Monthly Archives: June 2013

Beaucoup Fish

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There’s just no excuse, really: in these media-saturated days with every spurious celebrity’s fart and squeak virtually trumpeted for the delectation of the masses, I somehow missed the news that one of my long-time favourite artists is – finally – about to release something new 🙂

Fish, for the uninitiated, is the Scottish singer-songwriter who first made his name back in the early ’80s as the flamboyant lead-singer with British, Neo-progressive rock band, Marillion. If you’re over 35 but not a fan, you might nonetheless remember their brief period in the sun back in the ’80s when they scored a #1 album with Misplaced ChildhoodKayleigh and Lavender were daytime radio staples – and opened for Queen and Rush. Like his former bandmates – whose latest, and stunningly-accomplished album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made was released last year – he continues to tour and release music under the radar of the popular music press.

His latest studio recording, A Feast of Consequences has been that long in the writing and rehearsing that thoughts of it had kinda fallen under my radar too; and then suddenly, release day is just around the corner (well, ish – be out August/September apparently). I pre-ordered it last week from his splendid-looking new website. Here are some tasters…

As with Marillion, I’m not a fan of all his output, and his last record, 2008’s 13th Star, whilst fresh and contemporary-sounding musically was let down by some clunky and mawkish lyrics. In fairness to Fish, circumstances around the time of release – his well-publicised split with his then-partner – necessitated some last-minute rewriting on that front and I suspect that the album, as originally intended would have been stronger and more cohesive. The above clips suggest he’s on a different tack this time; less angry and wounded, looking out rather than in. Bassist, Steve Vantsis is co-writing much of the new material, as was the case on 13th Star; whilst lead guitar comes courtesy of Robin Boult rather than Frank Usher this time (the two have, alternately and occasionally together, been Fish band mainstays throughout his solo career). I’m imagining, rightly or wrongly a sound more in line with his Fellini Days/Field of Crows period, which would be no bad thing, since those are my favourite albums since his solo debut back in 1990 with Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors.

And the pre-order boxed edition of the album+DVD looks handsome indeed, as good as anything Racket Records or KScope/Burning Shed might produce under the circumstances and a step up from the rather pretty but flimsy packaging for 13th Star. Fish. it seems, has really pushed the boat out (snigger) this time around…

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The link to preorder is here

And for the unfamiliar, here are a few personal highlights from Fish‘s solo career so far:

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Les Miserables

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‘These are very unusual offences,’ Lord Bannatyne said during sentencing. ‘The case is clearly an exceptional one.

Well, sort of… sexual assaults committed by females are much the exception than the rule. But Bannatyne‘s judgement had little to to with her sex, and everything to do with her gender: her apprehension and his perception thereof…

The admission of Gender Identity Disorder by Bannatyne as a mitigating factor raises a question: does he mean to imply that because Wilson believed herself to be male her actions were more acceptable, by dint of being stereotypically ‘male’ actions? He said of her disorder, ‘I accept that this leads you to genuinely feel you are male rather than female. This significantly lowers your culpability.’ In other words, males are not culpable – or significantly less so – for their violent actions, in this case sexual assault and fraud.

