Album Review – Shades of Plato’s “Malware” – When Plato Met Jethro Tull

a0998253074_10Shades of Plato, Malware, March 28, 2022
Tracks: Malware (3:57), Death Of Me (4:23), All Women To Me (3:11), Oliver Reed (3:44), Clickbait (3:59), Time Is Not Your Friend (3:49), Ecdysis (3:57), Une Place Au Soleil (5:14), A Little Learning (3:53), She’s Always Hitting On Me (4:41), No Friend To Me (3:35), The Dead Don’t Dance (3:38), Mr. Von Hugo (3:22), People Suck (6:14), Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows (4:54)

Three years in the making and five years after their debut album, UK band Shades of Plato’s sophomore album Malware blends musical and lyrical influences into a compelling and hard-hitting rock album. The result sounds a bit like Jethro Tull minus the folk influence. Sprinkle in a bit of Canterbury scene influence (hey, the album was recorded in Kent) and straight up hard-rock, and you have a pretty good idea of their overall sound. Frank Zappa’s eclecticism also seems to be a pretty strong influence.

The four band members play behind pseudonyms: Ol’ Dirty Flute on vocals and flute, Captain Black on bass and keyboards, Jack Sorrow on guitars and keyboards, and Pandora on drums. Ol’ Dirty Flute’s voice is very reminiscent of Ian Anderson, albeit without the range Anderson had in his prime. His flute make the Tull influence unmistakable, yet it manages to still not sound pastoral at all.

The music itself leans perhaps more classic rock than prog as we might think of it today. The tracks are on the shorter side, and they tend to show off varying influences while still maintaining a cohesive sound across the record. The bass on the title track has a heavy Tool sound, while the opening rhythm of “Death Of Me” reminds me a lot of early Black Sabbath, a sound maintained in the song by a distinct guitar crunch.

The songs contain memorable hooks and melodies, which help serve the quite exceptional lyrics. The band even shows some quirkiness with a track like “Mr. Von Hugo,” which has a catchy repetitive chorus. The vocals on the album could be a bit stronger, as the limited range does seem cause the vocals to fade back into the mix a little bit. Having the lyric sheet included with the digipack CD is a help.

The lyrics really stand out on this record. As the band’s name might suggest, Plato is a big influence here, with his ideas spread throughout the record. The philosophic bend to the lyrics reminds me of Neil Peart’s lyrics at times, especially in the middle period of Rush’s career. Shades of Plato also have a strong grasp on contemporary culture, and as such there are some great critiques of modern ills. “Clickbait” brings up the negative aspects of the internet, such as the ability of it to radicalize people or turn them into virulent “activists” in ways they might not be in real life.

You can be an activist
It takes one finger to enlist
Virtue-signalling your friends
With whatever twitter trends
Share the same ideology
Hash tag haters by decree
Then selfie surfeit Instagram
Like a good Kardashian

“Clickbait”

“Time Is Not Your Friend” is a good reminder that life is fleeting. Things you wanted to tell your loved ones but didn’t should be said when you get the chance. No matter how far away we think the end is, it is indeed there waiting for us, and that should cause us to act.

Counting on your demise
As a far distant event
Well think again, it sits in wait
At every hour you are sent
Time is not your friend
And you’re always close to the end
And you can’t go round again

“Time Is Not Your Friend”

“A Little Learning” is fantastic. Every big-name musician or any actor who decides to use their platform to push beliefs which have nothing to do with how they make their living really should take this song to heart.

