter whistles nonchalantly as he prowls through the starlit night.

In a clearing a native girl dances. The moon is up now, glowing bright. A spider drops from a silver willow tree and the girl, still prancing, shakes it off her hair. A dozen eyes watch from the shadows. Bells chime. The dance ends and ghostly voices announce the approach of a burning dawn sun.

As the orange sun pumps heat into the land the plants begin to sweat, warm steam rising from their pores. A chorus of demon frogs croak at each other in the half-light. Why do their eyes bulge so alarmingly? Have they seen the shadow of death in the eyes of the hunted? Or is it their own peril that they fear?

The morning mist clears slowly to reveal a fairy castle floating like a ship in the low cloud. And above it flies a dragon carrying a beautiful princess. But the castle is in ruins and the princess mourns her love who is buried beneath the fallen stones.

Her eyes were butterflies.
Her smile was a rainbow.
Her hair was sunbeam waves.
Her face was a fairy tale.

Now, our journey is nearly at an end. We are almost home. We sing as our horse gallops across familiar meadows. The song is ancient, the words are mysterious, but the tune spurs us on. “The word has become the deed. The insect crawls out on the leaf. The leaf falls into the fire.” Perhaps a student of myths and legends can interpret those lyrics but that will keep for another day.

Finally, we are reunited with our loved ones. We are a family again and we gather round the open fire to drink a toast or two, swap stories and sing old songs. This is a neat and fitting end to the Oczy Mlody album.

dark side

Overall The Flaming Lips have given us an album notable more for its tones and textures than its melodies, harmonies or rhythms. They make good use of the electric and electronic instruments at their disposal and, seen through the eyes of the young, it works well. This old gentleman, though, may be a little harder to please. I’ll give it a rating of 3.9  out of 5 (worth buying but doesn’t quite deliver all that it could).

Notes

  1. Google translate will speak the Polish for you. To me it sounds like someone saying “orcher morder” with a mouthful of gobstoppers.
  2. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone”.
  3. Girls can join in, too. Just don’t get all soppy and sentimental, that’s all!

Something Different

white apples

Crotchety Man lives in two parallel worlds. There’s the real world of solid objects like houses, apples and people. Then there’s the insubstantial world of the imagination. The other day, at the click of a mouse button, a bubble of the imagined world burst into the mundanity of real life.

My computer screen had given a link into a province of La La land known as Prog Rock and through that portal I glimpsed a new and intriguing vista. Here was a video showing a guy with a seven-string bass guitar, the bottom three strings unfretted. I’d never seen one of those before. Like a tractor beam the play button drew me in.

I have, of course, visited those regions many times before. Although I know the landscape pretty well I am always on the lookout for something different. And now I’ve found it. Something Different is the debut solo album by the Italian bass player and composer, Alberto Rigoni. He is currently crowd funding his next EP and you’ll find his biography here.

In some ways Something Different is much the same as any number of prog rock albums on the heavy side of the genre. It kicks off in typical prog fashion with a funky, rocky track called Factory with some fine guest musicians on guitar, keyboards and drums. Then we are treated to the “bass ballad”, Trying To Forget, a slow, melodic bass solo in which Alberto plays his instrument more like a Chapman Stick than a bass guitar. The contrast makes you sit up and promises good things to come.

Next up is Glory Of Life, another full band instrumental that swings easily along as it celebrates the joy of living. Track four, SMS, starts with an electronic buzz vaguely reminiscent of the original text message ringtone before slipping into a bass guitar duet backed by handclaps simulated on electronic drums.

It’s been a gentle perambulation down some pleasant prog paths so far, but just around the bend there’s a roadside bomb that will knock your socks off – along with a few toes if you’re not careful. Here’s the video for the X-rated BASSex. (The sexy vocals are by Irene Ermolli.)

Phew! After that we need a breather (or a cigarette, perhaps). And that’s just what we get for 1 minute 59 seconds with the ambient keyboard and bass piece, One Moment Before. Then it’s time to fasten your seatbelt for the Roller Coaster ride into prog metal territory complete with fast fuzzy guitars and snarling vocals.

The sleeve notes for Desert Break only list Alberto’s bass guitar but that’s misleading. There’s an intricate drum machine beat and recorded voices of children playing in the background that take it way off the main path and, presumably, into the desert. While we are there we are treated to some Jammin’ On Vocal Drums (whatever they are) with some superb jazzy guitar over a funky beat.

The album ends with the kind of ambient piano and bass track that plays behind the credits of a film in which the gutsy central character has seen unimaginable tragedy but has come through it and can now look forward to living out her days in comfort surrounded by those she loves. It’s called Sweet Tears.

Looking back, where have we been? We have encountered the heavy metal edge of hardened steel, we have celebrated the glory of life and even indulged in a little casual sex. There have been calmer moments, too. Times when we tried to forget and, finally, we have been able to rest easy bathed in our own sweet tears. A lot has happened on our short journey. And that’s the something that’s different about this album.