Category Archives: Muse

A Familiar stirring in The Wosp’s Nest

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(That’s not a typo, by the way 😉 )

http://www.ignatiarecordings.com/terrafamiliar.html

If you’re a music fan like I am, if music means as much (or nearly so) to me at forty-one as it did when you were a spotty sixth-former; then, like me you likely have a small, select mental roster of artists whose work exerts an almost black hole-like gravitational pull on you and your purse-strings. Your heart leaps at every scrap of information pertaining to their latest upcoming project and on release day – or these days, pre-order opening more likely – you’re first in the queue to click on that PayPal or KickStarter button; never mind that you’ve yet to hear a note of the promised new songs or that an electricity bill is imminent…

Along with – for me – Pet Shop Boys, Marillion, Steven Wilson, Neneh Cherry, Johnny Marr, Transatlantic, Scott Walker; Christian ‘Bic’ Hayes has become one such artist. You may know his work via his involvement with Cardiacs, Levitation, Dark Star, Panixsphere, Ring or his own previous solo releases as Mikrokosmos, and if those names ring a bell, you’ll quickly realise he’s a man with a nose for an interesting musical detour. As it happens, and incongruously, he also played live with PSBs when they toured their Release album, which demonstrates a certain chutzpah: one does not step lightly into Johnny Marr‘s shoes.

If previous Mikrokosmos releases are anything to go by, he’s no less interesting as a solo artist than as his contribution to the aforementioned projects might suggest. Both Mikrokosmos: In The Heart Of The Home (2006) and Mikrokosmos ii: The Seven Stars (2007) are exploratory albums, recalling (musically) The Beatles‘ psychedelic phase, the prog/punk collision of his days as a Cardiac and post OKC Radiohead‘s twisted, glitchy electronic rock. His Jonathan Donahue-laconic (albeit relocated to Westminster) tones effortlessly inhabit a sometimes-shifting, occasionally-jarring, precisely-fuzzy landscape of feedback, jangle, FX and washes that bear comparison to latterday Talk Talk, if only for their sheer audacity, single-mindedness and unlikely gravitational appeal. If the hard rock/post-punk elements take something of a backseat by comparison to Levitation/Darkstar period then this serves as an incentive to listen harder. In a sane world, this guy would be a national treasure; at least in my geeky world. This is progressive music, indulgent in its way, albeit in service to a good musical cause. Both ItHotH and TSS were pressed – onto CD – in very limited numbers (500 copies apiece) and the fact that they are still available to buy as such almost seems a crime, though I doubt it concerns Hayes unduly: he is nothing, one suspects, if not a musician’s musician: a lover, a geek.

You can listen to the new album, Terra Familiar in full here (I haven’t – I’m waiting for the CD 😉 )

and the two previous instalments

In The Heart Of The Home

The Seven Stars

via Bandcamp. If you enjoy imaginative, original music that respects the past as much as its own muse, then Hayes is your man. The download button is your friend, geek 😉

p.s. some highlights from Hayes past:

 

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Return of The Mex

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2014 has thusfar resounded to the sound of long hiatuses coming to noisy, and much talked-about ends: forget The Stone Roses, or even Guns’n’Roses; Pixies released their first LP since 1991, the acclaimed Indie Cindy; whilst Kate Bush announced her second string of live dates since her groundbreaking 1979 European tour. The pre-order for the ‘new’ Pink Floyd album, The Endless River is open… And whilst this might signal the rude heath of art rock per se, Mex may be less the household name, outside of studio personnel circles. Nonetheless, his 2014 album, Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde ends an in-studio silence, at least under his own name as singer-songwriter, but one year short of Bush‘s onstage one. Aided and abetted by a talented cast of collaborators including bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree/Ex Wise Heads), guitarist, Gordon Russell (Dr Feelgood), visual artist, Nick Egan (Clash, Ramones, Alanis Morissette) and avant-garde poet, Bernadette Cremin, he presents an engaging album of intermittently angry and lovelorn – though ultimately uplifting and cathartic – emotionally-charged pop/rock.

A concept album of sorts, …Jekyll… is nonetheless miles from the overwrought prog indulgence of The Wall or …Topographic Oceans, rather more akin to the wilful eclecticism and compelling grooves of David Holmes Bow Down To The Exit Sign or Typewriter‘s Skeleton Key. Albeit as otherworldly as neither, and refusing to venture as far from conventional song structures, there’s the same sense of a single guiding creative light, similar wild mood swings between fuzzed-out dirty pub-blues ditties and cool, effects-laden atmospheres.

