John Greaves, Peter Blegvad and Lisa Herman—KEW.RHONE (1977)

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Assigned by Andreas Georgi

Reviewed by Roland Bruynesteyn

After half a minute I thought “This reminds me of Escalator Over The Hill!” And lo, and behold, Carla Bley is involved (with some singing in the first 30 second song no less). So expect big band arrangements with some electric guitar and creative singing. And that’s what you get, although Carla seems more present for the vibe and the street cred, as this is really the John Greaves (ex-Henry Cow) and Peter Blegvad (ex-Slap Happy) project, starring Lisa Herman. And as I never heard anything by either Henry Cow or Slap Happy, this is pretty new to me, and I’ll try to listen with open ears.

The opening track is just 30 seconds, but then it starts: imagine half the choir from Atom Heart Mother with half the choir from Magma singing Jesus Christ Superstar outtakes as arranged for a jazz orchestra and you get the idea. It is a challenging listen, especially the horn section goes all out.

The third song, Seven Scenes From The Painting “Exhuming The First American Mastodon” By C.W. Peale, is mostly sung by Lisa Harman over a jazzy piano. Although I am not so much a fan of songs where the voice exactly follows the instrumental melody (seems a bit lazy), this is still a nice song. Sounds a little like a Renaissance ballad, with the singer singing an octave lower than Anne.

The title song is again a rather quiet song, if no ballad. A walking bass, some strings and some male backing vocals are added, but as a title song it does not really stand out. Pipeline has somewhat huskier vocals and again sounds quite jazzy in places. On the other hand, take out the horn section and add a flute and Peter Gabriel could have sung it on Lamb Lies Down as it has some symphonic stylings as well.

Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects And Their Titles, the next song, is a bit more up tempo and quite a bit more avant-garde with piano, sax, strings and a compelling vocal delivery all trying to catch your attention, leaving you somewhat confused and exasperated.

One Footnote (To Kew. Rhone.) starts like a big band playing a march. Some chanting follows; I think it really should be heard as the original beginning to side 2. Three Tenses Onanism (what’s up with these titles) sounds modern classical with great solo piano, bordering on minimal music. When the cymbals start, it becomes more jazzy, but still in an introverted way. The singing (by a man this time) more or less interrupts the flow, but functions as the intro to the wilder, chanting second part.

After a little bass solo an organ pays a little motif in the background, very Genesis-like circa Foxtrot. Nine Mineral Emblems is ambitious and ‘difficult’, with for the first time electric guitar featured quite prominently. Although Lisa sings a quite difficult melody, it’s really the horn section that convinces most in this tune (where I use the term ‘tune’ in a broad sense. Although it sounds totally different, it is a bit comparable to The Trial off The Wall in a way: a difficult song for a musical, needed to get some necessary info across.

Apricot is sung by a man and is again quite busy: great drumming and piano playing, some guitar picking and possibly a trombone taking the lead. The singing, and the song in general, remind me of Caravan or Gentle Giant in an extremely jazzy mode. There are definitely some Canterbury overtones here.

The last song, Gegenstand, starts with some nice bass playing. Lisa starts to sing, but not much other instrumentation is added. A nice epilogue to the album.

What to make of it? This is an amazing album! It is not always nice on the ears, it is not easy, comforting background music. You can hardly sing along and the sound is somewhat messy in places. Still, for me it opened up a whole universe of artists I will have to investigate. Do not just buy it on my advice, but I strongly urge you to listen to these artists and the bands they came from, if you haven’t already.

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Las Pesadillas—QUANTUM IMMORTALITY (2004)

a0278269511_10Review by Irfan Hidayatullah

Assigned by Dominic Linde

I haven’t got any information for the band except for two things: 1) the band describes their music as “punk-gypsy-spaghetti-surf-rock” and indeed they sound exactly just like that, and 2) they did a cover of Super Mario Bros’ “Overworld Theme” which is fun!

Apart from that, the band pretty much lives on its description, and much more. The good news is for supposedly “jokey” nature of their music, they spend enough time and effort to craft their song into something worthwhile. The tracklist here is pretty endless, divided by shorter tracks and few longer ones, with three short interludes thrown in for good measure.

