Previously, on Twin Peaks…

Just kidding. Earlier I reviewed The KLF’s Chill Out (1990). Although Dr. Alex Paterson (I’m doubtful that he is a doctor) and Jimmy Cauty (of the KLF) worked together at some point, eventually they went separate ways. The KLF had released Chill Out the previous year, and had released their “stadium house” classic “The White Room” earlier in March 1991, in August 1991, “The Orb’s Adventures From Beyond The Ultraworld” was released in a “double album” ~110 minute UK edition and an edited ~70 minute US edition. I guess Island Records figured American’s weren’t quite as “Out of their Heads” as British consumers…

The opener, “Little Fluffy Clouds” features a very spaced Rickie Lee Jones reminiscing about life as a child in Arizona.

Jones: “They went on forever – They – When I w- We lived in Arizona, and the skies always had little fluffy clouds in ’em, and, uh… they were long… and clear and… there were lots of stars at night. And, uh, when it would rain, it would all turn – it- They were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact. Um, the sunsets were purple and red and yellow and on fire, and the clouds would catch the colours everywhere. That’s uh, neat ’cause I used to look at them all the time, when I was little. You don’t see that. You might still see them in the desert.

I particularly like how various rhythms and melodies were produced from the phrase “Little Fluffy Clouds” throughout the song. The keyboard melody is pretty catchy too, and the excellent choice of samples, such as “The Man With A Harmonica” which I first heard when I saw the Leone film “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968).

Continuing the spaced theme, “Earth (Gaia)” which has an excellent bass line and samples from Flash Gordon, takes the listener to the next level.

The classic “single” that is “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of The Ultraverse” is the real standout on this album, at 18 minutes in length, gives the listener plenty of time to go on a journey in inner space. The effect is augmented by the inclusion of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You” and the opening riff from Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”  in the mix.

Breaking down the album into individual songs is unnecessary, as the album flows from one song to the next with seemingly minimal effort. Best listened to at around 3 AM on a hot summer night.

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Well, It’s Robert Fripp of the unmatchable (hopefully I’m wrong about that) King Crimson and Brian Eno of… Brian Eno. (I guess some might say formerly of Roxy Music… he also had a role as Talking Heads producer for a while, which resulted in the magnificent “Remain in Light”)

Regardless, when I first heard about this album I was reading the various lists of “best ambient” etc. (The 2001 Survey is very good, though) I was very excited. Then I heard it. And I was disappointed. It didn’t seem ambient at all! There was a guitar loop (the first instance of “Frippertronics” [It should be noted that the Korg Wavestation has a preset called “Frippatronix”)] of overdriven guitar that really left me wanting more of the “Discreet Music” of Eno.  I thought “Well, it’s Fripp AND Eno, so it has to be good, but right now I’m not ready for this.”

Several months, maybe even a few years passed by.

One day I decide to play it again. It’s like a new drug! I get over the timbre and realize that it isn’t trying to be heavily reverbed ambient (after all it was 1974, Prog was King [Crimson]), it’s an experience to be taken on its own terms! For 19 or 20 minutes your ears are invited to work for “The Heavenly Music Corporation.” And it’s a job only a fool would turn down…

Fripp has this one solo around the 6 minute mark that isn’t to be missed.

Flip the record over, or skip several tracks on the CD (It’s been indexed so you can access your favorite moments) to Side 2: Swastika Girls. There’s a story behind the title which I won’t go into here, but regardless, it’s not like “The Heavenly Music Corporation” but more like “Evening Star” (Their next and last collaboration as “Fripp and Eno” of the ’70s”) I don’t find it as trance inducing as “The Heavenly Music Corporation”, but it’s still better than anything on the radio these days.

Well, almost anything.

Nebraska is one of the saddest records in Bruce’s catalog. It starts with the title track, Nebraska, a story told in the first person of murder spree and its consequences. Resigned and mournful, it sets a tone of despair and misery that perfectly matches the LP’s cover of an overcast sky and an empty highway seen from a car.

But this is the Boss we’re talking about here, so even though the whole world’s against his characters, they all try to prevail despite everything. We hear this in the next song, Atlantic City, which is a bit faster than Nebraska. Atlantic City is just as frightened of the world as Nebraska, but here there’s still some hope.

