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Recent Releases Round-up: Date Palms, Mood Rings, Ensemble Pearl, Jerusalem In My Heart, Rip Rig and Panic, Hawkwind

July 16, 2013

2013MINIBANNER
More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.
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Mood Rings: VPI Harmony

What I have little doubt will prove to be the best shoegaze/dream-pop record of the year, has doubtlessly the worst title of any album of the year. But by any other name, the rose would smell as sweet and all that. Like a good sized handful of nü-gaze bands, Mood Rings use Slowdive‘s smooth and fuzzy as velour formula  for a template. Unlike many of those bands, they write songs nearly as good as Slowdive. On repeat.

4.75 Lucid dream states out of 5 Sweet harmonies

Date Palms: The Dusted Sessions

After you hear a number of ambient/psych/drone/improv records over several years (or decades) you start to think there’s just nothing left to be done with the format. Then you hear a record that might not spin the genre on it’s head, but reminds you that people with talent can always find somewhere new to take it. This latest Date Palms offering is just such a release. Swirling, ethno-psych soundscapes that bridge neo-classical, spaghetti westerns and astral travelling in some kind of dessert ritual surrounding the annual solar eclipse (during which it was recorded in 2012!).

4.5 Post-psychedelics out of 5 Pre-historic shamans

Ensemble Pearl: s/t

This is the Sunn o))) side-project you’re looking for. Throughout his many projects and collaborations, Stephen O’Malley has never shied away from his devotion to Dylan Carson and his seminal doom-drone project, Earth. Sunn o)))’s early sessions emulated and improved upon the heavy simplicity of  Earth’s early records and then their later, more textured material mirrored Earth’s own journey away from playing one long, low, fuzzed-out note. But where I felt there’s always been something a little stilted and slightly half-assed about Carson’s records, O’Malley’s are meticulous and liquid.

Undeniably, Carson remains the genius who invented a whole sub-genre based on sub-basement deep sub-tones, and there’d be no Sunn o))) without Earth, but O’Malley is the one who perfected the formula. And now that Carson seems content to tread the same water post-rock bands like Labradford and Godspeed, O’Malley is the one continuing to move the genre forward.

Not to say Ensemble Pearl is the first outfit to produce and ecstatic blend of minimal improvisations over deeply harmonic drones, but for something that should sound so played out, this record sounds surprisingly magical and fresh. Undoubtedly credit can be given to the interpreters of O’Malley’s material: Atsuo (of Boris), Michio Kurihara (of Ghost) and William Herzog who add psych, dub, avant-chamber music and space-rock textures to all the right surfaces. It might seem contradictory to say rehashing some obvious Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream influences with subtle avant garde and Neubauten-esque textures is somehow more relevant than Carson doing the same with ’90s post-rock sounds, but the approach definitely works far better than Earth’s last few offerings.

Perhaps it’s also disingenuous and pointless to make the comparison. You get the sense O’Malley is finally going his own way with this record and I’d be pleased if he kept making Ensemble Pearl albums even at the expense of new Sunn o))) material.

4 Post-drones out of 5 Post-rocks

Jerusalem In My Heart:  Mo7it Al-Mo7it

Like Dead Can Dance in the prime of their Arabic phase without sounding like something you’d hear in a new age bath shop. All the droning spiritual ecstasy, now with 100% more grit. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh‘s acoustic buzuk and zurna improvisations also rival anything you’d hear coming out of Sir Richard Bishop‘s guitar or Jozef Van Wissem‘s lute. Alternative world fusion that’s more than just “stuff white people like.”

4.25 East of Eden dronescapes out of 5 Minaret heaters

Rip, Rig & Panic: God/I am Cold/Attitude (2013 remastered expanded editions)

If you only knew Neneh Cherry from “Buffalo Stance” you might have been surprised by her collaboration with avant jazz combo The Thing last year. But if you were familiar with ’80s her bizarro post-punk/jazz/funk band Rip, Rig & Panic (with Gareth Sanger and Bruce Smith of Pop Group), you’d have simply welcomed it as a return to form.

Around 1981 there were plenty of acts blending African funk grooves with a punk attitude, but none did it with quite the same visceral abandon and seeming contempt commercial success as RR+P. For every song that seems like it had pop potential (“You’re My Kind Of Climate“) there’s at least one proper avant garde free-jazz freak-out to baffle the average pop music fan. And their commercial material is hardly that commercial. Though you could place it in the same general new wave, pop-funk/R&B family as bands like Haircut 100 or Culture Club, they’re the dastardly evil twin. Even Gang of Four, with their punky approach to funk rhythms, seem like tame, radio-friendly teenyboppers compared to RR+P’s woozy, punchy weirdness. Imagine Section 25 turned up to 11 or the first couple Public Image Ltd. records played by serious jazzbos and fronted by Alice Coltrane if she’d been an amphetamine fueled punk rocker.

