It's that time of year - "Thud bash! Manically on high..." - when we give thanks for the shiny silver things that have brought us pleasure over the last twelvemonth...

New Releases

ROBERT PLANT - "Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar" (Nonesuch)
I really admire Robert Plant for sticking to his own guns, releasing albums which wave two fingers in the direction of the tedious "When's the next Led Zeppelin reunion then?" brigade. "No, that was then... this is what I do now..." he seems to be saying, and all power to him. I suspect that he needs Led Zeppelin a lot less than they would need him, preferring to act his age, cast off the 'rock god' trappings altogether and indulge in whatever musical journey takes his fancy. With the latest line-up of Sensational Space Shifters being to all intents and purposes a virtual WOMAD house band, this album carries on where "Mighty ReArranger" left off, before Percy took a detour to do his lucrative country-crossover projects. That means mixing the rockist power chords with African instrumentation (lots of hand-percussion; various plunky lutes and fiddles with strange-sounding names; Justin Adams' grungy 'desert blues' stylings; his "JuJu" mucker Juldeh Camara), then layering some of that good old Bristol trippy-hoppy electronica on top of the whole shebang. And the occasional banjo. And some more guest vocalists. Sensational indeed!
A few words about the sleeve:- It's one of those miniature masterpieces that are intricately and expertly conceived, probably full of deep and hidden 'meaning'. Like a paragraph of "Finnegans Wake", a painting by Miro or an episode of "Twin Peaks", you can stare at it for ages, wallow in its beauty, be mightily impressed and enjoy it for what it is, but be absolutely none the wiser at the end of it... Likewise the title.

PINK FLOYD - "The Endless River" (Parlophone)
Twenty years on and a 'new' Pink Floyd album... and would you believe it!? It sounds just like Pink Floyd! Providing, of course, your idea of a good Pink Floyd record is one full of impressionistic soundtracks for lazing around in Mediterranean beach bars ("More"; "Obscured By Clouds"; "Echoes"; Richard's "Wet Dream" album; David's "On An Island"), rather than one in which Roger Waters works out his mental issues in the form of an angst-in-your-face concept album (you know the ones I mean)... I certainly know which sort I prefer! Personally, I'd have thought that this (mostly instrumental) record would be strictly "One For The Fans". There are no real surprises here and nothing to win new converts. As I said, "it sounds just like Pink Floyd". It is generally regarded as the companion piece to "The Division Bell" of '94, but there's nothing here that couldn't have just as easily appeared on the "Wish You Were Here" album of forty years ago! But what would I know about public tastes? It's zoomed straight to the top of the charts (yes, they still have those, apparently), which means you can buy your copy at any local supermarket or garage. File it under "Suitable for Sailing". I wouldn't recommend it for car journeys though - far too somniferous for that!

ENGINEERS - "Always Returning" (K-Scope)
I'll admit up front that the only way I became aware of the existence of this 'band' is because they share a record label with that Steven Wilson fellow. Given my usual saturated listening habits, 'current' bands wouldn't usually get a look in. Frankly I don't have a clue (or care) what passing fad the kids are listening to these days. But in this case, the entire thing was 'previewed' on the K-Scope Soundcloud page, giving me ample opportunity to fall in love with it before I bought a proper tangible copy of it. I'd be hard pushed to describe these chaps' music to the uninitiated - the best I could come up with is "a meeting between Pink Floyd and Scritti Pollitti"... It sounds curiously 'seventies' and 'eighties' both at the same time. One thing I can say for certain is that, as a delightfully wistful piece of  prog-lite pop fusion, it pisses all over the recent Yes album!

TIM BOWNESS - "Abandoned Dancehall Dreams" (Inside Out)
MATT BERRY - "Music For Insomniacs" (Acid Jazz)
PAT MASTELOTTO & TOBIAS RALPH - "ToPaRaMa" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
TRAVIS & FRIPP - "Discretion" (DGM/Panegyric)
REGAL WORM - "Neither Use Nor Ornament: A Small Collection Of Big Suites" (Quatermass/Bandcamp)

Reissues & Back Catalogue

Of course, the big news this year in the wonderful world of nostalgia was a couple of bloody enormous KING CRIMSON box sets, "The Road To Red" and "Starless", each of which finds you mortgaging everything you own in the name of completism... should you feel, as I do, that you simply must own everything recorded by the band during those heady months between Autumn 1972 and Summer 1974. Some of it you'll want several times in multiple formats. "The Road To Red" carries a release date of 2013, so under the strict rules of "PICK'O'THE YEAR" it doesn't really count as 'this year'. I know, I know, I'm being Pedantic! What is more, I probably won't get to hear much of "Starless" until next year, because I've bought myself that for Xmas. I'm sure it's very good though ;-) So instead, what else is new in Old...?

