Thursday, 27 December 2012

Machine Mass Trio - As Real As Thinking


In which Belgian guitar monster Michel Delville and the highly experienced "tight but loose" jazz drummer Tony Bianco, both of jazz-space-prog maestros douBt lose the keyboard player and gain Jordi Grognard, a reeds player of some style, who also plays bansouri and electronic tempura, and become the jazz-rock beast that is Machine Mass Trio.

Originally conceived as a side project of douBt, MMT are no doubt (sorry) now a force in their own right. Kicking off in a languorous lounge style with Cuckoo we are soon introduced to Jordi's accomplished playing, from where we venture into more rocky territory on Knowledge with some tight ensemble playing as Jordi free-associates over Michel's spiky guitar theme, Tony pummelling out the beat while also skittering all over the shop. Fast'n'furious, this is a prime example of the group's power.

The album is full of mood changes and Khajuaro, with its meditative Arabian-Indian flavours wherein Michel picks up his bouzouki, followed by the off-kilter funk of Hero are fine examples being in complete contrast to one another. On the latter Michel turns in a solo that sounds like the bastard offspring of Zappa and Holdsworth, followed by Jordi's marvellous reed blowing. Nice!  

After the Dave Brubeck from another galaxy of UFO-RA comes Falling Up, the longest track on the album, which although described in somewhat understated fashion on the CD sleeve as "...a joint improvisation by Bianco and Delville" is an avant-fusion tour-de-force, Tony's never-ending drum rolls overlaid with wildly oscillating and distorted guitar and strange electronica, that after a time becomes quite hypnotic as it flies off into the heavens.

We end with more exotic flavours as Palitana Mood, although possessing a title that sounds like a track from a Mantovani LP is actually a spacey flute-led piece of some elegance and beauty.

Recorded entirely live with no overdubs, the unavoidable rough edges serve only to give the album its powerful attitude. This band demand to be listened to.

Sadly, Tony tells us "This record was recorded as my beloved wife, Mary, was fighting for her life. She has thus passed away and my playing is a tribute to her beautiful soul."

Tracklist:

01. Cuckoo (9:26)
02. Knowledge (6:11)
03. Let Go (4:56)
04. Khajuaro (5:23)
05. Hero (10:16)
06. UFO-RA (6:46)
07. Falling Up (18:03)
08. Palitana Mood (3:06)

Total running time 64:07

Line-up:
Tony Bianco – drums, loops, percussions
Michel Delville – electric guitar, bouzouki, electronics
Jordi Grognard – tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, bansouri, electronic tempura

Listen and buy here.
...


Marbin - Breaking The Cycle



Breaking The Cycle was the second album released by Marbin, back in 2011. This fine band take their name from two young Israelis; guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, ably assisted by Americans Paul Wertico (drums) and Steve Rodby (bass), both multiple Grammy Award winners with the Pat Metheny Group; not to mention a few distinguished guests (see line up list below).

Back in 2007 the duo famously interrupted a family dinner at Paul Wertico's home by turning up unexpectedly - but presumably not uninvited! The two Dans soon put down their musical roots in their adopted country, and in 2009 as well as releasing their self-titled debut album, Wertico gave them starring roles on his lauded improvised album Impressions Of A City. Since then a seemingly endless list of gigs has established the band as one of the hardest working outfits of any genre, and their road-honed experience shines through on this album. The fact that two veterans of the jazz-rock scene such as Wertico and Rodby were more than willing to hook up with the young duo for this album speaks volumes about the Israelis' musicianship, which, listening to this expansive album sounds like it's coming from players of twice their short experience.

The advantage of being young is that you are not hidebound by expectations, and so the pair lead the band through many styles including the straight ahead but energetic fusion of opener Loopy, Paul's rolling drum rhythms pulling the thing along in a joyous fashion. The piece also features a soaring solo from Dani and a short and to-the-point solo from Paul. We also get Tom Waits 12-bar scuzz-jazz (the marvellous and suitably titled Bar Stomp featuring some great hip-grinding guitar from Dani), Euro-jazz waltzes, melancholic wordless lullabies, expansive big sky sax ballads, folk and world music influences, and ending with the cinematic campfire balladry of closer Winds Of Grace, which features the plaintive lyrics and singing of Daniel White, bookended with an achingly lovely solo from Danny.

