Michael Joseph Smith - 4 Albums
psychedelist
Thanks to the posts on inconstantsol blog, I got introduced to the amazing music of American jazz composer Michael Joseph Smith. Most of his albums have everything I could ever want from avant-garde jazz. They're idiosyncratic/unique, weird/out-there, focus more on compositions than techniques (not to say he doesn't have his own way of playing piano, more on this later), take many listens to fully explore/have infinite replay value. That led me to finding ways to get more of his work.

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Geomusic II (1975)

Unlike next albums in this post, this one is mostly everything I could expect from Mr. Smith, based on the albums I already knew and loved. This, along with Geomusic III, is the only his album where I couldn't say for sure if it's more avant-garde jazz or modern classical music. While Geomusic III had some undeniably avant-garde jazz parts and featured a sax, with Geomusic II I'm almost certain it's more a modern classical work however. The compositions are unpredictable, subtle, abstract (the idea is also reflected in the cover). And then there's the technique. There's a quote from the composer on the back side of the cover. It states the following

"there is no trickery involved in this record ! No electronics immagery, no added sound, no overdubbing... Here you will only find, "I", "me", ... and a piano."

If it's indeed the case (and I don't think we have a reason to don't believe his statement), I think I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that certain parts of this album suggest that Smith invented a new way to play piano. Which apparently includes not only pressing piano's keys, but also doing things to its strings and housing. There's also a quote from Pierre Lattes who produced the album

"You begin with thinking, how can one get that out of a regular piano? Then, why does not everyone play that way?"

Those are also my thoughts.



* (please note that the third track is mistagged in this upload, you have to fix it if it makes a difference for you)

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Michael Smith Quartet - Austin Stream (1977)

This is a live performances with the same line up as on the "Geomusic" album (the first one in the series), and contains mostly performances of the same compositions. Frankly speaking "Geomusic" never was one of my Smith favorites, as it's one of the few albums of his which, I feel, lack what makes the other albums so special and could be done by other jazz musicians as well. On a side note, Geomusic (and thus Austin Stream too) also may be the only Smith's album which has many traits of free jazz (as opposed to avant-garde jazz).

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All Our Steps... (1983)

On side A we hear a kind of jazz-rock, which is very unexpected and was a nice surprise. Note that half of the compositions were written in collaboration with bassist Jonas Hellborg. Side B on the other hand, is abstract experimentation, mostly with percussion. Unlike say Geomusic II (which has moments of great tension), it's also rather uneventful to my ears, and as such I didn't find it very interesting.

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Moments (1984)

Much like the previous album, a very unexpected change in style for Smith. Here he seems to temporarily abandon his avant-garde ambitions, and decides to write some gentle, fragile, almost sentimental at times, yet moody compositions for piano and some added electronics. This could be great in theory, however I found the result to be only merely intriguing. A very good listen when in a suitable mood anyway, and may grow on me with more listens in future.

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Shanatoa - The Fire That Never Dies, 1989
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The Fire That Never Dies

I love the idea of obscure. How much obscure can you get? An album which was never discussed and practically doesn't exist on internet outside of discogs and some not very popular marketplace with vinyl on sale (and possibly a RYM entry which I'm going to create soon), as far as Google can tell. Is it enough? That fact, together with what I had learned from its discogs profile, namely it being/featuring new wave+pop-rock+AOR+1989+Marco Tansini, the guy who wrote music for the Valerie Dore's album (that's how I found out about this post's subject btw), made it look like a new holy grail, so I couldn't resist. Also, as I learned later, the girl singing on it is actually the one from Topo & Roby 'duo'. At the time I couldn't decide (still can't) if her vocal is just that specific or she just barely can sing, but the song still works either way..

..And it's still the case with 'The Fire That Never Dies', although to a lesser extent on some tracks. The album as a whole turned out to be neither best nor worst album ever (I'd be fine with either), just somewhat generic and typical of the late 80s era pop-rock.. but still enjoyable for what it is, for the most part. I quite like about 1/3 of it, and the rest isn't terrible either (just merely ok).






