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Some thoughts on music

Posted by Mike on February 25, 2011

I’ve been playing catch up since late December and maybe catch up in a greater sense since I stopped writing for Exposé magazine years ago (which means I got off all, well maybe most, of the promo lists.) In particular that meant catching up with the ambient/electronic world. Many of these artists (Steve Roach and Alio Die in particular) release as many as 4 or 5 CDs a year, in fact I just received the most recent four Alio Die albums and collaborations, all of which came out almost simultaneously.

Some of the best of these… Alio Die/Zeit – Raag Drone Theory, a single long form, meditative drone made out of electronics and zithers. I still find Alio Die to have a singular talent of making ambient music with a certain energetic quality that I assume comes from the influences you find in his titles and which appear to overlap my own considerably (I love the Renaissance era/alchemic artwork). I’m really looking forward to the duo’s newest collaboration. There’s also a shortened version of this (not to mention Password for Entheogenic Experience) on Alio Die’s most recent live album Music Infinity Meets Virtues which is also absolutely terrific. 

Steve Roach – Arc of Passion, Roach’s successes tend to go through periods for me, I was perhaps fortunate to be covering his music in the early 00s when it seemed he could do no wrong. Arc of Passion is one of his sequencer albums (linking back to Empetus and Storm Warning) and maybe my favorite of his in this style, particularly because there’s a timbre coloring here that really sets him apart from the retro-Berlin schoolers who work in this genre. And it’s two CDs and never really gets old. One of his most recent Sigh of Ages also takes a step forward in his tonal paradigm, which is something I’ve always expected from Roach through the years and it’s well worth checking out.

Robert Rich – Ylang is one of Rich’s major titles in years, and particularly cool in that its titles are filled with scents (Ylang shortens Ylang Ylang, a fairly popular and accessible floral). It harkens back to the days of Propagation, except this could be the most organic work in this style, at times it sounds like a full band playing. The steel guitar playing in particular is some of the best I’ve ever heard from Rich, truly inspired. David Parsons – Earthlight Parsons can be inconsistent in my book but when he’s great, which he is on half to 3/4 of his releases, he’s truly great. The standout here is the 20 minute “Bathing Light” which could be one of the best ambient pieces of heard in a long time, with an intense positive energy (surprising when you consider how dark some of his work can be).

From space/ambient to space rock … Polytoxicomane Philharmonie – Go Ape PP is one of the most authentic psychedelic/progressive rock bands of the modern era and Go Ape is their third album, a double CD in strange, fancy packaging that never lets up throughout its duration. This is a band that not only has absorbed a multitude of 60s and 70s influences but they’ve managed to do so in a very unique way. The largest influences seem to be Amon Duul II and Gong, but I hear a little Embryo in the horns, some indie influences in parts and Zappa in the sheer insanity of it all. There’s never a moment on this album that goes by that doesn’t impress and by the album’s final cosmic bliss out it’s difficult not to want to hit start again. Taipuva Luotisuora – IV There was a time when every space rock group sounded like Ozric Tentacles, but these days there’s really a lot of great stuff coming out. This is actually the band’s third album and is a set of really concise and flowing tunes with terrific melodies that really stick in your head. Hidria Spacefolk – Balansia This one’s been out for a while but had heavy rotation around here (as did Symbiosis). Pretty much classic space rock in the Gong/Ozric mode but they’ve made their own sound out of it with a lot of heavy energy, some great bass lines and grooves.

Estonians Phlox are one of the most assured and talented new groups I’ve seen come out of the progressive rock field in a long time, although I probably think of them more as jazz rock, it’s just the type of jazz rock that sounds like Gilgamesh, Hatfield and the like. Their debut Rebimine + Voltamine is a strong work, but their newest Talu is a virtual masterpiece of combining tricky riffing with a high level of musical fluidity. And speaking of this kind of thing it’s hard not to love Hatfield & The North – Hatwise Choice, the first live collection sold through Garden Shed (and back in stock). If there’s anything better than the first two Hatfield albums it has to be their live BBC sessions and this has many choice cuts. But unfortunately now Hattitude, the second in this series seems to be out of print for the time being. And since we’re in Canterbury country, I’ve definitely been in something of a Soft Machine renaissance, especially since the recent Cuneiform release of their WDR session on audio and DVD which is just incredibly good. But there’s been lots of them: Live at Henie Art Centre, Floating World Live, the Esoteric reissues of Softs and Bundles, the list goes on and I’m juggling a good dozen or so.

