SIR HARRY LAUDER – Roaming in the Gloaming (2013)

Review by: Schuyler L.
Album assigned by: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Sir Harry Lauder is a really happy sorta guy. He’s good at drinking whiskey and loves to wax nostalgic about Scotch lassies and purple heather (“more like ‘PUURRPLLEe HAAAAZZZZzzzee,’ am I right now, dads?”) and has a really exquisite talent for rolling his “r’s”… I do wonder, how did he earn his knightship? ? ? (insert more suggestive question marks here).

Regardless of this totally needless query posited to occupy typespace, I must say that to his credit, Lauder only tends to be at the very forefront of the record’s sound about 80% of the time, with another 10% consisting of somewhat forced, explosive laughter… which is all right, really, because that reminds me a bit of the musical accompaniment… somewhat forced!

I am not going to review this one track-by-track, nor even mention a single track at all. And there’s really no point to it, with something as self-apparent as this record, which is one of a slowly growing pool of centenarians. 

You see, the problem is that Sir Harry Lauder is to subtle abstraction as marble is to concrete. 

And by that, I do also mean that he’s really white.

This is the kind of music you play after your luck has taken a bad turn. Perhaps you’ve lost your job, or your wife has left you because of your fantasy sports addiction, or maybe you lost one of your brand new running sneakers in the escalator at work, because you just happened put your foot on the side of it, though you damn well know you shouldn’t do that, fucking asshole.

Because no matter what happens, you can still listen to Roaming in the Gloaming and say “Wow, how awesome it is that possibly on this very day, a hundred-and-something years ago, Sir Harry Lauder was totally getting off in Scotland!” 

DE KIFT – Vlaskoorts (1999)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann

De Kift is a band that plays a modern reconstruction of early 19th century cabaret music. All of these tunes seemed born from working class music halls during the turn of the 20th century, and then given a slight discordant modern touch with the odd arrangement or spoken word bit. It’s not too discordant to off shoot the old fashioned songs, but it’s enough to know that the musicians probably own a few Einsturzende Neubauten records. The question though is it any good? And that’s where we have a problem. 

I came to this record with multiple prejudices and inadequacies that hinder my enjoyment. One, It has taken me lots of repeated listenings to jazz, soul, and reggae records to not hate brass instruments. I come from America and the tradition of big brass bands playing in our sports is an endemic anachronism, and I find those old war marches a combination of quaint and shrill. Cabaret brass comes from a similar heritage and despite a bit of a jazz influence on this record, it still has that frumpy uptight feel. 

Two, I really hate accordions. I don’t know why exactly i’m turned off by them. Where i’m from, the accordion is super popular with Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, and perhaps some hidden racism or classism is afoot. It’s the main instrument in tejano music which is a combination of Mexican folk and German polka music. I’ve always loathed it, as well as polka music. Something about the rhythms just seem so sexless, and uptight. And polka is a hop skip and a jump from cabaret, or is literally a subgenre of it. I really don’t know much about European folk brass dance music. In my mind, Europe’s best musical invention was combining synthesizers and disco rhythms, and well, this is a long way from Giorgio Moroder. 

And last, I’m American. I speak one language. It’s ridiculous and limiting, I know, so the parts where spoken word poetry is happening, I tune out. It’s not melodic and I don’t understand what’s being spoken. I have hunch it’s political in some regard but i don’t know. The cleverness or beauty of the poetry is completely absent in my loathsome ignorance.

So I did not like this album, but I feel i have no real way to adequately critique it due to my prejudices. I will say that they didn’t go far enough beyond cabaret cliches to make me question my prejudices. I have heard some gypsy punk and dark cabaret groups that make me second guess my hatred of old European dance music. This just made me want to delete it from hard drive as soon as possible.

RED KRAYOLA – The Parable of Arable Land (1967)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Kunal Somaiya

