Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oh, just one more thing I should say about my life-changing, world-saving exegesis about mellotrons and hard rock: You thought Zebra were late using the 'tron in 1983, huh? (Interjection: When talking about late and early in terms of the mellotron, the thing to remember is this - the mellotron moves cyclically through rock history, in periods of over- and under-exposure. The late-60's to early-70's were the heyday. By the late 70's it was overexposed - and eclipsed by polyphonic synthesizers. Most prog bands had stopped using it by the late 70's, Genesis in '77. Yes in '78, for example. The early 80's were a bad time for the 'tron - it was pretty much a producer's anathema, an antiquated, unhip sound. It was marginally used in neo-prog - IQ, Pallas and Twelfth Night used it occasionally, Marillion did not. But in the mainstream it was invisible save for a few oddities like a couple of OMD singles. It wasn't until the late 80's, with it's sixties revivalism, that the 'tron started cropping up again, like with Crowded House. The mid- to late 90's was of course the initiation of the second heyday of mellotrons, and now we are yet again entering a period of over-exposure and 'tron fatigue.) Well, I just remembered that Orion the Hunter released their only record in 1984, and it even has the mellotron listed on the cover, along with Oberheims and Prophets. Now, I'm a real bloodhound when it comes to tracking down 'trons in a mix, but I gotta tell you, they are buried DEEP in this one. But I do hear some occasionaly, like a bit of choir on the minor radio hit "So you ran" - which is also the best track on the album. Anyway, keyboards-wise it's a pretty interesting record, the layering of 'tron and the Prophet is a not too-often heard combination that works well. This was of course Barry Goudreau's stop-gap project while waiting for Tom Scholz to squeeze out another Boston album, and this is basically a slicker, slightly more orchestral version of Boston with some interesting Blue Öyster Cult references here and there. The Boston link is intensified by Fran Cosmo being the lead singer and Brad Delp singing backup. And the vocal arrangements are extraordinary. But on the whole, this album promises a bit more than it delivers. The line-up, the proggy cover and band name, the listing of esoteric keyboards - this signals something more adventorous than run of the mill AOR. But it really is little more than that. Competent, efficient but slightly faceless AOR. Anyway, now you know. After Orion, I really can't think of anymore 'tron-featuring hard rock albums worth mentioning...

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A pointless picture, some might say. I say this is a poignant portrayal of the everyday drama of my life: Driving home from Drammen in a blizzard after having rented "Karate Kid" and gotten Chinese takeaway. Posted by Picasa

Now, what to play next... some Dr. John or Rick Wakeman? Little boy Gabriel figures it out. Posted by Picasa
Jeez, what a weekend. I really needed to grab some downtime now - and this is how I do it - typing... oh well. Thinking about Benjamin Gibbard. Once in a while you come across people whose work is so consistently interesting that you just have to follow them. Archer Prewitt (The Sea and Cake, solo work, comic books...) would be one, for me - never did a thing that didn't interest me on some level. Benjamin Gibbard is another - whose work I stumbled across while tracking yet another fascinating but elusive character, Rachel Haden. Rachel is one of the Haden triplets - offspring of famed bassist Charlie Haden. Rachel has what is simply the sweetest, most beautiful voice on the planet, and for years I've been tracking down records she sings on - anything from John Denver tribute records to Jimmy Eat World. So, she sings on this DNTEL record, and the music just amazed me, so I start tracking this guy down, Benjamin, that is, through The Postal Service (the duo, not the psycho killer institution) to Death Cab for Cutie. And I can never get past how talented this guy is. To me, anyway, he has the most uncanny ear for melodies - mostly modal, relatively simple stuff, but so captivating, haunting and so RIGHT - for my particular taste. And even though the songs he writes are pretty much the same regardless of what project he's in, that's just part of the charm: Seeing how his songwriting technique works in different settings - rock, electronica.

All this because we listened to "Passenger Seat" today and agreed it's the kind of song Chris Martin would've sold Gwyneth Paltrow to be able to write...

