Album Reviews: The Music of 2023

It is that time once again, when I gather together the music that I have liked over the past year, and give a brief explanation of why I like it.

This year feels like a good year, and that is because most of the albums I’ve included feel like they may just stick around longer than the time it took to get to know them well enough to talk about them. Other of my year-end lists do include entries that never made much impact beyond the listening and inclusion; as much as I thought I liked them at the time, they ultimately made no lasting impression, which is not what I hope for. This year, either the albums are better, or I have made more of an effort to exclude the ones that might be short-lived. Or both. Still, there are a handful at the bottom end of this year’s list that are unlikely to be long-term players, but that do have some good songs, so hopefully I will continue to sample them. 

There are fourteen albums here that represent a relatively narrow set of genres compared to other years. There is a fair amount of prog, or at least a fair amount of music from bands with a proggy reputation, which might be a bit of a surprise if you know me. I do not consider myself a fan of modern prog and do not seek it out, mostly because I find the vast majority of it tedious and entirely predictable. However, there are a handful of bands who fall under that (admittedly rather broad) umbrella who can manage to sound fresh, so I can’t write the genre off completely. A few of them released pretty good albums this year. There is some industrial/industrial-related, some post-rock, and straight-up rock. No metal or post-metal this year, and no oddball genres. 

In terms of the ranking… I’ve put numbers on them but except for the three or four at the bottom, those numbers don’t mean very much. It’s crowded at the top. There are some clear distinctions among some albums, but there are also places where making a choice is largely arbitrary. 

Let’s go.

Continue reading Album Reviews: The Music of 2023

Album Review — AFR AI D: Mariusz Duda

Released November 17, 2023

  • Mariusz Duda: synths, keyboards, bass, vocals, all other instruments except
  • Mateusz Owczarek: electric guitar on tracks 1, 3, 4, and 8

Tracklist:

  1. Taming Nightmares
  2. Good Morning Fearmongering
  3. Fake Me Deep, Murf
  4. Bots’ Party
  5. I Love to Chat With You
  6. Why So Serious, Cassandra?
  7. Mid Jorney to Freedom
  8. Embracing the Unknown

 

Back in 2008, Mariusz Duda began Lunatic Soul, a project that was intended to be different from Riverside and showcase another side of his musical identity. Eventually though, these two “musical worlds” (as Duda likes to call them) turned out to be insufficient to contain his ever-evolving musical inventiveness. He created a third, under his own name, for ideas and projects that fit neither Lunatic Soul nor Riverside. At first the MD world was to contain one-off alt/pop songs (and a couple of those have been released), but Duda found himself driven to revisit his first childhood musical love, ambient electronica: and the minimalist, digital Lockdown Spaces project was born.

Continue reading Album Review — AFR AI D: Mariusz Duda

Movie Review: In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson at 50

A film by Toby Amies

Released 2022

Short Version — it’s okay, very little new or really surprising.

King Crimson is indisputably one of the icons of prog, generally acknowledged to have founded the genre as a full-on recognizable thing with their first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, released in 1969. Robert Fripp of course is Legend, regardless of how you feel about him. The band itself has never really been a band, but more of a concept that fluctuates with Fripp’s fluctuating notions of “band”.

If you have even a passing awareness of the career of Robert Fripp/King Crimson, then there is probably very little in the movie that will come as a surprise. The movie spends its time following the band around, talking to its members and a few of the survivors of the early days. We don’t see a lot of performance or hear a lot of the music (there is lots of noodling/set-up/rehearsal), although there are some really early clips of the first version of the band, which are cool to see. 

The overall aim of the movie seems to be getting various performers to talk about how they feel about Robert Fripp. Fripp has always given the impression of being somewhere between difficult and impossible to work with, and nothing anyone says in the movie changes that. It is one thing to have high expectations and demand the best of your band, but at times Fripp seems to revel in being a deliberate martinet. He also was clearly going out of his way to provoke the interviewer — but I would assume that one would enter into such an exercise (interviewing Fripp) prepared for that sort of thing. The band members (current and former)  appear to either revere Fripp, or have chosen to suck it up and stick with him, suffering through the tribulations of performance for the sake of the ideal that is “King Crimson” — or both. The reasons for putting oneself through the ordeal often remain unclear. Gavin Harrison had very little interview time — it is not clear why. Bill Bruford was interviewed more extensively but in the end he really didn’t shed much light on the workings of the band either. Perhaps everyone was simply treading cautiously. 

There was one moment that did surprise me: Fripp admitted that the first break-up of the first incarnation of Crimson (the departure of MacDonald and Giles) devastated him: he says he offered to quit if they would stay and carry on with King Crimson. At this point in his career it is hard to imagine him doing that, but perhaps at the beginning….

