Archive for February, 2008

Electronic from the Atlantic Rim

February 29, 2008

Some vintage French electronic:

Zanov cut two albums circa 1976/77 that fit right in between concurrent Jean Michel Jarre and solo Richard Pinhas, plus a third (date unspecified) double LP more in the vein of Tangerine Dream‘s Zeit.

Zed (aka Bernard Szajner) cut this 1979 album, much in the mold of Wavemaker:

Neuronium from Spain have had a long career in electronic music, starting with 1977’s aptly titled Quasar 2c361.

Elektriktus Electronic Mind Waves (1976), Italy’s chief contribution to the genre.


Gentle Giant: last three albums

February 23, 2008

I bought Civilian in 1996, but initially only liked the three songs which remain my favorites now – “I Am a Camera”, “Inside Out” and “It’s Not Imagination” (plus, the non-LP “Heroes No More”, which I wouldn’t hear till much later). I was so underwhelmed, in fact, that I initially hesitated towards closing the gap in the Gentle Giant discography, though I eventually would over the next two years. The Missing Piece I generally enjoyed – though who cares about the prog/punk dichotomy of that record, it’s the pub rock numbers on which the band truly sound revitalized! Finally I bought Giant For a Day and loved every minute of it (well, except for “It’s Only Goodbye”) – mature, well crafted AOR in the mould of Charlie, Sad Cafe, and 10cc‘s Bloody Tourists LP, a most befitting musical style for thirtysomething rockers during the late ’70s.

Onto the albums.

I mostly enjoy The Missing Piece, though like its predecessor, Interview, the tin shack production quality leaves something to be desired. Ironically, the turns toward funk and pub rock on side one – the sprightly “Two Weeks in Spain”, the Little Feat/Racing Cars groove of “Who Do You Think We Are” and the barrelhouse twitch of “Mountain Time” – work much better than their attempts to keep the folky prog flame burning on side two. I’m also keen on their ability to lace punky energy into their signature contrapuntal style, and with that I don’t mean the scrappy dare of “I Betcha Thought We Couldn’t Do It”, but the propulsive testament of “For Nobody”.

Gentle Giant – The Missing Piece (1977)

As noted numerous times before, Giant for a Day stands to these ears as the most accomplished and successful of Gentle Giant’s after-prog trilogy. Surely no attentive GG fan could resist the ticklish xylophone quirks of “Spooky Boogie”, sprung straight from the Interview canon, whilst warm-blooded pop connoisseurs of every stripe would uniformly fall sway to the charms of “Friends”, with it’s crisp, acoustic angularity and cleverly inspirational turn of phrase:

Enemies, some say, add spice to your life,
But I’ve always hated to be so disliked

Additionally, this rejuvenated 1978 offering marked a diverse set of triumphs, from the bluesy earnestness of “Thank You” to the brilliantly chorded, full throttle dynamics of “Rock Climber”. Furthermore, the band displayed a spirited enthusiasm for surrounding trends, such as the West Coast spectrum-harmonies which fuel “Words from the Wise” (a sound most expertly employed, ironically enough, by non-US acts, like England’s Charlie, Germany’s Lake and Australia’s Little River Band.) And with a jolt of youthful vigor, the band extended a big hand to the striped shirt and pink pencil-flood brigade with “Giant for a Day”, whose spiky wobbles gave a smiling nod to what sprouting lights The Boomtown Rats and Elvis Costello were up to (think “Living On An Island” or “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea”.)

Gentle Giant – Giant for a Day (1978)

As for the commercial gambling gutter plunge of Civilian, I’ll state that, weaker material aside, the culprit here is the top-open production sheen imposed upon the proceedings by FM-Machiavellian-turned-knob-tweaking-gremlin Lee Abrams. “Convenience (Clean and Easy)” garishly plays down to their latter day punk afflictions in the most clumsily contrived of manners (I can’t help but draw a mental parallel to comedian Dave Thomas’ rap spoof “Mad Bad Dad”, or one of those faux rock band jingles performed in some commercial by the appliance chain-store team of Ken and Dave, once the Siskel and Ebert of the Boston-area hardware world.) Ominously, the disconcerting proto-CHR sheen comes to an ugly head on the carnivorously tangled barrage that riffs into “All Through the Night” (sure we got the right band here?)

