Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Difficult 2015—Reissues and Archival Releases

2015 was such a lousy year for music that I found most of my fun in the reissues pile. Each one of these was an exciting discovery.

Alice Coltrane—Universal Consciousness (Superior Viaduct)
This is a fantastic reissue of Coltrane’s 1971 album for Impulse!—one which Fact magazine declared the third best album of the 1970s. The music shimmers and prickles you, surging in ways that I can’t comprehend—how do you play like that? The spiritual journey that Coltrane describes in the liner notes isn’t something I can understand either, but I’m certainly glad it sparked the creation of this music.

Six Organs of Admittance—Dust and Chimes (Holy Mountain)
Ben Chasny is in full folk/psych acoustic splatter mode on this set originally released in 2000. A little frantic and spindly to really mellow you out, it’s mind-expanding stuff nevertheless.

Besombes/Rizet—Pôle (Gonzaï Records)
This French duo operated in the same synth/freakout realms as Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and especially Heldon. It doesn`t sound like they had the latest gear (in an era when being two or three years behind could mean a lot), but they made the most of it. The original 1975 LP was a double. This reissue is a single disc, but you get the whole set of tracks with the download card.

 Soft Machine—Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform)
Allan Holdsworth joining Soft Machine made for a heavy, volatile mix. Ace Soft Machine archivists Cuneiform Records have outdone themselves with this CD/DVD combo.

Sensations Fix—Music is Painting in the Air (1974-1977) (RVNG)
Italo/American outfit Sensations Fix were led by Franco Falsini, who returns to his cache of tapes recorded in the mid-seventies for this collection of lost tracks and remixes. The songs are driven by Falsini’s cosmic guitar playing and plentiful Minimoog. It’s whacked-out and hapless enough to have considerable obscurist allure.

Friday, April 08, 2016

2112: Side Two

There’s a scene in Freaks and Geeks where the geeks argue about the perfect movie. Sam says it’s The Jerk. Neil claims that it’s Caddyshack. No way, Sam scoffs. Caddyshack is totally inconsistent. It’s just like Stripes: “You cannot tell me what happened in the second half of that movie.”

2112 is the Stripes of classic rock albums. To say it’s front-loaded is an understatement. The first side so obsesses people that they forget that side two even exists. The 20 minute suite of songs that make up “2112” is the entire album to some fans. I’ve even seen the claim that 2112 is a concept album.

2112 is not a concept album. Side two has nothing to do with the side preceding it, unless I’m missing something. Maybe after the elder race assumes control of the solar federation, everyone celebrates by getting really high, as told in “A Passage to Bangkok.” This extension of the "2112" storyline hasn’t been widely accepted yet, so let’s go with the idea that 2112 consists of the title piece and unrelated songs on side two.

The songs in question aren’t the strongest stretch of material in the Rush catalogue either. Fly By Night might even have better short songs if you consider the kick-ass quotient of “Anthem,” “Best I Can,” “Beneath Between & Behind” and “Fly by Night.” Side two of 2112 is a mixed bag indeed. It starts and ends strongly with “A Passage to Bangkok” and “Something for Nothing.” Both were in the live set for years. “Passage…” is loveably dumb, seemingly written to get the Woodersons in their audience on board. I remember reading the lyrics for the first time and dealing with the realization that my heroes were stoners. As Morrissey once whined, I swear I never even knew what drugs were at that age.

This leaves a three-song ditch in the middle. Caress of Steel was dedicated to Rod Serling, and now “The Twilight Zone” continues the tribute. Unfortunately it’s a stitched-together and forgettable ditty. Also unfortunate is that it was the single off the album—not likely to send the roller rink into a frenzy on a hot seventies night. Frampton and Styx had nothing to worry about.

“Lessons” is a solid Fly by Night by way of “Ramble On” number elevated by Alex Lifeson’s acoustic rhythm guitar track. Peart, faced with laying down something basic in 4/4, sprinkles in a bunch of fancy fills to keep himself interested.

“Tears” is the sort of ballad they felt obliged to include for a while—think “Rivendell,” “Panacea,” and “Madrigal.” Best of the lot was “Different Strings” from Permanent Waves. For Moving Pictures and subsequent albums, the real ballady ballads were dropped.

After “Tears,” “Something for Nothing” swoops in to save the day, taking the album out on a triumphant, defiant note. Geddy howls like his throat’s about to give out, Peart throws in an 84-bar tom roll, and it’s hell yeah! Finally time to flip the album over and play side one again.