Featuring throughout is well respected percussionist Jamey Haddad (a member of Paul Simon's band), and he is another indication of the pulling power of the duo's musicality. With its superb band interplay and the wide open vistas of the arrangements Breaking The Cycle goes way beyond fusion and is simply good music with a human heart. Lovely!

Tracklist:

01. Loopy (5:59)
02. A Serious Man (3:49)
03. Mom's Song (2:05)
04. Bar Stomp (3:04)
05. Outdoor Revolution (3:08)
06. Western Sky (2:12)
07. Burning Match (5:11)
08. Claire's Indigo (2:11)
09. Snufkin (2:48)
10. Old Silhouette (4:12)
11. Winds Of Grace (8:39)

Total running time 43:13

Line up:

Dani Rabin (guitar)
Danny Markovitch (saxophone)
Paul Wertico (drums, percussion on 1/8)
Steve Rodby (bass)
Special guests:
Jamey Haddad (percussion 2/4/6/8/9/10)
Matt Davidson (vocals 3/6)
Leslie Beukelman (vocals 3/6)
Makaya McCraven (drums 4)
Daniel White (lyrics and vocals 11)

Listen and buy here.
...

Saturday, 15 December 2012

2012 - A year in review

Firstly, thanks to all of you for reading my typo-strewn and occasionally acerbic nonsense in 2012.

Another day, another CD, or so it seemed this year; as fast as I was putting CDs away they were arriving, the piles on my desk never getting smaller. Of course, I love it really, and 2012 was another year of great releases in ye olde progressive genres, rock or otherwise.

In very rough chronological order, here are the releases that impressed, linking to reviews. The cream of the crop are in bold, although everything here is top-notch.

Gavin Harrison & Ø5ric – The Man Who Sold Himself
This shouldn't work but it does, very complex but highly enjoyable. My big regret of the year was that due to flu I had to miss the gig, which also included Tony Levin's Stick Men...damn!

no-man - Love and Endings
Live document of the headline act at Burning Shed's 10th anniversary bash, the best gig I attended in 2011.



Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion
The first (or possibly the second) of 312 projects involving The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz to see the light of day in 2012. A meeting of minds with Mikael Åkerfeldt.

Peter Hammill - Consequences
The Thin Man has sill got it. 

Øresund Space Collective – West, Space and Love 
A departure from the ØSC template - chillin' 

Thinking Plague - Decline And Fall
A hugely intricate intellectual avant-fest from one of the best bands currently working. Simple as.

Inner Ear Brigade - Rainbro
Highly enjoyable and not at all frightening American avant-prog. 

Gazpacho - March Of Ghosts
Sublime...'nuff said.

3 Mice - Send Me A Postcard
For whom I invent a new genre - alt-café music, if you will. Quaint and lovely.

Ancestors - In Dreams And Time
Extreme heaviosity with no cookie monster in sight - result! About as different from the previous album in this list as can be.

Autumn Chorus - The Village To The Vale
Is it post-rock or pastoral prog? I've no idea and couldn't care less, but it is lovely in a quintessentially English way.

Subtilior - Absence Upon A Ground
Slightly difficult chamber-prog for brainiacs.

Daal - Dodechahedron
Italo-Gothic instrumental magnificence.

Ligro - Dictionary 2
Power trio swamp-jungle-fusion-rock from Moonjune's latest Indonesian discovery.



Lee Fletcher - Faith In Worthless Things
Studio whizz-kid emerges from behind the console to make a lovely album with a stellar cast. Pop for thinkers.

Janel & Anthony - Where Is Home
Who would have thought a cello and a guitar and effects could make such a charming soundscape? Pastoral loveliness.

Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken: The Death Defying Unicorn
Many thanks to Jon Bradshaw for turning me on to this previously unexplored strangeitude! Scandi-psychedelia meets Led Zeppelin bang in the middle of a Wagnerian jazz symphony, all played out on on the high seas in unchartered waters. Epic!

Big Big Train - English Electric (Part One)
Once I got past the "Trick Of The Wuthering" on the first track, this album really surprised me with its high class songwriting. Very nice!

Tohpati Bertiga - Riot
More wonderful stuff from prolific Indonesian guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo, this time in power trio mode.

Änglagård - Viljans Öga 
Welcome return for Swedish prog legends.

Cosa Brava - The Letter
Fred Frith's "prog-rock group", about as far removed from "rock" as you'd imagine. Infectious off-kilter tunes by the shedload.

Travis & Fripp - Follow
Steven Wilson gets to mess with Robert's soundscapes and some unexpected scorching guitar work from the archives, while Theo is his usual undemonstrative but wonderful self.

Mike Keneally - Wing Beat Fantastic
Although uncredited on the cover, this album's quirky pop inflections result from Mike's collaboration on most of the songs with the one and only Andy Partridge. A truly marvellous meeting of styles, bought on the strength of Mark Huges' review - no regrets. XTC lovers note that Steven Wilson will be remixing Nonsuch in 5:1 surround sound next year - can't wait!



Dissonati - Reductio Ad Absurdum
Part post-rock, part retro-prog with a big VDGG influence, but thoroughly modern all the same.

Aranis - Made In Belgium
Wonderful chamber-prog from Belgium - where else?

douBt - Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Fusion and improv from another galaxy. This is what "prog-rock" should be all about.

Thumpermonkey - Sleep Furiously
In-yer-face avant-prog, and Steve Davis' album of the year. Is it interesting? Yes, it is!

Yugen - Mirrors
Who would have thought that such mind-boggling complexity could be recreated live with such panache? Marvellous!

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
EEK!

The ones that got away
There are more than a few albums I probably would have bought had I not been deluged by review CDs, two of which I've just ordered; Paul Buchanan's Mid Air being one, and from what I've heard on YouTube it promises to be a truly marvellous piece of intricate minimalism, that, in the absence of a new Mark Hollis album will more than do. The other is Can's The Lost Tapes, which if it lives up to the hype should be the definitive and probably final statement from the top dogs of Deutschrock. Also, thanks to Steven Wilson's Albums Of The Year list, sounding worthy of investigation are The Seer by Swans, Animal Joy by Sheerwater, and Desertshore / The Final Report by X-TG.

Reissues
Bleedin' hundreds of 'em, where to start, where to start? Well, there's the obvious; King Crimson's Larks' Tongues In Aspic, which should need no introduction, the budget Magma - Trilogy box, the fab Moe Tar - From These Small Seeds, and Gazpacho's Night, to name a few worthy of your time, but the reissue of the year in my 'umble opinings is the simply stunning Eros by Dün, an obscurity rescued by the very fine Soleil Zeuhl label. 

Label of the year
As ever a close fought battle between AltrOck and Moonjune, with kscope making it a three-way battle, but sneaking up the inside on the home straight to take the crown is Alain Lebon's Soleil Zeuhl. A labour of love and a highly interesting roster. Read my interview with Alain here.

Archaeological find
...was a simply stunning unreleased version of Levitation's near-invisible second album Meanwhile Gardens, featuring the irreplacable Terry Bickers (one half of the driving force behind The House Of Love). Fools that they were, Levitation did actually replace him, re-recorded the album re-recording most of his vocal parts, and the result is ok if underwhelming. Probably wisely the thing was only released in Australia. If you have any affinity for what is sometimes dismissively labelled shoegaze, but in this instance infused with tabs of psychedelia and a more than a touch of prog, then you'll love Levitation. Here's a track from their one and only official album (not forgetting Coterie, a collection of EP tracks) with Sir Terrence of Bickers at the helm. Groovetastic!