And finally, for now, I just got in the recent wave of MPS reissues. It looks like they’ve switched from the unique mini-LP format to jewel boxes for these (if they didn’t do it in the last batch). But the best news is they checked off two of the better MPS releases, Volker Kriegel’s Inside: Missing Link and Lift, which are probably my favorite of his discography. The former’s actually the second reissue of the title but Lift is brand new. The third reissue I haven’t spun yet, Dave Pike Set’s Noisy Silence – Gentle Noise.

I’m also pretty impressed by the obscure Argentine group Honduras Libregrupo who combine a lot of experimental and progressive influences on their two albums, but more on those after some absorption.

Oh and I nearly forgot, but the debut by Il Tiempo delle Clessidre is a fine new retro Italian symphonic rock album, largely because of the return of Museo Rosenbach’s vocalist in absolutely fine form. None of this is going to surprise anyone familiar with the genre but it’s nicely done.

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Miles Davis – Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Posted by Mike on September 27, 2010

No, this isn’t a review really (as if) but I couldn’t think of a good title for this post, which is mostly just a small update. But yeah this set is incredibly beautiful. The album, a few throw away bonus tracks, an audio of the Tanglewood 1970 show that begs the question why there isn’t any video (cuz it does exist), the Copenhagen 69 DVD which is about as free as Miles ever was, an LP which is a replica of the original album, and then this package of goodies, including a really sick poster, some photos and other cool stuff you can’t download.

Other than this life is really odd at the moment, so if I’m not posting here or ORS or Facebook, it’s because I’m preoccupied.

Posted in Administrative, Music | 2 Comments »

Two things…

Posted by Mike on November 5, 2009

First, the new Magma is out. Oh happy day. I’d state the title but my Kobian spelling and umlauting is awful. But if it’s anywhere near a fraction as good as KA is (and considering I’ve heard the whole thing live anyway I suspect it will be), I’ll be very, very happy. They’re still one of the greatest bands of any age and I ordered my CD post haste. Can’t wait. Besides, a skit in Kobaian by Christian, Stella and Vander? Is this the first crack in the exterior? Are those age lines in Christian’s scowl or a hint of a smile?

Second, video game crack is Borderlands. As my pad gets messier and my obligations and other dreams are pushed aside, as I neglect friends and family, as even the new Dragon Age: Origins waits untried, all I can think of is just 30 more minutes please. OK maybe an hour. Oh how did I ever live without a tivo. Is it full yet? No. good.  Oh did that expensive incense stick just burn all the way through without me noticing it? Oh wait that was a few days ago. Let me shoot just one more skag. OK and those bandits. But I could get a much better shotgun. Mine can electrify but the one I have for level 22 is even better. No, I don’t need sleep anymore, they’ll just have to put up with the snoring at work. But wait maybe I can buy a second 360 for work, if I just keep the volume down. Kee-hee another varmint toast. OK I need y’all to clear out, I’ve got a lot of things I need to catch up on and no please don’t turn on the lights…

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The Listening Log I

Posted by Mike on August 12, 2009

Here’s a rough list of blurbs of things I’ve been finding cool over the last so many years in a sort of random, rambling, haphazard fashion… After the cut Read the rest of this entry »

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A few things….

Posted by Mike on June 9, 2009

Jack Vance fans like myself are eagerly awaiting the Songs from the Dying Earth collection at Subterranean Press, a collection edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and featuring dozens of some of the finest spec fic writers out there paying tribute to one of the classic “science fantasy” milieus (somewhere between Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories and Gene Wolfe’s Urth quintet) . They’ve just put on line Lucius Shepard’s “Sylgarmo’s Proclamation” as a teaser and it’s a pitch perfect tribute in every way, with a knowledge of the Vance lexicon that goes as deep as the subtle humor and worldbuilding, yet kind of a different take on a tale of Cugel that has some nice Shepard coloring at work as well. I got incredible deja-vu reading this, like I was rereading a Vance story I’d forgotten. Highly recommended, if the rest of the stories are only half this perfect this should be a real treasure chest. Tributes are rarely about one insanely talented writer paying tribute to another insanely talented writer, but this one is.

Looks like I will be part-time contributing to a new music blog created by my long-time friend and Gnosis co-creator Tom Hayes at:

http://unencumberedmusicreviews.blogspot.com/

Tom and I are both at the “no hassle” stage of music reviewing, basically wanting to write only about things we have passion to write about, which generally means this won’t be a blog that covers a lot of new music or is up to date or comprehensive. It’ll also be intermittent, which works for our up and down schedules, and it means I probably won’t post a lot, but I’m looking forward to getting the bug again. This also means that Outer Music Diary, while still available as archives (thanks to Mike Borella!) will basically be ending its run formally.

