Blood on the Tracks / More Blood, More Tracks

Bob Dylan, 1974

You cannot reasonably argue which is the best Bob Dylan album. Sure, there’s a handful to choose from, and the distance between albums of such greatness and everything below is so vast. There’s so few records in that rarified air—by any artist—there’s almost no frame of reference. Objectivity becomes impossible. Scale halfway up those heights, everything after that purely personal preference. Thusly, I feel no reason to defend Blood on the Tracks as my favorite Bob Dylan album. It’s even hard to add much to the dialogue around such albums, as his classics are now the subject of actual academic study.

As someone who follows artists through their highs as well as their lows, Blood on the Tracks calls to me as a singular blip of brilliance in the midst of his flailing mediocrity of the 70s. Bob had eclipsed his glory days (he knew it as well as anyone).

I was listening to the latest collection of Dylan’s demos, rarities and live series, More Blood, More Tracks, collecting unreleased versions and material from the making of Blood on the Tracks. During the opening track, a stripped down version of Tangled Up in Blue, I couldn’t help but notice a shift in narrative perspective. Of course, it’s always ‘her’, but he toggles sometimes in the span of a verse between ‘he’ and ‘I’. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember if that was how it had appeared on the official album. I had to go back and listen to it. I can’t tell you what those shifts mean, but Dylan is a goddamn Nobel Laureate, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an oversight. For me, it felt true to how some things in our history feel very present, very real, and others feel like something that just happened to somebody else, like reading history—even if it’s actions we took.

That revelation is argument enough for the vault emptying Dylan’s empire has been up to for the last decade or more. The best of Dylan survives such scrutiny. I ultimately decided I wanted both versions of this phenomenal album on hand.

Don’t get me started on the excoriating, early version of Idiot Wind

2018 Recap

Here is my yearbook, a recap of 2018. I’ve collected songs from my 25 favorite albums of the last year into a wide-ranging mix. If you would like to keep up with future editions of this podcast, search for sndlgc in the app of your choice or you can subscribe manually using this link.

I’m in no position to say what 2018 was the year of. This site isn’t so much an endeavor in music criticism as the journal of a personal aesthetic journey. I’ve been obsessed with music since I can remember, and here, I’ve made a signpost of where almost 40 years of omnivorous listening has lead me.

If I’m allowed to pat myself on the back (just a little), I feel like I’ve yet to fully surrender to nostalgia. While there are bands I’ve followed closely for decades here (read: Autechre), almost every one of these recaps has included names that were new (or new to me). Granted, I still refer to Field Music as a ‘new’ band, but they’ve been around for 15 years (and have appeared regularly in my recaps for a decade, now).

For some time, I’ve been tracking, what I found as a glimmer of something new, in music. Since about the late 90s, music has been awash in retro-fetish. Not to say all of it is a rehash, plenty of artists, like Shopping, are revisiting the past to build upon it. There was this new thing brewing, though.—this sound that I can’t call a ‘style’ because it’s central premise seemed to be a disregard for the boundaries between styles. These artists weren’t mashing things up, they were making seamless hybrids—or better yet, uncovering the hidden connections between genres a layman like me had never noticed.

For me, 2018 was when this fascination blossomed into obsession. A healthy portion of the albums I’ve included here fall into this category: Ashley Paul, Hen Ogledd, Ben Vince, Sandro Perri and especially Eric Chenaux.

I first heard Eric Chenaux on his 2012 album, Guitar & Voice—which is an entirely accurate title that gives you no clue as to what you are about to experience. He’s appeared regularly in my year-end round-ups since, but Slowly Paradise felt like the one I don’t want to live without.

Slowly Paradise is a beautifully confusing album that doesn’t so much balance contradictions as refutes their very existence. To paraphrase the Quietus’ apt review: Chenaux’s love of Sade in no way conflicts with or confuses his love of Derek Bailey.

I would argue Slowly Paradise is a capital-z, Zen, album. It plays both outside and inside in perfect simultaneity, to show us that there is no in or out to speak of. And all the while, still manages to have some memorable hooks along the way.