Flipping to the greener pastures of side two, things steadily rise from underground, click-by-click. “I Am a Camera” wasn’t a patch on Yes’ concurrent virtual namesake, but it’s a bouncy romp of energy, nonetheless. The slow sonic layers of the aptly-titled “Inside Out” finally bring some of Giant’s greatest strengths to the fore on this troubled disc, whilst the exuberant rush of “It’s Not Imagination” show that punk wasn’t totally dead by 1980. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for our beloved Gentle Giant.

As an aside, the poignant lurch of “Heroes No More” could have been Civilian’s needed powerhouse had it not been abandoned in the trenches, for it’s delectably state-of-the-AOR, martial in theory if not practice.

Gentle Giant – Civilian (1980)

Gentle Giant Fan Page

Rock Entrée

February 8, 2008

If one was to wrap the musical evolution spanning Beatlemania through Y2K into the metaphoric capsule of a single day’s meals, it could all be summarized like this: the British Invasion of 1964 was the early morning coffee boost; AOR implementers like Revolver, Blonde on Blond and Pet Sounds were the vitamin-enriched late breakfast/early lunch; popsike and late ’60s exotica were a sweet-toothed afternoon snack; and, feast regalia, the divine scope and grand ambitions of epic ’70s rock, prog and fusion made for the utmost delicious and nutritious banquet of a lifetime, topped off decadently by some yummy dessert at a colorfully neon-lit cafe, which would of course bring you to the early ’80s.

Sadly, you’ll rise the next day feeling utterly nauseous; spewing toxins from every orifice in your body when (bombs away!) you come to the crude headlight horror that, yes, you’ve died and awoken in the ’90s – the replacement for hell, which is now saving space for the reprehensible purveyors of that heinous deca[y]de’s atrocious music and ghastly fashions. And no, you didn’t get sick from something you’d eaten during the preceding day of festive indulgence. It was all down to some poisonous pollen you had unwittingly sniffed while heading home after dessert the prior evening. That pollen, of course, being the late ’80s.

Maximalism vs Minimalism

February 2, 2008

Debates have swirled around the task of tracing the prog rock lineage into the 1980s, with ragtag assortments of New Wave performers commonly thrown into the commotion. But honestly, there’s a definitive line between music that’s eclectic, lavish and complex in the maximalistic (i.e. progressive, or ‘arty’) manner, vs music that’s skeletal, abrasive and atonal in a minimalistic (i.e. alternative, or ‘art damaged’) way.

Maverick innovators like The Stranglers, Magazine, Random Hold, Gloria Mundi, Ultravox, Japan, The Tubeway Army and XTC have all been praised by discerning aficionados as ‘prog punk’ (or ‘progressive new wave’) because they brushed aside the minimalistic traits that were so de rigueur within post-punk confines, in favor of the maximalistic values more broadly revered across the preceding symphonic progressive and arty glam rock legions.

Elsewhere, bands like Joy Division, the Fall, Gang of Four, and various other North England purveyors of dissonant, low budget minimalism may have indeed made music that was difficult to listen to, hence an ‘alternative’ to the mainstream (in attitude, if nothing more.) But it didn’t make them ‘progressive’ in the musical sense, because they didn’t ‘progress’ within and build upon the inherently musical virtues of melody, harmony, rhythm and sonority. What they did instead was the exact opposite: transgressing said virtues unilaterally in their own cryptic thirst for some post-apocalyptic brand of noise – a punishing cul-de-sac, maybe, but by God ‘not’ the new tradition.

(I would have titled this post ‘Progressive vs Alternative’, if not for the word ‘alternative’ having become a most putrid pejorative.)