Went to the first "kjendisparty" of my life this weekend. The "kjendiser" turned out to be nice people, to my amazement. Had a good time, stayed out till dawn. And tonight we watched "King Kong" and agreed that P. Jackson is amazing, Naomi Watts is amazing and Jack Black (who, incidentally married, or will marry, can't remember which, one of Rachel Haden's sister - not Petra but the other one, me and names) is also way cool. And a good time was had by all.


Friday, January 27, 2006

These are very, very busy days. I'll be back with a proper posting in the weekend. Yesterday: Finished mixing a demo for the new tune I wrote last week. Another one about driving cars. Is that the natural progression, the pull of gravity towards the black hole of rock topicality - from gnosticism and high literary references to cars, sex and the suburban sprawl... Another intellectual vampirized by rock'n'roll...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Today I'm tired, 'cause I had to get up at 8.30 – which to me is hell. But, hey, I'm still writing!
I have this stat counter thingy going, so I see that to my suprise I have quite a few visitors – and from all corners of the world. Don't be shy – if you drop by, drop me a line in the commentary section – feed my vanity, soothe my ego or let me know I plain suck.

But back to business. New England. This sort of post-pomp band from Boston released an abolute gem in 1979, entitled "New England". I can't really think of many 70's tunes that are more catchy and emotionally engaging than "Don't ever wanna lose ya". It just has one of those irresistible pop-progressions that Big Star would stumble across from time to time, and lush, dense, celestial harmonies that would make Journey blush with envy. It actually was a minor hit way back when, as was "Hello, hello, hello" which has shades of ELO in it. This album was produced by none other that Paul Stanley – I guess he took a liking to the kids. Anyway, "New England" is a truly unique mixture of power pop, cosmic prog, pomp rock and crypto-new wave. I think at this point the Boston scene was bustling with activity, and there was a lot of genre crossover with bands that used to play prog or stadium rock leaning more towards new wave or art pop, and New England are right at this intersection. I guess one comparable band would be City Boy, in their later period, but New England sound bigger and more complex. Now, to get to the point: Is this hard rock? Sorta kinda. Does it have mellotron? YES! Lots, sometimes nicely mixed with string synth. Generally, the keys are what keeps this somehow prog related, they move into cosmic Eloy territory at times.

The only problem with writing about New England, is that their real mellotron epic wasn't to be found until the next album, "Explorer Suite" from 1980. This Mike Stone (Asia, Journey) produced album was really quite inferior to the debut, but the title track is a true masterpiece of pocket sized prog. It's only six and a half minute, but it packs more excitement than all four sides of "Tales from Topographic Oceans", with massive mellotron choirs, fat moog lines, some shivery mellotron flute and some neat quasi-baroque progressions. Very un-80's, for sure. But the rest of the album is pretty mediocre, and shows that maybe the guys didn't really have it in them to follow up the massive promise of the debut. Nice cover, though...

I find it interesting that we've been going through the inevitable 80's revival, and even hair metal got its props with The Darkness. But the one music that was really huge in the early 80's, competing with new wave, was stadium rock. I guess The Darkness sort of want to be a bit of that as well, but they don't have the chops or the vocal power to do it. And now that revived reality has moved on to the early nineties, I guess we'll never see young bands on MTV impersontating Steve Perry or referencing Boston or New England. What a pity – it would have been the pinnacle of post-post modern anti-hipness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Today I'm just going to be sour and critical. Although actually I'm in a perfectly good mood - but then again, that's a good time to be sour - because it won't really get to you too bad.
I saw the winners of this year's Alarmprisen (The Alarm Awards, Norwegian rock "Grammys"), and as always it makes me totally annoyed. See, the thing about Norway is that there is a seriously bizzare amount of good music here - and we're just 4 million people. I don't think many nations have more good music per capita. But you would never know from listening to the radio, reading the music mags or watching these ridiculous award shows. The good stuff is hidden, ignored, forgotten or plain shunned by the mainstream - same old story.
Like, Wobbler (whom the jury probably hadn't even heard of, talk about research) should've been awarded album of the year - even if I hadn't had anything to do with it. Rock is about excitement, strangeness, adrenaline, rebellion - well, Wobbler has more of that in one minute of music than most Norwegian "rock" bands could hope to achieve in a lifetime. That being said, I was almost a little disappointed that this year's Alarm wasn't quite as devastatingly annoying as it usually is - I rather like getting worked up about it. Like, I guess the godawful, puke-inducing Kaizer's Orchestra didn't release any albums this year - they usually take home 5 awards a show toting their stupid gas masks (like that industrial look wasn't already embarrasingly old in the late 80's).

