What I Am Listening To, January 2021

I am celebrating the start of 2021 by enjoying some new music to hopefully spark new ideas and refresh my creatively. The first CD I checked out is the raucous album Somewhere Far Beyond by Blind Guardian.

This album exists very far outside my musical comfort zone and I have enjoyed it all the more for that reason. The Tolkienesque theme reminds me of Argus by Whishbone Ash which set the standard for combining high fantasy and electric guitars. What is different about Blind Guardian’s effort is its total lack of restraint and the wild musical aggression which is characteristic of most of the songs. I find this complete lack of what would conventionally called “taste” refreshing and something I have always admired heavier music and Metal in particular. I have always thought that genres like Metal that exist far away from the mainstream have often attracted the most open minded musicians and audiences. Heavier music has consistently pioneered new technology, namely: distortion, seven string guitars, larger drum kits and many other innovations. Of course, it must be pointed out that amongst Metal fans there are certainly a fair share of idiots too.

On this CD Blind Guardian utilize an impressive instrumentation that includes bag pipes and church bells. These elements combined with the usual rock instruments create a interesting combination or archaic and new. One minor complaint I have is that on the 2011/2012 remixed version I am listening to the vocals are at times lost under cacophony of guitars and drums. Also, as is often the case at in Metal the bass is often inaudible as so much low end in present in the guitar and drum sounds. Overall, I really enjoyed Somewhere Far Beyond and will certainly be listening to it again in the future.

Next is the soundtrack from the third season of Battle Star Galatica.

I remember enjoying the show just after I had graduated from University it was fun to revisit this chapter in my life via this album. It has much in common with my previous choice as again there is unusual instrumentation: Japanese drums, strings and a variety of wind instruments are all used by the composer Bear McCreary to great effect. The most notable track is probably the heavily modified version of All Along The Watchtower McCreary’s treatment of this classic song gives it a fresh eastern flavor. I also like the very unhendrix solo at the end of the song, there is no slavish tribute here. Further, the use of strings on this album avoids cinematic cliché, the strings do not dominated the soundscape plenty of room is left for the other instruments to shine. However, is the creative use of percussion that sets this soundtrack apart from generic sounding rivals. That said, there are moments on this CD that remind me of every film that has ever been made that has American soldiers exploring a war zone somewhere in the middle east. This is the only real criticism I have to offer.

Aside from this minor the flaw the album is full of powerful (at times demented) emotional highs especially on Storming New Caprica. By contrast, there are also many tender moments too, an example being the celtic sounding Admiral and Commander.

It was a great surprise when I discovered the new TV series having only known the very kitsch original. The soundtrack was an inseparable part the new aggressive direction the new version took the basic ideas of Battle Star Galatica. I think this CD is enjoyable to listen to even if you have never watched the show. This is a testament to the strength of the music it is not merely background padding for the action on-screen, it stands by itself. Having enjoyed this soundtrack so much I am eager to check out what else Ben McCreary has done.

Recently I have been taking a trip to the past and revisiting some past favorites. One of these being Vicarious by Tool:

I have previously written about Tool’s most recent and lackluster effort Vicarious is such strong and powerful track it is hard to believe that the same band that wrote this had anything to do with Fear Inoculum. Vicarious is a study in songwriting each section flows seamlessly into the next. With great patience Tool build the musical tension gradually approaching a fierce climax. The lyrics confessing any addiction to other peoples suffering that does not just reflect on the individual but a society fed a constant stream of news that mostly consists in suffering of one form or another. There is something clinical and pornographic in the way the news is served up to us without remorse, without anything being left to the imagination. In some cases perhaps this can justified as it may spur people to action against injustice. But does not the constant stream of media which we are bombarded with also cast a spell of passivity over the viewer. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno expressed this idea in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception where they reflect that one of purposes of mass media in America, one of them being, to keep the population in a state of perpetual distraction and stupefied compliance.

