A YEAR IN MUSIC: GYORGY LIGETI – Requiem/Lontano/Continuum (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Alex Alex

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There is a perpetual problem of credibility with any type of the „new“ music. People want to learn new things, never a new language. A new language will fail, same as the old one – and we know it from our bitter, unsaid experience. Rather than helping, the new devices will stand in the way — it is not that «The Dark Side of the Moon» benefits much from the Wall of Sound — however the sight of that wall of sound resisting, in its quiet desperation, the tides of the old-fashioned, rhymed truths – that sight is spectacular.

Yet, what if there is something new in the “new” music? We must take the old instruments to reveal that which is new. Which is what Ligeti does or, rather, did at that moment of time – today we do not really understand why he didn’t use the plain old synthesizers as all those musicians of old. Time has flatten things – we can do ambient noises on all kinds of devices and it just so happens that the “electronic” devices fit for that much more than the plain old orchestra.

Yet, what is interesting, the music of Ligeti needs no handicap in the form of any explanation – no Stockhausen aliens, no Pink Floyd drugs, no John Cale’s Lou Reed, nothing whatever. Same as with pornography – once we hear a requiem we know what kind of music it is.

Of course, it was ideally suited for the Kubrick movie – as double-sided as the movie is – sci-fi and the evil AI for the young, a tale of an old man dying without acquiring a slightest understanding of ANYTHING – for the elder.

This is what music does – it defies language and thus glorifies human existence. It never cares about the new synthesizers-alphabets, the same musicians use the same instruments as before, – and for a brief moment we have something new, something which has not yet been labeled, tape-recorded and manufactured – which is still Requiem and which we understand without understanding. Something, which makes us the Kubrick astronauts for a very brief moment – just before everything gets buried under the monolithic satanic synthesizer falling down on this Earth from the skies.

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A YEAR IN MUSIC: DOUG HILLARD & GENE CLARK – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Reviewed by: Charly Saenz

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There are some musical genres that will split the audience in two, and I’ll readily include Country Rock in that lot. I ain’t been a fan myself, after all, liking some faux cowboy british stuff, like Dead Flowers or Muswell Hillbillies, however cool, won’t mean that you’re in the Country Music appreciation business. No more than taking a selfie with a dead cow on Route 66.

So it took me a couple of feverish months of listening to heaps of Gene Clark music, going back from its magnificent 1974 masterpiece to the point where he broke up with those nasty Byrds guys (Silver Ravens?) and he started a low profile but endearing career playing the music he loved, with lots of folk and bits of psychedelia and even soul; but firmly rooted in Purely American Country rock. At least he didn’t have to fly anymore: pun intended, but in fact it was actually like that.

And this is some Country Music that really appeals to me. As an opener, “Out On The Side” is a nice classic folkish tune by Gene, not that far from that Cosmic Soul Country Music from 1974 (add some gospelish backing vocals and there you go). And these words, I do gracefully understand now:

“No I’m not looking to find any holes
From what I think has been denied
That’s not the feeling of love when it flows
I hope I can lose that much pride”

Doug Dillard brings authenticity to the roots sound with his majestic banjo playing; He’s really outstanding in “She darkened the sound”, and Gene brings a more subdued singing style that matches Bernie Leadon’s great backing vocals.

In fact Leadon really put a lot in this album both in his musical performance (he plays several instruments) and in the songwriting area: listen to “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Eagles, in your face: You cannot really start to compete. But well you know, a future Eagle, Bernie Leadon co-wrote it with Gene, so well they had some right to play it. Instant classic.

“With Care from Someone” is awesome, a perfect amalgam of the three main musicians talent, there’s a vocal line by Gene almost opposite to the intricate banjo/guitar/harmonica interplay. Pure ear candy for the country uninitiated. “The Radio Song” follows with an even more delicate delivery, with some added piercing keyboard (is that a xylophone?) for utter pleasure.

But don’t let the laid back vibe fool you: there’s touches of colour from the pop/folk rock sensibility by the author of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”. “Don’t Come Rollin'” is such a song; you might have included it in The Beatles’ Help, that nice Byrdie folkrockish album.

Towards the end of the album, “Git It On Brother” doesn’t do it for me, this is way too .. country, not much rock here, and it feels quite like a cliché. But it’s just a little spot clocking under the 3 minutes, so I’ll let it go. The album closes with “Something’s Wrong”, a perfect song-song in any genre. The bass pulse and the heavy guitar plucking really make it a pretty instrumental match to Gene’s gloomy singing.

So – this is quite a groundbreaking album for its time; it’s probably less rootsy (or shall I say authentic) than say Willie Nelson or Cash, but for me it’s just like a Screwdriver (no, not the tool, the drink): you need alcohol but the juice must be there, else you’d be drunken in a few minutes… WAIT, this might not be a good selling point for the album…

Let’s start again: There are some genres that will split the audience..

A YEAR IN MUSIC: PINK FLOYD – A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Victor Guimarães

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A Saucerful of Secrets is a very meaningful album for an iconic band such as Pink Floyd. Not only because the album was referred to by drummer Nick Mason as his favourite, but because of the events related to it and to the band’s progression – band leader and lead singer, guitarist and composer Syd Barrett left due to (drug related) mental illnesses and, to replace him, the band recruited David Gilmour as new guitar player. This makes A Saucerful of Secrets the only album to feature all five members, which is another meaningful milestone (even if they only play together in one track).

