Black Heart Procession–2 (1999)

r-668060-1395352929-9136-jpegReviewed by Franco Micale

Assigned by Alex Alex

Who are Black Heart Procession? They are a group. What kind of group? They’re a 90s indie rock group, who aren’t anywhere near popularity, but acclaimed enough to have a sizable following. The leader of this band is Pall. A. Jenkins, who, from what I have gathered, played nearly every single instrument on this album, and wrote all the songs. So essentially, this album comes close to being a one man project, yet it never feels like a one.

So, what is this album? It’s their second album, and it’s dark and dreary. It’s very much a singer-songwriter album, but full of all sorts of subtle, experimental atmospherics that are scattered throughout the tracks. Because of this, the album comes off slightly reminiscing neo-folk, such as Current 93 and The Tear Garden. However, with that being said, is the album actually any good? Well, let me give a run through of this work…

The album opens with a booming tampani mimicking the sound of the wind, and it immediately colors up an image of a lonely, desolate harbor along the sea, with the creakling of empty ships and the watery movement of soft waves being the only source of noise in the area. The music starts playing, and it’s sad, mournful, and depressed, but creates imagery of the group playing in an nearly empty bar, located in this empty era. Accompanied by a fender Rhodes piano, an echoic guitar, and changaling chain-like percussion, Pall A. Jenkins sings lyrics that reflect this atmosphere:
“In the time of this winter the waiter had not much to say
He could hear the clock but he could not find his way
If I’m so far from your heart why do I feel it beat
And time won’t wait for us”

Clearly, the waiter is not very happy. But why? Heartbreak? The fear of dying alone? Despair from the loss of a loved one? I honestly don’t know. I’m very bad with lyrics. However, the musical atmosphere in this track is extremely engaging, and does a great job of sucking you in within its first five seconds.

The next track, “Blue Tears”, is even better. This song further cements the imagery of a sad group  playing in a sad empty bar, not only because it has an accordion, but also a trumpet, and a very lovely melody. It’s augmented by a waltz-esque rhythm (though it’s in 4/4, so its not technically a waltz), and very beautifully raw singing from Pall.  The lyrics, again, and very sad. Here are some of them:

“Now I know that I must leave
And I can’t remember when I ever felt so great
It was my time spent with you before the war

But now these blue tears
They keep falling
Falling down from my lonely eyes
They’re falling for you”

After this track, we return back to the sea dock, with the song “A Light So Dim”, which may be my favorite song on the album. It chugs along at a slow, lengthy pace, but is undercovered by beautiful rhythmic piano lines, layers and tinkerings of guitar and organ chords, and a great melody at its core. It creates a picture of seamen rowing an old, broken up boat, on a darken red night.

Following this, comes the acoustic driven “Your Church Is Red”. There’s a lot of imaginary in this song I don’t understand, but it’s  a very beautiful acoustic driven piece that never ceases to sway positive reactions from me.

At this point the album begins to escape me, and I lose  the capability to write pretentious imaginary based on the album. To me,  everything interesting and captivating are condensed in the first four tracks, and after that, it just draaagggs. The music gets so subtle that it simply stops becoming subtle, and is just boring to sit through. It’s not just because the melodies are weak (though they really, really are), but mainly because the atmosphere the music is trying to create is just almost nonexistent. There are a lot of beautiful instrumentation and productional touches, but it never seems to move the music forward or create any sort of defined aural environment, or even any sounds that I find interesting. There’s also the fact that, while the Pall sounds good on the songs that are good, his voice really doesn’t work anywhere else. This is an issue, because this is very lyrically and personality driven music, and while Pall’s voice is fairly soulful, it sounds like a very average indie rock singer, with no distinct tone or mannerisms in his voice. After track four, the whole album just feels like a giant bland, uncolorful mush of pianos, organs, and delay’d guitar.

There is one really good track after the sea of absolute lethargy, and that’s “Beneath The Ground”. It’s a nearly instrumental track that tries to create atmosphere in a manner different from the standard piano + organ + guitar + generic singing routine of the other tracks. Set to the rhythm of a sparse drum machine, Pall uses guitar harmonics to create an illuminous sonic field of fuzz that I find very pleasing to sit through. And the last track is a reprise of the first track, which in of itself, since it’s a good song to begin with, but what sticks out is how fantastically it ends the album, with about 4 minutes of dead, blank windy atmosphere surrounding my headphone
All in all, this is a very tiring album that I’m struggling to review effectively. There’s some very great moments, but it’s such a chore to listen to all the way through that I’m unsure if I would ever desire to play this album again. Perhaps I’m missing something, because from what I can tell, this is actually a fairly well acclaimed album, but simply put, this is just simply not for me. If I depressing, atmospheric indie-folk music that I can genuinely enjoy, I’ll stick to Current 93. There may be quality moments on this record, but sorry Alex, I just can’t click with this. Except for the first three and last two songs. So I guess that’s a good slice of the album. But still, overall this album just as a very lethargic effect of me. I think you get the point.

