What does it mean when you go, in a mere few months, from never having heard of an artist to buying four albums new? Probably that you have too much time on your hands and money in your pocket. Nevertheless, I became very taken with the lively retro-electronica of Zombi. They combine elements of late 70s Tangerine Dream (think Thief, for example) with touches of Heldon (who I simply must write about soon), a knowledge of dance music and techno and a sense of horror-movie fun to make engaging and enjoyable music for the second decade of the twenty-first century. Sure, it does not invite too much musical scrutiny, but when it is this much fun, who cares? And there’s some pretty vinyl in the mix too.
Although unable to name a clear favourite at this point (too much music, too little time, ho-hum), Cosmos (2004) really grabbed me and the 2015 album, Shape Shift, sounds terrific too.
Best new album by a veteran
No surprises here. The latest Bevis Frond album was a hands down winner. Having devoted more column inches to Nick Saloman’s music than any other artist this year, I’ll just drop in the link for those who may have missed the previous instalments. The album is called Example 22.
Best album packaging
Readers may remember that I wrote about Starfire, the new Jaga Jazzist album, with great enthusiasm; its meld of rock, jazz and progressive styles was adventurous and refreshing (though quite demanding in places). I thought about seeking an interview, communicating with their record company and trying Facebook. Nothing. No matter, the album was terrific and it was fun devising the questions (thanks for your input, Joe!).
Did I say nothing happened? Wrong. Three months later, I discovered a message hidden away somewhere behind one of those FB buttons where the brother of the main man invited me to communicate directly. There had been no ignoring of my approach at all. On the contrary, the response could best be described as prompt. To my embarrassment, the time that had elapsed due entirely to my utter incompetence at social media proved a barrier to pursuing Mr Horntveth for an interview. To my even deeper embarrassment, nothing had changed by year’s end. Fortunately, nothing has changed in the vitality and complexity of the music either. Nor in the absolutely brilliant packaging. It’s called ‘anamorphic’ which means it does hypnotic things if you jiggle it about. Like the legendary Vertigo swirl label, this is not recommended for anyone affected by epilepsy, but for others it is mind bending. Like the music.
Maybe I’ll try for an interview for their next album.
Most disappointing album
I really liked the 2014 album by Kind Gizzard and the Lizard’s Wizard, I’m Your Mind Fuzz. I rocked out to its ramshackle psychedelia and cruised to its jammy space grooves. It was even included in the ‘favourite covers’ post a short while back.
So when I heard another LP was out, I handed over a wad of my hard-earned and took it home. Oh dear. A half-hearted collection of poorly developed and none too interesting musical ideas wrapped around some of the most sloppy and tedious lyrics I’ve ever wasted time reading. Try this for starters, from ‘Infinite Rise’.
Need a hug
Admittedly both those examples are from the same song, but there is little lyrical joy in other songs either. Here is a sample from ‘God is in the rhythm’ that would result, if it were a poetry recitation, in the reader’s own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilisation, leaping straight up through his neck and throttling his brain.*
Earth by the stars
We have all come from Mars
We all know it too
We belong to the soup
On reflection, the words on Mind Fuzz weren’t great either, but were distorted enough that you did not notice, and were hidden inside, not on the back cover. There is a hint there, lads.
Four songs, each exactly the same length (10 minutes and 10 seconds), might have been fun if there was creativity or wit brought to the process, but here it sounds like a gimmick unsupported by anything even remotely innovative or thoughtful. If the photo on the back cover is anything to go by, it took seven young men to produce this deeply under-whelming album. The cover is beautiful though.
* With thanks to Douglas Adams, who was writing about Vogon poetry at the time (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 7) but might well have been reading the back of this record sleeve.
Best free magazine CD
The so-called free CDs that come with many music magazines are a blessing and a curse. The good part is that you can sample a diverse range of mostly new music and subsequently pretend that you are hip and with-it and know where the good shit is at. Yeah right. The down side is that you end up with metres of shelf space devoted to discs you never play but can’t give away because they belong to the magazines (that fill up meters of bookshelf elsewhere).
Rarely does a magazine CD excite enthusiasm. But this one did. Uncut researched, curated and assembled a compilation of Grateful Dead tracks that not only provided a great listen, but genuinely added something to knowledge of and appreciation for the band. By mining the massive archive of ‘live’ recordings (Hands up who owns all forty-odd volumes of Dick’s Picks) plus some rare studio tracks, they managed to assemble a pretty fair facsimile of an album that might have been recorded/released in the fertile but under-studio-ed 1972 – 1973 period. Clever and wonderful. Full marks to Uncut and high-fives to Rhino for co-operating.
Most ridiculous purchase
There was a full and feisty field vying for this particular title and you can trust me that competition was tough. In the end, the winner came in at a canter. I’ll present the salient details and you can probably draw your own conclusion.
- Triple live album (Vinyl Connection’s obsession with these beasts is well documented)
- The 1972 original is unbelievably rare. (VC has never sighted one in the wild)
- It came with a satchel full of extras, including a build-it-yourself pyramid.
- Akarma, a re-issue company of extremely dodgy provenance (in terms of artist-sanctioned releases) re-released it a few years back.
- The re-issue was sighted in a Melbourne record shop last year. Missing the original plastic outer cover and having muck on several sides, it nevertheless had a three-figure price tag. I passed.
- Ordering records from Europe for shipping to Oz costs and arm and a leg. But if you are going to be visiting the UK and have a kind relative who allows you to use their postal address…
- Although it looks spectacular, it is not, in the end, especially good. Many of the tracks are either studio/home recorded or live recordings from elsewhere. The rest is merely interesting.
- In sum, a massive, costly, sprawling, musically mediocre curio. But when you visit, I’ll surely bust it out to show you.
For this forty-year krautrock veteran, the no contest winner had to be Harmonia – Complete Works. Krautrock motherlode that continues to delight.
Ambivalence Award, 2015
Having (and liking) several albums by Aussie band Pond led to the early purchase of Man It Feels Like Space Again in early 2015. Almost a year later I’m still somewhat ambivalent about the album, which is why I have not written about it. Love the cover, though, despite being entirely perplexed by the Cheap Thrills homage.
That’s still better than the other local release I sprang for in all its vinyl packaging glory later in the year. Go to JHubner’s blog for a positive review of Tame Impala’s Currents, because I didn’t like it much at all. Clever, certainly, but processed within an inch of its life. Or maybe over-polished is closer; edges of any kind removed, leaving little to grab on to. Perhaps Currents will become my ‘Most misjudged album of 2015’, but somehow I doubt it.
Most exciting non-vinyl purchase
One of the more unusual posts was penned at 30,000 feet en route to the UK in August. The album was one of the more unusual too, being an exploration of sound, space, guitar and experimentation by that most interesting of musicians, David Torn.
So it was a thrill to receive the 2015 ECM album as a gift from Ms Connection. Sounds even better on a terrestrial stereo than up in the sky.
Here’s to the music and stories to come…