Daevid Allen Weird Quartet - Elevenses
TransloopThisMessage (1:30), Imagicknation (3:56), The Latest Curfew Craze (3:47), Kick That Habit Man (4:13), Secretary of Lore (3:35), Alchemy (4:08), The Cold Stuffings of November (3:00), Grasshopping (4:20), God's New Deal (2:13), Dim Sum in Alphabetical Order (3:07), Killer Honey (3:15), Under the YumYum Tree Café (5:33), Banana Construction (5:17)
I have a little tale of becoming an accidental fan of Gong. Back in 1973 (yes, I'm that old) for my second ever gig (Lou Reed being the first) I went to a gig at Birmingham's Town Hall on the insistence of school friends. Hatfield and the North opened the show, followed by a film, projected on a sheet, of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells in a live studio performance. Headlining were the pot-head pixies themselves, Gong. And so I was a bit of a convert to all things prog. However, I can't say I have followed Gong in all their various line-ups. I drifted away after Shamal came out in 1976, and went instead with Steve Hillage's solo output. Much in the way I followed Steve Hackett after he left Genesis. Anyway, I digress in my reminiscence.
So we come to his last studio recording with Elevenses. Made with the same line up that recorded as Weird Biscuit Teatime. In 2005 they released the album DJDDAY. The line-up remains Daevid Allen (guitar and vocals), Don Falcone (from Spirits Burning) on keyboards, Michael Clare (from Daevid Allen's University of Errors) on bass, and on drums and percussion Trey Sabatelli (from The Tubes) or Paul Sears (from The Muffins).
The album consists of four songs mixed in amongst nine instrumental pieces of varying hues. Of the songs Imagicknation could have come from Camembert Electrique in its spacey pop-psychedelia. It has lovely musical colour to it with cello and organ underpinned with a rolling bass line, whilst Allen's vocal retains its weird charm. Never a strong vocalist, age does not appear to have weakened his voice, and his lyrical concerns remain in the realms magic realism. The strangest of the songs and oddly the least interesting is the mutant blues-psyche tune Kick that Habit Man. It irritates in its blues repetitions and is the definition of a challenging listen.
Of the other two songs, the Dylan like vocal on the accordion led sea-shanty of God's New Deal has a strange allure. And the closing Banana Construction has a spoken word vocal that appeals to optimism. In hindsight it seems valedictory. For the music, Allen pounds away on his guitar madly before it settles into a walking jazzy bass line. A fitting wig-out to end the album.
The instrumentals vary in quality. Opening, overture style, with the short industrial drone TransloopThisMessage. Which isn't really followed up anywhere else on the album. There are a pair of punky-prog number (The Latest Curfew Craze and Alchemy) that show a bit of bite and fire below the hippy eccentricities. The first of which has Allen deconstructing his guitar part over stabs of organ in an affecting way. Then there's a couple of nicely woozy psychedelic, but upbeat, pieces in The Cold Stuffings of November and Grasshopping; these have an organ sound reminiscent of Ray Manzarek's.
The best of the instrumentals and the best tracks on the album are those that feature Allen's glissando guitar playing. The beautiful Secretary of Lore builds brilliantly with his glissando floating in the ether over stabs of organ. The glissando shines again on Dim Sum in Alphabetical Order where it counterpoints the molasses bass melody and cymbal washes to great effect. Allen also throws some guitar hero shapes on the funky Killer Honey.
It was with these three tracks that I realized how interesting a guitar player Daevid Allen could be. His light, on the classic Gong albums at lease, must have been hidden under the bushel labelled Steve Hillage!
So as a swansong, Daevid Allen Weird Quartet's Elevenses is a good if not wholly successful album. A few tracks feel a bit unfinished and require a bit more pixie dust to make them truly shine. This is a recommended album for fans of the 'Divided Alien' but for those who are uncertain there are things of great interest contained within Elevenses. It may well act as a gateway to the weird riches to be found in Daevid Allen's back catalogue of projects.
As he says on Banana Construction, 'I hope for a huge construction site of optimism'. So if you are feeling optimistic, give this a go.
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10
Alex Carpani - So Close So Far
The Eve (instr.) (2:26), I Tried and Tried (5:36), Man on the Wire (5:56), Stay With Me (4:03), In Your Absence (3:39), Let My Drop of Sweat Fall Down (4:25), Crystal Falls (6:08), One Face One Lie (6:19), Next Time (5:36), The Last Sign (6:27)
This album contains a lot of straight forward rock songs that at times sound really radio-friendly but because of the excellent quality of the recording it doesn't get boring. He is surrounded by some great musicians like Ettore Salati (guitars) and vocalist Joe Sal. Actually the vocals are shared equally between Carpani and Sal who both have a pleasant singing voice with Sal slightly reminiscent of John Wetton. The second half of the album has more proggy elements than the first half in my opinion and we can hear some elements in the style of Arena and It Bites. The music is very accessible for everyone, no complex musical structures are to be found on the album. In fact just lots of strong melodies and some catchy choruses. It's far from revolutionary, it's all been done before but because it all is performed very well, I can live with that!
The track I Tried and Tried is an example of the straight forward rock song with a fiercely beating of the drum through the entire song which reminds me of Bon Jovi. From Let My Drop of Sweat Fall Down, the mory proggy side of this band appears on this track with elements of It Bites. Crystal Falls combines the 1980s New Wave keyboard sound with prog rock, with drummer Martino Malacrido providing a solid drum sound throughout the track. This track and Next Time also have some of the dance tunes that Galahad use on their latest albums.
One Face One Lie is also a song that has a structure reminiscent of It Bites. There are hardly no eruptions of guitar and keyboard on this album but on the final, slightly bombastic track The Last Sign we finally can hear a real solo on guitar.
