A new regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!
In a recent conversation I had with two friends, one guy said: “Music is great now, there’s so much of it and you can find whatever you want.” The second guy said: “Music is over. It’s too hard to find the good stuff, and besides, all the best tunes have been written.”
They’re both wrong and they’re both right. It all depends on your interest level, taste, and what you’re exposed to. I whole-heartedly do not believe that all the best tunes have been written. Every year I hear more new stuff that blows the theory out of the water. Not a huge amount, but enough to keep the faith. More often I’m hearing music that is outstanding within one particular facet of its production – production versus music versus lyrics versus performance. You can drill further down if you want. But if two or three of those aspects are of a high calibre, you’re getting somewhere. It’s a search that still holds my interest because when the listening payoff does come, it’s so worthwhile.
I’ve been involved in music myself for a long time, but I’ve always been a huge consumer. Obsessive even. More a fan than anything. But more than ever before, I find that most people don’t listen to music, they listen for an energy of some kind that aligns with their outlook. That seems to be enough for most people. But not for me. I need that great lyric, or that killer melody or chord sequence, or just a record that’s so damn good it makes you think “What the #!+% was that?”. And I think many other people still do too, whether they know it or not.
In addition to reviews, with this column I have the perfect excuse to find those nuggets and chuck ‘em at you to see what you think. It only takes one great song to turn your day around and send you down a rabbit hole you otherwise might not have known existed.
6:33 – Deadly Scenes (Rock/Multi-genre/France) (Kaotoxin)
Anything goes today. And in the case of France’s 6:33, everything goes, often all at the same time. If you’re a restless channel-changer and remote-hogger, Deadly Scenes will give your fingers a chance to relax, as all the work is done for you. 6:33’s unrelenting idiom-hopping constantly pulls the rug out from under you. Just when you’re settling into a particular song section, bam! – you’re jolted into another atmosphere before you’ve released the carbon-dioxide generated from the last. This music beautifully defies easy categorisation, but the group do often return to a kind of half-metal base with recurring biblical lyrical overtones which cause me to be uncertain about whether they’re pulling my leg or not. The 13-minute title track with its spoken introduction, reminiscent of USA comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre, is posted below for your total confusion. After a couple of listens to it, I’m veering towards being convinced of 6:33’s religious sincerity. The lyrics are ambiguous at best. The tireless scene-changing, fluent playing and colourful harmonic moves are entertaining enough. I’m not sure I could keep up with the added responsibility of following story or narrative, which certainly wouldn’t be inappropriate in this theatrical music. It’s cheesy or mind-blowing depending on your taste – a thoroughly post-modernist exercise in restlessness. No style is safe from their boundless search for a place to land. Visually they do a light version of the mask thing already so patently reserved for Slipknot, but 6:33 can be forgiven for that. They don’t appear to take themselves too seriously. Even if you like them, you’ll find yourself forgiving them for some number of crossed lines and sinful offences. Thankfully, pretension isn’t one of them. A-
SOUTHERN TENANT FOLK UNION – The Chuck Norris Project (Folk/Bluegrass/Scotland) (Johnny Rock)
Named after the Southern Tenant Farmers Union founded in 1930s Arkansas, this Edinburgh-based outfit carry their political tales on a beautifully-recorded bed of percussion, double bass, acoustic guitar and banjo, augmented by mandolin, strings and clarinet. Folk/Bluegrass is far too easy a tag. Also evident are jazz and blues influences and even an atmosphere of dissonant 20th century European art music ala French bi-tonal god, Darius Milhaud. But the music flows naturally, totally uncontrived, at least instrumentally. The lyric construction falls a tad short of the high prosody standards of the greatest folk song-writing, but I’m splitting hairs. The musicianship is always tasteful and understated, with the group holding back any hint of a hootenanny until the penultimate track ‘Invasion USA’. It’s about the songs, or should I say compositions, themselves. Clearly the players are capable of rendering whatever virtuosity they wish. A-
ACHIM SEIFERT PROJECT – …Noticed My Heart (Jazz/Fusion/Germany) (Art Of Groove)
