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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great Moments In Music II: See Emily Play by Pink Floyd

See Emily Play
Pink Floyd

See Emily Play is one of those gorgeous slices of pop music that is utterly steeped in its time but which somehow sounds utterly futuristic and amazingly ahead of the game. The band were recording their debut album in Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles were doing their own bit for overhauling contemporary music in the creation of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band.

But on Sunday 21st May 1967 they went to Sounds Technique to record See Emily Play, a song that Syd Barrett had written for the Games For May event earlier that month in London.

It was Pink Floyd’s habit to engage in lengthy modal jams in concert, offering slaps and daubs of sound over the trance-like canvas and that’s what they did in this recording. After the nursery rhyme chorus, the track slips time and space to drift off into a whirling collage of cavernous echoes and pulsating beats.

With the rhythm section of Nick Mason and Roger Waters maintaining a link with ground control, Wright and Barrett take off in an explosion of fuzz, the tune quickly billowing outwards, as Wright’s soaring run is joined by overdubbed flashes of ascending glissando guitar aided, rumour has it, by a plastic ruler.

This part of See Emily pulls off a brilliant conjuring trick. It’s a tone-poem about limitless possibilities and heady freedom but it’s harnessed in the same spot as the middle eight in the more earthbound pop songs of old.

Whilst Floyd themselves may have been pointing at the sky, producer Norman Smith cuts short what was by all accounts a lengthy interstellar jam, effecting a clever edit (heard at 46 seconds) whose effect was to reel the boys back from space and back on board to continue their journey to the charts. This accommodation of two different agendas had just nudged the pop song a bit further into the future.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pekka Pohjola B The Magpie

B The Magpie / The Mathematician's Air Display

Pekka Pohjola
Esoteric Recordings

Putting together a concept album about a magpie who happens to be called Bialoipokku probably isn’t something you’d get away with these days. But back in 1974, the 22 year old Finnish bass guitar virtuoso Pekka Pohjola had no such inhibitions as he composed a 30 minute suite that effortlessly knits together traditional folk melodies, classical music and jazz-rock.

The sombre piano prelude which opens the album is then elaborated upon in ever greater detail across the rest of the album’s seven tracks. The moods within the complex structures found in each track can change on the turn of a dime. Thus in Bad Weather / Bialoipokku Dances, the listener is led through sorrow-laden tones, stirring themes and boisterous, ebullient dances all in the space of six minutes.

Pohjola’s score requires a saxophone quartet which really gives the album a brassy richness that is positively invigorating, especially on the fourth track, Bailoipokkus War Dream, which clearly anticipates the fruity, recursive parping which Michael Nyman would make his trademark on scores such as The Draughtsman’s Contract nearly a decade later.

With Pohjola handling all the piano work on the album it’s not until the tricksy time signature workout of Bialoipokku’s War where the extent of his athletic bass playing becomes apparent in a thrilling duel with soprano sax player Pekka Poyry, and in a slithering subterranean solo on The Madness Subsides.

Released by Virgin in 1975 it caught the attention of Mike Oldfield who was so impressed by what he heard he wanted to guest on and produce Pohjola’s 1977 follow-up, The Mathematician’s Air Display. Whilst Oldfield’s involvement (and that of Gong’s Pierre Moelen) will have undoubtedly raised the Finns profile, there’s a pushy stridency and an instrumental shrillness that jars in a way that the more organic and considered B The Magpie manages to avoid.

It’s the latter of the two that sounds the more dated, a fact which may or may not have influenced DJ Shadow when he lifted sections of B The Magpie for 1996‘s hugely successful Endtroducing - a wonderfully ironic development given the thieving nature of the bird in question.

Monday, March 29, 2010


After being at the desk for an intensive period of work, I was desperate to get out of the house and head up to Newcastle. For regular readers of the blog it will come as no surprise that I found myself gravitating toward the west side of town via Collingwood Street...

toward my ultimate destination...

the Lit & Phil

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Sunday

It may look like just another sunny Sunday in Whitley Bay but it's not!

We have houseguests this weekend - Dude and Jim - and we're meeting up and going for a pub lunch with Debra and Dude's mother, Doris. In case we got bored with the journey, our taxi helpfully supplied passengers with a TV pumping out the hits of the day...

I have no idea what's on this plate but everyone who had enjoyed it...

Meanwhile back at the coastal photoshoot, it's the three Ds...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Time Portal II

If you stand in this exact point you can hear
the clip-clop of passing Handsome carriages...

