WILLIAM S. FISCHER – Akelarre (2005)

Reviewed by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Schuyler L.

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This here is an oddity; American arranger and film score composer William S. Fischer had travelled to the Basque Country in Spain, and decided to record funky versions of their traditional songs. The name of the record couldn’t be other than “Akelarre”, which might be the only Basque loanword in the English language. The word itself comes from the words “aker”, “he-goat”, and “larre”, “meadow”, but is more accurately translated as “Witches’ Sabbath”, the place where they were supposed to perform their dark rituals, guided by Satan in the guise of a black he-goat.

Despite having such an occult title, Akelarre itself is quite lightweight. All the tracks are completely instrumental, and they have the base melodies taken from the Basque musicality, and those are usually done with the flute. The other most prominent instrument is the electric guitar, which is often very screechy, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s playing distorted folk lines, or adding new ones. Not that it matters, it is the strongest point of the record! Completing the line-up, there is a jazzy/funky rhythm section of bass and drums, nothing out of the ordinary, and some electric effects.

Now, the flaw of this approach is that, most of the time, it is too mellow to have the strength funk demands. The flutes are played in a very… “softspoken” way, that lacks the acuteness that I so love in this instrument. This problem is particularly notable in the stretch from the third to the fifth track, in which the album slogs in flimsy jazzy wallpaper. The sixth track, “Eguntto Batez”, my favourite, comes to the rescue then, and it’s almost shocking how fierce it is, specially by the halfway mark where the guitars start raging in a solo clearly inspired by Eddie Hazel! The rest of the album sits in between these two extremes, and to be fair, not even at the lowest point this is as annoying as some jazz I’ve found. The ninth track, Xarmangarria, is also a highlight.

The basic Basque melodies themselves are also beautiful, and the more I listen, the more I notice the traditional backbone that holds this album. I’d say this particular factor makes Akelarre a “grower”, and not as much an obvious jazz-fusion as it would have seemed. However, and this might be more of my flaw as a listener, I can’t help but feel the lack of vocals really hampers this album, and make it much less interesting than it could have been. A coarse voice singing or even chanting something in Basque would do wonders to make even the most uneventful parts more interesting! It might even bring some of the promised witchcraft to this otherwise nice album.

FRED FRITH – Gravity (1980)

Review by: Ivan Kovalevsky
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Preface: on the day of writing this review, i ingested a large amount of the substance lysergic acid diethylamide. Evidently, I thought it would be a reasonable idea to write my review of this album while feeling the effects of that particular substance. It was a wet night when this happened, and I was in the dark, in some public space, wandering around like a child when I was coming up. The friends I had needed to go home, so I wandered around the city for a while, looking in wonder at the fluctuating world around me before deciding that walking home in this state was not necessarily optimal for my sanity. I made the most sensible decision I could, which was taking a taxi home as the rain worsened. The ride was hellish – I had no idea where I was in the city. It had become an abstracted maze of grey shapes, formless hulks looming out of the fractalised dark. We drove through a park and the green of the wet, dusky leaves perhaps saved me from insanity as it was filtered through the harsh electronic light of the lamps. When I emerged from the taxi, the rain had stopped to a drizzle, and the pastel fish on my raincoat smiled at me as though we shared some obscure, nameless secret. I listened to the first half of this album pacing up and down the hallway of my apartment, and the carpet felt almost like a holy land as I walked on it. I sat down at my computer around the time the song Hands of the Juggler was beginning, and aside from the brief note at the beginning, I was almost possessed by the album. It was automatic writing in its purest, untainted form. The review you are about to read is perhaps a quarter of the size of the original review, which contained pointed remarks towards people I knew, and whom I did not know (The person who assigned me this album gets a mention as both “the master of lies” and “the gouda dispensee”, two occupations I am not sure Eric would actually qualify as), dipping in and out of gibberish until it comes until the flaming wreckage which I have preserved as the ending three paragraphs. The repetition of the word “eleven” is the high me assuring the reader that I am not panning the album, working under the assumption that they have managed to work through the rest of the review.

(beginning with a query: why are the first two bonus tracks of this album by art bears and aksak maboul, respectively? both feature frith as a player, if not necessarily guitarist (giving fred frith the title of a guitarist seems mildly belittling in itself, does it not?), but when they are both on rather well-respected albums of their own, is it really a necessity? on.)

so, this is gravity, an album from 1980, which doesn’t sound like it was from 1980. it doesn’t really sound like it is from any time. it is maddeningly ageless, and maddening in a good way. gravity transcends genre and time, as testament to frith’s skill; jumping from one mood and locale to the next with freakish dexterity. it’s generally just hard to posit what you’re listening to when it transposes as many moods as this does.