The implications of such judgements are worrying, as much for what they appear to say about the victims as the perpetrators: that men (including Trans*men) should expect to be excused from the consequences of their actions by dint of being (or believing themselves) male; that females should expect to be victimized and bear those consequences.
Males are more typically violent, but male and violent are not synonyms, any more than female and victim are. The condition of men under patriarchy simply affords them access to a wider choice of victims; and such conditions conspire to protect them from the consequences to themselves of their actions. The consequences for their victims are not held to be terribly significant, if at all, and both theirs and the perpetrators’ debasements are equally feted as natural and desirable. When females do engage in violent abuse – which of course they do, as these cases show – they invariably victimize women or girls less enfranchised than themselves, children; or themselves. But they’re punished twice – think Myra Hindley, Rose West – both for their violence and for being ‘aberrant’ females. As atypical as these cases are, it’s striking how the words and decisions of the presiding judges are seen to reinforce gendered codes of behaviour rather than treat the protagonists as individuals. Wilson was convicted as a female, but punished as a male: i.e. barely (though she’ll no doubt continue to suffer psychological issues, possibly pose a risk to other girls) whilst Adie has been left – all too typically – high and dry.
Surely what matters here is the HUMAN trauma inflicted upon one HUMAN by another HUMAN. Physical assault hurts. Deception hurts. Both physically and psychologically such trauma has been shown throughout history to have repercussions for years afterward. That these girls suffered sexual violence at the hands of other women does little to diminish those repercussions, excepting the risk of pregnancy that might arise in instances of male rape. Adie was nonetheless hurt. That is the point. And the law, in its capacity as gender policeman, has seen fit to hurt her again.
The mutability of male and female behaviours is a matter for debate; though in the light of opportunities created for women by the actions of suffragettes and others since, it’s notable that ambitious females haven’t been shy of stepping up to the plate in the business and political worlds, albeit by co-opting ‘masculine’ values to an extent, and in spite of often violent backlash and having to carry the ‘second shift’ in the home. In different ways, women’s successes and failures within an andro-centric (and hetero-normative) system teach us lessons about the false norms – of both sex and gender – on which that system is founded.  If women have shown themselves able to adapt to the – frankly, often unreasonable – demands of the masculine world and still thrive, or at least survive….
Perhaps the bigger lesson here is that, far from trotting out ‘male’ (masculine) as a handy ‘get out clause’ for female bad behaviour; we might hold up ‘female’ as a standard to aspire to for – rather more often – badly-behaved males.
Maybe we should look for the strength inherent in our sex, rather than play to the weakness enforced by gender.

Opus Eponymous

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Via Roadrunner site, tantalizing early news regarding Dream Theater‘s upcoming, self-titled new album. Has it really been 2 years since the Long Island quintet released their last, aptly-titled, A Dramatic Turn of Events? Where did that time go?

ADToE was apt for two reasons: as long-time followers were aware at the time, it marked the band’s first studio release and tour without founding-member and ‘back seat’ driving-force, drummer Mike Portnoy. Although Portnoy was never a principal songwriter, his immersion in DT‘s career trajectory in every other way – de facto spokesperson, fan club manager, (co) producer (with guitarist, John Petrucci) oftentimes lyricist, backing vocalist and over-arching musical director –  gave him enormous influence within the DT organisation.

Happily, ADToE turned out to be DT‘s strongest album since 2005’s Octavarium; dialing back a little on the rock virtuoso showboating to concentrate on more focused songwriting and memorable melodies. Said music was already written by the time the band selected Mike Mangini as a permanent replacement for the departed Portnoy, and his playing, competent and powerful as it is, reflects that. Portnoy, a devotee of the Keith Moon school, demonstrated a propensity for elevating percussion to almost lead-instrument position. Intricate fills vied for attention with Petrucci‘s guitar pyrotechnics or doubled Jordan Rudess‘ synth lines; cymbal splashes and double-bass figures provided signature, omnipresent punctuation. In playing around existing, almost-finished compositions, Mangini created parts that were sympathetic whilst taken down a notch: DT‘s signature sound very much present and correct yet subtly-different. This time around he‘s been involved from the off, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the dynamic of the music. Will his parts sit so unobtrusively – albeit tightly – within the compositions as before or will the confidence gained from two years touring allow his percussive personality to take the fore and pull the band in new directions?

