Wednesday, 21 September 2016

John Foxx - The Complete Cathedral Oceans Vinyl Box Set

The re-establishment of vinyl as a viable recording medium continues unabated. The whole analogue versus digital debate is not for here, but you cannot deny that to look at and hold something as beautiful as this 5 disc set of John Foxx's ambient series of recordings in large format is the best way to appreciate the artwork. Foxx's sumptuous photographs really come alive within the pages of this book styled package, with each of the records slipped into their own sleeves, all held within the spine of the book. It is a thing of beauty indeed, but practically it's not the easiest thing to handle. Getting the records in and out of their sleeves without touching the vinyl surface is a bit tricky. I found the best solution was to transfer each record into an anti-static sleeve, which can then be placed back into the book sections. Then to remove the record, it's just a matter of pulling out the anti-static sleeve with disc. See below for outcome!

The next point is, does ambient based music belong on vinyl? By it's very nature, ambient music is quiet and hence all the potential crackles and pops inherent in vinyl are more discernible. To an extent I agree, but the reproduction here of John Foxx's multilayered choral vocals and sweeping, mournful synths is expansive, deep and warm as I suppose only analogue can realise. Unlike Foxx's other music such as "Metamatic" which is urban, industrial, cold and artificial, the music here is pastoral, human and very English; the soundtrack to overgrown gardens on a summers evening, musically statuesque and refined and not really ambient at all. It deserves to be heard at volume, in order to completely fill the room with the washes of almost hymn like joy.

So, this set is indeed a thing of visual and aural beauty without a doubt. The packaging may be a bit impractical, but it's heartening to see art take precedence over the practicalities.

 

 

 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Grumbling Fur - Furfour

Fourth album from the duo of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O'Sullivan, hence the title. My relationship with the group is via O'Sullivan whose name I know from the likes of Guapo, Ulver, Miracle (with Zombi's Steve Moore) and Mothlite, whose last album on Kscope was quite excellent.

Grumbling Fur have that experimental feel about them, but at the heart is a keen pop sensibility. Think of some of Brian Eno's songs, at once naive, but also strange and beguiling. Even O'Sullivans multilayered voice brings to mind Eno's. Also coming to mind is Wire's Graham Lewis, whose wonderful He Said project of the 80's also had that mix of skewed pop electronica. Appearing on the album on one track is This Heat's Charles Bullen, giving another indication where this band are situated.

The musical backdrop is lush, dense, with lots of synths and processed percussion. But again, it's the duos deft ability to produce a memorable melody that comes to the fore, making this album so approachable and engaging.

 

King Crimson - Radical Action Box Set

Following on from the recent Live in Toronto 2CD set comes this epic box set of 3CD's plus blu-ray or plus 2DVD's and blu-ray. Now, that is odd! The standard edition should have been CD and DVD with the deluxe adding the blu-ray or blu-ray on its own. If you have a blu-ray player you ain't gonna play DVD, so why add those with the deluxe edition? They do need to forget about adding DVD plus blu-ray to these sets. It's one or the other!

So, these discs showcase the complete playlist of the live Crimson repertoire of 2015. The CD's are based around the best performances which Jakko has selected and the video portion is based around a Japan concert. I admit I haven't viewed that yet, as I have only concentrated on the audio. It does sound great and the performances are top notch. The expanded lineup allows for all the details and nuances of the album versions, like on Larks' Tongues, both parts reproduced here and enhanced upon. For me the highlight is the rather funky rendition of The Talking Drum, that was rather a surprise.

The discs are presented as more of a live in the studio performance as all audience participation has been removed. Fripp's idea for this lineup is more of a performance unit, rather than studio vehicle, so I can see his thinking here. There are new pieces presented here, which are all typical Crimson fare. Radical Action, Meltdown and Suitable Grounds for the Blues sit well with the classic pieces. It's all good stuff and there is plenty here to enjoy. It's good to see that for the recent tour, they have expanded the playlist with material from Lizard, a personal favourite. I was also playing Industry, from Three of a Perfect Pair the other day and it struck me that this would be ideal for this lineup. Lots of percussion work going on and the denounement of the piece would really come alive, rearranged with Mel Collins on sax. So there is plenty for this band to get their teeth into in the future.

The packaging is as expected, top notch. All discs are housed in two separate digipaks, together with a 36 page booklet all of which fit neatly into a slipcase. Of course that is not all the Crimson for this year. We have the SW remixes of Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair plus the 80's box set which includes those plus Discipline and related studio and live material. There will also be the 2016 Tourbox, which follows the previous two boxes in design and should contain lots of interesting stuff. So lots for the KC buff to look forward to!

 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Holon - The Time is Always Now

 

Let's get straight at this. The debut album by Holon is my favourite of the year so far. So who is Holon? No idea. As far as I can tell its a solo album by Ronny Pedersen. I assume he is Norwegian in origin, as I haven't found too much about him. What drew me to this project was that it's produced by Rhys Marsh, who also sings on a couple of tracks, plays and co-arranges the album. I am a big fan of Rhys Marsh, so I took a punt and went for this album. I am so glad I did. I can see why Rhys was attracted to this as it shares a lot of his sonic sensibilities. Epic 70's prog with psychedelic tones and even a hint of late 60's pop melodic textures with 80's electronica thrown into the mix. It's a heady brew, but its so strong with most tracks over the 7 minute mark, allowing ample room to develop. It just clicked with me from the outset and if you are tapped into Rhys Marsh's ouvre, then this album is a must have. It's essential!