This is one album I heard a lot about, but I actually never listened to it. Now I did, and I can inform you, dear reader, about the results.
A one line review would possibly read like this: “Psychedelic like The 13th Floor Elevators, but without the jug, and linking individual pieces by Free Form Freak-Outs, interludes that sound almost exactly like what they suggest”.
A four word review would read; “Garage rock in 1967”.
It is a challenging listen for several reasons:
·          The Free Form Freak-Outs, are not really composed, and not really music either. They remind me of parts of Lumpy Gravy or early Can
·         The actual songs, such as they are, are all of the droney persuasion and there is not a lot of variation in the 40+ minutes
·         Recording quality is pretty bad, even for 1967 standards, making it difficult to discern any (possible) subtleties.
For me as a dead head, the best way to approach it is like a 40 minute Dark Star: some recurring themes, some collective improvisation in the instrumental passages, sometimes moving into rather abstract territory, leaving the language of music (as if parts of What’s Become Of The Baby are inserted randomly).
“Pink Stainless Tail” is the most normal song, somewhat sounding like The Small Faces, with a more fuzzy bass. By the same token, the title song, “Parable Of Arable Land”, is the weirdest song, sounding somewhat like “Several Species Of Small Furry Animals” (off Ummagumma), working frantically in Brian’s “Smile Workshop”. “Former Reflections Enduring Doubt” is the best song, and a nice one to finish the album with.
Most likely this will not be anybody’s favorite 1967 record (and if it is, that’s quite worrying!), but on the other hand, this is really one of those records that make up the myth of 1967, even after all those years. It only belongs in a VERY comprehensive collection, I’d say.

EARTH AND FIRE – Song of the Marching Children (1971)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

This is an album by a prog(gish) Netherlands band called Earth and Fire. I say proggish because they are unusual for a prog band. Their sound, at least on this album, is more folkish and antiquated than the common definition of prog rock. They’re more like Jethro Tull than anything, and Tull was always sort of a white crow among the British and American prog bands of the time. Earth and Fire with its female vocalist (rare for any prog band) is maybe even more of a white crow.

The opening song is called “Carnival of the Animals.” It is about animals in the forest doing various animal things. My first impression was Jefferson Airplane. Lilting female vocals and a vaguely martial drumbeat. Both the words and the music set the theme for the rest of the album. Storybook lyrics, crisp drum rhythms, and prominent synthesizers dominate the songs. It is very much an album of its time. The synthesizers especially have that early 70s synth sound that was to change in a few years as synths became more advanced. The overall mood, to me, seems more 60s than 70s. There’s a sense of lost innocence and a yearning for a simpler and more natural world.

“Ebbtide” is an idyllic song about tides and gulls. It’s an interesting combination of watery synths, flute solos, random guitar licks, and an almost jazz-like rhythm background. It reminds me of another song, or a few other songs, that I can’t name at the moment. 

“Storm and Thunder” is reminiscent of early ELP, but with more baroque elements. The keyboards are more dominant here than on the other songs.

“In The Mountains” ventures into Pink Floyd territory. The lead guitar is slow and lilting, very much in the Gilmour style. The keyboard as well is more the art-rock of Rick Wright than anything by Emerson or Wakeman.

The closing multi-part suite “Song of the Marching Children” is an interesting piece. I’m not sure I get it, lyrically, but it seems to be about the endless legacy of war, which the human race seems like it will never entirely escape. It sounds like a lament for all the future generations that will have to send their youth off to fight. The very end confirms this idea … all the other instruments fade and there is only the relentless martial drumbeat, the endless march.

Overall impression — a mostly soothing and pleasant album, pretty on the ear, and with interesting moments here and there, but rarely rising above the level of basic prog-folk. Then again, maybe a little basic prog-folk is just what you’re in need of. Worth a listen or two, at any rate. 

The version I located on YouTube had bonus tracks. “Invitation” is the first of them, notable because it rocks a lot more than the original album tracks, so it’s an abrupt change of pace after the solemnity of the album. It’s different, and it’s quite good.  “Lost Forever” is another rocker among the bonus tracks, and it’s also quite good — slow and heavy and brutal, unlike the album. There’s some surprising guitarwork in it too, striking little arpeggio-moments that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song (!) although Iron Butterfly comes closer to describing the song in general (either way it’s a very metallic song). For me the highlights of this band are when they rock. They have a nice heavy sound when they rock, not unlike early Budgie, a band that I like a lot. There’s another new track called “Memories,” not quite as good as the other two, but worth a listen. There are also single versions of “Song For The Marching Children” (not “OF the Marching Children” for some reason) and “Storm and Thunder.” If you seek this album out, I’d recommend finding the version with the bonus tracks. To me Earth and Fire is at their most interesting when they rock.

IVY GREEN – Ivy Green (1990)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann

Note : I was one of the two or three people that asked for a good album to review, rather than a deliberately bad album, so this review will not be a “panning” per se. I thought maybe this was important to mention because nearly all of the other albums in this round were bad (at least in the opinion of the people who assigned them).

Ivy Green is a late 70s punk album by the band Ivy Green. It has most of the earmarks of early punk — short song lengths, simple chord structures played at a fast tempo, and clipped, snotty-sounding vocals where you can’t always make out the words but you know it’s something being repeated over and over. It’s very much a straightforward punk album from the days when punk was still new and exciting. The band does a competent job with it, as long as you don’t mind them borrowing from other bands left and right. You’ve heard all these songs before, even if they were different songs by different bands when you heard them. 

