Space Rock

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Way back in 2013 I posted a couple short missives/teasers (here and here) regarding Simon (son of Phil) Collins’ Sound Of Contact project with multi-instrumentalist/producer Dave Kerzner, and mysteriously failed to follow it up with an album review. Shame on me, then, for whilst Dimensionaut was initially a slow grower, it’s proved to be record deserving of repeated spins over the last year and a half. ‘Nu Prog’ is perhaps rightly derided for borrowing the musical template of the pioneering ’70s acts – long songs, instrumental showboating, conceptual contrivances – without really adding much in terms of originality or imagination. Certainly there are bands guilty on these counts – Riverside, early The Tangent and DeeExpus spring to mind – though for me the cardinal sin committed by such bands is their inability to oftentimes muster a memorable tune. Sound of Contact are not such a band, and whilst I enjoyed Dimensionaut from first listen, it was from repeated spins that I learned to really love it. Another recently-purchased album that falls loosely into the aforementioned ‘genre’ is Please Come Home by John Mitchell, aka Lonely Robot. The two artists (and albums) have, on the face of it much in common: overarching sci-fi themes; driving-force musical presences with a reluctance to commit their names to the project; a preponderance for hummable melody over musical excess (not always the case with ‘prog’ type acts).

Mitchell, and to a lesser extent, Collins are both well established ‘names’, at least on a cult-following level. As a long time Marillion fan I discovered the former thru his previous band Kino, featuring Pete Trewavas on bass guitar. He is also a key member of Jem Godfrey‘s Frost* project (third album, anytime soon?) whose Milliontown album remains a high watermark of Nu Prog. (Ironically, if casual listeners are familiar with Godfrey at all, it’s more likely to be thru his work with pure pop fodder such as Blue, Shayne Ward and Atomic Kitten). PCH could be an album by either of those artists, though, despite some input from Godfrey, it more closely resembles Kino. There is a certain ubiquity of melody and style which is distinctly Mitchell, albeit one which chimes rather well with Godfrey‘s and with the broader Nu Prog aesthetic. You can hear such an aesthetic in the work of bands as disparate as Fair To Midland, Doves, Everything Everything and Mystery Jets; one of making music that perfectly combines the demands of pop immediacy with complexity and depth. It’s not a million miles from the ’70s Art Rock blueprint mapped out by the likes of 10cc, Supertramp, or even Talking Heads. As early as the late ’90s, early ’00s, the idea that ‘Prog is no longer a 4-letter word’ had begun to creep back in. Albums such as Mansun‘s Six, Mercury Rev‘s All Is Dream, Pure Reason Revolution‘s The Dark Third and Secret Machines’ Now Here Is Nowhere attracted much critical acclaim. Radiohead perhaps deserve much of the credit for re-establishing the idea that musical ambition is a worthy pursuit, their own flowering spectacularly – in parallel with popularity and critical acclaim – on OK Computer and the Kid Amnesiac double-whammy. Dimensionaut and Please Come Home wear their cleverness more lightly than those albums: in spite of the sci-fi concept angle, both are perfectly enjoyable as pop pieces, for their well-written songs. Both, as is so true of the best of Nu Prog, hark back to ’80s/’90s pop/rock. I’m not a huge fan of Phil Collins‘ solo output at the best of times (as much as I love so much of his work with Genesis) but I’m not oblivious to the fact that he was incredibly popular; and that doesn’t happen without good reason. His son has clearly imbibed much of what was great about his writing: it’s almost a perfect balance of pop Phil/prog Phil. Lonely Robot tips unselfconciously its hat to ’80s singer-songwriting talent too, in the form of cameos from Go West‘s Peter Cox and Nik Kershaw. Both have, what I like to affectionately call their Porcupine Tree (and there’s another band that certainly belongs amongst the list in the previous paragraph) moments; where metallic riffing rudely, albeit appropriately intrudes into procedings in trademark Nu Prog counterpoint.

On first inspection, they could almost have been produced by the same crew, despite Mitchell’s and Collins’ distinct vocal styles (the latter’s eerily similar to his dad’s, as is his drumming): both exhibit the ubiquity of the new prog era as much as its accomplishment. The jarring, unsettling aspects that say, Robert Fripp, Peters Hammill or Hackett brought to the party back in the day (or latterly Radiohead and Secret Machines) are notable for their absence. Where Crimson, Van Der Graaf and early Genesis could sometimes be fuzzy and disorienting, Nu Prog is smooth prog. I’m conscious that I still haven’t provided a proper review of either album; but if you’re a fan of things proggy I hope I’ve maybe progressed a few yards in whetting your appetite. If you’ve made it this far, check out a couple soundclips now: these are not albums that you want to be missing.

Re-re-‘Sized

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If you loved Oceansize you’ll love The Demon Joke, the new album from former frontman Mike Vennart. The swathe of Unfamiliar material was a bit much for me to take in at the Brighton gig a couple weeks back – the potential was clear, but this isn’t music that gives of its best up front; it requires patience, the better to tease out the intricacies.

If you’re not familiar with Oceansize I’d fall back on ‘it’s Elbow (heartstrings) vs Mastodon (asskick) spiced with a little Faith No More (contrariness)’. And as much as I adore Oceansize‘s expansiveness I love that Vennart can satisfyingly cram as much into 4 minutes as his former band did into 8.

Mark Heron was all over the kit for four albums and as many LPs, and his Moon/Portnoy presence would be missed if new boy, Denzel’s math-y economy didn’t chime so well with the new music.. ‘He nails it, does he not’ opined Vennart at the gig: quite so.

The polyrhythmical plod of Duke Fame reels out tentacles of appealing melody whilst the easy singalong remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the fine tradition of Money, or Turn It On Again. My favourite song here.

And maybe it’s the weight of taking the helm, but Vennart‘s vocal is suffused and enhanced by a new soulfulness previously only touched upon. FNM‘s Mike Patton was a discernable influence on Vennart‘s earlier work with Oceansize, and one that he audibly digs into once more, with added conviction. For the great soul singers – Gaye, Knight, Turner, Simone – sweetness and simmering aggression were like yin and yang: always in balance, even when unevenly distributed. Great rock singers, from Glenn Hughes, thru Morrissey, Mike Patton, Maynard Keenan to Andrew ‘Darroh’ Sudderth draw on this tradition; and Vennart exhibits it here too. Check out Don’t Forget The Joker.

Amends has the gravitas and compelling art-mospherics of the best of the ‘Size’s‘s closing epics, condensed into less than four minutes.

Sometimes less really is more. Vennart has succeeded in inhaling all that was great and memorable about Oceansize and expressing it with yet greater feeling, brevity and wit. ‘Prog’ doesn’t have to impose on our time to make its point.

This is possibly his best album… he compared it in recent interviews to the mighty, Everyone Into Position, which I still recommend unreservedly; though TDJ certainly gives it a run for its money…

Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche  Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps ;)

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

Cremin of the crop

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Mere months after his return to album action, Musician and producer, Paul Mex is back again with a new release, Guilty Fist, that he describes as ‘the first record … since 1989 that (he’s) reasonably happy with‘. Personally, I was more than happy with Dr Jekyll and Mrs Hyde; and whilst much of what appealed to me about that record is present and correct here, this is a release with more layers and richer texture, both musically and lyrically.

Performance poet, Bernadette Cremin, who also contributed vocals to …Jekyll… had taken the driving seat this time around, enlisting Mex to complement a collection of mostly spoken word pieces with individual soundtracks. It’s a collaboration along the lines of Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri’s Not The Weapon But The Hand, a lyrical/musical split that hinges on a personal and musical sympathy.

For argument’s sake one might discern three intertwining threads amongst the nine tracks on offer: the album begins and ends with purely-instrumental pieces, created by Mex. High Ceiling has a somewhat perfunctory intro feel: affecting in and of of itself, albeit lacking any obvious connection to the following track….

….Mosaic Revisited sounds as though it was conceived during the …Jekyll… sessions: a swaggering, guitar and drums-driven number, over which Cremin lays a smokey drawl. It has an improvised, stream of consciousness feel that my head just nods along to unbidden, in a cool way. Along with Beat and the title track, it’s the most ‘rock’ sounding thing; though the aforememtioned are respectively lighter and more funk-flavoured; and slower with a grungy feel. Mex’s long-term friend and ex-Porcupine Tree player, Colon Edwin guests on Beat, and it’s a compliment when I say he leaves his personality behind in service to the track, contributing only groove (by contrast to a long-ago Liane Caroll gig which her bassist husband nearly ruined by wanking all over it).

Growing Pains and Fruit for Rumours foreground (Cremin‘s) words more overtly. The music accentuates meter and bolsters the narrative without getting in the way. Exactly.

(Closer) Sad on the other hand (another Mex instrumental) is both affecting and effective, with subtle musical and emotional sophistication: it picks up on the sombre mood of preceding track Poetry (my favourite song on the album, synth-sax and all…) and ruminates unto sleep.

Having recently reviewed, and to a point, enjoyed, Steven Wilson‘s latest; I couldn’t help but be minded at times of that album, trailer single Perfect Life in particular. Superficially, the similarity is pronounced – a woman narrating aspects of her life over moody, electro-rock soundscapes – and there’s more than a passing resemblance between Cremin‘s vocal and Katherine Jenkins‘, a similar casual affectation belying emotive, subject matter. What slightly disappointed me about that album is showcased somewhat more effectively here, however: a sense of an authentic female voice. Wilson is a sensitive, imaginative man; but a man, nonetheless. And though the musical accompaniment is more rigid, less syncopated and ethereal, my second point of reference is Ursula Rucker: there’s a similar understated passion and grit in Cremin‘s delivery. Whether Guilty Fist is a ‘concept album’ per-se I’m not sure, but as Sad winds to a close, I’m left with a sense of catharsis, of a chapter (in her life’s) ghosts laid to rest.

Poigant and elegiac, and powerful stuff.

And the Wilson track, by way of comparison:

Colin Edwin Interview

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Interview with sesssion basssist Colin Edwin, discussing his ongoing relationships with singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and also Eraldo Bernocchi. Album review (of his latest work with producer, Paul Mex and performance poet, Bernadette Cremin) to follow.

Liberal = incontinent

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(access to) pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition

I don’t quite buy that. The (intellectual) stumbling block I’ve always found with critics – mainstream critics, that is – of porn is the notion that it depraves and corrupts. I’ve read/viewed enough porn over my (near) 42 years to realise that it fairly represents my sexuality. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt license to violate human bodies to the extent that the GP in the above article describes. And what is this thing with anal sex anyway…

‘…in-vaginal ejaculation is so novel it occupies its own, minority-interest ‘kink’ category (‘creampie‘, if you’re interested): the converse ubiquity of ejaculation on faces and/or breasts (as far as possible from the vagina, note) and anal sex‘.

Male sexuality is a very simple thing. We find an opening; we insert; we thrust unto orgasm. That’s pretty much the definition of male. Which is not to say we’re not capable of more, or different, simply that this underlies more and different: fires it, motivates it. We simply have to choose better: to choose ways of expressing our sexuality that are less damaging; or not damaging at all.We need to reject the – currently trending – mode of liberalism that promotes ‘anything goes’; that damages both our bodies and our partners’ bodies; our minds and theirs.

Please share this post, or the above article. When we’re hurting others, and diminishing ourselves just to feel/be ‘normal something’s gone badly awry.

We need to choose better, because we can…

Anthropomorphukupzthanyoucanshakealadystickat

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What my cat taught me about gender… (from medium.com)

Little if anything, it seems… Hee hee.

‘Lolita, my 16 year-old female cat, emerged from her kitty litter box with a penis.’ On the basis of which you assign her male?

Your cat has a penis ∴ your cat is male. ARRGH! Fucking bigot! How do you know this? Have you not stopped to entertain the possibility that this is the fabled lady-penis? Later in your article you clain to have learned that ‘…gender (is) experienced from within — it’s not something you can (or should) identify from the outside…’ And surely you’re aware most MtF trans folks have intact male genitals? Party line says this is a class issue, that the surgery is prohibitively expensive for most. It is a class issue as it happens; more in the sense that the penis is both symbol and instrument of class oppression (and more fun than a stress ball to knead in times of dysphoria, boredom, horniness…).

Hell, you even go on to say ‘Mr. Lolita, as far as we know, doesn’t have a gender identity. He just has a sex: male.’ As far as you know? You’ve not bothered to take evening classes in cat tongue that you might be able to have the conversation? He/She/Zie/Hir/Miaow might identify as a dog, a wombat or a Russian space station for all you know! Good Lord!

‘Others that met Lolita, would use words like “diva” and “bitch” to describe his personality (“bitch” seems harsh, but he could get a bit hissy with strangers; especially female strangers, if that means anything)…’

Yep, it means they’re (and you’re) sexist. Cos only females get ‘hissy’ with females, right? Never males, no Siree. Male divas? What a ridiculous idea. Jeremy Clarkson, Rob Downey Jr and the drum tutor in Whiplash would be falling over themselves to be the first to scoff at such a suggestion. And you realise a bitch is a female DOG, right? How d’you think Lolita feels about being mis-specied? (assuming that he/she/zie/hir/Lord/Lady/Dr/Pope/Emperor does in fact identify as a cat; and let’s not even get started on race: looks kinda like a long-haired Burmese, but that doesn’t mean a thing: might be thinking in Siamese or Sphynx). How damned inconsiderate of his former owners not to dye his fur blue and teach him to carry an identity card…

And you don’t own him. He owns you. If you’d taken that evening class you’d understand ‘Fuck you! Just feed me! And none of that fucking Iams sawdust! No? Iams it is. Another fucking eviscerated, half-dead mouse on your pillow tomorrow morning, sonny boy.’ when you heard it.

And ‘Lolita‘. Lolita?! ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and the barista thing…

‘…Not only was this formerly female classmate of mine now a male, but — by all appearances — he was a gay male working at a gay coffee shop. (I would later see him out with other gay male friends at a gay bar.)…’ So you assumed he was gay because he appeared gay. Like you assumed your cat was female cos ‘her‘ name was ‘princess‘; and now assume he’s male cos he has a penis? Sheesh! Aand a gay coffee shop? WTF does that even mean? That they only serve super-skinny caramel lattes with rainbow sprinkles? Be sure to wipe the seat before you sit down, then; wouldn’t want you to catch anything nasty, now.

And you know, ‘formerly female’ but now a male? Either he was always male (wrong body yada yada, unlike the 99% of cis-sy folks who just love their perfect physiques) or is still (biologically) female but has busted out of the prison of ‘assignment’ in a cloud of rainbow-coloured confetti) and now identifies as male. Even the most batshit crazy MRA transjacktivist types seem to grasp that a person can’t actually change sex. Though to be fair, any kind of concensus amongst professionals and lobbyists looks to be a ways off.

You got one thing right, though; about gender and sexuality being socially constructed. Who knew?