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Reviews in this issue:
- Twelfth Night - XII
- Redemption - The Fullness Of Time
- Presto Ballet – Peace Among The Ruins
- Drama – Stigmata of Change
- David Harrison - Hum
- Infidel?/Castro! – Bioentropic Damage Fractal
- George Korein – Memoirs of a Trilobite
Twelfth Night - XII
Tracklist: Last Song (4:27), Pressure (3:39), Jungle (4:16), The Craft (4:36), Blue powder Monkey (5:07), Theatre (3:48), Shame (4:13), This Is War (3:45), Take A Look (11:35)
Bonus Tracks Blondon Fair (6:03), Shame (Ful Mix) (5:50), Take A Look [part IV single version] (4:19), Blue Powder Monkey (instrumental rough mix) (4:46), This Is War (instrumental rough mix) (3:48), The Craft [instrumental rough mix)] (4:47)
Twelfth Night were at the forefront of the so-called progressive rock revival in the early 1980s. Initially an instrumental quartet, they achieved national prominence when drummer Brian Devoil, guitarist Andy Revell, bassist Clive Mitten and keyboard player Rick Battersby were joined by old friend Geoff Mann on vocals. Following Geoff's amicable departure in November 1983 (to follow his vocation as a priest and his own idiosyncratic music career), vocal duties were taken over by Andy Sears.
The first release by the new line-up was the Art & Illusion mini album promoted by a full UK headline tour that ultimately convinced Virgin to sign the band to a long-term world wide deal. The first, and unfortunately only, fruits of the deal was the XII album along with a couple of singles released in the summer of 1986.
Nearly 20 years later Virgin/EMI have, after popular demand, got round to reissuing the album on CD, its first appearance on digital medium. And they have done it proud. The remastering (overseen by three members of the band) reveals delights that were not obvious on the vinyl version, adding clarity to sonic nuances previously hidden or obscured within the 54-track recording. With a full 16-page booklet featuring sleeve notes from Andy R, Andy S and Brian, full lyrics, some previously unseen photos and a full 75 minutes running time, the mid-price release is superlative value for money.
But what of the music? When Andy S joined the band there was no dramatic shift in musical direction, more of a progression down avenues that had previously only been softly tread. However, a new vocalist, more than any other member of a group, will inevitably have a large effect on the sound. There is no doubt that Andy was a much more technically proficient singer than Geoff with a great love of harmony, as evidenced right from the start with Last Song, a dramatic rocker dealing with "the paradox of loneliness in an overcrowded world". Pressure, a contender for single release, is driven by Clive's distinct six-string bass in a high energy piece that is fairly exhausting to listen to let alone sing. Jungle, a long time favourite song of mine, maintains the insistent bass riffing, although this time played on keyboards. There is such a lot going on in this song that it takes numerous listens to get to grips with everything, and even then it offers up new surprises with each listen. The group were not afraid to utilise technology to its limits, readily mixing programmed drums with the real thing, adding keyboard effects and sequenced patches throughout.
The Craft is the only Twelfth Night song to feature an orchestra and the arrangement is sympathetic to the lyrical theme of a search for new beliefs. The criticism that perhaps there is just a bit too much happening throughout this song is born out by the bonus rough mix where the basic elements of the song without any embellishments give the piece a whole different feel, particularly with the inclusion of a rather tasty guitar solo missing from the finished track.
Blue Powder Monkey was one of the oldest pieces included on the album having been one of the first tracks written after Andy joined. Given that it had been thoroughly road tested, it is particularly well honed with a magnificent chorus that always went down well in concert. Given the pedigree of the song it is not surprising that the demo version is rather more complete, although the instrumental version does possess its own certain charm, particularly the last half which is a real throw back to the days of the original four-piece.
Theatre is, in my opinion, the single that never was, a natural contender for the charts, it is succinct, has a strong melody and is instantly memorable. Shame it was never released, unlike Shame which was! Rather inevitable that it was chosen for release as it possesses many of the hallmarks of a hit yet suffered from probably being too familiar yet too different. The extended 12" "Ful Mix" is not really that different from the album version, a few tweaks here and there, a rather pointless drum, synth and bass interlude in the middle and a beefed up ending. Certainly not as bad as it could have been considering some of the other remixes released throughout the 1980s.