Screaming Females: Agnes Martin
Shopping: Asking for a Friend
Marker: French Dress
The Ex: Silent Waste
Ben Vince with Rupert Clervaux: Sensory Crossing
Hen Ogledd: Problem Child
DJRum featuring Zosia Jagodzinska: Creature, pt.2
Autechre: TT1Pd
Matthew Dear: Can You Rush Them
NHK yx Koyxen: Strange Gesture
Jako Maron: Fanali Dann Bwa
Field Music: Checking on a Message
Against All Logic: Now U Got Me Hooked
Thomas Fehlmann: Morris Louis
Neneh Cherry: Faster than the Truth
Mast featuring Jason Fraticelli: Blue Monk
Kristo Rodzevski: Out of Key
Eric Chenaux: There’s Our Love
Ashley Paul: Breathless Air
Roy Montgomery with Katie von Schleicher: Outsider Love Ballad, no.1
Sarah Davachi: Matins
Sandro Perri: In Another Life
Toshimaru Nakamura: NIMB 56
Angelique Kidjo: The Overload
Reidemeister Move: Arcanum 17

the Objective Flaws of Memory

Something was in the air between 1997 and 98.

I remember it as a banner year of electronica. Of course, memory can often serve under the yolk of nostalgia. For me, this period did not so much coincide with any notable time in my life, but instead marked the year many of the artists I'd been following—since my own coming of age—came to full fruition.

I was introduced to electronic music-proper my sophomore year of high school by the (now classic) Peel Sessions collection, by the Orb. I also quickly discovered Moby (which in retrospect is a bit cringe-worthy). After spending a good part of my junior year of high school at quasi-legal raves, around Portland. I graduated just in time to discover the advent of IDM or, as Warp would have it, Electronic Listening Music. This was when Aphex Twin, Autechre, µ-Ziq, Mouse on Mars, Plastikman and more all seemed to explode on the scene. They'd all been active for some time, especially in Europe, with a number of smaller releases under their belts, but here, across the pond, Warp's Artificial Intelligence compilation and Volume's Trance Atlantic Express introduced us to this new world, fully formed.

I collected this music obsessively, and many of these artists were prolific enough to make the task financially daunting. Things moved at a breakneck speed. Compare Autechre's debut with Tri Repetae which came out a mere 2 years later, or Aphex Twin's Surfing on Sine Waves (released as Polygon Window) with the Richard D. James Album.

Around 1995, as I was leaving Portland for Chicago, this lot started to be supplanted by the rise of drum-n-bass. My first find was a colored, double-10" collecting some of the landmark tracks from the nascent scene: including Omni Trio's Renegade Snares and 4Hero's Mr. Kirk's Nightmare. While I enjoyed the adrenal sound, it was all a little too close to house for me (a style I’ve a conflicted relationship with). I really caught on with the arrival of Squarepusher and his progish breakdowns.

In that first decade of electronica, since the advent of rave, the advancements were dizzyingly dense: from the rudimentary bang of Chicago Acid House to the beat dioramas of drill-n-bass. Most of this advancement was fueled by new tools. Look at the changes between the late-80s to the late 90s. In that time, personal computers became commonplace and were advancing exponentially themselves. This allowed new programs, effects and possibilities in electronica, almost monthly. Once you hit 1997-98, these new tools became more iterative, incremental. The changes we've seen in the music since is the difference between exploration and cartography.

I view this good turn positively. When you're grappling with new tools, you're inherently limiting your creative possibilities by placing creative choice behind discovery. The redoubling we've seen since the turn of the century has arguably produced much more expressive music with the same methods than anything that was released in that first decade. Sure, that slate of newer material lacked the radical thrill of the new, but it deepened everything you already knew.

The lines between genres begin to blur as well. Artists are no longer staking out new territory, but cultivating the fertile ground they’ve found. While everyone won’t hop on the same bandwagon, the zeitgeist from the reigning style seeps in on some level. Dubstep was the king of subgenres in the aughties, defined by its rich, detailed bass-sculpting. While I’m not much of a dubstep listener, those artists’ work, furthered bass science—reaping many rewards for me, elsewhere. All of my favorites artists gleaned new tricks from dubstep.