I’ve seen King Crimson twice — once a few years back with what looks to be the lineup we see in the movie, in a suitably formal venue (Massey Hall), and once way back in the mists of time, the Fripp/Levin/Belew/Bruford lineup in an intimate venue, with Fripp sitting close enough to touch (not that I would have committed such a crime). I also saw him as a solo artist, doing his Frippertronics over two nights. The three albums released when the Crimson was at its most spare (Fripp/Wetton/Bruford) are my favourites: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red. I can take or leave any of the rest. 

In short, King Crimson has been a musical enterprise I have respected more than I have ever liked. Nevertheless, as a music fan, it is hard to escape Fripp’s reach — even without Crimson, he has been a major force in the prog/ambient world, a part of the music of a large number of other important artists. Love him or hate him, there is no question of his towering importance.

On Lunatic Soul

A few years ago, I started a series of posts in which I ranked and reviewed all of Riverside’s studio albums and EPs that had been released by that date (which I believe was 2015), and have kept it updated with each subsequent album. I meant to do the same thing for Lunatic Soul—in fact, it made more sense to do it for Lunatic Soul given how I feel about that project—but somehow it didn’t happen. (You can find the initial Riverside post here.)

I guess the problem is simply this: As deeply important as Riverside is, Lunatic Soul goes even deeper, is more profoundly a part of me, has captured me in a way no other music ever has. I have already reviewed (in either short or long form) all of the LS albums since the fourth one; the only ones I haven’t talked about are the first three. But those three are the albums that introduced me to the Lunatic Soul magic, and naturally they hold a special place in my heart. And I’m not sure I have the necessary literary skill to do justice to them. Perhaps something other than a standard review is necessary.

Continue reading On Lunatic Soul

The Music of 2023, July Update

July Update

It’s a few months and releases later from the March overview, so let’s see what is going on and how the new stuff stacks up. I’ll also take a look at some upcoming albums. You can see what I reviewed earlier in the year, here.

Continue reading The Music of 2023, July Update

Album Review: Music Inspired by Slavs

Released April 21, 2023

 Personnel:

  • Kris Wawrzak: basses, sampling, programming, vocals
  • Artur Szolc: drums and percussion
  • Robert Szrednicki: guitars, keyboards, synths, various instruments

 Guests:

Krzysztof Drabikowski; Inga Habiba; Lunatic Soul

Sebastian Aleksandrowicz; Anna Drabikowska; Michał Górczyński; Mariusz Kumala; Dyba Lach; Mariusz Mielczarek; Nadhir; Maria Oldak; Tomasz Popkrzywiński; Kamil Popławski; Mariusz Rodziewicz; Igor Szeligowski; Krzysztof Szmytke.

 Track List:

  1. Furta                                                         9. Chors
  2. Świętowit                                               10. Zachód
  3. Wschód                                                   11. Kupałą              
  4. Swaróg                                                    12. Południe
  5. Mokosz                                                    13. Łada              
  6. Północ                                                     14. Weles
  7. Perun                                                       15. Rozstaje
  8. Trzygław                                                 16. Rod

Music Inspired by Slavs is the fourth offering from the Music Inspired By… trio, who have intermittently been releasing largely instrumental thematic albums since about 1999. The last one, 2016’s Music Inspired by Alchemy, is reviewed here.

As the title suggests, the core inspiration for this album are the various deities of the Slavic pantheon. It is meant to be a musical imagining of a distant Slavic past, before conquest, science, and the imposition of a foreign religion, and the release is accompanied by lavish and detailed notes and artwork. There are eleven tracks related to the gods, organized somewhat geographically, interspersed with short, directional interludes to guide us. And so we pass through “Furta” (The Gate) into this lost world.   Continue reading Album Review: Music Inspired by Slavs

The Music So Far: March 2023 Update

Generally I don’t have much to say about new music so early in the year, but there have been some interesting things out so far, and other interesting things are on the horizon. Several strong albums have already been released despite the risk of being forgotten by year’s end, and there are singles from what may be promising albums. I also want to comment on a couple things I missed from last year.

 In terms of those albums — it is a strangely proggy year for me so far. I spend a lot of time complaining about modern prog and here I am ready to talk about modern prog. Go figure. And two of those albums are (at the moment) head-to-head contenders for Album of the Year. Yes it is early, and there always do seem to be surprises, so we shall see how things play out.