Twelfth Night were never a band to be confined to a genre and they took another step away from the expected with This Is War. An atmospheric, textured piece that could almost be considered, musically at least to be a slower continuation of Puppets from the Smiling At Grief album. The demo version is a bit more aggressive and, I think, instrumentally superior to the album version. Back on more prog rock territory is the original closing track to the album, the epic Take A Look. This is the sort of song that was a particular forte for the band, a large scale, multi-sectioned piece that builds, reprises and utilises the considerable talents possessed by all five musicians. Andy S layers the vocals to great effect, one minute menacing, the next soothing. Instrumentally it is on a par with back catalogue favourites We Are Sane, Creepshow and even Sequences, the contrast between the electric guitar riffs at the beginning of the first and third sections and the acoustic guitar of the second section is absolutely splendid; the drum machine at the start of the final section taking things down ready for the big finale; Rick's keyboards not always immediately apparent but you'd certainly miss them if they were removed; all in all a very strong finish to an album that deserves a lot more recognition than it has hitherto been awarded.
The other two tracks on the album provide a startling contrast and just so happen to have been two sides of the second single. I never understood why the final part of Take A Look was chosen by Virgin as a good choice for a single, particularly when there were much stronger songs like Pressure and Jungle available. Listening to it again now, I still don't have an answer. In isolation, the single version does sound incomplete, I suppose it does have the basic structure of a pop song, but out of context of the whole it just sounds weird.
Finally, there is Blondon Fair, a song that went through many evolutions before arriving in its final state. In a way this track sums up the Twelfth Night ideal, or at least one aspect of it. Totally unlike anything else that was written at the time, by Twelfth Night or any other of their other progressive contemporaries it explores areas, musically and lyrically, that others were afraid or unwilling to tackle. A startling composition, particularly on headphones, this extended version is the more ferocious and better mix of the two, although you will have to take my word for it as unfortunately there was no room for the 7" version, the only released track from the Virgin years yet to be released on CD.
The release of XII continues the high quality reissue of the Twelfth Night back catalogue on CD. It is pleasing that a major record company will do a proper job on reissuing an old album that is not likely to sell in multiple tens of thousands, and actively seek the assistance of the band to provide a highly attractive package for the fans. Having been a long term fan of Twelfth Night I have to confess to being somewhat biased, particularly having been involved in the reissue of this CD and with the ongoing releases of recordings from the TN archives. With that disclosure I will refrain from giving a numerical rating and simply state that this CD comes recommended to any and all lovers of progressive music, simply because the music is first class, the remastering is fantastic and the packaging of the album with six quality bonus cuts is everything one could ask for.
Conclusion: Recommended Release
Redemption - The Fullness Of Time
Tracklist: Threads (5:43), Parker's Eyes (6:15), Scarred (7:56), Sapphire (15:55), The Fullness of Time: I. Rage (5:01), The Fullness of Time: II. Despair (3:20), The Fullness of Time: III. Release (5:16), The Fullness of Time: IV. Transcendence (7:59)
Wow! For anyone who likes their progressive metal hard, heavy, melodic and rather dark, this has to be a sure-fire contender for album of the year. The Fullness of Time is an absolute gem!
Led by American multi-instrumentalist Nick Van Dyk, Redemption first hit the scene in 2002 with the release of a self-titled debut that featured a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of progressive metal with contributions from members of Fates Warning, Steel Prophet and Symphony X. Van Dyk even persuaded his pal and Fates Warning singer Ray Alder to produce the record and guest on a track.
Gaining positive - if not ecstatic - reviews from the specialist media, the first album was enjoyable but suffered from a lack of focus and poor production/delivery in the vocal department. It did enough though to land the band a slot on the prestigious ProgPower USA festival, where Alder joined the band onstage as a guest performer.
With a revised line-up in place, Van Dyk started work on the follow-up, and upon hearing the completed music, Alder asked to join the band as its full-time vocalist. To complete the picture Tommy Newton, known for his production work with such bands as Conception, Ark, Helloween and UFO, was selected to mix and master the record. Now, three years later, Redemption is back in business.
Once again, the music combines heaviness, complexity and irresistible melody drawing on such diverse influences as Megadeth, Agent Steel, Kansas, Rush, Zero Hour, Dream Theater and especially Fates Warning.