 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Returning

 

I'm returning to this blog again. It's been months of neglect due to continual hospital visits and nurses administering intravenous antibiotics to the wife who has bone infection. But all that is not for this blog. I have posted some stuff on Instagram and renewed the listening tower as shown above, which included upgrading the vinyl playback unit to a quite nice audio-technics turntable. Accordingly vinyl has taken some prominence, but the number of upcoming CD based box sets is quite astonishing.

Usually around October is the key month for new releases, but this year has seen an unprecedented number of deluxe box sets. We have coming up new boxes by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Steve Hillage, King Crimson (the annual box of course), Pink Floyd and Philip Glass. It's all quite mind blowing really. Especially the mammoth 22 disc Hillage set!! I cannot wait for that. Not just for all the unreleased stuff, but a huge 188 page book too. The proofs of that I have seen on facebook make this a must have box set. The Crimson box is based around the 80's era of the band. At last Steven Wilson's remix of Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair gets a release. Also, his remix of Tales from Topographic Oceans is due for release very soon. Oh, I nearly forgot the UK box set. Hopefully the whole sorry saga of that is soon coming to an end and we will at last get that. Back very soon.

 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

King Crimson - Live in Toronto

I have always had a problem with the Live at Orpheum CD/DVD release of last year. I just found it lacklustre. Not because of the running time, but it just sounded unexciting. I think Jakko mixed it way too quiet and that somehow lost some of the dynamics of the recording and also mixed it so tightly that a lot of the detail of what was going on was lost. For instance one of the key percussion elements on the studio version of "One More Red Nightmare" were the handclaps. Those are present on the live version, but mixed so low that they are barely discernible. Also, the concept of three drummers is lost as the tight mixing makes it again difficult to discern one drummer from another. I know what Jakko was trying to achieve here. A polished, produced album in the tradition of something like USA. But whereas Fripp's mixing decisions for that album resulted in powerful versions of tracks like "Easy Money" and the improv "Asbury Park" in comparison to the raw live mixes which we have heard since, Jakko's mixes don't do the new lineup any favours.

But this new release is the complete set from November last year and mixed by David Singleton, who has a real understanding of live King Crimson recordings as he has been involved in such a capacity since the early 90's. Here he has got the mix levels right. He has stated in his diary from the DGM web site that he tried turning the levels down, but felt it was necessary to keep them as presented here in order to show off the band in full, powerful mode. That decision was right! At last this version of the band is properly showcased, with the whole ethos of having three drummers in the front line fully defined. The complexity, power and precision of each player and how they come together as a performing unit is fully presented here. One drummer and guitarist on the right and another on the left channel with the third drummer in the centre. You can clearly define each players contribution to the arrangements, especially important on something like "Sailor's Tale" where the cymbal opening is played by each player in turn. A nice touch that! Other highlights are a complete "Larks' Tongues in Apsic Part 1" including all the little effects which Jamie Muir added to the studio version, including the laughing toy box at the end. Level 5 and VROOOM are given different slants with Mel Collins additions taking those pieces away from their more polished Belew-era lineup origins. There are hints at some new material too, especially promising on Radical Action and Meltdown.

After the Live at Orpheum set I didn't think this new King Crimson was very exciting or interesting. This new set has completely changed my mind and I can see how this lineup can take material from any era of the band and make it their own and more importantly sound fresh, powerful and purposeful!

 

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery SACD

With the news of the death of Keith Emerson I have been revisiting ELP recordings of course. I have heard so many versions of Brain Salad Surgery over the years and own plenty too! Before the catalogue moved to Sony, Universal released a number of deluxe editions which BSS was one back in 2008. It was a mess! From what was actually on the disc to all the errors in the booklet, this looked like a rushed job. The package had 3 discs, one of which I call the "hidden" SACD. Hidden because, apart from the SACD symbol on the discs, nowhere on the packaging or booklet does it mention the third disc is actually a hybrid SACD. The first disc is the original album on CD, remastered by Pachal Byrne. The SACD has that as the CD layer and also the stereo layer of the SACD, so making disc 1 completely redundant! The multichannel layer has the 5.1 mix which was produced for Rhino's 2000 DVD-Audio version of BSS. I have only ever played the SACD on my Sony unit which does not have multichannel capability. So I have only heard the Paschal Byrne stereo remaster. It however just occurred to me that I could play this on my universal player which has SACD stereo and multichannel playback through HDMI into the amp. Though I don't have surround sound my amp should automatically downmix the surround tracks into stereo so I could hear that Rhino mix. I did just that and the results were astounding! Whereas I found the recent Jakko Jakszyk remix very odd and quite radical in some places, this Rhino mix is more akin to the original mix but more detailed, powerful and very exciting indeed. It's a great listen. There are subtle changes, but nothing that jars as much as the recent mix. It's just overall a hugely detailed, clear, punchy experience. It may be my favourite BSS yet. I just wish I sussed this out earlier. What a twat!