Headphone Commute's Album Reviews
What a rocker! I've got nothing bad to say about this one! Okay, I could have used a little bit less flute and harpsichord in some places, but overall, In the Court of the Crimson King is a pretty banging first record. Of course, others already know the English band from its one and only constant member, Robert Fripp, but for me, it was a brand new listening experience. Even the digression into the experimental free-form improvisation of "Moonchild," which is a bit out there, is a refreshing "space jam" for the art-rock scene. It's jazzy, it's grimy, it's all things at once, and the opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man" says it all. The distorted vocals, the screaming lead, the complex rhythms, all flawlessly executed within the context of evolving genres, like heavy metal, jazz-rock, and, of course, progressive rock. And what a memorable album cover! It was painted by a computer programmer Barry Godber, who, sadly, died of a heart attack shortly after the album was released. I'm already looking forward to the next King Crimson, although I've already read that it took them a while to beat this debut.
I'm definitely happy to report that throughout his long career, this Canadian songwriter was also a poet and a novelist because... he's really not that great at singing. The ten contemporary folk songs are very simple in their harmony and very basic melody (thanks to Bob Johnston), and somewhat interesting in content. The instrumentation includes a strange choice of a jaw harp (also lovingly known as a "Jew's harp"). At some, point Cohen starts singing in French, with a female backup in a chorus, and now I can't even understand the lyrics. Later in the album, Cohen completely misses a few notes, and now I've lost all interest to go on. But I will power through this! I swear!
I just spent a couple of hours diving into granular synthesis with my Waldorf Iridium and my mind is a bit of a mush. So when I decided to stir it up, and put on the sounds of Fairport Convention it actually felt light, and airy, and fresh. No one seems to be stressing over the endless tail of reverb or the tense mud in the mid-frequencies of the resonating saw-waves on this album - they're just singing, and strumming, and fiddling away. And although "Liege & Lief" is a pure British folk album, there are a few stompers on here, like the 8-minute borderline psychedelic "Matty Groves" tune, which I would have absolutely enjoyed hearing in some East Anglia pub. Speaking of pubs, we're in lockdown again, and the only thing I can think of is a pint of ale with which this album would absolutely go down well. I'm also [strangely] enjoying Sandy Denny's voice on here. Too bad she quit the band even before the album release, just when I started getting a little bit into it [I think].
Well, I didn't like the second Scott Walker album, and it would be a stretch to say that his fourth is any different. Musically there is nothing for me here. He might as well be sing-rhyming an incomprehensible verse to the tune of over-the-top orchestral arrangements of baroque pop. I suppose there was not much to be inspired by for Scott in 1969 if he can make a record about "bicycle bells" and "Rembrandt swells". C'mon, seriously, do we need a song about Joseph Stalin? I suppose it would have been better if Walker sang in a language that I couldn't understand, like Jacques Brel's French repertoire. At least it would have been somewhat mysterious, versus the mind demolishing "Angels of Ashes / will give back your passions / again and again / their light shafts / will reach through the darkness / and touch you my friend." To avoid hating on this too much, and accidentally insulting some of you on here, who for one reason or another connect with this, I'm just going to sign off...
The Stooges debut self-titled release is only about 35 minutes in length, but it packs a punch that lends on these ears like a distorted guitar pumped through an amp in an old stale library. I suppose that by now, you have figured out that my taste in music [during the late 60s] is going to be more in line with the boundary-pushing rockers and proto-punk than with the folksy strumming tunes. Opening with "1969" Iggy announces the year when they entered the scene, with the seven songs that were basically the band's staples during their live performances before getting signed. The Stooges are clearly influenced by the Rolling Stones, MC5s, and The Velvet Underground, but Iggy Pop is his own man [supposedly credited with 'stage diving'] and it was that outrageous stage behavior and his voice that perhaps earned him the well-deserved coronation of being the "Godfather of Punk". Yeah, I would have loved to see this performed live. But the energy of this record is enough to turn my studio into a grungy, noisy, powerhouse of a dark and sweaty rock club where the half-naked singer in brown leather pants is smearing ground hamburger meat all over his bare chest. It's a great album, except the ten-minute "We Will Fall", which I had to skip on my second playthrough - I've had enough of the Hare Krishna chants when the followers come out and dance here in London Chinatown. Even during the lockdown.
OK, so The Kinks have been going up and down for me in terms of the scale of ratings. I started off with a 3 in 1966 with "Face to Face," dropping down to a solid 1 in 1967 with "Something Else by the Kinks," coming back to a 3 with their 1968 "The Village Green Preservation Society," and now, a year later, they've climbed another half a point. The volatility is strong with this one. Where can I buy some VIX? On this follow-up, the English rock band explores the album as a soundtrack concept to a television program that was never actually produced. The story is about a man named Arthur Morgan, who is trying to escape post-war England to Australia. But who's paying attention to the lyrics? I still feel like The Kinks sound a bit like The Beatles, with whimsical harpsichord and even similar chord progressions, but they are beginning to shape their own sound on here. Maybe it's just the tail of the British Invasion? It's slightly "edgier" than The Village Green (in some places), although an occasional ballad or pop pub puppetry shows up unannounced. Falling somewhere within the satirical rock opera genre, like The Who's "Tommy," The Kinks finally turn out an excellent record. And I'm sure that if it was played as much as Sgt. Pepper's on every single radio station, it would have become the world's favorite quirky rock musical to date.
