Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Goblin Collection 1975-1989

Let me begin by saying that, for an Italian band named Goblin known for doing horror movie soundtracks, this music is surprisingly unscary. But then again, I suppose it takes a lot to scare someone who listens to Throbbing Gristle on a regular basis. I do not wish to imply, however, that Goblin is not a good band. On the contrary, they are generally excellent.

This compilation spans more than a dozen film and TV scores the band wrote and performed, and while some of the later stuff is forgettable (the love theme from St. Helen is horrid), there is a lot to enjoy here. Early scores like Profundo Rosso, Suspiria, and La Via Della Droga showcase Goblin at the height of their powers. The musicianship is top notch and there is some real creativity absent from the vast majority of film music.

Stylistically, this disc is extremely varied. The scores range from vaguely creepy syth-fests to hard rock, to psychedelic, to funky jazz. The band pulls each of these diverse styles off with aplomb. The melodies are fun and engaging, and the short running time of most of these cues keeps the listener from becoming bored.

Unfortunately, the fact that most of this music was written in the seventies shows pretty plainly, and some of these scores now sound pretty dated, but they are enjoyable nevertheless and Goblin is an important enough band that most serious music lovers will want to have a compilation such as this in their collection.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lull - Continue (1996)

Lull is the side project of Mick Harris, perhaps best known as the drummer for the extreme death metal band Napalm Death. What can one expect from such a celebrated noisemaker? Certainly not anything like this. Let me just say that Lull lives up to its name. Don't expect any aggression here.

The record consists of a single, hour long track of an extremely minimal ambient drone. There is some motion, and indeed some evolution in the sound, but it all happens at a glacial pace and it took me several listens to even be aware of some of the subtleties going on beneath the surface. From what I can tell, the tones are produced electronically and there are a number of layers shifting back and forth on top of one another like the slow grinding of tectonic plates. The atmosphere is fairly dark and sinister, but it doesn't hit you over the head like some of Lustmord's stuff.

"Continue" probably works best as a background record, something to listen to while you do other things. Given that it makes the ambient music of people like Brian Eno or Harold Budd seem like speed metal, it would probably be difficult for most people to give it their full attention for very long. That being said, it does provide a nice atmosphere and does what ambient is supposed to do: lurk unobtrusively on the edge of your consciousness.

On a personal note, I once hosted "ambient night" at my college discotheque with the sole intention of preventing anyone from dancing (a rousing success, I must say) and I used this record as the grand finale to my set. I think only one person showed up that night.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gryphon - Red Queen to Gryphon Three (1974)

One of the things I love most about Prog Rock is the sheer audacity of some of the bands and their ridiculous ideas. What we have here is an entirely instrumental concept album about a game of chess prominently featuring the Krumhorn, an obscure Renaissance reed instrument that sounds a bit like a bassoon. You'd be hard pressed to find a modern band willing to embark on such a silly undertaking, and yet it works brilliantly.

The record is divided into four lengthy tracks, each supposedly representing a phase of gameplay. "Opening Move" begins with a peaceful and pleasant melody, painting a picture of a friendly game played outdoors on a warm summer day. The tension gradually increases as the "friendly game" turns into a heated battle of minds. The next track, "Second Spasm," starts as a lively dance tune in 6/8 time played on recorders. The music is relentless fun and cheerful, while maintaining a fast pace indicative of the fierce competition imagined to be happening on the chess board.

Side two opens with the more reserved "Lament," in which our protagonist mopes about his diminishing prospects of victory, before launching into the triumphant finale, "Checkmate." Throughout, the band do a nice job of developing their motifs in an almost symphonic fashion. Rather than simply stringing a collection of unrelated themes together, they reuse melodies within the individual movements, playing them in a variety of different ways and always maintaining the listener's interest.

It's hard not to love this record. It's so wonderfully idiosyncratic, with its Renaissance feel augmented by the modern flavor of keyboards and bass guitar. The melodies are catchy and very happy sounding. It's an album that makes me smile every time I hear it. Whether you're a fan of Prog Rock, Renaissance music, or just looking for something fun and uplifting, you're likely to find something to enjoy on "Red Queen to Gryphon Three."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1978)

I owe all of you an apology for the inexcusable lack of updates. I could say that I've been busy with school and work and various side projects, all of which would be true, but the real reason is that I just haven't been motivated to write about music lately. Today, however, one of my favorite music related websites, Progarchives, decided to add Throbbing Gristle to their database (a poor decision, I think, but oh well) and I feel compelled to contribute a review.

Throbbing Gristle are frequently and quite correctly credited for inventing the genre we commonly know as "industrial." Their abrasive, post-punk, nihilist noisemaking ushered in a whole generation of lienated misanthropes who felt they could relate to machines better than to their fellow human beings. After several albums of relentlessly abrasive material, however, TG decided to go another direction on "20 Jazz Funk Greats." The title is obviously tongue in cheek, but there is a grain of truth behind it. This is certainly TG's jazziest, as well as their funkiest record. Most of the tracks are laid back and subtle. hey are still just as menacing as ever, but this time the threat is more akin to being slowly poisoned rather than stabbed in the face.

Chris Carter's subdued electronics, trending ever closer towards straightforward dance music are heavily utilized here, but everything sounds far away and cloaked in a mysterious English fog. Geneis P-Orridge is as creepy as ever with his deadpan ramblings, the standout being the genuinely disturbing "Convincing People." One track entitled "Exotica" gives a clue to the inspiration for the album. There is indeed an element of Martin Denny and Les Baxter's method of creating evocative palettes designed to take the listener away to distant and exotic locales, although here this time it will not be anywhere so safe and welcoming as Polynesia. There's even a vibraphone to complete the tribute.

My favorite track on the album is the borderline mainstream "Hot on the Heels of Love." It is a perfectly produced slice of rhythmic electronica that could easily have been a club hit. It also features the all too rarely heard oice of Cosey, the groups only female member, breathily repeating the words "hot on the heels of love / waiting for help from above" in a tantalizing whisper.

"20 Jazz Funk Greats" is not Throbbing Gristle's best work, but it is an easy jumping off point for beginners, who might be a little intimidated by the band's more aggressive material. More importantly, this is the album that really shows just how influential TG were. Together with Kraftwerk (and maybe Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan) this album played a defining role in shaping the sound of modern electronica.