RPWL – Plays Pink Floyd’s “The Man and The Journey” (2016)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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Spoiler Alert : as implied, this album is based on earlier works by Pink Floyd. There are a number of familiar Pink Floyd songs rehashed for this project, most of them with title changes. A lot of the “fun” of the album is listening to a piece and seeing how long before you recognize the song. Many are immediately recognizable, some take longer. And a few are just sections of songs, or unexpected combinations of two or three songs. My review will give away most of the surprises, so I recommend listening to the album BEFORE you read the review. I know that saying “don’t read this review right now” is a weird way to begin a review, but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you’re wondering whether my review is positive or negative, be assured it is mostly positive, and this album is highly recommended for anyone with even a remote interest in Pink Floyd. So go listen to it first. What follows is my actual review …

RPWL is a German progressive rock band formed in 1997. They began as a Pink Floyd tribute band before branching off into their own music a few years later. This album was their most recent (2016), and I have to say I liked it a lot. Imagine a band more technically gifted than Pink Floyd, remaking old Pink Floyd songs — and not even the well-known versions, but little-known “alternate” versions from an obscure soundtrack project — and you know it’s going to be interesting. What follows is like a Twilight Zone-ish journey of familiar Pink Floyd songs with an air of unfamiliarity. It’s often a dizzying effect, because just when you think you know what’s coming next, they switch things up and the song will take a weird twist. I don’t know the original Pink Floyd project, so my expectations are of necessity based on the Piper/Saucerful/More/Ummagumma versions of these songs. I don’t know what parts the RPWL guys improvised and what parts are exact copies of the original music, so I’m just judging the songs as exactly what I’m hearing at the moment … whether the original Pink Floyd versions were better or worse (or equal) I’m not able to say.

The songs, and thus the journey, are mostly wordless. The music is largely based on atmosphere and special effects (as might be expected for 60s Pink Floyd). They do a good job with these effects. “Work” is especially well-crafted, with rumbling motors, pneumatic drills, bell strikes, train squeals, and precise percussion like falling hammers … a condensation of all the sounds of human labor in the industrial age. I’m not sure that it needs the funky guitar break near the beginning — it’s rhythmic enough on its own without obvious musical instruments barging in on it. Another “non-musical” song is “Doing It,” with sharp drumbeats and timpani strikes backed by strange droning that fades in and out. There’s a sense that it’s going somewhere rather than just meandering, but who can say where? Unlike “Work” with its obvious industrial noises, the message in “Doing It” is unclear. Who is doing what, exactly? Beats me.

Then there are the songs that sound like Pink Floyd songs, but only peripherally. “Sleep” is maybe the most effective, with its breathing sleeper, ticking alarm clock, eerie drugged-out synth background, and a growing sense of tension … which is to say, the beginning of “Time” crossed with the trippiest parts of the “More” album and dropped into the growing chaos of the first movement of “A Saucerful of Secrets.” The effect is an effective, even breathtaking synthesis of the three into an almost nightmarish sense of rushing forward (so throw in “On The Run” too, which it closely mimics).

Some sound like fragments of Pink Floyd mixed in with foreign elements, like “The Labyrinths of Auximines” which is an indescribable (for me) combination of the midsection of “Echoes” + piano riffs from the Bowie song “Aladdin Sane” + the descending space beeps from Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” (yes it’s that weird) … or “The Temple of Light” which sounds like the trippiest effects from More with somebody playing a warbly guitar line over them … or the brief intro “Daybreak Pt 2” which is the birdsounds from “Cirrus Minor” over the familiar ticking alarm clock. These are more like half-baked ideas than actual songs, but they’re never boring.