It’s also worth noting that in 1997 these artists I was following—even though they were dealing with a volatile, constantly-moving musical landscape—were, at this point, seasoned musicians. From 1997-98, you had a rare meeting of talent, possibility, experience and invention, together. Much of what’s been in vogue in the scene for the past 20 years were first seeded here. It’s why I see this one year as a totemic landmark in the scene’s becoming.

Resonant Spaces

John Butcher, 2008

I’m a sucker for albums by improvisors recorded in cavernous spaces. It rivals my obsession with duets of saxophone and electronics. Perhaps it’s a sense of place. No matter how unearthly and soft focused the tones may be, they are grounded in the reverberant echoes of a specific place. There’s a palpable sense of exploration, here, on Resonant Spaces, as John Butcher tests the sonic properties of his chosen locales. The pairing of Butcher’s deep well of extended techniques with the way the particular spaces respond mean only about half the album even sounds like a solo saxophone record at all. It teeters instead between musique concrète and electronic minimalism, despite its entirely acoustic origins.

Biscuits for… Beekeepers

This edition of the biscuits series includes a fresh selection of hive mind beats buzzing around your ear. If you want to keep up with all the editions of this podcast, search for sndlgc in the app of your choice or you can subscribe manually using this link.

I conceived of the Biscuits as a sort of rapid response tool. The idea was simple: to make themed electronic mixes with new tracks. I try to listen for a few tracks that hang together to my ear, and then start trolling new release listings for things that fit the developing theme.

That developing theme isn’t always easy to define—like trying to describe something you can touch but not see. This time around I was hearing something about dense, pulsating beats, but not necessarily four-to-the-floor. In these tracks, when you de-emphasize the traditional electronic elements—kick, snare, hi hat—other elements swell to fill the void: handclaps, toms, woodblocks, et al.

I’ve found it good to not have the idea overly defined. A path too narrow and I’d never collect the tracks as fast as I’d like, and it would be too… homogenous. Instead, the Beekeepers mix veers from the pummelling high tempos Oyeshack to the goofy footwork of Foodman to the laidback vibes of Dwart.

The unifying metaphor in my mind was this: these tracks could serve as soundtrack for an über-hip documentary about insect life. There was something about the way the dense, off-kilter clusters of percussion reminded me of swarms of bees coalescing into a suspended. heaving mound.

As with most all the Biscuits series, all these tracks are fresh, released (or reissued) in just the last six months, or so. Nearly all of them are things I found by digging—not acts I keep tabs on. They whizz by at a brisk pace: with 32 tracks in 80 minutes the average is two and half minutes. That’s all edited down from a total of three plus hours.

I hope you find something to dig into further. The podcast is loaded with chapters to let you know who’s who and links to find more. So here’s another helping of biscuits.

Shiken Hanzo: Khans of Takir
Bergonist: Conflict in Yemen
Osheyack: Untitled 6
Garies: Soda Springs
Nicolas Gaunin: Tumu Haari
Peverelist: Left Hand
Dauwd: Murmure Rouge (Mécanique Running mix)
The System: Vampirella
Isolated Lines: Trivium
Linkwood: Nae Drama
Toma Kami: Land of the Insane
Benoit B: Kimono
Grim Lusk: It’s My Nature
Gen Ludd: Marraskuu
Foodman: Percussion
Andrea Taeggi: Dinergy
Don’t DJ: Rag for Rudolf Rocker
Duckett: Magic Headlines Foul the Air
Randomer: Van Pelt
Boofy: Perfunktion
Ben Penn: Not Important
Palta & Ti: På Hovedet I Seng
Bambounou: Dernier Metro
Via Maris: CU2
Uwalmassa: Untitled no.6
Sin Falta: Diamonds
Dwart: Red Mambo (Impromptu)
Niagara: Siena
Arp: Folding Water
Inland / Julian Charrière: Up River
Beta Librae: Canis Major
Melly: Mineral Water

UkabazUmorezU

Sugai Ken, 2017

Techno has been a democratizing force, but in unexpected ways. As the technology advanced and its producers gained more acumen, the distance from rudimentary, banging acid-house to detailed sonic soundscapes became a shorter trip. It’s produced some interesting hybrids like Sugai Ken. On UkabazUmorezU, he delivers the tactile experience of sound found in musique concrète presented in a wrapper more of popular electronics.

field report no.082518

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Matthew Sweet

OBSERVATIONS:
Seeing Matthew Sweet in 2018 is an exercise in meta-nostalgia, which isn’t lost on Sweet himself. His entire aesthetic is rooted in nostalgia, evoking a shiny power pop, cherry picking from his 60s and 70s heroes. Sweet even kept himself busy the last while doing a series of decade-themed covers-records with Susanna Hoffs.

