Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pink Floyd—Music From the Film More (EMI)

Until now, this was the only Waters-era Pink Floyd album I’ve never owned. I’d been looking for it for a few years, after realizing that my favourite Pink Floyd era was that fiendishly productive and exploratory period between Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Dark Side of the Moon. I managed to pick up their other soundtrack album, Obscured by Clouds, on LP, but finding a decent copy of More was difficult. The recent Pink Floyd reissue campaign couldn’t have come soon enough. Suddenly the Floyd were everywhere, even in London Drugs, which got me feeling nostalgic, seeing as I bought a lot of my music at London Drugs as a kid. KISS albums, mostly. London Drugs doesn’t need my help though, so I picked my shiny new copy of More at the soon-to-be-empty edifice of HMV Downtown.

When you open the mini-gatefold LP sleeve, you can see a lady’s boobs, which makes up for the fact that there are no bonus tracks. There’s also a nice booklet with lyrics and stills from the movie. That’s it. If there were liner notes, they might go something like this: Music From the Film More was recorded between A Saucerful of Secrets and Ummagumma at Abbey Road. Director Barbet Schroeder paid each member of Pink Floyd 600 pounds apiece to put in the eight days’ work that produced this music: 13 songs and assorted jams and fragments; their various lengths dictated by the film, which was pretty much complete by the time the band started recording. In his book Inside Out, Nick Mason recalls, “A lot of the moods of the film…were ideally suited to some of the rumblings, squeaks and sound textures we produced on a regular basis night after night.”

Side one has the best songs, written by Waters and mainly sung by Gilmour. They held on to a few of them after the album’s release, with numbers like “Green Is the Colour” and “Cymbaline” showing up on BBC Sessions and other live sets. Nowadays, “The Nile Song” may be the best-known song on the album, having been covered by Voivod, Melvins, and others. For Pink Floyd, it’s practically garage rock, and they wouldn’t record anything so brash until maybe “Young Lust” or “Not Now John.” My personal favourite, though, is the opening track, “Cirrus Minor,” a slightly sinister wisp of a song that presages Waters’ “Grantchester Meadows” with its acoustic guitar picking, sleepy vocal lines, and dubbed-in birdsong.

Side two focuses on atmospheres. “Main Theme” is effectively eerie, with the bass and drum interplay foreshadowing the minimalist drone of OM by a couple decades. “Dramatic Theme” closes the album with a similar jam, with Gilmour playing a more prominent role. “Quicksilver,” the longest piece, sounds like what Schroeder was probably after in the first place, resembling “A Saucerful of Secrets” without the narrative thrust. “Ibiza Bar” is a cool variant on “The Nile Song”’s groove. “More Blues” is exactly as advertised—a straight up blues jam. You have to take the bad with the good, though. Fans often name “Seamus” off Meddle as their least favourite Pink Floyd track, but I’d nominate David Gilmour’s “A Spanish Piece” from More as another low point.

It would take Pink Floyd a few more albums to fully merge their two strengths—the songs and the atmospheres—into an even stronger whole, but just hearing them dabbling in the studio, finding their way in the absence of Syd Barrett’s erratic vision, is fascinating enough.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

YOB—Atma (Profound Lore)

2009’s The Great Cessation was a stern, angry album that signalled YOB’s tumultuous rebirth after a period of label-imposed strife for mainman Mike S. Although Atma is another forbidding record, the band sounds at relative peace. The songs don’t dip quite so deeply into the abyss and the riffs sing out a little more. While the “doom” tag fits, I think their music encompasses much more. To me, doom entails some connection to rock & roll and the blues—you know, Black Sabbath and stuff. YOB’s music doesn’t look backwards. It looks within. It’s grim and monolithic, residing closer to Neurosis than, say, Candlemass.

Mike S. is a one-man guitar army deploying an orchestrated barrage of tones. He’s one of the most accomplished and distinctive guitarists in metal. He can riff relentlessly, piling on variation after variation, as he does on the first seven minutes of “Before We Dreamed of Two” before a classic calm-before-the-storm section with guest Scott Kelly takes over. His guitar is also a punitive instrument, as on the title track, where imposing riffs lead to a long stretch of unaccompanied one-note palm muting from which the climactic riff erupts. The power coming off those tortured strings is intimidating.

There’s usually at least one song per YOB album that swings a bit, like “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived. It took a couple listens to pinpoint it on Atma. Opening track “Prepare the Ground” is the one, though. It swings inexorably; it's a testament to the band's discipline that they managed to hold back and avoid giving it more of a "boogie" feel. “Adrift in the Ocean”—my favourite song on the album—features the tranquil side of YOB, opening with two and a half minutes of atmospheric guitar picking before blasting off for 11 exhilarating minutes that blend crushing guitars and strong vocal melodies. Mike S. uses his upper register—a mutant Burke Shelley/Geddy Lee yowl that’s always been one of YOB’s most appealing elements to me—more than he has since Catharsis.

The production is hideous but effective. The guitars are smothered with pillows, while the drums are brittle and papery. It actually sounds better through earbuds than on my stereo at apartment volume. Cranking it to move some air would help, I’m sure. It’s got character though, and does not hinder the power of YOB one bit. As history has proved, nothing can stop this band. They possess enough inspiration and soul to prevail every time they head into the studio. The chorus of "Prepare the Ground" sums up their attitude (and it's a notion I need to apply to my own life): "Breathe in the power of no tomorrow."