EMMYLOU HARRIS - "Wrecking Ball" (Nonesuch)
A near-perfect album just got even better with this expanded edition... Sometime in the mid-nineties, this record changed how I felt about so-called country music for ever.  Being the English suburbanite that I am, I would naturally have dismissed all C&W as being either redneck hokum or some sort of AOR-with-stetsons-on. Disgraced world music guru Andy Kershaw would enthuse on the radio about Hank Williams, I just didn't get it. Then Daniel Lanois came along, bringing the same cavernous production techniques he'd used on U2 and Peter Gabriel albums, and applying them to an album featuring one of country's most enduring 'First Ladies'... and nothing would ever be the same again. It was 'roots' music, Jim, but filtered through the rock experimentalism of Hendrix and his psychedelic contemporaries. Once I'd witnessed first hand Daniel Lanois and his power trio frighten away an entire WOMAD audience, that clinched it for me! Musical 'purists' should not apply. Twenty years on... you only have to listen to any of T-Bone Burnett or Buddy Miller's production work ("Raising Sand"; the "Nashville" soundtracks) to hear how the influence of this record has rubbed off on country music in general... and now I get it!

STEVEN WILSON - "Cover Version" (K-Scope)
No 'new' Steven Wilson album this year (We can probably expect one of those this coming Spring!), but it was nice to re-visit these tracks on a 'proper' CD at long last. SW originally issued these songs on a series of seven-inch singles, at the dawn of this century. Eventually they also became available as downloads via his website, which is where I first got to hear them. Each single consisted of a cover version (not named on the original labels) and a song from the Wilson pen. The cover versions range from Alannis Morrissette's "Thank You", which also featured in the Blackfield setlist from time to time, to The Cure's "A Forest", here given a very skeletal electronic treatment. Along the way, he covers Abba, Prince, Donovan and Momus (and a trad folk song!) in all sorts of interesting ways. Some of them are faithful to the originals, some of them... not quite so much! His own songs aren't bad either!

MILES DAVIS - "Bootleg Series Vol.3: At The Fillmore 1970" (Sony Legacy)
MAN - "All's Well That Ends Well" (Esoteric)
STICK MEN - "Power Play" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
STICK MEN - "Unleashed: Live Improvs 2013" (Unsung/Bandcamp)
JOHN WETTON & RICHARD PALMER-JAMES - "Monkey Business 1972-1997" (Primary Purpose)
FRIPP & ENO - "Live In Paris" (DGM/Panegyric)

Live Events

As I went to only one gig this year, there's really not a lot of competition in this category, is there?
THE CRIMSON PROJEkcT - Shepherd's Bush Empire, 12th March 2014


PPvXT revisited

"PPvXT" stood for "PEDANTIC PEDESTRIAN versus the XMAS TREES"...

Throughout the last few decades, I've collaborated on (or, at least, appeared on) a lot of music. Much of it was recorded. Not necessarily by me.

In 2008 I played with a 'band' called the CHRISTMAS TREES, recording an album called "Sniper @ the Gates Of Dave". I've forgotten what it sounded like, but I'm sure I've got a copy somewhere. The gentlemen with whom I collaborated have long maintained a sort of contrived Residents-like anonymity, opting to use a different 'band' name on nearly every project and appearing in public dressed as tigers or wearing comical masks. A counter-commercial policy, I think you'll agree, but what do I know? For video purposes, the Christmas Trees 'band' was deputised by various stuffed toys.

When we'd finished recording this little opus, I got to take away all the 'tapes' (i.e. digital sound files) so that I could mix my own version and/or reconstruct something else from the sessions. Thus began the "CHTHONIC BOOM" album.

In its original form, the soundfiles from the Xmas Trees sessions formed the basis of "Side 1", while "Side 2" was constructed from samples and clips taken from old tapes of the legendary Johnson's Gridling Band. But somewhere along the way, I decided to mix things up a little. I made the whole thing into one continuous fifty-minute sound collage. 'Merzklang', if you will. Or not.

At the time, I thought this 'album' was a neat summation of my entire 'musical' career. Listening back to it now, for the first time in yonks, I actually don't remember playing some of the instrumental parts and I've long forgotten how I achieved some of the sound treatments involved... but I certainly recognise 'me' when I hear 'me'. For better or worse, I do have a 'style' of my own! I also recognise everybody I've ever played with, popping up at various points in the proceedings.

