Archive for the ‘Music Review’ Tag

The Spacelords – Liquid Sun   Leave a comment

Looking over previous entries, one could draw the conclusion that I don’t have much use for contemporary music. Or, at least contemporary artists & their latest releases. The older I get, the less time I have for exploring Vast Musical Horizons. And as Roger Daltrey has recently informed us, Rock is dead. Most of my Musical Exploratory Time is now spent with Jazz & Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, almost exclusively in the 50-year span of 1925-1975 (A typical trajectory for any music fan who started out on Rock ‘n’ Roll and is still actively listening to music when they hit Middle Age).

Back on the beam…

Hailing from Germany, The Spacelords are a contemporary blend of some of elements that fuel the Stoner / Space Rock genres. Liquid Sun is their second outing, and a huge step forward from their debut, Synapse. About that…

Give Synapse a listen. While the first half of the record sounds like they are still figuring it out, the second half totally clicks. The biggest problem with Synapse is a poor mix.

Liquid Sun is quite simply The Goods, All That And A Bag Of Crisps, etc. The three tracks take their time building (TRT for the record is about 44 minutes), and the influences are seemingly obvious: Hawkwind, Robin Trower, a sprinkling of early Tangerine Dream. The contemporary comparison that is perhaps a better fit is that Liquid Sun feels a lot like a later period Mermen release.

Thankfully, The Spacelords can be found docked this side of the L-5 point:

Posted 2016/11/25 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Tangerine Dream SACDs (five different ones)

(Some of this is my jabber, re-worked, from the comments section on another site…)

I like having playback gear that is revealing, but not annoyingly revealing. I like hearing recordings where people think they are getting away with something: Chatter they think the band will drowned out or performance and mixing mistakes they think no one will notice. While this small stuff may be just that, it is (in part) what makes recordings human.

And that is one of the things I like so much about the vintage TD releases: They are quite human. Talking about TD and their Human Condition reminds me of a shitty, pseudo-pithy review in the Rolling Stone Record Guide (The original Red book) of one of the TD records on Virgin. It went something like, “Music for people who want to grow up to be a synthesizer.” If whoever wrote that review is reading this… pound sand. Not only are you wrong, you are not especially good at it. I’ll cop low, and simply invoke Lester Bangs’ name here. He’s swingin’ somewhere out near the L-5 point and pissing on your head, you just don’t know it. Back on the beam…

As the 1960s came to a close (and musically imploded), TD unleashed their debut, the first of the four records on the Ohr label that make up the “Pink” years. Their four years at Ohr had them progress from Electronic Music Art Brut to sprawling, side-long inner-Space Music epics.

TD’s fourth release, Atem, got a lot of exposure thanks to John Peel making it his pick for Record Of The Year. That lead to Virgin Records signing TD to a five-year contract, bringing the Pink Years to a close. One thing that continued into the Virgin era was some stability: Atem was the debut of the Froese/Franke/Baumann line-up.

About a year ago, the first four Virgin releases (Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear) were re-released in Japan as Super Hard Material Super Audio Compact Disc (SHM-SACD). Since they are Japanese imports, expect to pay about USD$35 per disc (plus shipping). Also, these are not hybrid discs: They will work only with an SACD player. And so…

Phaedra shows TD crawling out of the primordial soup, and starting to walk upright. Sequencer driven, there is a lot more structure and direction, and a lot less “sprawl” than previously. That said, the structure is both dense and thick in places. It indeed sounds like 1974.

Rubycon was a huge step forward, both sonically and materially. A cornerstone record, one can hear the group gain further understanding of the things they are creating, and thus better control, of their sequencers and other instruments. There are parts of Rubycon that TD continued to refer back to and explore (and lift), as much as a decade later. Rubycon was the record that really put them on the map, and deservedly so. However, the beginning of Side 2 is still tedious…

Ricochet is their first live album and something of a step back. Compiled from UK and France shows in ’75, it has been referred to as “plodding” by some. I would have to disagree, and suspect that view comes from comparing it to the the previous release (Rubycon). That comparison lacks context: With a live gig they are limited to the gear at hand, without the benefit of studio support to help add controlled layers of… stuff.

Stratosfear is easily the sonic superior of the lot. Compositionally, I think it is the weakest of the four. I don’t have a problem with the move to less-than-side-long-epics, but they do have to be done well.