Also, the hardcore fad of the last few years seems to have subsided - good for music, sad for my primal scream self-therapy. Anyway, here's the list of winners:

Årets Alarmpris: Sofian

Ridiculous. This dude has an OK voice, but it's the kind of thing that Norwegians don't get. Just because we have never had a remotely competent soul singer in Norway doesn't mean we have to throw ourselves at the first dude who can carry a tune and has "The Hardline" in his record collection. Grow up. He's mediocre - and the world is full of really great soul singers. Won't make it outside of Scandinavia.

Rock: Madrugada - The Deep End

Oh, how I hate this band. My wife hates them too. We're a two-man hate squad against the evil Madrugada. Norwegians love wannabe Nick Caves and wannabe Lou Reeds and wannabe Tom Waits - anything with a guttural, off key voice is ace with vikings. Well, they don't fool us. They are regurgutating every cliche in the most boring, rock-snob-politically-correct chapter of "The Rules of Rock", and they are SO pretentious and serious. Not a sliver of originality, just boring copy-cat rock.

Pop: Ane Brun - A Temporary Dive

Now, Ane, she's my girl. She's good. She can sing, she can write tunes with strange chord changes, she's an acoustic guitar hero. She's all about the music. The problem here is that Norwegians ignored her when she came on the scene - too advanced and subtle for our primal sensitivities, so no awards, no record sales, she fled to Sweden, musically advanced neighbours who recognized her talents, bought her records, at which time Norway woke up and went, well, if the Swedes think she's good, then I guess maybe she's good, even though I don't understand what she sings or why she plays that weird music but we better give her an award so she'll come back and pay her taxes here.

Metal: El Caco - The Search

Blaaah. Stoner rock is SO dead. Stoner rock was dead by the mid-90's - and that was the REVIVAL. So c'mon. And there is not a single stoner rock band that matches neither the California scene or the UK scene by even a fraction. What's the point? At least Cadillac has some groovin' tunes, but El Caco? Nope.

Hip Hop / Rap: Paperboys - When Worlds Collide

Norwegian hip hop is just a fallacy. A joke. Especially when they do it in English. Vinnie is funny, he's good at doing drugs. But his music does not belong in an awards show. And he's been around collecting them awards for too long.

Nykommer: Mira Craig

Mira actually deserved her award. More than people even understand, I think. Is she the new r'n'b-queen of Norway - a semi-hip-hop femme fatale. No, she's an auteur. She writes, records, produces and sings - in a style completely her own. I would venture to say that Mira is Norway's Kate Bush, and that we've only seen the small beginnings of where she's gonna go. Far, is where she's gonna go.

Klubb: Röyksopp - The Understanding

No argument, great band, great record. You can't fault Röyksopp, they're our most serious musical export. But don't but them in the club bin, please. Since when were they club? "Eple" is a long time ago. They're rock.

Jazz: Shining - In the Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster

Yes, good record. Not a milestone of modern music, but relatively engaging in the short term. Is it jazz, is it experimental rock? A semi-brave choice

Frimusikk/Electronica: Cloroform - Cracked Wide Open

Cloroform are always good, but since I haven't heard this record, I can't comment on it. Kaada knows his stuff.

Låt: Madrugada - The Kids Are On High Street

No, no, no!!! Turn that song off! Ban it from the radio! No more of that pretentious croon, OK? Thanks.