Discussing tracks here is pretty difficult, to put it short, every tracks on here provides something to hold your attention to, be it martial/music hall-ish rhythm of “Seven Shades of Winter”, paranoid driving riff battling with synths on “Girls Running from Bullets”, tempo changes in “Il Bacio”, hilarious latin rhythm of “The Woman in Question”, and so on, to name a few. Note the relatively huge styles they’re throwing in—surf guitars, punk rock chainsaw buzz, a few bluesy licks here and there, music hall, martial rhythms, lullabies, etc. Songwriting is generally good throughout. Some songs are more memorable than others, and some of the longer tracks doesn’t hold my attention throughout, but overall there are enough musical ideas to warrant excitement.

Minor drawbacks, apart from the longer tracks, is the singers—not exactly bad, not exactly good, not too emotional, just kinda ‘eh’. In fact, emotional resonance is not the word I would associate with this album—except for the some of the crushing moments near the end (the second part of “Schadenfreude”). But these are minor nitpicks and does not significantly detracts my enjoyment for the album.

Dessa—CHIME (2018)

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Review by: Michael Strait

Assigned by: Graham Warnken

I am, as is known, among the most deeply white individuals ever to spew forth from the Earth here in the land of everlasting swamp. So understand that when I say this music feels like it’s made for people even whiter than me, I’m talking proper white. Like, rural-Minnesota-in-winter white. Works-part-time-at-a-co-operative-local-market-in-Vermont white. Plays-Space-Wolves-in-40k-white. Listens-to-Aesop-Rock white. Gives-away-flip-flops-to-random-stranger-while-drunk-on-a-night-out-in-Winchester white. White, essentially, in the sense that it is so utterly, mind-bogglingly, overwhelmingly, profoundly bland that it blinds me; white so glisteningly pristine that it is difficult to look upon without pain.

Sorry, Graham, but this is some really boring shit.

This girl raps sometimes, sings most of the time, and ends up boring me to death either way. Her rapping occasionally verges on outright annoying, what with her blabbermouth philosophy-on-sleeve style, and that hackneyed crescendo at the end of “Fire Drills” – in which she gives a glossy new rhetorical coating to a whole bunch of perfectly correct but nonetheless fairly fucking obvious Feminism-101 bullet points, presumably relying on reaching an audience young enough to find them revelatory and life-changing – is probably the moment I first realised this album wasn’t ever gonna do it for me. The synths are expensive and dark, but they’re creating an atmosphere that reminds me of the average YA dystopian novel, too glossy and lightweight to convey any real danger or menace to anyone who’s brushed up on the adult stuff. She, meanwhile, is the pretty young protagonist at the centre of it all, relatable and strong without being off-putting, smart in a way that doesn’t seem intimidating. Of course, pay attention to her more intelligent moments and you realise she’s got little new to say; “Velodrome” is probably the most pleasant song on the record, but its lyrics amount to nothing more than a restatement of the profoundly unshocking idea that free will might not be quite so free after all. Nice metaphor, sure, but it says a lot that the closest the album comes to genuine lyrical intelligence is a fairly clever restatement of one of the oldest philosophical conundrums anyone can remember.

You’d think she’d be a little better if she just stuck to singing pop songs about her heart, but nah, she ain’t. Songs like “Jumprope” and “Say When” simply do not exist; they contain vocals, synths and lyrics, alright, but somehow it all amounts to a void, combining into purest, emptiest possible nothingness. This album mostly sounds like a sort of bland Tove Lo or Tove Styrke record, with the same kinda synths, the same kinda melodies and absolutely nothing memorable sticking out whatsoever except maybe the occasional obnoxious lyric. “Rap real fast, but that’s on purpose”, she winks on a brief interlude near the end of the album, and it just makes me sigh slowly as I contemplate finding some sort of way to crush her under a grand piano. The closest she ever comes to emotional catharsis on this record is empty, distant melodrama, making molehills that look like mountains if you’re close enough on tracks like “Ride” and “5 out of 6”. (Distinguishing lyric on the latter: “I don’t need an agenda, I just tell the truth!” Are we going for some sorta post-ironic Nigel Farage chic here? Fuck outta here with that telling-it-like-it-is posturing. I’ve no time for demagogues.)