And then there are the standard Pink Floyd songs, or combinations of such songs. Some are more instantly recognizable than others. It took me awhile to realize “Daybreak Pt 1” is Roger Waters’ “Grandchester Meadows” (maybe because I haven’t listened to Ummagumma in ages). For the same reason I didn’t immediately recognize David Gilmour’s “The Narrow Way” — in fact I only knew it because they kept the title. I also probably couldn’t place “Beset By Creatures of the Deep” even though I actually HAVE the song on a rare Pink Floyd 60s bootleg of the same title, because I haven’t played it for so long … only the “Eugene-sampled” bass-line was familiar to me. It sounds like Eugene but it’s not Eugene.

On the other hand, “Nightmare” is VERY obviously “Careful With That Ax Eugene,” but with weird backward fade-in synths. You expect the shrieking climax in Eugene; here it can actually come as a surprise, because you forget you’re listening to Eugene and start thinking it’s something else. And then, even more surprisingly, it suddenly turns into … “Cymbaline”(!) I don’t mean something “like Cymbaline” either. I mean actually “Cymbaline,” lyrics and all. But with a very long (and honestly, a really good) jazzy guitar solo smack in the middle. It sounds like how I imagine a live version of that song would sound if played by Floyd in the 60s. All these dissonant elements sound like they shouldn’t work together, yet somehow, they do. The only fault with this song is the name — there’s nothing AT ALL Nightmarish about any of this. The Nightmare title would be far more apt for the previous song “Sleep” with its palpable sense of impending danger.

Likewise, “Afternoon” is simply a leaner and harder version of “Biding My Time,” which strays a little too far from the N’orleans jazzy charm of the original, especially when newer production techniques give it that cramped, heavy, on-top-of-itself sound. This sense of the music standing on top of itself occurs in a number of the songs, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s one of the few things I DON’T like about the album. Some music will work that way, but with Pink Floyd, the result is often more headache-inducing than impressive.

“The Beginning” — which for some reason is the eighth track instead of the first — was one of the coolest surprises, for me at least, because it’s “Green Is The Colour,” one of my very favorite Pink Floyd songs (easily the best song on More; I’ll take it over “Cymbaline” any day). This version is good enough in its way, although the percussion is too crash-bangy for such a tranquil song, and it’s another case where the music gets on top of itself as it goes along. It falls way short of the original, but it’s still a really good song because it’s based on a really great song.

“The Pink Jungle” is “Pow R Toc H” from the first album. It begins with a background of jungle noises that runs for the entire song. The music sometimes seems to fall in sync with that jungle background, reminding me of “Several Species …” and how nature-rhythms influenced man and eventually led to man-made rhythms. I was never a huge fan of the original Pow R Toc H, so I can’t find fault with the cover. At least the cover has less of those stupid “doy-doys” (a good thing in my book).

Finally, it all ends on “The End of the Beginning” … another one of the best surprises, as this one is the third movement of “A Saucerful of Secrets,” a song that I love in its entirety. This version is more grandiose than the original, since it’s the grand finale of the album. The sound is big and immediate, with a driving boom-bap percussion that seems out of place here, considering the original is very solemn and was literally meant to be a funeral dirge after a battle. It has that “stage Floyd” sound of that era, so much so that I wasn’t even surprised when a previously undisclosed audience began cheering at the end. I already suspected it was a live performance. It just “sounds” live, you know? Still and all, a reasonably good ending for a very good album.

If you’re a Floyd fan, especially of their 60s output, you really need to hear these guys. They’re skilled musicians with a good ear for this type of music, and this album is an obviously loving tribute to their biggest influence, something that only the most ardently purist and fanatical Floydhead could object to. It’s a strange and compelling thing, hearing these songs twice removed … once when Pink Floyd reinterpreted them for the soundtrack, and again when RPWL covered them here. It’s a surreal musical trip when you recognize something but it sounds alien at the same time, or when one Floyd classic morphs into another without warning. The unpredictability of the whole thing is the fascinating part, so much so that I was compelled to add that disclaimer, because I’d feel guilty if I robbed the newcomer of that sense of surprised wonder.