Monday, January 23, 2006

So... hard rock with mellotron, eh? Well, I guess I have to make good on my promise... There are a few good records to mention, but I think I'll start with one of the odder ones. Zebra was one of those bands that just had the ill fortune to be a few years too late in releasing an album. Of all the melodic hard rock bands emerging out of the late 70's in the US, Zebra was definitely one of the very best - and their style was pretty unique, in its own, derivative way. They were from New Orleans - or, I guess their roots went back to Long Island, which is a bit more fitting for their style - and their debut, "Zebra", was released in 1983. Now, forget the year, and just look at the music. Gorgeous, energetic, virtuoso hard rock merging Zep swagger with pomp and a certain pop sensibility. They were a trio - echoes of Rush, but the singer, Randy Jackson, doubled on guitar and keys rather than bass and keys. Randy Jackson was the key to Zebra. His voice is like Robert Plant on amphetamine, and he's a mean guitarist - razor sharp and primal. But then there's the keys - and this is where you start thinking about the year. Analogue synths - sound like moogs or ARP's. Definitely a lot of Taurus. And tons of... mellotron! In 1983? On a hard rock album? Well, there you go - an odd one. So their sound was sort of a throwback to an almost pre-AOR melodic hard rock sound - just in the time when AOR itself was getting old-fashioned and would - a few years down the line - be replaced by hair metal and a horde of Zep clones like Kingdom Come. Zebra were the sultans of bad timing. But they were SO good. The hit, "Who's Behind the Door", is the grand symhponic epic The Zeps themselves were unable to make in their later years. Gorgeous, acoustic fingerpicking, lovely melody, and a slow build to a completely over the top climax with mellotron choirs and thundering bass pedals. Way cool. "Tell Me What You Want" was red hot pop-metal before anyone knew there was such a thing as pop-metal, and "When You Get There" was insanely catchy AND had that Bonham groove. Then there was the strange anti-love song "Take Your Fingers from My Hair", which starts as a melancholy folk-rock ballad and then mutates into hi-octane hard rock. And throughout the album, washes of mellotron, sinuous moog lines and lots of synth bass. There are some band's that SO deserved to be successful in this area of music. Zebra tops my list. New England was definitely another one. I think I'll tell you about them next.

And what happened to Randy Jackson? "American Idol", anyone?


Saturday, January 21, 2006

There are times when you just don't have time to think about the finer details of rock snob analysis. Today I a) shoveled tons of snow b) played with my son in the very same snow I had shoveled earlier c) worked for hours on finishing a new song d) visited my mums with wife and child and e) watched "Lords of Dogtown" which I adored - I knew I would - who can resist 70's teens skateboarding in abandoned swimmingpools?
I did think about writing about good hard rock albums with mellotron. Probably tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ah, the 80's live on - and again I relate to a comment from Simon Reynolds - he tells me he thinks Prefab Sprout constitutes a development of Scritti Politti's deconstruction of 70's jazz-pop - or something to that effect, I don't have what he wrote handy now. Well, this is at the heart of one of my many musical obsessions - 80's UK artpop. See, it goes something like this: Scritti Politti were a bunch of marxist rock experimentalists on the 80's post-punk scene. But I guess partly because of singer Green's interest in black music, the band's sound suddenly shifted from avant-pop to highly polished, glossy and sophisticated pop - their jazz-pop was so smooth and impeccable that I bet Level 42 would have killed to be in their shoes. But it's funny to think they used to be unkempt, communal agitators. The story goes that Green and his court used to give parties in their apartment where they would play a lot of Canterbury stuff - favorites apparently included Robert Wyatt and Hatfield and the North - and that goes a long way to explaining their musical shift. The Hatfields also came out of a politically conscious, musically experimental community (70's Canterbury) but eventually opted for a (slightly) more accessible, melodic sound, mixing jazzy pop with melodic prog and eschewing Wyattesque political musings for absurdist, humorous lyrics that somehow downplayed the idea of Canterbury music as topical - The Hatfields were more music for music's sake. So that's the background. Then came Paddy McAloon and Prefab Sprout. I don't really know about any factual links between prog and Prefab, but there is no doubt that their debut, "Swoon", sounds a lot like an 80's continuation of the Canterbury sound - complex, shifting music with quirky, jazzy melodies and surreal lyrics. That song about Bobby Fischer just gets me everytime I hear it. They left the complex style of "Swoon" behind after a while and focused on shorter, more concise material, but pretty much everything they've ever done is amazing. "Steve McQueen" was the first Prefab I ever heard, a collaboration with producer Thomas Dolby where the textural explorations of the latter mix beautifully with the incredible songcraft of the former. The most stunning thing about Prefab is how they just keep being good. Their latest, "The Gunman and other Stories" is just as good as anything they've done - a concept album about love (like most of their albums, actually) using metaphors of the old West - and presented in a cinematic soundscape that meshes up their traditional jazz-pop with a Floydish, orchestral streak.