Mex‘s often heavily-FX’d vocals – pitched somewhere between Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and Nick Barrett (Pendragon) – tell the story of a love affair gone awry, with attendant reflections on age, alienation, regret and possibilities. The pace of the album is perfectly-judged, making it an easy, even fun listen. Occasional lapses into lyrical cliché, far from being a detraction, reflect the album’s confessional style (the lyrics were drawn from the performer’s diary during a period in therapy). In an age where singles reign supreme, it’s a joy to land on a body of work that deserves beginning-to-end listener attention. There’s a good reason why the album is a dying art-form; and I see no mileage in being a fuddy-duddy about that; it’s a trend that opens as many doors as it closes: equally, it’s satisfying to hear said form being handled so deftly and respectfully.

Some cuts stand out, though: From Nought To Sixty mixes snappy punk riffing with mature reflection; Think About It sets poet Cremin‘s ‘angel on the shoulder’ conversational tones to Edwin‘s bass groove to great effect, and Catching A Train has a pleasing whiff of Psychedelic Fur. Mex is an exponent of the punk days, but this is an album that could only have been come to fruition in 2014, incorporating well-judged references from intervening years: from shades of artful and more emotionally-literate post-punk à la Furs and Bunnymen to the neo-diy facilitated by affordable digital home-recording technology: the quality of the songwriting now shines thru, rather than musters out; even cheeky stabs of squawking sax (Everybody Has A Book Inside) enhance rather than come off as ’90s cheesy.

You can purchase the full album here.

http://www.mexonerecordings.co.uk/dhe.html

Fresh from the vault (11)

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There was much to like about Dream Theater‘s latest, self-titled 2013 release. Despite that neither of its two trailer singles, The Enemy Inside and Along For The Ride immediately grabbed me; and that the album as a whole does little to expand the band’s musical horizons. it’s an album that I’ve continued to play sporadically since purchase and has grown in my estimation with repeat listening. Understated harmonic references to the band’s own career history are juxtaposed with less-subtle allusions to its influences (particularly Canuck power-trio, Rush) and whilst they’ve not skimped on compositional depth and complexity, there’s a smoothness and accessibility, combined with expert pacing, to the songs which makes it compelling: very much an album-long listen rather than playlist fodder. It’s revelatory rather than revolutionary: a consolidation and refinement of what they’ve learned over their 30+ year career.

So if you’ll forgive me, I’m not exactly criticizing that album when I say I think they’ve managed this particular balancing act as well if not even better before. Octavarium (2005) is regarded by many as the definitive DT album, alongside the Images And Words sophomore effort: I favour the former. DT‘s first three albums (and also the A Change Of Seasons mini-album) have a thrilling exploratory quality, reflecting an ambition to marry classic pop and hard rock influences to ’80s metal bombast . Ironically, whilst not so well-received by some fans, it was their forth, ‘trying too-hard’ (for accessibility) – Falling Into Infinity (1995) – which marked a turning point. Octavarium represents in some ways a return to that mode of writing, albeit undertaken in a more honest spirit: there are parallels with the career of one of Mike Portnoy‘s musical influences, Marillion. Both bands had an unlikely ‘hit’ (Pull Me Under and Kayleigh respectively); both faced record company pressure – to no avail – to write another; and both gravitated of their own accord towards a more streamlined ‘pop’ mode of writing later on in their careers, and significantly, once said company pressure was lifted. Intriguingly, both albums (Octavarium and .com) climax with an archetypal prog epic featuring headfuck widdly keyboard solos that explode out of nowhere (Octavarium and Interior Lulu).

…[so] this is where we came in…

Of Mike Portnoy‘s 12-Step suite – which in light of his and the band’s parting of the ways is now unlikely to be played in full as a live set, more’s the pity – The Root Of All Evil is perhaps the track that works best as a stand-alone song, certainly since 6DOIT barnstorming opening gambit The Glass Prison. If you own the Score DVD/Blu-Ray – a must-buy for any hardened DT fan, as well as a perfect introduction for newbies wishing to explore their varied career-history – you’ll know that it’s also a showstopping intro to their live set. ‘…tidily mixing heavy riffs with some progressive moments…’ to quote band biographer Rich Wilson. They follow it – in that show – with I Walk Beside You, a song which the band freely admitted showcased the members’ love of more commercial stadium rock acts including Coldplay and U2.