If you like Floyd — or even if you just have a taste for interesting progressive rock / art rock projects with intelligent production and rich tapestries of sound — then RPWL is well worth getting to know. And there’s no better place to start than here.

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FRANK ZAPPA – The Grand Wazoo (1972)

Review by: Graham Warnken
Assigned by: B.B. Fultz

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My first Zappa album! Thanks for giving me the kick in the ass to finally get on it, B. B.

I’m not good at analyzing jazz. I enjoy listening to it, and I know when I like it, but I’d be hard-pressed to explain what differentiates this jazz from that jazz and so on and so forth. That said—I do know when I like it, and I like this. Given Zappa’s rather crazy reputation, it was surprisingly straightforward as a listening experience—now, as I said above, I don’t know how to analyze jazz, so it could be insanely idiosyncratic and complicated in ways I’m not qualified to talk about. But as a listening experience it was, well, pleasant. Not to imply that it’s elevator-music-style smooth jazz, but it’s not the kind of fusion that Miles Davis was doing from Bitches Brew onward. Which helped me to like it pretty immediately—really abrasive fusion isn’t something that endears itself to an immediate click, but I was pretty instantly down with this record. It’s energetic without becoming frenetic, engaging without becoming overwhelming. And mad props to the guy for making it after he’d had his voicebox crushed rather than just giving up on this music thing entirely.

So that was less a review and more a really vague and roundabout way of saying “I liked it.” I always end up being the last one to complete my review on these things, and the review never ends up being very good. I can talk about books and movies at great length, but when it comes to music I often don’t have a whole lot to say until I’ve listened to an album multiple times. That said, thanks again, B. B. More Zappa is in my future.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: JOAN MANUEL SERRAT-Cançons tradicionals (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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With this record, context is king: In 1968 the Spanish singer Massiel beat Cliff Richard in London (by one point) and won the Eurovision song contest with a song called La La La (typical thought-provoking lyrics, obviously). Serrat was supposed to sing it, but demanded to sing it in Catalan, rather than Spanish. El Généralissimo Franco did not agree, so Massiel was sent instead. This was Serrats first political fight with the regime. Later he was exiled in Mexico, in 1974, after he protested against arbitrary executions, only to return after Franco’s death.

So you can imagine the political meaning of releasing a record called Cançons Tradicionals (traditional songs, sung in Catalan) in 1968 and this weighs heavily on the curious listener. The instrumentation is sparse, mostly just consisting of piano and string quartet, and Serrat sounds like Leonard Cohen in an especially religious mood, with some added echo. Solemn, serious, not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it recalls Islands by King Crimson, with a different singer. Only El Ball de la Civada sounds happier, with added percussion and horns.

Because Spain was more or less closed until the early 60’s (when some tourism was allowed, to get foreign currency), the album sounds quite unlike most albums of 1968. It’s also way more serious than other albums by Serrat, who sometimes moved dangerously closed to Julio Iglesias in later years (well, that’s too harsh…), but it’s a great start. After this get Dedicado a Antonio Machado.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE BEATLES- The White Album (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Graham Warnken

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The old chestnut that this is four separate solo albums smashed into one is a drastic oversimplification. At most, it’s two solo albums, a solo EP, and a solo single—John and Paul are running the show here, while George gets four compositions and Ringo gets two, one of which he didn’t even write. But the hyperbole of that cliche is driving at the truth—this album is at times almost unbearable to listen to because of how isolated its performers are.

The White Album has always felt like an endurance run to me. It’s not that I have to suffer the material reluctantly—it’s the feckin’ Beatles, after all, and of their LPs this is my #2 on a good day. It’s not the longest album I own by a long stretch—The Clash’s Sandinista and Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me immediately spring to mind as two longer ones. But I have to work myself up to listening to it. I always feel hollow when I’ve finished it, exhausted, and I can’t do it with headphones—I have to do it on vinyl, the music at a safe remove from my head as I listen. I love it, it’s one of the best records ever made, but I’m always left feeling unsettled and empty once the needle lifts for the final time.