Progressive bands ought to progress after all. Whether or not you cared for all the resulting music, there’s no doubt that changes of line-up and circumstance forced protagonists of the old-guard – Yes, Genesis, Crimson – to try out new ideas, instrumentation and styles. If DT have been guilty of one musical crime over the years, it’s pushing the limits of their virtuoso talents at times at the expense of their songwriting and lyrical development and the abandonment of strong melody in favour of dizzying speed and tricky rhythmic shifts. 2007’s Systematic Chaos was perhaps their nadir in this respect: In the Presence of Enemies part 1 was a storming opener, Forsaken a great power ballad and Atonement perhaps the most satisfying segment of the 12-Step suite since it began way back on 6DOIT (and I liked, and miss Portnoy‘s embrace of contrasting, death-influenced vocal stylings). But there was far too much instrumental wankery elsewhere, and Petrucci – a patchy lyricist at best – really let the side down on the lyric front with some cringeworthy Dungeons & Dragons cliches. Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009) was a partial return, still struggling lyrically, albeit back in the real world but worth a punt for Petrucci‘s lovely power ballad, Wither, and epic album-bookends A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany – the latter a career highlight up there with Blind Faith, Hell’s Kitchen/Lines in the Sand and the mighty Octavarium suite in my opinion. And by the time ADToE rolled out they really hit a new stride, songwise, with only Lost Not Forgotten and Outcry outstaying their welcome, and This Is the Life, Far From Heaven and Beneath the Surface demonstrating genuine, ‘tug-the-heartstrings’ mastery of emotional and melodic nuance. Build Me Up, Break Me Down had a pleasing, contemporary pop rock sensibility about it, too; and I for one would love to see DT develop this aspect of their oevre (mind you, I like Falling Into Infinity, which was made under commercial sufferance and is none the worse for it – not a popular opinion, mind) so I’d be curious to hear what they could come up with if they discovered their poppier sensibilities of their own volition, much as Marillion did with .com or Crimson circa Discipline).

Self-titling their 12th studio album could be read (as Petrucci implies, above) as a statement of intent; an attempt to record the definitive Dream Theater long-player. For many, that accolade belongs to their second album, 1992’s Images and Words, though the aforementioned Octavarium is also a critical and fan favourite. In truth, though, their fanbase well reflects the adage that you can’t please all of the people, all of the time; and the record is sure to divide the following once again. For me, they haven’t produced an album of wall-to-wall brilliance for a long time: Octavarium came damn close, but given the upward curve since Systematic Chaos I’m expecting good things.

In the meantime, here’s a few personal highlights from the band’s career to date:

Julian Vigo: The Left Hand of Darkness

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Interesting article by Julian Vigo gives a concise, balanced overview of the long-running divide between radfems and liberals around gender; explains why the former perspective is much-needed and why, even if you’re neither you maybe ought to be listening…

GenderTrender

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CounterPunch WEEKEND EDITION JUNE 7-9, 2013
Transcending the Norms of Gender
The Left Hand of Darkness
by JULIAN VIGO

Since January of this year, the word ‘transphobia’ has been bantered about in mass media and social networking circles to such intensity that its definition has been expanded and in some instances grossly misrepresented.  ‘Transphobia’ has been used in recent months to indicate everything from the range of negative attitudes and actions towards transsexualism and transgender people to the overt censorship of any expression that takes issue with the theoretical and political expressions of the transgenderism or certain trans activists. Even to undertake a strictly political analysis of the trans community one risks being labeled ‘transphobic’ especially if one is a radical feminist.  As a result of this assault on dialogue, the true violence of transphobia (ie. assault, rape, murder and many other forms of discrimination) is cheapened and…

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NoMeansNo…

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…well of course it does, whatever Nick Ross has to say (and how embarrassing is it when us guys blunder into media debates on sex crime) and Cotton Ceilings be damned; but lets not get sidetracked, this is decidedly a post from the music, rather than the gender side…

I’ve been following ‘Canada’s finest power trio’ (suck it up, Rush fans) since their 0+2=1 album was voted an unlikely album of the month by Metal Hammer back in 1990, but last night marked my first live experience, aside from the excellent Live and Cuddly recording dating from the Wrong tour the previous year. Safe to say this was one of my most hotly-anticipated gig experiences ever – I was shaking with anticipation on the bus from work into town – and, heads up, I wasn’t disappointed.