Here's what the Zimpoon webpage had to say about it: "18 untitled tracks of complete cut-up spazmo remixes based on the "Sniper @ The Gates of Dave" CD-R, as demolished by Mr The Pedantic Pedestrian. In fact, there has been some (albeit limited) debate as to whether this anthology should be billed as 'PEDANTIC PEDESTRIAN vs THE CHRISTMAS TREES'. But you can argue until you're blue in the face that one of half of this odd coupling would not exist if the other wasn't invented. So there... and if you disagree then tuff titty, go sign up for a philosophy class! It's not only based on those prowling rascals T'Trees but also nearly four decades of interwoven fart splurge nonsense courtesy of Gosport's third most popular hair pie art folk nutters JOHNSON'S GRIDLING BAND. So if you like this kind of thing check it out!" And who am I to argue? But, as I say, I prefer to think of it not so much as a 'remix' as a 'collage'. It should be listened to as one continuous piece of music. Originally, for my convenience and yours, it was sub-divided into eighteen numerically-titled parts, but now you can stream it uninterrupted as nature intended.

The album was released as a lovingly-crafted CD-R by the Zimpoon concern and was streamed in its entirety on my Bandcamp site, where it resided unnoticed since July of 2008. I've now put it on 'That YouTube They Have Now' instead.

FROM THE "SLEEVENOTES" - I've been requested not to refer to the members of ThE ChRiStMaS TrEeS by name, in this or any other blogjournal, as B***Y wants to perpetuate the myth that the TrEeS' music has been performed by a rockin' beat combo consisting entirely of plastic or knitted toy animals (as a rule, I don't use 'real' names within these pages anyway). Which is apparently why, when being photographed pretending to play the saxophone, I have to wear an ape mask and there is an elephant at the keyboards. Nearly all of the music has been constructed from samples of ThE ChRiStMaS TrEeS playing their hit album "Sniper At The Gates Of Dave". Except for the bits that feature THE GRIDLERS OF YORE (Minty, Snilt, Shelfy, Janet, Rathbone, Mervyn, Rabbithole, Ken Dead, Gold Lamé, Dunx and probably lots of others that I failed to recognise). There are also some samples of an Arabian gentleman singing, taken from a library record, as well as some dialogue from a film which I don't recognise either... Just one more "CYRIL'S TROUSERS YELLOW THEY MAY BE BUT THEY ARE HIS" production, this time on behalf of the Zimpoon Discs concern.

A couple of years later, another Christmas Trees album was on the cards. I'm not entirely sure what that one was called, or if it ever came out. The anonymous cuddly toys got seriously into making videos instead and I lost interest. But in April 2010 I released another "PPvXT" project on my Bandcamp site, probably preempting the official album proper. The second release was less of a freeform collage, but it featured many of the same production anti-techniques that I'd employed on the previous album, plus a few new ones that I'd picked up along the way. This one had things on it that could almost be called 'songs', with words and titles and everything! There's a lot more guitars on this one too. I had an interesting time raiding the archives for duff poetry recitals and cutting the music to fit the speech patterns (Thank you Steve Reich!) and, as a special treat, there's a 'proper' remix of some old Trojan Lawyer jams tucked away at the end...

This album has also been 'retired' from my Bandcamp site (maybe to make room for a new CC:PP album? Teaser alert!) and I'm streaming it on YouTube instead, where (hopefully) it will more likely get heard. I happen to think that this one also works as one continuous piece of music... although in this case it's not hard to hear where one track ended and another began, if your mind still prefers to work that way.