On the other hand, surely being uninformed can equally engender a state of passivity? As surely one cannot change what one is ignorant of? Perhaps what is to be avoided is what the sentimentalist philosopher Martin Heidegger called “idle talk” in which topics are discussed according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “…in a critically unexamined and unexamining way about facts and information while failing to use language to reveal their relevance…”. When we fall into this mode of discourse that is shallow and lacking in authenticity.

Returning to the music, I think writing these post has taught me is that there is always more to discover and enjoy. I look forward to more musical adventures in 2021.

Looking Back on 2020

As this year draws to a close I have decided to look back in order to see what lessons both musical and general can be taken from this truly strange year. As crisis go the global pandemic has been a boring one, but a crisis none the less. My musical life has been badly damaged by the situation. I haven’t played a gig since February and have lost money that was due to me for performances because of venues being shutdown and a promoter not having any cash flow (at least this is what I have been told). You don’t know how much you need something in your life until it is gone. This has certainly held true for concerts. Going to shows both as a performer and as part of the audience has been a central part of my life for years.

However, there have been some positive things too. San Raquel have finally been able to release our EP and I have been able to finish my own solo album Shadows which will be being released soon. I am very proud of this album, it captures an emotional journey that I have been on for the last few years and I have only just come to the end of. Without all the free time I have been given by being stuck at home for so long I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish this. Work has begun on the follow up, I have a title and a rough idea of where I want to go musically, some of the songs are nearly complete with others still in very early stages.

Something that has occupied my mind recently especially as there is now news of a vaccine and life returning to some degree of normality is what in our society will be changed post-pandemic and what will simply revert how things used to be. I think it is going to take a long time for the music industry to come back from this. Many musicians have had to change careers, venues have shut, workers have been made redundant. It seems likely there will be tremendous demand for live music once the restrictions are eased. However, the network of different businesses that make live music as we know it possible will not simply spring back into action immediately. There will likely be lag between the end of social distancing and the return of what we used to know.

What lessons have I learned this year? Advice can be a dangerous thing that can represent the mistaken effort to take your own situation and impose it on another’s. This said, I humbly submit to you the following suggestions:

  • You cannot plan for everything, even the most carefully thought out strategy will not survive the unexpected.
  • Success without struggle is meaningless.
  • Be grateful for what you have it can be taken away from you in a moment.
  • In the face of death all that is trivial and inessential falls away.

The last lesson I received from Steve Jobs, although it has become cliché to praise him I must commend to you this speech:

I will do my best to take new risks in 2021 and avoid simply slipping into old patterns and habits. I will once again try and dare to do what is foolish.

The greatest lesson this year has taught me is that the truly unexpected can never be accounted for. Even the best plans can be nullified in an instant, I nor anyone else can control the flow of life. It is moved by inscrutable motivations and unseen forces, we are simply caught in the current. The choices send us this way and that, but ultimately we move within fixed parameters of reality. I think there is a larger purpose at work in my life, however, I know this intuitively not through reasoning. I do not count this as an item of dogma. If we ultimately deal only what we can prove we will live a very limited life and cut ourselves off from any experience of transcendence.

This year has also taught me to be less certain. How many times in my life have a felt so certain I was right only to find new information that tore the mental edifice down? Whilst perpetual skepticism is neither desirable nor tenable, a certain level of self criticism and doubt is beneficial. Without it all forms of delusional and fanatical thinking will take root in our minds. Of course, it must be mentioned that precisely what should be classified as “delusional” or “fanatical” is not widely agreed upon, so I do not offer any easy solutions here.

