Friday, March 29, 2013

El Alien's new wave dispensation: ABOUT TIME by New York Gong


I saw this one languishing in the bins at a local shop over my past few visits and decided to roll the dice, being a fan of the few Gong LP's I've owned. Glad I did, while sounding nothing like Gong it delivers some weird 'n' wonderful stuff on a totally different stream. About Time is a meeting between pot-head pixie originator Daevid Allen, the lone Gongster on board, and the musicians that would end up forming the band Material - two worlds colliding on the streets of NYC, 1979. 
About Time opens with El Alien Allen transmitting over a bed of band-generated radio static / electric bleeps and blurps, "Preface" establishing the NYG modus operandi of Allen oration set amidst a claustrophobic cityscape realized in the distorted washes of guitar and crumbling funk riffs of the proto-Material crew. We're launched into the album proper via the one-two combo of "Much Too Old" and "Black September," two driving slices of clanging fuzz and clockwork rhythm, Allen finding himself a fish out of water in this "punk rock city" on the verge of apocalypse. The instrumental "Materialism" splits side one with an exploration of brooding grooves and tinnitus buzz. "Strong Woman" slows things down with it's snaky guitar riff soaked in a watery chorus effect, percussion and heavily echoed vocals adding an Eastern touch. The jerky, stop and go "I Am a Freud" closes side one with a short burst of scattered melodicism, an infectious side ender.

At nine minutes, "O My Photograph" stretches out with Laswell working a circular bass riff like a mad robot repeating the same command into oblivion, set against the muted mechanization of Allen's "gliss guitar," the track trailing off into an eerie slide led jam (listen for a sloppy edit) as the tension mounts then drifts into the ether. "Jungle Window" has Allen in ren-fair rapper mode, a squashed goose sax and some up front elastic/flatulent bass combining for the album's funkiest track. The final tune "Hours Gone" opens at the bottom of a drainage pipe, quivering pinpricks of guitar falling around the narrator before an insistent bassline and wordless backing vocals drag him out into the sun, the album wrapping up with a return to the droning rock of it's origin.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A hot and windy August afternoon with "The Analog Kid"

One of the highlights of Rush's 2012 Clockwork Angels tour (set to resume this Spring) was the return of "The Analog Kid" to the band's set, lifted from 1982's Signals. After orbiting around the futuristic/fantasy worlds and side-long excursions of albums like 2112 and Hemispheres, by the eighties the starship Rush had landed back on earth and would release throughout the decade what is for me their best, most enduring material. "The Analog Kid" stands tall on an album I personally rate at the top of the band's extensive discography. As on many tracks from this era, lyricist/drummer Neil Peart explores real world ideas that would resonate with the band's core fan base of middletown dreamers, while the trio's instrumental work was at it's most dexterous and dynamic, with new colors and shades being explored via an increased use of synthesizers.

"The Analog Kid" explodes out of the gate with a rolling major key guitar and bass riff that establishes a hurried sense of momentum - and if you're like me, you're instantly transported back to pedaling the wheels of your Huffy BMX through the streets of Signals' mid-eighties suburban landscape. "The Analog Kid" stirs up memories of the energy of youth, the particular type of freedom it offers, and the unknowable future that lies beyond. Come chorus time a luminous vista born of synthesized voices emerges, the wide-eyed Kid reflecting on his natural surroundings while longing for the lights of the city. The track's extended finale takes on a more urgent tone, reflected in it's ringing minor chords and uncertainty in the lyrics - "when I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find, and when I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind." An abrupt break leaves only the sound of a rapid sequencer humming in the foreground - Signals' electronic heartbeat at work - before Alex Lifeson's guitar solo swoops in on a whammy dive and unleashes a whirlwind of thorny, squealing shreddage.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's just a question of style: a visit to FUTURAMA


While 1974’s debut Axe Victim impresses with its solid tunesmitherry and blazing guitarage, it’s Futurama that feels more like the true stylistic nucleoid of Bill Nelson’s perpetual vinyl discount binners Be-Bop Deluxe. The glittery Ziggy vibe that casts much of Victim as a late to the party Bowie bandwagon jumper (having Nelson and crew done up in full glam regalia on the back cover doesn’t help) has fallen by the wayside, as has the rest of BBD with Nelson now and always joined by core Be-Boppers Charlie Tumahai (bass) and Simon Fox (drums). On Futurama Nelson’s erotomantic imagery provides a window to the soul of the man/child, but it’s the massed torrent of guitars, layered with the assistance of Roy Thomas Baker (the same guy who helped stack six strings for Queen) that at once delights and deranges the senses and sends Futurama’s manic quotient into the red. The songs and arrangements are accordingly often scattered assemblages of ideas held together by only sheer force of momentum, nevertheless hooks arise aplenty should one brave the firestorm that delivers them.

Awash in floodlights and lasers, “Stage Whispers” blows open the doors to Futurama in grand style, guitars galloping, sighing, then stomping to quasi-Latin beats as Nelson strokes his musical “muse in the moon” and reassures it of his intentions: “The great deception is not my achievement.” The ballad “Love With the Madman” eases in with piano and synthi-strings before flowering into full bombast and sets up nicely the album’s UK bottom of the top-40 scraping single, “Maid in Heaven.” The love on the run themed “Maid in Heaven” burns brightly over its 45-rpm friendly running time, liquid lead lines and crunchy rhythms meshing with some sweet “wooo-ooo’s” come sunrise, though it’s the perfect pause found in those multi-tracked muted string strikes that gets me every time.

“Sister Seagull” takes flight on BBD’s brand of blues, one that eschews whiskey and cigarettes for embalming fluid and electrodes before Futurama’s Side-Closing Epic #1 arrives in “Sound Track.” Filled with weird aeronautic imagery, the rolling electric piano lines and ever-ascending guitars lend an optimistic tone, while the gong and guitar-armada outro to the track finds Nelson in Icarus mode as he shreds his way into the sun.

Side two commences with the jaunty “Music in Dreamland.” Sporting a piano and keyboard line that could have bounced forth from the hands of Benny Andersson, the addition of a brass band pushes this one toward arty-pop territory, though Nelson delivers some frenzied, echo-trailed licks during the track’s minor keyed coda. With “Jean Cocteau” the mood changes entirely, light percussion and guest upright bassist Andy Evans joining Jobim-inspired acoustics for an ode to the artiste.

Side Closing Epic #2 commences with “Between the Worlds,” a frantically realized sonic sprint portraying Nelson as an intergalactic/vampiric gigolo dishing out such necromantic come-ons as “I know my way round your throat like a knife…” all while an electric symphony of axe-ageddon explodes around you. Via a bridge of more rebounding guitar lines we land immediately in “Swan Song,” Nelson still feeling the steam of the previous track as one half of a “Siamese twin in ecstasy,” he delivers Futurama’s finale blanketed in phase and backward-tracked guitar with a spotlit, thespian performance befitting the songs dramatic mood swings and abrupt ending.