This show was also an exercise in his own history: Matthew Sweet hasn’t been a dominant force in music since 1994, at least. His moment came and went, somewhere just above one-hit-wonder. While he soldiers on, he also knows why his audience is there. The set was dominated by his first few albums, including every single from his breakout album Girlfriend.

I don’t say any of this as if I’m above it. I was a rabid fan of his early work—even caught him in Portland, 1994. Although I continue to collect (and listen to) his music, none of his new material has managed to grab me the way it used to. I cheered along when he rolled out cuts like Evangeline. How much of that is down to nostalgia, though? The only thing separating some of the hits, sonically from the smattering of new material he played was a lived-in, comforting familiarity.

I will say this, though, that crystal clear voice of his seems deathless.

NOTES: Matthew Sweet; Hard Rocket
PRESENT: AMS

Eruption / Curiosum / Lauschen

Kluster, 1971 / Cluster, 1981 / Qluster, 2013

The evolving entity, most famously known as Cluster, is a 50 year institution of ambient experimentalism. Originally, they were known as Kluster, centered on the core trio of Conrad Schnitzler, Hans Joachim Roedelius, and Dieter Moebius.

From 1969-1972, Kluster made a disjointed, improvised racket equal parts electronics and junk shop percussion. While Kluster was distant from what we now call kosmische music, their improvisational antics have been the aesthetic underpinning of every version of the band. Most of the Kluster discography is sadly out of print (especially two multi-platter box sets), but the Bureau B label has reissued one their definitive works—alternately known as Schwarz or Eruption (which was also an early name for the band).

When the band was paired down to just the duo of Roedelius and Moebius, they traded the K for a C, becoming Cluster. This variation continued continuously from 1971 to 1981—then on-and-off-again for the next few decades. As Cluster, the duo not only defined the essentials of what we consider kosmische music today, they also charted its boundaries. Cluster have slowly grown into my favorite band from their class of German experimentalism in the 70s. Their work is more emotionally nuanced than Krafwerk, more consistent than Can and more abstract than Tangerine Dream’s structured, linear suites.

No single Cluster record is too alike, while they are all still very much of a piece. Curiosum, the last album from their initial run is a collection of odd miniatures, as opposed to the side-long meditations they’re most known for. Curiosum is a clear leap forward technologically. They’d water-shedding, recording and collaborating near-constantly throughout the 70s. While the improvisational nature of their music isn’t as messy or chaotic as in Kluster, they retain a ragged element of unpredictability.

After Moebius and Roedelius last meeting in 2009, for Qua—preceded by a small handful of records in the 90s—the duo parted ways. Roedelius continued the evolution, this time to Qluster: a duo with Onnen Bock, who wasn’t even born when Cluster (let alone Kluster) started. This new duo’s records together have ranged from discordant and dense to a collection of piano duets. Lauschen—a live album for which they had keyboardist, Armin Metz in tow—is a complex work. It moves crabwise through a series of detailed, gaseous atmospheres, existing in both analogue and digital spaces.

Fifty years is a hell of a long time in either popular or avant garde music—a divide the various incarnations of Cluster regularly straddles. Dieter Moebius passed away in 2015, and Roedelius is now an octogenarian, but Qluster remains prolific: releasing 7 full length albums in as many years. We may not have many more years of records in this lineage, but the legacy of K/C/Qluster is secure among the titans in the outer bounds of sound.

Rhapsody in White

Love Unlimited Orchestra, 1974

Love Unlimited Orchestra

While the Asheville area has a handful of good record stores, I don’t find myself in them that much. As often as not, I’m in thrift and vintage stores, which always presents a haphazard selection of music. Vintage shopping has brought me everything from Rollins Band’s Hard Volume to this, Love Unlimited Orchestra’s Rhapsody in White.