And a heavy shout out for CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, which is possibly the best and funniest sitcom since Seinfeld. I’m not a huge fan of this genre but BBT’s look into geek culture with a cast who have insanely good chemistry and a comic genius in the works with Jim Parsons’ Sheldon is well worth looking into for anyone who has had experience with these types of personalities and quirks (progressive rock fans, TV fans, science fiction etc etc).

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Prog Rock and Video Games

Posted by Mike on March 20, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motoi_Sakuraba

I came across this page today and my eyes popped out when I realized how dominant this ex Deja Vu kekyboards player is in the video game soundtrack world. Now this isn’t something I’d probably normally care about, but for some completely odd and unknown reason, I do enjoy a good segment of the bombastic Japanese keyboard prog style (although Deja Vu itself wasn’t one of them). It’s an odd thing because the dominant influence, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I don’t really like at all, and there’s also quite a bit of Japanese symphonic rock (like Teru’s Symphonia, Mu-gen and others) I don’t like either.

I think maybe it was really etched in stone when I saw Gerard live in concert towards the end of last decade. In many ways the Gerard style’s very close to Motoi Sakuraba’s, heavy organ, lots of bombast and drama, in fact when Sakuraba played live in 2003 he used Gerard’s bass player. Sakuraba I’ve also always liked, although I haven’t kept up on his stuff in recent years, but I was kind of surprised to realize that most if not all of his music comes from video game soundtracks, including Shining the Holy Ark and Beyond the Beyond, both of which I really liked when I finally came across copies (most of the Sakuraba canon doesn’t even really make it over to the US, small copy pressings and such).  I think the latest games he’s worked on which are on Xbox 360 are Star Ocean: The Last Hope and Tales of Vesperia, so I’m pretty curious (I admit that the Star Ocean soundtracks I have heard are a bit foofy, although I suppose that’s like complaining that a brownie hot fudge sundae has too much chocolate in it).

Anyway I’ve noticed before just how so much professional work of previous electronics and progressive composers are in the world of video games. Such as Michael Hoenig’s work on Baldur’s Gate and even when the names aren’t obvious how similar music is to previous composers, the Genesis-like cops in the Elder Scrolls series, the almost scary Pulsar – Halloween like soundtrack of Diablo, etc etc.

I think I’ve just proven that symphonic rock is childish. 🙂

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Weekend

Posted by Mike on January 12, 2009

Crazy weekend. Turned in my essay for this book, an illustrated collection of essays on Krautrock from a somewhat cosmic perspective. I did an essay called Amon Duuality, bridging the Beatles, Theosophy and the Amon Duul commune. Should be quite neat, there’s some interesting names writing essays in the book. Waiting on publisher comments and the like…

Got hooked on the FX show Damages, some of the best TV I’ve seen in a while, perhaps better than any show I was staying current with last year. Rose Byrne plays a young lawyer signing up with a firm who’s in the middle of tackling a major case against a powerful senator. Framed from the present where Byrne’s character emerges shellshocked and drenched in blood and is taken into custody, the 13 episodes are masterfully plotted with a host of great actors (Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Zeljko Ivanek, etc). Looks like Season 1 is on line. I’ve learned my lesson from The Shield not to watch anything this intense on a worknight, so I’m happy to hear Season 2, which started last Wednesday, will be going up on line as well. Awesome, addictive TV.

24 just started as well in what I’m calling “The 24 Case for Torture.” For this show, which ranges from epic fun to completely idiotic, sometimes in one episode, I always have to brush logic to the side and “play pretend,” guess who the traitors are and stuff, since it’s generally stupid as hell and could be totally offensive I sat down to think about it. But when Sutherland gets scrunchy face it’s hard not to want to urge him to twist that arm a little harder. Or use that ballpoint pen. Anyway TV is slowly returning, including the last run of Battlestar Galactica this weekend. And the return of Friday Night Lights to NBC for those of us without direct TV. And everyone’s favorite polygamist drama, Big Love Sunday.

And my oldest nephew is now 7. Yike. In the cool developments they didn’t have when I was a kid category (along with 30,000 toys) are bowling gutter fences. These turned my youngest nephew into a near master bowler on Sunday. But I can rest confident that our arcades were a LOT cooler than theirs. All that’s left is driving games and variations on ticket-spewing foozball. On the other hand Atari 2600’s did not have Nerf guns you could shoot at TVs. Alas.