Briefly, support was provided by UK band, The Domestics, whose generic, shouty hardcore merely served to counterpoint the headline act’s inventive, genre-defying brilliance. NMN, let’s not forget, are the band that turned out a 15-min, stripped-down cover of Miles Davis‘ seminal Bitches’ Brew, and had the audacity to add their own lyrics to the mix. In a way, it’s the most punk thing they’ve ever done, aside from their famously DIY approach to rock’n’roll and their unwavering commitment to – and outspoken relish in – touring the world club circuit.

They introduced their set with an unlikely ‘gone Techno’ version of The River (from 1993’s Why Do They Call Me Mr Happy?) which morphed into the full-on, mid-paced ear-shredder of a song familiar to fans. It took me a couple minutes to suss that drummer, John Wright was laying down the beats, such was his machine-like precision. It really can’t be emphasized enough, though, belying their punk cred, NMN have always been excellent musicians, not showy or indulgent in the manner of so many drug-addled, ego-driven ’60s and ’70s players, but never satisfied with restricting themselves to two minutes and three chords. That said, when they do that style, they do it well, as evidenced by Oh No! Bruno, a personal fave from 1989’s Wrong album. That album is frequently cited as the band’s finest – even, defining – hour, so perhaps surprisingly, Bruno and The Tower are the only inclusions in last night’s set. Mind you, with a catalog as embarrassed with riches as NMN‘s, surprise is perhaps a relative term. Many bands might claim to have never turned out a bad album; they’re one of few who might reasonably claim to have never committed to tape a bad song. The aforementioned 0+2=1 is better represented, with Everyday I Start To Ooze, a truncated version of Ghosts – sans the ‘ambient’ sections, John Wright‘s vocals instead overlaid onto the feisty, guitar-driven passages – and Joyful Reunion all making an appearance. For the latter song, singer, Rob Wright swaps his bass for de-tuned guitar. It’s another personal fave and I enjoy shouting along, even though I’m well to the periphery of the energetic mosh pit. Ghosts is followed by ‘A new song – sorta’ and an extended instrumental jam which once again showcase the band’s prowess without depleting energy levels. Maybe we’ll hear recorded versions on a future studio release: they’re overdue for one since All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt back in 2006. From that album, we only get In Her Eyes, but in four minutes it demonstrates beautifully the combination of punk directness and compositional richness that separates NMN from the rock plebiscite. In this respect, they have few peers, perhaps historically the likes of Cardiacs, XTC and early Police, the more accessible aspects of ’80s Crimson; today maybe Everything Everything in their gnarlier moments.

What’s especially gratifying is that age hasn’t dulled NMN‘s blade one whit. These are no grumpy old men going thru the motions: they’re clearly as enthused as any young band debuting on the club circuit today and giving it all to the performance moment. The final 20-odd minutes of their set consists of two encores – demarcated by the briefest, most perfunctory of departures from the stage – and mostly Ramones covers. Rob explains that for a recent home-town gig they rehearsed It’s Alive in its entirety as a tribute to their musical heroes. So we’re treated to note-perfect and heartfelt renditions of the likes of Sheena and Suzy, amongst others. It’s testament to the genre-defying quality of their music that these don’t sound remotely out of place in the same set as The Graveyard Shift and Jubilation. In a musical landscape in which punk has become all too frequently a superficial ‘identity’ NMN demonstrate that the spirit carries on.

In a way, NMN are the Cream of our generation, without the superstar baggage and attendant ego – and drug – issues. They play music that thrills both on a visceral level and in terms of realising musical accomplishment. John Wright‘s drumming in particular – his mastery of traditional grip and his synergy with brother and partner in rhythm, Rob – is jawdroppingly impressive, and hints at the influence of a school of Jazz/Rock influence that includes as disparate a bunch as Zappa, Phil Collins, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Everything Everything , Fair to Midland and The Mars Volta. Contrastingly, Rob Wright’s nonsense poetry vs social realism lyrical style adds an intriguing opacity which can be read both in concert and at odds with the music. In short, it’s a strange brew, but rarely a boring one.

Annoyingly, my malfunctioning phone’s low battery prevented me from capturing footage, so here’s some links to the band’s recent output from other venues, plus some studio footage. Enjoy: