Radar Bros.

The Singing Hatchet(See Thru/Chemikal Underground 1999)

http://www41.zippyshare.com/v/43809736/file.html

At first listen, the Radar Bros sound like any number of 90s sad sacks enamored with grandiose crescendos and morose sentiments set to song. A quick stroll through my admittedly hazy memories uncovers a panoply of Acetones, Lows, Idahos, American Analog Sets and Red House Painters equally enamored with this weathered, but worthwhile formula. At the time, I thought of every single one of these bands as my sullen stalwarts on those rainy days that bled into lonely nights, but time has eaten away at their charms. What was once soothing and intimate to these ears, now sounds bloated and boring. However, the Radar Bros are still as cozy as an afghan blanket. Yeah, they mined the same territory as the rest, but there has always been something panoramic and ostentatious about their music. To be honest, the real reason I love this band, especially their work on The Singing Hatchet and its followup And the Surrounding Mountains, is how it all falls somewhere between the vibe of a slow-motion Pink Floyd ballad and Neil Young at his most bruised and confused. That’s a bit of a dishonest and hyperbolic statement since the Radar Bros aren’t even in the same stratosphere as either, but they do a stellar job of conjuring up the same troubled, but beautiful hoodoo of both. During the 90s and early 2000s, Radar Bros just kind of perfected this languorous, glacial pace that served as the perfect canvas for some honest to god anthems that kind of make you wish they were big in the 70s so you could smoke a bowl and wave a lighter as they plodded through imaginary hit after imaginary hit.

The Singing Hatchet is one of the unsung albums of the 90s. The opening track “Shifty Lies” is kind of the most perfect and sublime beginning to an album that seems mired in defeatist posture. Hell, the chorus to the song is “shifty lies and senseless visions, overflow like frozen rivers, stand in line and watch the time, you’re cattled up and weeks behind, how long, how long until we reach the bottom of the lake?”  It starts off like some 70s cosmic Country and Western meditation until it suddenly swells and rises to an almost proggy chorus glorifying resignation and ennui. It’s kind of epic in its own minor league way. It paints the lovable loser as unlikely hero who sees life as it truly is.

The rest of the album just grows more dour. “You’re on an Island” amps up the 70s prog quotient with some intro that sounds like an Alan Parsons Project instrumental that stumbles into some existential ballad where our protagonist kind of wonders a bit too hard about  lost love a bit too much. In fact, it’s kind of creepy. I guess that’s another reason why I like this album. There’s some unsettling themes going on underneath the Live at Pompeii vibe. In fact, “Shoveling Sons” is kind of macabre too as it centers around  some apocalyptic tale about young men digging the graves of the old as the earth crawls to its inevitable end. I like how the story doesn’t match the instrumentation which carries on as if its some stoned anthem about lazy days in a hammock. It’s kind of one long bummer after another, but there is something so soothing and relaxing about how each song gently eases you down another notch toward a crummy mood. I guess that’s why I gravitate to The Singing Hatchet so much. It’s kind of a thematically perfect narrative about a protagonist who gradually loses the will to fight and grows to like it.

Strawbs-Grave New World

December 2, 2011

The Strawbs

Grave New World (A&M 1972)

http://www.mediafire.com/?q2ezq173o11kxr7

Amidst all of the psychedelic wayfarers of the 60s England, the Strawbs have always gotten lost in the shuffle of a deck stacked with Pink Floyds, Beatles, Cream, Incredible String Band and countless other seminal influences on modern music. All you need to know is that I discovered this album through the recommendation of my mother-in-law. Yeah, she’s a pretty cool mother-in-law to be sure, but it points to how their musical pollination never quite spread beyond a long-forgotten garden visited by far too few souls. That’s a shame because I’ve been dipping my toes into their pool and hate that they’ve become a criminally neglected footnote to the careers of original member Sandy Denny and later addition Rick Wakeman. Personally, I am enamored by the prospect of any band that combined the opposing viewpoints of the folks who sparked Fairport Convention and Yes, even if they contributed to different eras of the Strawbs. Sadly, the names of Denny and Wakeman obscure the legacy and immense talent of singer/guitarist Dave Cousins, who is the foundation of the band.

