For some reason, September and October were two of the most prolific CD-purchasing months I’ve ever had. I’m still struggling to keep pace in terms of listening to and digesting all the new stuff I’ve gotten in the past couple months — and I’m failing, and thus trying to cut back on new purchases in the near future. (This is aided by the fact that my purchase rate for the past couple months has been entirely unsustainable.) But, here are a few quick thoughts on some of the things that I’ve been hooked on. Most of these are new acquisitions I got in the past couple months, but some are older things that just happened to catch my ear recently.
- Cos - Viva Boma
Canterbury-styled fusion has never really done much for me; something about the light, breezy nature of things and the wispy keyboard tones has always turned me off a bit. But Viva Boma gets it right: it’s breezy Canterbury-esque fusion all right, but the band isn’t afraid to rock out at times, and a really strong, almost funky electric bass presence and some rather seductive female vocals definitely help. Definitely need to explore these guys further — conveniently, Musea appears to be reissuing a lot of their albums that were previously out of print.
- Grits - Rare Birds
And here we go again: if not quite as clearly Canterbury-influenced, Grits’ jams on this live album are definitely “breezy fusion.” The heavy Rhodes presence makes it palatable to me, along with the fact that the melodies are just really tasty. I remember Steve Feigenbaum griping on rec.music.progressive years ago about how the Grits albums were going out of print. I sure wish I’d picked them up way back then; I’m definitely happy I got my hands on this now. Fantastic stuff aside from a couple really embarrassing poppy vocal tunes, and now a feverish search for As the World Grits is about to start.
- Ensemble Nimbus - Key Figures
Another brand of prog/RIO that is kind of hit-or-miss with me is the sort of fusionish avant-rock of the sort practiced by Zamla Mammas Manna, Miriodor, The Muffins and so on. Key Figures falls into that category, but like Viva Boma I am lovin’ this shit. Not implying it’s as good as the Cos album, but this is fun stuff, and I even like the programmed drums. Glad I have this one, as it’s on the long-defunct APM label and, like everything else on APM, has disappeared without a trace in recent years.
- Heldon - Stand By
Would you believe that this is the first Heldon album I’ve ever heard? As a serious King Crimson fan it’s always been evident to me that I need to hear this band. And especially after hearing Richard Pinhas’ work in other contexts (such as Fossil Culture with Peter Frohmader), I knew I’d like this stuff. Yet somehow I’ve just never gotten around to buying any Heldon, until now. And now, I know I need all their albums, because this is great stuff.
- Cecil Taylor - Conquistador!
And another “would you believe?!” This is the first Cecil Taylor I’ve heard! And while this is a bit mind-bending and challenging to digest, especially consisting as it does of two 20-minute tracks (but hell, if I can handle Tim Berne’s sprawling compositions, I can handle this, or so I tell myself), Taylor’s playing is phenomenal and I can enjoy it even when all I’m doing is just letting the sheer intensity of it wash over me. Must get more… I seem to be writing that a lot, which bodes poorly for my wallet…
- Enslaved - Isa
If you like what Opeth is doing but kind of think they’re a bunch of proggy pansies who need to toughen up their metal cred a bit, maybe this is the band to turn to. Accessible, melodic black metal that caught my ear from the first listen, unlike much extreme metal which tends to take a while to sink in with me. And yet another band whose back catalog I still need to explore!
- The Beta Band - The Best of the Beta Band
Considering that I have all of this band’s releases, it might seem at first that purchasing their new greatest-hits album is a bit perverse. But it has a bonus CD with a full live performance on it, and I always thought these guys were much better live than on record. Still, it seems like a very odd marketing strategy to pair a greatest hits collection and a live album on one release. Presumably greatest hits albums appeal to casual or new fans, while live albums appeal only to die-hard fans and completists. Maybe they were hoping to snare both audiences. Well, it worked on me, at least. (By the way, the live album is excellent. I haven’t bothered to listen to the greatest hits disc yet, and don’t really expect to.)
- Nil - Nil Novo Sub Sole
I’ll be reviewing this one in the near future. I got this a few months ago and was really surprised when it kept finding its way back into my CD player. As a rule, I’m pretty jaded when it comes to symphonic rock, but something about the moodiness and dark edginess of this album has been keeping me not just interested, but even enthralled. I’m not really taken with all of the album, but a couple of the songs are just tremendous. Always a pleasant (and rare) surprise to find new symphonic prog that can push my buttons.
- Zs - Zs
I wrote about this one a couple months ago, but it never really sunk in until now. Dual saxes, dual guitars, and dual drums sure sounds like a helluva fun lineup, but what these guys do often seems like it’s as annoying as it is fun. But once I started paying more attention, my jaw basically dropped to the floor at the tightness of this ensemble and the complexity of their compositions. I would love to see these guys live, I can’t imagine how visceral it must be. On record they come off as pretty much entirely academic.
- Tim Hodgkinson - Each in Our Own Thoughts
Here’s one that I keep expecting to floor me, but it just never has. I bought it for “Hold to the Zero Burn” (aka “Erk Gah”), which was originally a Henry Cow piece and has been described as the missing link between “Living in the Heart of the Beast” (for the me absolute definitive Henry Cow composition) and Western Culture (my favorite Henry Cow album, overall). So far, though, I haven’t found the visceral appeal of the former or the intellectual delight of the latter in “Hold to the Zero Burn,” and in fact the whole album seems a tad bit anemic to me. It’s so highly-rated by people whose tastes correspond to mine, though, that I keep trying and I don’t intend to give up anytime soon.