Now, DT has attracted its fair share of fan-disapprobation over the years for wearing its influences too boldly on its collective sleeve at times – of especial note, in addition to the above is Systematic Chaos (2007) which appeared to ape both Evanescence (melodically and lyrically, on Forsaken) and Muse (Prophets of War). Cynics have on occasion interpreted these as attempts to leaven their determinedly-virtuostic compositional approach with a little popular appeal. Actually, I’m not sure I completely disagree; but I’m certain that I don’t object. Sure, I can hear what said detractors are hearing, but I could care less because all the aforementioned are great songs.

The Answer Lies Within reminds me of nothing so much as a superior Elton John, even – horror of horrors, Robbie Williams –  ballad. Lyrically, it benefits from a simplicity that suggests (guitarist and lyricist) John Petrucci didn’t spend too long sequestered away with his thesauruses and dictionaries; and the string accompaniment from a stripped-down contingent of Jamshied Sharifi‘s Octavarium Orchestra is tasteful. It’s a strong piece of songwriting. Later, both Never Enough and Panic Attack (the former especially) attest to Portnoy‘s and the band’s love of Muse (the band occasionally performed Stockholm Syndrome, a song witha passing resemblance to DT, at soundcheck or as an encore). The latter’s song Assassin – from Black Holes and Revelations (2006) – might lead one to wonder if the Teignmouth trio haven’t returned the inspirational compliment: the resemblance to Panic Attack is uncanny and it’s not insignificant that Black Holes… is, in this writer’s opinion the finest example in recent years of progressive ambition and mainstream appeal coexisting in sweet, mutually-beneficial harmony.

The album ends with two satisfyingly ‘proggy’ epics; Sacrificed Sons and the five-part title track. The former features a rare lyrical credit for secretly-Canadian singer James LaBrie, inspired by 9/11. To quote Wilson (above) again ‘…The danger of such a topic, is that it could become over-politicized, mawkish, insensitive or even sanctimonious … the band just about carry it off…’ I think Wilson’s being less-than-generous: LaBrie handles the subject matter deftly and humanely, avoiding the obvious pitfalls of glorifying ‘The West’ and demonizing the Islamic terrorists. Musically, it’s dramatic not melodramatic and the second track to utilize the added depth only an orchestra can bring.

Octavarium (the song) is 24 minutes of showboating and homage, yet the attention to musical detail and obvious fun had by the band in composing and performing it save it from becoming a leaden exercise in indulgence. In classic ‘symphonic’ mode it moves smoothly (with one notably-dramatic exception) and confidently thru five ‘movements’ building drama along the way. It’s a masterclass in tension and release; surpassing their previous ‘symphonic’ high water-mark A Change Of Seasons and pointing the way to The Count Of Tuscany (Black Clouds And Silver Linings, 2009) which remains for me the apotheosis if DT‘s take on that style.  The live version documented on Score (and backed by a full orchestra, below) takes the song to even greater heights.

Like Dream Theater, Octavarium derives much of its strength as a piece from both its allusions to the band’s own history and its influences, albeit clever and well-chosen ones, delivered at times with a nod and a wink and at others with subtlety and reverence. It’s a conceptual album in more ways than one, with an overarching theme metaphorically relating the career of the band at that point to the musical octave (from which the title, Octavarium also derives, it being DT‘s eighth album) and also chock full of ‘nuggets’ of musical detail for attentive listeners to unearth. A whole blog post could be devoted to this aspect alone, and helpfully, one enterprising fan has already done just that. A couple such nuggets Spetang appears to have missed (in reference to the aforementioned titular song-cycle) are a bar of the Phantom Of The Opera theme at 11.37 and a the first phrase of Jingle Bells interpolated at 17.47. There are probably more yet…

Octavarium is the most complete DT album for me: it showcases every facet of their musical style and the songwriting is consistently-strong. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.

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.

State of denial

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And the revelations continue. Today, comic Jim Davidson is identified as the latest in a succession of celebrities to be questioned as part of the ongoing Yewtree investigation into the culture of sexual crime and misdemeanor within the media.