This track is a great closer of this album. It starts with a repeating piano tune, a nice string section (from a keyboard) and fine vocals before it builds up to a beautiful orchestral climax with an excellent solo by Salati. Best track on the album!
This is a fine album and if all tracks would be of the same quality as the last track it would probably be a great album.
Peter Swanson: 7.5 out of 10
He Was Seen... - It Just Gets Worse
Orbit (9:00), Encrypted (11:44), One Way (10:10), They (14:36), Silent Space (20:33)
Thankfully DPRP's copy was a FLAC download, although playback of the album on a glass, 78 RPM record would have sufficed. The tracks are intentionally produced in an over-compressed/distorted manner to such an extent fidelity is obviously not of top priority. I don't mind the lo-fi effect when used sparingly, as an effect. To produce an entire album that sounds like the music is being played through blown speakers is... art?
The music is passable, a bit like what The Doors would sound like routed through a cheap guitar distortion pedal. There's some moments of sloppy playing that further detracts from any notion of professionalism. The singing is mostly a mixed bag of atonal shouting, spoken word, and impassioned breathiness. Overall the vocals are not particularly pleasing, but perhaps serviceable when taken in context with the rest of the crude musical package. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the second track Encrypted is certainly welcome and well received, but with so many rough edges it takes a concerted effort of convincing myself there's anything of value here to coax even a small amount of enjoyment.
Moving quickly to whether this is prog. I certainly feel there's an attempt to be unique, and there's moments where they are playing at a relatively high level of musicianship. The occasional use of wind instruments and extensive spacey synthesizers, as well as some lengthy and varied compositions, would suggest at least a nod to progressive rock. It's just not good prog. If it truly "just gets worse," then I suppose we're not far from hitting bottom. At that point it should be uphill herein. Contingent upon them cleaning up their sound, so we can actually hear everything instead of drenching it in a sea of distorted slush, and spending a bit more time getting the performances up to the same standard as the rest of the music being released nowadays, I could see this having some appeal.
Kevin Heckeler: 2 out of 10
Jerusalem - Cooler than Antartica
1. Snake (4:48), Steaming Hot (3:45), Specks (5:45), Drums, Bass and Guitar (4:34), Northern Lights (4:24), Simple Man (4:41), The Book Of You (3:10), All My Doors Are Open (4:03), Simple Simons (3:52), Cry (6:44)
It is probably fair to say right from the start that 'Cooler than Antarctica' is not a prog album. Think 70s to 80s hard rock with a blues flair and you will have a good idea of what to expect from this album. Lynden is generally the creative leader of the band, but the performances of all the musicians involved are at a high level. Songs like Snake, Steaming Hot, Northern Lights and Simple Simon offer up good guitar infused, classic rock. In fact, this is a very consistent album in terms of quality, performances and production value.
That said, it is perhaps too consistent in other ways. There is a general sameness to the songs throughout and ultimately, they start to run together a bit. There are one or two exceptions ot this such as The Book of You and to a lesser extent, the album closer, Cry. This track also contains an opportunity for some extended jamming from the band which is fun.
Lyrically and song structure wise, Jerusalem shares the same lighthearted tone as some of the work released as 'Deckchair Poets'. It's not as if the songs can't be taken seriously, but there is undertone that occasionally makes things sound dangerously like parody. At this point, it is clear that represents the direction when these musicians unite, but it would be nice to hear them do something a bit more, well, serious.
From a prog perspective, Downes and D'Virgilio bring the main interest to this band and theirs and all of the performances on the album are good. The final product is an entertaining and slick work. Particularly, if you are looking for a pleasant straight forward rock album. Pleasant being the optimum word as I wouldn't classify this album as indispensable in any way. I am not even sure that's what the band was looking to accomplish as the overall tone would imply them just striving for a fun listen. If that's the case, Cooler than Antartica accomplishes that goal.
Patrick McAfee: 6 out of 10
MJ12 - MJ12
Call 911 (7:45), Bad American Dream Pt2 (7:14), Talk Time (9:12), Magic Mist (3:10), The Wow Signal (4:35), Big Daddy's Road (6:00), The Phantom Maracas (5:56), Guns and Pussy (4:03), Magic Mist Reprise (3:59)
Jones, the best known of the group members, is renown from his days with jazz-fusion group Brand X (which had its heydey in the 1970s, re-formed for a time in the 1990s, and plans a reunion tour in 2016). He also played with the long-lasting group Tunnels (1990-2005). Regardless of the musical forum, Jones' quick and bouncy fretless bass playing is usually prominent.
The songs on MJ12 span the range of jazz. Several veer toward the somewhat noisy avant garde (e.g. Call 911), but also shown are be-bop influences (Magic Mist). Even a single tune here can display multiple personalities, as with Bad American Dream: it's spartan, then rough, then spritely.
Unsurprisingly, on most tunes Jones' bold tone and frisky playing stand out. Bacas, often impressively taking the lead on saxophone (the sound of which, unfortunately, sometimes fails to mesh sonically with the guitar), takes a close second in the attention-grabbing department. Actually, all of the musicians show fine form throughout.
But much of the music seems undone; the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts. Hooks are few, and, at times, the musicians seem to be doing their own thing rather than accompanying each other. (An exception is the tight-knit Guns and Pussy, on which drummer Moses nicely shepards the group.) So, there's strong musicianship but a de-emphasis on teamwork.
Nevertheless, fans of experimental jazz should find elements of interest here. And, live, improvised takes of these already free-flowing songs will probably work well. In the end, MJ12's debut is well suited for the occasional heady spin, but the CD is not likely to linger long.
Joel Atlas: 6 out of 10