Apart from that, I got a call from our label prez, my boss - and it looks like we've got to get things moving quickly as he wants our new album out by June - we gotta learn them newie tunes - and quickly!

Signing off and saying: Later.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Well, it's gonna be a girl! Anyone who knows me knows that makes me happy :-) And anyone who doesn't, doesn't care anyway. It's a 50-50 chance anyway, right? So, a little sister for Gabriel. Lucky boy.

So we were talking a bit about that transition between the 70's and the 80's, and the links between new romantics and prog and such... Now how about post-punk? Again, referring to mr. Reynolds, who has written extensively on post-punk. One of the things post-punk seems to share with prog is an interest in downplaying the blues roots of rock. Prog tried to "liberate" rock from blues and "elevate" it to Western art music - a very unworthy and misguided goal, if you ask me. But post-punk tried the same thing - getting rid of the macho, guitar heroics oriented remnants of blues rock and turning rock into something altogether more clean-cut, gender neutral and future-friendly - and also breaking with any middle-class notions of what rock is. The funny thing is, post-punk was quite successful at shedding the blues, whereas prog was not - the whole Cream/Clapton blues guitar hero as god syndrome survived in prog - as witnessed by endless Steve Howe solos and Keith Emerson's overbearing showmanship. So there's one for post-punk. Post-punk mostly had no solos at all - something that has carried forward to the "new prog" of post-rock.
And then there's that strange crossover between the infamous 80's neoprog and post-punk. Just the names imply a similar goal: Neoprog - an updated prog, bringing art rock up to date with new wave, punk, NWoBHM - neo - not the old bores but the new crew. And post-punk: Not punk, but beyond punk, putting the anti-prog revolution behind us and picking up the best of both worlds. Anyway, cases in point: Twelfth Night - angular, political prog of minimalist textures and a front-figure who was a socialist Anglican vicar with a Peter Hammil fetish. I can see Johnny Rotten almost approving of that - and I can see many post-punkers wanting to BE that. And then IQ, who in their early days had a hair-raisingly gender-bending image, somewhere between post-punk and new romantics, and played prog with a decidedly punkish attitude - but mind you, only in their early days. They soon became just another prog survivor.

Marillion and Pallas were more firmly in a safe prog mould, with the interesting twist being Pallas' NWoBHM influences, especially pre-"The Sentinel". OK, I'll stop being so obscure. Like, tomorrow.

Mr. Reynolds commented in an e-mail:

--i guess david sylvian's solo work is kinda the bridge between 80s new romantic and the more nick drake/scott walker/prog-folk-jazz-acoustic vibe--

Indeed. And without David Sylvian today's progressive scene would look very different. Two musicians whose immense influence on modern art rock I think they themselves are unaware of: David Sylvian and Mark Hollis.

Until we meet again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

This is in response to a question from Simon Reynolds - and also for my own nostalgic pleasure.
Yes, there has been somewhat of a scene for progsters in Scandinavia since the early 90's. Each band followed its own trajectory. Mine started in the psychedelic folk end of the spectrum, with Nick Drake, Fairport, Joni Mitchell and The Incredible String Band as some references, early prog like K. Crimson's first, obscure stuff like Spring - and also, somewhat less obviously, the whole World Serpent axis of apocalyptic folk - Death in June and Current 93 especially. I was amazed to discover this particular world, since the fusion of folk and gnosticism was exactly what I was trying to achieve in my own way.

I had been into prog and folk-rock since my early teens. Prior to the prog conversion it was mostly new romantic/new pop that was current among my people - particularly Ultravox, Japan and also The Smiths and The Cure. So the transition to the whole pastoral/mystical world of folk/prog - mellotrons, 12-string guitars and Blake-references - was pretty smooth from the swooning romanticism of the 80's bands I listened to.