Stratosfear is indeed music they needed to make. It is a huge, evolutionary step forward that shows TD getting the equipment further sorted out. While Stratosfear lays the groundwork for the remainder of their stay at Virgin Records, listening to it, it plays as merely a stepping stone to future greatness. Simply, I just don’t find it all that compelling.

In the title, I refer to “five different ones.” In 2001, Virgin Records re-issued Rubycon on SACD. I managed to track one down a few years later via mail order from Canada, and at the original price. The 2001 release is also a single layer disc, so, it will not work with a regular CD player.

The comparison of the two re-issues is one of subtleties. Of the two, the 2001 release definitely sounds more analog.  Any problems strike me as the result of a more “hands off” mastering approach then vs. now. In other words, we hear old mistakes, not new ones.

The 2015 release has a little more detail, and when A-Bd with the 2001, it sounds like a veil has been lifted. But, it also sounds a tad juiced. Specifically, like a little compression has been added, along with a few instances of levels running a little too hot. Also, it sounds like some tape damage has crept in over the ensuing 15 years.

If you don’t have both versions of Rubycon to compare, you will probably be happy with either one. In comparison, the 2001 release is the better of the two. However, I wouldn’t spend more than what the current issue costs to secure one.

(and so)

To put them in some sort of best-to-worst ranking, and because context can be everything…

Sonically: Stratosfear, Rubycon, Ricochet, Phaedra

As a record collector / casual fan: Rubycon, Ricochet, Phaedra, Stratosfear

As more of a bog-standard TD fan: Rubycon, Stratosfear, Ricochet, Phaedra

My preference: Phaedra and Ricochet (tied), then Rubycon. Phaedra and Ricochet are two of my favorite TD records. I only bought this SACD of Stratosfear to review it.

Posted 2016/02/13 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Skip Spence – Oar

The only solo record from Skip Spence, a founding member of both the Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, Oar was recorded and mixed over a couple of weeks in December ’68 and released in February ’69. It promptly sank with barely a ripple. Greil Marcus (Rolling Stone magazine) dropped some ink about Oar seven months after its release, his article leading off with Oar’s inevitable slide into the Bargain Bins.

There were a lot of bad, external influences that helped Spence get to where he didn’t need to go, and prohibited him from getting what he needed. Being able to look back, his problems seem obvious. Spence had un-diagnosed mental issues, which he attempted to sort out the way a lot of people lacking the necessary bits do: Self-medication through the use of various drugs, including alcohol. Keith Moon and Syd Barrett are two of the Rock ‘n’ Roll set that immediately come to mind.

Eventually, Spence did get some real help. By then, however, too much damage had been done.

Just like the muted, harrowing, and limited output of another founding member (Syd Barrett) of another great band (Pink Floyd), listening to Oar sounds like the last chapter of someone at the end of their string, or the first chapter of that same someone moving on to something better. The perspective changes, depending on the weather, what side of the bed you got up on, was your morning cup alright, etc. Sometimes, while you are listening, Oar’s head changes in the middle of the song.

The era of the Compact Disc has been kind. Both of Barrett’s solo records have been re-released, augmented with extra tracks, and further complimented with Opel, another disc of two dozen previously unreleased tracks.

With Spence, there isn’t anywhere near as much to work with. Oar’s first appearance on CD didn’t happen until 1991, and barely at that. Released on Sony Music Special Products, whoever got the project green lighted must have had a little love in their heart(s). For the Sony re-issue, they went back to the original studio multi-tracks. Since the re-issue was for Compact Disc, LP side lengths were no longer seen as a constraint. With the Sony re-issue we can hear what was done both originally and completely, instead of what was settled for. Sony went further with their re-issue, and added five extra tracks.

In 1999, Oar was released on the Sundazed label. Sundazed used the mixed-down, 2-track masters, restoring the originally released Oar tracks to their original LP released form. Included are all five of the extra tracks from Sony’s ’91 release, along with an additional five minutes in the form of five previously unreleased tracks.

Like the Barrett records, with Oar you can hear Spence emptying the contents of his head. I think the strongest tracks include the record’s open, the oddly joyous Little Hands Clapping. War and Peace sounds like something that could have been on an early Pink Floyd LP yet to be recorded, while Weighted Down (The Prison Song) indeed sounds as described in the booklet from the Sundazed release: Johnny Cash sharing a barstool with Albert Camus.

Since I don’t want to get into a song-by-song rundown, I’ll end the talk of specific songs with this… The single most important bit of restoration is the end of the last song on the original release, Grey/Afro: Four and a half minutes were added in the form of “This Time He Has Come.” Maybe it was supposed to be a coda for Grey/Afro, or maybe it is simply the unfinished, rhythmic foundation for something that will never be.

While I think the Sony release is the way to go, both with regard to sound quality and version of the original record included, the Sundazed release sounds plenty fine (and unlike the Sony release, is currently available).

Frank Zappa – You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volumes 2 & 5   Leave a comment

The other two installments of the YCDTOSA series remasters I wanted to upgrade. Before some specific jabber about each one, the biggest point I want to get out is that neither of them suffer from the phase problem of Volume 1. And so…

Using a 1630 digital master from 1993, this version of Volume 2 is a sonic improvement over the original Ryko release. With an improved noise floor and a little more detail, this release allows more of the performance to come though.

Noteworthy tracks include the Tush Tush Tush open, Inca Roads, RDNZL, and Montana (which, along with a request for Whipping Post that Mr. Frank finally delivers on a decade later, we get to hear Ruth Underwood complain about the breakneck pace at the start).

It could be argued that there are some better overall performances to be had from ’74 (01 Oct. & 23 Nov. come to mind), the high points from this YCDTOSA installment definitely make it worth the ride.

The new Volume 5 is also using a 1630 digital master (from 1992). I don’t have my original Ryko issue to compare. Working from memory, the sonic quality of this version of Volume 5 is also a subtle improvement of the original. There are a lot of details with this new version that I don’t remember hearing previously.

Disc One (1965-1969) is a great bit of MOI anthropology, while Disc Two is devoted to the, er, riotous 1982 band, and includes the end of the Geneva show, where Mr. Frank pulled the plug because of stuff being thrown on stage.

So, the punch line: If you already own the original releases, and don’t really love ’em, the upgrade will be hard to justify. If you are new to the YCDTOSA series, I think (in order) Volumes 1, 5, and 2 make up the better half of the series.

Posted 2013/06/09 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1   Leave a comment

I’ve been slow putting this review up, because I wanted to be certain of what I was hearing. Not feeling compelled to completely re-invent the wheel, I’ll start off by quoting myself (with a few edits and overdubs) from a review of this record I wrote elsewhere, way back in late-September 2000:

This set works perfectly on a couple of different levels. As an introduction to the “non-serious” part of Frank’s World, it’s great. While it doesn’t have most of the “signature” tracks (Peaches, Montana, Dancin’ Fool, Valley Girl, etc.), it gives the needed depth and breadth that I find lacking on every compilation I have ever heard.

The Zappa catalog is both vast and varied. So how do you get the guitar playing, arranging, twisted humor, and maybe even a hint of the monstrous line-ups that Frank put together (again and again and again)? There isn’t a studio record that can do it, largely because so much of Frank’s reputation was built on his live shows…

You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1 is a two-disc, 15 year overview (1969-1984), ranging from on-the-road-between-show-conversation about vomiting on stage (The Florida Airport Tape) and on-stage rap about various health problems in the band (Diseases Of The Band), to sharing life on the road with groupies (The Groupie Routine, on a far better night than the Fillmore record).

And then there are the bands’ performances, the improvising, and Frank’s guitar work. On disc one, The Mammy Anthem is pure molten metal. Big Swifty is equal parts pulsing jazz track and other worldly guitar solo. The disc closes with a 20 minute version of Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow that includes an almost out of control audience participation segment that no other musician could ever hope to instigate, let alone pull off.

The highlights on disc two include an absolutely crushing 15 minute version of The Torture Never Stops (the original version on Zoot Allures is pretty darn great too). The three tracks taken from the 1981 Halloween Show (Dumb All Over > Heavenly Bank Account > Suicide Chump) are over the top. They rock, they swing, they make you laugh, and it’s all political.

Another facet of Frank’s World is Social Critic. If you’re easily offended, this may not be the set for you. He gives The Church a pretty thorough hosing. There’s “raw” language and sexual references throughout. So there, you’ve been warned.

As an introduction, this set might be a little much. Again, I think it does a better job than any compilation to date (sorry Gail). This set is an absolute must for any fan of Frank Zappa’s rock music.

No, you can’t do this on stage anymore. And that is a crying shame.

Not everyone is going to hear The Problem, but, those of you listening through better than average equipment may find the sound stage a bit weird, and the mix blown out. That’s because the discs were mastered, lacking a better term, out of phase. If you don’t have a phase/polarity switch on your rig, rip the CDs to your computer, and use something like Audacity to invert the sign wave of the tracks. Save the changes, and playback/burn/etc. as normal.

I did an A/B comparison, using the new, reissued tracks (with signwave flippage) against my original Ryko discs. The corrected tracks sound better, but only by the slimmest of margins. There is a bit better definition across the curve: Bottom and top have a bit more presence, and the decay/roll off at the top sounds a bit better.

You might file this next rap under: You kids get off my lawn… While it is to be applauded from a technical, can-do perspective, I don’t like the removal of the tape hiss, and the overall lower noise floor on the new reissue. It’s really disorienting to go from a small club date in ’69 to a stadium gig in ’82 and not have all the usual secondary audio cues that make analog audio tape such a wonderful medium of expression. There are a couple more of the YCDTOSA sets I want to pick up, hopefully, with no “digital sine wave inversion” to deal with.

Posted 2013/05/08 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – The Perfect Stranger   Leave a comment

1984 was a year where it could be said that we lived in interesting times. Reagan was in power, and his dementia had not yet taken a firm hold (sure, he was sending US military units to Central America on 87-day rotations, so he could get around the War Powers Act of 1973. it’s all relative.). The War On The Not Rich had not ramped up completely.

And Art was being made. Mr. Frank had been a busy, busy muso. The Perfect Stranger, a half orchestral, half electronic record, showed up in August; Them Or Us, a 2-record set of the rock-ish persuasion was released in October; The 3-record beast we know as Thing Fish (one of the most fiendishly brilliant records in his catalog), and Francesco Zappa (no relation), a whole record of 18th Century chamber pieces played on Synclavier, showed up in November.

Fittingly, in December, one of the best movie adaptations of a book (Nineteen Eighty-Four), went into release in the US. By Christmas, I was ready for a nap.

As a genre, I think Frank’s “Serious Music” is the weakest. Typically, the pieces suffer from not having a movie to go along with them. Lacking a better phrase, you can really hear the holes in the composition.

One exception is The Perfect Stranger release. The three “serious” pieces (The title track, Naval Aviation In Art?, and Dupree’s Paradise), all sound fully formed.

Being an Electronic Music listener, I’ve never had much of a problem with Frank’s Synclavier work. The four tracks that make up the rest of The Perfect Stranger are all very strong, with Jonestown being (still) one of the most haunting pieces of music I have ever heard.

I like this record so much, I went against my (till now) rule of picking up re-issues using analog masters only (The Perfect Stranger is using a 1630 digital master from 1993).

The downside on this record has always been sonically: The noticeably muffled / a little soft quality to the orchestral pieces. Happy that this re-issue sounded a bit better than the previous two CD releases, my happy moved on to ecstatic when I ripped the CD to Hard Drive for playback: big improvements in the subtleties (air, decay, and still more soundstage).

And there’s the cover art: Donald Roller Wilson’s excellent painting on the front, with a picture of Pierre Boulez and his amazing comb-over for the B-side.

If you want to hear what Frank’s non-rock band stuff is about, The Perfect Stranger makes for great, one-stop shopping.

Posted 2012/10/18 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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Frank Zappa – Tinseltown Rebellion   Leave a comment

One of my favorite live (with a lot of overdubs) records from Mr. Frank, The new re-issue of Tinseltown is using the original analog master, making it the best of the three CD versions I’ve heard. While there are a number of tracks on this record that could easily get the misogyny tag, some of it (notably, Panty Rap) is pretty damn funny. When people play along, how wrong can it really be?

Excellent vocals abound. The layering in Fine Girl (a studio track, so radio stations would have something they could play), and Bob Harris’ lead on Love Of My Life are fantastic.

The band does not disappoint. Standouts include Bamboozled By Love; Peaches III (a really cool version of Peaches (En Regalia)); A raging, updated pass at Brown Shoes Don’t Make It; and Frank’s love letter to LA, Tinsel Town Rebellion. I’ve never found out why it is spelled different from the album title. Dig in.

Posted 2012/10/18 by MG Nagy in Uncategorized

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