Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This takes a while to download, but I just had to post this, since I am one of the planet's biggest Eddie Jobson fans, and this video is... well, out of this world...

It's sort of important to know a little about this video. Eddie Jobson (UK, David Bowie, Roxy Music and briefly Jethro Tull and Yes) was the great overlooked keyboard genius of prog - for my money he is better than Emerson and Wakeman combined. After the demise of UK, he started a solo project called Zinc, and I think he envisioned a trilogy of semi-conceptual albums. As things were, his progged up synth-pop was way to left-field for most people, so only one album got made, "The Green Album". It was released in 1983, which I guess means that this promo video was made the same year... check out those computer animations. Like the UK albums, "The Green Album" showcased Jobson's mastery of the Yamaha CS80, which was the only synth apart from some mini-moog that was used on Zinc's sole album. The CS80 is of course the phattest polysynth ever to have existed. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter vacation. I didn't think I had one, but then the magazine I thought I was working for in Easter tells me no-one's gonna be at the office until Monday. So there I am - with Easter off. I dunno when I last had a vacation. And with nothing else to do either. So I've gone for walks, sat in the sun, listened to neglected records, eaten too much food and enjoyed the company of my family.
I've also made a cover of "Like a rolling stone" that I'm pretty sure Dylan would hate if he ever heard it. It's sort of a mash-up of Dylan's tune and "More than a feeling". Very catchy and very tasteless. Those are the kinds of useless and entertaining exercises one gets into when one has too much time on one's hands...
I downloaded some BBC live album with Renaissance. Ever since we started with White Willow people have compared us to Renaissance, and eventually I had to get one of their albums and check it out - the first one I got was "Ashes are burning", I think. It's been sort of an ongoing process, I keep buying Renaissance albums trying to like them and to understand why we supposedly sound like them. So this is what I've learnt from years of trying to undestand this band. OK, Annie Haslam has a great voice, no doubt. It's beautiful. But it's also baffling. She sings in a complete 60's style, very vocally conservative, very straight, very pretentious and filled with what I consider to be artificial pathos. I don't really understand how they could get so popular in the 70's with what must then have seemed like a very unhip vocal style. Then there's the music. It's pretty, it has a slight classical and folk influence and I suppose it's meant to infuse some vague sense of nostalgia and melancholy in the listener. Those are the superficial similarities with my own band, apart from the chick singer thing. But it is SO bland. Considering that these were well-trained musicians with a respectable amount of theoretical understanding, I find their music to be almost shockingly un-exciting, harmonically and melodically. There's NO harmonic tension, and even when they at very rare occasions stray from tried and true sunshiny major-chord progressions, they never manage to sound anything but slightly overcast... So I don't really get it, the band or the comparisons. Except maybe our first album, but I say that grudgingly. We are basically a minor-key band, even when we're not ACTUALLY playing in minor keys. Renaissance is the excact opposite.
That being said, I have to admit to quite liking some of their music. Bland music is no stranger to my ears - as I've mentioned before here, there are times when nothing beats a vacuous pop song. "Turn of the Cards" has some really nice moments, and I really like some of their later, synthier pop stuff. "Ashes are burning" and "Schehezerade" or whatever are supposed to be their masterpieces, but they don't do much for me. But at their best they do manage to invoke some of that wintry, British pastorality that, say, Anthony Phillips is so good at. And the keyboard playing is always impressive, although I preferred John Hawken with the Strawbs.
One thng I will never understand, though, is why Renaissance is considered prog. They're classic symphonic pop, not as good as Supertramp but possibly better than early ELO. Curved Air in their Francis Monkman days, that was chick-fronted prog, but only briefly. Dagmar Krause with Henry Cow, now THAT was prog all the way.
Anyway, I never understood why we are considered prog, either. Oh, and the BBC download? Pretty cool if you're into that Joan Baez with string synths thing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'm kinda on a little vacation from blogs and music and all that. It's really nice, but it won't last, I can already feel the itch to write some new tunes - and some new blog entries...

