Category Archives: Music

Discipline

King Crimson – Discipline (1981)

“Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end”

Adrian Belew – electric guitar, lead vocals
Robert Fripp – electric guitar, devices (Frippertronics)
Tony Levin – Chapman Stick, backing vocals, bass
Bill Bruford – drums

Side one
“Elephant Talk”
“Frame by Frame”
“Matte Kudasai”
“Indiscipline”

Side two
“Thela Hun Ginjeet”
“The Sheltering Sky” (Instrumental)
“Discipline” (Instrumental)

This is the second KC album I purchased, after getting Beat (1982). It was King Crimson’s first album following a seven-year hiatus.

Right away it is clear that this is a unique album. There is a distinctly eastern feel to the music. And it came at a time when Fripp was starting his guitar lessons and devising his alternative guitar tunings.

Tony Levin kicks off the album, with a crazy chapman stick riff in “Elephant Talk”, a perfect opener if there ever was one. Tony and Robert’s parts collide with each other into one powerful force, accumulating into great chemistry between them. Adrian Belew’s vocals and rhythm guitar lines add a sense of spontaneity to the band. While the other members are primarily musicians, he’s definitely a bit of a showman and personality. Adrian’s yelps of, “Talk, its only talk. Babble, burble, banter, bicker bicker bicker. Brouhaha, boulderdash, ballyhoo. Its only talk…” introduces a sense of eccentricity that is fields away from the serious nature of middle-70s King Crimson.

“Frame By Frame” continues the story of “Elephant Talk”. The lyrics don’t seem to have any specific meaning, but there is a chance that they are completely interpretational due to their broad nature.

“Matte Kudasai”, is s brooding chilled-out lullaby. It features some of Adrian’s best vocals on the album and contains a seagull effect that can be seen on the live DVD performance.

“Indiscipline” is similar to the first two tracks. But rhythmically more conventional. Adrian rambles a bit before coming up with:

“I repeat myself when under stress”
“I repeat myself when under stress”
“I repeat myself when under stress”
.
.
“I Like it !”

“Thela Hun Ginjeet” (an anagram for “Heat in the Jungle”). It’s funky, spaced out and weirdly fun, but still has a strict King Crimson personality. Robert Fripp plays his guitar in 7/8 time while everything else plays in 4/4, eventually coming into syncopation with each other later.

While the track was being recorded for the Discipline album, Adrian Belew, walking around Notting Hill Gate in London with a tape recorder looking for inspiration, was harassed first by a gang and then by the police. On returning to the studio, he gave a distraught account to his band-mates of what had just happened to him. This account was recorded by Fripp without Belew’s knowledge.

“The Sheltering Sky” shows Fripp and Belew feeding off each other perfectly. Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics system is in full effect. The track is named after and partially inspired by the 1949 novel of the same name by Paul Bowles. Bowles is often associated with the Beat generation, which would be an inspiration for ‘Beat’.

“Discipline” is the highlight of the album, in intricate intertwining of repeating odd time-signatures between two of the most thought-provoking guitarists ever and creates a flawless statement in minimalism.

King Crimson made a vital progression with this album, instead of keeping with the same sound like so many of their progressive rock contemporaries. Robert Fripp’s guitar lines have never been so refreshing while Tony Levin’s chapstick device and Bill Bruford’s expansive drum sound added another layer to King Crimson’s ever growing domain.

Red may be more influential and sentimental, but Discipline manages to better it in a lot of different ways. It’s sad that ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’ might be considered their best, because in reality, Discipline and Red betters it out by a wide margin.

Beat

King Crimson – Beat (1982)

Robert Fripp: Guitar, Organ, Frippertronics
Adrian Belew: Guitar, Lead Vocal
Tony Levin: Stick, Bass Guitar, Support Vocal
Bill Bruford: Drumming

Sometime in the early 1980’s I would regularly browse music shops. It was a time before CDs, Vinyl LPS were the most popular medium for music. In a bargain bin of LPs I found an album with a blue cover. I was vaguely aware of the musicians but I had not heard of the band. This would be the first King Crimson album I would buy, and one to come back to as a touchstone of progressive music.

