Month: July 2018

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Dynamic: Pertaining to or characterized by energy or effective action; vigorously active or forceful; energetic.

zeppelin 3

It spins around! The images……..they MOOOOOVE!
Where are my Matchbox Cars and jazzy left-handed cigarettes?

The first two Led Zeppelin albums are classic staples that can be heard in their entirety on any butt Rock radio station in North America. I’m not sure if it is the hype over those songs or the constant overexposure but I find them absolutely abhorrent. It is largely why I skipped their inaugural debut and opted to start by looking at their second. If you missed it, I’d suggest taking a look at it here.

One of my biggest complaints regarding songs like Whole Lotta Love and How Many More Times where that they were blatantly borrowed from older blues artists without as much as an admittance in the credits. Sure, bands did covers and shared riffs all of the time in those eras of music but the lack of transparency has always seemed wrong to me. Especially considering how popular Led Zeppelin became and how highly they are still regarded. Led Zeppelin III is a departure from those first two records in that they seemed to had found a voice this time around. Even if a lot of it sounds like they were throwing ideas at a wall to see what stuck.

zeppelin 2

Uh oh. Call the Queen. London barfed again.

Immigrant Song ignites the album like a grenade being thrown in a kerosene soaked trash bin. It is filthy and raw in a way that Zeppelin hadn’t shown on their previous outings. Plant’s voice still rings through the speakers like an animalistic banshee and the rest of the band play the short opener much tighter than anything before. What comes next is a cavalcade of experimental songs that are only slightly tethered by clever uses of fade-outs and a fantastic sense of sequencing. The next two songs shouldn’t work in the order they are presented, for instance. Friends is an experimental acoustic piece sandwiched between two tightly-knit jams. It offers variety and shows that the band is willing to work outside the boundaries of classical blues. For the first time, they are the trendsetters.

The latter half of the LP is definitely the highlight for me as the band strips away the distortion to focus on three fantastic acoustic tunes. I’d call them “ballads” but that term doesn’t really do them justice. Tangerine, That’s The Way and Bron-Yr-Aur-Stomp aren’t typical grade school dance fare with the latter being an exciting little ditty strong enough to blow the dusty doors off of any hoedown hosting farmhouse. There are tons of stories that go into more detail regarding the stripped-back nature of this album. I mean, hell, at this point I’m sure there are documented published accounts of every washroom break each member took during the ’70s.

Sir.Led Zeppelin the Third (Esquire) is a great album through and through. There is really no excuse not to have it in your collection. When it comes to the Led Zeppelin musical catalogue I’d recommend picking up the actual albums as opposed to any of the greatest hits compilations. Jimmy Page is almost as bad as George Lucas when it comes to tinkering with the past. Maybe Disney will purchase the rights to Zeppelin’s repertoire so it can be laid to rest for a while. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that crap. Oh, Disney doesn’t “vault” things anymore? Franchise that Zeppelin!

zeppelin 4

Track List:

Immigrant Song
Celebration Day
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Out On The Tiles
Gallows Pole
That’s The Way
Hats Off To (Roy) Harper

Scott Walker: Scott (1967)

Redevelopment: The action or process of developing something again or differently.

scott 1

Hip like Dylan and anti-rock like Lars Ulrich.

The Walker Brothers were a bubblegum pop group who didn’t manage to reach stardom until their relocation to Europe in the mid-sixties. When hits such as The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore) and Make It Easy On Yourself, they populated the European and US airwaves briefly with a bit more fandom overseas despite having been American. They disbanded in the late ’60s and the “brothers” officially went their separate ways for a few years before briefly reuniting in the ’70s. Scott is Noel Scott Engel’s first solo album after the disbandment and it is a doozie!

Following the trend of the “non-brother’s” Walker Brothers’ albums, Scott is 40 minutes of original compositions and covers. The breadth of music on display here ranges from Scott’s own to film scores and contemporary pieces. Among the most interesting of these songs are the ones penned and performed originally by Belgium musician Jacques Brel. For the most part, the translated Brel pieces are the standouts here. So much that Walker would continue to cover his music for the upcoming years. As a fan of Jacques’ music, it is a real treat to hear these renditions.

With such a diverse smorgasbord of inspirations to pull from, it is a surprise that the entire piece flows as well as it does. As someone who has never enjoyed the early Walker Brothers’ music I was surprised at how connected to this debut I instantly became. There is a dark sense of humor that exists on here with a peppering of the macabre. The cynicism on display here is also nearly palpable with songs like Mathilde, Amsterdam and My Death coming across as much more grim after repeated listens and under closer inspection. Passively, the music and vocal delivery is beautiful so it often pulls the wool over the listener’s eyes? Ears? Cotton swabs? What?