I think it’s instructive to conduct a little thought experiment: imagine if tracks like, say, “Half Of You” or “Good Grief” were thrown in the middle of, I dunno, a Rihanna album, or maybe a Katy Perry album if you’re feeling mean. Would they be highlights? I mean, in the technical sense yeah, probably they would. But would they be immediately distinguishable as highlights? Mmm… no, they wouldn’t. These are the sorts of tracks that behave like active camouflage, blending perfectly into their surroundings and making themselves almost invisible, absorbing the quality level of the music around them and offering nothing to hook you or draw your attention away from the rest of the music. Competent, utterly invisible stuff, and trying to focus on it is like trying to shoot a stealth Elite with a Needler in Halo. My point is that these would feel like filler on even a bad album, even if they were technically better than the songs surrounding them, and here they just slot right in amongst other songs that are all of exactly that type, giving the whole album an uneasily ephemeral, ghostly character that doesn’t feel at all intentional. I’ve listened to this album twice, but it passed right through me; I’m relying on my notes ‘cos there’s nothing here to actually remember. White and bland as an English Sunday roast.

I’m not even wastin’ no more bars on this prick! – Devilman

Robert Fripp—EXPOSURE (1979)

cover_11151421102008Review by Charles Caloia

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Every time King Crimson dissolved, Robert Fripp, our ever-astute guitar hero/studio whiz, at least knew where to fall back to. After Red, Fripp was done with blazing through the land of schizoid men, larks, and fallen angels. Now he was sucked through that starless sky into the semi-mainstream of the mid-70’s: catchy for radio, experimental for new wave, but not too much of either. Even with Frippertronics, Robert still tempered his ambitions so everything was more than just processed tape loops.

In between Blondie, Bowie, Byrne, and Brian (Eno), Fripp was that certain technician to perfectly complement a performer who needed that edge. Without his treatments, “Heroes” would probably be a straighter homage to German cabaret. Eno would have to busk while endlessly resampling Phil Manzanera’s guitar. David Byrne would be fighting Stevie Ray Vaughan for the title of best blues guitarist with endless takes on “Take Me To The River”! (I may be wrong about all that, but wouldn’t Let’s Dance kick more ass with Byrne producing and playing some solos?) Sure, it helped to have him, but how could he represent himself after leaving the Crimson King’s court behind?

Fripp’s Exposure lends that crucial insight. Here, like much of his post-Red/pre-Discipline KC work, Fripp acts as a civil engineer: constructing soundscapes around what his singer/songwriter-sideshow brings together. Be it Daryl Hall’s nutty boogie (“You Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette”), Peter Hammill’s maniacal wailing (“Disengage”), or Terre Roche’s shrieks (the title track), Exposure marks the transition from bearded, eccentric hermit to tailor-made session man: ready (suit, scowl, and all) to be your molecular gastronomist (of sound).

Much of the album’s packed with abrasive songs and instrumentals, though none of it’s more eccentric than, say, Henry Cow or Van der Graaf Generator. It’s Fripp using his unique approach to the circle of fifths for his riffs (maybe that was Brian Eno calling out that “incredibly dismal, pathetic chord sequence” on “Hååden Two”. Maybe they didn’t get along so well after all.), as he did prior but now with less fuzz.

Past the semi-jazz-fusion and semi-hard-rock (even semi-blues-croon with “Chicago”), the album’s best moments are its softest. Fripp’s then-lady friend and lyricist Joanna Walton contributes some solid poetry to Daryl Hall’s “North Star” and the Terre Roche-sung “Mary”. Not the most memorable songs, but they have some very touching deliveries. Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” originally fell short due to Bob Ezrin’s overproduction, adding unnecessary gospel cheese on top of an already minimal, tender ballad. Here, however, it remains as is: better raw and only with some processed guitar (bookended by both parts of “Water Music”).

Exposure makes for a hell of a demo reel. Here’s Robert Fripp playing with some of New Wave’s best and brightest (and Daryl Hall!) and a crapload of session players cobbled from Peter Gabriel’s band and more. It shows that the guy who started with apocalyptic jazz noodlings has grown up quite a bit, more content with new age soundscapes possibly inspired by watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris at 3 in the morning. He’s still kooky with his textures, so expect some daring inventions with jazz fusion players, tapes of J.G. Bennett lectures, and Peter Hammill having a breakdown. Altogether adventurous, bold, and incredible. Just get past some inane academia to arrive at Discipline few years later.  