For a long time, I thought this was due to the combination of its length and the diversity of its material—after all, it’s jarring to be hurled from gentle acoustic numbers to proto-metal to music hall to noise collage all on the same record. But the juxtaposition of genres and styles is no longer enough to startle me—I’ve been listening to this album since I was fifteen, and I’m intimately familiar with the track listing. Eventually, we grow accustomed to everything as long as we’ve heard it often enough.

No, the answer is less obvious, and it’s buried in that hyperbolic four-solo-albums chestnut. I realized this when I was listening to Rubber Soul the other day, closing my eyes and enjoying the blending of John and Paul’s voices into a seemingly single entity.

There are no harmonies on The White Album.

Now, that in and of itself is hyperbolic—of course there have to be some. But almost none of them spring instantly to your mind when you try to conjure them up. I can instantly summon the sound of Paul’s voice piping up in the verses to “Ticket to Ride,” the four-part unison of the boys on “Carry That Weight,” John and his co-lead barking the “Sgt. Pepper” reprise in tandem. When I try to think of similar moments on The White Album, I’m left with a blank.

It’s not just harmonies, of course. A huge percentage of the album’s tracks don’t even have the whole band playing. Ringo had quit the band for “Back in the U.S.S.R./Dear Prudence”; John and George were elsewhere when Paul and Mr. Starr decided to lay down “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”; Paul and John took “Blackbird,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “I Will,” “Julia,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” and others themselves; John and Yoko holed up with a tape deck and pieced together “Revolution 9”. But it’s not as if this hasn’t been the case before. Ringo is entirely absent from “I’m Looking Through You” besides the occasional Hammond organ blast. “Yesterday” is all Paul. George is isolated from his bandmates behind waves of sitar on “Within You Without You.” Sure, there were never so many pared-down tracks at once before, but with this expansive tracklist it was bound to happen more often. The abundance of absences from song to song is unusual, but not enough to induce the disquiet that lingers on the album.

No, what does it for me is how even on tracks that feature the whole band, the lead singer still might as well be by himself. Vocals stand out alone amid the instruments; they’re not bolstered by anything, they hang entirely on their own. The rich, full melding of John’s abrasive, nasal tone and Paul’s velvety one is absent, and it leaves a vacuum. The singers sound thin, weak, left to fend for themselves in the midst of their own tracks and not quite up to the challenge. Yoko’s sometime vocal intrusions make it worse—now there’s more than once voice on the track, but no, that’s not right, that’s not a Beatle there. The Beatles have always been and will always be a source of comfort and friendliness, and Paul’s inherent goodheartedness, Ringo’s lovable dopiness, John’s infectious cheekiness, George’s… whatever it is, can’t be taken away from them regardless of how they sing their songs. But where elsewhere you feel, listening to the group, that you have a whole pack of friends encased within the LP, here you only have one at a time. You’re alone with John as he uses you for a therapist, with Paul as he hams it up to make you laugh, with George as he strives to elevate your consciousness, with Ringo as he lulls you to sleep, and while it’s still a nice sensation, it’s an unavoidably different one.

I haven’t listened to Let It Be often enough to completely determine if it shares this album’s unsettling feeling of isolation, but I don’t think it can. It’s still a portrait of a band coming to terms with its own demise, but you have John and Paul trading off sections of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” backing each other up on “Get Back,” paying tribute to one another on “Two of Us.” On both that album and Abbey Road, you feel intuitively that things are not and cannot be the same as they once were, but the boys are trying, doing their best to produce, if not a return to the old days, the best facsimile of one they can. The White Album is frightening, disheartening, and draining because none of that’s there. The group is in tatters, and they don’t care who knows it.

All this talk of fear and emptiness is pompous and overblown, of course, because it completely ignores the fact that there’s just beautiful music on here, easily among each songwriter’s best. Were the album truly nothing but discomforting to listen to, something would be very wrong indeed; even at their most cynical, fed up, or workmanlike, the guys are incapable of entirely alienating their audience. But I have to take the beauty in drips and drabs to feel good about it; listen to a track here, a track there, scattered amongst my driving playlist.

