David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?

I knew David Torn from his work with Marc Johnson and his project Cloud Above Mercury. I found it interesting. Until I first heard this record. It blew me away, and – to be honest – it still does. It is somehow out of this world. Using samplers, transformed voices and his main instrument the guitar, he produces an astounding sonic range. The menacing subdued intro of the record sort of announced the violence that is at hand. Playing different types of scales, non-western scales and deliberately playing off-key tickles the ear. It is not for the faint hearted to dive into this pool of sounds. It is not for all but if you do, you’ll be rewarded. Also now as a film composer, he has been rewarded several times as the most valued player

David Bowie – Scary Monsters and Super Freaks

Talking about having guts! The man definitely has got it. Opening the record with It’s No Game (part one) with Japanese and English vocals. The Japanese vocals speaking, not singing. Bowie ‘singing’ quite off-key. Of course, David Bowie is not your average artist, but I can imagine that, back then, it still must have been something to get used to. I don’t remember this myself, having bought the records close to the release date. The core of the songs is straight forward pop and rock song. but the execution, the arrangements if you will, are definitely off the wall. What would you expect when asking Robert Fripp to do the lead guitar. I also suspect quite some irony or plain fun and jokes. For instance, in the hit record Ashes to Ashes, there is a section where Bowie repeated his own singing in a lower voiced sprechgesang. Quite literally: he even repeats the “woouuwoo” as sprechgesang which sounds quite comical. Or what about the title track Scary Monster (and Super Freaks) sung in sort of a cockney dialect. Fashion is another classic, not sure whether he’s making fun of the scene or not. To be honest he, as a performing artist, was part of that scene. Still, I suspect it is tongue-in-cheek. All-in-all a classic even though I do not listen to it often.

King’s X – Dogman (1994)

In your face. That sums it up. Dogman – King’s X fifth album since 1988 – is a milestone for King’s X, leaving the more esoteric rock genre behind for a more groove oriented approach. And it pays off. Produced by Brendan O’Brien, this album is heavy with a capital H (title track Dogman, Black the Sky, Don’t Care). Sensitive with a gracious s (Flies and Blue Skies).
On Black the Sky and Pillow a proverbial guitar Wall of Sound is perfectly balanced. Yes, it´s heavy but in a tingling kind of way.
Ty tabor’s guitar playing is special as ever, Doug Pinnick’s bass is low as never before. On this record he seems to have misplaced his 8-string bass (four resonating ones). Oh no, I stand corrected, I think I hear it on Fool You. Gaskill’s drums sound great with a slightly gated snare. Although Jerry Gaskill is not the best drummer of the world, he is like Ringo to The Beatles.
What is consistent in the sound of King’s X throughout their career is the vocals and the vocal harmonies. It is a special thing, unique to King´s X: heavy rock but with Beatlesque vocals. One thing though, Ty Tabor doesn’t do lead vocals in this record, but leaves all to Pinnick who has a more raw and black gospel style. Apparently to give the King’s X sound more consistency because two lead singers could confuse the audience too much. Duh. On later albums Tabor returns as co-lead singer again.

Dhafer Youssef & Wolfgang Muthspiel – Glow (2009)

Of Tunesian origin, Dhafer Youssef lives in Germany and has released some nine albums. His influences are definitely his home country’s musical heritage. However, his albums are strongly influenced by jazz and fusion. Youssef’s voice – his mail instrument -is angelic. It has an astronomical range and different sounds (no, he’s no Al Jarreau).  Besides being a gifted singer, he also plays the oud, an arabic lute.  This album Glow is a collaboration with guitar player Wolgang Muthspiel of Austrian origin, who I first noticed playing with Marc Johnson.

This album is a modest album in the sense that it is not about muscle music. The tracks are not over dramatic, everything is kept intimate, subdued, mostly acoustic. When electronics are used, it’s been done very tasteful.

Aimee Mann – Magnolia (OST) (1999)

Imagine going to the movies, not knowing what movie is playing and then being confronted with Magnolia of more than three hours. In fact, it being so long I only realised this after watching it. One of the key ‘selling points’ is the music by Aimee Mann and Jon Brion. Aimee Mann’s low, nasal and somewhat flat (not as-in off key) supports the melancholy in the movie. it’s a very sad sad movie with very sad sad people. The opener One sets the mood for the entire soundtrack. Deathly eases in, but builds up to a very strong climax. Wise Up is yet another strong song. The Superramp tracks are OK, but are a bit misplaced imho.