Another lesson that has be gifted to me by the pandemic and the current restrictions in the UK is the fickle nature of moral standards and how quick people are to fall in line and follow the status quo. The threat of a health emergency has lead to vast swathes of people (myself included) to surrender their liberties. This is not to say that measures designed to protect others health are inherently wrong. What I am saying is that the way they have been enforced with fines and police patrols is authoritarian. If one has to resort to force it is often a sign that one has lost the argument. I fear in the case of UK government this may be accurate. From what I can see online there seems to be a lively debate on what the correct approach for containing the virus is. Whilst I am not is a position to provide certain judgements on such questions I will say that I would be surprised if in future years there received wisdom about the virus and the measures used to contain it are overturned. What I can say with more certainty is that appears to have been no real discussion as to what extent public health must be weighed against economic and civil liberties. The current position appears to be that life must be saved at all costs. Ideas such as the inevitability of death and that quality of life is just as important as quantity are taboo. Of course, dying slowly of a ruthless of disease is a horrible fate. Nor would I want to loose a loved on to the virus. However, the side effects of the efforts to stop the virus are just as bad, many lives have be ruined financially, emotionally and spiritually by government restrictions. This is especially true for those who occupy a more precarious position in our society. Socialist interventions have hit the poor the worst, such a catastrophe does not fit into the conventionally narrative of big government.

Given the right guidance people are more than capable of taking reasonable precautions. People should be allowed to make their own judgement about risks they are willing to take. These ideas were originally articulated by Lord Jonathan Sumption who has been speaking out about the current situation.

In our politics there seems to a complete lack of opposition to the dominant narrative. I guess that this should come to no surprise as any politician linked to virus deaths would become electorally toxic. This is not to say that politicians in this country are totally without principles but that as far as I can tell the leadership of two main parties are in broad agreement on the need for continued lockdowns the only difference is that Conservatives in their graciousness have allowed us to celebrate Christmas. It is none of the governments business what people choose to do in the privacy of their own homes. Christmas is not theirs to take away or give back. The banning of public acts of worship is likewise a shocking infringement of religious liberties.

Another lamentable characteristic of the current situation is that in the discussion there appears to be no mention of the people who are largely to blame for the pandemic, the Chinese government. If it had not be for their attempts to ignore the spread of the virus (and possible cover it up) the virus might have been better contained. It may have even come from a biological research facility run by them. If this silence to be interpreted as a tacit admission that we no longer have the will or the strength to oppose them? At least it got a mention in the US presidential debates. Behind closed doors more may be going on.

In closing, look forward to a better 2021 free from face masks, hysteria and empty streets.

What I Am Listening To, December 2020

This month I have been revisiting some old favourites and trying to expand my listening horizons into new territory.

One such novelty is the live recordings of the joint David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails tour. What was particularly interesting about these concerts is that for part of the show David Bowie joined the rest of NIN for a joint set that saw him and Trent Reznor perform reworked versions of songs from each of their catalogs. The most impressive of these being Hurt.

What I love so much about this rendition is how boldly and imaginatively the song in reworked and the original instrumentation only appears far latter in the performance. It is fascinating to see the same material being sung by the very different vocal styles of Bowie and Reznor. The contrast between elevates the song to a totally new place.

I have also been listening to Fear Inoculum by Tool. Tool have become infamous for their total lack of output for over a decade, Fear Inoculum represents the final breaking of this silence. From what I can tell the reaction online has been mixed, here are some reviews I enjoyed of ablum presenting these contrasting opinions:

What is my own opinion of this album? Before answering this question I must discuss the way the album was released as this has coloured my judgement somewhat.

Firstly, it must be said that after such a lengthy gap between this and the last Tool album I think fans deserve something high quality. One thing that annoyed me initially was how difficult it was to get a physical copy of the album. I remember going to my local music shop and asking if they had any copies to which the reply was “No” that they had sold out. This was understandable given the massive amount of hype and mystery surrounding this release. I then asked when it would be back in stock, only to find out that Tool had only authorized a very limited amount of the product. Further, having looked online later I found that there was no option to buy a simple package with just a CD, rather, this had to purchased as part of a deluxe package eye watering amounts of money. So for some time there was a bizarre situation where they only way you could get a CD was to spend over £50 but you could get all the tracks digitally for a reasonable price. Such a strange commercial decision on the part of the band and record label smacks of pretentiousness. I am sure they are many Tool fans (myself included) who are not rich and would have liked to be able to own a CD of the album for a reasonable price. Now this error has been corrected and a semi-reasonably priced redux version of the album with just a CD ad booklet is available.

