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.

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RHIANNON GIDDENS – Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015)

Review by: Syd Spence
Assigned by: Graham Warnken

tomorrow_is_my_turn_by_rhiannon_giddens

Ms. Giddens is a versatile performer. On this record she covers a plethora of rootsy styles everything from gospel folk, bluegrassy folk, folk folk, rockabilly, jazz among others. It’s got it all! And the voice, Oooo WEE, she has one. I wonder if she’s been on America’s got talent, because i bet she’d be a shoe in.

Despite all this talent, I loathe this record. Everytime i put it on, i just want to immediately stop it. Honestly, i’ve never made it all the way through. Hell, i haven’t made it all the way through most of the songs. The question you are probably asking right now is, “jeeze, is she that bad a song writer.” No she isn’t. I haven’t delved too deep, due to my instant revulsion, but she seems like an adequate rootsy musicians.

It’s just this album screams, SOLD AT STARBUCKS! This record is really emblematic of a trend in petty bourgeois society. The latest craze that’s sweeping this nations educated white middle class is back to the roots, retro hand crafted cool. You can’t throw a stone in a farmers market without hitting some neo folk blue grass singer. There god damn everywhere. And i get it, the world is a digital impersonal wasteland. Everything is going faster and faster, and god damnit, can’t we go back to simpler times. Thus we get shit like this.

See it’s not reason for the retro love that’s the problem, it’s the execution. See a going back to roots is a great idea. I have loved many of folky country good time swing old timey music. There is nothing wrong with that or nostalgia for an era you never experienced. But, and it’s big but, listening to these nufolk record is a pain, because all of it has super clear perfectionist production, that just sucks all the roots out. So when i listen to these records, I don’t feel i’m going back in time, I feel more like starbucks is curating retro cool to me. And that just instantly hits my revulsion button.

Look i’m not saying this record is bad. I’m just saying that capitalist culture is inherently alienating, and these nufolk records alienate me more than anything. Wholefoods presents the ‘20s is my idea of hell, but hey, if it’s your thing. Get this record! And enjoy your cultural zeitgeist meeting consciousness, you lucky prick!

WASHED OUT – Paracosm (2013)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Syd Spence

washed_out_-_paracosm

Feeling constrained
Your author has decided
To do poetry

Chill psychedelia
Bringing electronic soundscapes
Refreshing vibes

While it’s nice and warm
There are better stuff out there
To be enjoyed

Still, I thank you, Reece
A good fourty minutes
experience

RICHARD CHEESE – Aperitif for Destruction (2005)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album Assigned by: Dina Levina

Look it’s a collection of lounge jazz covers of pop and pop metal. Yeah, that’s about it. Does that sound like something you’d want? Good it exists, it’s here. There are literally 12 other Dick, I mean, Richard Cheese albums that do the exact same thing. The exact same joke over and over again. Why though? Why the fuck would there be 12 of these fucking things? The joke isn’t that good. It’s like at best a smile, but 33 minutes of it and that smile is just a frown. I didn’t like most of these songs in their actual form and i don’t like lounge jazz, nor do i find it that funny that Black Eyed Peas get the ol’ Sinatra Blue eyed bullshit treatment. 

I once said that my only regret in life was not seeing Anal Cunt play befor Seth Putnam went to the great gig in the sky. Anal Cunt was a joke band that had oh twoish levels. First level, Grindcore so ridiculously over the top offensive that even grindcore fans disliked it. Two, the exact opposite of that for the lulz of a band called Anal Cunt writing acoustic ballads about respecting women. But Seth did something beyond just this joke, He also was a complete and total hedonistic douche bag. He was a man that you’d troll internet forums just to find out what craziness that bastard was up to. There is this famous picture of him disinterestedly getting a blowjob while he shat heroin on stage. It’s beautiful in it’s trashiness. Now that’s a joke band, not this Richard Cheese shit. I don’t know how Richard sleeps at night knowing he’s wasted so many years, playing lame covers of lame songs for a lame reason. If it didn’t atleast pay for complete and total debasement then… why? 

WHY?

ISIS – Panopticon (2004)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

Apparently this is a concept album based on Jeremy Bentham’s idea of how a prison should be designed, as some sort of reflection on modern society and how its totally fucked bro, etc. I don’t care about any of that though, but man this is a neat album!

So I guess Godflesh is the obvious comparison, but how can you not make it? This album sounds quite obviously inspired by Godflesh. Pounding industrial metal with growley vocals. They definitely aren’t ripping off Godflesh though, if they were I would write a review of Streetcleaner in protest. No, this takes the sound Godflesh started in new and exciting directions! I don’t know why, because the record isn’t that synth laden, but it reminds me somewhat of Aphex Twin. Maybe it’s just the vibe, kind of depressing, but in a spacey way, and quite British as well, so bleak, like all those buildings we have, both rural and industrial. So, this is some sort of metal album, but it features long passages of clean, kind of chiming, proggish guitar playing, almost a sort of negative psychedelia. This, when juxtaposed with the harsh, grinding passages, makes for a thrilling combination. Of course, it helps that this isn’t spastic, the album maintains a tense, sombre mood throughout, with the clean passages helping give it a melancholic vibe and the noisy ones expressing anger and stopping it from becoming boring, like a porcupine tree album. It also helps to give the album a certain depth, though without seeming pretentious, which is surprising considering the concept.

