Sunday, January 18, 2015

What's New?: 1.18.2015

Space rock and jazz-leaning stuffs!
Chris Forsyth — Solar Motel (2013)

Guitarist and composer Forsyth has been kicking around bands and records for years before finally finding a sympathetic home at Paradise of Bachelors. Honestly, besides a few themes here and there and some chord changes, this thing sounds mostly improvised, as it's just the title track broken up into four parts. The sticker on the album cover describes it as "Cosmic Americana" and that fits. It's easy to hear the influence of Wilco's Jim O'Rourke-helmed albums in the sprawl of the project, though it gets fairly noisy in spots.  Add in some Farfisa organ and some tasty post-rock leanings in the buildups and it's a winner.  Key tracks: 'Part III' gets just plain old majestic at one point.

Eternal Tapestry and Sun Araw — Night Gallery (2011)

Not really familiar with either of these bands outside of this release, but it's done in a very similar style to Solar Motel up there.  Just one long title track, divided into four pieces.  This one is a bit less noisy overall and has some wonderful moments that suggest a sort of punk-informed Grateful Dead.  Kind of droney, in spots.  Squalling, blasted up to 11 drone, but drone nonetheless.  It gets really spacey, I guess, is what I'm trying to say.  Key tracks: the fourteen minute cast off 'Part IV' certainly has its moments.

Soft Machine — Original Album Classics (1970's)

Albums three through seven in a handy slipcase.  The cliche about Soft Machine is that they were proggers who went jazz, but that's not entirely true, as they were doing very long, very heavily jazz influenced pieces as early as the Third album (which would be disc one in this set).  The other cliche about them is they stopped being a good, listenable band after Robert Wyatt left the group (or was sacked, depending on who you believe).  Third has the reputation of being the last essential Soft Machine release (Wyatt's 'Moon In June' is the highlight however) and after slogging through this set, I must disagree, as Fourth is just as strong musically, if not quite as sprawling.  There are no vocals, but Soft Machine was never squarely about vocals in the first place.  The second half of the album is taken up by the four part 'Virtually' suite and that's the reason to stick around for that one.  Fifth is hit and miss as the band has become more of a jazz unit than ever, but its got some killer moments still: 'As If' is one of the classic hip hop sample moments, while still being a stunner of a tune.  Six (1973) is half live, half studio.  The live half is okay if you're really into the jazzier side of the band, while the studio half is back to the longform jazz rock inventions that the band was becoming known for.  There are more electronics here, recalling Miles' calmer material of the time.  Fantastic stuff; just a bummer you have to sit through the less than great live stuff first.  Check out the stunning 'Soft Weed Factor' for a stone cold jam.  Seven is the last disc here, and many would say, the last you really need to bother with Soft Machine.  It's either just okay or really good.  I prefer the calmer material.  There's a focus on those dated 70's synths and it just kind of ruins it for me. The side one trilogy of 'Carol Ann', 'Day's Eye' and 'Bone Fire' points the way towards High Hopper's solo material and is generally nice Sunday morning music.  Overall, the whole thing's an endeavor, to say the least, but one with many rewards.  Key tracks: any of the above mentioned.

Matching Mole — self-titled (1972)

After Robert Wyatt's departure from Soft Machine, he formed the cleverly titled Matching Mole (roughly translates to "Machine Soft" in phonetic French) and got straight to work.  From the wry, self-announced 'Signed Curtain' to the floating scat vocals of 'Instant Pussy' to the non-stop prog odyssey that takes up side two of the proper album, this is Wyatt's affair, all the way through.  There are some undeniably poppy moments and I have to chuckle at how all over the place this thing is, really.  This is the expanded two disc version of the album, which goes a long way to illustrate that the band was good for more than the two relatively short years they were active.  Some early John Peel sessions appear at the end of disc two and they highlight a band at what seems to be the top of their game.  I need to get that second full length and get the full picture before deciding such things, but whoo, do they smoke through those numbers.  Key tracks: the scorching twenty minute Peel Session medley of 'Marchides', 'Instant Pussy' and 'Smoke Signal' (part of which can be heard here), previewing two tracks which would show up on the band's second album.

Herbie Hancock — Sextant (1973)

The last record Herbie would record with his Mwandishi group.  I don't know how this one slipped past me for so long because I've had Warner's excellent two disc set capturing the bulk of the band's output for most of my mature life.  I thought that that was the extent of the group's output and Herbie went straight to Headhunter land.  It's a wash of semi-funky backbeats, acoustic and electric instruments straight up fighting with each other, and some seriously heady attempts at making completely alien sounding music.  It's like what Miles was doing at the time, but less dissonant.  As a final sendoff to stellar group, it's a funky racket that, just like everything else they did, is entirely unique.  Completely free at times, funky as hell at others, there's not much else like it outside of the like-minded school of the time.  Key tracks: the shortest track and opener 'Rain Dance' is the most easily digestible.


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