This all said, what of the music? There are many promising moments in this album but none of them are fully developed or executed in a way that produces any emotional impact. The vocals have a very minimal presence in the album and feel at times like an after thought. The album meanders through motif after motif, build after build, but there is no real release, no climax, just monotony. At points it sounds like the band have become a caricature of themselves. The complex rhythmic sequences Tool are know for are very much in evidence, as are the intimate interplay between guitar and bass and the elongated song forms but all passion and energy are almost totally absent. In a large part due to the vocals not being present as a force in the music and the instrumental parts being so indecisive. The one notable exception is the excellent Chocolate Chip Trip which gives the listener a welcome break from the overly dry sound of many of songs. Instead, we are in the totally different sound world of modular synthesizers and the drums as protagonist play against the developing soundscape with aggression and passion. Finally, here are moments of excitement and the unexpected. I heard mentioned in an interview with Dan Carrey that this song was related to Billy Cobham’s pioneering work in the 70s that similarly involved drums playing against a electronically produced sequence.

Overall I think Fear Inoclum has great promise which is fails to deliver on, after so much waiting I cannot help but be disappointed.

I have also being revisiting parts of Garry Willis’s Album Larger Than Life. In genenral I have enjoyed this album there are many bold and experimental compositions here. However, sometimes the weirdness of that pervades the album can be a bit draining. I think I need to give this album a few more listens before making my mind up about it.

The Uses and Abuses of Music Criticism

What is the point of writing about music? This is a question that is not asked enough. I will do my best to answer this in order to justify what I am doing on this site and hopefully find some fresh insight. One way to approach answering this question is to address the common mistakes that I think critics make and arrive and some better methodology via negitiva.

The first and most common mistake is the reduction of musical statements to merely be reflections of the artists biography. For example, there are endless analysis online of what was happening to a particular artist at a particular time this is then present as the final answer to the purpose and the meaning of the work. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that life experience plays a decisive factor in the creative process it is not the only factor for there is a wide spectrum among musicians as from those who’s artistry addresses personal topics an example of such a person is Jil Scott. On the other hand, there are artists such as Max Richter who work primarily in the world of instrumental music and usually produce there work under the guidance of a theme that is not directly part of there life.

A further criticism of the stock biographical interpretation is that it ignores the ways in which local and personal emotions can be channeled into something abstract. Via this route all music even that very far removed from the exact experience of the performer can become personal. Simple biographical interpretations render everything a trivial product of what has happened to a person rather than a fusion of life experience and creative intelligence. Without such a general intelligence it is hard to know how anything could be transmitted artistically from one person to another without both having had identical life experiences. Even for people who may have lived such identical lives there will always be the difference that it is they who are the experiencing it with their own unique personality.

The next mistake is simplification via some sub genre label. For example, the odious term “jazz fusion” which principle use seems to be ghettoise a variety of styles and approaches. What music exists that does not owe it’s heritage to something else? Is not almost all music if you go far back enough some kind of “fusion”? The same can said of completely ridiculous label “progressive rock” . What does it denote? According to Wikipedia “…prog’s scope is sometimes limited to a stereotype of long solos, long albums, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and costumes…” The problem with such stereotypes is that it only list of sins not a characteristic of a style. There are plenty of groups who have dressed in variety of garbs that do not commit the other sins. Fantasy is just as much a part of pop as any other genre, although in the main the fantasies are hedonistic not conceptual.

Perhaps in the past this label could be applied to a cadre of bands that shared certain characteristics and in this sense could be described as meaningful. However, culture has moved on since then as have the musicians who may even apply the label “prog” to themselves. Of course the idiotic press is ready for such developments and can simply accommodate these changes by declaring whatever developments have occurred to be “neo…”. This solves nothing. Am I perhaps uncharitable in looking for higher standards in what is ultimately slang? Also, we must keep in mind Wittgenstein’s motto that meaning is use, that language is a flexible medium that can change as people use words in different ways over time. This said, I do think the essence of my criticism still stands. That by following such practices the level of discourse is lowered.