The first side is mainly songs written by Adrain Belew. These were almost pop songs, but with a harder edge.

“Neal and Jack and Me” (4:22)
The album’s catchy opener features Fripp on Hammond electric organ, and Belew’s quirky lyrics (which are full of references to the Beatnik writer duo, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy).
The ‘Jack’ of the title is Beat writer Jack Kerouac, while ‘Neal’ is Kerouac’s best friend Neal Cassady.

“Heartbeat” (3:54)
Undeniably cheesy, this is still a great song, and you may actually hear it on the radio from time to time (a rarity with King Crimson). Subtle time signature changes and a moody guitar melody underscore Bill Bruford’s textural drumming and the “backwards” guitar solo.

I need to feel your heartbeat heartbeat
so close, feels like mine
all mine
I need to feel your heartbeat heartbeat
so close it feels like mine
all mine…
I remember the feeling
my hands in your hair
hands in your hair
I remember the feeling
of the rhythm we made
the rhythm we made
I need to land sometime
right next to you
feel your heartbeat heartbeat
right next to me…..

“Sartori in Tangiers” (3:34)
The antithesis of pop, this Stick-based instrumental is very much Tony Levin’s creation. Opening with a pseudo-classical intro, it quickly moves though Hammond and guitar leads, ending only too soon. Note: The title is a clever twist on Kerouac’s classic, Satori in Paris. This remains a favourite track. For years I tried to find music like this.

“Waiting Man” (4:27)
Similar to “Discipline” (from the likewise titled album), this tune reflects KC’s fascination with world music. Bruford uses his Simmons electronic percussion pads to create a counterpoint to the bass line.
Unfortunately, the lyrics and vocals are not Belew’s finest moment.

I come back, come back
You see my return
My returning face is smiling
Smile of a waiting man

I, I’ll be home soon, soon, soon
Soon cry on your shoulder
Your shoulder against my burning tears
Tears of a waiting man

One two three four, one two three

I wait every moment
I wait, wait for my chance
I wait for my friend to say
Hello, you’re waiting man

Feel no fret, feel no fret, feel no fret
You can wait and feel no fret
And so I wait, so I wait, so I wait, so I wait

I return, face is smiling, be home soon cry on your shoulder
Tears of a waiting man, every moment wait for my chance
My friend say hello, feel no fret, feel no fret

The second side is more Fripp than Belew. It first I didn’t like this side as much, but after years of listening to music on the edge of sound, I like it more and more.

“Neurotica” (4:48)
One of the great crashing intros. With Bruford’s free-form drumming supporting Belew’s bizarre, paranoid lyrics this song comes off as full of demented imagery that describes the insanity of a big-city night.

“Two Hands” (3:23)
A nice little love song, or is it ?
Like The Police Song ‘Every Breath You Take’ it appears to be about a stalker or observer.
Always loved the shifting guitar textures that underpin the song.

Oh they’re touching
They’re touching each other
They’re feeling
They push and move
And love each other, love each other
They fit together like two hands…

I am a face
in the painting on the wall
I pose and shudder
And watch from the foot of the bed
Sometimes I think I can
Feel everything…

The wind is blowing
My hair in their direction
The wind is bending my hair
There are no windows in the painting
No open windows, no open windows, no…

“The Howler” (4:13)
This excellent tune name-checks Allan Ginsberg’s classic poem, “Howl”. Another catchy guitar figure and nice lyrics.

“Requiem” (6:38)
This instrumental track is the most avant-garde of the album. At this point I had not heard Fripp’s solo frippertronics albums so was surprised with the odd sounds.
Beginning with a distinctly Frippian guitar solo, Bruford’s jazzy drumming and Levin’s subtle additions flesh out the tune, making for one of the darker Crimson pieces.