Cousins’ voice kind of reminds me of a folksier, gentle version of Cat Stevens, but with a bit more passion, grit and urgency. Although the instrumentation of Grave New World straddles the line between pastoral English folk and the orchestral bombast of 70s prog, Cousins grounds it all with a earnest, pleading voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on a lonesome folk platter lost to general obscurity. His timeless voice and knack for imbuing each track with a sad, weary pathos can be derived from his time playing skiffle and obsessing over the heartbreaking catalogs of Leadbelly, Bob Dylan and Elizabeth Cotten. Most important was his devotion to Flatt and Scruggs who inspired him to pick up a banjo and dedicate himself to its mastery. Don’t expect any hoedowns and juke joint paeans to wayward lovers since the Strawbs were a far different band by the time Grave New World was released in 1972.

Grave New World and its predecessor From the Witchwood are where the Strawbs really hit their stride. Folks tend to fixate on their debut with Sandy Denny, but it’s folk-rock sounds simplistic in comparison to their flights into the pretentious heavens of prog. Don’t fear–this is no Tarkus or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Grave New World may be the most folksy, earthy prog album of the 70s and avoids the conceptual excess and pompous pitfalls of their brethren. At it’s core, Grave New World is 60s English folk album concerned with “lords of the forest”, changing seasons and the decay of true love. However, Cousins dalliances with prog enervates these tried and true themes and the familiar becomes electric. Just take a listen to “The Flower and the Young Man” and tell me that it doesn’t deserve a place besides “Calvary Cross” and “Come All Ye” in the sweepstakes for the penultimate English folk tune deserving of epic status. Awash in warm, buzzing organ, perfect harmony and a beautiful progression from serenity to frenetic guitar soloing, this song just nails everything I love about this era in music. Even the lyrics paint a perfect picture:

While seasons change in timely way
The salt sea ever flows
Where open moors lie cold and bleak
A single flower grows.

Though winter snows fall deep and long
The flower grows the while
The weary traveller passing by
Feels warmer for her smile.

Sunshine and the tender flower
Both melt the young man’s heart
But he who lingers waits his turn
Must learn to play his part.

Through summer days of warmth and love
The young man tends his flower
But blinded by their colours bright
Heeds not the passing hour.

The autumn trees once clothed with gold
Now frayed and sadly worn
The flower bids a chill farewell
The young man’s heart is torn.

While seasons change in timely way
The salt sea ever flows
Where open moors lie cold and bleak
A single flower grows.

It’s a classic tale that wouldn’t sound out of place as a traditional folk tune recorded long ago, but their instrumentation places it in a different musical context and it is simultaneously a twist on time honored themes and a declaration of their individuality and unique take on what others fumbled or rehashed. I’m not saying Grave New World is some game changer that will leave you slack jawed, but is peppered with bouts of genius that deserves to be treasured by more than my mother-in-law and I.

Electrelane-Axes

May 18, 2010

Electrelane

Axes(Too Pure 2005)

http://www.divshare.com/download/11404916-2af.rar

Recorded in one take, Axes is one of those rare albums that sounds intricately crafted and obsessively planned, yet captures the wild-eyed abandon of a band willing to shred the map and forge new directions on the fly. Yes, it’s a contradictory statement, but Axes is a cooly composed, yet ragged recording that lets its frayed edges come to the forefront. It’s like a seamless, yet unlikely bridge between krautrock, prog, post-punk, Factory Records and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 musicians filtered through an accessible indie-rock aesthetic. Nothing else in Electrelane’s discography dips its toes into this territory and it is a bit of an anomaly when you step back and view their output as a whole. To their infinite credit, Axes is probably a fucking anomaly when compared to the last decade of music as a whole. Who else digested such overutilized ingredients and spit out a fresh recipe worthy of their idols? Electrelane did and I am reminded of their unheralded genius each time I place Axes on my turntable.

If you slapped me silly and demanded that I sum up Axes in a solitary word, I would have to choose “brooding” as its modifier since each instrument sounds like it’s being played in a bizarro version of the Cure’s “In a Forest” or New Order’s Movement minus the drummer who plays you like a snake charmer with repetitive, but deceptively complex percussion that suckers you into the abyss. Although its predecessor, The Power Out, played with many of the same themes explored here, there was a catharsis and release experienced during each triumphant chorus. Sentiments and feelings are bottled up tight on Axes as the band keeps emoting to a bare minimum as they explore what can be done with repetition, pop and punk when kept out of sun for days on end. I wouldn’t call Axes a depressing album, but it’s the first album I tend to reach for when dusk creeps over the horizon and you can smell the rain about to fall at any moment. It’s the aural equivalent of those moments before the shit hits the fan. It captures that jumbled rush of anticipation, regret and melancholy as you process those seconds before things are irrevocably changed forever, . Let’s cap this gusher and embrace the simple aesthetic of the album and say that it is an epic that never forgets the majesty to be found in simplicity.