Scott is a helluva start for Walker’s solo career. I think it is obvious by my praise that I highly recommend it. From start to finish it is a well-crafted collection of music that is oddly coherent despite the varying arrays of influences. For those more interested in collections, there are a few different ways of purchasing this album. I’d suggest the box set containing his first 5 works if you’re interested. They are some of the best records available and the audio quality is much better than this Back In Black version on display here. Stay the hell away from Back In Black re-releases. They are hot vinyl trash.

scott 2

Track List:

Montague Terrace (In Blue)
The Lady Came From Baltimore
When Joanna Loved Me
My Death
The Big Hurt
Such A Small Love
You’re Gonna Hear From Me
Through A Long And Sleepless Night
Always Coming Back To You

Genesis: Foxtrot (1972)

Foxtrot: A smooth, progressive dance characterized by long, continuous flowing movements across the dance floor.

Genesis foxtrot 1

Sure, THAT’S a foxtrot. Did Paul Whitehead just not know what a foxtrot was? Maybe he should have read the description at the top of the page. Artist’s interpretation or the mind of a madman?

Genesis really had to produce something special after the release of the absolute behemoth that was Nursery Cryme. Lucky,the band was firing on all cylinders since the addition of band members Steve Hackett and Phil Collins in 1971 and it seemed that there was nowhere to go but up.

In a lot of ways Foxtrot is a refinement of the formula the band had been slowly developing since their eponymous debut. The music seems to flow almost effortlessly from the tightly-knit quintet on this album and while plenty consider it their masterpiece, I tend to disagree.

Sure, the music is masterfully performed and the lyrics are compelling but the production on this original vinyl pressing has always sounded flat to me. The moments that standout the most are the quieter ones. Bank’s iconic Mellotron introduction on Watcher Of The Skies is a perfect example of less being more impactful and meaningful. It is when the entire ensemble noodles and experiments together that everything blends together. This is no slight to the artistry on display here. Everything works cohesively and each man contributes in a brilliant way but the louder moments don’t have much of an impact due them being on the same plain as everything else. It is the sonic equivalent of a smoothie completely build up of melons: Without a little zest of citrus or a couple interesting berries the flavor profile is just flat. Delicious, but nothing pops.

Gabriel’s vocals on this thing deserve a special amount of praise. Maybe the more extravagant costumes gave him an extra dose of confidence because his lines are delivered with vigor this time around. Can-Utility And The Coastliners is a prime example of how impressive he can be. There is an atmospheric quality to the way he sings on the entirety of the record that adds a new layer to the whimsical fervor he was already known for.

Overall there is nothing inherently wrong with Foxtrot. It is an obvious recommendation despite my issues with the production. I know I’m in the minority when it comes to the latter but it is impossible for me to listen to the entirety of this album version of Supper’s Ready without taking a nap. Again, this has nothing to do with the compositions or the abilities of the players on display. Instead, I’d recommend finding a full, live version and listening to it that way. The rawer sound allows each member’s segments to really pop and who in the hell doesn’t enjoy seeing a grown-ass man in a flower costume? Wait….is it just me?

genesis foxtrot 2

Track List:

Watcher Of The Skies
Time Table
Get ‘Em Out By Friday
Can-Utility & The Coastliners
Supper’s Ready

Porcupine Tree: Up The Downstair (1993)

Synesthesia: The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.

Porcupine tree UP 1

Akerfeldt? Is that you? Head towards the light….

Up The Downstair is the second full album officially released by Steven Wilson and is ostensibly the first to be conceptually developed as a fully realized piece from start to finish. On The Sunday Of Life was more a collection of demos and disjointed ideas that I’ve already taken a look at. On this, Wilson seemed to have a better idea of what he wanted to create as a whole.

There have been many re-releases and remasters including CD versions with the original electronic drums still present before drummer Gavin Harrison’s involvement. The rest of the early band members are also here as well on this latest release and it is, overall the best of all the different versions. One of my biggest issues with the prior album is that it sounded too flat and disorganized. Wilson, as a burgeoning multi-instrumentalist hadn’t yet mastered his craft so it is more than a welcomed addition to hear the entire band on this remastered record.

porcupine tree UP 2

This is the outer limits.

It is remarkable how mature Up The Downstair is compared to its predecessor. For an album seemingly about the effects of psychedelic drugs, it is incredibly concise. I’d go as far as to say that it is one of Wilson’s most coherent efforts to date with very few conceptual flaws. For the astute listener it holds plenty of interesting, experimental surprises. Each song is sequenced in such a way to keep things exciting with just the right amount of energy to hold anyone’s attention.