My Idols

Haley & Crystal

American Idol has finished on Season 15.
Unfortunately the best singer, La’Porsha Renae lost to Trent Harmon.
So I have gone back over my favorite singers and found the albums they released. Which is the best singer and the best album ?

The contestants are:

Caleb Johnson – Testify (2014)

Candice Glover – Music Speaks (2014)

Crystal Bowersox
Farmer’s Daughter (2010)
All that for This (2013)

Haley Reinhart
Listen up (2012)
Better (April 29, 2016)

David Cook
Analog Heart (2006)
David Cook (2008)
This Loud Morning (2011)
Digital Vein (2015)

Siobhan Magnus
Moonbaby (2012)
Old Cape Cod (2013)

Danny Gokey
My Best Days (2010)
Hope in Front of Me (2014)
Christmas is Here (2015)

Jordin Sparks
Jordin Sparks (2007)
Battlefield (2009)
Right Here, Right Now (2015)

Melinda Doolittle – Coming Back yo You (2009)

Unfortunately some of the powerful voices (Melinda Doolittle, Candice Glover) have been served with albums aimed more at the teen market and poorly produced albums. My favorite singers are Haley Reinhart. and Crystal Bowersox. Haley released a very pop-oriented first album but has gotten better, especially when singing with Jazz bands. She has a new album ‘Better’ coming out in a few weeks. The single sounds like a promising start to the album.
Crystal Bowersox has two albums that are consistently good. So at the moment it’s a tie between Haley Reinhart and Crystal Bowersox.

 

Lana Lane

Lana Lane is a North American rock singer. She sings lead in her eponymous band, and has sung backing vocals for the band Rocket Scientists and guest sung on Ayreon and Erik Norlander albums.

She is married to music producer Erik Norlander, who co-produces her albums with her at their own studio, Think Tank Media in Woodland Hills, California.

Her first album Love is an Illusion was released in 1995 and obtained a fair amount of success in Japan, as did Curious Goods – her second album, from 1996.

Lady Macbeth is a collection of songs based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, from Lady MacBeth’s point of view.

Lana Lane appeared as a guest vocalist on two Ayreon CDs, Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer and Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight of the Migrator, singing lead and harmony vocals. She also provided the computer voice for both albums.

In 2003 Lana sang the part of Queen Guinevere on the concept album Once and Future King Part I by Gary Hughes.

Secrets of Astrology (2000)

 

This was the first album from this group of musicians I purchased. The samples sounded interesting and I was intrigued by the cover. This was certainly a musical style I could relate to. I could hear a resemblance to the work a decade before of E.L.O.

Those strings and full harmonies and melodies. The album starts off quietly, a simple theme repeated with instruments slowly added (like Tubular Bells). Then, after several minutes a machine gun-like drum set kicks in. From then on until the end it’s flat out heavy, symphonic rock. There is no arguing with Lana’s title as “Queen of Symphonic Rock”. She is often compared to the Wilson girls from Heart. But as Heart is not a band I know a lot about, I can’t compare her to anyone.

While there are technically better singers, Lana has a powerful voice that rises to her husband, Erik Norlander’s songs. As for the cover, it is by Michael Parkes, one of my favourite painters. His work features in other albums by Lana and Erik. Erik even uses an image by Sci-Fi illustrator Jim Burns I am familiar with on his ‘Seas of Orion’ CD.

Love is an Illusion (1995)

After the first Lana Lane CD, I was hooked. I set out to get her remaining albums.

Her first album starts with someone tuning a radio. This changes to a choral effect then the title song’s main theme. The second track starts the song, Erik Norlander plays all the keyboards and propels the fast tempos along, ably assisted by Don Schiff (Chapman Stick) and Tommy Amato (drums).