However, I would say that often slang in reified by music critics to take on a status beyond mere slang to a stronger and more certain categorization. This I object to, it is the intellectualisation of something that is used intuitively. It is through this process that needlessly sharp distinctions are drawn and barriers erected.

What of positive purposes of music criticism? I think criticism can illuminate aspects of a work that we can have been previously blind to. Further, through the exploration of an other’s opinion we can understand more clearly why we hold the opinions we do. In this sense misguided analysis can be helpful and instructive. However, it must be said that verbal analysis is no replacement for experiencing the music. This is the place that all true musical knowledge stems from and where the transcendent power of music can be encountered. In comparison to this mere words can seem dead and lifeless. None the less, I think there is enough to be gained by writing about music that I will continue to do it.

Music On My Mind

I am proud to announce that the debut EP from San Raquel is out now on all platforms. I am proud to part of this band, I think these songs are are real testament to the friendship we have had over so many years.

Out of all things that the pandemic has taken away I miss performing and connecting with people the most. In these strange times I still finding continual solace in music and its power to transcend.

Putting this EP together has been a real labour of love. The original recording session for this was in 2018. However, after these recordings were done there were some minor additions and tweaks that needed to be made which were done over subsequent months. We were hoping to do some gigs in London to support the release but given the current situation in the UK that has not been possible. At the time of writing this a second lock down has been announced so I am not sure what will be happening to the one streamed gig we had scheduled. One of the major obstacles the pandemic has place in the way of artist is uncertainty. Given the ever changing nature of situation it is very hard to plan anything that requires in person interaction. Working online has come a long way in recent years but it is only a cheap substitute for the real thing, this is particularly true for artistic endeavors I really need to be in same room as my band mates to create. The songs can reach a half finished state via email ping pong but the completion of them always occur in person. I don’t think anyone really knows how long this current state of affairs is going to last, I am doing my best to keep working and moving forward without wasting time ruminating on the future or all the opportunities and work that have been taken away from me. More than ever it has become of paramount importance to live in the moment.

The one positive side of having such a reduced concert schedule is that we have been able to focus more on writing some new songs (both my own music and music for the band) which I hopefully we be able to share with the world soon. Speaking for myself, I can definitely say that the pandemic has forced me to focus on the simpler things in life composing being definitely one of them. In spite of al the negative things that have been happening recently I am really happy that our EP is finally out there. We are hoping to do a physical release in the near future with some bonus tracks that aren’t in the digital version.

I hope you enjoy the music.

Toby

What I Am Listening To October/November 2020

This month I have been diving into Bandcamp to see what new music I can discover that is off the beaten track. A lot of the songs I am going to talk about I found originally through an article Bandcamp put together each month for their Jazz recommendations.

This track by Mamal Hands is sublime I have heard of the group many times before but never actually listened to anything by them until I found this song. What I love about this track is the open feeling that the reduced instrumentation gives the music a spacious feeling which gives the musicians a great deal of freedom. This song feels very tender and is totally free of the empty machismo Jazz can sometimes become trapped in.

Finding Daily Worker has been a revelatory discovery. He seems to epitomise a old fashioned and direct form of artistry but he may also have access to a bit crusher. In a genre that has become so stale finally here is something fresh. The song featured here is great as is the rest of the album which has some of the strangest drum recordings I have ever heard. It’s weird, it’s a home-brew, it’s magnificent.

Bloto are a polish band that have clearly been heavily influenced by American music but have there own perspective on the genre that was pioneered by the likes of Chris Dave and later Donny McCaslin.

Have had a new album out recently so I have been digging into a old favourite from them (full disclaimer I heard this on the radio, I was working a depressing job at the time). The video for this song is very imaginative. I really love the synth bass sounds here being combined with bass guitar it creates such a beautiful thick texture. Everything Everything clearly have been clearly influenced by electronic music but they don’t beat you over the head with it. There is sophistication here but not coming from a place of guitar dominated music which is refreshing.

