Rick’s Quick Takes for January

Big Big Train, Welcome to the Planet: Yet another stellar addition to BBT’s discography, their latest effort consolidates the widened horizons of Grand Tour and the intimate subjects of Common Ground, casting an epic light on the everyday glory of family, community, love and loss. With Nick D’Virgilio, Rikard Sjöblom, new guitarist Dave Foster and new keyboardist Carly Bryant all involved in the writing, rockers like “Made of Sunshine” and “The Connection Plan” hit with maximum impact; ballads like “Capitoline Venus” and “Oak and Stone” are masterfully expressive; instrumentals like “A Room with No Ceiling” and “Bats in the Belfry” unleash the requisite nifty twists and turns — not forgetting less easily classified delights like the multi-sectioned “Lanterna” and the woozy dreamland wash of the title track. Throughout, Greg Spawton’s firm hand on the tiller and the late David Longdon’s vocal authority are rock solid, their partnership the beating heart of this music. In the wake of Longdon’s untimely passing, we can’t know if Welcome to the Planet is the last stop on Big Big Train’s journey or a way station before what might come next. But such considerations pale in the face of what we’ve been given; this one — easily my favorite BBT effort since the English Electric days — is a real thing of beauty, an album to be treasured and listened to again and again. (Check out Bryan Morey’s detailed review here.)

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for January”

Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!

I thought I didn’t have a big list of favorites from this year’s listening — until I revisited my six-month survey from back in June and added in the good stuff I’ve heard since then! The listing below incorporates links to full or capsule reviews, or other relevant pieces on Progarchy and elsewhere; albums I haven’t written about yet get brief comments, along with my Top Favorites of the year. Most of these are available to check out online in some form; if you find yourself especially enjoying something, use that Christmas cash and support your choice with a purchase! And the winners are . . .

Continue reading “Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!”

The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!

Since the initial installment of our fall preview, deluxe box set announcements are coming thick and fast. This article includes those mentioned in the preview, plus new announcements that may appeal to our readers. I’ve included approximate list prices in USA dollars (not including shipping), as well as lower-cost options for those who want to hear and support the music without breaking their personal bank. Links are to the ever-ready folks at Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

King Crimson, Complete 1969 Recordings: 20 CDs, 4 BluRays and 2 DVDs include every surviving note Crimson played in their first year — the seminal debut In the Court of the Crimson King plus the complete studio sessions, extant live bootlegs and BBC recordings. The crown jewels here are new stereo, surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of Court by Steven Wilson. Available October 23 ($210 – $240 list price, depending on your vendor); slimmed-down versions of In the Court on 2 CDs + BluRay (with the new stereo and surround mixes, alternate versions and additional material ; $40) or 2 LPs (with alternate versions and additional material; $35) are already available.

Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1 – The Early Years (1963-1967): Nearly six hours of recordings from before Mitchell released her first album — home recordings, radio broadcasts, and live shows, including 29 songs not previously released with her singing them! Available from Mitchell’s website October 30 as follows: complete on 5 CDs ($65); Early Joni 1 LP (1963 radio broadcast; $25, black or clear vinyl) and Live at Canterbury House 1967 3 LPs (3 sets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; $60, black or white vinyl).

More from Porcupine Tree, Tangerine Dream, Tears for Fears and others after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!”

soundstreamsunday #88: “Oh wie nah ist der Weg hinab” by Popol Vuh

pv_letztetage.jpgIn the last few years, David Eugene Edwards has taken Wovenhand — soundstreamsunday #85 — in an increasingly heavy direction, towards drone metal underpinning an utterly unique and dead serious frontier circuit preacher mysticism.  The drone as tribal, the ancient tool of ascension to the Common One, and so Wovenhand’s thunderous droning riffs on 2012’s Laughing Stalk and 2014’s Refractory Obdurate relate to themes steeped in Native American and old time music, eastern desert whirlwinds and western desert stoner rock.  It is a vast music carrying a mad sensibility:

In its gothic-ness and existential riddles the music of Wovenhand is tied to bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, early Cult and, going further back, Popol Vuh.  The masters of acoustic and electrified devotional drone and chant music, Florian Fricke’s Popol Vuh were for decades known mostly for their Werner Herzog film soundtracks and often, mistakenly I think, identified as New Age.  The krautrock revival of the 1990s put them on a proper map and made their records — ranging from drifting synth meditations to acoustic chants — widely available, while their celebration by bands like Opeth (who often play Popol Vuh prior to coming on stage) have given them a certain hip cred.