Next up, with that haunting harmonica is Mansion on the Hill. Here the narrator tells of growing up in a factory town where the owners lived in a mansion surrounded by a steel fence. It’s clear that the gate that keeps the narrator out of that mansion will keep the narrator out of any mansion, and that the song is in fact a reflection on what it’s like to see some people be well off, knowing that despite whatever you do, you’ll never be as well off as they.

With Johnny 99 the everyday anxieties blow up, as Bruce shows off his love of the band Suicide for the first time on Nebraska. From the rockabilly riffing to that slapback echo. Ralph worked in auto plant that closed down and couldn’t find new work. The bank is going to take away his home and he’s in debt over his head. So Ralph gets drunk from “mixin’ Tanqueray and wine”, gets a gun, and shoots a night clerk. I guess everyone calls Ralph “Johnny”, Anyhow, the last two verses is where it’s at:

Now judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand

Well your honor I do believe I’d be better off dead
And if you can take a man’s life for the thoughts that’s in his head
Then won’t you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let ’em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line

We change viewpoints from criminal to cop with Highway Patrolman, told by Joe Roberts from the other side of the law. Even then, when you’re not about to be locked up, things aren’t any better.  Frankie is Joe’s brother (perhaps Frankie Teardrop, if things had turned out a little differently) who is a Viet Nam vet who isn’t adjusting back to society too well, although Franky’s been in trouble his whole life. Being a cop wasn’t Joe’s first choice for a job. He used to grow wheat, but the prices kept getting lower and lower to the point where he couldn’t make ends meet, so now he’s a highway patrolman. Joe gets a call “about a quarter til 9” from a roadhouse where Franky started a fight. Joe’s got to do his job, even if he’s got to arrest his own brother, although he admits “But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way.” Joe tries to pull Franky over, but Franky gets too close to the border, at which point Joe pulls over on the highway and “watched his tail lights disappear.”

Side 1 ends with State Trooper, told by someone who’s out of options. The Boss’s scream here is unforgettable. Side 1 ends on a wet New Jersey turnpike speeding away to nowhere.


Hey, somebody out there,listen to my last prayer
Hi ho silver-o, deliver me from nowhere

After a brief overture that has a really cool narration, we’re treated to “Can’t Get it Out of My Head”. Whether this is simply referring to the concept of Eldorado (1974) or is one of those drug references that you find on any rock and roll album from the ’70s I’ll let you, the Reader, decide. Either way, this song is really good.

What is the concept of Eldorado (1974)? I think it is the story of a dreamer who dreams of a fantastic place called Eldorado. The dreamer wakes up at the end of the album, and wishes that he could go back because reality isn’t as nice as Eldorado. Sounds like a play on “The Wizard of Oz”, no? A quick look at the cover shows the wicked witch of the west zapping Dorothy’s iconic ruby slippers, a friend of mine told me that Sharon Osbourne did the cover. Which leaves me dreaming that somewhere out there, there’s a Black Sabbath version of Eldorado (1974). One can only dream.

“Boy Blue” follows next, with a long instrumental introduction and a some spoken word at 0:49. Well, maybe slurred is more accurate. But what is the word? Regardless, what follows is the rest of a terribly catchy song. (That’s supposed to mean ‘really catchy’. If it doesn’t, please let me know.) Next up is “Laredo Tornado”. I love the funky melody played on a keyboard. The timbre reminds me of that keyboard part on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Jeff Lynne’s liner notes describe “Laredo Tornado” as “A protest song about the proliferation of concrete.” The song has a sad mood to it, and the lyrics go along with the sound, asking in the chorus “What can you do, when your dream world is gone. And your friends and lovers too.”

A collection of tracks and edits from Basic Channel’s 12″ records, BCD demonstrates without question the power of hiss from one of the most visionary and committed duos in techno.  This music is more cerebral than emotional, with much enjoyment to be had from listening to the slight changes permeating the sound. The formula for most of these tracks is relatively straight forward: a four on the floor beat, filtered chords, and a small amount of hiss. The bass line typically comes from the bass drums, not a keyboard or 303.