Rhapsody caught my eye for the circuitous reason that when the Human League (of Don’t You Want Me fame) released an instrumental EP from that same album, it was billed under League Unlimited Orchestra, in homage to the Love Unlimited, the banner for Barry White’s instrumental releases in the 70s.

With me, still? Releasing your instrumentals back then was still a rarity. I know the Beach Boys and James Brown had both done it, prior. This is pre-disco, pre-12-inch single. Barry White may be all ironic schmaltz now, but he was no slouch with the orchestration. Rhapsody in White is saccharine but by no means asinine. Listening to White’s charts makes a case for his place in soul history (beyond novelty).

field report no.052118

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: the Sea and Cake

OBSERVATIONS:
I was caught off guard, way back when, by the Sea and Cake’s debut album. Amidst the aftermath of grunge and the rise of electronica, they sounded like nothing else. Nearly 25 years later, they’re still really only comparable to themselves. Their sound hasn’t so much changed as evolved. You wouldn’t mistake their new album, Any Day, for that self-titled debut, but neither would there be any doubt it was the same band.

Likewise, the Sea and Cake are not a normal live band. They have virtually no sing-along choruses. As such, the band is pestered with requests to play their cover of Bowie’s Sound + Vision all (and probably every) night. What originally set them apart from their grungier peers was the sheer softness of their sound. Their melodies are not buoying as much as fulfilling. Their sound floods the room as a slowly rising tide that seeps in from every corner. The Sea and Cake play music of spaces for living, and for this one night they turned the Grey Eagle into their lounge.

It seemed strange they did an encore. Not that the crowd didn’t demand one, but the entire performance seems so counter to such rote expectations…

NOTES: the Sea and Cake; James Elkington
PRESENT: AMS: Angela F.

Solo

Cecil Taylor, 1973

When Ken Burns’ controversial documentary series on jazz finally deigned to bother with the developments of free jazz, Cecil Taylor earned the most ire. The retrograde traditionalist Branford Marsalis referred to Taylo’rs style as, ‘self-indulgent bullshit’ (notably the only swear word in the entire series). I knew then, that I had to find out more about Taylor.

Cecil Taylor was the very image of avant garde. His aesthetic proved impervious to prevailing winds of trends or fashions. Unrelenting swells of tone clusters buffet the listener. Taylor’s performances were about endurance, and navigating the tune amongst the fury.

After immersing myself in much of Cecil’s career, I knew I wanted one of his solo records on vinyl. There is nothing quite these solo performances—especially from the 70s. I found this LP, Solo, used, at Other Music, when I lived in NYC. I’d never heard it before, in part because it was out-of-print (making it more appealing). It fit all the criteria: solo, 70s, live, with the added bonus of rarity.

Symphony no.3

Henryk Górecki, 1992

It’s no coincidence that I decided to pick up this review after my recent report on a David Byrne concert. One of the earliest times I caught Byrne, was a performance of his symphonic work, The Forest with the Oregon Symphony in Portland. The other work of that particular eventing was Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony no.3. It was just then catching fire as a popular work. Originally spurned by critics as a cloying saccharine variety of morose, it had the audacity to unabashedly embrace melody while John Cage still walked the Earth. The work has outlasted its naysayers. You could easily argue that it paved the way for the mainstreaming of other composers like Arvo Pärt, as well as influencing a generation of film composers.

field report no.050818

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: David Byrne

OBSERVATIONS:
David Byrne’s music has been a life-long companion, for me, but it’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve seen him live. Don’t ask me how I lived in NYC for so long and never managed to see him there (though I was lucky enough to enjoy his installation, Playing the Building). What I mean to say is I’m biased, at best. With that caveat , I’ve been describing seeing him this time around as life affirming. Not only was the show engaging—built around positive (but not passive) songs—it was future-facing visually ambitious. It’s rare to see an artist of such stature still striving.

Of course, David Byrne is not an artist given to nostalgia. The set list featured a smattering of Talking Heads songs (and not always the ones you’d expect). If you came looking for a greatest hits set (as so many of his peers are content to do), you’d leave disappointed.

They played (almost) the entirety of Byrne’s new album, American Utopia—which didn’t leave much time for the rest of his varied solo catalog. It provides an interesting view on what he considers canon, though: Like Humans Do and Lazy made the cut. Of the Talking Heads songs aired (especially The Great Curve and I Zimbra), were torn into with glee by the rhythm-heavy ensemble.