I’d put a sock in what you’ve said so far
You ain’t changing shit with your guitar
Keep your polemics to yourself
Your audience, they don’t share your wealth

Don’t proselytize on my timeline
Your diatribes don’t define
My anarchy, it’s not okay
Keep your own counsel, is what I saw

A little learning is a dangerous thing
I’m going to duck you in the Pyrian spring…

“A Little Learning”

Shades of Plato save the best for last: the final track, “Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows,” takes its influence from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. For those unfamiliar with said allegory, the short version is everyone is living in the darkness of a cave where their reality is limited to shadows cast by a candle. Someone escapes from the cave and discovers the brightness of reality in the outside world. That person (the philosopher) returns to the cave to bring everyone else out into reality, but they refuse to leave their world of shadows. Shades of Plato similarly call the listeners not to “let your dreams be shadows,” choosing instead to “run free through orchid meadows / Unhindered by the hedgerows.” Experience life as it really is, not as the internet projects it to be (see “Clickbait”).

And I’ll be waiting for you
Here on the outside
When light comes streaming through
I’ll be your guide
Until you’re accustomed to
The cosmos in your eyes
And our ascent to the firmament
Is assured; undying; heaven-sent.

“Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Shadows”

Earlier I said this album had more of a classic rock edge, but this is no mere straightforward hard-rock album. The lyrics move far beyond that, and combined with the subtle keyboard washes and the recurring flute, this album begins to take on a progressive edge. While not necessarily a concept album, there are lyrical themes that pop up across the album that connect with each other in subtle ways, some of which I have touched on in this review. The album is worth digging into for the lyrics alone, but you’ll also find the music very rewarding.

The album is available at Bandcamp for download or a CD – both priced at £5.

https://www.facebook.com/shadesofplato/
https://shadesofplato1.bandcamp.com/album/m-a-l-w-a-r-e

The Fall 2021 Box Set Bonanza

As previously promised, a look at the big reissues landing in the next few months — especially those available in one or more box set formats. Ordering links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.

Out Now:

The Beach Boys, Feel Flows – The Sunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions, 1969-1971: between their initial impact and their imperial phase as timeless purveyors of fun fun fun, Brian Wilson and his family pursued heaviness and relevance in a market that thought it had outgrown them — at least for the moment. This slice of the Boys’ catalog features less slick, more homespun takes on their timeless concerns (the same amount of girls, less cars, more daily life), with Wilson brothers Dennis (on Sunflower) and Carl (on Surf’s Up) taking the lead. The brilliant moments — “This Whole World,” “Forever,” “Long Promised Road,” “Til I Die” for starters — outweigh the embarrassingly dated ones, and music to make you smile is never too long in coming. Available from The Beach Boys’ webstore as 2 CDs, 5 CDs, 2 LPs or 4 LPs (colored vinyl).

BeBop Deluxe, Live in the Air Age: when Bill Nelson’s avant-glam guitar heroics didn’t generate bigger record sales, a live album was the next obvious move for this sterling British quartet. Better chart positions weren’t forthcoming, but 1977’s Live in the Air Age is an exquisite slab of BBD at work — Chuck Berry updated for the Apollo era, with a bit of Bowie/Mercury panache in Nelson’s vocals and blazing solos aplenty. Available from Esoteric Recordings as 3 CDs (adding the complete 1977 London concert) or 15 CDs/1 DVD (adding all surviving recordings from the 1977 British tour and a live television special).

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: the quiet Beatle exploded on his first album after the Fabs’ breakup, immersing his radiant devotional compositions in Phil Spector’s patented Wall of Sound and drafting Ringo, Badfinger and the embryonic Derek and the Dominoes as his rock orchestra. The new remix scales back the symphonic swirl, brings forward George’s vocals, and gives the rhythm section a kick in the pants; just right to these ears. A serious contender for the single best solo Beatle album, well worth an immersion course. Available from the Harrison webstore in Standard (2 CDs or 3 LPs — limited colored vinyl available as well), Deluxe (3 CDs or 5 LPs), Super Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay or 8 LPs) and Uber Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay/8 LPs/various bespoke gimcracks/”artisan wooden crate” — you don’t wanna know what it costs) editions.