By the mid-1970s Popol Vuh’s association with fellow Munich-based rock band Amon Duul II opened their music to harder electric exploration, and when drummer/guitarist Danny Fichelscher left ADII to join Popol Vuh following Connie Veit’s departure (Veit played on Popol Vuh’s stunning classic, 1972’s Hosianna Mantra), he brought with him the Teutonic heaviness that was ADII’s stock-in-trade.  What followed was a string of records where Fichelscher gave form, importantly, to Fricke’s east-meets-west devotional exercises.  Among these albums was 1976’s Letzte Tage Letzte Nachte, an electric monument joining dark guitar figures with Popol Vuh’s trademark mantras.  Renate Knaup, also from ADII, contributes vocals along with Dyong Yun, the band’s primary singer.  “Oh wie nah ist der Weg hinab,” though, is an instrumental, and is representative of the shadows and light found in the set.  Darkness builds and thunder cracks, and then the storm breaks, the world made new.  There is an intended spiritual drama unfolding here, as it does in Wovenhand’s music, and, wordless as it is, the message is clear.

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.

soundstreamsunday: “Spoon” by Can

Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebzeit, and Damo Suzuki, circa 1972.

Across five albums and five years Can rendered the categories meaningless and set the bar for the kind of rock future that would make stars out of bands like Radiohead; there’s probably an argument that theirs is still the standard.  Like the better so-called “krautrock” bands of the era, Can’s music sounds like little else, and the environment supporting such freedom became a magnet for American and British artists looking to stretch (Keith Jarrett, Brian Eno, David Bowie).  But for such a self-styled experimental rock band, Can’s music is as accessible as it is confounding, a beautiful cut-and-paste mess controlled by disciplined musicianship (and editing).  Noise, psychedelia, jazz, funk, world, new and no music vie for space in the grooves, battling, more often than not, to equal victory.

By the time Can came to make 1972’s Ege Bamyasi they’d navigated a path through narcotic claustrophobia (Monster Movie‘s V.U.-summoning “Father Cannot Yell,”), cling-clang guitar trance (Soundtracks‘ “Mother Sky”) and long-form boogie freakout (Tago Mago‘s “Halleluwah”) butted up against concrete pieces that, to paraphrase Julian Cope, were guaranteed to clear the room at parties.  On Ege Bamyasi they tighten the bolts — at least on record, as live footage from the time shows vocalist Damo Suzuki doing everything to not play along, with varying degrees of success — and come up with an album that contains, in the context of Can’s musical universe, a slew of pop-shaded nuggets.  “Spoon” distilled all previous impulses into a succinct 3-minute masterpiece of Suzuki no-sense, Jaki Liebzeit clockwork, and Michael Karoli string-slinging wizardry, with Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt binding it all together.

It’s the perfect mixtape “link” song: rhythmic, catchy, weird.  It was a hit in Germany, adopted for a TV thriller and selling hundreds of thousands of copies.  Successful bands have named themselves after it.  It was and is — attractively to young, arty and ambitious Americans — roundly ignored in the States along with the rest of Can’s stunning catalog.  And even unto itself it’s a marvelous thing.

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.

soundstreamsunday: “Sowiesoso” by Cluster

cluster2Keith Jarrett‘s success in his tours of Germany in the early 70s owed some debt to the burgeoning, radical art scenes taking over that country’s larger cities.  German audiences supported a fiercely independent free rock culture that drew heavily from American jazz — particularly the extended, disciplined jams of In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis — and that pushed Hendrix‘s electric sorcery into giant drifting icebergs of sound (Tangerine Dream) on the one hand or an infinitely dissected, atomized funk (Can) on the other.  In between lay the devotional music of Popol Vuh, the blues-less Zep power of Amon Duul II, the world jazz of Embryo, the enormously influential “motorik” tic-tic-tic of Kraftwerk, and the organic electronic excursions of Cluster.  With its origins in the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s and Dieter Moebius’s Cluster shared roots with Berlin’s Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, but, in collaborating with guitarist Michael Rother in the group Harmonia in the mid-70s, also had close ties with Dusseldorf bands Kraftwerk and Neu!.  Cluster wore these associations — along with very fruitful collaborations with Brian Eno — meaningfully but lightly, maintaining in its mid-period albums a distinctly warm electronic-ism flush with melody.

With 1976’s Sowiesoso, Cluster hit its stride, creating in its sunny, languorous intimacy a 37-minute treatise on laid-back ambient techno whose mood echoes across the work of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Air, Tortoise, and most recently Schnauss and Munk.  The title track’s soft pulse and gently looping themes conjure in music the album’s cover: Moebius, Roedelius, dog, countryside, sprays of sunlight.  Where Kraftwerk consciously and brilliantly used electronic music to cast in relief the human/technology divide, Cluster on “Sowiesoso” shows that separation to be meaningless.  Electronic music of the heart.

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.