When I listen to the record all at once, a vague sinking feeling takes hold; and though I turn the volume up for my favorite songs, and sing along at times, and enthuse over individual moments, every time Ringo’s final whispered message fades out I breathe a faint sigh of relief. Good night, he says, voice so close to the microphone that it tickles your ear. On any other Beatles album it would be a soothing sensation. On The White Album, I feel his breath against my face, imagine him all alone in the studio hoping that eventually George Martin will come along and lend him some instrumental company, and shiver.

TERRY REID – The Other Side of the River (1973; 2016)

Review by: Dominic Linde
Assigned by: Charly Saenz

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Subdued but powerful, soft but rocking, basic but not simple, and thoughtful while being emotive and down-to-Earth. These are the descriptive phrases that kept running through my head while listening to Terry Reid’s the Other Side of the River. Originally released as just River, the album has been reissued several times—with dubious reasoning, as far as I know, other than it being a good album. I feel compelled to say that usually I’m not very into roots rock (I mean, it’s OK and occasionally thrilling), but there is a lot of heart in this record while maintaining an earthy and unassuming tone. The opening track “Let’s Go Down” sets the record up perfectly: slight interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars, a simple counter melody to accompany the admittedly lackluster vocals. But the vocals still carry a certain amount of expression and interesting timbre (maybe something like a cross of Rod Stewart and Ryan Adams, though Terry Reid was recording long before Adams ever did), saving the voice from being a downfall. And how about that electric violin? And the bassist who knows exactly when to get busy with the instrument and when to lay it back. Just one of those unexplainable songs where there’s nothing new or spectacular in particular. It just works together in a totally satisfying way.

And really, that’s how the album as a whole works: unspectacular but satisfying, not revelatory but gripping. You’ll come back for more. My only complaint is that it starts to wane toward the end. Track-by-track, the album is a collection of strong songs, but there is a certain amount of sameness that comes out not only in execution but in the style of the songs. Granted, this disc is not only comprised of the River album (in the first seven tracks) but also what I assume were outtakes or B-sides. And really, it is around where the bonus tracks start that the disc starts to lose its quality streak. Still, the bonus tracks are far from duds and are worth the listen. They’re just not as strong as what came previously. Recommended.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND – A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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The songs range from hippy trippy acoustic stuff (not unlike the Loving Spoonful), to nice ballads (reminding you of early Jefferson Airplane), to SJW stuff with fuzz guitar (think crazy horse, with the Monkees fronting as singers).

They play with some sound effects and weird voices, there’s a sitar, there’s a slide guitar, some OK harmonies and a lot of pretense (Anniversary of World War III is basically a shortened (or speeded up) version of 4’33” by John Cage). Strictly second rate (more outdated than other albums from the period), but quite varied. Could well fit in an extended collection of ‘60’s music.

FAUST – 71 Minutes of Faust (1989)

Review by: Ed Luo
Assigned by: Dominic Linde

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The title pretty much says it all: seventy-one minutes of Faust doing what they do best, making noisy, raucous jam/sound collage mixtures. This album is actually a compilation of two earlier LPs, Munic and Elsewhere and The Last LP, both albums consisting of outtakes and alternative versions from their tenure in the seventies, taking out one track of each. Even so, this is a fun album for Faust fans that showcases all the various random shit the band does, albeit possibly not an album for newcomers of their music. Personal highlights include ‘Munic/Yesterday’ which sounds like their take on the Soft Machine’s ‘We Did It Again’, the totally fuckin’ wacked-out synch-grunting jams ‘Don’t Take Boots’ and ‘25 Yellow Doors’, the sixties garage deconstruction ‘Baby’, and the extended version of ‘J’ai mal aux dents’ from The Faust Tapes.