Judging by all that little lot above, the old adage that there are not enough hours in the day rings truer than ever!

Gigs
A fairly sparse year on the gig front, but just about topping a rather short list is Gazpacho at The Garage, Highbury, London, back in March. If there was any justice, this band should be huge.

...and finally
A quick mention for my former editor at DPRP who took his foot off the gas for a well deserved break from the OCD demands of us scribblers. Have a good holiday, Bob!

Have a great Xmas and a Happy New Year, see you on the other side. XXX

Monday, 10 December 2012

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

Prepare To Be Scared...and possibly Scarred



Album website

As I used to read "proper literature" avidly and still occasionally sit down with a heavyweight tome, I have always thought it is the duty of anyone who has ever considered themselves even a semi-serious bibliophile to tackle that weighty volume of impenetrable verbosity, James Joyce's Ulysses. This I have attempted on at least three occasions, but I have never made it past about a hundred pages, such is its sheer intellectual mass. In conclusion, I ain't clever enough, and I'll leave it to Joyce and the likes of Will Self who may well be a modern Joycean equivalent to bamboozle me, and I've no doubt quite a few of those in possession of a higher IQ than mine.

Much the same can be said of the serious alternative music fan and the latter works of Mr Noel Scott Engel. Although a vein of wilful artistic intent can be traced right back to Scott's first solo album in 1967, the true seeds of the creeping vine of strangeness were sown with The Walker Brothers 1978 reunion album Nite Flights, progressing through 1984's Climate Of Hunter, taking a sharp turn left with 1995's Tilt and latterly with 2006's The Drift. With those last two albums, the artist known as Scott Walker had produced works of increasingly frightening complexity, full of literary obscurantism cast adrift on an obsidian ocean of furious pessimism. A bit wordy, that; maybe Scott's verbosity is rubbing off!

I was quite proud of myself as I coped quite well with Tilt, "coped" being the right word, for one cannot "like" this kind of thing, it is more an exercise in intellectual rigour than a pleasant listening experience. Tilt may as well have been The Walker Brothers' Greatest Hits in comparison to The Drift, which was Scott taking another step or three down the ladder to the rose garden of funeral sores. I think I've listened to The Drift all the way through no more than three or four times, and indicative of its sheer scariness is the fact that on Clara, a dark tale ostensibly about Mussolini's doomed lover, part of the rhythm track is actually a percussionist "meat punching." It may well be apocryphal but it has been said that the meat in question was a side of pork hung up in the studio, and given Scott's Jewish lineage and his highly idiosyncratic sense of humour, I'm inclined to believe the tale. Another story, this time from that fountain of almost-truths Wikipedia has it that Mikael Åkerfeldt wanted Opeth's Watershed to be a heavy metal version of this album, but "it proved to be impossible simply because his [Scott's] head is sicker than mine and I also love melodies and dynamics." Shame, that would have been some experience!

Musically and lyrically ambiguous in extremis, what we can say with certainty about Scott is that he makes the music he wants to make, when he wants to make it, as is evidenced by the 11-year gap between his last two releases, and a further 6 to Bish Bosch. Popular culture isn't so much ignored, rather it is completely below the level of Scott's wayward and strange antennae. Amazingly The Drift reached the dizzy heights of No. 51 on the UK album chart, which given that it was at that point, and probably remains the oddest piece of what can only be very loosely described as "popular" music I have ever heard, and I've heard a fair few, is testament to the artist's reputation as had an unknown come up with something like that it would have sold about 27 copies.

To say I am looking forward to placing Bish Bosch in the CD player is another incorrect description; "nervously anticipating" is much nearer the mark. In fact, I'm actually writing this intro before I've even received the CD let alone heard it, the preview snippet above excepted, such is my need to mentally prepare myself for another blast of Scott's dystopian fearfest.

Three weeks later and the CD has arrived.