Though some of the edges had been sanded off by their third long-player, Attitude (the most “jazz” and the least “post-punk”), all three albums are some of the most artistically successful jazz/rock fusions ever pressed—simply because the “rock” element isn’t a bid for commercial viability but exactly the opposite (and vice versa). At very least, I can’t recommend the debut God enough as it’s as bewildering and fresh sounding as any unit currently working in similar avant-pop modes.

As far as these much-needed reissues go, the remasters sound great and contain quality bonus tracks (b-sides, 12″ mixes, etc) in copious amounts.

5 Jazz-punk fusions out of 5 Avant garde pop implosions

Hawkwind: Warrior On The Edge Of Time (3 Disc)

The best thing to do with a sprawling, pretentious prog-rock concept album is make it bigger and more sprawling. Provide multiple mixes and masters to sort through like Charles Dexter Ward studying every line in a library of arcane tomes seeking the secrets to the universe.

Warrior On The Edge Of Time is, in some ways, the reason people hate prog-rock and, on others, the reason prog-rock fans are so devoted to the genre. It’s certainly the reason I only got into Hawkwind in the last couple of years. The title alone tells you what you’re in for. Long space jams and with analog synth faery flutes and ridiculous, pretentious spoken word segments à la the intro to Spinal Tap‘s “Stone Henge“. It’s their last good record and the shark jumping-off point in their discography. Travel no further than this album and switch over to Lemmy‘s subsequent Motorhead records.

Speaking of Lemmy, Hawkwind’s saving grace is they couldn’t really play very well. Not like ELP, Jethro Tull or Yes could play. Progressive rock bands are generally criticized for being so focused on the ornate pseudo-classic passages which made them “progressive” that they forgot the “rock” part. So while Hawkwind does meander and noodle and get spacey and medieval, they always rocked. At least until they fired Lemmy, just after this album.

I can’t deny there are some laughably silly aspects to Warriors (mainly the spoken word bits), but they’re not as cringe-inducing as I remembered. You don’t get the impression Hawkwind, like their contemporaries, had their head up their asses so much as were just having a lark. These elements also seem charmingly “of their time” and somehow forgivable. Or maybe I’m simply losing my mind. It helps that when space wizards aren’t orating about eternity, the rest of the album is top quality acid rock.

Especially the bonus tracks on Disc 2. “Dawn“, “Circles“, “I Am the Eye” and the 12 minute “Watchfield Festival Jam” are for me what makes this reissue a worth while purchase. The fidelity certainly isn’t in the same league as Steven Wilson‘s very fine “new stereo mixes” of the main album, but they highlight Hawkwind’s punk-rock intensity and acid-head experimentation. Most of the Disc 1 bonus tracks fall into the “historically interesting alternative takes and demos” category rather than being true value added material. The booklet, though, doesn’t do a great job detailing the history of these bonus these tracks so you do have to play Charles Dexter Ward and sift through the rambling to put them in context. Lemmy’s “Motorhead” b-side is the exception, of course. Though it’s been included on previous CD editions of the album for years, it’s a highlight (and really makes me wish Motorhead records had more sax on them). The DVD contains a 5.1 mix I’ll probably never be able to enjoy as well as a flat transfer of the original master tapes. So that you can do you own remaster? I don’t get why people’d want these other than to do spectrographic analysis of the different mixes and write really nerd blog posts about them.

Which is fitting for a band like Hawkwind—the quintessential outsider music nerds making outsider music for outsider music nerds.

4.75 Remastered quests beyond the bounds of eternity out of 5 Seminal space rock classics

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3 comments

  1. Good grief, Hawkwind. Saw them at the 1987 SF Worldcon in Brighton, UK, because they couldn’t very well not get Hawkwind to play. I never had heard of them before that. They were one of my favourite bands for a good while after that. It took me a long time to concede that post-Lemmy they were like something that just wouldn’t die and it didn’t matter how good they were or not. But there is worse, so they can go on until Dave Brock finally realizes he died of an overdose long ago.
    In 1987 a con visitor from New York wasn’t impressed because “there are tons of bands in New York doing this better”. He was also of the opinion that the SF Worldcon should not be held outside the US. His girlfriend always smiled, trying to smooth over his snarkiness by some harmless remark. He made me realize that not all SF fans are leftist borderline communist techno hippies.


    • To be fair to that guy, by 1987 there probably really were tons of bands in New York doing it better. A couple years ago, when I first tried to get into Hawkwind on a friend’s suggestion, I unfortunately started with a live DVD from a late ’90s or early 2000’s concert. The audience seemed to like them but it only reinforced for me just how cheesy and cringe worthy a band they were. It was truly terrible with not one second of redeeming quality. Lemmy-years Hawkwind does live up to the hype though.


      • I went through the whole Hawkwind thing for a bit and I tend to agree now. With Lemmy they had something going. Him having to leave the band was probably a quicker version of what was bound to happen sooner rather than later, I think.



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