The songs are nice enough, but what's by far the most amazing thing about this album is how ridiculously rare it is. It could easily be the rarest thing I've ever had, be it digital albums or physical copies. There were thousands of better and worse late-80s pop-rock albums that are now OOP but still look like best sellers (in terms of popularity and availability on internet) compared to this one. I'm not saying it should've become a 'cult' album or a 'lost classic', but it certainly didn't deserve everyone in the world to pretend like it never existed at all. I'm glad I could change it, hopefully. I wonder how many copies were made?
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Judie Tzuke - The Lost Turning Stones Songs & Newsletters
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My 80s aor/pop-rock/soft rock quest has ended where it began. Judie Tzuke's 'Turning Stones' (and her earlier albums too, but a bit later) was the album that started my exploration of the scene and it's also where it ends. But has it really ended? No way, I'm way to much addicted to cheesy/dated/ironically enjoyable aor to stop looking for it now. But at least I think it's time to give up hoping to find another album/artist similar to TS/JT. It didn't sound like something extremely unique at first listens but after 2 years of regular listening I've changed my mind and now think that another combination of Soft Rock/Ambient Melodic Rock/General late-80s Adult Contemporary-Easy Listening/late-80s Clannad/Sade/Jane Siberry is unlikely to be found. FWIW, there was a RYMer (who unfortunately decided to leave the site) who also compared it to Julie Driscoll, Japan, Li Garattoni and maybe someone else I forgot. While Julie Driscoll's '1969' does sound like something Judie Tzuke could do in 1970, I'm not sure if I get the other two comparisons. But I still find them interesting, so I mentioned them.

Anyway, my "quest'" has ended where it began in the sense that now I finally have ALL Turning Stones-related OOP material, namely:
- We'll Go Dreaming (Single Version) (appeared on the CD single, barely different from the album version, just shorter, also likely the same as on the 7" vinyl single)
- We'll Go Dreaming (Dance Remix) (on CD single, 12" vinyl single and 12" vinyl promo)
- We'll Go Dreaming (Dub Mix) (12" vinyl promo only)
- Dangerous Toys (CD single and 12" vinyl single)
- Love Is Not For Sale (on 'Let Me Be The Pearl' 12" vinyl single)
- Let Me Be The Pearl (on 'Let Me Be The Pearl' 7" vinyl single, just a shorter version)
- Everything Will Come (on CD single and probably both 'We'll Go Dreaming' vinyl singles, appears to be mixed differently* compared to the CD album)

...

Some of them are from my own copies, most of them are from an excellent friend who I thank very much for sharing these.

*-which makes me wonder if it's the same as on the LP, and if the whole LP was mixed differently compared to the CD album.



..And 'Dangerous Toys' is by far my favorite out of the bunch. I think it's pretty much on par with the TS overall quality. 'Love Is Not For Sale' on the other hand, I feel it could've been the album's weakest track, had it been included. I guess Jay Burnett did his best at remixing the album's only 'hit', but the result has too much 'remix' value for my taste. I do kind of like what he did with the vocals on his 'dub mix' though.

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As a bonus, I have another thing to share. Much like the TS signles, it's going to be a real treat for JT fans, but pretty useless for virtually everyone else. The 80s fanclub newsletters! I have 9, and as far as I know, only 3 are missing. Here're two quotes from the last one (1987):

"JS- What are the songs called that you've just finished?
Judie- 'Don't Go', 'Take It All', 'You Need Me' and 'Modern Killers'.."
...
"JS- What should the next group of songs be?
Judie- They'll be called 'We'll Go Dreaming', ' Be Understanding ', 'Dominique Dances', 'Let Me Be The Pearl', 'I Want You Now' and 'Sound Of My Sisters Tears', and possibly 'Temptation'"

'Turning Stones: The Demo Tapes'. I'd pay all the money I have to make it happen. That new 'song club' thing on the other hand, I wouldn't even pay a penny to join it.

On a side note, I have a strong feeling that 'In The Morning', the bonus track from the 'Wonderland' reissue, could actually belong to Turning Stones period, because I do really think it sounds much more Turning Stones than Wonderland-like. Maybe they recorded it during the TS session but it didn't make it on the album in the same way like all those unknown titles didn't. How ironic is that they list it under the TS page, probably by mistake.

Primal Rage - Ярость Зверя
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I scanned and am posting this only because couldn't find it on the internet. Probably shittiest/coolest cover of a Russian pirated version of a Playstation game ever. End of story.

Philippe Cauvin - Memento; when there's nothing to remind you about
psychedelist
You know how google search suggests you search queries when you start typing some artist, even if he/she's very obscure? It won't suggest you this album, so you can guess how terribly unknown it is. No one even searches for it. The thing is, it's not just terribly unknown. It's terribly overlooked. It's in-print however, you can buy the reissue with bonus tracks or download it from iTunes.