Like Max Clifford‘s ‘…birth certificate…’ interview, Davidson‘s blog comments (apparently now deleted, see extract below) could be read as a cynical disclaimer in advance of his impending questioning. Was he one of the ‘dirty dozen’ who contacted Clifford? Did he know he was in the firing line? Pure speculation, of course…

‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

‘The Jimmy Savile witch hunt is going a bit silly now. We all are starting to speculate and accuse… even in jest. So no I don’t know who’s next. Well, if I was in the pub with the lads it would be a different story.

‘Everyone has had the nod. Everyone is now an expert. Just pick someone you don’t like and say it’s them. So I’ll be the first one to knock it on the head and belt up. How’s about that then?’

DAILY STAR

‘Front page eh?……Well I was only stating the obvious (Jim’s Newspaper). It just goes to show how much interest this Saville (sic) thing is having. I read a thing today (in The Express) some one saw Jimmy Saville (sic) pinch some girl’s bum . Apparently that is a sexual assault. Where will all this end. As odd as he was, Saville (sic) can’t defend himself.The bloke’s dead for Godsake (sic).

‘Let’s move on and get some important stories in the paper. I haven’t heard anything about Jordan lately. What’s happened?

‘Fund raising for the British Forces foundation tonight. Monday sees me, Bobby Davro, Claire Sweeny and Mike Osman off to entertain the Navy on HMS Dauntless.

‘Spare a thought today for the two British troops KIA. There’s news.

‘Oh and do I really know who the next exposed pervert is?….well, have a guess,because that’s what the press are doing,that’s what we’re all doing!’

PANORAMA

‘How come the BBC can make a program blaming the BBC?

‘It’s like having yourself arrested and then being your own prosecuting barrister!

‘The BBC has finaly (sic) gone mental. This hot bed of leftyness has asked itself the question: “Should we have known?” The answer is yes. We all knew didn’t we?

‘A bloke who’s a loner dresses and acts like a nonce and thinks he is the most important person in the world. Hmmm. I knew… and didn’t do anything. Mind you I had no proof. To me he was just another pervert.

‘There are lots of them in Showbiz. There seems to be more gay ones than straight, but that’s because there are probably more gays in showbiz than most professions.

‘Who’s next to be the victim of a media feeding frenzy? I have the answer to that but like Jimmy Savile it’s only rumours… but when these rumours come out… WOW!’

In the comments section from the DM article, ‘Tenerifediver’ added:

‘This overblown witch hunt is a publicity manoeuvre to divert attention from the Asian paedophile gangs. They are alive and active NOW, and are far greater threat. But they’re not so easy to catch or to prosecute are they? … The Asian paedophile gangs have the Human Rights bill to protect them and the spineless lawmakers who allow it to continue. No. Go for dead people! They have no defense (even if they were guilty)…’