In the past few days I've been relaxing with Cheap Trick, 80's ELO - and, unbelievably, Elvira Nikolaisen. She's very hot in Norway, and my instinct is always to step away from that heat... if anything gets talked about, you can count on me to say, don't talk about it, 'cause it's nothing special. So I've been resisting Elvira ever since I first started hearing about her. Then one day I heard this song on the radio, liked it, then realized it was hers and went "bugger!". But there you have it - she has an incredibly beautiful and soothing voice - I love the timbre and texture of it - she writes nice tunes, and the arrangements on her album are extremely tasteful and mature, like you can't believe it's a debut album. She's from a musical family - I believe she has siblings in the rather charming X-ian glampunkers Silver and the very competent but somewhat overhyped Serena Maneesh or however you spell it. Elvira is singer-songwriter stuff, squarely. It's all very traditional and safe, but just so impeccably and lovingly done that you can't help but like it. I see it like this: In the 70's, the undisputable golden age of singer-songwritingism, the field splintered into two separate, easily distinguishable directions. You had Joni Mitchell on the one hand, harmonically and melodically adventurous, genre-mashing, lyrically trailblazing etc type stuff. My kind of stuff - the legacy continued through anyone from Rickie Lee Jones to Tori Amos. The whacky ones. Then you had Carole King. Now, don't get me wrong. She was great too. She had an incredible voice, she sang some of the greatest songs ever, and she put her definite stamp on the genre for millennia to come. But she worked within a traditional framework. She kept to the harmonic and melodic structures of traditional singer-songwriting, she stayed true to the time-honored lyrical themes. What Carole King did new, was simply that she outdid everyone else - she just did everything a million times better than they had ever been done before. So, THAT is where Elvira's at. She from the Carolian current of s-s-ing, and she does it darn well.

Did I mention that I'm on myspace now, and you can hear a couple tunes...
Here: www.myspace.com/opiumcartel


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We've finally finished all the essential overdubs for the new album. I cannot wait to enjoy my newly found freedom to do NOTHING. Tonight will be the first night I spend at home for like a month! I'm gonna watch TV, eat potato chips, play with my son and not think about anything in particular. Except I have to figure out how to pay the IRS what I owe them, 'cause they're on my case and they ain't friendly - or patient. I'm officially super-broke. But hey, it's only money. Things aren't quite as bad as I thought at first - when I started looking around the house to see what we'd get if we sold all our stuff. Then I realized we don't actually HAVE any stuff... anything of value that we have, is not really ours. The car belongs to the bank, my beloved powerbook is on lease - and the only other things of any value I have are my guitars, and I'd have to be actually starving before I'd part with them.

Did I ever get around to talking about what I thought of Donald Fagen's "Morph the Cat"? I guess not. It sounds awesome - of course. But it sounds better than awesome - or rather, better than the last two Steely Dan records. They were sort of cold and hard sounding - just like the recent Becker and Fagen solo albums. Like it was a bit hard for them to handle the transition to all-digital recording, and they mistook perfection for sterility. That's all over with "Morph the Cat". There's still the ultra-precise beats, the ultra-clean signal paths and the super-tidy performances. But there's a warmth there, that I think stems particularly from the vocal production. It's rich in mid-range, and the harmonies have all the lushness of "Gaucho"-era Dan - and that's a very good thing! The tunes are pretty good, too - as always with Fagen solo, they're even jazzier than the Dan, and that's OK. It's not really rich in melody, but all the more so in harmony - and the grooves as simply silky. It flows better than either of the last two Dan records, song wise, but on the other hand there aren't any songs that grip me emotionally in quite the same way as the most poignant moments of "Two Against Nature" ("Almost Gothic", for instance) or "Everything Must Go" ("Pixeleen"), although there's plenty that out-grooves and outwits those albums ("What I do" is a standout). All in all a wonderful album, not as great as "The Nightfly" but way better than "Kamakiriad" - which wasn't a bad album either.

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