Log #114 — Lowlight, Highlight, Midlight, and Sunlight Over The Atlantic
Highlight this week is Klaus Schulze’s Audentity double album. But cover topping is provided by the Sunlight of Tangerine Dream’s Ricochet ‘cos it’s just gorgeous (it’s a shot from a beach on the west coast of France). Lowlight is the Arcade Fire album which was disappointing to be polite. Midlight we have two very interesting Radiohead albums.
Arcade Fire — Everything Now
Radiohead — Kid A
Radiohead — Amnesiac
Tangerine Dream — Ricochet
Klaus Schulze — Audentity CD1
Klaus Schulze — Audentity CD2
In the words of Phil Mogg of excellent UK rock outfit UFO: “Oh My”, this was a surprise, but not in a good way. The pappy pop of Arcade Fire’s Everything Now reminds me of… ugh Vampire Weekend and Noah’s whatever… Or Mercury Rev (and even a bit of Prince* which is fine btw but not what I was expecting)… or any number of similar anaemic watered down independent US guitar pop bands. [Ed: they are Canadian].
*The Prince like stuff surfaces on the funk/disco of Good God Damn. We Don’t Deserve Love has some interesting whirly synths but generally there’s far too much keyboards and fey singing for me.
Now, why was I “not expecting”? Well, it’s because I’ve heard the band much revered, at least in the past — probably around the time of The Suburbs (2010) — but was that album any different? I probably won’t bother to find out anytime soon after hearing this insipid effort.
Talking of “not bothering to find out” something similar happened to me when I heard OK Computer. I got it when it came out in 1997. Unfortunately I didn’t join in the universal praise for the album and that was a real shame in retrospect as it put me off following up with any Radiohead for many years consequently missing out on some albums that appear to be better.
Having now heard the two follow up albums listed here (from 2000 and 2001 respectively) I am left with a renewed admiration for a band never afraid to push the boundaries.
I don’t really think Kid A deliberately tossed aside the OK Computer blueprint. It’s just an intelligent band naturally developing something new 3 years later. So we have interesting electronics, distortions, motorik rhythms, and lots of chilled electronica, both of the dancey beats kind and most surprisingly of the ambient Enoesque kind too — Treefingers is straight off Eno’s Apollo album!
There are even glitches and scratches. I’m hearing the gestation of Efterklang in this sound (Efterklang formed in 2000). In fact if I’d heard the title track from Kid A out of context I would have guessed it came from Efterklang’s Tripper/Springer sessions.
Amnesiac followed suit — the albums could have made a double they are so similar in atmosphere. I guess it won’t be long before I make a visit to other critically acclaimed Radiohead albums like the ones that followed this pair — Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows.
Hats off to the boys.
One criticism I can’t quite round out though is Thom Yorke’s singing. I don’t think it quite works somehow, especially on the less than straight forward non-rock stuff. This probably represents a huge sacrilege to the band’s legions of fans but I have to say I prefer the instrumental passages (or at least the vocals when heavily distorted, as they are for the most part on Kid A). The backing music is never less than interesting and it’s obvious the drummer, bassist and the Greenwood fellow on guitar are consummate musicians (I’m not surprised Jonny G has composed film soundtracks).
Continuing my interest in ambient/electronic/sequencer/berlin/motorik/komische/ whatever you’d like to call it, I supplemented my collection with a couple of TD **/Schulze purchases. I had Ricochet many years ago on cassette. I’ve never heard Audentity before.
** I was admonished for using the abbreviation “Tan Dream” on a facebook fanboy group a few months’ back. Apparently TD is acceptable but don’t mention Klaus Schulze.
Ricochet followed on from Rubycon (which I have not heard yet in it’s complete form although I have one half on a compilation) and the celebrated Phaedra album and, as with the Radiohead examples above, it’s quite a change of direction. Phaedra was on the ambient side — Ricochet heralds in a new rockier sound with heavier rhythms TD would develop on albums like Force Majeure. Recorded live (although that does not mean much in the context of this sort of music albeit there is some crowd noise in between “songs”) the album consists of two “side” long tracks.
There are a lot of Schulze albums out there. Over 50 apparently! I’ve only heard two or three of his albums so turned to social media to canvas some opinion on where to start. There was little consensus aside from one or two of his ‘70s albums like Timewind which I will visit at some point in the future.
Audentity had mixed reviews from the social media crowd but I’m pleased I picked it up. It seems to me to contain some of his best, most consistent, and interesting work. There are real strings (of the sawing cello type rather than the lush chordal synth type) and lots of avant garde effects and twists and turns. But the most pleasing tracks are the extended modular/sequencer synth workouts where the backing track locks into a tremendous groove and Schulze does his random stuff over the top.
This is evident in the 25 minute album opener Cellistica but the highlight is the second half of CD2. Some issues refer to a 58 minute bonus track entitled Gem. On my copy we have a 12 minute Gem but the real meat of the bonus is within the 4 following tracks starting with Tiptoe On The Misty Mountain Tops that merge imperceptibly into one 47 minute masterpiece. I’ve had this playing through headphones on loud repeat (ipod battery allowing) and it’s a tremendous experience! If you purchase your own copy of the album make sure it contains these bonus tracks.