 Talk of ‘witch hunts’ and ‘publicity manoevres’ has its consequences, though: it serves to dilute in the public mind, the severity of the implications of the proliferation and sheer mundanity of sexual violence in our societies; and Davidson‘s remarks and Tenerifediver’s message board comments exemplify perfectly most of our misconceptions around violence in general and sex abuse in particular
  • violence/sex abuse are exceptional – far from the truth: under a system of hierarchy violence is inevitable, and the circumstances under which it is condoned are largely a matter of political expediency.
  • specific allegations against – purportedly – ‘soft’ targets are part of a campaign of misdirection from ‘real’ culprits – again, misleading: ‘tip of an iceberg’ would be accurate. One of my major concerns from the outset – the surfacing of allegations against Savile in the wake of his death – was finger-pointing towards specific organizations (e.g. the BBC) at the expense of recognizing (sexual) violence as an inherent feature of hierarchy/patriarchy. The distinction to be made – if any – between ‘legitimate’ violence as perpetrated by soldiers in the ‘theatre of war’ (telling phrase) or by parents under the aegis of ‘discipline’, and ‘abuse’ is, at best, a murky one. Patriarchy inheres a parent/child relationship model between state/authorities and population which tacitly legitimizes a significant proportion of violence in interpersonal/intercultural/inter-class situations (and I admit Dworkin‘s definition of women as a class unto themselves).
  • That the outing of offenders is part of a left wing agenda – if exposing an undercurrent of violence in society is on anyone’s agenda, it’s a feminist one: historically, the left and right demonstrate much of a muchness in their adherence to the patriarchy/hierarchy which gives rise to conflict and abuse.
  • the conflating of gender and race – history is littered with examples of attempts to tie the tendency towards violence onto genes specific to certain ethnic groups. This is troubling and misleading on two counts: that such pronouncements are almost without exception made by majority/oppressor populations against minority/oppressed populations, and, that it locates the cause of violence primarily in nature when, in fact, nurture is overwhelmingly causal. This has implications in gender terms, as well as racial ones. Taboos around violence perpetrated not only against, but also by women remain hugely problematic in today’s societies, as well as historically. Women do commit acts of violence – though to date no women have been implicated in the Yewtree investigation – and find themselves judged not only by the ‘normal’ standards applied to male offenders but additionally as contravenors of ‘natural law’ in societies terms. Patriarchy shafts us all (too often literally) but some more than others.
  • The spurious correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse – read Guy Kettelhack‘s insightful Dancing Around The Volcano to hear how the Gay community is coming to terms with with ‘deviant’ sexuality (arguably better than their straight counterparts) and foreground the fact that 95% of sexaual violence is male on female, like this
  • perpetuation of the notion of an arbitrary ‘line’ between acceptable behaviour and abuse – of course, no-one would pretend that bum-pinching=rape, or that sexist ‘jokes’ or comments are equivalent to financial sex-discrimination, but – and it’s a big but – they all sit on a continuum of attitudes and behaviours that characterize an inherently unjust, undemocratic society and culture. It was telling that Jamie Kilstein’s ‘rape jokes’ drew abuse from sexist men and approbation from feminists – we all know what’s going on and too many of us would rather it was kept quiet. A sense of entitlement is bred into males and milking that to the max is the gold-standard for climbing the ladder: this certainly appears to be the case with Savile who ascended to ‘untouchable’ status within a plethora of organizations. Who on God‘s earth would think it reasonable having a pop DJ on the board for Broadmoor? If there’s a better example of the failings of the ‘old boys network’ I’ve yet to hear…
What’s becoming clear is that – Yewtree‘s three, Savile, Savile and others and, others categories aside – there are two categories of police witness in the YT investigation: those who allow their names to be published and – in Davidson‘s case, presumably, since he’s yet to issue a formal statement – make public their denial – those who hide behind injunctions. If Harris, and the several thusfar un-named protagonists in the Yewtree investigation are innocent of any wrongdoing they would be well-advised to peek out from behind the curtain of injunction and allow their testimony into the arena of public debate as the likes of Clifford and Starr have done. (Aside: the vast majority of hits on my blog are via search engine terms ‘Rolf Harris‘ + ‘Operation Yewtree’ – none for Clifford/Starr). If they feel they’re being made guilty by implication, or association then let us hear their denial. Harris is, if reports are to be believed suicidal. The fault for this rests with a hierarchy which privately rewards the very abusive, violent and discriminatory behaviour that it purports publicly to find morally repellent. Taboo and fetish are old-accustomed bed-fellows and the ‘high’ inherent in practising taboo behaviour is proportional to the moral indignation and shame of being outed. With such a deep rooted double standard in place is it any wonder men deny allegations of sex crime, well-founded or not. But there’s denial and denial and for all our sakes – especially for our future women and children – we need to know what and who we’re dealing with. If it’s left up to the gossip-mongers, they’ve already been found guilty, whilst our culture walks free and we all lose.

My musical 2012

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The Christmas top-ten probably takes the number one slot in the top ten most predictable and pointless thing to blog about at Christmas – so I’m not going to provide one. In fact, I’d probably be hard-pressed to do so: since finally acquiring home broadband around 18 months ago – yeah, I know I’m a bit late to the party; hell, I only upgraded to a smartphone about three months back! – my once-gluttonous compact disc consumption has declined to the point of musical anorexia; in inverse proportion to my porn intake. That’s not to say I listen to music any less – quite the contrary if anything – I simply buy a lot less frequently. Youtube, BandCamp, Soundcloud, Spotify – you gotta love ’em!  So what I’m giving you instead is a brief summary of my musical highlights – and low points – from the past year or so. You may observe the tone wavering on occasion from the serious, objective posture that I strive to maintain on my blog as a rule – but fuck it! If you can’t let your hair down at Christmas…

I and Thou – Speak. This is how Prog – and great music in general – should be done; album of the year for me: musicbugsandgender review

British Theatre – Dyed in the Wool Ghost. Good to see more inventive and original music arising from the ashes of the much-missed Oceansize, in the form of Mike Vennart and Gambler‘s BT project. With less emphasis on their former band’s metal trappings, and a rhythmic and atmospheric foundation in dark, glitchy electronica; this is nonetheless recognizably from the same creative stable as the ‘Size, and deserves to broaden the potential fanbase for the music of that band and its various ex-members. In other post-Oceansize news, former guitarist Steve Durose is now a full-time member of fellow Manc-based rockers Amplifier and their new album is due for imminent release. If the quality of their last effort, the double album The Octopus is anything to go by, we’re entitled to set our expectations high:

British Theatre – Dyed in the Wool Ghost musicbugsandgender review (with soundclips)

Amplifier – Echo Street update from kscope records

And for any Amp newbies, here’s taste of the immersive, space-rockin’ heavy psych for which the band are rightly revered

Tame Impala – Lonerism. Whilst stylistically-unlike Speak (above) this is likewise, a well-judged exercise in bang-up-to-date retro. Their pop-historical touchpoints are scarcely hard to discern: acid-washed Lennonesques and a Barrett-inspired sense of the absurd give the Antipodeans’ pop an otherness that makes it stand out from the crowd; opening up a wormhole into a Revolver-inspired future.  If single Elephant might be dismissed as Astronomy Domine with added Aussie swagger for the ’00s then it’s no less entertaining for that; and the album has Dave Fridmann‘s fingerprints all over it, too; making it a doubleplusgood investment for fans of The Lips and MGMT; as well as Beatles and Floyd nostalgia hounds

DeeExpus – The King of Number 33.  If I and Thou and Steven Wilson epitomise all that’s fine and worthy in today’s Prog scene, ‘King…’ is a 74 minute lesson in the pitfalls that lie in wait for the aspiring nu-progger; not to mention the foolhardiness of (me) relying on a handful of soundclips as a guide to where to dispose of one’s (my) hard-earned bucks. Much touted by prog-o-philic journos and fans alike, this vehicle for the writing of singer and multi-instumentalist, Andy Ditchfield is all mouth and trousers; superficially satisfying but revealing a disarming lack of emotional or intellectual substance on repeat listens . Like Poland’s Riverside, they purvey an awkward mish-mash of generic prog/hard rock tropes without really excelling in any of them: nary the nimble-fingered chops of a John Petrucci; the finely-tuned melodic ear of a Steven Wilson or the lyrical intuition of a Steve Hogarth in sight (or rather, hearing) here. Ditchfield personifies the stereotype of rock fan as emotional eunuch, grappling awkwardly with feelings thru clumsy and convoluted allegory: thus the potentially touching story of an autistic youngster growing up in a country town is rendered soulless and unaffecting; smothered under layers of sub-par shredding and second-hand riffs. After all else, though, what really has me reaching for the skip button is a dearth of memorable hooks. Three tracks save the album from being a complete write-off: opening number, Me and My Downfall bounces along at a good clip and draws the listener in; part 2 of the title song (and obligatory 20-odd minute opus) is lifted by characteristic keyboard solos from Marillion‘s Mark Kelly letting rip like he hasn’t since Assassing, and Memo has both pop appeal and a touch of real sentiment, thanks again to a guest spot (this time from Nik Kershaw on vocal lead, showing Ditchfield how it ought to be done). That leaves a lot of filler, though: Frost* (Milliontown and Experiments in Mass Appeal), Kino (Picture) and the last two Pendragon albums (if you can stomach Nick Barrett‘s  hackneyed, sentimental apologies for lyrics) exemplify how this modern/nu  prog (taking the ’90s rather than the ’60s as its musical springboard) can be executed so much better; and in a niche as saturated as this, only the best will do.