The Elements of King Crimson – 2021 Tour Box: the 7th annual compilation of tidbits from the Discipline Global Mobile archives, doubling as a concert program. This year’s selection of rarities focuses on the nine drummers that have called King Crimson their musical home (sometimes two or three of them at once). Studio snippets – like the one with Fripp, John Wetton on bass and Phil Collins on drums – live tracks, oddities, previews of coming attractions, and more. Available from Burning Shed or on Crimson’s current USA tour.

Lee Morgan, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse: never a mass media superstar, Morgan was nonetheless a jazz icon — one of the finest trumpeters of his day who played with heroes of the music like Art Blakey and John Coltrane, recorded more than 20 albums as a leader for Blue Note Records, and even managed to score a Top 25 pop hit with his funky “The Sidewinder.” This box (another product of jazz archivist Zev Feldman’s boundless energy) sets forth an entire weekend’s worth of recordings by Morgan and his dedicated, powerful 1970 band. Bennie Maupin on reeds, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums bring the sophisticated, challenging compositions and spirited solos and backing; Morgan takes it from there, lyrical and fiery in turn. This is a great potential entry point if you want to explore jazz as a newbie, and a serious desert island possiblility for those already into the music. Available from Blue Note’s webstore as 8 CDs or 12 LPs.

Clive Nolan and Rick Wakeman, Tales by Gaslight: keyboardists Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) and Wakeman (Yes, Strawbs) box up their out-of-print concept albums Jabberwocky (with dad Rick W. reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse) and The Hound of the Baskervilles, adding a bonus disc collecting rough drafts of a 3rd album based on Frankenstein. Separate booklets and art prints for each of the 3 CDs included. Theatrical as all get out, and surprisingly good fun if you’re in the mood for Victorian-flavored melodrama. Available from Burning Shed.

September:

Bob Dylan, Springtime in New York – The Bootleg Series, Volume 16, 1980-1985: Outtakes, alternate versions, rehearsals, live performances and more from the era that yielded Dylan’s albums Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Out September 17; pre-order from Dylan’s webstore and elsewhere in the following formats: 2 LP Highlights, 2 CD Highlights or 5 CDs complete. (There’s also a subscriber-only 4 LP set from Jack White’s Third Man Records.)

Marillion, Fugazi: the band’s 1984 album, perceived as a “sophomore slump” at the time, is much more than a bridge between the feral debut Script for A Jester’s Tear and the early masterwork Misplaced Childhood, with plenty of gripping moments to recommend it. A new remix by Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh compensates handily for the production nightmares recounted in this deluxe edition’s copious notes. Also includes a complete live set from Montreal; the CD/BluRay version adds bonus tracks, documentaries, and a Swiss television concert. Out September 10; pre-order from Marillion’s webstore as 4 CDs/BluRay or 4 LPs.

Van der Graaf Generator, The Charisma Years, 1970-1978: VDGG may have shared the stage with Genesis in each band’s formative years, but they were a thoroughly different beast. Peter Hammill’s desperate existential narratives and the wigged out instrumental web woven by David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans made for a unique, highly combustible chemistry — bonkers dystopian sci-fi narrative over free jazz one moment, raggedly soaring hymns to human potential the next. This 17 CD/3 BluRay set collects the band’s 8 studio albums from the Seventies, adding extensive BBC sessions, a live show from Paris, all surviving television appearances “and more.” Now available from Burning Shed; the four newly remastered albums in this box (H to He Who Am the Only One, Pawn Hearts, Godbluff and Still Life) are available as separate CD/DVD sets for those wanting a lower priced introduction to this underrated band’s indescribably stirring music.

October:

The Beatles, Let It Be: the Fab Four’s star-crossed attempt to return to their roots – recording live in front of movie cameras – ultimately became their first post-break-up release, drenched with Phil Spector’s orchestral overdubs to cover the rough spots. With a new 6-hour Peter Jackson documentary on the sessions hitting Disney Plus Thanksgiving weekend, Apple unleashes a fresh stereo remix (the 4th in the series that kicked off with Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary). Super Deluxe versions also include 27 sessions tracks, a 4-track EP and a test mix of Get Back, the proposed original version of the album. Out October 15th; pre-order from the Fabs’ webstore in Standard (1 CD or 1 LP), Deluxe (2 CDs with selected bonus tracks) and Super Deluxe (4 CDs/1 BluRay or 4 LP/1 EP) editions. (The companion book of photos and transcribed conversations from the sessions, Get Back, is released on October 12.)