The album is split into two distinct parts. The first four titles are the independent songs – and these are quite simply stunning. The intense riffing to be found on the first three is absolutely fantastic – it is no over-exaggeration to say that the two central guitar themes on Threads and Parkers Eyes are among the best I’ve heard for years.
In my humble opinion Ray Alder is the best metal voice around – period! His contribution here, only reinforces that belief. His performance sounds different from his previous work with Fates or Engine – at times it could almost be a different person. There’s a much lower tone and the phrasing and note selection is from a totally different model. Maybe that's because Van Dyk wrote the vocal melodies – but whatever the reason, Alder comes across as utterly convincing in the role.
The melodies too are damn infectious, but overall it’s very much the sum of all the parts that makes this such an absorbing listen. Special mention must go to the new pairing of bassist James Sherwood and drummer Chris Quirarte. 'Borrowed' from fellow American ProgMetallers Prymary, their ever-changing yet concise rhythm work is spot-on throughout. Bernie Versailles' dense rhythm work again shows why he is one of my favourite guitarists in this field.
Lyrically too there’s plenty to get your teeth into. Parker's Eyes touches on various themes including the Twin Towers event and corrupt politics. Clocking in at a weighty 16 minutes, Sapphire starts out with plucked guitars and grows steadily until it bursts out of it’s shell at the three minute mark. More instrumental than its predecessors, it never becomes boring and features some great emotive singing from Alder.
The second part and title track is made up of four very different sections which together take up over 20 minutes. Musically, emotionally and lyrically, comparisons with Fates Warning’s A Pleasant Shade of Grey would not be unwarranted here.
All four cuts mix ethereal keys and piano with thumping guitars and emotionally charged vocals. This section isn’t as immediate or addictive as the opening salvo - being more in the ‘sit down and be immersed’ category of listening experiences. But in that respect it works as the perfect contrast and ensures the music never becomes repetitive.
This album is on different labels depending where you live. It will be released in the US on Sensory Records, in France on Replica Records and elsewhere in Europe on Massacre Records. There is a Brazilian release planned and certain territories will have a cover version of Faith No More's The Real Thing as a bonus – but it is unclear which.
This album is already creating a big buzz on several forums and at the time of writing, the opening track Threads is available as a full download from the band’s website. That should be all the evidence you need to go out and buy it and I happily predict that The Fullness of Time will establish Redemption among the premier league of Prog Metal bands.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Presto Ballet – Peace Among The Ruins
Tracklist: Peace Among The Ruins (5:47) The Fringes (7:34) Seasons (3:39) Find The Time (7:18) Speed Of Time (5:50) Sunshine (4:51) Slave (5:33) Bringin’ It On (6:43)
This vivacious, energetic homage to the glory days of American style prog rock, very much in the vein of Kansas and Styx, may come as something of a surprise to those who know leader Kurdt Vanderhoof from his work with thrash/speed metal outfit Metal Church or his Vanderhoof side project. Personally, although I knew the name, I have never heard anything that he has previously been involved in, and nothing I read leads me to believe that it would be of interest to me. I do enjoy some heavy groups, particularly the ones like Deep Purple, Rainbow and Uriah Heep, who all have some prog/symphonic tendencies, but the Speed/Thrash scene has never appealed to me.
I am delighted to report that this debut album bears no relation to that scene, rather it is a fully realised recreation of the melodic, progressive rock scene which briefly flourished in the 1970’s, utilising analogue recording methods and instruments to glorious effect.
Aside from very tasty, melodic guitar leads, Vanderhoof also adds a range of keyboards to those of Brian Cokeley, and together they ensure that each track is positively overflowing with sumptuous, rich symphonic textures and powerful, chunky organ riffs.
Brian Lake and Jeff Wade, on bass and drums respectively, are a tight rhythm section, supplying all the necessary power to fuel up-tempo rockers like opener Peace Among The Ruins (which comes on like Deep Purple circa Perfect Strangers before flowering into something more progressive) and Slave, but they are equally adept at underpinning the more gentle sections, such as the deliciously summery Beatle-esque psych-pop Sunshine with it’s winning blend of acoustic strumming and opulent Mellotrons.
