Tuesday 24 December 2013

Noises From 2013

It will surprise no-one that at this time of year I'm going to publish a list of those noises which have given the greatest listening pleasure of the last 12 months.
You may agree with the selections, you may disagree.  You may think I'm a cloth-eared noodle for not including Daft Punk or Public Service Broadcasting.
In my defence, I was possibly the only person in the world who remained wholly underwhelmed by the Daft Punk single ("Get Lucky").  And whilst I own the Public Service Broadcasting album, it don't make the Top 10.
So the choice is yours - you can either stop reading now, or take a goosey-gander at the following 10 "platters that mattered!" in 2013.

Now then, do I present the list in a logical sequence, and entirely random sequence (involving links to other pages and bits missing from the narrative), or in reverse order to build up the tension?

1. Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devils Time The Stuff & Nonsense Review...
Heard one track on ThisIsMyJam ("Oh My Lord") which was enough to convince me to invest hard earned cash in the album.  It was one of those albums that was just about perfect on first listen.  And then just got better with each subsequent listen.
S&N Top Track: Oh My Lord

2. Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film The Stuff & Nonsense Review...
I always felt slightly let down by The Manics when it came to their albums.  However, their last 3 releases ('Send Away The Tigers', 'Postcards From A Young Man' and this 'un) have, for me, been the most cohesive they've released.
S&N Top Track: This Sullen Welsh Heart

3. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
This is the album which should have exploded Frank Turner across the cosmos.  5 albums in he has now appeared at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, picked up some favourable press in Q and Mojo and received fairly wide airplay on Radio.  This album is raw, honest, toughtful, and in many places good loud fun jumping up and down music - try it, you just might like it.
S&N Top Track: Recovery

4. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
5 Tracks, all approaching (or exceeding) the 10 minutes, the bass player from Kajagoogoo and a Chapman Stick.
On the face of it, there is a lot to put people off this album.  Well, they're the fools.  This is an epic work touching all bases of Prog greats (Yes, Rush, Genesis, King Crimson et al), but is in no way simply derivative or repetitive of its fore-bearers.
Sit back in your favourite chair, maybe with a drink or two to hand, and marvel in the sounds created
S&N Top Track: The Raven That Refused To Sing

5. David Bowie - The Next Day
The preceding single "Where Are We Now" was released, in secret, on Bowie's 66th birthday.  Building on that initial shock/intrigue/surprise, the album came out a couple of months later.
No-one knew what to expect really, but I don't think it was a disappointment.  Corking tunes, top lyrics - more than could be hoped from someone who had effectively retired, at least in public consiosness, and released nothing for 10 years.  I remain shocked/intrigued and surprised by the album even now
S&N Top Track: Valentines Day

6. Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
More cricketing shenningans and top tunes from the Divine Comedy/Pugwash collective.
This album is almost as good as the first, covering many more musical styles.  Who knew the sport of cricket could be so interesting.  The album with have you smiling from ear-to-ear, and/or marvelling at some the harmonies and melodies created.  Keep an ear out for the host of "Special Guest Voices", including Matt Berry, Steven Fry, Daniel Radcliffe, David 'Bumble' Lloyd and Henry Blofield (to mention just a few - a whole host of others appear on the album closer "Nudging and Nurdling")
S&N Top Track: Third Man

7. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
Thematically similar to previous release "Queen Of Denmark", this album has a more confident feel running through it.  And, be under no illusion, it is not Queen Of Denmark Part 2.  The atmosphere, the balladry, the heartfelt honesty remains, but the music stylings are electronica in intent.  Repeated listening definitley pays dividends.
S&N Top Track: GMF

8. Primal Scream - More Light
Opening with a song called "2013", is a pretty sure way to make sure your bands name is mentioned in the Year End Lists.  This album is a melange of Rock, Soul, Garage Rock, Space Rock, a bit of Funk and a wallop of psychadelia.  It shows the Primal Scream don't need to rely on Stones/Faces revisits to deliver the goods.
S&N Top Track: Its Alright, Its OK

9. Arctic Monkeys - AM
Alex Turner's voice has always annoyed me.  The previous Monkeys albums ........
Theres a nod to Led Zeppelin, Slade, Hip Hop stylings and a more experimental bent than perhaps was expected.
Arctic Monkeys have got the riffs, the lyrics and have chucked out their best album since the debut 'I Don't Want What I Haven't Got'.
S&N Top Track: I Want It All