Who wants an album where you have to read Foucault to get the lyrics? I know I do.

It’s somewhat hard to go into individual songs, the album working so well together as a cohesive whole, but I don’t want this review to be short so enjoy this shitty filler paragraph. Well, the opening song “So Did We” is serves its function very well, it made me realise the album was going to be worth listening to straight away, and well worth writing about (which is why I’m so late with this review). It establishes the dynamics of the album quickly and has some great riffs. Which reminds me, this album is seriously catchy, most of the songs have at least one riff worth paying attention to. And the riffs to the quiet sections, those are as beautiful as a man who doesn’t open a tinder conversation with a photo of his dick. The last song is cool as well, featuring a slightly grungier, more monolithic sound, and some cool effects, creating a dirge like effect. It also has some truly elegiac guitar passages.

Anyway, time for some criticism, and I guess I have the same criticism I had of that Ann Peebles album, which is that this can be somewhat monotonous. I get that this is a concept album, so it wants to maintain a similar mood, and it definitely doesn’t harm the album that much, but I do wish they had included some variety, I just can’t think of what else they could have done. Maybe a song that crosses from melancholia to outright despair, or a really angry industrial metal song, but then the album might lose some of its individuality, so what the fuck do I know?

Either way, this album is fabulous and will enter my rotation.

THE DEL FUEGOS – The Longest Day (1984)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

There is this phenomenon I’ve noticed in both in myself and others. I like to call it the local band hyperbole. It’s when a band that is close to you by proximity, and thus you will exaggerate their abilities to everyone in earshot. I know i’ve done this with bands my friends were a part of and I know i’ve see this happen in others as well. You’ll gloss over all the problems and start waxing poetic about their not ready for prime time actuality. My guess is that by their proximity, you put a little more attachment to their sound then say, the recent mega band from a sea over. 

And that brings me to this little record, The Longest Day by The Del Fuegos. Even though this album is what? 30 years old and from the semi major city of Boston, It’s making me want to boast and brag like the Del Fuegos were born from my very loins… This though is an illusion.. This record is rough around the edges slice of retro rock done in the 80s. The fact that the Del Fuegos didn’t appear on the Rhino box set Children of Nuggets, is a crime. All of these songs would fit there nicely, with their “ I want to be in the ‘60s, but my production says I’m horribly stuck in the ‘80s”. In fact this record reminds me of a band featured on the children of Nuggets box set, The La’s. The La’s debut was filled with rough and tumble garage rocky songs. All of them were okay, but not great, except for their one big hit, “There She Goes”. The Del Fuegos’ debut is exactly like that except for a few differences. One they replace the jangle with light country influence, two, the La’s have a more polished production whereas, Del Fuegos sound like ‘80s indie production (it’s not as bad as Black Flag demos, but it’s not exactly REM either). Oh, and there is one major difference, there isn’t a masterstroke like “There She Goes” 

But gosh darnit, these guys sound so sincere, and authentic, and I’m sure they would have rocked local talent night at their nearest bar, but, but, but, let’s get real, The Replacements do everything these guys do, and better. So If Children of Nuggets is your favorite Rhino Box set, GET THIS NOW. Everyone else get a Replacements record.

DEAD MEADOW – Dead Meadow (2005)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

 

 

Dirty stoner rock riffs; dazed, far-out, almost wispy vocals drowned in the haze and standing in contrast to all the mucky fuzz; and slow, loosened up drumming. This is the formula Dead Meadow keep using on their eponymous opus. Now, stoner rock and doom metal are the kind of music I used to be hugely into in my youth and evaluating this album for the review brings back old memories of being a Seeker of the Riff ™, though this is hardly the kind of music I listen to anymore.
We start off with a quiet buzz on “Sleepy Silver Door” that leads into a monstrous riff and eventually progresses into one hell of a slow jam, whereas “Indian Bones”’ heavy psych indulgences evoke in me images of a stoned out shaman doing his voodoo in front of a fire and inhaling as much the pot smoke as the noxious fire smoke. “Dragonfly” has a somewhat post-rocky ambiance backed by repetitive drum beats.
The next track, “Lady”, reminds me a bit of Manfred Mann Chapter 3’s “Travelling Lady”, except that, of course, there are no trumpets or jazz influences here. “Greensky Greenslade” is full of slow doomy blues playing and conjures an atmosphere of early morning rain. “Beyond the Fields We Know” is probably the standout track for me. If the album is soundtrack to a rolling-out-the-joints session (as stoner albums usually are), this might well be the high point of the whole trip. “At The Edge of the Wood” has folksy acoustic beginnings, and pretty much qualifies for a troubadour ballad. “Rocky Mountain High” features some kind of spacey synths towards an end that gets kind of slightly terrifying at least the first time you listen to it. The ending track simply named “Untitled” is mostly an anthemic guitar tune and clocks a short two minutes span, ending quietly without making any fuss.
There’s variation, certainly, although the overall sound does not go through any drastic changes. The riffs are interesting and the blues excursions quite lively. The drumming is laid back and relaxedly precise. In fact, the entire album is permeated with certain tranquility, as if not especially or excessively concerned about breaking any new ground but simply about doing a good job at recreating the good old stoner psych formulae with some indications of an individualistic sound. Hey, this is stoner rock after all!