Emerson Lake and Palmer, Out of This World – Live (1970-1997): a compilation of key live shows in ELP’s history: their 1970 debut at the Isle of Wight Festival; a career peak show at the 1974 California Jam; the 1977 full-orchestra extravaganza at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 1992’s comeback concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall; and a previously unreleased 1997 show from Phoenix, Arizona. Out October 29; pre-order from ImportCDs as 7 CDs or 10 LPs.

Joni Mitchell, Archives , Volume 2 – The Reprise Years (1968-1971): more archival recordings from the early days of Mitchell’s recording career. Home and studio demos, outtakes, unreleased songs, her Carnegie Hall debut and much more — a complete acoustic set recorded by a enraptured Jimi Hendrix, anyone? Out October 29; pre-order from Mitchell’s webstore on 5 CDs or 10 LPs (4000 copies only), The Carnegie Hall concert is available separately on 3 LPs (black or white vinyl).

Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Remixed and Updated): the 2019 remix of Floyd’s post-Roger Waters comeback from the opulent The Later Years box, now available on its own. “Sounds less like the 1980s, more like classic Floyd” is the party line here. Out October 29; pre-order from Floyd’s webstore in 1 CD, CD/DVD, CD/BluRay or 2 LP formats.

November:

Genesis, The Last Domino? Yet another compilation of Genesis’ greatest hits, fan favorites and core album cuts, released just in time for their first US tour in 14 years. No real surprises in the track selection, but the blurbed promise of “new stereo mixes” of four Gabriel-era classics is intriguing. Out November 19; pre-order from Genesis’ webstore on 2 CDs or 4 LPs. (The UK version of this compilation, out September 17, sports a slightly different track list.)

Elvis Presley, Back in Nashville: the King’s final sessions in Music City, stripped of overdubs a la last year’s From Elvis in Nashville box, that yielded material for three years worth of albums. 82 tracks encompassing country/folk, pop, religious music and Christmas music. Out November 12; pre-order from the Presley webstore on 4 CDs or 2 LPs.

In the Works (release date forthcoming):

Robert Fripp, Exposures: another exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) set from Discipline Global Mobile. This one promises to cover Fripp’s “Drive to 1981,” including his guest-star-heavy solo debut Exposure, the ambient Frippertronics of God Save the Queen and Let the Power Fall, and the egghead dance music of Under Heavy Manners and The League of Gentlemen. Tons of live gigs promised to supplement rarities and studio outtakes.

Marillion, Holidays in Eden: the new Marillion album (now officially titled An Hour Before It’s Dark) may push this further back on the release schedule, but Steve Hogarth’s second effort with the boys (an intriguing effort that tried and failed to go commercial) is next up for the deluxe reissue treatment.

Porcupine Tree, Deadwing: a promised deluxe set in the vein of 2020’s In Absentia. Internet gossip flared up when Steven Wilson, Steve Barbieri and Gavin Harrison were rumored to have reset the band’s legal partnership earlier this year; who knows how or when the Tree may blossom again?

Renaissance, Scheherezade and Other Stories: coming from Esoteric Recordings, the folk-prog quintet’s finest hour in the studio, melding orchestral grace with an Arabian Nights theme for the half-hour title track. If this is in the vein of other recent Renaissance issues, hope for a multi-disc set with a bonus live set and a surround remix.

