Month: October 2017

Paradise Lost : Gothic (1991)

Gothic : (Not capitalized) Of or relating to a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents.

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“Yup. Looks Gothic.”

There are half a dozen dictionary definitions for “Gothic” to choose from but of them all I think this is the best descriptor for this, Paradise Lost’s second release. Judging by the lyrical content and artwork, it seems the band intended for the term to refer to more than just the sound.

Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Gothic should feel like a quick affair but due to the repetition of sounds and lyrical themes, it comes across much longer. Performance wise the instrumentation can be described as simple, almost amateurish. While those aren’t inherently negative things, the lack of imagination and drive leave much to be desired across these 9 tracks. The crude production doesn’t do the music any favors either.

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I swear the camera was focused.

Heavy music that is rough around the edges often adds to the experience if it sounds organic. Something about the vinyl release of Gothic sounds mechanical, forced even. The craggy edges of the production don’t sound natural and the lack of variety in music make each song almost unidentifiable from another. It could be argued that this style of music aims to be this way intentionally but there still need to be hooks to captivate. There are very few here.

Gothic has been reissued a few different times. Rarely do I recommend the CD version over the wax but in this case, the 2008 version is the most optimal. For fans of their more recent outings, their first two records might be a bit jarring. They have altered their sound more often than a criminal changes identities. With varying degrees of success.

At the end of the day, Gothic is one of my favorite Paradise Lost albums. Yeah, I know that is an odd way to end this after what I’ve written. Maybe I’m just not a huge fan of the band’s music. So, why do I keep buying their albums?

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Track List :

Gothic
Dead Emotion
Shattered
Rapture
Eternal
Falling Forever
Angel Tears
Silent
The Painless
Desolate


The Thelonious Monk Orchestra : In Concert (1969)

Improvisational : Relating to or characterized by spontaneous performance, especially in music or drama.

Thelonious in concert 1

“Come one, come all!”

Thelonious Sphere Monk was an extraordinarily influential man. His improvisational solo work was creatively groundbreaking and inspired many musicians in the 1950s to experiment with tempos, sounds and instruments. He has often been labeled responsible for a variety of popular genres of music and while I prefer his solo piano affairs, his band work is easier to find these days at record stores.

What stands out first and foremost with this live recording is just how great the production is. This and the Townhall Concert are ostensibly the same records. Of the two, this one sounds a smidgen better. The mids are warmer, the lows less congested and Monk’s piano playing can be heard vividly in the mix. Differences between the two recordings are negligible for the most part and my preference for this version could lie solely on the wax’s condition and the fact that it is a reissue, of which there are many.

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2 sides of 3 is all you need.

The orchestra present here doesn’t overshadow Monk. They lend a more grandiose element to these chosen tunes without bombarding the listener. Friday The 13th is a perfects example of this as the first few notes are played before the full group engages. As someone who opts for the soloist or quartet versions of these songs I still enjoy these new takes. Sure, there aren’t as many tempo changes or cleverly exciting improvisational moments to be heard here but it always nice to hear variations on familiar songs. For those unsure of where to start amidst a catalogue as deep as Monk’s, it is a definite recommendation. In many ways this is an easier listen than some of his more adventurous endeavours.

A minor, trivial complaint is the new album cover. It looks like something found on a circus marque and while one could argue that a lot of Thelonious’ music resembles some “big top” feelings, the other alternate pressing’s artwork was more classy and classic. Nit-picking aside, some Monk is always better than no Monk so get yourself some Monk in any package.

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Track List:

Thelonious
Friday The 13th
Monk’s Mood
Little Rootie Tootie
Off Minor
Crepescule With Nellie

 

 


Henry Mancini: This Is … (1970)

Identifiable: Able to be recognized; distinguishable

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“Hmmm….which Oscar should I bring to the after party tonight?”

Here we are again, opting for another compilation album after scrutinizing the very idea so negatively in the past. So, here is where I come up with my second excuse in order to prevent contradicting my harsh words on John Lennon’s Shaved Fish collection. In the case of Mr. Mancini’s music, there is really no other way of collecting a substantial amount of his best compositions without resorting to a compilation album. Partly due to his enormous body of work but mostly because his most prolific pieces were spread across dozens of television shows and films owned by different studios and across a few eras in entertainment.

My introduction to Henry Mancini was from the Pink Panther films. The theme for the original film is iconic but it wasn’t until I heard A Shot In The Dark that I felt compelled to research some of his other compositions. I’m sure it was bias getting the best of me as that is my favourite in the movie franchise but after purchasing the soundtrack I was amazed at how many other scores he had wrote and composed.

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An interview for Sunday reading with your soup and sandwich before that drive through the country.

This is one of the best collections of Mancini’s film and television scores but don’t let that stop you from exploring his other works. The man wrote some of the most identifiable music in the world. Listening to any of his albums is as comforting as tomato soup with a grilled cheese on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This Is Henry Mancini is one of those rare cases where quantity surpasses quality. The audio could have been better produced but there are nothing but hits here. Couple that with this being an easy find in any bargain basement for less than a dollar and you have over an hour of nostalgic listening on your hands.

Would I spend over a dollar on this collection? Not a chance. However, that has everything to do with the mediocre quality present here and has nothing to do with the incredible selection of songs. Whether your preferences lie in the swanky, uptempo of the Peter Gunn theme of the swift and calming Days Of Wine And Roses, there are no duds here. This is a good gateway album for those wanting to explore more of Mancini’s work. I’d recommend Em Bossa Nova for someone looking for quality in production AND musicianship.

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Track List:

Peter Gunn
Days Of Wine And Roses
Lightly Latin
Midnight Cowboy
The Sweetheart Tree
The Pink Panther Theme
Love Theme From “Romeo And Juliet”
Dear Heart
Snowfall
The Brothers Go To Mother’s 
Baby Elephant Walks
Moon River
My Friend Andamo
Dreamsville
March Of The Cue Balls
Mr. Lucky
Misty
Robbin’s Nest
My One And Only Love
Softly, As I Leave You


Led Zeppelin: II (1969)

Deity: Divine stutus, quality; or nature.

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Those in the UK have an obsession. First this, then Waldo.

1969 was an important year for music. Many bands were shifting from psychedelic music to something louder, rawer and more dramatic. Music was growing from the catchy, chorus reliant hooks and moving towards bulgy pants and long, bluesy guitar solos. Drums were louder, vocals were higher in pitch and hair was growing longer. I, for one, see the connection between the pants and the vocals. The pants and the vocals, the Plants and the Pages. Led Zeppelin should go down in history as the most copied band of all time.

I won’t be taking a look at this band’s first eponymous debut album. Instead, I’m skipping to Zeppelin’s SECOND eponymous titled album released a mere months after their first. It isn’t for lack of remarkable content that I’ve opted to skip the first of these very similar releases. Mostly, I just find it of poor taste how shamelessly most of those early songs were uncredited remakes of early blues material. That isn’t inherently a bad thing as musicians “borrowed” material frequently at the time but the lack of any proper acknowledgement until recently rubs me the wrong way.

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Is this hubris or were the members of this band able to see into their own future?

To me, Zeppelin II is where these four legends began to show some character. None of these songs stray too far from their bluesy inspirations but there is more experimentation and variety across these tracks. Sure, Whole Lotta Love is almost a direct homage to blues icons of yore but by the second track we hear something vastly different in What Is And What Should Never Be. This song is where we start to hear something outside of blues and begin to really get inside Page’s head. The audio majesty that is the ending of this song is captivating and really shows the technical production magic he brought to the band. On the first album we heard the absolute wizardry that is John Paul Jones’ multi faced skills but nothing to this point holds a candle to his groovy bass playing on this second song. Yes, I’m a bit of a crazy Jones fan and I’m okay with that. Without any of these four core members, Zeppelin would be nothing. Something they gracefully understood further down the road.