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The Legendary Pink Dots–CRUSHED VELVET APOCALYPSE (1990)

0001475488_10Review by Roland Bruynesteyn

Assigned by Franco Micale

When I looked the band up, I found it apparently has a Dutch connection. Some Dutch players went through its ranks and they are (or were) based in Amsterdam for part of their career. Hmm…

First song, I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty, sounds as you would it expect it to sound: somewhat naïve singer / song writer territory with an acoustic guitar. Halfway, more instruments are added, giving it a somewhat classical folky touch. Although not ambitious in any way, it’s a nice way to start the album.

Green Gang starts annoyingly with lots of sitar and tabla shit. Could be my ears, but I have seldom, if ever, heard nice songs with this instrumentation. It also sounds very dated, as if it’s made to entertain their guru, and unfortunately, like most sitar-based songs, it’s way too long, because they want to get that drony feeling across. Halfway through the sitar takes a back seat and some seagulls join in. The last part has some strange singing (“Here comes the Green Gang” repeated over and over again) and sounds like it’s produced by Eno on steroids. The song actually improves as it moves along, but cannot be compared (favorably) with the first one.

Hellsville starts with Pink Floyd sound effects and soon turns quite electronic, not unlike Roger Waters’ latest solo album actually. The voice resembles Roger as well, but that may be the recording. Not much actual melody and not much lyrical development, but groovily atmospheric.

Hellowe’en is a very short interlude, with some industrial sounds. Could be music for some scene in a horror movie.

The Safe Way starts out like a proper song again, a bit like Mercury Rev meets On The Run from Dark Side of The Moon, with a little Clare Torry (being tortured) thrown in for good measure. The song sounds actually good to me, but I think the vocals are lacking in quality and character and (therefore?) mixed in the background.

Just A Lifetime starts nicely with some harpsichord type piano (or guitar). Drums sound like cardboard boxes, but again a nice folksy melody. Vocals sound a little Syd Barrett while living through something quite unpleasant. The song has a strong 60’s vibe and is quite good as the sitars have disappeared. Especially the extended coda may be the best part of the album and sounds like a (better) prequel to Jacco Gardner.

The Death Of Jack The Ripper was unfortunately not available at YT

New Tomorrow starts off with almost Gregorian chanting and some ambient synth tones. Just over a minute in, some vaguely oriental music starts a little folksy melody. Singing voice is, again, a little weak and sounds a little like 80-ish UK indy pop. The music is more ambitious and takes a turn left after 4,5 minutes: there may not be much development but it does not overstay its welcome with me. Nice song.

Princess Coldheart is again a very 60’s sounding song that could have been sung by Syd, partly because of the way the voice is recorded here, but also because of the actual lyrics: In the courtyard flowers bloomed, they draped themselves ‘round tombs and rows of crosses … etc. Again a long coda that is very nice (with a majestically ascending line) and probably the best part of the song.

The Pleasure Palace starts quite industrial and riffy and soon adds processed voices. Sort of a slowed-down Woman And Man by Ween in places. It is a song I do not like, but I can respect it.

The Collector goes for the nice harpsichord sound again, although it may not be a real one. The whispering part is a little silly, but this is one groovy song.

C.V.A. could not be located at YT, but it’s only a 1.15 minute snippet.

What to make of it? It’s an interesting band for sure, and I like the way they structured this album, with some less accessible songs hidden between the twangy psych-folk. It doesn’t all work however, especially the singing voice leaves me wanting. Although you should proceed with caution, and at your own risk, chances are you might like one of their albums and I’ll certainly be investigating them some more.

EL-P – Cancer 4 Cure (2012)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

I’m going to be honest, I’m not one who is really qualified to review rap music. For one thing, I have been so busy lately that I have not been able to find a satisfying amount of time to really digest, listen to and examine this album from multiple angles. On top of that, hip hop is such a lyrically focused genre of music, and while I can be good at analyzing and dissecting apart literature, poetry, and lyrics, it tends to take me a lot of work, and I’ve just finished my summer quarter of school and I really don’t want to force myself to write an essay detailing the philosophical and sociological messages of “Cancer 4 Cure”. So, pardon me if I am not reviewing and judging this album “properly”. 