I suppose Musea's article will describe the album better than I possibly could:

Disciple of the wizards, "One of the greatest French virtuosos of the guitar", "A new trouvere", "A modern griot"... Here are a few sentences chosen by the French press at the beginning of the Eighties, to qualify Philippe CAUVIN's works. The leader of the atypic Progressive rock group UPPSALA has reinvented his beloved instrument, the classical guitar, and has created for the occasion a unique music. It can be described as a delightful mix of middle-aged songs and current hymns. This is a strange mix of classic language, church prayers and vanguard rock. Philippe CAUVIN has one more thing playing for him: his voice. An almost woman-like singing, displaying weird imaginary words, which has apparently been made for us to dream. His second solo album, "Climage" (1979)*, is the fruit of five years of work. Acclaimed by the musical press, this unique album reveals a beautiful, strange and sensual music coming from another planet, like a challenge for the time. "Memento" goes one step beyond the first album, in the realm of "spiritual" music. It showcases an ambitious epic composition, a 20 minute-suite for classical guitar, percussions and voices. Several unreleased tracks are present here, recorded in 1980, 1989 and 1996. Adventurous, fascinating, mystical and moving: Musea reissues once again a timeless work of art. Not to be missed !

* - I'm sure it's a typo. It was supposed to be ""Memento" (1984)". Also, "Climage" came out in 1982.

If there's one word that they've missed, it's zeuhl. Everyone knows that Uppsala is zeuhl, right? Be also aware that "Memento" is very zeuhl-influenced too.

It's both unlike anything else and by far the best implementation of the idea of zeuhl/prog-folk I've ever heard. It's so unique that I think it's impossible to predict if one would like this or not, no matter what his taste is, before he sits down and listens to it. After listening to this album more than 20 times, I think I'm giving my "best balance of being beautiful and non-cheesy at the same time" and "my favorite prog-folk album ever" titles (former owners are Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom" and Laurence Vanay's "Evening Colours" respectively) to this album.

It's also one of the few albums I know which's bonus tracks are in no way inferior to the original material (provided the orginal songs are not crap, not merely good, but really amazing).

There's nothing else I can do besides letting the music to be heard. Because it wants to be heard. It should've been a lost classic, but instead it's been like, nothing. I wish I could change that.






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Zaine Griff - Child Who Wants the Moon; or me who wants it to have been the comeback of the year
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So I've been having a new wave of Helden's "Spies" obsession recently. I don't know what it'd have been for me had I heard it today, but because I heard it at the right time (talk about your personal first new wave album ever), it's become a personal cult album. Once Upon A Time In The... & The Ball were what pretty much defined new wave for me (and still do), but on the other hand, to this day I haven't heard anything else that would sounds exactly like these. I'd probably dislike some of albums's numbers like My Killing Hand and Pyramids Of The Reich, had they been done in regular Hans Zimmer arrangements, but wrapped in the new wave context, even these ones work just perfectly. In terms of RYM ratings, "Spies" has finally made its way from 2.5 through 3.5 and 4.0 to 4.5 (because how much I was into it varied over different periods). So once again I've made an attemt to find something that would sound somehow similar to Helden. The most recent result was Midge Ure's "The Gift" which is not only occasionally resembling of Helden's sound, but is an excellent album on its own, but before that I decided to give Zaine Griff another try (there have already been two failed ones; the first one was around when I heard Spies for the first time).

I was took by surprise: I remember disliking both albums, but this time "Figures" clicked with me in every way imaginable (I know it's probably supposed to be spelled as "Figvres", but..). Then it was followed by an upgrade from 2.5 to 4,0, and I still can't stop listening to it. No longer can I understand what's not to love here: it's both Helden-esque and a terrific new wave album in its own right! Man I'd really like to know his opinion on "Spies", because it could have been the best 80s bashing review ever. Now one of my favorite things is to listen to Fahrenheit 451 and simultaneously remember this line from the review: "You can only repeat "She is Fahrenheit 451" so many times before someone comes along and questions your sanity." It makes the song several times more awesome (much like what Kate Bush does to Flowers).

I still haven't relistened to "Ashes and Diamonds"; instead, I took a deep breath.. and listened to "Child Who Wants the Moon", his newest (2011!) album. First track impressions:
- the production doesn't scream 00s
- no traces of post-89 influences whatsoever
- it sounds a bit like a 80s aor/soft rock and a lot like a good pop rock song made in 90s by a 80s artist

In other words, I was happy. 80s aor/soft rock is hardly one of my favorite genres, but every once in a while I manage to find something in it that I really like, as long as instead of trying to be as "radio-friendly" as possible, you actually put some effort into songwriting. Living In the Heart of You is definitetly the case!