FROM THE "SLEEVENOTES" - Titles: Audio Verité - Frightful Beastliness - Where Are You Tonight And Where Have I Known You Before? - Orange - The Many Voices Of Dub - Enrico's Residency - My Name Is Not Pooter - The Basement Tapirs - Polka Dot Scherzo I - Ampoules of Lawrencini - Polka Dot Scherzo II - Unirunt In Snowcem - Blinje Slegl - Haiku Without Words I - Does It Matter? - Haiku Without Words III - Rachel's Frocks - The Bob Event - Cutting The Heads Off Kingkongs - Alpine - Terrifying Drummer Babies - Frenchpolish - Onion Moon - Haiku Without Words II - Pale [Yet Somehow Definitive] Experiments - Brancasamba - Lucid Day - Mud Soup - Packdrill - Cadillac - Hootndong - Quartet For The End of Lunchtime - Static In Stasis (Edited Version) - TVUS '09 (The Return of the Vibrating Underpants Salesman)... The music on this album is almost entirely constructed from samples taken from the recording sessions for the most recent Christmas Trees album. Except the bits that aren't. In many cases however, the samples have been so thoroughly manipulated, using fiendish electronic processes (discovered by the Aztecs and believed lost since the dawn of time etc etc), that it is doubtful that their own mothers would even recognise them anymore. This is not really a "REMIX" in the usual sense. It's more like a "COLLAGE", in the true spirit of Kurt Schwitters, or like the "XENOCHRONY" of Frank Zappa. The 'art', if there is any, lies in the selection process - the juxtaposition of [musical] elements that probably didn't belong together but, somehow, 'work'. During the course of these pieces, you will hear 'performances' by the mysterious collection of stuffed toy animals that ARE The Xmas Trees, as well as featured guest appearances by Minty, Binky, Gregsy, Shelfy, Bunny, Mervy, Snilty, Soxy and Rabbitty Holey. Special Thanks to the Pathetic Entries Poetry Collective.

While I was poking around in the archives, preparing the material for upload, I came across the original unedited version of "Static In Stasis". It was over thirty minutes in duration and probably went absolutely nowhere very slowly, but I found it quite interesting to hear after all this time. I might do something else with it at some stage. The version here might be a slightly different edit to the one that appeared on the Bandcamp album, but I'm probably the only one who'd notice!

More about "XENOCHRONY", if you were wondering...


Crimson ProjeKCt at Shepherds Bush Empire

The Crimson ProjeKCt (featuring the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Stick Men)
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 12th March 2014

Stick Men
Tony Levin - Stick, Bass Guitar, Funk Fingers, Vocals
Markus Reuter - U8 Touch Guitar, Laptop
Pat Mastelotto - Drums, Electronic Percussion

Adrian Belew Power Trio
Adrian Belew - Guitars, Vocals
Julie Slick - Bass Guitar
Tobias Ralph - Drums

Notes from the Dress Circle

My own main reason for buying a ticket for this show (crikey! all those months ago now!) was for the rare opportunity of seeing the two groups individually - mainly the STICK MEN, but also the ADRIAN BELEW POWER TRIO. But the added bonus of hearing some KING CRIMSON repertoire thrakked out by the whole collective was an enticing prospect (and no mistake!). Earlier tours (in North America and the Orient) had seen the two bands playing their individual sets before joining up at the end of the evening for an 'extended crim-centric encore'. But this time around they've mixed it up a little more, bravely starting the show with the fullblown b'boomthrak experience and then fra[K]ctalizing into their component parts again... I thought it made for a fresh approach.

INTRODUCTORY SOUNDSCAPE... Nice! Markus is never afraid to take risks within the 'soundscape' format. We've heard him do some astonishing things with eight strings and a laptop over the years. There were indeed a couple of 'hairs on the back of the neck' moments during the course of his allotted time slot tonight. But for the most part, his job here is to keep it reined in and give us a little 'Fripp-Lite' before the drummers come on.

B'BOOM... Wow! Now that's a sharp drum sound. Good job, sound guys! A compelling bit of percussive interplay (and I speak as one who usually loathes drum solos with a vengeance).

THRAK... and the 'double trio' kicks off in fine polyrhythmic style. I thought that the improv section was a little uninspired tonight though, quite a lot of aimless scratching o'strings.

DINOSAUR... This is not my favourite Crim number by any stretch of the imagination, but it always sounds mighty powerful when six people go at it. Markus is starting to take liberties with the solo, which is a good thing.

FRAME BY FRAME... Yawn! After thirty odd years, this hoary old chestnut from the eighties has really nothing left to offer me. Best get it out of the way early in the set and finally put it to rest.

SLEEPLESS... This song just didn't work for me either, sorry. Rhythmically 'busy' as it is anyway, it just sounds messy when given a full 'double trio' arrangement. Some parts are simply 'surplus to requirement'.

'B'... Ah! but this was tremendous, edge of the seat stuff! The Power Trio sound at their best tonight when playing their own material (when doing some of the CrimTunes, they don't sound like their hearts are really in it).

NEUROTICA... actually, I'll take that back, this one sounds pretty good as a Power Trio performance! There's a few gaps in the vocal arrangement, but it still works as a semi-instrumental ("Manhattan"?)

CRACK IN THE SKY... Bring on the Stick Men! to play a most lovely thing indeed. That guitar melody gets me every time!

CUSP... The other side of the Stick Men coin, an up-beat, mathematically intricate bit of interplay that finds you trying to merrily tap along but failing miserably.

LARKS' TONGUES IN ASPIC PART TWO... I was very surprised to hear this so early in the set(s), but what the hey! It started as played by the Stick Men trio (powerful enough as it is!), but then Adrian Belew joined in for the final "violin" solo and closing section and it really took off!

THREE OF A PERFECT PAIR... Winding things down a notch, the 'third' trio of Belew, Levin and Mastelotto treat us to a rendition of another of those 'hoary old chestnuts from the eighties' that really do not have much to offer this particular listener anymore.

MATTE KUDASAI... at least this one was brave! Belew had been playing this song in a folksy solo arrangement earlier in the tour, but now Levin has joined him for a rather interesting duet.

'E'... The Adrian Belew Power Trio back to doing what they alone can do. I think I detected a few tuning problems during the course of this piece, but it didn't seem to matter, deviantly polytonal as it is anyway. I never realised before just how much Julie Slick contributes to this little ditty.

STICK MEN IMPROV... Be still my fluttering heart, I'm in ProjeKCt heaven! Bloody marvellous, a beautifully conceived improv in the classic KCrimStyle, with some absolutely delicious Markus soloing.

VROOOM... the set list says 'Vrooom', but was it 'Vrooom' or was it 'Vrooom Vrooom'? I forget. Whatever!?! This 'double trio' classic still sounds pretty powerful when played by only three Stick Men.

FIREBIRD SUITE... Well, now I've actually watched it for myself and I still don't know how only three people can make all that orchestral noise! Clever sods. Gawd, it's good! This is pretty much what I came to hear tonight (so it's all downhill from here on?!? Kidding!)

ONE TIME... The full sextet reconvene. Again, it sounds too 'busy' to me, I think there is far more going on than the song warrants.

RED... I suppose you'd call this one the 'anthem', then? Still quite limber for something celebrating its fortieth birthday. The two drummers made it for me.

INDISCIPLINE... Despite its looser structure, there's no element of surprise left in this song. Or maybe they're just bored with it too. The drummers did a fine job of trying to wrench something interesting out of it rhythmically (or were they deliberately attempting to throw Tony Levin off his stride? It seemed that way at one point.)... but I'm afraid I have to make my excuses and leave now, I have public transport to connect with.

Just for the record, the encores (which I couldn't stay to hear) were a further couple of 'hits' from the "Discipline" album, ELEPHANT TALK and THELA HUN GINJEET. So I didn't miss anything I hadn't heard before. Father Time dictated that the Adrian Belew Power Trio omitted YOUNG LIONS from their set, the Stick Men didn't play OPEN PART 3 (they played a magnificent improv anyway, so that's okay) and Adrian didn't get to do his solo version of IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING. I would have liked to have heard how that worked out. (It's also a shame they couldn't find room for "Breathless". Ah well... you can't have everything.) 

All in all it was a fine evening of music. Some of it didn't quite come off as planned, but Hey! that's Crimson! King Crimson were never (and should never be) a 'greatest hits' band. You don't go and see a Crimson-related entity to hear things "exactly as they sound on the records". That's what 'other' vintage bands do - get lazy, play it safe, pander to the crowds... that misses the point entirely. Some of tonight's music had me gripping the seat in excitement. At other times in the show, I don't mind admitting, I did get bored (a case of "I've heard that before, play me something new!"). Let's be honest, Crim fans don't buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty identical versions of the same song (okay, they buy ruddy great box sets so that they can hear twenty different versions of the same song!).

I see this tour as drawing a line under KING CRIMSON: THE ADRIAN BELEW YEARS. After thirty-odd years, much of this repertoire has seen better days, quite frankly. During tonight's show, we caught occasional 'glimpses of possibilities' (mainly from the component groups rather than the full ensemble), but to these ears, the "Discipline" material especially does not lend itself to further musical exploration. Its already tight structure leaves nowhere else for it to go. Markus Reuter has said that he's definitely not interested in a long term career playing in a 'covers' band, he'd only continue if they could explore new material as well. The Stick Men are already doing a splendid job of providing that role. The Adrian Belew Power Trio as a group have performed some wonderful music over the years, culminating in the fabulous "E" album, but now Belew is all wrapped up in a new project of his own, as are the other individual members... TIME TO MOVE ON!

>>> Here's another review of the show, over on the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages

>>> Here's tonight's show on Tony Levin's tour pages