León Gieco – De Ushuaia a La Quiaca Vol. 1 (1985)

Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by Charly Saenz

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Wikipedia claims Léon Gieco is known for mixing popular folkloric genres with Argentinian rock and roll (suggesting something like the south American Los Lobos), and that he can be considered the Argentinian Bob Dylan (suggesting a political and / or poetic singer song writer). I wouldn’t know about that, but I do think there’s a local, ethnic, element in the music, a bit like the Argentinian Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band.

In 1981 Gieco started a Never Ending Tour all over Argentina, collecting material from the different places he visited during the tour. Following the tour, he recorded this first volume of De Ushuaia a La Quiaca various local musicians in 1985. Two other volumes were recorded in different locations of the country. Paul Simon may have gotten the idea for Rhythm of the Saints upon hearing this, when he had to come up with a follow up to Graceland…

His voice is nicely sincere and almost theatrical. Not as overdone as by flamenco artists (like Camarón de la Isla) but definitely in, say, Triana territory. Because I sympathize with social activists (he suffered censorship in the 70’s) and because I like the intention to redo traditionals and employ locals, I want to like this album, but the production is making it difficult. Sometimes bad production tricks seep through: at 7.32 (on YT) you’ll hear the programmed keyboard fuck up. At other times, for instance on the third song Por El Camino Perdido, a nice enough song gets lost in a silly repeating keyboard pattern and a nauseating guitar sound that make it sound like your average 80’s pop ballad. But then, on Principe Azul, it all works: mainly acoustic, sounding quite authentic.

The YT version I listened to, proudly claims that Gustavo Santaolalla, the musical director for the project, was the first to integrate MIDI into traditional music. Based on this album, I consider this a bad idea. In ‘updating’ the sound, he actually loses the sound, making it hard to judge the quality of the song writing. It’s as if you update the Clapton song Let It Rain into My Fathers’ Eyes. Still, Gustavo wrote No Existe Fuerza En El Muno. It is potentially one of the best songs on the album, but you wouldn’t know it from this version.

Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros does sound quite a lot like Los Lobos, as it’s one of the few up-tempo tracks. Again, not a bad song, the accordion and the background yelling adding to the authentic atmosphere. A nice song to end the album, but I do not really like the album

I’ll have to postpone my final verdict about Léon: I (desperately want to) believe that this is his “mid 80’s Dylan phase”, and that there are better albums before and after, but I just do not know yet.

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HENRYK GORECKI – Dawn Upshaw, London Sinfonietta, David Zinman ‎– Symphony No. 3 (1992)

Review by: Schuyler L
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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Note: Well, this isn’t something I’ve done… er, ever. Upon receiving the assignment, I considered the idea of reviewing a symphony proper which:
A. Was published in 1977
B. Has three movements, with the longest at nearly twenty-seven minutes
C. Is titled “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” in reference to its subject matter, the victims of the holocaust.

… And naturally, I realized that it just wouldn’t do to say some words about this piece whilst trying to insert the usual levity I like to employ for comedic effect (when I run out of more substantive comments).

And, naturally, I sort of put this one off altogether for a while just because of that…. unfairly, I must say, because levity does not a good review make, and I might just as well put off reviewing something whimsical for lack of serious things to say.

Anyhow, this piece turned out to be one of wonderful depth and character, so I’m glad I was assigned it after all. The first movement in particular is really graced by the fine conducting of David Zinman, whose studied decisions in phrasing and texture are doubly strengthened by the warm (and wonderfully recorded) strings of London Sinfonietta. In fact, the first movement flows along so purposefully and unhampered in its first thirteen minutes that we nearly forget the presence on this recording of star soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose entrance is nothing short of angelic. Her appearance is only a brief repose, however, from the trudging, descending minor basso ostinato that is its central motif. The overall impression is one of something vibrant and unique soon to be eradicated by some impending doom.

The lamentful B-flat minor of the slow, tranquillisimo second movement is where things get quite serious. The vocal, which unceremoniously enters at the start like a quiet prayer, floats and lilts at the very center of the melody for the first time, while swells of strings add to a timeless, cosmic feeling of compassion for all suffering in this pathos-filled movement.

Finally, a somber, slightly faster D minor theme brings us back down to Earth. We feel as though something is irretrievably lost; the strings at times evoke the texture of a church organ, and soon we realize that what we are hearing is not merely a requiem for the dead, but for the world as people once knew it; the promises of the 20th century, any sense of a shared history and culture across civilisation – all of it is gone, forever, and all that remains is what we have always had – memories. But all is not lost – when the D minor melody enters a second time, its appearance seems hopeful; a testament to the immutability of a culture divided and broken, but steadfast in its determination to remember its past while forging ahead into modern culture. The piece finally resolves to a lingering, heroic A major, before vanishing into the ether once more.

An essential piece for anyone interested in modern music. As George would say, one thumb, way up there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

BASIC CHANNEL – BCD 2 (2008)

Reviewed by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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After three minutes of listening to Enforcement, the first track on Basic Channel’s BCD 2, I could have made up my mind: this is shitty noise, it’s not even music. I could write a few paragraphs focusing on why I do not like it. I could briefly discuss individual tracks and I could single out some differences between them. I could philosophize about whether this is music at all. I could do all that and the end result would be predictable: Roland does not like it because he’s a dad rocker at heart and this is not dad rock. This review would be useless, then.

So I decided to do something different: I propose to answer the question why somebody would like this. I make this a three-pronged question:

  •         Don’t all tracks sound the same?
  •         There’s not much development going on in any particular song, is there?
  •        Why is this actually good music (rather than bad music or ‘good sounds and         grooves’)?