10. Paul McCartney - New
OK, its Paul McCartney.  He has been there, done it, gone back again, done it some more. And with this album goes back again for some more.  Yes, you can hear his voice cracking in places, but what did you expect from a 71 year old bloke.  To me, it just sounds like he's really trying.  This set is the equal of anything he did in the 80s (and close to his 70s high points too).
S&N Top Track: Early Days

Tuesday 10 December 2013

The Day My World Turned Prog

Prog Rock can be bluntly summed up as:
Rock Music with Orchestral and Classical pretensions.  It will probably be overlong, possibly pompous, and more than likley deal with wizards, elves or the writings of J R R Tolkien.  Other favoured subjects are medieval history or science fiction.  The band will probably entail one (if not all) of the following: a Rickenbaker Bass, Hammond Organ, oversized drum kit that TWO drummers would have difficulty navigating.
The sound will probably be a bit jazz-fusion-y, almost spacey and will incoporate an extreme number of widdly-widdly solos, or elongated musical diversions.
Oh, and lets not forget the inclusion in the bands catalogue of at least one Concept Album.  A related song-cycle/narrative, spread over 4 sides of vinyl.

It's undoubted peak in the UK was the early to mid-70s, with the most famous exponents being  Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
(there are MANY others, but brevity prevents my producing a definitive list)

I have dabbled in the waters of Prog, but to be honest my knowledge of all things Prog is probably best described as "adequate".
Is there such a thing a populist Prog? If there is, then the Prog albums I do own (variable numbers of releases by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis & Rush), may well act as a definition.

And then a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Universal Music (not just me, I think loads of people did) informing me of the 10 Prog Albums You MUST Own.
Now I fully accept that this list is basically a list of "someones" favourites, and therefore not definitive.
In actuality, it is probably a list of 10 albums that Universal hold the rights to and are trying to make some cash out of.
Anyway, it piqued my interest, containing artists I'd heard of, but never actually heard.

And it caught me at a time when the CD on permaplay chez-Digit was/is: Steven Wilson's "The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)"

In a foretaster of a soon to be published bog entry (probably), this album sits comfortably in my Top 5 Albums of 2013.
But the one thing it did do was make me want to go and listen to the Prog albums I do own, particularly Genesis and Rush.

And so with fortuitous timing I received an invitation to discover more Prog stuff.
But I still wasn't sure - Prog is (as stated before) overlong, pompous and at time a tad pretentious.
So I posed the question to similar minded individuals who inhabit The Afterword blog.

The response was varied and a number of stand out recommendations were apparent.  In exchange for money, Amazon have sent me in the past fortnight Peter Hammill's "The Silent Corner and The Empty Stage" and Caravan's "In the Land of Grey and Pink".  Also pending delivery is an album called "Garden Shed" by England.
Released in 1977 to very little response, the music therein touches all 70s Prog Rock bases from Yes, King Crimson and Genesis, with future echoes to later Prog like Marillion (or did Fish and the boys simply look backwards?).  To alleviate the anticipation of the wait, there is a whole album video on YouTube which is taking a bit of a caning at the moment.  Maybe its my in-built musical snobbery taking over, but I really do believe that this is a great album, and deserves a wider audience.
This is not the full album, but the first track on the album ('Midnight Madness'):

And so after my initial question, and the responses/recommendations received, I was contacted by e-mail by one of the residents of the blog offering a "Prog Starter Kit", and a week or so later a jiffy bag landed with a thwack on my doormat.
The bag contained undiscovered/unheard wonders including Matching Mole, Gentle Giant Steve Hillage, Egg and Gong.  That was my weekend sorted.
At the moment, the undoubted pick of the bunch is "The Rotters Club" by Hatfield & The North (a band that is forever confused in my head with Kilburn & The High Roads).  Aside from the 20 minute long 'Mumps', the songs on this album rarely exceed 5 minutes.

'Share It' (Track 1):

So what have I learnt?
1. Prog is not as exacting as the throwaway definition at the introduction
2. Not all Prog is overlong and eternally widdly-widdly
3. Sometimes the helpfulness and generosity of people really does surprise you
4. Don't be fooled by initial impressions of a genre, Try It, You Might Like It
5. When you want to investigate different forms of music, Amazon gets richer and I get poorer (I think I know why)

Final question:
Progs heyday was undoubtedly the 1970s, but by 1975/76 it's popularity was on the wane.
Did Punk kill Prog?
Well, consider the fact that albums by Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd et al continued to sell by the lorry-load, and ELP had that most un-Prog things (ie a hit single) in 1977 and that might give you a clue.
Also, John Lydon has never hidden the fact that he is a massive fan of bands like Magma, Can and Van der Graaf Generator and the Prog like influence apparent in some Public Image Ltd and the case for the defence is looking stronger.