Celldweller – Wish Upon a Black Star. I’m a recent convert to the Klayton (a.k.a. Scott Albert) cause, having clicked on a YouTube recommendation whilst perusing the Pendulum catalogue online.  Like sampling elements of Pendulum, Knife Party, Chase & Status, NIN, Slipknot and Devin Townsend‘s more pop-oriented stylings (check out Epicloud) into your Pro-Tools rig and pressing ‘mash-up’; this is a melange that succeeds as spectacularly as DeeExpus fail, mostly because Klayton‘s writing is almost consistently spot-on. With great melodies and jackhammer beats utilised to deadly effect, Skrillex-style digital warps and bends, chunky guitar riffs and cinematic string orchestrations are just the icing on an already more-ish cake. And like Fear Factory – another band known mostly for their spine-crushing heaviosity – he also writes a great ballad. This album is geared more towards the Metal audience than the EDM one, and like earlier exponents of ‘Rocktronica’ including the aforementioned Pendulum, The Prodigy and Apollo 440 it shows that it’s possible to rock out without an over-reliance on overfamiliar six-string rifferama. Nice tip of the hat to ’80s Rush on Seven Sisters, too.

Steven Wilson – Rock musician of this decade and the last, with only Radiohead offering any serious competition in the creativity stakes, Wilson still nudges ahead for me, thru dint of sheer prolific-ness. 2012 has arguably been his best year to date: having proved his resilience and single-mindedness in breaking thru to the fringes of the mainstream with Porcupine Tree, he’s now put that band on hiatus – along with the bulk of his production and remix work – to concentrate on his art-rock/darkwave/jazz-fusion-influenced solo material. Both Insurgentes (2008) and Grace for Drowning (2011) were up there with the cream of PT, and he’s spent the last two years touring an impressive stage production that showcases the best of those albums, juxtaposed with movies by long-time partner in multimedia crime, Lasse Hoile and ambient material from his Bass Communion project. Currently working on the follow-up album for early 2013 with his touring band, and Alan Parsons in the producer’s chair, it’s a given that I’ll be online first thing on the day the pre-order opens:

Special editions – too much already! As an admirer of musical economy and brevity – incongruous in a prog fan, I know, but can Scott Walker‘s peerless 1, 2, 3, 4 and Climate of Hunter recordings be bettered for mastery of the LP format? – I find something farcical in the ever-accelerating trend to bring out multiple-disc editions of ‘classic’ albums incorporating every fart and squeak that NEVER MADE IT to the final cut. Who are the nerds that buy this shit? The Wall was already too long without the 5 discs of dubious extras that accompany the Immersion edition; and if you read internet forums you’ll have caught on that Peter Gabriel fans are less than delighted with his choice of bonus material appended to the 25th Anniversary edition of So (which isn’t even being released in the right year – come on Peter, there was a bit more of a drug issue at Charterhouse than you’re letting on, right; those wardrobe, make-up and hairstyling tips had to have come from somewhere, or something). Why do artists believe rational human beings want to pay twice and more for the same material in Mono, Stereo, 5.1, Vinyl, DVD, Blu-Ray and MP3 all in the same package? So-called audiophiles will never listen to the LPs, anyway – just put them straight into cryogenic storage and wank to the fantasy of how great they might sound in an alternate universe. But then, Prog and rational in the same sentence – a Roxymoron, surely? I still feel stung over forking out for the limited edition of The Flaming Lips‘ ‘Embryonic‘ only to find the ‘bonus’ DVD contained but two extra copies of the EXACT SAME MATERIAL, albeit in 16 and 24 bit Stereo – neither of which I have the gubbins to even play – gah! Should have read the label, I guess. The exceptions to this rule are Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree whose 10″ hardbound books are truly things of beauty, both musically and visually, and likewise, Marillion‘s ‘Campaign Editions’ both of which support more than worthy musical causes, and demonstrate the kind of attention to detail in packaging that recalls the likes of Alice Cooper‘s School’s Out and Tull‘s Thick as a Brick. Their latest, Sounds That Can’t Be Made is, coincidentally, their best collection of songs in years, pipping even the wonderful Happiness is the Road at the post; and if it weren’t for I and Thou, would have been my album of the year. In fact, I nominate this September release as the exception to the rip-off Special Edition rule for 2012. Here’s a wee taster

Muse – The 2nd Law.Apocalypse – check; conspiracy – check; a myriad of pop influences butting up uneasily yet perfectly against each other – check; rock pyrotechnics and orchestral flourishes – check… must be the new Muse, then. To be honest it’s business as usual in camp Muse – this is very much of a piece with their last two releases, and if you didn’t get Black Holes… or The Resistance then this is unlikely to sway you. On average, I’d say the songs are stronger than the latter, though the album as a whole lags somewhat behind the former as a unified statement of musical intent. Well worth your money, though, and as by far the most commercially viable exponents of prog rock since Kayleigh nearly topped the charts back in ’85: they played at the Olympics for God’s sake – Muse deserve much of the credit for rehabilitating public interest in this once-vilified sub-genre. By incorporating a bit of Bro-step into their melodic, symphonic, stadium rock bombast, they arguably exemplify the ’60’s progressive rock model better than most: the roots of prog were fiercely contemporary, not regressive and copyist, and with the mighty Pure Reason Revolution gone, who else is left to drag prog into the 21st century?

