HERBIE HANCOCK – Head Hunters (1973)

Review by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

File it under Jazz I Like. Oh, did I mention yet I like it very much? File it under jazz I Like Very Much.

Not just jazz actually. Jazz Fusion. But let’s not pick nits. Or fuck ants; as the Dutch expression goes.

Oh, OK, file it under jazz fusion I like very much, if you like. It’s a kind of jazz, isn’t it?

Under the shower I listen to classical musical. That’s good for the hygiene; physical as well as mental. And every once in a while, quite often in fact, I hear some piece of music that is if not exactly a piece of shit then at least a piece of music that does not exactly turn me on. Gives me chagrin. Usually the announcer tells me it’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when it is finally finished.

In the 80’s there was a movie about Mozart called Amadeus. In It young Wolfgang encounters a monarch who tells him he doesn’t like the music because it contains “too many notes”. To which the composer replies, very wittily, “Which notes exactly would you like me to remove, Sire?”.

Still, I think that was a wise king. Or at least he made a valid observation.

I don’t hate Mozart. In fact I love his Requiem. Very much. Fact is however that he wrote an awful lot of music that leaves me totally cold. Pieces that to my uneducated ears sound like futile exercises in cleverness. Aptitude tests. Series of meaningless notes that do not resonate with me at all.

My attitude towards jazz is somewhat the same. While I respect the tradition and the musicians and I’m fond of the mythos of the story of jazz the music is often boring or, worse, annoying, to my ears. All these bloody notes! Solo’s! All this emphasis on prowess. Chops! A very childish word: “chops”.

The same issue I have with some more technically inclined progbands. Trying to impress me. Well. Liberace had chops too.

Noodling. There’s some noodling I like but that’s more an exception than a rule. I don’t mind Jimi Hendrix’ and Miles Davis’ noodling at all. I like Fripping to some extent and was shocked to discover a couple of weeks ago that I actually liked one of those Yes albums, can’t remember which one. But that had a lot to do with the bass parts. (Definitely not with the singing.) Neil Young can noodle into my ear anytime. But I don’t know if that has anything to do with chops. Him and his old black sounding like a shot and leaking can of paint that comes tumbling down the slope in the morning. In these cases it’s the tone and the colour that I love.

But generally speaking I’m not fond of noodling.

Also I have this prejudice that jazz fans often have unpleasant, snobbish and presumptuous attitudes. But that’s not exclusive for jazz. Classical people can be very condescending as well. And maybe I ought to stick my hand in my own bosom. Could be I’m a poprocksnob.

Oh shit, I’m just reading the news that Lemmy has died. On the radio they’re playing the so called Top 2000 of All Time as voted by the Dutch public. I’ve just learned that my fellow countrymen think “We All Stand Together” is one the 2000 best songs ever made. No mentiön of Lemmy playing bass in the big hereafter, so far.

That makes me see red. I must be a snob.

I don’t want no sugar in my coffee.

So, I was just saying that a mild case of aversion to jazz because of the emphasis on virtuosity and solo’s and, more irrationally, because of the snobbishness associated with the genre.
Thus I frankly steered mostly clear of the genre, with a few exceptions like Miles Davis, whose tone I love (especially on Sketches of Spain) and vocal jazz like Billie Holiday. & I have an album by one Sydney Bechet that I like for some reason.

I was scared upon learning that I had to review a jazz album. Well OK, a jazz fusion album if you like. Headhunters by Herbie Hancock. Fear of noodling.

Then I put on the thing.

And it was a relief. I was fine & unharmed.

Of course, I could have known that I was gonna be alright with Hancock. So far I know only one piece of him, Rockit, – the jazz / hip hop fusion thing- , and I did like it.

What have we here? A very influential jazz fusion album. Referenced, listed, sampled a lot of times. Fuses jazz and funk and some African rhythms. It uses a lot of keyboards (clavinet and analogue synths mainly), saxophone and other wind instruments, various percussion instruments and it has fabulous basslines. No vocals.

Chameleon, the first track starts off with a really fat synthesizer bass line and it is very funky. An equally fat and pleasant keyboard sound is applied and there are a couple of breaks in the piece where the synthesizer sounds as if a space ship is landing. Or taking off. No, on second thought it is definitely landing. However, the bass, alternately synthesizer and conventional electric rules. By the way, according to Wikipedia there are no guitars on Headhunters but do I hear two rhythm guitar parts on Chameleon?

Somewhat more laidback, but still very danceable is Watermelon Man, the second track which happens to open with the coolest thing on the whole record, a rhythmic whistling pattern that’s played on beer bottles. (At first I thought it were flutes and was amazed that I liked it because the flute is the instrument I love least and dread most. It sounds wet, breathy, breathless, shrill and panicky. I always fear that a big lump of saliva will fly into my ear. Or worse. I don’t want no flutepersons climaxing near me. Most unsavory alas.) (But it turns out they’re not flutes after all.) Anyway: nice!

The third piece, Sly, is the one I have the most problems with. It starts out promising enough wih a beautifully fluid melody line but then it turns into a very frantic jazzy drum based piece which doesn’t have a memorable hook and is mostly given over to, yes, a lot of soloing on various instruments. I don’t abhor it and now that I hear it for the third time I’m getting used to it a little bit. Still I could do without the solo’s. Not my favorite.

Vein Melter, the 4th track is. Very evocative name by the way, especially when you read it in and think it is German which I mistakenly did at first. I have no idea what or who Vein Melter is in German but I would like to. Don’t know what is meant by it in English. Vein Melter is simply beautiful. It has a slow march tempo and it sounds mellow, sinister, introspective and lyrical at the same time. Once again it has a great bass line.

Probably many people assess new music by way of association with music that’s already known to them. At least I do. I can hear a lot of echoes of Headhunters in post-punk music without being able to quite put my finger on it where it’s influences show exactly. A Certain Ratio? Shriekback? Maybe I will find out tomorrow.

If it’s intention of this most alas game to spread new good music among the participants then in this case the goal is achieved. As I said before, I like it a lot. I consider a purchase.
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JETHRO TULL – The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)

Review by: Jeremiah Methven
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Rating: 7/10
Best Song: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

First off, I must admit that the Christmas album is not really my preferred genre of music. Sure, the basic Christmas canon has some strong melodies, but there are only so many times I can hear the same piece of music before it starts to become tiresome. What I’m generally looking for in music are original and unique ideas, not minor variations of the same old thing. 

Fortunately reviewers with similar biases as mine still praised this particular album, which gave me hope that Jethro Tull’s Christmas experience would be the exception to the rule. And overall, I have to say that it is! On first listen to the album, I was immediately captivated by the opening flute/guitar riff to “Birthday Card at Christmas” and knew I was in for a rare treat – an original and engaging song that still maintains a clear Christmas atmosphere. Indeed, the combination of Ian Anderson’s flute and Martin Barre’s guitar sets the appropriate classical Christmas vibe throughout, and combine that with the strength of the tracklist – originals, reworkings of past Tull songs, and some more traditional Christmas instrumentals, and you get a Christmas album that actually stands up to immersive listening.

I also I admit I’m more of a Tull dabbler than acolyte, so several of the reworked tracks are new to me (e.g., the two ‘Christmas Songs,’ ‘Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow’) and I rather enjoy them. I also quite like the rearrangements of the songs I did already know (‘Weathercock,’ ‘Bouree’) as well as the new songs here. And since as a rule I’m inclined to dislike straight Christmas covers, I applaud Tull for managing to breathe new life into old chestnuts like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In fact, that particular track is probably the standout of the album with the variation and complexity of its arrangement worthy of any strong instrumental track, Christmas or no, – from flute intro to laidback guitar to piano solo to an almost-metal electric guitar riff. 

If there’s a flaw, it’s that the sound is pretty similar throughout, so I do find myself starting to fidget a bit by the time this hour of Tull Christmas music starts to wind down. And since it’s fairly limited in scope, it’s hard for me to rate it as ‘essential’ in the context of all rock albums. But overall, I would happily recommend it to anyone in the mood for a Christmas album and it’s certainly one of the best in its genre that I’ve ever heard.

This review is also posted on my personal review page.

THE VISIT – Through Darkness Into Light (2015)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Kevin O’Meara

This album is to metal what Sparks’ Lil Beethoven is to electronic music.

Or at least that’s the conclusion I — someone who hasn’t listened to much metal beyond Sabbath — have made after listening to a 55 minute long “metal” album with no guitars. The metal tag comes from the band’s bandcamp page, so know that I’m not making any assumptions here.

Purely in terms of form and structure, I can see how someone could argue that this is a metal album. Chugging guitars are replaced with cellos, but you can still recognise the music that they’re playing as distinctly metal — again I don’t know much about metal so take that with a grain of salt. 

Prior to listening to this album, I had been aware that some metal acts liked to mix a lot of baroque/orchestral passages into their songs, but I was under the impression that those passages would then eventually gave way to stereotypical metal fair. Here, however, the whole album seems to be one prolonged ornate passage, which really caught me off guard the first time I listened to it. Here I was thinking: “Ok, the guitars are definitely gonna come in now….ok now……now?” But they never did, and the album was a much more interesting and engaging “metal” album because of it.

To be completely fair, it might very well be that these kind of metal albums sans guitar and drums are common, and that the visit isn’t doing anything new. In that case, my opening statement is a lot of hyperbole from someone who doesn’t know shit about metal. But AS someone who doesn’t know shit about metal, Through Darkness Into Light was a pretty enlightening listen. 

MY LITTLE PONY FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC – It’s a Pony Kind of Christmas (2015)

Review by: Michael Strait
Album assigned by: Kyle Wilson

(A Review in the Form of Stream-of-Consciousness Notes)

Track 1: Six ponies. One choir. ALL AROUND THE WORLD OF EQUESTRIA – they don’t even HAVE Christmas in Equestria you FOOLS
Knowing that these songs don’t even have context only makes them worse tbh
IT’S SO GENERIC I CAN’T EVEN THINK OF ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT. Just such a generic musical number. Lush instrumentation, I guess – many strings, gently-plucked acoustic guitar, childish vocals… ay, who’s surprised. I wonder how many parents were subjected to this?

Track 2: OH GOD A ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR INTRO FOLLOWED BY PUNK GUITAR RIFFS. IN A RENDITION OF JINGLE BELLS. When I say “punk”, understand I mean – compared to this, Green Day is fucking Nails or Amebix. I know nothing about these characters but apparently they’re overexaggerated to make sure the children can recognise them without the visual cues. I wonder how many people have masturbated to this? OH SANTA EXISTS IN THIS WORLD, HOW SEXCELLENT

Track 3: Rarity! She’s the only one I know anything about. She’s the best pony according to my ignorant opinion. Oh hey this one is a folk song. A drum machine comes in though. How innovative! Rarity is something of a dangerous innovator in the ponyfolk scene, perhaps – inserting mechanisation into one of the most traditionally spontaneous forms of music. At least I think it’s a drum machine – could just be one dude barely playing a kick drum but oh well. A veritable David Tibet, this lady

Track 4: Genericsville again. Arranged like any bargain budget wannabe-Disney musical number. At least it’s teaching children the word “boutiques”, that’s a good service. Considering how much the opening medley sounded like this, I take it that Twilight Sparkle is the Thom Yorke of the lot, i.e every project she is involved in becomes essentially a solo project of her own with none of the other members having any significant creative input. I hope you all get burned alive

Track 5: As traditional a lullaby as there is. Not the worst vocalist of the lot. Has a decent vibrato. Fluttershy, this is. Absolutely no impression Fluttershy makes on me hmm. Oh, I wish that I could fall asleep and wake up happy, wake up happy… Double bass! JAZZ

Track 6: IS THAT A UKELELE. Of course it is. This bitch is clearly the mischievous little cunt of the lot. YUM!!! I’m about to go full Anakin in this motherfucker. Not even the Younglings will survive. YOU ARE RUINING MY APPRECIATION OF THE GLORY THAT IS RAVIOLI WITH YOUR ENDORSEMENT OF IT YOU PINK FUCKSHIT. THIS IS LITERALLY THE LONGEST SONG. A WHOLE 3.20 MINUTES. PROG ALERT. PINKIE PIE – BOLDLY BREAKING BARRIERS. Actually this song is insufferable at the best of times and I don’t care if that’s heresy. God, can’t I just be listening to Carly Rae Jepsen instead of this?

Track 7: A male appears! Are they considered inferior in this world? They don’t seem to come up a lot. I should mention that this appears to be an original tune – good on ‘em I guess. I don’t even know what genre I’d call this unique masterpiece. It’s got pianos, horns, and a guitar – it’s… is it ska? I don’t know much about ska. I love Madness, though. The Specials are reputed to be good as well but I keep not getting round to them.

Track 8: Another male! An even younger one. This is a jazz song. Oh good god, it actually IS a vocal jazz piece. Some child out there is listening to this RIGHT NOW and enjoying it – and hey, to each his own! Personally I’m gonna make sure my child listens to nothing but Kanye West and Merzbow HE’S SCATTING FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUKC
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Track 9: Auld Lang Syne. Scotland is underrated. Shortbread is gorgeous, bagpipes are beautiful, and this song has always been wonderful. Apple Jack sounds countrybred – is this the woman who was the protagonist of that poem featured as the final song on The Roots’ album “Things Fall Apart”, whose husband beat her up and called her “white trash” when he wasn’t busy drinking? Why is COUNTRY TRASH singing this SCOTTISH CLASSIC, that would be like getting some FILTHY WELSHIE to read a recital of THAT ONE AMERICAN FOLK STORY ABOUT A TIMESKIP AND NINEPINS

Track 10: More generic musical number stuff. It’s a choir. THE FINAL FRIENDSHIP IS REBORN. THIS. IS. THE. FINAL. BATTLEEEEEEEE
Do ponies know what Harsh Noise Wall is?
Loyalty binds us together. This is filthy right-wing monarchist talk. People are not nice. People are not loyal. Ponies maybe, but hey, we humans enslaved the pony race and use them now as transport and glue so look who wins

Final rating: In the Grim Darkness of the 41st Millennium, There is Only War/10

KATE BUSH – 50 Words For Snow (2011)

Review by: Eric Pember
Album assigned by: Jeremiah Methven


This is an album I feel like I can write an actual review for, as opposed to a Christgauian blurb.

Yes, I will be writing more than fifty words for 50 Words for Snow.

Before I go on, I must confess that I prefer Kate Bush when she was at least trying to be pop. She kinda went too far off the deep end after Hounds of Love for my tastes. This kinda continues that.

For the first two tracks, the lack of dynamics honestly kinda bored me. I don’t particularly need busyness, but I thought they were curiously minimalistic for such a dense sound. The dynamics, however, started kicking in with “Misty”. From there, I was able to start getting into this album.

I think this album is meant to have the feel of background music, but set you off guard and make you start feeling for it just when you start to think you can ignore it. She has a lot of imitators who try to do this stuff nowadays, but she is still the best at it by some distance.

The sheer grandeur of the album is quite awe-striking. I wouldn’t want to listen to it everyday, but it perfectly hits the spot when you’re in the mood for it. I definitely agree with Jaime that her continuing to follow her muse like this is quite admirable. I suspect that, when I’m his age, I will start to feel a serious need for this album in my life.

As of now, I personally prefer to listen to her older albums that combine this juxtaposition of elements with accessible poppiness. I can’t fault her for not doing that anymore, though. Her still trying to be a pop star at her age would honestly be fairly embarrassing, to say the least.

This is definitely an album I will need to come back to eventually, and I admire her ability to keep up her unique vision for as long as she has. 

WIRE – 154 (1979)

Review by: Jonathan Birch
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

As the opening chatter of guitars, the crash of drums, and the morosely leaden voice of a man who sounded like a cross between slightly less depressed Ian Curtis and a more animated Morrissey drifted from the car speakers, my father made a not unobvious remark: “Sounds a bit punk-ish”. And indeed, it seems the band Wire were riding the punk wave that had exploded only a few years earlier. Only this was post-punk, which means everything has more echo and self-loathing.
  
The chunky sounding guitars and crisply recorded drums and bass gives the record some soothing oomph, although the deadpan vocals can occasionally verge on the side of monotony. The opening number, “I Should Have Known Better,” begins to resemble the diatribe of a love-sick teenager scribbling forlornly in his diary, and the self-indulgent attempts at anti-music such as “The Other Window” only serve to make me seek a window to jump out of.

However, although the album (non-descriptively christened 154) was a bit hit and miss for me, the hits were certainly the high points in terms of the musical soundscapes that were created. “The 15th” almost sounds like a slice of 2000s indie/dance pop that could have been released recently and has nary aged except for some noticeably late-70’s synth notes. The chirping of guitars and ending chime of synthesizer creates an almost zen moment of relaxation. “Single K.O.” is a bouncy number with a particularly animated lead vocal and haunting background chants, making me want to don a leather jacket, shave my head, and go out looking for a pub fight.