I’ve only wrote about one song here but in all honesty, there really isn’t much to say about this album that hasn’t been discussed to tedium. Every song on this thing can be heard on just about any “rock” station and while I’m kind of tired of every piece of music on this album, that doesn’t mean it didn’t mean something to me at one point in life. The first time I heard Zeppelin it changed my life. It was the same for many. All of their music, including that first record, are musical perfection. This might not be my personal favourite in their discography but there is no denying it is a masterpiece. Now, where did I leave those tight jeans and stuffing socks?

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Track List:

Whole Lotta Love
What Is And What Should Never Be
The Lemon Song
Thank You
Heartbreaker
Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)
Ramble On
Moby Dick
Bring It On Home

 


Kraftwerk: Radio-Activity (1975)

Quasars: A massive and extremely remote celestial object, emitting exceptionally large amounts of energy, and typically having a starlike image in a telescope. It has been suggested that quasars contain massive black holes and may represent a stage in the evolution of some galaxies.

Pulsars: A celestial object, thought to be a rapidly rotating neutron star, that emits regular pulses of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation at rates of up to one thousand pulses per second.

kraftwerk 1

Simplicity is best.

After the more poppy leanings of Autobahn, the electronic pioneers that are Kraftwerk ventured backwards to a more avant-garde, minimalistic sound. Radio-Activity, intentionally hyphenated to represent two different themes with each album side (Quasars and Pulsars) is an experimental trek into sonic sparsity. It is also my personal favourite album by these German visionaries.

The abrupt differences between their earlier work and this are immediately clear. Gone are the driving beats or any semblances of real, organic instruments. Whereas Autobahn was a singular conceptual piece broken up into a few minor moments, Radio-Activity’s themes are presented as two sides to a very similar coin. The first side focuses on the them of remote communications and does so with icy melodies, dispassionate vocals and dark synthesized tones. Things don’t come to a-head very often but when they do the collective piece soars if only for a few minutes. The draw is the overall composition and without the quiet, subdued “bips” and “bloops” that fill in the gaps, this record could have easily missed the mark.

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This is the only place to see the track names. It is hard to tell what song is on while it is spinning but that’s part of the game.

Kraftwerk accomplished something incredible with this album. It transcends conventional music and was one of the first of it’s kind to successfully break the mould of song structures. Between the themes present on each side is an electronic noise collage of sparse beeps in a sea of silence. The B side is drastically different than it’s counterpart. The deeper tones and harsher contrasts keep the overall piece from getting dull. If anything, things get more exciting the further down the hole we go. The journey begins subtly and lulls the listener into a comfortable place before the eventual “fallout” of the second half bludgeons the ears with guttural, menacing darkness. Radio Stars, for instance drags the listener into a post nuclear wasteland with it’s haunting noise swells, buzzing tempo and devilishly moody vocal deliveries.

Radio-Activity is a masterpiece. For fans of electronic music, this is a must own. The varying contrasts between each side make it a compelling listen for any mood. For those wanting a more sombre, relaxed experience there is the opening half. The opposite side is very much that;menacing, dark and unsettling. The album flows well and takes no time to engulf the listener. As a story it works well without the use of many words and ends with the funeral dirge that is Ohm Sweet Ohm. Before you know it you will be flipping the album over to listen to it all over again. It is a perfectly constructed record. Thoughtful, intelligent and groundbreaking.

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Track List:

Geiger Counter
Radioactivity
Radioland
Airwaves
Intermission
News
The Voice Of Energy
Antenna
Radio Stars
Uranium
Transistor
Ohm Sweet Ohm


Jethro Tull: A Passion Play (1973)

Theology: The study of the nature of God and religious belief.

jethro passion 1

It is even eerier in person.

Jethro Tull had experimented with many styles, themes and approaches to music by the time this, their sixth LP dropped. Here, Anderson and Tull explore the themes of Christianity by ironically and satirically following themes present in the Passion Of The Christ. What we have on this tremendously ambitious outing is a thematic stage play broken into narrative sections but intended as a whole.

The convoluted song titles and their respective explanatory breakdowns on the album make it a chore to discuss individual segments. As a result, I’ve opted to instead talk about the album as one piece. That isn’t such a stretch from my usual style, or lack thereof so it shouldn’t be much of a departure.