Trapeze—MEDUSA (1970)

220px-medusatrapezeAssigned by Charles Caloia

Reviewed by Roland Bruynesteyn

Never heard of this group. It was apparently an English group, and this was their second album. Trapeze is a power trio on this album, as they lost both their lead singer and keyboardist after the debut album.

The cover looks a little as if Picasso wanted to redo the iconic first King Crimson cover, but the music has nothing whatsoever to do with King Crimson. In the hard rock spectrum, they are more on the Americana end than on the dark, proggy end, and indeed they were more successful in the (Southern) United States than in their home country England.

Because Glenn Hughes, the bass player (and one of two singers) also plays (rudimentary) piano, the sound is actually a little fuller than you’d expect. A few years later, Glenn would join Deep Purple for some time and this album does sound more classic Deep Purplish than Deep Purple’s first three albums.

This is hard rock as played in 1970. For some reason, the first track (Black Cloud), also the single at the time, strongly reminds me of the Black Crowes, circa Amorica. Could be the vocals. In other tracks, like Your Love Is Alright, the singer goes in full Robert Plant mode, failing as a carbon copy, but definitely getting the energy across. Actually, the drummer may be the weakest link when they try to emulate Led Zeppelin. In other places (Touch My Life) they do resemble Paul Rodgers and Free.

The way most songs start as ballads and then soon become ‘trad hard rock’ becomes a little predictable, but overall this is a nice little album. Is this album essential? No, definitely not. It is not a forgotten masterpiece, and, even for lovers of the genre, it would probably not be in your top 20. It is neither hard enough nor sophisticated enough. If you compare it to, say, Death Walks Behind You by Atomic Rooster, the better musicians, the better production and the greater variation of the latter album beat Trapeze to a pulp.

But I like it! It goes to show that even second-rate artists that may lack originality and major instrumental or compositional talent could turn out nice little albums in the first half of the 70’s. With nice guitar work and some great singing, it is a little nugget that is not out of place in a larger collection of 70’s music, which is why I will buy this at some time in the future.

STRAIT TO THE POINT: Lady Gaga–Artpop (2013)

220px-artpop_coverWell, I guess it couldn’t last forever. After two straight albums of seemingly endless melodic inspiration, it was bound to happen that she’d screech to a halt eventually. I’ve been known to theorize that talent is more like a finite resource than an innate trait, bound to run out eventually if you mine it for long enough, and this point in Gaga’s career gives me some worrisome evidence in support of this hypothesis. This album’s got a whole lot of faults, but the most powerful and important, and the one that ultimately sours it most of all, is that Gaga appears, at least temporarily, to have gotten near the bottom of her vein of outstanding melodies. The stuff she’s dredging up here is mostly passable at best, fool’s gold more than the real thing, and it’s a tragic thing to hear.

It’s a problem she seems to recognise on at least some subconscious level, because there’s a lot of superfluous shit here that seems specifically made to distract from the lacklustre tunes. The first track is especially instructive; it’s a ridiculous hodgepodge of all sorts of ideas shoved brutally together into a single misshapen package, bursting at the seams and falling apart as it struggles to present a coherent facade of musical creativity. There’s a bit of spaghetti western-style acoustic guitar in the intro, a lot of ridiculous pop-EDM synths and buildups, some English-accented spoken word shit, and a whole host of distinct, loosely-structured musical segments that ultimately serve only to distract from the fact that there really isn’t all that much melodic content present outside of the hook. The hook melody itself is pretty promising, but it’s backed up by some very confused synths that build up to the verses as if they’re the song’s real climax – only for the verses themselves to start over and try and build up energy again. There’s never a satisfactory resolution to all that building energy, and it leaves you feeling rather disappointed and dissatisfied, ending on an abrupt note that takes you right into one of the worst songs Gaga ever made.