Synesthesia is a brilliantly crafted song that sets the stage for what follows. I like to consider it the first act with each of the more energetic numbers as framework for the disparate, quieter pieces that make up the majority of the construct. In theory, a lot of this shouldn’t work but somehow it is just the right amount of dissonance to remain interesting throughout. For instance, the title track and Not Beautiful Anymore are almost rooted in early ’90s dance or funk while the songs at either side of each are among the most ambient. The louder sections are more meaningful and prominent due to their sombre counterparts. Solos are never abrasive, the drums are always reliably restrained and the bass is almost trance-like. Wilson seemingly hadn’t yet developed vocal and lyrical confidence so he often relies on technological gimmicks which, I think, benefits the music as the band is able to breathe and experiment around his framework.

As someone who has a preference for instrumental music, Up The Downstair has always been one of my favorite Porcupine Tree albums. Included on this vinyl version are songs from Staircase Infinities. It is a companion piece of outtakes from the original sessions, again with the full band.  Another version of this album was planned to have been packaged as a double with Voyage 34. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at that blatantly “Floydian” album. So, go see your local acid peddler and find a nice cozy room to relax. You might want to consider getting rid of those lava lamps and black lights. Stealing riffs from Pink Floyd isn’t half as tacky as those College stoner tropes.

porcupine tree UP 3

Track List:

What You Are Listening To
Monuments Burn Into Moments
Always Never
Up The Downstair
Not Beautiful Anymore
Small Fish
Burning Sky

Cloud Zero
The Joke’s On You
Rainy Taxi
Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape

Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (2009)

Exquisite: Extremely beautiful and, typically, delicate.

jim orourke - visitor 1

Looks like someone got into the glitter. Saturday morning after a very bizarre party?

Jim O’Rourke has one of the most impressive resumes in all of music. From film scores to being a productive hand on a plethora of widely different projects for the better part of three decades he is a modern day virtuoso with an incredibly versatile sonic pallet. On this, his fifth solo record for Drag City, O’Rourke challenges passive listeners with 38 minutes of slow-moving instrumental bliss. As clever as this piece is, it may not be for everyone.

jim orourke - visitor 2

There’s that mirror ball again. Aliens? Hipsters?

The Visitor is a carefully structured lengthy piece of music that is equally as passive as it is calculated. An acoustic guitar grounds the song with an earthy laid-back consistency while myriads of other instruments splash to make waves throughout. It is a revolving door of tiny flourishes that work to add enough unexpected twists to keep things interesting. The problem some might have is that these small inclusions don’t really amount to much in the greater scheme of the composition making the entire journey feel pointless or drab. I, however, think it works to elevate the album. Building towards something is predictable, something this album is not.

Every richly orchestrated instrument and loop is meticulously crafted and listening to this on the imitable quality of the Drag City vinyl is imperative. There is something almost cathartic how the instruments and styles drop in and out of the composition, leaving only the singular acoustic guitar to fill the void of silence. Stylistically, this is a culmination of a lot of O’Rourke’s previous work in tiny doses spread across 38 minutes. Sure, it might require a specific mood or a patient mind but The Visitor is a brilliant piece of music. So, pull out that bong or chew some edibles and buy it on vinyl because it is rare that an album is constructed from the ground up for the medium and not just manufactured for those kitschy hipsters.

jim orourke - visitor 3

The Visitor has left. The story of the mirror ball is over. It is only one song, no track list this time. Deal with it.

Willie Bobo: Spanish Grease (1965)

Groovy: Fashionable and exciting.

Willie Bobo 1

Delicious.Though, I prefer fried neck bones and some home fries.

The late ’50s and early ’60s were an interesting time in music. It seemed that anyone with an interesting look and a captivating swagger could garner a quick, fleeting hit single regardless of how homogenized and bland the quality was. American popular music was more about image than craft but interesting things were developing as the ’60s began to grow to be one of the most important eras with the burgeoning rock scene on the horizon and more experimental ventures stemming from jazz and folk.

Anyone who has read any of my past album observations know a couple of things: I’m not a fan of genre labeling and I have a huge admiration for late ’50s jazz. Willie Bobo (William Correa) was a percussionist in the mid-’50s but didn’t release his first album under that name until 1963. His music is easily identifiable despite how little has been written or studied about him over the years. It really is a shame considering how fantastically exciting and groovy his catalogue of music is.

willie bobo 2

Fantastic quality pressing. Par for the course when it comes to Verve records.