As I said earlier, anyone who professes to "like" this kind of thing is either lying to impress his (and it will nearly always be a "he", there is very little appealing to the feminine side about Scott's later work) peer group of oddballs, or, more worryingly, if he's actually telling the truth then he must be somewhat disturbed. You can admire or respect this work, but "like" is an adjective too far. One can only hope that for Scott's sake the process of extracting these tracts of disconsolate dyspepsia from the subterranean depths of his psyche is cathartic, or his analyst will be using him as a case study for years to come, particularly as he has repeatedly insisted that none of his writing is self-descriptive.

To start at the beginning, which in itself is probably far too linear a thought to work where this music is concerned; as it says on the album website:

Bish (n. sl.), bitch

Bosch, Hieronymous (c. 1450–1516), Dutch painter

Bish bosh (sl.), job done, sorted

The About Bish Bosch tab says all you need to know about how to approach this work, but to summarise, much like a Bosch painting, there is too much going on to absorb in one, two or three sittings, a bit of effort is needed. Scott states, enigmatically enough, in the third person “It’s moving on a bit each time we go. Hopefully it’s getting nearer and nearer the kind of thing that’s in our heads. Little things are improving, a bit more focused. The style is improving.” He states that his work is in no way autobiographical, and if we are to believe that, then what is "...in our (his) heads" is by definition entirely removed from ego, which necessitates that the listener takes a different approach in return. Is it even possible to listen in the third person?

Scott is possessed of a very dark and ironic humour, announced in the album title, as an album that takes a mere 3 years from commencement of writing to completion is "bish bosh"; well by his standards I suppose it is indeed lightning fast. Mind you, I know a few builders like that...

"Take that accidentally in the bollocks for a start"

As if to soften up his audience, the opening track batters us into near submission. Although only 4 minutes in length "See You Don't Bump His Head" is built around a non-stop 160bpm (or thereabouts, my guess) bass drum sound high up in the mix that repeatedly rabbit punches the synapses into jelly, while Scott relates a tale that may be aimed at music critics, with the oft repeated phrase "While plucking feathers from a swan song" possibly pointing at the critic picking away at his possibly last album while the other lines seem to relate the never-ending process of "life must go on"? On the other hand I could be entirely wrong, such is the overwhelming feel of abstraction. The song takes its title from Montgomery Clift's cut line in From Here To Eternity cautioning his troops to be careful with Maggio's (Frank Sinatra) body when putting it in a truck.

"Cholestoroled mansions crowded with sulphured air"

The black humour rears its ugly head on several occasions, a slapstick focus on bodily functions playing a full part, serving to break the listener's high concentration levels with a wry smile. Corps de Blah is a 9 minute journey through bodily dysfunction replete with the sound of farts and piss-tinkling. On the other hand it could be about torture; charming whichever way you look at it!  Musically spartan, silences cut through with swishing knives as percussion, and a shard of distorted guitar. Elsewhere we get a return to Scott's longtime interest in dictators, and suitably for an album released in December it ends with its very own Xmas song, jingle bells aplenty as The Day The "Conducator" Died imagines the detached state of mind of the soon to be executed Romanian dictator as "Nobody waited for fire", Ceaușescu and his wife being gunned down before the order was given.

"To play fugues on Jove's spam castanets"

The centrepiece of the album is the 23 minute SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter) a song so obscure it gets its own essay of semi-explanation in the booklet. A tale of a deformed dwarf jester (Zercon) in the court of Attila The Hun; flagpole sitting, a craze in the early 20th century involving odd chaps who took to sitting on top of flagpoles for long periods of time, the record being 21 days; and finally the discovery of the Brown Dwarf given the index number of the title and the coldest body in the known universe. Unravel that lot if you can, but it seems that Zercon rises up past the sitting-poles and away into the far universe, morphing into the stellar object and along the way we have a very very odd tale indeed that will take several listens before I could even begin to give an explanation.