V/A-Tetes Lourdes

December 9, 2008

tetes-lourdes

Various Artists

Tetes Lourdes(No Label)

http://www.mediafire.com/?jmltodphd1x

When I think of gritty psychedelic rock and roll, France would be near the bottom of my list.  If you were discussing wellsprings of 70s prog, then I may consider France as a contender for the crown, but I have mistakenly associated it too closely with Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Fontaine and Magma.  I love a lot of the music France has foisted upon the world, but Tetes Lourdes has renewed my appreciation of the country’s contribution to 70s hard rock. In fact, much of the material collected on this bootleg falls somewhere between the James Gang, 70s metal and 60s psych rock. To be honest, the combo of these three phrases is more than enough to inspire devotion and love from this grimy soul.

To be honest, it isn’t one of those comps that fire on all cylinders. Some of it is just as bloated and cliched as other anonymous hard rock acts of the 70s, but half of it is postively brilliant and life-affirming in the way hoary rock chestnuts can be when it hits that perfect ratio of sleaze, fuzz, riffery and two-pack a day vocals. The absolute highlights of this comp are provided by Rotomagus whose “Fighting Cock” is nearly punk in its execution and absolutely ridiculous in its portrayal of a badass rooster in search of battle. This song is so raw and nasty that it makes the entire comp an essential listed by its mere inclusion. Their next contribution “Madame Wanda” veers into more familiar terrain with plenty of wah-wah and some psychedelic wailing choruses and upliting riffs that borrow from the majesty and grace of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. The rest of the acts on Tetes Lourdes aren’t as innovative, but marry enough sleaze to their melodies to keep everything on par with the insanity of Rotomagus’ unexpected explosiveness.

Sebastien Tellier

L’incroyable Verite (Astralwerks/Source 2001)

http://www.mediafire.com/?tdmigb32pm1

One of the first signings to Air’s Record Makers label after the success of their Moon Safari Lp, Sebastien Tellier’s first album is like a manic depressive cousin to Air’s sleek confections. Where Air seem to aim for perfection, Tellier aims for more sleazy and imperfect terrain. Sure, both have a love for intricate orchestration, harmony and the art of the soundtrack, but L’Incroyable Verite is a more troubled, introspective affair. If Moon Safari was the night of the party, L’incroyable verite is the dirty aftermath when you wake up in unfamiliar surroundings and trudge home with only a hazy sunrise to greet you. The beauty in these instrumentals is a moody echo of parties past and the feeble attempts to recreate a magic that escaped your grasp only hours ago.

Air serve as tellier’s backing band on this album and they seem to relish the opportunity to explore different shades of their musical palette. My only complaint is that Tellier’s breathy, depressing vocals are only used spaingly in favor of mournful horn arrangements and slow-motion chord progressions. Everything is one big hangover where each note is played so gently so as to not disturb this incessant downer. At times, it even sounds like some forgotten prog gem as it gets lost in a reverie of synthesizers and nearly medieval melodies, but L’Incroyable Verite is one of those weird albums that seems to borrow so much, yet seems totally unique in its own way. It’s hard to imagine that it was released in 2001 since it seems to truly belong to another era.

Magma-Udu Wudu

October 24, 2008

Magma

Udu Wudu (Tomato 1976)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zfnz9zamndw

I’ve always had a love/hate affair with Magma, a French prog-rock band, due to the inconsistent nature of their albums. On one hand they invented their own language, Kobaian, for use in their songs, but on the other hand they invented their own language for use in their songs. Amazing musicianship and innovation abound in half of their work and amazing musicianship and fucking ridiculous concepts mar the other half. However, I admire Christian Vander, Magma’s founder, for his willingness to create an entire musical universe and terminology from scratch and stick to it for over thrity years. Yes, it is downright silly at times, but the passion and intricacy of their work always wins me over in the end.

I picked Udu Wudu because I picked it up as a cut-out cassette in the mid-90s and it rarely left my walkman for many a moon. Most of my affection for Udu Wudu is solely derived from the utter madness and complexity of the title track. I used to get absolutely blazed and walk thirty minutes up the road to my record store gig with Udud Wudu as my absurd guide. There were many occasions where I tried to convert friends to Udu Wudu by describing the title track as the soundtrack to Space Invaders complicated by a factor of a thousand. The weed is gone, but that statement still holds true. I can still imagine myself as the sole gun defending the planet while armies of pixellated aliens march in lockstep towards my location. I guess this is one of the few times where my flights of fancy match my sobriety.