All cool, until I turned up to find my license plate stolen. Some serious Murphy’s law in effect lately…

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Mike’s Vacation Report

Posted by Mike on January 5, 2009

Had a very lazy last couple of weeks, besides family stuff, which included watching my nephews for the first time on my own. Much nerdery after the break: Read the rest of this entry »

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News, TV and other ramblings

Posted by Mike on November 18, 2008

I may have finally broken into the paying market with music writing, probably just at the very point I’d given up on it. I’ve been asked to contribute to a book of essays on a particular music subject by a British book company, with a theme pretty close to my interests. I’ve done quite a bit of work for product over the years, but it’s nice to start getting some pro work on the resume and I’m excited to be part of this project. More news and specifics when things get concrete… Read the rest of this entry »

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Music, Outer Music, Progressive Music, etc.

Posted by Mike on August 18, 2008

I’ve had this intense feeling I’ve been juggling too many balls in the air at once. Most of this is due to Olfactory Rescue Service and the site’s growing success in the incense community, which has basically reduced this blog to tumbleweeds since I moved the incense to ORS (making Prattle the perfect venue for this sort of ramble). To say the least, my experience in incense has been something of an exercise of comparing and contrasting with my experience in the music fields.

In ten years, my musical outlook and tastes have vastly changed. In the 90s I was involved with several progressive rock magazines: Expose, Audion, Melodie e Dissonanze. In the last 90s/early 00s I was coresponsible for starting the Gnosis project. But it always felt like as soon as I created something in the music field, my tastes had already changed to the point where I never felt part of the audience these projects were aimed at. I’ve always felt more comfortable in areas where people had more multiplicity and breadth in their musical tastes and have always felt that certain musical communities were quite insular and navel gazing. That is, I think it’s possible to like something without the act of that like becoming an implicit dislike of something else.

Overall, I don’t have the musical appetite that I used to and think that perhaps some of this interest has just transferred to my passion over incense. WIth music, I generally feel satisfied with what I’ve collected and feel very rarely that when I add something new to the pile that it sufficiently enhances it. For years I’ve had that idea that trying to appreciate something outside your tastes enhances your life and while it does, it has the exact opposite effect on your pocketbook. The major event for me was “cracking” the Grateful Dead. Never liked them much growing up, but around 2000-2001, I figured I’d give them the benefit of the doubt, started playing Europe 72, broke through my hesitancy and became a fan. But what it did for me most importantly was realize how much pleasure I could get out of one band. And learning this, along with some other influences, more or less ended the “need to hear everything” mentality I picked up from progressive rock. I find more satisfaction in trying to get to know something better than I do in trying to get to know something new.

Another aspect of this was retiring from Expose. As a writer you stay up on everything and are generally aware of almost everything remotely connected to the genre that comes out. All other issues aside, leaving the magazine was a relief in that hours of listening to promos you’d rather not could be used for something else. Being fully in control of what you listen to means you gravitate more and more to what you naturally like, passionate listening rather than intellectual. And overall, I think I’ve found I just generally like late 60s and early 70s music above all else, no matter if it’s rock, jazz, funk, soul or anything else. My respect for the avant garde is almost entirely intellectual or mental, never particularly passionate.

All of these questions are sort of hanging over me in a very Virgo-like way, as I consider hanging up musical activities. I sometimes have to resist the urge to make clean breaks. At the moment I don’t have a particular urge or desire to return to music writing of any sort. Not only have my tastes moved away from progressive rock but it’s a genre without any intellectual/academic dialogue while being tailor-made for it. Like the entire political landscape of the day, facts aren’t facts anymore, it’s a matter of how you feel and who yells the loudest. The genre’s greatest strength, its eclecticism, has now just become another competing idealogy with those who think its greatest strength is melodrama.

So, if you’re here wondering why I’m taking a (probably permanent) sabbatical from music forums and writing activities, this is generally where my head’s at. I honestly don’t feel like the world of progressive rock is going to miss my voice much at all, after all it’s not a voice much representative of the genre or its fans anymore (if it ever really was). And remember, I’m saying that as a progressive rock fan in love with its eclecticism not its melodrama. It’s not a statement fishing for someone to convince me otherwise, just someone who sees the art of criticism as opening a dialogue rather than digging a trench, while seeing the landscape of progressive music as a map of trenches where the dominant aesthetic is to lob grenades at each other. I’ve had grenades lobbed at me in the incense world as well, the difference there is that your fellow soldiers will deliver the A-bomb back, where in progressive rock they’ll blame you for the war.

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