The Ramones influence is obvious from the very first song. As soon as you hear the chainsaw buzz of “I’m Sure We’re Gonna Make It” you know where these guys are coming from, and have a good idea where they’re going. The more you listen, the more shades of 1978 you’ll find. “Another Sub-Culture Going Bad” has the barked vocal style of Johnny Rotten over a simple guitar phrase that would be right at home on Bollocks, and “Sue” sounds like some obscure 60s surf rocker that would have been covered on the Great Rock & Roll Swindle. “Why Not Tonight” also sounds like a song from the early 60s updated for the punk age — the rockabilly drive on that one reminds me of Johnny Cochran. I can’t tell if Ivy Green listened to a lot of 60s music themselves, or if they subconsciously picked up that sound by imitating other punk bands who listened to a lot of 60s music. 

They settle into this basic punk/proto-punk groove and stick with it for 36 minutes. Once in awhile they deviate from the pattern (a little) — “Every Day The Same” has some breaks in the monotonous guitar-buzz where they try for something a little different — but for the most part the songs all sound similar, and rarely stray beyond the stereotypical punk sound of 1978. 

The album is very much a product of its time, with all the good qualities (drive, youthful aggression, cool guitar tones) and bad qualities (stripped down structures, monotonous sound) that go with it. If you like punk, you’ll probably like this album. If you dislike punk, you’ll probably hate it. Ivy Green doesn’t try to be much more than just another punk band, but what they try they succeed at. Which is more than you can say for many other bands who tried for bigger things and failed. And even if Ivy Green’s debut was not exactly a milestone in the history of music, it’s a pretty cool album all the same.

Mossing About: CLIPPING – Splendor & Misery (2016)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

Clipping’s latest album is a concept album that made me completely re-evaluate my opinion on the group. Prior to the album I had viewed them as a minor noise-rap group, with a few catchy songs and a generally interesting sound, but nothing compared to Death Grips or Dalek. This album made me take them seriously as a modern experimental hip hop group and realise I’d been unfair to their previous releases. It made me feel like a fool, but I’ll happily be a fool if I can continue listening to this album.

Like I said, it’s a concept album, and while the concept is interesting I really won’t be going into it that much. What I will talk about is the general sound of the album. Well, it’s got a really claustrophobic vibe, like a mother shoved her child into a washing machine because she didn’t love it enough to clean it herself. It’s also got a lot of neat sounds, shit like metallic clanging and other noises. The synth lines remind me somewhat of PiL’s album The Flowers of Romance, though probably more in spirit than actual sound, just the same gothic coldness and weirdness. Less abstractly, they’re pretty glitchy and cold, like an iceberg with some asshole playing a Gameboy on it. This really gives the album a sound matching its setting as a malfunctioning space slave ship, the whole album sounds clanky, dank and leaky.

Daveed Digg’s rapping on the album is pretty great as well. Whilst in the past I’d dismissed him as a rapper with a really good flow and delivery but little in the way of any personality, this album made me realise he has a pretty interesting overall style, managing to sound cold, cocky, sentimental, unsure, whatever mood the album and story demands. He also has some really neat lyrics on the album, especially on songs such as “All Black” (“That time will not afford him, any cover, any pardon, This is the choice that he has made, No matter how much time or space has passed since his escape, he is still a runaway slave and so lonely”) and “Baby Don’t Sleep” (“No home, you’ve been there, clearly off safety, no destination, no time for waiting, saviors are fiction, memories fading like ghosts, ghosts, go”). I also find it interesting that Daveed chose to make the album about a slave in the space age, as it of course shows raps place in black culture, making them seem like they’ll take the place that spirituals took during American slavery.

“All Black” is the first proper song on the album and fuck is it magnificent. Pretty much the moment I heard it I realised I’d made a mistake with my evaluation of Clipping in the past. It’s a very creepy, minimalistic song, six minutes and repetitive, but in a good way. The songs backing instrumentation sounds almost dark ambientish. I’d just like to point out when I made notes for this song I didn’t know what the album was about, and I wrote “sounds like an empty, decayed ship”.

I’m a fucking genius.