Weirder still is the Irish band Ten Past Seven with there discordant offering Turf War from the wonderfully titled album Long Live The Bog Walrus, for the name alone this album is probably worth a buy. Ten Past Seven remind in some ways of Planet X but they are more devious and less overtly “American”. Further they are clearly more spiritual in the album credits they mention that the band “…have made a sacrifice to the walrus gods.” Maybe they will return Ireland to its pagan roots?

Forget the radio it’s mostly bad with the exception of a few stations, forget whatever annoyances are popping up on your feed, Bandcamp may actually be the place to go. Don’t worry I haven’t be paid to say any of this. However, if you have some cash please get in touch I could use it right now.

Why I Like Radiohead

With a band like Radiohead it is difficult to know where to start, there is so much to say. I first encountered them when they had already had great deal of success and were somewhere in the middle of their career. I think the first albums I bought by them were Pablo Honey and OK Computer. I remember thinking that the first album was mediocre, the band were clearly still developing as an act and had not yet found there voice. When I got round to checking out OK Computer I felt I had discovered something completely new. The album was high concept but not at the expense of musicality, nor did any of it feel pompous as some “progressive” (I really hate this word, I hope it dies a death) music can be guilty of.

Thom Yorke was clearly singing about alienation, loneliness and the idiocy of life in the industrialised world. These ideas were expressed through a beguiling mix of the abstract ideas and language that sounded more personal. This combination was always hard to untangle. Was the genesis of this song direct experience, or something more general? By keeping the listener guessing and stubbornly refusing to explain anything didactically gave the whole record a wonderful mystery. OK Computer is clearly a work of sophisticated intellects but as a listener you are not beaten over the head with this fact.

Later I got into Kid A which is the complete opposite of OK Computer but equally a masterpiece. I have written this before but it bares repeating but one of the things that I have always admired about Radiohead is their willingness to take risks. Many artists get famous for doing one thing and continue to capitalise on that until they have exhausted the formula. Radiohead have never stayed in on stylistic place for too long. I may not have always liked the result but that is not the point, without taking genuine risks true success and failure are not possible. As bad as albums like The King of Limbs are they are a testament to artistic adventurousness.

I like Radiohead because they refuse to be attached to any particular genre or style. There designation by most people as a “rock” band does not make much sense as apart from the presence of electric guitar in their music, they do not owe or have much in common with any band that is usually tied to that word. Perhaps what this really reveals is that the term “rock” has been used so much as to become nebulous. Regardless, I have always felt Radiohead have gone for what is musical not what is within the confines of their “genre”. After the success of Kid A they moved back to a sound more heavily reminiscent of their early days this produced the excellent series of albums my favorite being In Rainbows.

This album encapsulates everything that is great about the band. It contains the perfect mix of strangeness and familiarity. What is strange is that the cryptic nature of the lyrics is pushed to such an extent that any interpretation of them seems like mere guess work. What is familiar here is that the more conventional instruments (guitars, drums and bass) have a stronger presence.

It is surprising that such a unconventional band could have become so popular. I like Radiohead because they are a multi-directional band. By this I mean that their music operates on many different levels, on the one hand the songs are musical statements of emotional feeling that I have alluded to previously. However, their later compositions are always haunted by an undeniable strangeness the emotional atmosphere is generally dark but mostly not in an overtly violent way with notable exceptions such as the song Paranoid Android. To try and articulate my exact point is quite difficult focusing on a specific song may be illuminating. The song Reckoner could be interpreted as simple collection of interesting lyrically ideas but there is something in the performance of the song on the album that seems to suggest there is something more going on, but what that is exactly is hard to identify. There is something of the empyrean.

It my hope that a band as great and as iconoclastic as Radiohead can gain critical mass in the future but I have my doubts. As recent events have continued the trend tightening the strangle hold of musicians and music. The noise is getting louder every day, you almost can’t hear it any more.

What I’m Listening To: September/October 2020

Recently I have been trying to get out of my old habits and listen to some music that I would not do normally. With this in mind I checked out Gangs Signs & Prayer by Stormzy.