I’ve often teetered back and forth with my opinions of Jethro Tull’s music. Some days I find it intoxicating while others have me quickly repelled. I’m not sure what it is since I generally enjoy this type of music and my respect for Ian Anderson couldn’t be any higher. These reasons are why it took me a very long time to appreciate A Passion Play and, depending on the day one might ask, it might be my favourite or least of their early material (I don’t enjoy anything post 77.)

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The masks perfectly represent my opinions of this monstrous musical experience.

A Passion Play asks a lot of the listener. It starts off thematically well and builds a few times to false crescendos throughout the earlier moments. The acoustic sections sound great, as usual but the constant teasing of intricate overtures begins to get a bit old nearing the end of Side A. The orchestral composition present is perfectly performed with each instrument sounding clear and audible. This must have been a major feat due to the complexity of this piece and the variety of instruments at play here. There are sections at the latter half of the first side that include a gently strummed acoustic guitar coupled with bombastic keyboards that could have sounded horribly awry. The only issues I have with moments like these are that they don’t last longer.

At times, songs aren’t given a chance to breathe long enough to become etched into the listener’s brain. Things bounce around quickly and with little warning. If it wasn’t obviously intentional I would consider this a huge flaw but knowing that Anderson didn’t want to give his audiences time to think, it forces me to rearrange my expectations. One complaint I have is with the song The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles. It is far too self indulgent and comes across as more of an Eric Idle Python show tune than a well conceived piece to this musical puzzle. For me, ridding of the ridiculous vocal track would have made it much more effective. The music is great but the silliness of the thing does nothing but detract from the majesty present on the rest of the album.

The B side starts off well but things begin to get a bit too predictable in that it is never consistent. That may sound like a contradiction but having a series of songs that jump all over the place begins to get a bit tiresome for the listener. It may have worked better to have had a few concentrated efforts peppered throughout the album for the sake of flow. Bands like King Crimson and Genesis would often couple their longer, laborious pieces with a simple short song or a reprise. Here we get bombarded over the course of two record sides. Each with a span of roughly 20 minutes and by the end it is a bit uncertain of what occurred outside of a bunch of well crafted, random sounds. There are a few recurring musical themes but they don’t stick around long enough to become memorable and by the middle section of Side B things feel a bit unfocused and self masturbatory.

This record is a bloated, ambitious effort. It is a meant to be absorbed in one sitting but that could be easier said than done. I recommend anyone who is a fan of this form of music to give it a shot but be forewarned, it isn’t an easy venture. It may appear that I’m leaning on the negative side of things when opining here but the truth is, I enjoy this outing sometimes. Other times it grates on me like a rasp to the eardrums. You be your own judge but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Track List:

A Passion Play (Pt 1 – seemingly 1,000)


Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden (1980)

Inception: The establishment or starting point of an institution or activity.

iron maiden 1

Iconic. This is the image that kicked off the 80s.

My introduction to Iron Maiden was with Number Of The Beast and I embarrassingly admit that it didn’t appeal to me in any way. As a self appointed “metal head” I was teased, ridiculed and scoffed at for years. Friends would force me to listen to a variety of songs and call me crazy for not changing my stubborn mind until I happened across Phantom Of The Opera from this debut record.

Quicker than Stratton and Murray’s guitar playing on that song I purchased this self titled record and Killers. Not since the late 60s and early 70s had I heard such raw, ferocious musicianship. The opening moments of Prowler were a gigantic middle finger to the million Zeppelin clone bands from the era with their stage struts, high pitched squealing vocals, stuffed pants and glamor hair. Iron Maiden were unapologetically heavy yet classy and harmonic at the same time.

iron maiden 2

The original. Not the reissued picture disc. Don’t get me started on picture discs.

Across these 8 songs it is impossible not to take notice of Steve Harris. His bass tone and confidence lead the band. In sound alone, he is the drive here. When I discovered all of those years ago that he was the head song writer there was no surprise. The production is crisp, clean and airy here. What you hear is what you get and that is so relieving as many bands began to gravitate towards studio tricks and keyboards at this time.