I will talk about what I know, and this album sounds amazing. The whole thing, when I visualize it, is like some giant, cinematic, sci-fi action movie, except the movie is about some dystopian society filled with drones, security cameras, and watchguard robots. E-lp’s lyrics seem to deal with detachment and disassociation from the world…finding dissatisfaction from relationships, cheap thrills, technology, fame, the government… just listening to him rap stirs my soul in various way. I can feel the ANGER, the RAGE, the PASSION in what he’s doing, both in his words and his delivery. I don’t know if I can really nail down any specific moments that catch my attention, but to me I consider this album to be solidified proof that anyone who says that rap music is a “stupid” genre of art either:

Have barely heard any rap music, or
Are over the age of 40 and can no longer find appreciation in trendy new types of music

Anyways, moving on, let’s discuss the SOUND and STYLE of this album.This album is a mixture of synthesized sounds, mechanized drum beats, and variety of samples and big, attention grabbing effects, which all seem to create what is the auditory equivalent to a high budget sci-fi movie. This flashy production contrasts and compliments E-lp’s frustration and desperation in a consumeristic and technology driven world,and on a surface level, everything just dazzles me.

Overall, I could go into more detail, but eh. I just don’t feel like it. I’ll let you listen to it, and decide for yourself the quality of this album.

So overall, even though I don’t feel extreme love towards it, it’s a perfectly great and solid album with not a real bad moment. For people who are interested in rap music, but aren’t really sure where to start, this might not be a bad beginning point.


Did I enjoy this album? A: Yes

Should you listen to this album? A: If you like rap music, yes you should.

Is it essential that you listen to this album? A: I don’t know how innovative or revolutionary or how different this is from other rap music, so I don’t know if I can answer this. But yes, it feels important enough.

If you like this album, what should you listen to? A: I haven’t heard them, but Run The Jewels is the main project that E-lp is a part of, so I’d check that out.

FAVORITE TRACK? A: Album was very consistent, can’t quite pick out one.

LEAST FAVORITE TRACK? A: N/A

THE FART GUYS – The Fart Guys (1998)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

This review was a breeze! No one had to pull my finger to do it. At first I was like the constipated composer – he was stuck on his last movement. Or the constipated accountant – he couldn’t budget! Listening to this album was like a breath of fresh air. Rip roaring fun. It’s a real gas! This album is like farting in an elevator – it’s wrong on so many levels. Then again, a crowded elevator always smells different to a midget.. I’m not one to wear my fart on my sleeve, but as they say, laugh and the world laughs with you; fart and they’ll stop laughing. Confucius say, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.” Therefore, so as not to be selfish, I would like to share some spirited poetry:

A Belch is but a gust of wind
That cometh from the Heart,
But should it take a downward trend,
Turneth into a Fart

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot

CATHERINE RIBEIRO + ALPES – Le Rat Dèbile Et L’Homme Des Champs (1974)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Although I like this album, it’s very difficult for me to actually judge it for what it is. The big issue I have is that I don’t speak French, so therefore half the time I have no idea what is going on; a lot of the music here seems to be highly lyrically centered. Also, the production and musical content here leaves much to be desired. Basically, the best way to describe this album is that it’s like a mixture of Renaissance, Can, and Nico, except with a very sparse range of instrumentation. There is also a noticeable lack of drums on this album, and although this sound does make for a fairly unique style, it wouldn’t have hurt to ingrain some more rhythmic textures to the songs. On top of that, the production is rather weak to my ears, as the instruments sound muddled together without any attempt to make the tones or timbres shine out. Also, melodically, few of the songs here really stick to my attention in any way, but I don’t think the band was necessarily aiming to create catchy melodies, so I’ll give them a pass.

However, despite all these flaws, I can’t deny that Catherine Ribeiro totally owns the show here. She displays some of the greatest and most expressive singing I’ve ever heard in rock music. I remember I once made an argument about how good singing in music was just as important as solid songwriting, and I declare this album as definitive proof of how right I was. If someone with a horrible voice had sung any of this, then I guarantee this would have been unlistenable, but this woman really raises this album’s quality from abysmal to highly captivating.

Because of Ribeiro, I can honestly say that the first three songs on this album are actually really great, all else aside. The album hits it off with “La Petite Aux Fraises”, a rushing piece with an intense performance from Catherine and a gripping arrangement, in which all the instruments sound as if they are racing against each other. There is also this jiggly and jostling percussive sound that I can’t quite discern. It sounds similar to the electric jug that would appear on a 13th Floor Elevator song (like on this tune), but I can’t tell. Anyone know?