The rest of the album surely is not an afterthought. You get Kobaian verses, jazzy interludes, insane solos and proggy synths aplenty. Plus, the whole album still reminds me of some alien celebration with a lounge act serving as the entertainment.

The Muffins

Open City (1985)

http://www.divshare.com/i/5012922-e2e

A compilation of material recorded from 1977-80. For the most part, these songs capture the band during a transitional period, between their earlier Canterbury influenced days and their later RIO direction. The first seven tracks are taken from their 1980 demo tape and although there are a few remnants of 1978’s Manna/Mirage, songs like “Antidote to Drydock” and “Under Dali’s Wing” are far more abrasive and avant-garde than anything found on that album. Two of the coolest songs here, “Vanity, Vanity” and “Dancing in Sunrise, Switzerland” are outtakes from Fred Frith’s “Gravity”, an excellent album on which the Muffins played as one of the backup bands. The next songs include a few live pieces and improvisations as well as “Expected Freedom”, an outtake from Manna/Mirage that sounds quite different than anything else they’ve done. With the track listing in reverse chronological order, it’s interesting to end things with the fourteen minute, very heavily Canterbury influenced “Not Alone”, apparently one of the first pieces the band wrote. Incredible that they were making such first-rate music so early in their formation, even if the influences were obvious. One thing to note is that the sound quality on this compilation is fantastic the whole way through, even the live songs. It’s a great album that works well as an introduction to the Muffins as well as being of interest to people who are already familiar with them.

Maneige

Libre Service – Self Service (1978 )

http://www.mediafire.com/?gngdjjcmx92

A later album from Maneige, one of the best-known Canadian prog bands. By this point they had almost entirely moved away from the symphonic sound of their earlier classic albums and are playing a kind of light fusion style, somewhat similar to Camel or some of the Canterbury bands. Unlike their previous work, the emphasis here is on shorter, less proggy compositions with more melody and short solos. Fortunately, as with all good fusion, it never becomes merely a showcase for how well these guys can play their instruments. There’s also some messing around with latin, reggae and funk influences that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. The album really gets going with the final four songs, which are among the best they’ve done (and are also the longest songs on this album). Lots of xylophone and flute to be found. Not necessarily as essential as their earlier albums, but a nice album anyway. One of the examples of a successful transition from prog to jazz rock.

Rustichelli & Bordini

Opera Prima (1973)

http://www.mediafire.com/?tukye69doc1

Check out that bizarre cover art! This is Italian prog of the highest calibre, and sadly this is their only album. A notable feature of this album is the inclusion of only drums, keyboards and vocals. Their sound however, is remarkably full as there are a LOT of keyboards. Another notable feature of this album is the terrible, terrible vocals. Even going by the relatively low standards of Italian prog, these are pretty damn bad. Fortunately the singing mistake isn’t quite enough to ruin the album, which is top notch bombast, memorable melodies, and an enormous load of sweet Mellotron. The first two tracks on this aren’t all that good in my opinion (with some seriously comedic singing on “Icaro”), but things really get going after that. “Un Cane” opens up with a short piano introduction and then some super fat synth comes out of nowhere. “Dolce Sorella” features a nice melody and finishes with a solo that would make Rick Wakeman proud. The rest of the album is more of the same- a synth lovers dream. One of the best of the Italian 70’s if you can tolerate the singing. A minor historical note: Bordini would play the drums for the Cherry Five a couple of years after this album was recorded, the band that would later become Goblin.

Som Imaginário

A Matança do Porco (1973)

http://www.mediafire.com/?in2m0nlgmdo

Brazilian fusion with touches of prog, psyche and bossa nova. This is their third and final album, heading away from the psychedlic-driven sounds of their earlier albums and toward jazz-rock. Wagner Tiso, the keyboardist and now apparently leader of the band is very skilled at what he does (as are all the musicians here), but occasionally takes the album into softer keyboard jazz that may not sound too out of place on a Chick Corea solo album – a bit too light for me. Don’t worry though, there’s still a healthy amount of distorted and rambling guitar parts in the Os Mutantes tradition. High points are the heavy, building guitars of “Armina” and the epic symphonic prog of the 11 minute title track. A cool album that manages to successfully blend a variety of genres into something quite unique.