Every member of the band was in constant motion—made possible by a multi-piece, marching band-style percussion section. The stage was unadorned except for a tall, chainmail border curtain. Visually, it played with light cast on it. More practically, it allowed the band members to pass through it at any given point. Thoroughly choreographed, the staging (mostly) avoided feeling like interpretive dance, and never gave the impression of simply miming to pre-recorded tracks (it’s been pointed out in interviews that every sound is generated on stage).

While David Byrne doesn’t tour as often as he used to (and who could blame him), he never fails to present his work beautifully and thoughtfully. I left believing I’d seen, not a show, but an honest aesthetic presentation of artist in the present moment.

NOTES: David Byrne; Benjamin Clementine
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

Fracture

Kailin, 2017

Post-club ambient is how boomkat described Kailin’s Fracture, which is both evocative and accurate. I also hear something of the weirder outer reaches of r-n-b in it as well. When the lugubrious keyboards wobble and warp, similar to when you look at the world through a textured glass. It’s strangely cavernous as well, playing with stadium sized sounds that would only reverberate like that if the stadium were empty.

Digswell Duets

Lol Coxhill, 1978

I’d heard heard about Lol Coxhill’s Digswell Duets for so long—decades, at least—when I saw it in person at DustyGroove, I immediately plunked down the not-insubstantial amount they were asking, still not knowing what to expect. Sure, I could have easily go on youtube before taking the plunge, but who was I kidding? After all this time, Digswell was going to be mine.

Though not surprised, I found it a pointedly odd record. The two sides are about as different as the two figures on the cover. The first side is a collaboration between Coxhill (on saxophone) and Simon Emmerson on electronics, called the ‘Digswell Tape System’. It spools out like free-jazz-meets-frippertronics. The flipside is a no less abstract, but far more traditional meeting between Lol and pianist Veryan Weston.

Both are striking examples of the then-still-fresh British Free Improv movement, but I find myself wanting to consume them separately. Is Coxhill asking us to note the differences or similarities between the two sides? Are they supposed to be heard simultaneously, as two halves of a whole? (I doubt it, but I might try it, just once.) Perhaps though, I should try and play it through as it was intended, and give Digswell Duets time to reveal itself to me.

field report no.042818

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Superchunk

OBSERVATIONS:
Superchunk know what they are doing. They’ve run the club gauntlet since before grunge was even a thing. They know there’s a handful songs that people absolutely expect to hear (Slack Motherfucker, Driveway to Driveway…) but between those and whatever their latest LP is, they pepper in some unexpected tidbits from their now-rather-large catalog. They dusted off Song for Marion Brown, which made me go back to reappraise Indoor Living, which I admit I rarely ever put on. I was also glad at least a couple of songs from recent albums, I Hate Music and Majesty Shredding stayed in rotation. Too often, a long-running band’s newest material can have a short shelf life, lasting only as long as the next tour, never to be played again. Superchunk make a strong case for the enduring quality in their later work.

NOTES: Superchunk; Rock-a-Teens
PRESENT: AMS

Progressive Defenses 2

In which I mount a defense for one of the more lampooned and derided styles in rock history—Progressive Rock. If you want to keep keep up with future episodes of this podcast, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in the app of your coice or copy this link to subscribe manually.

In recent years, progressive rock has come a long way towards rehabilitation. Not so long ago, ‘prog’ was a four-letter word in reviews, derisively thrown any band a tad too ambitious. Of course, while the concepts behind prog have gained greater acceptance, there’s always more to the scene than King Crimson and Yes.

It can a a daunting task, wading into such a sprawling genre without a guide. When the style is filled with side-long song cycles, each song reaching into double-digit durations, what sort of primer can one make?

Here is my solution: make 7-inch single edits. Cut the epics down into digestible lengths. In doing so, I endeavor to not just present an excerpt of the song, but to preserve some of the original’s scope—it’s varied passages and virtuosity and grandeur. Granted, if I’m lopping off more than half a song, something’s bound to be lost, but my hope was to give a vague impression of the whole.