Remember how “LoveGame” felt like Gaga was very much going for camp over quality? Well, this isn’t quite as bad as “LoveGame”, but it’s very close, and that’s largely because it commits the same dreadful sin. Right from the opening lyric – “Rocket number nine, take off to the planet… Venus!” – it’s clear that this is a song far more concerned with being as silly as possible than it is with actually being any good, and it successfully achieves a level of silly awfulness I find absolutely intolerable. The verses are only melodic in the most technical sense, and neither the production nor the lyrics are good enough to provide any alternative point of interest. The whole thing is structured in much the same way as one of those pop-EDM tracks that was popular on the radio at the time, with a big rhythmic buildup to a dumb, dramatic drop serving as a hook, and the melodies Gaga lays over the top aren’t good enough to salvage the song from sounding uncomfortably mawkish. The spoken word bridge, meanwhile, may be the absolute nadir of any such Gaga bridge, consisting of almost nothing but a “Uranus” joke so bad it may have ruined all such jokes for me forevermore. See what you’ve done, Gaga? You’ve only gone and murdered my inner child!

The pop-EDM era to which much of this album’s production belongs lasted, I dunno, maybe four years at most, and in retrospect its influence on this album is a little too big to justify. “Swine” is the track most victimized by this issue, but it’s hard to feel any sympathy for it, since it’s not like it ever had much potential anyway. The prechorus has some decent melodic content, but for the most part the song’s a big, forgettable, overblown mess that all serves as a buildup to a big ol’ generic EDM drop of the type one can almost imagine the late Avicii creating, and that, loath as I generally am to speak ill of the recently deceased, is not a good thing. It’s rather grotesque to see such a singular artist so nakedly pandering to such momentary pop trends, especially on an album conceived and marketed as her craziest, most exploratory artistic period. Barely four years removed from the glory days of DJ Snake, and this stuff already sounds uncomfortable in the same “what the fuck were we thinking?” way as hair metal. It should have passed us by without infecting any of our major artists, but alas, it ensnared Gaga, and we’re forced to put up with shit like this and “Fashion!”.

“Fashion!” is some sickening shit, man. Strip away all that fashion plating – disco guitars and basslines, expensive synths – and you’re left with a hook that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Imagine Dragons’ most nauseating anthems melded with a bridge that doubles as a horrid EDM buildup-and-drop, adding nothing to the song except a vaguely irritating sense that it’s somehow managing to be both over and underambitious at the same time. Listening to it gets me really down, but not quite as much as the immediately preceding “Donatella”, another moment of ridiculous overcampensation that seeks to replace melodic invention with exuberance. “I am so fab“, she proclaims as the song opens, presumably trying, in some way, to imitate the titular Ms. Versace and doing a great disservice to all involved. The hook here is nothing but a pathetic, underwritten anticlimax, and the perfunctory trancey synths that inhabit the treble end of this song’s range really get on my nerves. If these two songs aren’t enough to convince you to ban the entire field of high fashion and exterminate all its practitioners, you may be a lost cause.

When Gaga’s neither burying herself in camp nor pretending to be David Guetta, she’s writing songs so boring I find it difficult to say anything about them at all. “MANiCURE” is the sort of song title that should belong to RiFF RAFF more than Gaga, and that’s about the most interesting insight I have to offer on the song, which is so bland and unremarkable that I can’t really remember anything about it beyond the presence of some token guitars. The title track is so listless and lazily written that it feels almost like it was abandoned halfway through the writing process, as if she wrote a prechorus and then decided she couldn’t be bothered to write the actual hook. “Do What U Want” is the most competent of these three, and the propulsive synth production is actually quite nice, but it’s still a little nondescript and is also host to the rather icky spectacle of Gaga, empowering female symbol, happily telling noted serial child predator R. Kelly to, ahem, “do what you want with my body”. Seriously – I try to separate art from artist, but this song goes out of its way to make it difficult for me, you know?

There are some good ideas on this album, but they’re often underdeveloped. “Sexxx Dreams” comes very dangerously close to sounding like a Jenna Maroney single, but the prechorus melody is actually kind of amazing, all lilting and druggy and drowned under effects, conveying a lovelorn, substance-addled longing that the sugary hook ends up ruining. “Dope” has one of the only effective, memorable hooks on the album, but it’s present on a ballad so overdriven and ridiculous it makes Adele sound like Taku Sugimoto, sung so passionately the melody almost disappears under the uncontrolled vocal power. It’s sort of admirable, really, that Gaga utterly belts this song as if she truly believes it were one of the greatest ballads ever written, but that gives rise to the terrifying corollary that she might actually believe that shit, and that gives me existential quivers.