Paul Di’Anno’s vocals are compelling here if not a bit flat. His range isn’t as versatile as the rest of the music going on around him but there is something about it that appeals to me. His delivery is honest and without frills. The highs he can hit sound strained but human compared to his contemporaries and it pairs well with the organic production present here. His vocal prowess shines particularly well on Remember Tomorrow as he is given a few softer breaks to exhibit some variety.

Nostalgia might be getting the best of me but I feel that Iron Maiden’s first record ranks high among their discography. Everything flows very well, the guitar harmonies are brilliant and the drumming is captured fantastically. The punch of Burr’s snare is particularly snappy and coupled with Harris’ bass licks sound bare and bold. One only needs to hear Transylvania to understand just how well these blokes gelled straight out of the gate.

Those who only know of the Dickenson era would be remiss not give this album a chance though, Maiden fans are insanely loyal so I doubt those who haven’t heard it don’t exist. I mean, it took years of their fans and persistent pushing to get me into them. The start is as good a place as any to start “upping the irons.”

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Track List:

Prowler
Remember Tomorrow
Running Free
Phantom Of The Opera
Transylvania
Strange World
Charlotte The Harlot
Iron Maiden

 

 

 


Huey Lewis & The News: Fore! (1986)

Vanilla: Having no special or extra features; ordinary or standard.

huey lewis 1

From left to right : “Hweeeeeeeeen” … “Flumpahoo” … “ADERRRRRRRRK”

It is 7am in the suburbs and you wake up to make your usual oatmeal, plain. Water is a good accompaniment to help wash the thick, pasty breakfast down before you say goodbye to your 2.5 children and lovely partner.

On the drive to work in your grey sedan you listen to talk radio as passers by hustle their ways to their 9-5s. There is no need to hurry. You do this every day so the routine has been reduced to a science.

huey lewis 2

I count six. Not fore. Smokin’ will kill ya so light em up Richard Lewis wannabe. Smoke em all day.

For lunch, two pieces of white bread with butter. There is no need to overstimulate that palette. Another glass of water should do the trick. Tap water. None of that fancy bottled stuff. The break is over so it is time to head back to the cubical you inhabit 5 days a week. Life is safe. Life is good.

The commute home has you listening to the “hits” station and Stuck With You comes on. It takes you back to the night you and your wife conceived your first born. In a bed. In the “missionary” position. Your shirt and socks were on and the lights were off. You can’t help but wonder if any of that vanilla ice cream is still left in the freezer.

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Track List:

Jacob’s Ladder
Stuck With You
Whole Lotta Lovin
Doing It All For My Baby
Hip To Be Square
I Know What I Like
I Never Walk Alone
Forest For The Trees
Naturally
Simple As That


Genesis: Nursery Cryme (1971)

Croquet: A game in which players using mallets drive wooden balls through a series of wickets set out on a lawn.

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I do not know or know of an Alan Viau. I do not support nor reprimand him. Whomever Alan Viau is, thank you for keeping this album in great order before my purchase two decades later.

Plenty of words could have been used to singularly describe this, the genesis of Genesis. Grandiose, whimsical, dynamic to name a few but let’s take a step back and choose to take a look at Nursery Cryme for what it is; a nearly perfect third album by an ever (and always) evolving band.

Nursery Cryme introduced the world to Phil Collins as a drummer and a musician, for better or for worse. Steve Hackett also became a driving force here, if not muted by a couple of the other musicians present. We won’t go into that can of hogweed now, okay? So, let’s take a look at this bizarrely beautiful thing that is this record.

Aesthetically this thing is gorgeous. The album artwork designed by Paul Whitehead is superb and does well to showcase the music within. The inner gatefold artwork and lyrics pages are tremendously well done as well.

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Whimsical wackiness but oh so beautiful. “They infrequently make them like this anymore.” Said old man Mcbyron from the croquet court? Lawn? Pitch?