While progressive rock was in exile, the accepted wisdom went something like it was just too much twee noodling. This mix goes a long way to prove how, despite all the dextrous displays and extemporaneous tempo shifts, the best bands could make it rock convincingly. It’s also common to hear that punk rock was, in part, a direct repudiation of prog—and yet, listen to Peter Hammill’s unhinged performance on Disengage, and you can understand why he had Johnny Rotten’s respect.

Like any major movement in music, progressive rock is more than it’s remembered for. In the 24 songs included here, we move from blues-based hard rock to keyboard-drenched psychedelia to improvisatory jazz-rock and end with some pastoral progressive-folk.

Progressive rock is as expansive as it’s proponent’s symphonic ambitions. It’s a fertile spot in rock history, not some aberration. Despite a wan period of neglect, it is flourishing again.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: Earth Hymn
Budgie: Stranded
Uriah Heap: Tears in My Eyes
The Norman Haines Band: Rabbits
Brian Auger: Oblivion Express
Robert Fripp: Disengage
Osiris: Sailor on the Seas of Fate
Can: Vernal Equinox
Gong: Master Builder
Brand X: Malaga Virgen
Volker Kriegel: Plonk Whenever
Carol Grimes & Delivery: The Wrong Time
Nucleus: Oasis
Julie Tippetts: Oceans and Sky (and Questions Why)
Amon Düül II: Telephonecomplex
Nektar: The Dream Nebula
Traffic: Dream Gerrard
UK: Thirty Years
Fuchsia: Another Nail
Hatfield and the North: Fitter Stoke Has a Bath
Yonin Bayashi: Ping-Pong Dama no Nageki
Trees: Sally Free and Easy


If you’re looking for even more progressive rock, I wanted to include the first volume here, since it was released before the start of this blog. This original missive includes a lot of the biggest names in prog, from King Crimson to Yes and Genesis.

Four Stones

Dean McPhee, 2018

The typical guitarist has to toil in order to build a distinctive voice on their instrument. It’s in part why so many guitarists are lauded for their virtuosity. The truly great guitarists don’t often wow you with dexterity, they impress you with the force of their creative voice. That individualism is almost as hard to get at in words. That ineffability is why I find trying to review solo guitar albums like Dean McPhee’s Four Stones so difficult.

Make no mistake, it’s a great album, but it’s no a fingerpickin’ extravaganza. What I like most about it is McPhee’s patience. Four Stones is a spacious, atmospheric album. It owes as much to the great composers of soundtracks as it does the legends of guitar heroism. His notes ring long, lonely and pure with just enough electric grit to give them shades of meaning.

field report no.041518

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Screaming Females

OBSERVATIONS:
There's something Insanely gratifying about Screaming Females. Sure, they're as reliable a live band as I've seen—always on point—but something more. Punk has been with us for well nigh 50 years. The template can start to seem very stale and predictable. Every now and again, though, a band comes along that manages to not reinvent the genre, but reinvigorate it. Screaming Females so wholly embody the racket they make, it comes alive. They've got solid songwriting, chops, and a distinctive voice—all it takes to stand out from the collective weight of history, but what makes them vital is how it always feels that they throw themselves in, bodily to what they are doing. Seen live, the energy you feel from the band is palpably mirrored in the crowd. It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in it.

NOTES: Screaming Females; Thou; Hirs; Teenage Halloween
PRESENT: AMS

None Stop Disco Style

Ranking Dillinger, 1977(?)

My journeys into the various shades of reggae have been sporadic at best. If I'm honest, it's only ever been just stumbling upon things, picking up whatever strikes a chord. The reason I first poked around at all was to root out the influencers for the various strains of dub techno I was obsessing over in the 90s. My collection is telling in that regard: most the things that still strike that chord are solidly dubbed.* I find the way dub techniques upend a song, turning it into a disjointed patchwork makes for unpredictable and engaged listening.

All this is a long preamble to say I'd never heard of Ranking Dillinger before I saw None Stop Disco Style. I was intriguiged by the title.—from which I expected a reggae-disco hybrid. Instead I got a solid dub platter. It sounded like lo-fi, homespun remixes of songs I'd never heard the first time 'round—which was perfect.


*for years now, Rocksteady has actually been my go-to style of reggae, but that's for a different post.