A Perfect Circle – Mer de Noms (2000)

You could, if you want to put it negatively, call A Perfect Circle the light version of Tool. However, that would be unjust. In its genre, which I would find difficult to asses (rock? progressive? art rock? alternative? post-grunge?) it is one of the best. The distinct voice of Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel’s guitar playing make the band’s sound. This album contains strong songs. Even the odd meters don’t sound distracting. The sound is dark, somewhat aggressive. Production wise it is one of the best. Still, if you were to ask me what I prefer the most: listening to Tool or to A Perfect Circle? I’d have to say the latter one. Although Tool’s Undertow is a classic.

Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning (2011) (3 cd book)

Well this is one hell of a record. Three cds of music as well as a photo album to go along with it. Is it worth the price? Yes, it is. The mere fact I don’t remember the price is evidence. Apart from that, the music is still recognizable as Steven Wilson’s. But …. he definitely succeeded in finding a new sound distinct from Porcupine Tree and his earlier solo work. His past solo and Porcupine tree work was good and solid, but not really progressing to new levels. This album however is. The sound is less thick with guitars and has more acoustics to it, mix-wise as well as instrumentation-wise. A perfect example is the opening title track even with a piano – not an instrument you hear often in his music (if I recall correctly). Although the roch genre is still dominant, jazz influences can be heard as well. For instance, on Sectarian there is a jazzy subsection with a Fender Rhodes backed by a Mellotron-like string section. The contrast section works very good, although a bit reminiscent of King Crimson. Which is (a) not a nad thing and (b) can be explained by his work on remastering KC’s albums.

The glockenspeil intro of No Part of Me reminds me of Drumming by Steve Reich. It is clear Steven Wilson is eclectic in getting his inspiration. As long as it works he should continue to  do so.

The second disc has some more introvert (Belle de Jour; Just Like I have ….) and extravert tracks (Index, Radier II).  Belle de Jour is very open and acoustic, whereas Index is more analog synth oriented. Radier II is schizophrenic due to the heavy rock and the Crimson-like flute solo’s. It blends very well.

The third disc with demo’s is good. Fluid Tap could have been a Porcupine Tree track. The Map has some synthetic persussion tracks which are quite nice. Although I like Bass Communion a lot (waiting for  Cenotaph to arrive in the mail), Black Dog Throwbacks is not that special.

All-in-all a refreshing Steven Wilson album

John Scofield – Hand Jive (1993)

Mr. Scofield re-inventing himself, sort of … Funky Jazz with a guitar sound always recognizable, as with all great musicians. I am not his greatetest fan but it turns out I already have a respectable number of his albums. Were is first albums more rock oriented, even a somewhat less subtle (with the hardhitter Dennis Chambers on drums), with Bill Stewart on drums it is all about being relaxed. The mix is also very transparant. Only the usual effects on Scofield’s guitar.

Allan Holdsworth – Secrets (1989)

Holdsworth music is considered controversial. Opinions range from “a million notes per second” to the “guitar genius”. Well, he’s both. This particular record Secrets is amazing. The line-up is a star ensemble: Along with Holdsworth it consists of Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Johnson and Alan Pasqua (and some others).  Still my favorite track is Spokes, in which Johnson and Colaiuta groove as if their lives depend on it. Still, it sounds very loose. Holdsworth himself plays guitar and Synthaxe. Some may detest the latter instrument, I think it’s magic. Then again you need a Holdsworth to get the best out of it. And he does.

David Sylvian – The Good Son vs The Only Daughter (the Blemish remixes) (2004)

A trend for a long time: you have your successful album, hand over the tapes to renowned producers and let them remix your original music and then release it. There you go. But . . . this is actually a very good album. I wouldn’t have thought another take on Blemish would bring new stuff. But it did. Mind you, appreciating the remixes will only work if you know the originals. So, my advice: get Blemish first and – if you like it – go for the remixes as well.