The music on this piece is the most complex and intricate of the album with all manner of instruments from orchestral arrangements, pedal steel guitars, electric baritone guitar, ukelele, tubax (a low bass saxophone), rams' horns and sundry other more "normal" instrumentation, and of course weird electronica. Oh, and the odd complete silence. If you are aware of the band Faust and their more obtuse works, then this is akin to the "grown up" version of that band's sometimes cacophonous soundscapes.

 "If you're listening to this you must have survived"

Elsewhere Walker rails at Biblical certainties on Tar, punctuated by machetes being sharpened as percussion, and on Epizootics we have an apparent collision between street-hipster slang and disease infection rates punctuated by more blasts on the rams' horns. Dimple points to things evolving from a fixed point beyond recognition, and...Hell, these are only first impressions. I think you'd have to listen to this album for a year before coming to any even partly certain conclusions about any of the themes going down here.

"Where does this fit into the pantheon of popular music?", you may well ask, and I'm jiggered if I know, for this is way beyond any convenient pigeon-holing. I cannot begin to intellectualise this as some other reviewers with far better minds than I have attempted, but in order to comprehend all the references in the lyrics you'll probably need access to Wikipedia as your finger hovers over the pause button, or invite Stephens Fry and Hawking along for a listen. The former for the literary references and the latter for the astronomical tendencies that some of this tract seems to be exhibiting. Above all you need discipline, and a lot of it.

As I said ages ago, you cannot "like" this, and I would not recommend this to anyone of a nervous or anxious disposition. Handle with caution.

"Here's to a lousy life"

Scott Walker will be 70 years old in January. It amazes me that at that age he can still produce art that burns with such pin sharp intellectual passion, laced of course by his unique brand of fierce pessimism.

These are not so much songs, as psalms from an unsettling parallel universe. This music, like all music, was always out there, it just needed someone wilful and single-minded enough to pluck it out of the ether. Scott says he is not worried by having little appeal as he has a dedicated band of followers who buy enough of his CDs to pay the rent, and as for people who dismiss his work as pretentious, he says they should all "try harder". I couldn't agree more; art like this is worth putting in the effort for. Far too much music nowadays panders to the lowest possible denominator, and seeks to be no more than entertainment, and while that has its place, so does intellectual - not pretentious - music.

True art should take you to places you can only half imagine, and this piece of conceptual music does just that. 

"If shit were music, you'd be a brass band"  

Tracklist:
"See You Don't Bump His Head"
Corps de Blah
Phrasing
SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)
Epizootics
Dimple
Tar
Pilgrim
The Day The "Conducator" Died

Line up:
Hugh Burns - every type of guitar imaginable
Mark Warman - keyboards, programming
James Stevenson - more guitars
Peter Walsh - keyboards FX
Alasdair Malloy - percussion
Ian Thomas - drums
John Giblin - bass
Paul Willey - violin harmonics
Michael Laird - rams' horns
Pete Long - tubax, baritone sax
BJ Cole - hawaiian pedal steel
Guy Barker - trumpet
Tom Rees-Roberts - trumpet
Andrew McDonald - low rumbles & white noise
Scott Walker - voice (& keyboards on Pilgrim; percussion, electric guitar & keyboards on The Day The Conducator Died)

A chamber orchestra consisting of 1st & 2nd violins, celli & double basses features on Zercon, Dimple, & Corps de Blah.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil...and other short stories

Apropos of nothing at all, that title, but...please let me ramble on...and in the meantime, care for your ears with the song of the same name...




...and now for some general blather and nonsense...

Back in the early to mid-90s when computers in the workplace became commonplace we were constantly being told what a boon to our leisure-time they would be as you could get your work done in a fraction of the time it used to take, thus freeing up swathes of our existence to take up seal boxing or kangaroo stitching, or any other fun activity you could possibly desire.

As we all know only too well, it soon became apparent that all computers did was enable us to produce more work in the same timespan as before, and as the flow of information increased exponentially our free time in fact became more restricted.

