David Bowie’s Berlin Years, Boxed

The next David Bowie box set, A New Career in a New Town, is coming on September 29. This one covers 1977-1982 (Bowie’s last years on the RCA label), including the “Berlin Trilogy” and other notable collaborations with prog rockers.  Contents on 11 CDs or 13 LPs:

  • Low (with Brian Eno)
  • Heroes (with Eno and Robert Fripp).  A EP of foreign-language versions of the title track is also included.
  • Stage (with the pre-King Crimson Adrian Belew and Roger Powell of Utopia in Bowie’s live band) in 2 versions: the original album and the 2005 version (with songs in the concert running order & bonus tracks, including 2 new ones).
  • Lodger (with Eno, Belew and Powell ) in 2 versions: the original album and a new remix by Tony Visconti (exclusive to the box).
  • Scary Monsters (with Fripp).
  • A new exclusive compilation, Re:Call 3, which includes singles, B-sides, extended versions, and Bowie’s collaborations with Bing Crosby and Queen.

This is my favorite period of Bowie, so I’m genuinely excited for this release.  Lots more details and a price tracker at Paul Sinclair’s marvelous Super Deluxe Edition website.


soundstreamsunday: “Born Under Punches” by Talking Heads


Again with the Eno! Always with the Eno! I’ve said it before here, but there’s no avoiding Brian Eno in any discussion of late 20th century pop and rock, and his work with the Talking Heads is just one more example of his everywhereness.

Having developed a friendship with David Byrne and seeing in the Talking Heads a vessel for pushing forward a longstanding passion for African music as realized by Fela Kuti, Brian Eno produced two records for the band that became central to their story.  But it was on the second of these albums, Remain in Light, where Eno and the Talking Heads — with a significantly fleshed-out band — captured a critical density of sound measuring up to the giant slabs of Afro-Beat/Jazz jams Kuti conducted.  The record, importantly, also marks a point in transit for Adrian Belew, who in a span of three years would go from Zappa to Bowie to Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club to King Crimson, while beginning his own fruitful solo career.  Belew’s presence on Remain in Light (1980) and King Crimson’s Discipline (1981) make the albums a natural pair, as Fripp’s great reinvention of Crimson drew heavily from his new guitarist-vocalist’s recent adventures.

Remain in Light contains only one well-known Talking Heads song, the superb “Once in a Lifetime.”  The balance of the record spins extended grooves cooked up from percussive, bass-driven jams borrowing in their feel from an African music aesthetic, creating a shared kinship too with the Eno/Byrne collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, albeit voiced more organically.

This live version of “Born Under Punches” shows a Talking Heads — with Belew, Busta Jones on second bass, Bernie Worrell on keys, Dolette McDonald on backing vocals, and extra percussionists — morphing into a band that, as George Clinton might say, could tear the roof off the sucker, a product of the ever-shifting crossroads Brian Eno always seemed to leave in his wake.

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: “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno

eno_obliquestrategyIn completing a year of soundstreamsunday, I turn away from the “infinite” in the project’s subtitle (“a weekly infinite linear mixtape”) and towards the analog finite-ness of the cassette mixes that so defined life pre-ipod.  In my early creative life this was my primary medium, the 90-minute blank TDK, bound to its two-sided loop, on which I could conduct a mix corralling the works of others.  The collage confines of the mixtape start with a four-cornered frame, defined beginnings and endings that are also transitional and act like the Mobius strip, so the loop, if constructed well, becomes more suggestive of a continuing spiral.  As the last two-sided audio medium developed, the eraseable cassette tape shouted its message: do what you will, the ending will take you to the beginning.

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In this context, Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (with Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno) is one of many possible natural links between U2’s “The Three Sunrises” and the first song in the series, Sun River’s “Esperanza Villanueva“; and, as I write this, it also occurs to me that the song’s title reflects what I’m trying to achieve, a pivot, a soft stop in a rising continuum.  In the words of one of Eno’s Oblique Strategies: “Repetition is a form of change.”

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Eno is a theorist/strategist, a rock and roll Zelig moving through the histories of glam, punk, ambient, prog, and new wave.  His is an intention minus the contrivance.  He locates boundaries so as to cross them, so as to observe them, to flip the within and the without.  To conflate the end with the beginning.

*Images above of Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” cards. First published in 1975, the deck’s pithy advice on jumpstarting the creative process is one indicator of Eno’s wizardly musical midwifery.