One strange thing that happened while we were preparing our first album (it was released in 1995, but the first recordings were done in 1993) was that I was exposed to the new wave of melodic death metal from the UK (My Dying Bride and Anathema in particular), in addition to having a long-standing fixation with Norwegian black metal - so those influences melted into the crucible of weirdness that became my band - White Willow. The whole prog-folk-metal-world serpent fusion reached its fullest form in Opeth, I guess, whereas White Willow developed into a more pure modern symphonic rock band - interests veered away from the folk side and more towards post rock and orchestral pop. Other bands that expressed the Scandinavian 90's prog fixation were Sweden's Änglagård and Landberk - both more puristic 70's retroists than White Willow or Opeth.

Simon talks about the gradual twist in pop-romanticism from blue-eyed nature loving optimism in the 70's to a somewhat embittered disillisionment - possibly a death-oriented romanticism in the current era. Yes, I can subscribe to that view. And when the optimism does rear its head, it's usually with the ever so slight ironic twist of the current crop of neo-psychedelic, neo-hippie acts. Jon Anderson it is not.

But hey, you have your own progressive revival in England - going on quite a few years now. Elbow, Muse, and in the margins of the mainstream, Porcupine Tree - with links back to Japan.

OK, time's up for now. Me and my wife are off to an ultrasound to figure out what's brewing inside of her - is it a boy or a girl? To be revealed shortly!

Monday, January 16, 2006

jay Posted by Picasa
So I used to blog. Then my life just got too busy to meta-analyze every day. Did it get too interesting to write about? Or did too much insignificant noise take up my time and energy so that in effect it got too boring to write about. Anyway. I used to blog. Then I stopped. But now I'm on the rebound. I'll write about music, mostly, since that is my life. Maybe I'll write about stuff that is my life that isn't music as well.

I've been reading a lot of Simon Reynold's stuff lately. Even though his interests gravitate towards post-punk as well as dance musics - and mine towards prog, folk-rock and west coast stuff - among other things - I find his observations so acute and liberating. For instance, he talks about the latecomer-syndrome in music criticism. This is something that concerns me too: How journalists are too lazy to be there when it happens, and instead catch up with phenomena (read artists) after the wider public has discovered them - and inevitably after the artist has burnt most of his/her significant creative juices and fresh ideas. Within a mainstram frame of reference, Reynolds mentions the hype piled upon Destiny's Child's "Survivor", which to anyone who had given "Writing's on the wall" even a cursory listen, was a pale shadow and rehash of its predecessor. I mean, how hard can it be for someone who gets paid to research and critique pop music to distinguish the relative freshness of "Writing" from the mediocrity of "Survivor". We're not talking about digging up innovative avant-rock from the recesses of the art-school underground - we're talking about paying attention to Top 40 radio...

It happens over and over again. Music journalists are becoming increasingly history-less and lazy - at least where I live. The only acts who get any attention are like 3rd and 4th generation copies of something vaguely interesting that happened years and years ago. Everything happens faster and faster in music, but the journos just seem to be getting slower and slower.

I've been listening to M83's latest lately. No, it's not innovative. In fact, it's sort of latecomer music in its own right - recycling the ethereal-melodies-struggling-against-tsunamis-of-guitar-noise philosophy of MBV's "Loveless" with the retro-synth ethos of Air and the Paris electronica meets stadium rock aestheticism of Daft Punk's "Discovery" - it's all old news, but it is done so convincingly, with such sonic prefection and obvious glee in the manipulation of emotional triggers that one can only sit back and enjoy and admire. It's almost cynically deft in its cinematic, widescreen neoromanticism - like a less naive Sigur Ros. I'd call it sublime muzak. It never comes to the foreground, never asserts itself too forcefully with anything too adventurous or jarring. But in it's paradoxically restrained pomp, it elevates any situation and environment to something slightly transcendent - try going about your life with "Before the Dawn Heals Us" on headphones and see if you agree.

I've got to pick up medicines for a son with a resistant cold.

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