Spanish Grease is a respectable outing though, it must be made clear that it is a collection of covers from the era with only the title track being an original number. Now, typically I’d steer clear from offering praise to a “covers album.” They aren’t quite as bad as “hits collections” but they are close in their laziness and transparent in their cash grabbing intentions. The thing that makes Spanish Grease the exception is that the songs being covered were vapid, vanilla pop tracks from the aforementioned era of pretty faces often mumbling a ghost lyricist’s shallow messages. Willie Bobo and his timbales make these tracks sound fresh and hip.

The title track is unfortunately the biggest standout here. It is a nitpick but production-wise it feels like they put the cart before the horse or eating the dessert before the meal. One more quality original piece on this record placed closer to the middle or the end would have balanced the sequencing out a bit but as it stands the other tracks are consistently great and flow well. The first song is just so amazing that it plateaus the remainder of the album leaving little room for exciting surprises.

Willie Bobo’s entire catalogue of music is something I’d urge anyone to check out. It is rare that a band can bridge the gap between dance-able and musically complex this creatively. There is a style and presence on Spanish Grease that is often missing in popular music. It is percussion-driven music at its best.

Willie Bobo 3

Track List:

Spanish Grease
Hurt So Bad
It’s Not Unusual
Our Day Will Come
Haitian Lady
Blues In The Closet
It’s Not Unusual (Instrumental)
Shot Gun/Blind Man. Blind Man

High On Fire: The Art Of Self Defense (2000)

Fuzz: Make or become blurred or indistinct.

High On Fire - The Art Of Self Defense 1

Which album cover is YOUR favorite? Collect them all!

From the ashes of the critically acclaimed band Sleep came High On Fire. From the ashes of that band guitarist Matt Pike adds vocals to his repertoire as the front man on this debut record. Fans of Pike’s time in Sleep  should have no trouble enjoying the quicker-paced music on display here but does it do a good enough job standing on its own merits?

I’ve always been a bit of a fleeting fan of Sleep. I respect their admiration for ’70s heavy music pioneers and their musicianship is above average. There is just something about a lot of drone music that I find a bit boring. From Sleep two bands were formed. Two of the members created Om and Pike formed High On Fire. Each of these new bands are infinitely more engaging and exciting than what came before. Now, with the release of The Sciences, Sleep is back together and firing on all cylinders. Their new album is fantastic and I’m certain that it is due to the respective members having some time apart to better hone their skills.

High On Fire - The Art Of Self Defense 2

Hard to deny this great package of goodies

With all of this Sleep chat out of the way, let’s take a look at the album on display. In a lot of ways The Art Of Self Defense is a natural progression for Pike. “Predictable” is a bit of a slight because there are some differences on display here but the overall vision seems a bit thin. This is particularly ironic considering how thick and sludgy the wall of sound is on this record. The three instruments are coherent as a whole but this early High On Fire release lacks a certain individuality. If Sleep were largely derivative of Black Sabbath’s sound, this band is reminiscent of Motorhead. Hell, anyone who hears Pike’s voice can immediately hear the similarities. None of this is inherently bad but in a world filled with middling bands, they don’t do much to stand out.

Overall, that’s kind of the problem I have with this entire record. As a massive High On Fire fan I want to love it. I’ve given this thing a billion and a half listens and it barely resonates with me. Part of the issue is Rice’s bass sound. He is more than a capable musician but it just sort of drones along with Pike’s overpowering distorted guitar. None of the instruments have their own flavor or personality which really leads to everything coming across as a redundant drone.

Vocally, Pike doesn’t seem to have the confidence to lead the band. The singing merely sounds like a slightly raspier Sleep presentation with more than a tiny splash of Lemmy mixed in. Everything feels plodding despite the faster tempo but nothing really stands out.

From beginning to end, The Art Of Self Defense is an average album.Throughout the years it has been repackaged and re-released with added bonus tracks, live cuts and various artwork alterations. Personally, I’m a fan of the original 2000 release. The cover is more colorful and I’m simply not a fan of live songs being added to any album but that is a subjective nitpick. This vinyl package sounds robust and full and all of the packed in extras make it a hard purchase to not recommend for true fans of the band. The inclusion of the 1999 Self Titled demo is a welcomed addition on the vinyl release and it does flesh out the entire package but I would have almost preferred that it was a separate record altogether as the different production is a bit distracting and bloats the piece. I’d say that this is a flashily crafted re-release despite my criticisms but only for hardcore fans. Musically, I’d start with any other High On Fire release before going this far back.

High On Fire - The Art Of Self Defense 3

Track List:

10 000 Years
Blood From Zion
Master Of Fists
Steel Shoe
The Usurper