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Anarchivist appraisal of the value of sound recordings
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Date:2004-02-03 11:31
Subject:Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Arc

This album is an unusual experiment in free music, editing, and a bunch of other stuff that we don't usually attribute to Neil Young. It's culled from soundchecks, between song banter, and the like on one of their tours ("Ragged Glory"), and recompiled by Young after the fact in the studio. The cover art is a little strange and scary, making Neil Young look like a goth in whiteface.

It starts with a dirgy take of the beginning of "Like a Hurricane," as possibly played by a space rock band... It's not coherent enough to be considered an actual track, and Young doesn't even finish singing the first verse. It then switches over into a heavy freakout guitar session, with someone (presumably Young) screaming through the pickups. This continues similarly for a bit and gets switched up with some woozy, tremelo-inflicted lines and tons of drum and cymbal fills courtesy of Ralph Molina. Throw in a little bit of "Love and Only Love" here and there, but none of the verses. Then, once again, we get back to another really drone-oriented (but different) take on "Like a Hurricane." Once we get to the chorus, though, it becomes sort of a Red Transistor-esque low end rumble through the pedal boards of early Ride. More fade ins-and-outs, more butter-covered anthemic lead riffs, more "Love and Only Love." I think you can see where i'm going with this.

Eventually, it all withdraws into a flange-infected git passage with a steady bass line, a little "Love and Only Love" again, and another bunch of hazy licks that may think it would be another "Hurricane," but this time around it ends up being "Love to Burn." Towards the end, though, the aggression picks up, leading into Neil Young screaming "NO MORE PAIN!" and asking Billy Talbot where the check is ("the check's in the mail"). Finally, it fades into an organ-laden, bass-plucked chorus of "Hurricane."

Strictly speaking, this might not be an album for Neil Young/Crazy Horse purists, but definitely it should be treated as such by completists. It's relatively short (about a half hour), one solid track, and may not be altogether accessible to your average American Stars & Bars fan. Just the same, it's got a lot of authentic rawness about it (even though it was reassembled in the studio). It's something that should be actively listened to because there's a LOT that can be missed in the process.

Summary: Weird, crazy, loud, fun. Totally worth it. Clearly a coherent whole even if it doesn't seem like it from its parts.

Verdict: Keeper

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Date:2003-05-10 21:51
Subject:Robert Fripp - Let The Power Fall (Editions EG)

Virgin Records' A Brief History of Ambient 3: The Music of Changes was not only my introduction to Robert Fripp (from the track "1988" on this particular album), but also to Bark Psychosis, King Crimson, David Sylvian, and Can (indirectly through the Czukay/Jah Wobble/Leibezeit) track. After becoming pretty much obsessed with King Crimson from early '80s onwards over the last few years, I figured that I should get more into my man Robert's work. Let the Power Fall practically fell off the shelf into my hands at Wazoo this week - it was a mere $5! The vinyl is in impeccable condition as well.

Anyhow, the subtitle for this record is "An Album of Frippertronics" - possibly one of the least potentially pretentious appellations that Fripp could have given any of his work.* It is what it is, nothing more, nothing less. No crafty fingertapping or chordwork, no vocals, percussion, or any other accompaniment. It's just Robert Fripp, his guitar, some sort of effects, and a couple of tape machines. It's much more contemplative than even the Fripp/Belew/Bruford/Levin-era Crimson at their most mellow (cf. "1987" on this album with "Nuages" on Three of a Perfect Pair). All of the themes are very similar on the album - similar note progressions, similar build-and-release, even the occasional abruptness with a new pattern entering into the mix. Despite the back cover of the album describing the music contained within as "difficult," this is merely wonderful and deceivingly simplistic music.

The big question is what to compare this to with someone with no grounding in the Crims. I'd say imagine early Boards of Canada filtered through the freshly cleaned heads and capstans inside John Olson's suitcase. Or possibly, the thought of Meredith Monk trapped in the infinite recursion of dueling mirrors might work for you. This is a very beauteous work of minimalism and easily accessible to anyone interested in loop-based music, progressive rock, ambient, or avant guitar works.

Verdict: Keeper

* I realize that naming his guitar-tape loop mechanism "Frippertronics" was highly indulgent and filled to the brim with pretension, especially since Brian Eno presented the whole scheme to him ahead of time.

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Date:2003-05-07 11:38
Subject:The Dead C - Harsh 70s Reality (Siltbreeze)

This album begins with a 22 minute distortion wail and hiss-pop spaetzle ("Driver UFO") that many Dead C familiars will recognize as their de rigeur. It leaks and swells but ACTUALLY goes somewhere unlike the flaccid "improv" that has been infesting a lot of the live shows I've been to up here in Michigan. It drones, but you don't have to be stoned or even drunk to enjoy it. I'm not even groggy and I think it's very very smooth.

The next two tracks, "Sky" and "Love", are more rock-oriented; I'd be lying if I didn't say that "Sky" wasn't one of my favorite songs ever. Michael Morley's vocals are painstakingly but not painfully monotonous, and the drumming just drives right into your skull. And seriously, "[I] sold my arse to see the sky" is pure dead brilliant. At first, "Love" seems like it'll be in line with early Harry Pussy on quaaludes. Morley scrawls out his vocals like a doctor's prescription - entirely messy but still the key to the whole mess. It becomes very bluesy in a matter of minutes and then drones on further for quite a bit longer. The drumming is so simplistic and erratic it hearkens an art-damaged Meg White huffing gas.

"Suffer Bomb Damage" is OK, nothing too memorable, just a guitar & organ improv session.

"Sea is Violet" sails back into the territory of rock and plants its flag on the turf of psychedelia. Seriously, this is straight up ACID rock. The beginning may throw you off with the crowd noise, but it screams its way into your brain causing hallucinations. "Constellation" begins a lot like "Love," but slowly gains momentum. By the 4 minute mark, someone did some sloppy editing and it becomes a total freak out, reminding me of some spazzy hardcore shit.

"Baseheart" should more accurately be called "Bassheart" because of the fundamental role the four string instrument plays in the track. The main line repeats itself, with occasional feedback, distorted organ, and contemplative percussion floating in the background. Morley comes in with "so I've seen you before..." in an almost Birthday Party-era Nick Cave drawl (think "King Ink"). Very dirgeful, appropriate right next to Harry Pussy's "Nazi USA" and possibly even some GYBE! on a mix tape.

"Hope" closes out the album with a heavy reverb jam. Reminds me of Sentridoh, and then there's some tape manipulation, and about 5 and a half minutes into the jam Morley screams his head off. Then three minutes later you think the song's ended but it comes back in with the familiar note progression.

Summary: Great album. Essential listening. Nevertheless, Trapdoor Fucking Exit is my eternal Dead C favorite.

Verdict: Keeper

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