Don’t all tracks sound the same?

Strange question, Roland. Having a signature sound does not seem to bother you when listening to J.J. Cale, Phish or the Allman Brothers Band. In a sense, it’s what makes one a fan of a certain group in the first place. But to answer the question, no, not really. For instance, Phylyps Trak sounds way more focused on just bass and percussion than Enforcement. Inversion is colored (some would say: dominated) by a Riders On The Storm-type of rain sounds in the back.

There’s not much development going on in any particular song, is there?

There you may be on to something, Roland. Generally, the tracks take their time to slowly develop. It is strongly loop based. But that’s not much of a criticism, is it? You, as a lover of all things krautrock, trancy stuff such as Kitaro/Tangerine Dream/JM Jarre and minimal music such as Philip Glass and Simeon ten Holt should not only respect this, you should love it! The attraction is not so much caused by something as vulgar as a simple, catchy, memorable hook :), but it is indeed way more sophisticated. By elaborating on a theme, slowly adding little variations, the rhythm and the continuity become the hook, sort of.

Why is this actually good music (rather than ‘bad music’ or ‘good sounds and grooves’)?

Well, it IS also ‘good sounds and grooves’, as this is more or less their chosen genre or schtick. And, as music, it has to be judged on those terms, not on some preconceived notion of good music the listener might have.

If a lover of thrillers judges a poem, you’d not expect him to judge the poem as a shitty thriller but to judge it as fiction. This is ambient techno, rather than dad rock. As dad rock, this pretty much sucks, but that’s not really the point. If one ONLY likes dad rock, this will suck. But that really only reflects poorly on the listener that listens with closed ears.

In short: this music may not be hummable or great to sing along to, but it is comforting nonetheless. As a modern-day type of serial music it succeeds. You probably won’t listen to this over and over again on a daily basis, but it is far more satisfying and indeed, rewarding, than some other genres such as punk or heavy metal.

It is less psychedelic, and less melodic than, say, Ozric Tentacles, but in a way, it is more subtle. The slowly, but constantly evolving instrumentation (whether it’s some synth loop, some sound effect or some rhythmic variation) does not keep you anticipating their next move on your toes, but certainly with some expectation to be surprised and delighted.

We will have to believe Tristan if he claims that this is one of the highlights in this genre. As such, I can honestly recommend this to any open-minded music lover with a comprehensive collection. In my collection, it would proudly sit between BBM and the Beach Boys…

XIU XIU – La Foret (2005)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by: Eric Pember

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Often, when I’m asked to listen to something I’ve never heard before, rather than listen with open ears, I do some desk research. Must be the academic in me: opinions better be grounded in reason and arguments. Looking at Wikipedia (for both the album and the band), one notices that many people, and even more instruments, contribute to the album. Still, it has a somewhat minimal, lo-fi, indie sound, with the lead vocalist hyperventilating in a nearby phone booth. There is a drummer, but it sounds very much programmed.

During the first three songs it slowly dawned on me that this was a bit like a mix of Wilco and Eels, but far worse than both. Once this sort of conclusion enters your mind, it’s difficult to lose it, but I was trying! Low and behold! The fourth song (Pox) was actually a bit more like the Flaming Lips, with a different singer. But then Baby Captain is actually more Ween playing a Sigur Ros song.

Saturn starts with a crashing and indeed, spacy, piano chord, suitably menacing. Some voices are heard as well. The chord returns, interspersed with some pc game bleeps. And after the whistling part, that comes as a relief, the voice returns, with some light industrial percussion. I don’t know, it may be their Revolution #9 or something.

Rose Of Sharon starts nice enough, with what sounds like a pipe organ. Again, the silly voice tries to convey something dramatic. Something Nico did 45 years ago. After the two-minute mark, some processed piano (?) enters. That part is not bad, but it only lasts a minute, the singer returns, only to be slaughtered in some ritualistic way.

Ale, again starts nicely, with some musical interplay. But far too soon that voice starts again. Too bad, as the first two minutes would make a great instrumental interlude whether it’s early Amon Düül or Friends-era Beach Boys. As it is, it meanders along, with the singer sounding a little like the singer of MGMT.

Bog People sounds more up tempo and guitar driven. After a fun intro, unfortunately the singer starts again. Some people may call the voice an ‘acquired taste’. Not only did I not acquire it, to these ears this guy simply cannot sing. He’s using all kinds of effects, and whether it is to improve a poor voice to begin with or to make a perfectly acceptable voice sound like it does on purpose, I don’t know, but the effect is horrendous.

Dangerous You Shouldn’t Be Here is totally minimalistic again, with no real singing but more preaching. The music is not totally bad here, by the way: the organ, the plucking of an acoustic and the sound effects create a somewhat creepy atmosphere that works. But Jeff Tweedy (or Roger Waters) could have a created something far more impressive with this piece of music.

Yellow Raspberry again offers some acoustic guitar. Some possibly acoustic drums (or cardboard boxes) and other effects join the vocals and end the album on a sad note.

Which is how this review will have to end. For me, this album, and indeed, possibly this genre of music, does not serve any purpose: it’s not fun or uplifting to listen to, you cannot dance to it, it’s not relaxing background music to work by and it’s no party music. If you’re an adolescent, bordering on depression, this may be the album for you (although I suggest The Wall). To me, this sounds pretentious and contrived and it is no serious artistic statement (like Guernica, to name a work of art from a totally different field that (equally) does not necessarily give pleasure).