The second song is also decent, and then.. it just stops. I don't know what happened. All you get on the rest of the album is extremely inofensive, and above all, compositionally bland pop rock. There's a latin-themed tune too, bleh. The soft arrangements are nice, the melancholic mood gereally suits me well, but it lacks some strong compositions. One good song against 12 passable to meh ones? There's still a chance that it'll be a grower, but as of now it's a bit of a disappointment. *goes back to "Figvres"*

One thing is certain: if you compare it to the newest (also 2011) Thomas Dolby's album, it's pretty much the opposite in terms of consistency. While every track on "A Map of the Floating City" felt like different genre, "Child Who Wants the Moon" is the most uniform album I've heard in a while.
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80s best kept secret: Li Garattoni
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Li Garattoni was a German singer (at least, the album is under German label), and she died in 2004. If I don't count the music, that's all I know of her history. Yes, the music itself is history.






At least, should have been. Because this isn't even the "forgotten gem" case - no one seems to know or have bought it when it came out.

Art Pop/Jazz/Electronic/Fusion/Lounge? Yeah, I don't know how to describe it either. This is everything Kate Bush has been trying to achieve in the last seven years. In other words, imagine Kate Bush taking the "calm" direction of her last two albums, but in 80s and putting as much creativity into it as she did with her 80s albums. Ironically, the Kate Bush-esque songs are not my favorites here, even though they're (almost) on par with KB's best songs. That's saying something.

Another decent description that might give an idea of what the album sounds like would be Laurene Vanay doing a 80s album.

You live for albums like "Find Out What I'm Dreaming". This is the best art pop album I've ever heard.

Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin - Up From The Dark; canterbury prog goes synthpop
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Since I is 21 today and no one is probably going to find me any items from this list (note that some of things I want are not there, because they were not on RYM and I was too lazy to submit them only to put them on my wishlist, like this one; 99 EUR* only (last time I checked)? run for it!)(but I still got a pair of headphones), I'm going to please myself with talking about my recent favorite.


When 80s happen to 70s artists, is it a bad thing? At least, it's fun to listen to (if you don't like it, there's always his 70s work), but if it's also good? And if the 70s artist is a prog one? And if he does something very 80s, but also decides to partly keep his prog ambitions? This is where my dreams come true.

Dave Stewart (No. Not that one) was keyboardist (and often a founding member) of Canterbury prog bands like Egg, National Health, Hatfield and the North and some others (Egg is my favorite, but on the other hand, I didn't listen to the rest that much). Barbara Gaskin was lead vocalist of Spirogyra (pretty good (folk) prog band as well). In other words, two prog musicians formed a synthpop duo, pretty much an unexpected move; an awesome one too. Apparently, "proggers" don't seem to accept that you could go from this to this that easily (I love both equally).

I would find this project either way, sooner or later, but thanks to my new method of finding new music, I did it a couple months ago. I was like "(almost) all pre-89 Judie Tzuke albums are excellent, but "Turning Stones" is amazing, it's far and away the best thing in that late 80s trend of 'contemporary' pop, I need more artists like this!" and then slapped "like Judie Tzuke" into google search. A non-JT video showed up.



30 secs of it were enough and half an hour later I was already listening to the album.

I won't try to describe it and I haven't heard anything that sounds exactly like it, but I love the album mostly for the same reasons as Propaganda: intelligent, in certain ways serious, experimental synthpop. When I want to say it sounds a bit like Propaganda's lighter, sweeter, sometimes humorous and a bit prog-influenced* counterpart (this sounds nothing like Propaganda, but what the hell, I like to find similarities in music from different artists I like), I realize that you'd rather want to compare them to Thomas Dolby (a cover!; there' an XTC cover too).

*-not on progarchives. They will take indie crap as crossover, but not the subject as even prog-related. From progarchives forum: "Up From the Dark - not one of their best, but an interesting set of covers anyway." Oh well, at least someone knows them. But really? Their 90s albums are decent examples of not terrible 90s music from 80s artists, but..

There's some stuff that doesn't work though. To my knowledge (and surprise), their only successful single was It's My Party. Before I found out it was a cover too, I thought this kind of sounds like 80s ABBA. I kind of like it, but it's still one of my least favorites. This is that rare kind of hit that confuses me. Mostly because I don't understand why this was even a hit. Then, there's a few "fun" moments on the album that are not highpoints of the album in my view, too. Finally, upon several listens, the album didn't prove to be one of the best things ever.

Nevertheless, it's still amazing, and if I had to name my second favorite synthpop album ever, this would be it. There're many things to enjoy for a 80s music fan and a few things to enjoy for a prog fan. And if you're both, you don't want to miss this.

Evohé - KA, 1979; a French zeuhl band that opened for Magma
psychedelist
So I just lost tons of obscure music I'd check out in the future. How awesome is that?

NOT AT ALL.

And that "megaupload is back" thing is most likely fake. No, it most certainly is.