Continue reading The Music So Far: March 2023 Update

Riverside: ID.Entity

Released: January 20, 2023

 Personnel

  •  Mariusz Duda: vocals, basses, electric and acoustic guitars
  • Piotr Kozieradzki: drums
  • Michał Łapaj: keyboards and synthesizers, Rhodes piano and Hammond organ
  • Maciej Meller: electric guitars

 Tracklist

  1. Friend or Foe?
  2. Landmine Blast
  3. Big Tech Brother
  4. Post-Truth
  5. The Place Where I Belong
  6. I’m Done With You
  7. Self-Aware

 Bonus Tracks:

  1. Age of Anger
  2. Together Again
  3. Friend or Foe? (single edit)
  4. Self-Aware (single edit)

 Algorithms. Influencers and Curated Lives. How to Change Your Life in Ten Words or Less. Memes. Monetization. Tracking. Filters and Avatars. Targeted Ads. Conspiracies. Expectations versus reality. Who is real and who is not? How much control over our lives do we really have?

With ID.Entity, Riverside’s 8th album, Mariusz Duda and his bandmates explore these themes: negotiating virtual realities, hanging on to one’s identity and self, fighting the ubiquitous and implacable presence of the data collectors and algorithms that tell us what we should want, trying to deal with the polarization and angry echo chambers of the online world.

We get some hints from the outset that things are different: the cover is by Polish artist Jarek Kubicki and it thrums with life. This is not the dark, sombre palette of the covers of most of the previous albums. Bright, fragmented shards of colour fly out against a stark white background; we can glimpse shadowy figures in the background. Does this new vision reflect what is inside? Continue reading Riverside: ID.Entity

The Albums of 2022

It’s that time again, when, along with many other people, I maunder on about some music I heard in the past year. I’m not sure how many albums I did hear altogether, definitely more than the dozen I talk about, but I don’t make notes unless for some reason the album gets my attention long enough to play it more than once. A lot of albums don’t get that far. A lot of albums I don’t manage to get all the way through even once. I’m sure there is a lot of music that I have missed — there always is, mostly due to time constraints, and mood constraints, and the inability to listen to everything that gets recommended by various friends, musicians, and algorithms, but I do try.

 Anyway, what follows is the music that did catch my attention sufficiently for me to revisit it. I think there is less variety than usual: metal and post-metal dominate, but there is a surprising amount of prog considering my general disdain for the modern form of the genre, some ambient/electronica, and a bluegrass album. I’d heard of every band on the list except for one, and that one proved to be one of the best discoveries for a long time. I found a couple of albums simply because it struck me that the band had been awfully quiet lately and maybe I should check what they were up to.

In terms of ranking… I’m beginning to wonder whether I should bother: at least, for anything not in the Top 3. I did a little research, looking back on my previous lists to see what albums had actually stood the test of time. It wasn’t quite as bad as I feared: for most years, a lot of my top picks have turned out to be albums that I still play. Not all years to be sure, and not all albums, but enough for me to continue to trust my own judgment. So take the top 3 as the top 3, and the rest in more or less rough order, as in — the ones near the bottom are less interesting than the ones near the top.

Continue reading The Albums of 2022

Blowing the Dust Off: Flying Doesn’t Help by Anthony More

I started this project near the time I started my blog, but … I didn’t get very far with it. The intention was to revisit albums I own that are old, or obscure, or need more exposure — or maybe just to remind myself how good they actually are. It is a fair assumption that any album that appears here is one that I think has some merit, and who knows? Maybe someone reading these will find a new favourite.

This is the fourth album in the series. The others are here, here, and here. I hope you will check them out.

Flying Doesn’t Help

Released 1979

Personnel:

  • Anthony Moore: Lyrics*, lead and backing vocals, keyboards, guitars and electronics
  • Bob Shilling, Chris Slade, Robert Vogel, Charles Hepworth: Drums
  • Festus, Sam Harley, Matt Irving: Bass
  • Laurie Latham: Sax and mouthharp, backing vocals
  • Edwin Cross: Backing vocals

*Lyrics to “War” by Peter Blegvad

 Tracklist:

  1. Judy Get Down
  2. Ready Ready
  3. Useless Moments
  4. Lucia
  5. Caught Being in Love
  6. Timeless Strange
  7. Girl It’s Your Time
  8. War
  9. Just Us
  10. Twilight (Uxbridge Rd)

 Anthony Moore (his surname sometimes appears as More) is a British experimental composer and producer, although he has spent most of his career based out of Germany. He along with his school friend Peter Blegvad were briefly members of the British experimental avant-garde collective Henry Cow, but they soon left and in 1971 formed the avant-pop trio Slapp Happy, along with Dagmar Krause. Slapp Happy released several albums, a couple in collaboration with Henry Cow, but their eccentric and minimalist style, along with the fact that they refused to play live, caused the record labels to largely avoid them.

 By 1977 Anthony Moore had returned to a solo career (he had recorded a couple of minimalist solo albums in the early 1970s); over the decades he has worked with Pink Floyd, Richard Wright, Kevin Ayers, Trevor Rabin, and Julian Lennon, and released a few more albums of his own.

Continue reading Blowing the Dust Off: Flying Doesn’t Help by Anthony More