“Wake Up” is a really cool song as well, being short and having a very manic pace, with Daveed’s rapping being a whirlwind of fast paced paranoia, which matches the BLARING SIREN. It sounds like the ship is being hit by asteroids, which serves the concept well. It also has some nice singing, adding an eerie vibe, with the singing being clearly influenced by, shit, the type of music in Fallout 3. “True Believer” has some bashing percussion and more of the ye olde style singing. “Air Em Out” is a fucking classic, just one of those songs that you feel cool listening to (though when you realise this you feel really uncool). Its the closest the album comes to embracing contemporary rap, percussion is trap and synths are grime, kind of. Daveed’s vocal performance is very confident and braggadocious, adding to the vibe. The driving, dancey beat helps, though the song is deffos too abrasive to be played in a club.

I’m going to talk about the last two tracks separately, because they work so well as almost a mini-suite, a good juxtaposition. “Baby Don’t Sleep” is a particularly abstract and menacing song, while “A Better Place” is really pretty and poppish. “Baby” creates its bleak atmosphere- it sounds the like ship is disintegrating- with a multitude of ominous noise influenced sounds, urgent, stern rapping from Daveed, especially on the chorus, which takes a leap into dark ambience and general robotic weirdness with a high pitched robot voice saying the title of the song. “A Better Place” meanwhile has an atmosphere which suggests a calming universe, created with beautiful, melodic keyboard playing, pleasant spacey tangerine dream like sound effect, and an uplifting rap performance by Daveed, with some pretty singing as well. The song could be the first in ambient pop-rap. Lyrically both songs are pretty bleak though, “Baby” appears to be about the ship being destroyed whilst “A Better Place” makes it clear the protagonist wont survive. And of course, even if he does, he’s still a runaway slave. This is perhaps why despite the ostensible positivity of “A Better Place” the song actually ends on a burst of nihilistic harsh noise. Together the two songs work together beautifully to create a sad end to the album, which is what makes me look at them as a piece.

This review is getting a bit long but I do have to criticize the album a bit before I can end it. Not that the criticism is perfunctory, I really do feel like the album doesn’t contain enough songs. The interludes are cool thematically and I did like them the first time I listened, they do become annoying and in their place they could have included some other songs, perhaps a few other bangers like “Air ‘Em Out”.

Overall though this is a very strong album and it makes me feel excited about Clippings future.


Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Schuyler El Luis

When Schuyler assigned me a Thelonious Monk album, out of all NYC records he could have assigned me, I got the uncomfortable feeling I was going to disappoint him. I’m not the biggest fan of jazz, you see, and I specifically dislike noodling. Still, there was some hope, as I had previously listened to and enjoyed some well-regarded albums, like A Love Supreme and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Maybe I would enjoy this too, and even enlighten myself more on this much-celebrated genre of music.

Well, it saddens me to say that even among the little jazz I’ve seriously listened to, Misterioso is particularly boring. Thelonious is a pianist, and I generally prefer the piano to wind instruments in jazz, so I thought it would be a strong point. But, to my alas, it’s one of the weakest, shiest pianos I’ve seen in the genre. Not that the other instruments are that much prominent. Somehow, it feels like every single instrument takes a secondary role in this record.

Jazz tracks generally start with a pattern that gets repeated or built up for a minute or more, before the improvisation part starts and goes for a while, until the pattern comes back for the end of the song. In the case of the jazz I’ve enjoyed, those initial patterns are usually very catchy, and they linger on my mind, easing in the noodling parts, that I don’t appreciate that much. Misterioso doesn’t even try to hook me, however. The initial patterns are all weak and uninteresting, except perhaps the one in “In Walked Bud”. Too bad this track has the worst solo of all in the disk, starting by the 3-minute mark, which ruins the previously built goodwill. It’s also the longest one, and god, what a chore it is to finish it!

The improv parts feel so dull and lifeless to my not-a-fan ears. I think part of the blame goes to the weakness of the initial themes, but that surely wasn’t the sole factor. None of the instruments seem like they were trying to reach a strong emotion here. It feels like the players were too content in making a sophisticated atmosphere and nothing more. I bet none of them even sweated. If I were to list moments that stood out, I would have to handpick stuff like drum solos, which is a testament to how much I disliked the overall sound. “Blues Five Spot” has a line that sounds like the “Popeye” tune for some seconds before disassembling itself, starting around 3:40. The title track has a growing melody of horns (or other brass instrument, I’m not good at picking them apart) around the 6-7 minute mark, but instead of climbing to a climax it fizzles out and opens the way for more meaningless piano.

I think Misterioso might have been the non-João-Gilberto jazz album I disliked the most. It is a dull long-winded 46 minutes of noise that neither excited the surface of my mind, nor sank comfortably to the bottom as background music. Instead, it made its presence felt all the time, but as an annoyance. It was a bad experience that I don’t wish to repeat.