Unfortunately, what follows was another dud for me, an entirely atmospheric mood piece of repetitive guitar groans, with a dose of tom tom drums that seemed to drag for an unneeded 7 minutes. The attempts at building a tense emotional despair was admirable, but ultimately reminded me of a less interesting Joy Division experiment. Still, props for the dedication. A “touching display” indeed.

More entertaining nonsense ensues, and I remained unimpressed by some feeble Krautrock imitations, until about halfway through “A Mutual Friend.” The song segues into the singer muttering something about the months of the year, backed by the relaxing caw of an English horn, before climaxing in the chanting of the line “He might replace the old with the moon” that seems to have a greater significance I can’t quite grasp. But goodness, is it unconventionally catchy. The song fades out of this reassuring note, and opens with another proto-indie/dance pop number, “Blessed State.” Although clearly Bowie influenced, this is something that one could easily picture The Strokes or The Shins playing. The guitar riffs have great forward energy, and the steady drum beat is toe-tappingly addictive to my replay button. Most successful, easily accessible, and probably my favorite song on the album.

Two more dirges commence, before my attention is once again captured by the “Single K.O.” twin, another energetic tune called “Map Ref. 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees West” that begins to morph into an anthem for the post-modern, with the lead vocalist subtly announcing “Chorus!” in lieu of the chorus. Very meta! The album then ends with two more industrial rock tracks, and 154 comes to a bittersweet end.

I have to say, for my first Wire experience, it was more intellectually enveloping than expected. The melodies are often eccentrically brilliant, and the hooks are subtle enough to make repeated listening a must. Indeed, I must have listened to the record at least four or five times to absorb most of the subtle nuances (albeit in fits and starts). While only half the number of songs appealed to me on an aesthetic level, I can safely say that anyone with interest in Goth Rock, Grunge, Progressive, Alternative, Metal, or angsty Punk in general will find something to cling to. It’s a tough unforgiving ride, but the influence 154 has had on the post-punk bands of the 80s is something that cannot be overlooked.

Final Verdict: 4.0/5

SLEEP RESEARCH FACILITY – Deep_Frieze (2007)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Michael Strait

This album sounds the way it looks. I needed a hot tea after listening to it:) This is dark ambient, and as with all ambient music, it’s somewhat difficult to discuss in specifics. There are no chord progressions, to say nothing of melodies or rhythms, on this album. There are, in fact, very few musical elements, in the traditional sense. Only occasionally does one hear an extended note or chord on a recognizable instrument, which fades in and out of the background. The roughly hour-long album is divided into 5 pieces, all titled after the latitude and longitude coordinates of places in Antarctica. Not having the liner notes I have no explanation, but I’m not sure if it would make much difference to the listening experience. The division into 5 tracks honestly seems arbitrary, because they entire album consists of a continuous wash of sounds which ever so slowly and subtly changes. The mood, as I suggested, is indeed icy and it doesn’t really vary from one track to another. There is no point in trying to give a track by track summary. Nothing “happens” in this music. 

Listening to this album I think it does very effectively elicit the stark beauty and forbidding and threatening vastness of Antarctica. Apparently on the inside of the booklet is the following text: …there is a certain comforting warmth in the encroaching slumber of hypothermia . This is DARK ambient after all 🙂

SRF is the creation of Kevin Doherty. Apparently Mr. Doherty intends his music to be sleep-conducive. It might be an interesting experiment to have this playing on repeat at a low volume while you sleep, but it might lead to some harrowing dreams. I’ve listened to it a few of times – the first time with headphones, and the next couple of times while reading. I don’t think the album stands up to repeated “active” listening but, as with any ambient music, perhaps the best way to approach this music is not to “actively” listen, but to let it wash over you as you go about your day, letting it draw your attention from time to time. This is intentionally “furniture music”, to use a term coined by Erik Satie. 

This is not an album that I am likely to go back to repeatedly, but it is an interesting listening experience, and I do think that it effectively achieves what it was meant to do, so THUMBS UP.

This review is also posted on Amazon: