Rick’s Quick Takes from March

“Delays, delays!”

Marvin the Martian, “Hare-Way to the Stars”

(A quick note: for new releases, order links are embedded in album titles; online playlists/previews/etc. follow reviews when available. For catalog albums, playlists are linked with titles.)

Once again, I get to second a positive review from Bryan — this time of Fauna, the new release from prog-metallers Haken. Wildly creative, I found this to be the British sextet’s most appealing effort since 2016’s Affinity, stirring in flavors of fusion, postmodern pop, funk, reggae, electronica and even opera alongside one heavy yet tuneful chorus after another. Whether on the short, sharp shocks of “Taurus” and “Lovebite” or the extended journeys of “Sempiternal Beings” and “Elephants Never Forget”, Ross Jennings’ vocals soar, Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall’s guitars crunch, Peter Jones’ keys fill what few sonic crevices remain, and rhythm section Conner Green and Raymond Hearne thunder. Play it loud — but look out for multiple, exciting curveballs on every track!

Last month also saw the release of two live albums from veteran bands who’ve made it through the pandemic back to the stage:

Van der Graaf Generator’s The Bath Forum Concert (a CD/DVD/BluRay set) documents the venerable trio’s 2022 return to action; tackling an ambitious setlist that spans their entire career, guitarist/pianist/singer Peter Hammill is as declamatory and vehement as ever, organist Hugh Banton covers the aural spectrum between cathedral and crypt, and drummer Guy Evans locks into or disrupts the grinding soundscapes as the spirit moves him. The beautifully filmed video shows VDGG working hard and watching each other, opting for the flow as they feel it rather than relying on clinical precision; warts and all, this is refreshingly in the moment, a strong show that captures the band’s existential angst and humanistic idealism in full.

Two years after their 2020 Far Eastern tour collapsed around them, King Crimson satellite band Stick Men returned to Japan and blew away any cobwebs that might have accumulated at Osaka’s BB Live venue. The resulting album Umeda showcases avant guitarist Markus Reuter, multi-bassist Tony Levin and percussionist Pat Mastelotto at their aggressive, angular best; whether on long-standing improvisational frameworks “Cusp”, “Schattenhaft” and “Swimming in Tea”, newer compositions “Ringtone”, “Tentacles” and “Danger in the Workplace” or Crimson classics “Red”, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt. II” or “The Sheltering Sky”, these guys are frighteningly good, whether working up a hair-raising din or backing off for spacey, unexpectedly lush interludes. A great introduction for newbies and a must for fans.

Plus, in February and March the recorded music industry resumed cranking out deluxe box set reissues and compilations — apparently the market of Boomers (like me) with more money than sense isn’t tapped out yet:

When 1960s pop tunesmith Burt Bacharach resurfaced in the collective consciousness thirty years later (thank you, Austin Powers!), new-wave magpie Elvis Costello sought him out for what would seem a bizarre collaboration, But 1998’s duo album Painted from Memory proved devastatingly good, as Costello’s narratives of tangled love (hard to find, often lost) and his anguished vocals rode Bacharach’s gorgeous melodies and orchestrations, hanging on for dear life and breaking through to the deepest emotions of his career. The Songs of Bacharach and Costello, already scheduled for release before Bacharach’s recent passing, also collects later collaborations — some from Costello’s marvelous 2018 slice of uptown pop, Look Now — with the lot intended for a Broadway musical. An exorbitantly priced super-deluxe edition collects additional live tracks and includes an extended essay by Elvis, but the double-CD set should be sufficient for most collections. Already one of the year’s favorite reissues for me — but keep the Kleenex handy, and lower the lights at your own risk.