Depeche Mode – announced a new album and tour: when perhaps they ought to have been announcing their retirement. Ultra was their last release that was, if not up to the stratospheric standards of their exceptional run of discs from Black Celebration thru Songs of Faith and Devotion, at least worthy of the band name. And if concert footage from the last tour is anything to go by, Dave Gahan is struggling to hit the notes these days, much as he struggles to write songs as appealing as Martin Gore‘s.

Scott Walker – Bish Bosch. Guaranteed to hover close to the top of any self-respecting art-rock aficiando’s must-buy list, the only reason I don’t have it yet is – bah, humbug! – the necessity to buy other people Xmas gifts and the resultant deficit in my disposable income. Grr. 😉 Seriously, though, lead ‘single’, Epizootics! shows, if nothing else, that the guardian Engel of avant-garde pop isn’t getting any less odd. Me? I love it! Roll on pay day:

Johnny Marr – like another much-admired Brit guitar supremo, John Squire, Marr demonstrates that his melodic ear, gift for imaginative arrangements and superlative production don’t necessarily translate into great rock music. Mrar‘s best work – two albums with The The, Electronic‘s first and third, Pet Shop Boys Release album, Modest Mouse‘s We Were Dead… and of course, The Smiths – has always been collaborative. Whilst the guitar work on Messenger (below) is audibly the work of the same six fingers that gave us Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out; the song, and Marr‘s voice in particular are disappointingly bland; generic. His previous ‘solo’ outing (with The Healers) Boomslang wasn’t much to write to write home to yer mam about either – so let’s cross our fingers for another Electronic album, or that he and Morrissey take a leaf out of their fellow Manc superstars’ book…

Rush made the Rock’n’Roll hall of fame. Couldn’t give a stuff, personally; nor about the Grammy’s, Brits, MOBOs or any other kind of industry love-in, with the possible exception of the Mercurys. When it comes to musical merit I trust my own ears. The Mayans may have overstated their psychic credentials when they predicted 2012 as the year the world ends; but wouldn’t it be a relief if it marked the demise of the facile award ceremony as we know it? Hell, in for a penny and all that – lets throw in the end of spurious TV talent shows for good measure. Having rudely dissed over-the-hill synth-rockers The Mode (above) hats off to Martin Gore for laying into Simon Cowell this month: bit of Essex Boy attitude- cowabunga! Like DM, Rush are well past their heyday – Moving Pictures thru Power Windows, Hold Your Fire at a pinch, imo – but Clockwork Angels is a pretty decent album, streets ahead of the execrable Snakes and Arrows for sure. So who knows, maybe The Mode can manage a similar turnaround?

And that’s your lot: musical apogee and nadir circa 2012 (imho). But just as a wee little bonus, and picking up the recurring theme of apocalypse; here’s a quick reminder of what great music sounded like in days of yore.

Here’s to 2013

Aside

Great article about sexist double standards in employment, particularly the spurious notion of an ‘ambition gap’.

Emily L. Hauser - In My Head

http://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/radcliffe-magazine/are-women-new-majority-in-workplaceBryce Covert has a really interesting piece on The Atlantic online  about the so-called “ambition gap” in the workplace, the excuse so often trotted out to explain away the nagging gender wage gap: “When researchers have studied the ambition gap,” she writes, “they’ve discovered something peculiar: It’s not there. Women do ask for more. They just aren’t rewarded for it.”

The phrase “ambition gap” has always irritated me because it presumes something that’s not really about ambition. It’s about the fact that women often wind up doing things other than/in addition to dedicating themselves to their careers, and the assumption is that a) this is a choice & b) as a result, women don’t get to advance as men might — that’s not an “ambition” problem, that’s a “society-wide, institutionalized sexism” problem.

As it turns out, personally, I was happy to plan my professional life in a way that…

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