Monthly Archives: March 2013

Amplified (to the power of 4)

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Like the best of today’s ‘prog’, Amplifier have never really been prog. Part dirty-ass Zeppelin stomp, part early-Verve sprawling dreamadelica, minus the latter band’s annoying tendency to implode acrimoniously between every other song. That said, a little ‘creative tension’ can serve to freshen the creative punch-bowl, as it were: four albums and a slew of EPs into their career, Ashcroft and crew were still sounding vital and full of ideas: Forth is as good as anything in their oeuvre. Zep. Four. Nuff. Alas, the same cannot be said for the Amp boys this time around.

Don’t get me wrong, Echo Street isn’t a terrible album by any means, it’s just that it has the unenviable task of succeeding an amazing one, and suffers for it. The Octopus is that rarest of beasts; a double-disc opus which, if not quite wall-to-wall brilliance, is worth hearing from start to finish. At a little over half the length, this album is at times an uphill slog, too rarely rising above the pedestrian. Whilst the addition of Steve Durose (ex-Oceansize) on second guitar and harmony vocals adds nuance and depth, particularly in quieter moments, the fundamental problem is that musical ideas are somewhat thin on the ground this time around. It’s a rather low-key affair, rarely approaching 11 in either pace or volume: the title track a case in point; harping on for six minutes without ever really getting going. Paris In the Spring is pleasingly infused with a Wilson-esque melancholy, though at nearly nine minutes could also benefit from tightening up. Album trailer, Matmos (see below) is perhaps the best thing on here – though the extra minute-long fade-in left off the ‘single’ edit adds nothing – along with Where The River Goes. Both follow a proven balladheavy bitback to ballad arc. Between Today and Yesterday is a pleasant, wistful acoustic interlude and as such stands out from the rest of the album; as does The Wheel: with it’s bass and drum (as opposed to drum’n’bass) groove and spacey feel it’s perhaps the closest thing to The Octopus on here.

Despite some good songs, Echo Street feels somewhat too loose and directionless, perhaps because the songs were developed in a short time thru jams, and doesn’t really cohere as an album. Changing up the pace with something groovier and harder-rocking, along the lines of Interstellar or The Consultancy would have helped.

Listeners who pre-ordered the limited 60-page digi-book version are better served on two counts: firstly because the packaging – designed by frontman Sel Balamir – is handsome indeed, but mostly because the inclusion of the Sunriders EP raises the overall standard of songsmithery several notches. The relative brevity of the four songs work in their favour: where Extra Vehicular is flabby and meandering, the likes of Sunriders and Close manage to sound both epic and dynamically-satisfying. Equally, if not more important, the band sound like they’re enjoying themselves on this disc. I’d actually have been happy with just the EP, but since it doesn’t appear to be on sale separately I wholeheartedly recommend forking out the extra £6 for the digi-book from the new Amplifier site (assuming it hasn’t sold out already) and they’ll even sign it for you if you’re lucky. Upcoming tour dates can also be found on that page.

Sadly I’ve not managed to catch the band live this time around but there’s a review of what I missed to be found here.

Worth raven about

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This third album from British singer/songwriter, Steven Wilson is anything but difficult. Following two-plus decades establishing his reputation primarily thru the rise and rise of his Porcupine Tree project, the Hertfordshire-based musician seems to be on a roll: a meeting of minds with Stockholm metal innovator, Mikael Åkerfeldt has prised open a creative seam characterized by an ability to juxtapose pure pop craftsmanship with the sonically-challenging. That they both share a love of ’60s folk rock, avant-garde pop and bedroom troubador melancholy is the key to the astonishing series of albums that they have – individually and collectively – produced since 2009, including Opeth‘s Heritage, Storm Corrosion‘s eponymous debut and Wilson‘s last solo outing, Grace for Drowning. They make dense, multi-layered records that are more accessible than they reasonably ought to be, yet pull no imaginative punches. If you were lucky enough to get hold of one of the 5000 special edition pre-orders, your listening experience will be enhanced by a beautiful 10″ hardback volume including Wilson-penned expositions of the six ghost stories accompanying each song, plus studio demos and assorted multimedia gubbins. His select but dedicated audience eat this stuff up and the £40 I paid for it before Xmas last year seems like a snip for such quality product.

The cast of characters behind the scenes is the latest incarnation of Wilson‘s touring band from the Grace For Drowning dates: keyboardist Adam Holzman, stick-man, Nick Beggs, Marco Minnemann on drums and guitars by Guthrie Govan. Whilst Wilson entered the studio with songs sketched out to a high level of detail, it was always his intention to let the final versions reveal themselves thru live-in-the-studio chemistry between the band members. Their essence is ably-captured by studio veteran Alan Parsons behind the console, the latter invited to the party by Wilson on the strength of his work with Pink Floyd in the ’70s.

The Raven… is definitely closer to Grace… than Insurgentes, as one might expect given the band-driven approach: there’s much more of the long-form symphonic mode of composition showcased within Raider II and Remainder the Black Dog, though whilst the dynamics are as varied as ever, the transitions are smoother and more organic. The more jarring left-hand turns of the first two albums have evolved, for the most part, into mood shifts that feel more intuitive, though no less dramatically-satisfying, and the juxtaposition of conventional rock/pop with heavy, grey, emotionally-dense dronescapes is conspicuous in its absence, along with the Darkwave-influenced feel of much of Insurgentes.

Opening cut, the 11-min Luminol will already be familiar to most Wilson aficianados: a live recording has been in circulation for a while. The urgent, drum and bass-driven intro has rightly been compared to vintage Yes, and it, especially the ‘Tempus Fugit’ harmony vocal does feel a little derivative. Cleverly, though, just when you feel you know where the song is headed, the clanging bass and distorted keyboards give way to a shuffling, slow, jazzy section that, melodically and in mood is the closest Wilson strays to his PT years, In Absentia/Deadwing period specifically. Like the other long-form compositions on this album, it’s full of nuance and dynamism, pulls the listener in from the off and there’s no sense of it outstaying its welcome. The pace picks up again for a climax that recycles and resolves the opening motifs.

The Holy Drinker is a fitting centrepiece for the record, seguing thru multiple movements that showcase the talents of each musician, most especially Holzman: he really owns this song with some seriously dark and dirty keyboard parts. They anchor the song thru its twisty ten-minute journey even as guitar and sax fly off into the ego ether.

Drive Home and the title track embody the kind of rich, aching melancholy that has long been a staple of Wilson‘s ouevre. Both benefit from string arrangements which lift them to a level that his work with PT only hinted at, and whilst the former explodes into a soaring, wheeling guitar work out, the latter develops more gradually, building denser, rounder layers of orchestration, accented by strategically-placed notes on flute and piano. There’s more than a passing resemblance to Radiohead‘s Pyramid Song, a piece that Wilson has in the past described as ‘devastatingly beautiful’. Such approbation is apt here too. The elegiac tone is leavened with a sweetness never so fully realized before in Wilson‘s work: it’s a perfect end to the album. Released as a trailer shortly before the album, it’s accompanied here by an animation by Jess Cope, whose work also accompanied Storm Corrosion‘s Drag Ropes.

In short, this is Wilson‘s best album to date. He has pared back his writing to develop his own strength as a songwriter and composer, whilst simultaneously – in a manner akin to Miles and other jazz-rock greats – thrown open the doors and invited in the cream of contemporary talent to more fully realize the potential of his ideas. If certain of Wilson‘s long-time followers mourn the apparent stagnation of PT, I for one, would be intrigued by the possibility that he might at some point reconvene that band with this new-found sense of artistic freedom. What sets The Raven… apart is his ability to assimilate a multiplicity of creative modes in pursuit of better harnessing and refining his own unique vision. A new PT that similarly unleashed the approaches of – in particular – Edwin and Barbieri would be a fearsome beast indeed. In the meantime I don’t miss that band at all: this one is just too good, and it’s tempting to believe that its potential remains scarcely tapped. It’s a supergroup in all but name, and The Raven… has barely taken off.

Aside

The internet is a valuable resource for promoting democracy in an often undemocratic world; a safe space for women and the otherwise oppressed and a vehicle for their otherwise-unheard true voices. Resist attempts to close down those spaces and muffle those voices.

To paraphrase an oft-quoted Martin Niemoller:
‘First they came for the women, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a woman…’
Joelle Ruby Ryan presumes to speak for women, with the full backing of the law and the blessing of the intelligentsia. ‘Hers’ is the voice of bigotry, not Radfems such as GallusMag. Embrace the opportunity for dissent; it’s too easy not to…

GenderTrender

university of new hampshire health joelle ruby ryan

I am writing this today out of a deep concern for the rights of women, feminists and lesbians to speak publicly about issues that effect us. Specifically, I would like to address the actions of Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan and his ongoing attempts to harass, bully, censor and silence women and feminists on the internet, and the University of New Hampshire’s apparent complicity in his outrageous and illegal actions which Ryan claims to perform under authority of UNH.

You may notice that this week’s post -where we discussed ‘Transilience’, Joelle Ruby Ryan’s new University of New Hampshire Health sponsored video- is no longer visible. Also missing are your comments in the discussion that followed. The reason for this is that UNH’s Dr. Ryan has filed a false, perjured, harassing copyright claim that he apparently hopes will re-write all previous first amendment rights. Here is a screen cap of the post…

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Radfem 2013

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It’s here and here

If you care about the history, reality and future of women then this is a place to invest your energy (though obviously you can only attend if you’re mercifully free of the dreaded ‘y’ mutation). For my 4oth this year I’m asking my friends and colleagues to donate here in lieu of buying me presents.

Thanks,

Andy x

 

More ‘X’ & ‘y’ – it’s really simple…

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This post

If you carry ‘y’ chromosomes, you’re not female: female (and male) is a biological reality, not an ‘identity’. That’s not a difficult concept to grasp. It doesn’t necessarily mean your’re a ‘man’, or ‘male’; just not female, it’s a reversal-ish of the ‘traditional’ (and false) dimorphism that posits that all that is not ‘normal’ (i.e. male) must thus be female. And it’s better, because it’s inclusive, not exclusive: how we deal with that is our (patriarchal society’s) problem (or not)…

But better that we do: the (biological) clock is ticking…