(oh, mr frith, you are classically trained! the deformed body of rock in opposition suddenly seems more crudely exposed to me than ever.)

klezmer, polka, calypso, is something wrong? then dancing in the street, oh! is something wrong! (that strange rhythm! dance your sins away in the swirling dervishes’ palace of sin, for christ’s sake, you heretical bastard.) have i committed a crime? is something wrong?

we see mr frith and madam krause (of art bears fame, for as of album time, she has not been claimed by the fearful mr brecht of berlin). they both wear pastel-pigmented dresses with polka dots splayed into spontaneous rows. (see: leigh bowery, or something in their style)

krause: die strasse est bedeutungslos. alle ewigkeit ist in der decke de wolke verloren, und ich juckreiz.

frith: for god’s sake woman.

(the members of SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA shamble onto the stage, dressed as an elaborate pantomime horse, and conversing softly in mannered swedish about the latest tuxedomoon album. legend says that an unnamed member of the famous residents sew the costume for them)

frith: what the fuck is this shit doing on my album you fuckers. i wanted joy, not nonsense.

krause: for these are dangerous times.

frith: go piss up a rope.

frith walks off the side of the stage, and the magician of the music vanishes. the ghosts of the ronettes, bleached bone-white by collegiate bastardism and commercial overuse, surreptitiously appear and vanish in front of krause, who faints, if only to mold with her gender role.

10 glorious years later, on the outskirts of joujouka, the ghost of mr brian jones is spotted by an unnamed british traveller who sells her story to the sun and sells it for millions. she uses her proceedings to buy a new house, where her life becomes a dreary retelling of a roxy music song. en perpetuitas. in the same storied pages of that hallowed publication, shocking details are revealed of a mr frith’s barely concealed affair with that cad vivian darkbloom; the story is ignored because neither person is popular or very personally interesting at all outside of some leftist rubbish recorded in the seventies.

and they say there are other things to come from this unholy union too. a crew of undergraduate students locked in their conservatorium room by a crazed professor soon learned how to make shards of broken beer-bottle glass adopt the sound of a weeping xylophone. (enough with your soulless vienna school claptrap, get to the fucking point, you cunt.) they felt as though the whole universe had given them a nudge. they were also not yet ready to die.

so gravity is all at once full of (teeming with, bursting with, as though it were a hornets’ nest) life, which is taken away by the experimental tendencies which yea, even the best of us are prey to.

i hear the deluxe remaster comes’ with herr frith’s piss samples.

(eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven eleven)

WEATHER REPORT – S/T (1982)

Review by: Eric Pember
Assigned by: Sam Belden

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I admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for this sort of 1980s sitcom opening music. I have both Heavy Weather and Mister Magic in my collection, and they are surprisingly cool albums.

However, while this album goes on with the same sort of sound, it feels more unfocused. Considering that the main redeeming factor of the aforementioned albums are their melodicism, this makes it a bit dull to listen to. “Dara Factor 2” has some melodic flair to it, but that’s about it. However, it still remains entirely fine background music, and there’s nothing to really hate about it.

CHARLY’S ROCK COLUMN: THE KINKS – SINGLES HISTORY – Part 1: Early Kinks (1964)

Written by: Charly Saenz

It’s almost a thrill to listen to that clumsy version of “Long Tall Sally”, their first single.. It’s really an amateur band sound in retrospect (George Martin said that newer bands tend to record in a higher speed.. Emotions out of control?), and not necessarily in the bad sense. They *mean it*, like The Beatles in their stuff pre “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, they’re hungry for more, baby. Ray wrote the flip side, and it’s hardly any better you know, but hey, family, friends, we were recording!

It’s in the second single “You Still Want Me” (and the similar sounding “You Do Something To Me”, both sides written by Ray), where they really shine – a precious melody and hooks, and well, let me tell you, it’s the kind of frame of mind in the recording companies those days you had to change. Why recording covers? Not everyone could, but Ray COULD write.

Those were harsh times and you had to get a hit, so we did that razor thing with the speaker and Dave came up with that feedback storm (it’s 1964, get this in your system!), that piercing sting called “You Really Got Me”. In those times The Kinks were about electricity you know, so no big words from Ray, but he wrote a musical anthem for the early Kinks. It was a monolithic achievement. “It’s All Right” on the other side, was unremarkable: another “let’s all scream in concert” tune (a cousin of “I’m Alright” by the Stones, probably).