For the record, I think Genesis’ new 5-disc set BBC Broadcasts is a great idea — however, your mileage may vary, depending on what you’re looking for. Fans of the Peter Gabriel/Steve Hackett era only get one (very fine) disc of material; complete concerts are avoided to minimize duplication of songs across the set; two discs focus on the band in their mega-hit pomp; and the booklet is a confusing jumble of surprisingly defensive mini-essays paired with randomly inserted photos. The upside? Plenty of prog-focused tunes from the early years of the Banks/Collins/Rutherford trio (when I discovered them) — the 1978 Knebworth Festival set and a 1980 show recorded at the small London Lyceum pay especially rich dividends. By no means comprehensive, this is still a solid sampler of Genesis’ varied accomplishments across the decades.

Illusion is one of those 1970s bands you have to stumble across. Regrouping from an early version of Renaissance which featured former Yardbirds Jim McCarty and Keith Relf, their four albums, released between 1977 and 2001, never made an impact beyond their miniscule cult. Which is a shame, since Illusion plowed a folk/classical furrow that frequently produced appealing results. On the new, all-inclusive box Everywhere You Go, McCarty’s urgent singing complements the rich soprano voice of Relf’s sister Jane, both hovering above John Hawken’s piano, John Knightsbridge’s driving guitar and the solid engine room of Louis Cennamo on bass and Eddie McNeal and drums. Well worth seeking out for fans of Renaissance and British folk-rock in general.

Deadwing was the first Porcupine Tree album I picked up way back in 2005, on the basis of good reviews from beyond the prog subculture of the time and a recommendation from my local indie store owner; hearing Steven Wilson’s pioneering compositional mix of killer hard-rock riffs, uneasy ambience, and ethereal harmonies (no PTree, no Haken?), executed with pin-sharp commitment by Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin and Gavin Harrison, I was hooked! The album’s new deluxe reissue includes a fine remaster of the album and B-sides (on both CD and BluRay), plus 77 minutes of revelatory demos and jams, an engrossing live video from Germany’s legendary Rockpalast show, and an album-size booklet of striking photos and informative interviews. Pricey, but if you like the album and the band, you’ll love this.

Steven Wilson’s broad love of music no matter the genre has also yielded the multi-artist compilation Intrigue: Progressive Sounds in UK Alternative Music 1979-89 (the first in a planned “SW Presents” series). Going in, be ready for a head-turning range of ambitious music — from super-slick to brutally crude, from acoustic to industrial, with lyrics spanning the hypnotically soothing and the utterly disturbing. Prog and prog-adjacent artists (Robert Fripp, Japan, Tears for Fears, Kate Bush) rub shoulders with techno-poppers (Ultravox, Gary Numan, Thomas Dolby, Orchestral Manoeuveres in the Dark), dance/trance outfits (Simple Minds, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance) post-punk provocateurs (Magazine, Public Image Limited, Joy Division, The The) and indescribable noisemakers (This Heat, SLAB!, O Yuki Conjugate, Cardiacs) on these four discs; the result is an epic-length, astonishingly addictive mixtape, gathering strength and momentum as it develops from relatively familiar beginnings to an alien, yet oddly satisfying conclusion. You’re allowed to dislike — or even hate — some of this music, but as curated by Wilson here, you can’t ignore any of it. A set to stretch your brain and your guts as well as your ears.

And in the “blast from the past” department:

The late David Crosby’s recent catalog continues to pay dividends, with 2017’s relatively extroverted Sky Trails (mostly in collaboration with his multi-instrumentalist son James Raymond) and 2018’s mesmerizingly mellow Here If You Listen (with the mostly acoustic Lighthouse Band) already amongst my favorite discoveries of this year.

Guided by Voices 2002’s Isolation Drills was a final, futile attempt to break into the rock mainstream, but with its canny mix of back-to-basics power chords, Robert Pollard’s engaging yet elusive lyrics and upgraded sonics, it wound up being the perfect blueprint for the current GbV’s hot streak of one first-rate album after another. Probably the best encapsulation of what all the fuss is about.

— Rick Krueger

P.S. On the jazz front, I saw the third-best concert of my life in March, courtesy of the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Check out my review at Spirit of Cecilia.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s