In my humble opinion, there are exactly five good songs out of the fifteen on this album, and most of them have at least one flaw. The prechorus melody on “Gypsy” is truly, utterly gorgeous, and honestly one of my favourite tunes Gaga ever wrote – and she recognises she’s onto something, too, because she isolates and repeats that melody as much as she can within the pop song structure. I ain’t complaining, especially since that prechorus goes a long way towards making the annoying EDM structure more tolerable on this song than anywhere else on the album, and if one doesn’t look too closely one can almost miss that the chorus is maybe just a tad underwritten. “Mary Jane Holland” is a bafflingly little-known deep cut that almost certainly has the best hook melody on the album, full of just the sort of longing and regret that makes all her best hooks so memorable. It contrasts beautifully with the roaring, growling synths that underlie it and build up to it in the verses, and it’s all almost enough to make one forgive the bridge, which sounds like the worst showtune from the worst off-broadway show ever made. And then there’s “Applause”, which is well-structured, well-produced and well-sung enough that one may be willing to overlook the intense arrogance present in the lyrics of the second verse. “Pop culture wasn’t art, now art’s in pop culture in me”, sneers Gaga, causing my head to spin and making me contemplate suicide as I wonder if this woman has ever actually listened to the Bowie records she claims to love so much. I mean, come on – half the singing on this very song sounds like you’re directly imitating him! Show some respect to the original, ya dingus!

There are only two songs here I return to as regularly as the highlights from previous records. One of them is “Jewels N’ Drugs”, which I truly believe accidentally slipped into this reality through a crack in spacetime from bizarro world or some similarly strange universe. It’s a deeply surreal experience, right from the moment that vast, Lex Luger-type trap beat comes in and we are made to confront the spectacle of T.I brazenly announcing the presence of “HUSTLE GANG!” on a fucking Lady Gaga song. After his verse – which I can’t recall a single lyric from, not that it matters next to his charisma – we are forced to further confront the surreality of Gaga singing one of her sweetest, most tender melodies over the top of this giant, booming trap glamsplosion, crooning as softly as an angel atop the sort of music that should really be accommodating a murderously aggressive Waka Flocka Flame. The song’s oddities go deeper than that, though – the fact that Gaga sings the verse and then, uh, raps the initial hooks is bizarre enough, but the song also hosts two distinct beat changes and, perhaps most weirdly, two entirely distinct, repeated hooks, one for the first half of the song and one for the second. It’s a totally unhinged mess of a song, and I simply do not know how it can possibly exist, but I gotta admit I actually totally love it. Its eccentricities don’t actively conflict with another like they usually do on this album, and in fact they end up putting a big ol’ smile on my face for just about the song’s entire, deceptively brief runtime. Should I feel guilty about loving it so much? I mean, maybe, but I don’t. Besides, how can anyone hate Twista’s verse? That guy’s a verbal machine gun!

So, finally, we come to the best song on here, and the only song on the album that really ranks up there with Gaga’s best contributions to the state of pop music in the 2010s. “G.U.Y” is still a little disappointing compared to former best-songs-on-the-album, I guess, and it’s got nothing on “The Edge of Glory” or “Paparazzi”, but I’ve still listened to it countless times without ever getting bored, and it’s a thoroughly great, energetic dance bop with the most badass synth riff Gaga ever sang over and a properly structured build from verse through prechorus to hook that feels just as natural and cathartic as it should. The chorus melody always reminds me just a tad of Lana Del Rey, with the way she builds up and then just drops everything in the last syllable, as if the drugs have suddenly hit and slowed her to a sudden crawl. It picks up a lot of power from those bright, sizzling synths, though, flowering up around her as she sings and carrying her up to heaven even as the melody descends. It’s a great song, for sure, and if the rest of the album had lived up to its level I might be able to defy the consensus once again. But, alas, the album largely sucks just as much as people say it does, and that’s a real shame.

See, the narrative around Gaga is all wrong. This isn’t the experimental, overambitious one – that’s Born This Way! This one has some madcap moments, for sure (refer, once again, to “Jewels N’ Drugs”), but for the most part it’s actually kind of boring, and a clear artistic regression from her previous realms. It’s nakedly bowing to pop trends in a way Born This Way absolutely never did, and it’s doing so while abandoning most of the fantastic melodicism that used to make even her most misguided moments so tolerable. It’s a big step backwards, in other words, and it actually kinda pisses me off. I mean, those lyrics on “Applause” really are insulting when surrounded by this dreck, y’know? Did she really think this was her art album? Did she think is brave to incorporate all these EDM drops? Did she think she was rebelling?