— Rick Krueger

soundstreamsunday: “Mission (A World Record)” by Electric Light Orchestra

ELO_NewWorldRecord
soundstreamsunday HQ

I never knew anyone who wasn’t at least a little bit of a fan of Electric Light Orchestra.  My age privileges me in remembering hearing new ELO songs on the radio when I was a kid — it was almost impossible I think for DJs to screw up their set with ELO, as the band’s music straddled so many genres at one time — and although I never owned any of their albums until I was in my 40s (I can’t believe it either), not liking their music would be akin to not liking having any fun.  But along with that fun came a musicality and seriousness of songwriting that could get you scratching your head, too.  In the words of the old ad, this stuff was good and good for you.

Those were the days….  Launched on record in 1971, by 1976 ELO had five albums under their belt and their sixth, A New World Record, would distill Jeff Lynne’s profound ambition into a back-to-front nine-song pop-prog epic 36 minutes long.  While many fans cite ELO’s next record, 1977’s Out of the Blue, as the masterpiece (and in some ways it is), that double album’s aesthetic really gestated on A New World Record: late-era Beatles laid across heavy accents of American R&B and soul, filtered through an army of instruments and tracks.  Lynne’s achievement in 1976 was to make this happen succinctly, in service of his writing, which produced the best kinds of love songs — those without the hey babies — full of heartbreak, hope, and hooks.  Always the hooks, the insanely catchy melodies.  And so the album is packed with genuine chart hits: “Telephone Line,” “Livin’ Thing,” the odd and wonderful “Do Ya,” the dopey but tolerable “Rockaria!”  Pop done and undone to the level of the avant-garde, it’s so ridiculous.  But it’s at the end of the album’s sides where the sweetness isn’t so much cleansed as qualified, adding a complex finish to the confections preceding.  So the album closer “Shangri-La” declares in its operatic final two minutes a return to paradise, either towards or away from the pain of love, and the last cut on side A is a puzzle that resolves in a lyrical, gorgeous sadness.

ELO_MissionLyrics
From the LP lyric sheet, the (artfully incomplete) words to “Mission (A World Record)”

There is nothing straightforward in “Mission (A World Record),” the central lyrics of which are “watching all the world go by” and — not even printed in the liner notes — “how’s life on Earth?” The rest of it could be a starry sci-fi mini-epic or the rant of a tenant at a mission hospital, or both.  But, astral projection or interstellar travel aside, the song concerns itself primarily with a melody, guitar line, and arrangement that read like maps of a future Radiohead.  A vibe of desolate beauty, of being left behind, linked with a prophecy or the ramblings of a seer, a paranoid android or a subterranean homesick alien.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

soundstreamsunday: “If There Is Something” by Roxy Music

ROXY-2If in May 1972 the Rolling Stones defined and deified rock and roll (and themselves) with the release of Exile on Main Street, one month later Roxy Music’s debut album made splatter art of such ideas.  A galvanizing, glammed-out, punked-up masterpiece, Roxy Music is the first of a series of four albums (including For Your Pleasure, Stranded, and Country Life) that artfully engage a European, distinctly non-bluesy, approach to rock. Where a mere three years later Roxy would hit the disco with “Love is the Drug” and a decade on would make one of the great, soulful, chilled-out new wave records with Avalon, in 1972 the band was pushing in every direction, its self-defined non-musician Brian Eno creating on-the-fly soundscapes that turned Andy Mackay’s reeds into guitars and Phil Manzanera’s guitars into sirens, while Bryan Ferry ululated — more in the style of Roger Chapman than the smooth crooner he would become — loose, even free associative, lyrics rendered on a spectrum from oddball to heartbreaking. While their image and aesthetic fit into the cutting edge of the British glam music scene at the time (Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was released just the week before), and their creation myth is inseparable from their influential visual audacity (for who could look more creepy in a feather boa and leopard skin than the be-rouged Eno?), it was the band’s intense musicianship and penchant for the melodic that was the core of its success and influence, and why you can hear this first album in everything from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Talking Heads. The sound is richly subversive, hooks are everywhere, songs use shifting dynamics to create emotional peaks. They challenge convention, but are fully wrought, they are all surface, but go deep.

Roxy Music on Amazon

soundstreamsunday archive