What’s that got to do with the price of fish, or indeed music, you would be justified in asking? Well, the all-pervading nature of that grey box on the floor or that harmless-looking tablet of techiness sitting on your lap has inevitably had a life-changing impact not just on our workplaces but also on our leisure activities, the enjoyment of published music being but one significant part. The good old interweb has done two things to the music industry it may well never recover from. The first is that dreaded word “download”, and the second is enablement.

We all know the arguments for and against downloading, be it legal or otherwise, and I won’t repeat them here. The other aspect of change has enabled any Tom, Dick, or Rihanna the ability to create what they no doubt see as the next genre-defining tranche of musical genius, and all from the comfort of their bedroom. This has led to an oversaturation of the marketplace with substandard nonsense that obscures and indeed, buries true gems, some of which may well have been produced by the same DIY methods. This is in fact, along with downloading, the logical outcome of the punk revolution of 35 years ago, but I’m sure Malcolm McClaren never envisaged anything along the lines of what we have today.

The preponderance of gubbins is very much the case in the scene I’m familiar with, good ol' prog rock. The sheer amount of music that I and my reviewing colleagues have to wade through before hitting upon something that is actually not ridden with cliché or that doesn’t have the imagination of a comatose amoeba can be wearing, but I have now developed a high quality antenna that rarely fails, luckily enough. Some gubbins still gets through, as I have one particular album to review that has been sitting around for months as it is something of a turkey, and I can't bring myself to play more than the 10 minutes I endured when it arrived. And the bloody thing is a double CD, too! Maybe like the bird it takes its name from, I should execute it at Xmas.

Another problem facing the truly innovative bands is the gig circuit. Again, sticking to the scene I know about, prog rock is dominated by nostalgia, both in terms of some bands' obsession with the past and the largely conservative audience that follow them. With CD sales in permanent and probable terminal decline, the only way a band can make enough cash to survive is by playing live, but unfortunately the new bands are lost in an avalanche of pension-funding nostalgia tours that have grown more and more frequent in recent years. Given that the average age of a first-wave prog rocker is now mid-sixties, that is only to be expected I suppose.

You can’t blame the old bands for this, it’s the audience, and I’m as much to blame as anyone. I already have tickets for 5 gigs next year, 3 of which are nostalgia trips; Caravan with the 40th anniversary performance of For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, the one-off Family reunion gig, and Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited II. That’s around £80 in tickets that doesn’t get spent supporting new music, something I’m always banging on about, and to be frank, I do actually feel a tad guilty and hypocritical. In my defence can I say that it is extremely unlikely that Family will ever play anywhere again
(since I wrote that they've added a second night, so maybe it's now a "two-off"?), FGWGPITN is one of my all-time favourite albums, and I’ll probably never want to see Caravan again, and the Genesis thing? No excuses there I’m afraid, it’s simply a nostalgic wallow, with the quantum-small chance of one particular “special guest” turning up. Of course, I will get my comeuppance if it all turns out like bad cabaret. The two other gigs are Sigur Rós and Steven Wilson, by the way.

My good friend Raffaella makes this very point, bemoaning audiences’ innate conservatism, in her fine review of the SOAR gig in Baltimore recently, an event that had it been in London I would almost certainly have attended. We just don’t get that sort of thing over here, as UK prog festivals tend to be very mainstream in their outlook, and in that respect the USA is better off than here. Also they do not seem to have the preponderance of bands that we do that seem to be have been around forever, stuck in a time warp, churning out endless versions of sub-sub-Genesis/Yes sounding AOR. At least US acts that can be said to be truly progressive are at least visible, to whatever little extent, unlike here, which leads neatly on to the next topic in this wandering missive.