The project is fronted by vocalist Scott Albright, a veteran of the Vanderhoof project and his powerful larynx is well up to the versatility demanded by the complex mood changes of the music. He resembles Ronnie James Dio at times, when prompted by the heavier riffing sections, but is equally adept at the smoother, melodic styles of Styx and Kansas, particularly when harmonising with Brian Cokeley. The choruses of The Fringes are a good place to check out this effect.
Really, this album is refreshing like a summer breeze from start to finish, but I especially favour the aforementioned Sunshine, and the moody, reflective Find The Time which melds acoustic guitars with electric pianos and synths and comes over like a cross between Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter and The Rain Song, which is no faint praise in my book. The juxtaposition of orchestral Mellotrons with meaty guitar riffs and throaty vocals and the interplay between organ and guitar also combine to make Speed Of Time another highlight.
If you are a fan of Kansas, Styx, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Uriah Heep or Led Zeppelin, you should make it a priority to check out this great album at the first opportunity. And as an extra bonus, there are three more unreleased tracks available for download from the band’s website, recorded alongside the album, but leaning in a slightly heavier, Uriah Heep-ish direction. They are well worth having too.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Drama – Stigmata of Change
Tracklist: A Lust (8:58), An Errand (6:02), Stigmata Of Change 1 (1:49), A Start (6:52), Alice (2:56), A Misstep (7:00), A Shrine (6:22), A Revelation (9:56), An End (5:08), A Doubt (0:58), Stigmata Of Change 2 (1:17), Smoke (6:47)
French band Drama previously released an album on Musea (the DPRP reviewed Flying Through The 21st Century). That was back in 1999, and this appears to be the somewhat belated follow-up.
The review had some complimentary things to say about the band’s music, but harsh criticism was aimed at the quality (or lack of) of the vocals. I’m not sure whether it’s a direct result of this criticism, but Drama have a new singer on this album, one Yvon Lucas. Now I never heard the previous album, but from the sounds of it Lucas represents a considerable improvement on his predecessor – whilst he’s not the strongest vocalist in the world, and has a pronounced accent, his voice is nonetheless pleasant and perfectly serviceable for the material. The lyrics, tied to a concept about unrequited love, are however a little over-ambitious, with the confused phrasing and sometimes rather nonsensical use of words betraying the fact that they weren’t written by a native English speaker.
Musically, this has its feet firmly planted in both the progressive and symphonic camps, but, despite the band’s choice of moniker, Yes does not appear to be the major influence. More prominent are frequent nods to both Genesis and Pink Floyd, particularly in the solo work of main-man Eric Azhar – his frequent keyboard runs recall Tony Banks in his early seventies pomp, whilst the slightly bluesy, soaring guitar solos he favours can’t help but be compared to the work of Dave Gilmour. If you’re looking for modern comparisons, then Drama’s countrymen (and Cyclops label mates) Saens are probably a good pointer. Sound-wise, there is a pronounced eighties feel to much of the work – sometimes it works against the band (most noticeably in the plodding, rather clumsy use of electronic drums on some tracks, plus some cheesy keyboard sounds) but generally fits in quite well with the music. The latter is more varied than you might expect – alongside typical neo-prog moments, we also get cod-funk rock (A Misstep – not as bad as that description suggests!), scat singing and a cappella vocal harmonies (A Start), Celtic flavoured balladry (An End), a simple piano-and-vocal torch song (A Doubt) and a slow-burning anthemic closer, made stronger by sticking to simple, effective melodies (Smoke).
The best material is found in the middle album; A Shrine is led by a strong, evocative keyboard-generated melody and builds well, with some pleasingly gritty guitar riffing adding backbone, whilst the sparse verses contrast well with the impassioned and haunting chorus. The short keyboard solo is reminiscent of Tony Banks’ famous one on Genesis’ In The Cage. This is followed by the fine instrumental Revelation, which starts out as a gentle, slightly ambient-style track featuring some operatic female crooning, before gradually the tempo is upped, and the track morphs into something not entirely dissimilar to the instrumental section of The Cinema Show. The one thing this track does perhaps highlight is the fact that the band tend to let songs drag on too long – rather than end on a high, the keyboard solo on Revelations is allowed to meander to its conclusion, and this isn’t an isolated case.