Things slow down for the mid-tempo song “Coloured Life”. A good song with nice interplay between the keyboards and guitars. “Cold Outside” starts with a heavy metal guitar and assured rhythm section. In the chorus Lana gets to stretch out, he voice sours over the arrangements there is a catchy melody easily remembered after the album finishes.

“Through the Fire” is another song with all the necessary elements; chugging guitars, rock steady drumming, again that soaring voice and plenty of progressive elements to keep it interesting. Keyboards dominate in the foot tapping “Through the rain”, containing a good dose of swing rhythms.

“Faerie Tale State of Mind” dates from 1993, a nice ballad with grand sweeping orchestral effects. “Dream Burning Down” is more of a by-the-numbers heavy rock tune. “Can’t find My Way Home” looses its way a bit in the verses, but redeems itself with a strong chorus.

The album was re-mastered in 1998 by Erik, which wasn’t really necessary. The original is far better than must albums in the genre and he should be happy with the result.

This first album isn’t a heavy and overwhelming as latter albums. I suspect (like most first albums) that he had a good number of well rehearsed songs ready for recording.

This remains a favorite of mine in her discography and despite the above comments, I usually play the 1998 version with it’s fuller sound.

Curious Goods (1996)

With her second album, Erik and Lane had to prove they could do it again.

Although not the greatest Lana Lane album, it does have some of her best songs. A sample of ‘Eschers’s Staircase” sparked initial interest in her work. This is a great progressive rock song, with a strong chorus and nice instrumental breaks. It has a great driving bass line throughout most of the song.

The other good song is “Symphony of Angels” that merges fast guitar riffs with slower keyboard passages. At over six minutes, there is lots of scope for variations in the arrangements and tempo.

Erik Norlander is becoming a better composer and arranger although the material here is not as strong as in the next two albums.

Garden of the Moon (1998)

According to Erik Norlander, this album ten times the number of the two previous album. It’s not surprising, this is a harder, more rocking band that provides Lana with a consistent wall of sound throughout the album. The second track, “Destination Roswell” is a six minute radio friendly song with hit potential.

Things do slow down for the excellent “Under the Olive Tree”. Again a great symphonic song with some nice guitar solos.

The title tune is an Erik Norlander instrumental that could have come from a Rocket Scientists album.

This is perhaps the most commercial hard rock album of them all, but for me the best was yet to come.

New Opera

I’m not a fan of Opera, but there is a certain grandeur in those thundering chords, over the top string arrangements and some poor soprano trying to hold her own above it all. In the last 10 years there has emerged a marriage of rock and opera styles. Retaining the sound weight of an orchestra and adding drums, bass and metal-style guitars here is the new breed of operatic albums.

After Forever – Prison of Desire (2001)

They are often called ‘gothic metal’ and lumped in with artists like Nightwish and Edenbridge. But this album is different, where the other bands sound like a rock outfit with strings attached, this is the other way around. The compositions have a definite symphonic structure.

Throughout each song the themes and melody can change, often the percussion stops to allow the strings to take over. And on top of this is the voice of Floor Janseen. There are male grunts, characteristic of ‘gothic metal’, but here they are used sparingly and don’t overpower the orchestrations. This is big, bombastic and completely over the top, which is why I like it.

 

Aesma Daeva – The Eros of Frigid Beauty (2001)

As you can see from the cover, it looks like a CD of medieval music, possibly baroque. The trumpet fanfare that opens the albums confirms expectations, then comes a heavy metal guitar and crashing drums. A clear soprano voice sings among the musical spaces This is definitely not something by J S Bach. Further investigations reveal that John W Prassas II wrote all the songs. With a website named www.rootofallevil.com things may be a bit heavier than expected. Instruments include french horn, violin, flute, trombones and what sounds like a harpsichord.

The difference with this album is that not every instrument has to be present in every track at all times. Often things get very quiet and ambient, then slowly the intensity and volume increases. There are wide dynamics in most of the tracks and all of them have female vocals. Because of the wide variations in style, it’s difficult to categorize the album as a whole. Definitely something for the more adventurous listener.