A colleague accused me recently of not liking anything that was popular, and although that simply isn't true as I believe The Beatles had a fan or seven, it is certainly the case that most bands who get beyond a certain level of popularity have done so by giving their audience what they want rather than than producing the music they actually want to make. Nothing wrong with that, but it makes them entertainers rather than artists, and I know which category is usually the more fulfilling, for me at least. Despite my selling out to the motability-muso generation in terms of my planned gig going in the near future, my love of the wilfully obscure and musically adventurous continues unabated. One of my discoveries of the year was the minuscule and wonderful Soleil Zeuhl label from France, who issue musical equivalents of Stealth Bombers, near invisible to radars. Their reissue of the fabulous album Eros by Dün earlier this year being one of quite a few 2012 musical high points for yours truly, a true nerd-fest end-of-year list of which is coming your way in the holidays, you lucky people.

Interviewing Soleil Zeuhl founder Alain Lebon for DPRP recently we touched upon the growing conservative and safe nature of mainstream media and the malleable audience who follow sheep-like in its wake. It’s a depressing thought but back in the late 70s a band like Henry Cow, who I’ll admit even I struggle with could probably draw crowds in the hundreds to watch their deliberately difficult outpourings whereas now, a modern equivalent, for example the utterly fab Thinking Plague (whose early 2012 CD Decline And Fall remains firmly lodged in my top 5 of the year) would be lucky to get a crowd of one hundred max, in the UK at least.

With the limitless choice and endless distractions of the modern entertainment marketplace this is hardly surprising, but it is Alain's and my fear that with each passing generation there is a rapidly diminishing percentage of an available audience who will go on a voyage of musical discovery and venture beyond the latest Muse or Coldplay or force-fed autotuned bollocks; or, to bring it closer to home, beyond the likes of Genesis Revisited II or the current flavour-of-the-month in the Genesis/Yes clone business. This is where the title of this piece comes in, for it is my current sad thought that when my generation and those ten or so years younger (I’m in my early 50s) dies out, truly innovative, adventurous, and yes, dangerous music will die out with it. 


Also, the way that the younger generation listen to music has changed from our listening youth beyond recognition. The kids have missed out on the album experience, be it on vinyl or CD, preferring compressed sounds on a hard drive or from the cloud, and dip into and out of albums without listening to the things properly. Long gone are the days when you'd rush home with the latest waxing by Van der Graaf Generator, put the record on the hi-fi and sit down and LISTEN to it while admiring the aesthetically wonderful cover art, and perusing the lyric sheet as Peter Hammill expounds on an everyday tale of existentialist dichotomy. A musician I know recently had an ongoing Farcebook stream in which he insisted that digital music reproduction is better than ye olde vinyl, and surprisingly so, as he's no young un' himself. Maybe on a purely technical level he's right, however I'm sorry but vinyl has more "soul" in its grooves than a CD, or gawd forbid, a FLAC or mp3 file could ever hope to achieve. I cannot define what this "soul" is, it's just there.

If I may be pretentious enough to quote one of my own reviews, "it seems odd that despite the ever advancing technologies involved in audio reproduction, yer average consumer is actually regressing back to a time of transistor radios under the bedcovers, metaphorically at least". In fact, such are the demands of modern life and the endless streams of information we are all fed, that even those of us who do still actually want to sit down for an hour or however long an album is to listen to the damn thing, rarely get the chance. I purposefully try to set aside an hour or so of a weekend day when I will sit in what I like to euphemistically refer to as the music rooom and play an album end to end, but it happens increasingly rarely. 

A bit of a digression there, I know, but it highlights shortening attention spans and it all points to why radical music of whatever genre will slowly but surely wither on the vine. There will always be musicians willing to push the envelope, I'm just worried that their only audience will be other like-minded musos, thereby the scene that even now feeds upon itself - just look at the average number of bands a modern alt-progger is in just to survive - will wither and die due to lack of support. I'm just glad that I won't be around to see it.

Blimey, that went on a bit, did it not?...now, to cheer me up I'll get back to playing that rather fab new Diagonal album.

2017 - A Year In Review

Gimme live meat, now Well, that's another year over, and the Matrix, which went "RAAAWWWWGGGGGHHHH!!!" before projectile-...