Generally speaking though, Drama have produced an enjoyable album with Stigmata Of Change, which is well composed, flows quite well, and highlights Azhar as an instrumentalist and composer of note. If the band can work on correcting the downsides mentioned above, then they should finally begin to make some headway within the modern prog scene.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
David Harrison - Hum
Tracklist: Luminous Circles (2:53), It's Not Your Scene (3:39), Get Out Of My Hair (2:39), Lost In The Ocean (3:03), Maganda Khar (3:20), Sumatra Kamasutra (3:19), Megan (2:39), Walkin' On Water (3:08), She Loves The Sun (3:32), Get Out Of My Hair II (3:24), Untitled bonus tracks (7:02)
David Harrison is a Liverpool-based singer songwriter inspired by progressive and folk influences. He cites bands such as The Misunderstood and High Tide as reference points although his own music isn't quite in the same style of the psychedelic guitar fests of the mentioned bands. Instead, the material is, to use his words, more "vibrant and melodic". Essentially, Harrison accompanies himself on 12 and 6 string acoustic guitar throughout, although the sound is filled out, where appropriate, by programmed drums and string arrangements and by guest musicians Karl Mcabe (flute), Mark Struthers (lead electric guitar) and Adam Speakman (bass).
Opening track Luminous Circles sets the tone with a fine melody and lush string arrangement. Quite a captivating track that, at under three minutes, is only faulted by the fact that its ending is rather premature. It's Not Your Scene is one of the two songs that feature electric guitar. Again a very catchy song that reminds me of a rather more restrained Playn Jayne (anyone remember them?!). Of the two versions of Get Out Of My Hair featured on the album, the second gets my vote as the more appealing of the two. Although the differences are minimal, the slower tempo, addition of a flute part and rather more laid back vocal of the revisited version makes it that little bit more interesting.
And speaking of laid back, Lost In The Ocean borders on 'chill out' music, with the focus on the vocals, a steady, slow beat and a repetitive three-note keyboard motif, this calm love song prove that often less really is more. Maganda Khar is held together by a strong chorus, which is fortunate as it seems that Harrison couldn't quite get the rest of the song to match that level, exemplified by a weak ending. Sumatra Kamasutra adds to the mid album 'lull'; I wasn't quite sure where this song was going, the programmed drums did nothing for me and the lyrics didn't grab me. Still, some nice harmonising towards the end.
Still, the lull is short-lived and thing pick up with Megan and Walkin' On Water, which are the type of songs that Harrison seems to excel at, short, melodic and 'simpler' arrangements where the musical embellishments to the acoustic guitar are sympathetic and non-intrusive. However, with She Loves The Sun Harrison shows that he could handle being part of a band as this track has a fuller arrangement of electric and acoustic guitars, bass and drums. Not a band song either, the rockier aspect contrasting well with the previous numbers.
Last song is one of those rather annoying add-ons where the last tracked song (in this case Get Out Of My Hair II) continues in silence for a few minutes before another, untitled and un-credited song begins. Never know why artists do this, I find it a real pain. And in this case it is rather strange as the two additional tracks are actually my favourites on the album! Acoustic guitar and mellifluous flute with vocals that sound somewhat warmer than on other places on the album, the two songs are elegant in their simplicity and deserve more recognition than being tacked unheralded onto the end of the album.
Overall a decent enough effort and generally one for those quieter moods. Harrison shows a lot of promise and there is always room for one more musicians inspired by Nick Drake.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Infidel?/Castro! – Bioentropic Damage Fractal
Disc One - Cancer - The Onset of Life (1:40), The New Delirium (1:04), Damage Fractal Series I (Dismantle, Intrusive Imagination, Incorrect Reassembly) (12:19), Bedridden (9:44), (In)voluntary Emotional Response (9:29)
Disc Two - Cancer; Decay - Bedsores (for G.W.B.) (1:43), Involuntary Physical Response (12:38), Damage Fractal Series II (Smear Contradicting Elimination, Insalubrity Serves Me) (9:52), The Extraction of Delicate Tissue (1:32), Damage Fractal Series III (Cylindrical Bereavement Summarizing its Orientations) (7:29), Temporarily Dissolving Into Plasma During a Moment to One’s Self (20:50)
There’s a subgenre of death metal called “grind” whose practitioners typically take titles (and maybe lyrical matter – it’s usually almost impossible to tell what they’re singing) from medical textbooks. A more-or-less famous grind band (famous, I mean, in the metal underground), Malignant Tumor, plays songs called, for example, Chemical and Bacterial Analysis of Cadaver and Mucormycosis of Gastrointestinal Tract. You don’t want to hear any more of the titles – trust me. But now we have the oddly named Infidel?/Castro!, who do something similar when it comes to titles, at least. Since there are no lyrics to speak of on either disc, I can’t say anything about them, though; and the music (though that might not be the right term, either) is miles away from grind or any other kind of metal, insofar as heavy metal is immediately classifiable as “music,” whereas what Infidel?/Castro plays (“supplies”? “provides”? – “plays” doesn’t seem right for most of the tracks) probably won’t strike anybody as musical.