Therion – Vovin (1998)

Therion (Greek for Beast) was first known as a Swedish Metal band when it was formed in 1990. The first albums contained male grunts and offered little different from most metal bands. Then in 1996, with Theli things changed. A string orchestra was added. Male and female choirs probably more acquainted with Handel joined the production.

Symphonic speed metal comes to life on Vovin.

Bandleader Christofer Johnsson fashioned a hybrid that displays how the potent elements of the two divergent genres can be fused. The recording is cohesive and robust, the strings, choral singers, and band merge together perfectly.

The emphasis is mainly on the musical arrangements of the orchestrations and choirs. The impression I get is that the guitars and percussion was added later. Classical music with heavy metal influences never felt so good.

Other surprises include the scarcity of rock vocals throughout and the charming Middle Eastern overtones found on the opening track, “The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“Birth Of Venus Illegitima” is a more absorbing musical experience. The shifting between the low voices and the higher soprano/alto voices is a very nice touch.

“Clavicula Nox” has beautiful female lead vocals and acoustic guitar solos.

“Black Sun” and “Draconian Trilogy” uses a foreboding piano-line surrounded by gothic orchestration to create memorable songs.

 

New Symphonies

The orchestral symphonic form has been with us for several centuries, from Bach through Beethoven and Berloiz. Composers have used a long form of music to express themes and musical ideas that can range from a ten minute suite to excessive works that fill the best part of a day. Just because orchestral music has fallen from favor as popular music doesn’t mean it has been abandoned. Modern orchestral composers are now best known for film music. But the old tradition continues with other musicians……

Steve Hackett – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1997)

Steve Hackett may be a great guitar player, but the reason he is not on my ‘Guitar Gods’ list is that he is an even better composer. Through his long career, he has performed a wide range of music. From Genesis to his solo works there is always a freshness and originality that shines through.

This album is similar to ‘Bay of Kings’ from 1983. Just Steve, an acoustic guitar and musical accompaniment. Here, the small orchestra on its own could be playing anything from the romantic period. The music is lyrical and sweet (but not too much). Then, when the theme seems exhausted, the guitar enters and continues the tune. Although there are 13 tracks from two to six minutes in length, comprising just over an hour, they all merge together to form one complete work.

Anyone who likes the guitar concertos of Villa-lobos or Rodrigo will like this. It’s modern with a wonderful warmth and glow that will remind you of compositions from years ago.

 

Timeless

John Abercrombie
Timeless (1975)

This is one of the first artist’s I came across in the 1980’s during my ECM explorations. It was purchased in Christchurch’s ‘Radar Records’ in vinyl, probably the best record store in the city at the time.

It was Abercrombie’s debut album as leader, recorded in 1974 with Jan Hammer (keyboards) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). There is a bit of ‘conventional’ jazz guitar, but with Jan Hammer on early synthesizers it moves to a more European feel, closer to Schulze and the Berlin School of electronics.

The best track is the title track.

 

36

36 (pronounced three-six) is the ambient / experimental project of Dennis Huddleston from the United Kingdom.

The music draws on the history of Brian Eno and Steve Roach to create soundscapes in the void between music and random noise.

Sometimes orchestral in nature, or more like electronic static, it’s always engaging and interesting at low or high volume.

A lot of the music on his  site is free.

Time For Tea

Time For Tea
by 11 Acorn Lane (2015)

Infectious pop, jazz, funk.
Nobody combines them like this band.
The best song is ‘Lets Face it I’m Cute”
with lyrics worth repeating…….

Let’s face it
Let’s face it
Let’s face it
Let’s face it
Let’s come to terms
And embrace it
Concur admit concede and face it

I’m cute
Cute, cute, cute
I’m cute
Cute, cute, cute

Let’s embrace it
And come to terms
There you have it
I’m cute