In protest, I'm posting the newest Coldplay album. Man Mylo Xyloto is such a gem i want everyone to have it, get it here.

There're so many obscure things that are non existent on the web anymore that it blows my mind. A French band Evohé for example. Facts I know about them:
1. Evohé is a French zeuhl band that opened for Magma, just like the title says.
2. They played a suite named "KA", which has nothing to do with Magma's "K.A."; it's their own piece. Although "K.A." already existed at the time (but wasn't recorded until 2004), I assume that it's a coincidence.
3. Someone recorded one of its performances in Toulouse at 15.05.1979 (information taken from the orginal file name)
4. The band has never released anything.

Evohé - KA

Originally posted on Zeuhl and Beyond - a long time dead blog; was hosted on megaupload. All the credit goes to whoever posted it there (probably the guy who ran the blog), I'm just making it available again. Because it needs to be. The very poor recording quality alone probably makes it a bit of a "zeuhl completionists only" thing, but there's no such thing as bad zeuhl music. Some would argue there is, but that's another story.
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What-Ever Series: what is the best mainstream new wave band ever?
psychedelist
Go here and here and witness some of the best reviews ever. Except for Bonnek's ones as they actually make sense. Also, funny how one of the "proggers" complains about Japan being pretentious - on a PROG site!

Also-2, Japan are prog-related and Roxy Music, Talk Talk are crossover? See, Talk Talk are post-rock and post-rock is prog and Roxy Music are, well, rock, more so than Japan were in the later period that got them onto the site.

Also-3, as a band featured on progarchives with ALL studio album ratings below 3.00, Japan seem to have the biggest number of albums (a one-album band with low rating is very common, but a band with 5 albums? c'mon)

In most cases I like my music to be serious and new wave isn't an exception. I tried most of the big names but none of them do it quite like Japan on their last two albums. Sure I occasionally enjoy The Human League, Talking Heads/David Byrne, Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, Ultravox (although their electric guitars often ruin the whole thing for me)..., but love them I don't. The only mainstream new wave bands that do come close enough are Soft Cell and YMO: in terms of my liking? - definitely; in terms of playing similar music? - I'm not sure.

Sure Japan were one the bands that are both new wave and art rock (not prog though; however, there ARE a few prog new waves albums out there; still, no one says prog-influence is a measure of experimentalism in non-avant-garde music, I think even people at progarchives wouldn't). I still think "art rock-influenced new wave" isn't enough to describe them. The band is to new wave what Propaganda is to synthpop; that shall suffice. And I am also convinced that Japan are about as good as a mainstream new wave band can get.


The bass line is so badass (no pun intended, really)


Best chord progression ever in a new wave song? Why not.

No unwanted "alternative/gothic" influences*. No needless attempts to entertain the listener. No punk-ish attitude. No electric rhythm guitars. No that electric guitar soloing nonsense in place of proper sax solo. No cheesy chord progressions that make often great use of synths a waste. I have to admit though, (for the most part) it describes anything but the band at the beginning. "Quiet Life" was a transition (and it already was a great album) which led to what I believe is the best mainstream new wave band ever: innovation, experimental approach to songwriting, clever compositions/structures, smart/artsy arrangements, proper use of synths, successful experiments with "oriental" sound, moody atmosphere, excellent vocal; intelligent mixture of new wave, synthpop and art-rock, both experimental and accessible. And finally, their music lacks humor; something that isn't very characteristic of the new wave movement (I think it's part of why they appeal to me so much). Know a new wave band that's better/at least as good? Let me know.

* - Arguable enough. Still, as long as I think that "alternative" means the exact opposite to what it says, I don't see Japan fitting the genre as I find them unique enough. Ridiculous? Maybe. Honestly, I'm tired of countless supposedly "alternative" to each other and the rest of the world alternative rock bands with one thing in common: dullness. If Japan are "alternative rock" then tell me what is new wave/synthpop/art rock/art pop. In case both terms are suitable, one of them is pretty much the single most useless one ever.

In other news: BOO; had to update the previous post.

EDIT:
Forgot to mention that "What-Ever Series" is where I'm going to discuss "what is most/least/worst/best <put noun here> ever?" kind of questions. Anyone's opinions are welcome.

EDIT2:
And yeah, the post is dedicated to... well you know. It's been a year. Mick Karn is best new wave bassist ever, no doubt. Not only his solo albums are fantastic but also about as close to Japan's sound as one can get; even more experimental, too; to the extent that he's labeled as "avant-garde" and "progressive rock" by wiki and last.fm respectively. There's NO entry for him on progarchives though. One of the "Top 10 reasons why progarchives sucks" really.

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