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: “Warszawa” by David Bowie

bowieenoForty years on it seems like it must have been inevitable, obvious even, the crossing paths of Iggy Pop and David Bowie and Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, in service to Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy.  In Act Two of their collective careers, they became in the late 1970s the center of a wheel spoking to progressive rock, art rock, post punk, and new wave, the albums coming out of Bowie’s residency in Berlin among the richest, most genre-defying rock records created, documents of a grasp catching up with its reach.  “Warszawa” is from 1977’s Low, the second Berlin collaboration (after Pop’s The Idiot, for the trilogy is really a quintet, taking into account the records Bowie produced for Iggy during this period) and a document of Bowie’s dissolving spirits.  Here is where he throws the hammer at the mirror, where all his past characters like Ziggy and the Thin White Duke are shown the door.  The sound is fresh, with Eno, coming off his work with Cluster, applying broadly-stroked synth washes straight from the school of Moebius and Roedelius, encouraging Bowie to approach the music with deliberate freedom.  The result, like on the song “Sound and Vision,” is raw and buoyant.  It can also be wild and studied, as on the constraint-driven “Warszawa,” an exercise in composition employing  Eno’s planned accidents and oblique strategies.  In it, as on much of the album, you can hear an origin story of bands like U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division/New Order, and a second-wind promise Bowie himself would continue to fulfill, off and on, for the rest of his life.

soundstreamsunday playlist and archive

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

Kevin Keller’s “La Strada” – Is This the Future of Instrumental Prog?


I first became aware of Kevin Keller’s music through mere chance. Driving home from a family vacation at the beach, we were all tired (and sunburned!) and I turned to the “Chill” channel on the satellite radio. The miles went by as generic ambient music filled the car.

Then a track began playing that made me perk up my ears and listen closer. It wasn’t aimless synthesizer noodling; no, this was music with some depth, melody, and real beauty. Hitting the info button on the radio, I noted that the song was “Distanced”, by Kevin Keller. I made a mental note to investigate further when we got home.

I did, and I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the generous offerings on his Soundcloud site. Before I was done, I had purchased Pendulum (the album containing “Distanced”), Nocturnes, The Day I Met Myself, and In Absentia. Each one is unique, but they all feature Keller’s distinctive voice as a composer. His music has been labeled neoclassical, but it transcends categorization. In his official bio, he states that he was first a progressive rock guitarist before he moved to the piano, and you can hear that background in his music.

Keller is about to release a new album, La Strada, which has been crowdfunded, and it is an exceptionally fine work. It was recorded with the Salome Chamber Orchestra, with guest musician David Helpling lending his guitar talent to the title track, and vocalist Marta Karamuz contributing to the final song, “New Beginnings”.

La Strada is divided into two “sides” (are there plans for a vinyl release?), and the first one opens with “At the Start”, which is just that: a brief piano piece with understated string accompaniment that sets the mood for the rest of the album. It segues immediately into “Tunnel of Light”, which is a fascinating dialogue between Keller’s piano and the orchestra throughout, while some electronic rhythms percolate underneath. “Moments Lost In Time” begins with a delicate and somber theme on piano, but it soon morphs into an interesting mix of processed vocals, strings, and driving beats before closing with solo piano. “La Strada” features one of Keller’s most gorgeous melodies. If Rachmaninoff were alive and had access to today’s technology, he might come up with a tune as beautiful as “La Strada”. It features Keller’s piano with Eno-esque sonics that serve the melody perfectly. Side One closes with “Lightning Road”, which is another driving mix of electronic beats, piano, and strings. This song features some of Keller’s most playful and energetic keyboard work.

Side Two begins with what I consider the best track of the album, and one of Keller’s finest productions – the 9 minute, 18 second-long “Beyond The Infinite”. It begins with a rapid ostinato on piano. Layers and layers of sound are added (did Keller multitrack the piano?) as electronic percussion darts in and out from all sides. Deep, wordless vocals combine with ambient synths to provide a bed of sound that Keller uses to build controlled tension on the piano. A snatch of a spoken phrase floats by; I barely catch “The origin and purpose is to build a total…” before the disembodied voice breaks up. As piano, strings, and electronics repeat an ascending phrase, the sense of enormous energy building up is almost overwhelming. Gradually, though, the layers of sound are dropped until only piano and ghostly synths bring the track to an end.

After the sonic explosion of “Beyond The Infinite”, we definitely need some catharsis, and “All Of This Ends” provides exactly that. A stately and elegiac track featuring only strings and piano, this is the perfect response to the previous track, bringing things to a satisfying conclusion. But there is still one more song to enjoy, the beautiful “New Beginnings”. Featuring the lovely vocals of Marta Karamuz, it has hints of Philip Glass, Bach (via some pipe organ-sounding synths), and Roger Eno (not Brian). By the time it’s over, you feel as if you’ve been in a lovely dream, but it’s time to return to reality.

Since the early ‘80s, I have enjoyed the music of many gifted composers of contemporary instrumental music. While the majority of so-called “New Age” music is absolute dreck, some artists who were unjustly thrown into that genre have risen above it: Patrick O’Hearn, Harold Budd, Mark Isham, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Robin Guthrie, and Steve Roach have all composed and produced music that will stand the test of time. Kevin Keller is also one of those special artists. He is not afraid to make music that is beautiful for beauty’s sake, and he has a deft sense of how modern electronics can enhance, not overwhelm, his compositions. He is one of the most talented composers working in music today, and he deserves the widest possible audience.

For readers of Progarchy, fans of Lunatic Soul will find a lot to love in Keller’s music. You can access it at bandcamp, itunes, and amazon. Details are at http://www.kevinkeller.com/.