The next piece, “L’ere De La Putrefaction,” is one of the two lengthy suites on the album, and it definitely has a “thematic” and “epic” feel to it. Even though it feels a little clunky at times (what’s with that gap of silence between the third and fourth movement of the suite?), when the piece gets heated, it’s BURNING. I especially love the last part, where the music gets all intense, Catherine boasts her singing out loud, the organ plays a fiery, Morricone-esque melody, and then they even bring in DRUMS! FRICKIN’ DRUMS! The piece just builds up more and more, the drums start going crazy and banging all over the place, all the instruments start doing random stuff, and then BOOM BOOM BOOM! Everything crashes and ends with a blast. Whoa…the whole thing plays out like a climactic scene in an epic movie, and if the rest of the album was like this, I definitely I would have gushed over this more.

Now, as the individual songs go, my favorite song here is the folky “Un Regard Clair”, if only because of how great Catherine sings on this track. Listen to how she oscillates her voice back and forth, swaying between triumph and despair, as if all the passion swelling within her is about to break her down in tears. And kudos to whoever wrote that concise yet anthemic organ melody that correlates to her singing, as it pushes the piece’s emotional power a few inches further. 

So that’s the first side: Extremely solid. Had that side been released alone, I would have easily given this album an 8/10. But then comes the second side, completely comprised of a 25 minute suite, and from this point on my opinion on the album becomes distorted. Basically, this isn’t so much a song as it is a long-winded poem spoken by Catherine, with the music providing the atmosphere and texture. Now see, it’s difficult for me to judge any of this because, well, I don’t speak French, so therefore I have no idea what the hell is going on. So this means I only have the music to focus on, and frankly, a lot of this is very grating. On one hand, I can admit Catherine really gives a fantastic performance on this track, injecting so much life and personality into the words that she speaks. When I focus on her voice, I find myself really enthralled by the track. On the other hand, the actual music here is very tedious, with no rhythm, structure, or logic to hold anything together. I guess it can be amusing at first, but the end result sounds like an ill-fated cover of The Doors’ “Celebration of the Lizard”. Perhaps once I major in French, I can appreciate this more… but for right now, ehhhh…

So in conclusion, flaws aside, I would say that while this isn’t the most likable album ever made, this is a perfectly enjoyable one if you pay close attention to Ribeiro’s voice, and disregard all of the other flaws surrounding the album. She is able to find all sorts of pitches, moods, and resonances to keep the music engaging. Once you have that in mind, everything else becomes very interesting, as she is able to lead you down this twisted, confused, yet sprawling and ambitious journey. But no matter what, this album is really not easy to swallow, so proceed with caution!

Melody: 2/5 
Resonance: 5/5
Diversity: 1/5 
Adequacy: 1/5
Originality: 3/5

Overall: 6/10

PHILIP GLASS – Powaqqatsi (1988)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

“Powaqqatsi”, which means “Life in transformation” in Hopi, is the second of 3 “qatsi” films, for which Philip Glass scored and recorded the soundtrack. I am not familiar with the other two. I vaguely recollect seeing one of the 3 movies, and I THINK it was this one. The movie presents in a non-narrative manner without dialog several scenes of events around the world. I honestly don’t remember much more, but it has no bearing on the appreciation of this album. It definitely sounds like a movie soundtrack, but stands up very well as a work on its own. I am familiar with some, but not all, of Glass’s work – his piano etudes, the Low and Heroes Symphonies and “Knee Play” segments from “Einstein on the Beach”, as well as other scattered pieces I’ve heard performed over the years. The basic elements of Glass’s general style are very much identifiable in this music, but this is “big screen” Philip Glass. It uses Minimalist elements in its structure – the subtly-changing repeating simple lines that weave patterns with each other, but it certainly is not “minimalist” in its arrangements. Most pieces are quite dense with orchestra, percussion, choirs or other vocal ensembles, and a very wide range of different “ethnic” musical influences. This is kind of Glass’s “World Music” work, reflecting the themes of the movie. The sound alternately evokes Brazil, India, China, and the Middle East without necessarily directly quoting their musical styles. The obvious exception is the vocal (in Arabic, I assume) on “From Egypt”. Sometimes the music gradually transitions, while other times it jump cuts abruptly. Dense, bombastic (in a good way) pieces like “Caught” contrast with sparser & gentler passages.
In a nutshell, it’s a definite thumbs up for this one. The “CLASSICAL” and “MINIMALIST” labels should not scare away listeners. Glass’s work (as far as I know it) is very much tonal, and this album is quite accessible for listeners who are somewhat adventurous and interested in world music. 

This review is also posted on Amazon here.