Well, whatever the answer to that, this ain’t a good album. As for her next one, well – I can’t really remember. We’ll see. Next time might be a surprise, folks! (Probably not.)

Alphataurus—ALPHATAURUS (1973)

cover_255372572009Review by Syd Spence

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Ah, third rate prog rock! It’s the only instance where I don’t use the phrase ‘third rate’ to mean something bad. This is because prog rock (at least in the ‘70s) is always great. It’s true that first rate prog rock is played by gods, and that second rate prog is played by demigods. Now third rate prog is only played by mere mortals, but they are fantastic humans, truly our champions. So let us salute today’s third rate prog heroes Alphataurus and their debut.

So Alphataurus is one of those italian prog bands. Italy’s prog scene is lesser known than their european contemporaries. I believe the ranking of the scenes goes as following. The first is of course England with their Genesis and ELPs. The second is Germany’s with their Cans and Kraftwerks. I believe France and Italy compete for third spot. Personally, I think France wins out simply because I can name two french prog groups (Magma and Gong) and would have to look up the leaders of Italian prog. I think there is band called mutual bank or something, oh, oh, and Goblin. Most people know Goblin, they did the soundtrack to Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead.

Listening to Alphataurus really makes me understand why italy is so low in the consciousness of rock listeners. Alphataurus plays keyboard driven symphonic rock, with a bit of jazz and hard rock here and there. If the lyrics weren’t in Italian, the fellas could have easily opened up for Van Der Graft Generator or ELP. This just isn’t anything as unique as Magma or Can. I would thus imagine most english speakers would more likely exhaust the british symphonic prog groups before they would explore their mediterranean equivalents. Plus the language barrier would not help.

Though, I doubt, even if Alphataurus did have english vocals, they would get big. They’d probably poke around where Fruupp sits on the progger’s mind, good but not great. As I mentioned earlier they are third rate, mere mortals, and their mortality is evident with their instrument playing. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone in the group is a good musician, but this is prog! I’ve heard prog fans mock the technical abilities of Rush. BLOODY RUSH! This genre is filled with the most dazzling expressions of musicianship this side Liszt, and Alphataurus play okay. Oh, sure they occasionally change time signatures, and have multiple parts in their songs, but a lot of them seem to a riff or two that doesn’t really boggle the mind. Personally though, I think this humanity is a good thing. They play keyboard driven symphonic prog with lots of different keyboards, not unlike a certain Emerson of ELP fame. Unlike Emerson, these guys won’t use 12 chords when only three is necessary. Their solos are short and stately and not ungodly long and meandering. Mortality keeps the ego in check and thus makes music way, way more palettable, than the pompous nonsense of keyboard gods.

The album I feel is divided in two. The first half is more rock and the second half is more symphonic. The band is worse at playing the more rock oriented stuff When listening the first track, Peccato D’Orgoglio, I kept feeling that the sound just wasn’t thick enough, that the guitars didn’t have enough crunch or there weren’t enough keyboards. Also, the music was mostly instrumental and yet the vocals dwarfed the other instruments. Plus, the song is based on one riff that never really got me. The next track is similar but with a more heavy hard rock riff, that, again, just wasn’t heavy enough. I feel like the producers should have turned the amps to 10 or something. Plus, one of the sudden prog changes sounds a bit corny.

Luckily the second half is fantastic. It starts with Croma, an instrumental which sounds like something Procol Harum would have composed if they had access to Emerson’s keyboard collection. They use every type of keyboard there is on this album, synthesizers, pianos, harpisichord, organs, mellotrons, etc. It’s got it all. Alphataurus layers different keyboard lines to make these fantastic keyboard symphonies. It’s marvelous. I do feel sorry for the guitarist, he’s mainly confined to rhythm or the tiniest of guitar solos on this second half. My favorite track is the second to last, “la Mente Vola,” where they do the keyboard symphony, but this time add a really catchy chorus with vocal harmony. The last track follows in a similar suit and is also good.

Overall it was a good third rate prog album. I’d give the first half an optimistic 3 out of 5, and the second a delighted 4 out of five. Combine the two and you get 3.5.