The record kept the same space rock and psychedelic approach as its predecessor, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. On the time of release, it divided critics, mostly because of Syd’s contributions, now far less numerous. Better recognition came with time, specially after the band’s golden age. For this reviewer, this 7-track piece of work is not anything less than great. Expect amazing instrumentals, with beautiful guitars riffs and solos, strong and creative drums, captivating bass and the distincts time signatures, distortions and production-added stuff that marked the genius of the age of psychedelia. The record is also filled with a somewhat gentle mood, full of the expected space-like sounds, but touches darker and more distorted sounds that would be more present on the band future works. The lyrics are varied as well, reflecting the same past/future Floyd progression that makes the record iconic. Lyrics include: the full instrumental track who names the album, tracks based on past-Floyd themes, such as childhood, on future-Floyd themes, such as war, and there is the emotional final track, Jugband Blues, the only composition by Syd Barrett, who probably was aware of his incoming departure. The lines “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here / And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here” make me chill every single time.

And, as I want to be fully honest here, I gotta say I kinda agree with the general reviewing perception of this record. And why? I confess I didn’t like it the very first time I listened to it, many years ago (and way before reading any reviews on the album). But! – and emphasizing that “but” –  After a second or third try, I actually started to enjoy it. And why is that, mate?!? I could say my critics are like either: a) while the songs are mostly great by themselves, the album may not function too well as a whole or b) this album may be too much for the untrained ear, even if you’re used to and like Pink Floyd’s golden age albums or c) both of the previous letters.

Finally, I could only say there’s no reason to refrain from listening to A Saucerful of Secrets. Both the fanbase and the band itself revere it as an iconic album, the start of their independence from Syd and harbinger of their future potential. May your reason be to dig into Pink Floyd early works, check out the only collective work of all band members, see why it divided critics, love for psychedelia and space rock, see if this review is accurate or just sheer curiosity, it definitely deserves one or two tries. And for that I mean for you to get your phones ready. It’s time to unveil the secrets of that saucer.

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.

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.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: DEATH GRIPS – Niggas on the Moon (2014)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 2014
Review by: Jonathan Moss

Man, Death Grips are such a good band. Some people give them shit for being edgy and to be fair they are edgy but in the 21st century they really are doing something new. MC Ride for one is a very original rapper. He gets typecast as an angry black man but I think there’s a lot more to him than that. He can do a lot more than express anger and on niggas in the moon in particularly he displays moments of playfulness. I’m going to start a new paragraph now but i’ll pick this thread back up later. 

Niggas on the Moon is somewhat overshadowed by Jenny Death but its a fantastic album by itself. It opens with Up My Sleeves which starts off with a female computer voice and car alarm (I think) after which Ride rapidly says the title of the song over zach hills cymbals. Then it goes into Bjorks vocal samples and this really interesting droning, fucked up synthesizer playing. I wont analyse Ride’s lyrics or anything but they’re really fantastic, including the simply GREAT PUN “quench my hearse”. The song continues along this line before going into a really creepy subdued bit with MC Ride monotonously saying “If I’m so necessary, blank blank obituary, at Broadway cemetery, at Broadway cemetery, was like I’ll ever know, was like I even want to know, was like I never didn’t know, was like I don’t know I don’t know, if I’m so necessary, blank blank obituary, at Broadway cemetery” then manically laughing before going back to the main, erm, hook of the song. This easily makes it for me one of my favourite Death Grips songs. 

It segues perfectly into the second track Billy Not Really which features more great Bjork vocal sampling and a strange almost paganistic, possibly synthesized flute line, or something that sounds like it. Either way it gives the song an almost night time woodsy vibe, despite being synthesized. Black Quarterback- the song that follows- is really fucking manic and has a very catchy chorus. The “Eddy’s crazy, abrogate me” bit is hooktastic as well, containing an almost infectious bouncy, dancey synth line. Say Hey Kid is cool as well, featuring MC Ride delivering the line “dont it feel good to drive a bus? People need to get picked up” in a disconcertingly playful way. It’s one of the creepiest songs on the album, with the synth line sounding almost sickly- and IDMish- and lyrics which contain references to overdosing and seem to be about vampires, though probably as a metaphor, idk. Have a Sad Cum BB is definitely the noisiest song on the album, with buzzing synth lines bobbing against each other, synthesized MC Ride vocals, really frazzled Bjork (i’m not even sure if its Bjork on this one) vocal samples and some female sing-shouting the title of the song. This gives it a very raucous seasick vibe, but hell, its danceable. Fuck Me Out is interesting lyrically, seeming to be about how sexual contact is preferable to love. Its got a catchy chorus as well. Voila is one of the weaker songs in my opinion but it still has some great high pitched screaming from MC Ride. Big Dipper is a strong closing song, with MC Ride rapping in the chorus “I’m a bullshitter, I’m a shitty stripper, I’m a silhouette lifter, I’m a struck stuck off kilter, I’m a bent bewildered, I’m a fucking downer, I’m a binge thinner, I’m a Big Dipper”, before repeating it again, but y’know, with more shouting. It’s a very fun line to quote randomly at people on facebook messenger. The song features more strange sounding synth lines and is definitely the most abstract song on a pretty abstract album. 

Shit, that’s all the songs on the album! So what can be said about it as a whole. Well, its one of Death Grips leanest albums, the jittery IDMish vibe of the album giving it the same thin, distorted image of MC Ride on the album cover. The Needle Drop critiqued Ride for sounding listless on it but I very much disagree, I think it has some of his most varied vocal performances and the parts TND found as being listless were I would wager intended that way for effect. 

So, to conclude, this is a very strong and somewhat overlooked Death Grips album, and one that helps to negate the image somewhat of Death Grips being a purely edge based band centred on shouting and profanity. Very much recommended.