The second track, ‘e2e4 Remake Basic Reshape’, is a remake of Manuel Gottsching’s classic 1984 E2E4 album, sans the 20+ minute guitar solo. The third track, ‘Mutism’, dispenses with a beat and is almost entirely composed of modulated hiss. Then comes ‘Quadrant Dub I’, an edit of an even longer track that is always adding new elements into the mix. Towards the end, the filtered chords drop out and all that is left is the beat and a strange swirling sound. Next is an edit of ‘Radiance II’. Similar to ‘Quadrant Dub I’,  it starts with a hypnotic beat that we can hear the filter resonance being turned up ever so slowly, giving it a ‘trippy’ feel, the effect on the listener is comparable to the use of phasers in psychedelic music of the 1960s. When the kick drum comes on board along with a new keyboard part, the result is electronic bliss of the highest quality.

The biggest complaint I have about BCD is that several of the tracks aren’t complete. Indeed, the only words on the back of the Digipack case are “buy vinyl!” It is only there that the full impact of these songs can be experienced.

Hoedh – Hymnvs (1993)

February 4, 2011

Where to begin with this masterpiece? Hymnvs is composed of seven instrumentals that all seem to be stuck in a minor key. The atmospheric production lends it an otherworldly quality. The melodies are simple, almost pastoral. Repetition is in every song. And yet it never grows old.

I have doubts about tagging this CD as ‘dark ambient’. It isn’t really ambient at all. It’s more like a series of hymns (get it?) that never venture too far from the predominant mood.

The sense of melancholia found on Hymnvs never lifts, although it does vary in degree from song to song. My favorites are the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and last songs.

The liner notes appear to be a ‘universal philosophical text’, but unsurprisingly they’re in German, with this exception:

ET IN ARCADIA EGO

I TEGO ARCANA DEI

The main downside to this CD is that it’s out of print which makes it hard to find. Gloomy melodies don’t sell very well unless they have catchy choruses, I guess.

1990’s “Chill Out” attempts to be an aural tour guide from Brownsville, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and on to the 1990’s. Well, that’s what the track titles indicate. Chill Out (1990) was recorded live at the Trancentral studio by The KLF. During their trip, they introduce the listener to the imagined sounds of “Elvis on the Radio”, “Wichita Lineman”, and… sheep.

Other sounds you’ll meet during this trip are the KLF’s own “Justified & Ancient” theme, a call for all aboard to “Mu-Mu Land”, a radio broadcast of a 17 year old motorcyclist who never came home, and an offer to “come back fat as a rat all along the east coast”, and a special phone number for you to call.

You’ll here what I describe as “space country” in the 7:41 epic “Madrugada Eterna”, slide guitar with delay and chorus, similar to that found on the song “Deep Blue Day” on Eno’s Apollo album from 6 years prior. The slide guitar here is a bit more space than country, but I find it just as cosmic. “Madrugada Eterna” is a wonderful experience that can take you to places other than planet Earth.

One of my favorite sounds on this album are the long heavenly drones, often moving back and forth in the mix, between the sheep, the trains, the jets, the radio, and Elvis. The drone is everywhere along the trip, giving the listener a sort of “whole new take on the day”. “Chill Out” leaves me wishing that the trip will never end.

King Crimson – Red (1974)

February 2, 2011

Red

King Crimson’s Red (1974) is one of at least three masterpiece’s led by various ensembles unified by the guitar work of Robert Fripp. The back of the CD case bears a tachometer clearly in the red. The first song, “Red” is a ferocious monster, heavy, fast, and awesome. Every time the music indicates it might let up, it “revs” back up. The eponymous instrumental sets the mood but not the tone of the rest of the album, as “Fallen Angel” is considerably more sonically varied.

The highlight of Red (1974), however, is the album’s closer “Starless”, a 12 minute masterpiece. Starless is possibly the best King Crimson song of any configuration of the group.

Budd’s 1988 album ‘The White Arcades’ is a very good example of ambient music. This album finds Budd recording a set of lovely melodies guaranteed to send you to dreamland.

The electronics here are more overt compared to his collaboration with Eno and Lenois on ‘The Pearl’ (1984). ‘The White Arcades’ retains the same relaxing atmosphere, but is ultimately not as versatile as ‘The Pearl’ (1984).

Reissued in 2005 with new artwork.

Beginner’s Luck

January 31, 2011

This is my first post. This blog will be a great blog. Well, that may or may not happen. I expect it will consist of posts exclusively dealing with movies and music.