Really struggled through this one, folks. I don't know what it was. I think maybe it was about expectations again? I mean, I know about Grateful Dead and their lengthy jamming sessions, and I was actually looking forward to this first appearance on the 1001 list. And remember, I love instrumental music. But upon my first, second, and even third listen, I just couldn't feel, whatever it was I supposed to feel. Maybe I had to be there and hear this live? But then the other live recordings have transported the energy and emotion from the 60s into my self-isolated lifestyle, while the "Live/Dead" is just... meh. I mean, I know I'm going to get a bunch of Deadheads angry at me, but on this performance, the Dead are not even playing *together*. They're just all over the place, like drunken and bored high-school dropouts who decided to make music in their spare time. The drummer runs away in one direction, the organ is a quarter step behind, the guitars just step all over each other, without a coherent path. At least, on this first 16-track recording the engineers were able to pan the instruments apart to make them stand out a bit. If this was in mono, it would be a muddy, incoherent, and intolerable album. I think the biggest problem with this jam is that the musicians are not giving each other space, and are just ploughing all over each other. And I don't want to hear any excuses, because up until now all other live and improvised jam sessions were top notch. This is just sub-par on every level. I think this record is more historically significant (for the Deadheads) than it is musically important. Couldn't wait to get through it so that I can move on. Sorry...
I thought I knew this album, but no, it was a first for me. I was right, however, about it being a head-nodding soul from Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, when the first track, "Walk On By" drops, I instantly recognize the beat that Portishead must have sampled for one of their trip-hop songs. I groove with the full twelve minutes of this piece and could have gone on longer, but it breaks for another long-player which is just as smashing, or rather, it's hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. Now, is this song about love for a woman or love for heroin? You tell me. Of course, the most famous love song by Isaac Hayes is performed by Chef in South Park's episode "Cartman Gets an ... Probe", and it goes a little something like this: "I'm gonna make love to you, woman, Gonna lay you down by the fire! And caress your womanly body, Make ya moan and perspire." I could have done without the first ten minutes of an 18+ min track "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" only because I probably won't care for the retelling of the same story for the second or third time in a row. Nevertheless, I always welcome more Shaft in my life, and look forward to more of his albums on this list, if they should decide to appear.
It may be a weird hot summer of 2020 out there, with London bustling in all the wrong areas as if nothing ever happened, but in my cool 21-degree studio it's still 1969, with The Youngbloods laying down their special cocktail of folk meets psychedelia meets country-rock, with the very first track, "Darkness, Darkness" being the highlight on their third album. The rest is just lukewarm, mellow, and whimsical collection of songs, perfect for the Bay Area pastoral summer. Some of the music feels like it could be played by a trio in the back of a restaurant, combining blues and an electric piano waltz, like the unnecessarily-long "On Sir Francis Drake" that seems to just go on in an unpredictable direction for over seven minutes. The instrumental tracks are at least tolerable, like "Trillium" that sounds like a soundtrack to an afterschool special. Not sure that I would celebrate "Elephant Mountain" as one of the key albums at the end of the 60s, and I suspect that it will be the first to get bumped once this weird year ends, and "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" would have to swap it out for something like... I don't know. Run the Jewels? Haim? Taylor Swift? I haven't paid attention to pop music in 2020. Have you?
Playing through Fairport Convention's 40-minute is a breeze, even if some of the songs are absolute cringe-worthy, like the totally awful British drunk pub kick in the throat with a French accent to top it off, titled "Si Tu Dois Partir" - what a piece of total garbage that is, folks! Oh look, it was written by Bob Dylan! According to the band's guitarist Simon Nicol, "I think the boredom factor was one of the reasons we came up with this wacky idea. Three or four punters joined us in the dressing room; they were either French visitors or students of French working in London, and happened to be there that night." And you know what, Simon? That song sounds exactly like it was born from the boredom factor written by a few French punters! What were you thinking? How anyone can call Fairport Convention "the British Jefferson Airplane" is beyond my comprehension. The "rock version" of a traditional English folk song, "A Sailor's Life" is about as exciting as a "drum'n'bass version" of a traditional English folk song. Clocking at over 11-minutes, this never-ending piece turns into a psychedelic jam session over a single monotonic harmony, fiddle and all. The album art features Sandy Denny's parents standing outside of their family home in Wimbledon, south London, and I would definitely not pick this up in the record shop from the cover alone. If this is the peak of the band's "musical creativity" then we have a very different understanding of what we call "music" and what a bunch of wedding singers can scratch out from the same three chords. But then again, this is about as "musical" as Bob Dylan.