I dislike labels. Not record labels, genre labels. At one time we had a manageable amount to use for necessary reference – rock, jazz, country, Tuvan drinking madrigals, whatever. It’s the same as when you need to say the word ‘table’ in order to communicate the idea of a table. Sure, there’s no way around it. Tables are fine and labels were fine until we fell into the ridiculous quicksand cluster#*!% of genre labels that we struggle to climb out of today. In the late ‘60s, the musical melding of jazz with rock rhythms was such a development that it required a name – fusion. But that word could refer to anything. I prefer the more specific jazz/rock, regardless of the eight or nine other labels bestowed upon Noticed My Heart, sometimes simultaneously, by internet CD salesmen desperate to pigeonhole correctly. In the end it’s just music, instrumental in fact, and a fine example of it you’ll find on this offering by German bass lecturer, Achim Seifert. These intricate melodic heads turn with the same grace as the best recorded compositions of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. The solos reach their conclusions with virtuosic ease and the grooves ride the pocket like a horny surfer dying to get to shore. If I wanted to quibble, I’d mention an intonation issue in the saxophone at times, mostly noticeable with the harmoniser effect used on ‘Overdue’, but I can live with it. Hold back a little on the Fender Rhodes distortion too and all would be close to perfect. A-
CHRIS SPEDDING – Joyland (Rock/England) (Cleopatra)
What I thought was going to be a theatrical outing after the opening title track’s quite superb beat poetry courtesy of actor Ian McShane, moved into straight-out classic rock mode on the following ‘Now You See It’ which highlights the fiery grandeur of vocalist Arthur Brown. Man, that guy can still raise the roof. British guitar institution Chris Spedding shares much of the limelight on Joyland, giving us a swampy Bryan Ferry on ‘Gun Shaft City’, and Glenn Matlock and Johnny Marr respectively on not one but two seeming Shadows homages, ‘Cafe Racer’ and the superior ‘Heisenberg’. Melding the whole thing are Spedding’s beautiful guitar tones, in places jogging memories of his work on Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War Of The Worlds. The guests keep coming, including rockabilly rocker Robert Gordon, Andy Fraser, and not to mention ‘Man Ray, Michaelangelo and me’. What a treat. B+
POND – Man It Feels Like Space Again (Psychedelic Rock/Australia) (Modular)
Universal Music’s trippylicious description of Man It Feels Like Space Again coupled with the album cover’s retro-cartoon gorgeousness seduced this too-late-to-be-a-hippie Gen-Xer into expecting nothing less than an absolute consciousness-expanding mind%!*# of a record. I was open, man. I was ready. The first cut ‘Waiting Around For Grace’ started out that way for sure, but over the course of the nine tracks I became increasingly underwhelmed. Colours were not swirling around the room – I just wasn’t diggin’ it, man, and I was taught I should be diggin’ it while it’s happenin’. It wasn’t happenin’. Declining by the song, events plunged to their nadir with the appearance of ‘Medicine Hat’ and its acoustic guitar seemingly transferred from a hiss-laden lo-fi home recording. Elsewhere, attractive harmonic bodies regretfully carried guitar tones often shabbily dressed and sonically painful. Fortunately, the adventurous eight-minute closing title track showed moments of brilliance (like the funky groove entering at 3m:16s), but ultimately lack of interest upkeep caused the lengthy song to meander. To sum up, the message communication that much original-era psychedelic rock demonstrated, was sadly neglected here, and with little in the way of just plain jamming to take up the slack, Man It Feels Like Space Again didn’t step up to the concept as a whole. A noble idea that didn’t quite come off. I was bummed out. B-
MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY – Maximum Entropy (Electro/Dream pop/England) (Lost Balloon)
I’m hearing a lot of this kind of thing – Mountains of synthesizer beneath whispery vocals that barely break a sweat, often with the chorus vocal melody being taken up in octaves overtaken in a swirl of digital reverb. In this album’s favour, the backing tracks are ripe for hook-laden hits to be plonked on top of them. For example, the second track, ‘Entropy’, begins with some promising moves indeed, but the song itself doesn’t develop and the voice is distorted beyond all lyric-recognition anyway. The rest of the album plays out to demonstrate more of the same. This practice is tantamount to treating songs like black sheep, or worse, not even considering them, and favouring the pro and post-production tricks. This can only lead to the over-production of one thing, mediocrity. But few appear to bust through that glass ceiling anymore. Man Without Country are capable of more than this if they could just get their heads out of the tech a bit and work the songs more beforehand. They have the chops for their chosen field, but Maximum Entropy lacks the required song substance to match its radio-ready music beds. C+
DAVID BRONSON – Questions (Singer/Songwriter/USA) (Big Arc)
Note to self: Don’t research anything. Why? Because I might see stuff that’s untrue, like someone comparing David Bronson’s music to Dark Side Of The Moon or David Bowie. Questions does include long-time Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar, but if you didn’t already know it, you wouldn’t be able to tell from listening. So that’s where the similarity ends. In reality this is more pop/folk fare with an air of Christian rock about it. The secular lyrics are searching for answers but not from a deity. Some songs have a kind of sermon-on-the-mount feel like the arch form of ‘My Good Friend’ that builds up to one big but not particularly hooky chorus, then fizzles out. Questions as a whole never really takes off and there are little-to-no musical surprises or even interesting off-road excursions. Neither are there any answers to these questions other than the ultimate revealer, ‘Just keep looking and you will find’. Of course! (Slaps head). C