Same year, The Kinks released an EP called “Kinksize Session”, with a “Louie Louie” cover; much better than “Long Tall Sally”, at least Ray sang in his own gritty voice, not like a suicidal lamb. Can’t say much about “I Gotta Go Now” but it’s marginally better than the cover (they’d perfect this style on albums like “Kinda Kinks” or even on “Kontroversy”). “Things Are Getting Better” is another frantic number, quite disposable.  But “I’ve Got That Feeling” with that pretty piano (Nicky “Session Man” Hopkins perhaps?) is a beauty. Going slower is sometimes a great decision…

.. But we accelerated a bit for “All Day And All Of The Night”. Certainly a successful clone, a sombre child of “You Really Got Me”, and I usually prefer the child, as it’s slightly darker, more intense, and obsessive. The B-side, “I Gotta Move” is very good, with a pretty crescendo at the end, as it never leaves the original punching beat (kudos to Mick Avory’s hi hat); also a much better realized song for a dynamic concert number (in this case, the Stones title-alike would be “I’m Moving On”).

This was, dear friends, a single year in the life of The Kinks.. Evolution? Well I’d say quite some big steps for them and humanity, but they would be bigger steps next year.

PAUL MCCARTNEY – Press to Play (1986)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

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Welcome to the Rock Superhero Bashing Circus! Well, as you might know “Press To Play” is usually indicated by some reviewers (oh those are terrible.. Oops) as Paul’s nadir. Oops again: I used to despise this album. But my fellow reviewer has given me the opportunity to explore this album under a new light; mostly in the darkness of my room, to be honest – just the music, and no videos. Those really didn’t stop playing back in the day. That wasn’t good.

“Stranglehold” is an extraordinary start. It’s strong and luminous, slightly bluesy. I feel some good 90s vibe here, even a bit of Lloyd Cole. There’s a double bass quality in the rhythmic base and the sax touches are totally engaging.

I changed scenery for the second song “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun”. Had to step out in the street on a cold threatening night, so I mounted the Fiio DAC and the Sennheiser cans on my head and I connected the DAC to my Android phone. BOOM! POW! Well, all those Batman 1966 onomatopeias. After the goofy start, it really blew my mind. You know sound counts, this is mostly a finely recorded album, no matter what they say.

I’m back in the computer and I launch the next song, “Talk more talk”, on the Yamaha amp. This one is a tad more annoying in the production department. The song itself is interesting (the guitar work is indeed very detailed) but it goes nowhere. Still, hardly offending. “Footprints”, instead, is one FINE Macca-style song. Extremely joyful details (some remind me of the future “Driving Rain” but everything was a little more guitar-rocking there). There’s a cracking detail in Paul’s otherwise still beautiful voice.. Is this when he starts to show the signs of age? “Press(ed) to play”..

About that song, and let’s forget the video clip, it’s probably the weakest in the lot. Paul what were you trying to achieve? This album has no hits (Will you count the bonus track, “Spies like us”? Well that video was.. slightly funny) and this is for the best: “Press” is really awful with the extremely tiring electronic drum, the echo vocals. No, please: “Never like this”.

Save your breath, then we have another little gem, “Pretty Little Head”, that could have been considered an A-HA (or even Tears For Fears) song as it begins. Here the electronic drums roll deliciously over the keyboards, and there’s that feeling that Paul is on the loose, experimenting.. The “African” voices are exquisite; the intertwined guitars and of course the effect-laden synths. It might be a little long; but I won’t complain, Paul is having fun.

As if he was paying the debts for “Press”, he scores high again with “Move Over Busker” (“Busker”.. Wasn’t that a movie with Phil Collins?). An engaging number, with more traditional sound, and a line that is certainly closer (specially in the second part) to a good rock and roll circa 1958, if you clean up the make up, that is. It rocks better than, say, “Take it away”.

Well in the end, you know, this wasn’t the awful album I’ve grown to despise. There is no such thing as bad production per se; it’s all in the numbers, “Press” ain’t a great song anyway and it tainted the whole set as a single, but a good electronic drum can be put to good use as we all know. For completists, “Angry” ain’t a particularly great song and “However Absurd” is a weird ending, but a good effort, anyway.

And the melodies, the hooks are there, Macca brand. Oh by the way did I mention “Only Love Remains”? 100% Macca ballad of any era, and it’s really good.

This is how you do it, and it’s 1986 so it’s worth a lot. Go and buy it before the fools and the critics find out and all the “Press To Play” CDs start to dissapear from the record stores. We still have CDs right?…