What really interests me about this album is the strong narrative ark that holds all the songs together, the lyrics look to the future but also reference coming to terms with past problems, the strongest example of this being the Don’t Cry For Me, in which difficult emotions are laid bare. Raleigh Ritchie’s vocals are stunning. This is by far my favorite track on the album.

Recently I have also revisited the landmark album Kid A by Radiohead.

Even after all these years this album still holds so much mystery and euphoria. Kid A represented a total change of direction from where Radiohead had been previously musically as a guitar based band. This album saw them move into exciting territory of electronic music (Idioteque), to tracks with mostly acoustic instruments (Motion Picture Soundtrack) and tracks that are more reminiscent of Radiohead’s old style (Optimistic). For a band as successful as they were this album was a big risk for them artistically and commercially. The true artists are those who a not satisfied with easy formulas and regurgitating old ideas. I have never understood what the mountain top scene on the album cover signifies. Perhaps the last safe location after some disastrous war? Are the snow peaked mountains an oblique reference to climate change?

Another old favorite I have revisited is Myths of The Near Future by The Klaxons.

I have always felt this band’s career was cut short and they never fulfilled all of their potential. Myths.. came out when I was quite young and some aspects of the music have not aged well, the lyrics can seem a bit vapid at times. However, for something that could be described as “commercial” there are some really good songs here and a genuinely unique style that borrows from rock but also has elements of dance/rave music. There’s also some really interesting guitar work which is places (Gravity’s Rainbow) is reminiscent of Johnny Greenwood’s work in Radiohead. The spiritual ancestor of this style is Adrian Belew who I talk about more in another post. The Klaxons have the uncommon privileged of having material that was meant to be there second album being rejected by their record label. They released some of those tracks as an EP:

It’s strange to look back on the era the Klaxons were popular in as for me the early 2000s are a time when the full impact on new the new technology of file sharing and music being primarily being consumed in a digital format had not been fully realized. Record labels and other gatekeepers were still relevant to new artist looking to break through. Now the number of hits your video gets on Youtube are a far greater indicator of your potential success than any level of endorsement by the powers that be.

Further, the strength of the old players in the music industry are waning as sales of recorded music continue to fall. Many in all likelihood can only remain viable through the control they have over large back catalogs which can then be licensed to Spotify for undisclosed amounts of money. This change in dynamics has meant that artist’s task is now to try and break through the fog of obscurity rather than impressing a few key decision makers. What is taken away in one place is added in another.

If you have any suggestions on what I should be listening to feel free to contact me.

What I’m Listening To: June 2020

In this new series I am going to write about tracks I have been listening to recently and share my thoughts on them. I was inspired to do this by Steven Wilson’s excellent posts on music he has been enjoying in a particular year.

The first track Chapel Belle comes for Talitha Rise I discovered her via a blog but I can’t remember the name of the original site. I think I was trying to get tickets to see Pineapple Thief and as my browsing session became more wide ranging I found this video.

What I really like about this track is the difficulty I find in placing it in any particular genre. The closest analogue I can think of is Kate Bush, but in this case the similarities are quite superficial. The song follows it’s own wayward structure that defies simple pop formulas. Lyrically the song is enigmatic and defies simple explanations. As a listener you get the feeling that the song is dealing with confronting some dark and uncomfortable truth this compliments the haunting feel of the music.

Next is The Great Curve by Talking Heads. I was hipped to this by a friend. My favorite part of this track is the truly weird guitar solo, it goes everywhere including far outside the harmony of the song. If there was ever an example that rhythm is more important than note choice it is certainly this. The guitar solo is such a device so laden with cliché it is refreshing to hear something different from the norm. It was recorded by Adrian Belew who through work like this established himself as a master of unorthodox guitar playing.

Also, the song has the feeling that it could sit well with some American film (I refuse to use the obvious cliché). I was aware of Talking Heads prior hearing this track but have never bothered to investigate them in any depth. I must remedy this.