Now, we at DPRP are pretty catholic in our tastes and pretty generous in our interpretation of the often-contested category “progressive rock.” If an artist takes the time and trouble to send us a CD, we’ll evaluate it carefully even before deciding whether it should be reviewed here or not, and we often apply the widest possible definition to “progressive rock,” stretching the category to make it inclusive. I’ve done so in order to review this album, although most readers of this site wouldn’t be likely to hear it as “progressive” – and with a couple of minor, local exceptions, it sure as hell doesn’t “rock.” However, having reviewed several ambient discs for the site, I decided that this one deserves some attention.
But I’ll qualify that assertion by admitting that, though I have listened carefully to the album – both discs! – twice, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do more than sample the tracks after that. This isn’t so much an album one listens to as an ordeal one lives through. And while that remark might seem harsh, in fact I suspect it’s exactly what Infidel?/Castro! – actually, two men named Colin Marston and George Korein – intended. I mean, look at the titles: the discs seem to mean to take us through the experience of cancer (though not always from a human perspective – surely The Onset of Life refers to the birth of cancer cells?), and that experience, obviously, ought to be an ordeal, and an extremely unpleasant one at that. And yet, I can’t say that this ordeal was as unpleasant as it might have been. Sure, the discs are hard to listen to and consist mostly of semi-musical industrial noise that, most of the time, seems more or less random; but it’s often interesting semi-musical industrial noise. And, by gosh, if you can get to the end of the last song on the second disc, delightfully named Temporarily Dissolving into Plasma During a Moment to One’s Self – and the first ten minutes of the track are almost inaudible, so you’ll really have to listen hard – you will be rewarded, I guess is the word, with a couple minutes of something like traditional, and quite pretty, ambient music on synthesizer and guitar. This must be the album’s “happy ending.”
As for the rest – There’s just not much to add. Pointless to single out this or that track, though they do vary widely in their irritation index; if you can sit through the whole thing, you will be on occasion surprised, you will be frequently annoyed – you might even, as I did, grin once in a while at an unexpected shift in dynamics or a clever or abrasive noise, semi- or un-musical though it might be. If what I’ve said makes the album sound appealing to you, well, I think I can say it’s probably pretty good of its kind. Trouble is, there isn’t anything else of its kind. And one such album is probably enough. My rating reflects its success at what I think it intends to do, but I don’t mean this 6/10 to be comparable to such scores I give to more traditional albums.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
George Korein – Memoirs of a Trilobite
Tracklist: Memoirs of a Trilobite (3:25), Taking out a Nanobot (in 8 Bits) (4:25), A Plea for Parthenogenesis (1:56), Memoirs of a Trilobite (Radio Edit) (0:04), Vega’s Gay (3:44), Love is like Estrogen (2:05), Side Paw (0:58), Indescribable and Persistent (3:48), Hwai, Punchy, Break (4:24), Trilowhat? (1:27), The Scoop (3:27), Raise Your Third Eyebrow (3:35), Memoirs of a Trilobite (Vegan Cookie Mix) (1:43), Kill People, Go Shopping (2:00), The Sound of Repetition (4:09), Tactless Dyslexic Carapace (3:54), The Planting of the Chronic in my Visage Hydroponic (3:15), Suburban Dinosaur Safari (2:45), Memoirs of a Trilobite (Dance Mix) (1:45), Hexasexual Polemic (4:37), Upgraded (4:14), To(o) Clark Park (3:16), Only one person knows when you’re down and out, and that one person is a box of soft chocolate chip cookies (2:17), Shatterbrain (4:48), Jazz School Vibe (0:48), Sawdust Toothpaste (2:55), Tripartite Succession (4:03), Twilight of the Bite (0:32)
My dog, lying on the floor beside me as I listen to this disc one last time while writing, is whining. I offer that fact merely as an observation, although I ought to add that she’s a pretty smart dog.