Musically there nothing that sounds like Genesis’ early work. Trespass was a precursor to Nursery Cryme in stylized themes and compositions but this is where all of the elements fell into place for me. On their first two records it always sounded like these guys were holding back. Sure, they are great outings, amazing really but here is where we finally get the privilege to hear (and see) them go hog (weed) wild. Okay, that’s the end of the hogweed “jokes.”

Gabriel makes Genesis for me. I’ll explicitly state that with an appreciation for the Collin’s era. He is the crazy glue that keeps things jovial, witty and dark all at the same time with an emphasis on “crazy.”

To open an album with as heavy an emotional ride as The Musical Box was gutsy and likely the reason this album failed to chart immediately. It starts off sweet enough but ends up becoming an orchestra of uncomfortably brilliant musical and lyrical digressions. The Music Box is as “progressive” as anything ever has been or will be again. This is just the beginning, and Nursery Cryme is unrelentingly brilliant in every facet. Whether it be the simple, subtle beauty of For Absent Friends or the grandiosely theatrical The Return Of The Giant Hogweed or the combination of the two in the album closer The Fountain Of Salmacis, there is something irrevocably inventive here.

One could argue all day of the origins of a particular genre of music. Hell, this isn’t even my personal favourite Genesis record and take a look at what I’ve said about it. I can’t go on enough so I’ll just stop.

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Track List:

The Musical Box
For Absent Friends
The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Seven Stones
Harold The Barrel 
Harlequin
The Fountain Of Salmacis

 

 


FM : Black Noise (1977)

Late: =Doing something or taking place after the expected, proper, or usual time.

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So, THAT’S what black noise looks like. Who knew? FM did, that’s who.

By 1977 the creative well of interesting, self indulgent, experimental bands had pretty much been tapped dry. Yes were on the brink of completely reinventing their sound, Crimson were on an indefinite hiatus and Rush began writing shorter songs with a heavier focus on keyboards.

FM were the band no one asked for and with a bizarre inception story it is a wonder how they gained any exposure at all. I, for one am glad they did as Black Noise is a fantastic, forward thinking album that is way of its time in a lot of ways.

Bred from Ontario Canada’s bleak musical landscapes, FM rose to moderate fame after an appearance on a television show. At first, the album was only available through mail order. The most common version, pictured here is a reissue.

What makes this album so interesting are the musicians and the instruments they use. A plethora of different electronic toys are present here but absence of a guitar player makes it a unique listen. Bass, keyboards and electric violin are the core sounds with the addition of various percussion techniques. Nash the Slash performs the violins, mandolin and a wide variety of effects while garbed in facial bandages. What began as a political and social statement would later become his trademark and probably added to a little bit of the band’s small following at the time. Although, the band didn’t receive attention until he was no longer a member.

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Before the mummy bandages, Nash was just a guy. Y’know? Like you and I.

Black Noise starts out with the grating, dime a dozen pop number Phasors On Stun but, trust me, it gets better. The latter half of side A and the majority of the flip side delve into some truly unusual territory. Slaughter In Robot Village is a standout here with a sound as oddly compelling and unique as the name. Deller’s drumming here is absolutely superb. Aldebaran follows with an intro reminiscent of the first song, Phasors On Stun but what it transforms into is much more interesting. The phantasmagoria of sounds after the first verse are awe inspiring and prove that it doesn’t take a 14 minute song to take a listener on a journey. Finishing the B side is the tremendously performed title track. Complete with haunting vocal harmonies it culminates to something of a musical masterpiece that gracefully peters out into an ambient landscape of textures before returning to finish the listener off. This side of the record dominates. It is as good or better than anything of its style or era.

This record has some subjective flaws. The radio hits are a bit too canned and similar to what was popular at the time. I don’t fault FM for it. As a band from Canada they needed any attention they could get. If you can forgive and forget these small missteps, Black Noise is an underrated classic that breaks enough musical conventions to be a true classic. Its release was better late than never.

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Track List:

Phasors On Stun
One O’Clock Tomorrow
Hours
Journey
Dialing For Dharma
Slaughter In Robot Village
Aldebaran
Black Noise