I have really enjoyed revisiting this excellent track by Chris Brown:

I originally heard this on Moses Boyd’s show that he used to have on BBC 1Xtra. The heart of this track is bass line, it’s cool to hear something so distorted in a Pop/RnB context. The video is quite cool too, I like the the retro-future aesthetic mixed up with some ideas from Bruce Lee films.

Next is Up North by Bill Bruford’s group Earthworks. I think this track needs some explanation as I am sure some people will not have any idea what it is I am recommending.

Bill Bruford is best known from playing drums with King Crimson and Yes. After leaving this music behind he changed course artistically by playing jazz and started working under his own name. He was one of the first drummers to explore augmenting the drum kit in unusual ways and pairing acoustic drums with electronic pads/triggers. This is now common place but when he did it it was revolutionary. This track showcases him generating chords off the pads during the head whist keeping a beat going with his feet. In some ways you can see what he was doing a precursor the explosion of creative uses of the drum kit that has occurred in recent years. Drummers that are part of this that you should check out are: Mark Guiliana, Mike Mitchell and Chris Dave.

I really like this tune, it is certainly reminiscent of emotions that I feel when in England that is hard to explain. There’s nostalgia and there’s the feeling of the countryside and pubs.

Albums That Shaped Me: The Mars Volta, Octahedron

Ocathedron is the fifth album from The Mars Volta an rock band from Los Angles that defy easy description. They were clearly influenced by Led Zeppelin but this influence was filtered through there own psychotic mix of Latin American music, psychedelia, punk rock, heavy guitar music, Jazz and their own brand of relentless aggression. The product of this chaotic blend of styles resulted in truly unique music that brought a fresh energy to rock.
Octahedron documents the band turning away extended song forms to write shorter pieces that are all part of a greater conceptual unity. The band were blessed with an excellent selection or drummers throughout their career. Octahedron featuring the force that is Thomas Pridgen, his aggressive playing style jelled well with the band’s aesthetic. Although, it must be said that he is not my favourite drummer of the band’s roster.

Octahedron was the first album from The Mars Volta I ever owned what impressed me about this release was the sheer diversity of music presented in the album and how much sonic ground was covered in such short songs. New territory is explored here especially on the haunting track With Twilight as My Guide which exists in a very ethereal place and does not as in previous go to a more conventional high energy space. The song showcases Cedric Bixler Zavala’s incredible vocal range.

What the meaning of this album is meant to be is as with all of the bands’ output hard to decipher. I have heard that the track Teflon is about a group of dropouts and stoners killing the American presidential candidate John McCain in a possible future where he would have become president. Throughout the album there are various references the occult/and or Satanic powers (it should be noted that Zavala has sought to distance himself from such interpretations of the music).


To state the obvious, there are eight songs in total on the album which coincides with the geometrical figure that is named in the title. It is hard to say if this name denotes any further significance. Throughout, the album a synthesized tones makes frequent appearances, functioning as a sonic glue between the individual songs. For a band that is notoriously inaccessible and hard to interpret this album for all its aggression, lyrical density and extreme aesthetic Octahedron can still be said to be the band’s most “commercial” release when compared the rest of their catalogue. This is more telling of the strangeness of The Mars Volta than of the contents of Octahedron.

For surely it is their undeniable strangeness that has given them the success and enduring popularity they have enjoyed. In their music unfiltered aggression meets sophistication and abstraction. An event I was at with one of their members was very well attended, which happened long after the band had disbanded.

When I think of The Mars Volta I feel a mixture of elation and sorrow: elation at the music I am hearing but at the same time sadness that I cannot think of a band that has achieved any level of notoriety in recent years that is a innovative as they were. Perhaps my sorrow is simply due to ignorance. I would prefer this to be true rather than any alternative hypothesis. That good new music is simply being lost in the incomprehensible volume of new releases each year? That originality can no longer prosper in the music “industry”? In the darkness of the unknown false certainty will not help us. To live with ambiguity is sometimes a necessity.