I have recently reviewed one of the strangest albums I’ve ever heard, a double-disc set called Bioentropic Damage Fractal by a duo who call themselves Infidel?/Castro. One of the two (don’t know which) is George Korein. I mention that fact in order to find at least one way to praise this album by Korein himself. Bioentropic Damage Fractal consists (and this, like my comment about my dog, is simply an observation) entirely of semi-musical and unmusical industrial noise, whereas Memoirs of a Trilobite, annoying as much of it is, does – in addition to creating semi-musical industrial noise in some tracks – frequently slip into actual recognizable songs, most often channelling and making very bizarre the sound of various mid-Eighties British pop bands – Soft Cell is the one that comes to mind most often. Then there are funky bits, jazzy bits, spoken-word pieces with ambient accompaniment, tracks that “rock” in at least some sense of the word (check out the driving synthesized beat of Indescribable and Persistent), – hell, there’s even a couple of tracks featuring vocals that Korein probably thinks are rap, albeit very bad rap accompanied by a bloated synthesizer rhythm that sounds like a vinyl record being wobbled (you know the sound). Korein would no doubt be flattered by the label “eclectic,” and superficially that’s what the album is, but so are many albums that consist of scattered ideas and unfulfilled promises.
Having found little that was good to say about Korein’s other project, I’m going to try my damnedest to point out the virtues of Memoirs of a Trilobite. Fortunately, there are a few. Foremost are the song titles. Yes, I’m reaching a bit, but they really are good – many of them very funny, even witty, and – unless I miss my guess – many of them indicate Korein’s awareness of the impression his album will make: I mean, Indescribable and Persistent would stand pretty well as a three-word review of this CD, and The Sound of Repetition and Shatterbrain might serve as partial evaluations of most of the songs, too. Then there’s the delightful title Kill People, Go Shopping, though to convey the meaning of the lyrics properly, Korein ought to have reversed the order of the clauses. Oh, and dig the joke in the “radio edit” of the title song – as if anything like this could ever get played on the radio – which is a whopping four seconds long. Very funny.
And the lyrics themselves are often amusing and even clever, though typically at a sophomoric level. Korein, bless him, seems to think that he’s the first person to uncover the absurdity of spam e-mails, and he devotes a song (well, a “song”), The Sound of Repetition, to sharing his discovery with us. Then there are the lyrics to the “cookie” song (I won’t write it out again – see track listing) that are almost like a prose haiku: “Frustration and failure. I seek cookie.” Funny, sure. But lyrics are of course meant to be essential parts of songs and to work with songs, and I can’t really say that music or lyrics have any necessary or even perceptible connection in most of Korein’s tracks. There’s more to a song than music of some sort backing lyrics of some sort: when we listen to great and even good songs, we realize that those words and that music were meant for each other – I mean, can you hear “And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune, / Then the piper will lead us to reason” with any music but that which Jimmy Page wrote for it? But on this album, Korein has assembled various weird collections of sound, chanted or rapped or half-sung various weird lyrics over them, and fired the whole thing out into the world.
I suspect that Korein is himself an interesting and probably pretty sharp guy. It seems apparent that he had a blast making this CD, and although most of it is all but unlistenable, and the arrogance that would permit him to let it stretch out to an hour and twenty minutes is almost unfathomable, it’s easy to hear that he found the creating of the album fulfilling and fun. But music, like all art, is meant to be a communication between artist and audience, and – unless I simply haven’t the intelligence or imagination to adapt myself to this work – I have to say that there’s little or no communication here. This disc is an entirely idiosyncratic collection of ideas both musical and lyrical that do not communicate but simply reveal something – perhaps more than he intended – of the mind of George Korein. I find that I can’t even give this disc a rating; there’s simply no frame of reference to make a numerical score in any way meaningful.