Speculation To Rococo Rot

To Rococo Rot

The plan is simple: the Berlin-based trio lay down a series of straight-forward, occasionally terse rhythms, over which minimal shades of synthetic colour is introduced and withdrawn. You might think that the results would feel somewhat bitty and insubstantial given that all but one of the pieces usually only stick around for a short stay.

Yet Speculation is a surprisingly satisfying listen that’s reminiscent at times of the rarified atmospheres of Can’s ambient trance classic, Bel Air from Future Days and some of the metrical aesthetics that one associates with the sparser end of Drum ‘n’ Bass.

Amongst the fizzling synths and analogue buzzing, Stefan Schneider’s bass and guitar vamps offer the kind of expression which circuits and digital presets alone can’t quite evoke. On the ten minute long Friday they tap into their inner Pink Floyd wherein washes of spectral organ (played by guest Jochen Irmler) introduce a brief but uplifting grandeur.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lunch With Tim VI

A very grey day in Whitley Bay made worse by a lid of mist.

However, this did not stop a planned jaunt with old pal and near neighbour, Tim. We hit PC world to enable me to buy a replacement ink cartridge and from there we wandered down to North Shields.

Being as we were on the fish quay, an executive decision was made to purchase some fish for this evening's meal. Tim points the way...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Desk Duties XIV

What's that you say? A handsomely appointed 208 page large format hardback book containing reprints of Steve Ditko's short stories for the Charlton imprint, complete with essays and reproductions of artists proofs, all for under £13.00?

Don't mind if I do!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Random Penguin 61

1980 The cover shows a photograph of 
British Ambulance Drivers Barcelona 1937

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Black Swan Effect Admission

A debut worth the price of...
The Black Swan Effect
Real World

Just when you think you’ve heard it all before, along comes an album that demands the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention, proving once again that we underestimate the emotive impact of a guitar band with a twist of 21st century angst at our peril.

Clearly Peter Gabriel thought so too signing the group to his label immediately after hearing demos that have since been fashioned into this striking debut.

There’s no denying the hat-tip to Muse here and there, and the addictive power pop anthem, Rat In A Cage, shunts the forlorn introspection of Radiohead’s Street Spirit into the kind of raucous, reproachful bash that The Clash might’ve spat out.

Thankfully alongside such high stakes bravura, just as much effort has been expended in ensuring there’s a myriad of tiny production details to admire. It’s precisely this kind of tweaking which elevates the music here from being merely good to something approaching awesome.

Chill factors swirl around tracks such as the meditative Sick, whilst the dreamily elegiac French horn, eerie chorale and the frost of reverb that glitters on Pretty Things suggests they have an ambitious and expansive attitude that matches their obvious talent.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Travis & Fripp Live at Coventry Cathedral

Travis And Fripp
Live At Coventry Cathedral
Panegyric Recordings

Although recorded at Coventry’s 2009 Jazz Festival there’s nothing remotely “jazzy” about the 80 minutes of music that unfold here.

Taken from two sets, this is not some by-the-numbers trading of licks between professionals but a mutual desire to get out of the way and create something that transcends the sum of its parts.

Amidst such splendid surroundings, (Tangerine Dream also made a memorable appearance here during the 70s) there’s definitely something magical happening when Travis’ looped flutes or icy-edged soprano sax meets Fripp’s midi-generated Arvo Part-like orchestral washes in mid-stream.

Yet this is far removed from anodyne ambient, noodling chill-out music. Rather, they conjure a haunting presence combining passionate and eloquent lyricism with a dramatic sense of grandeur.

This would be impressive enough if they’d been playing together for years. However, given that this was in fact their fourth time playing in public (and their sixth in total) makes this album even more remarkable.

A mixture of entirely improvised musing and visits to previously agreed themes (including an ultra-rare meditation on King Crimson’s Moonchild), those who appreciate the laser-guided soloing that Fripp’s reputation partly rests upon will not be disappointed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Podcasts From The Yellow Room XIX

When I putting this one together I thought I'd try and not play anything from the 70s. Needless to say I failed ending up with no less than three tracks from that hirsute decade. So get your droopy facial fuzz ready and tune in to...
The First Morning by Pekka Pohjola from B The Magpie
State of Mind by Stefano Panunzi from A Rose
Bump And Grind by Jackson Heights from Bump And Grind
Tear by Pianocircus featuring Bill Bruford from Skin And Wire
Dreams of our Dear Leader by Iron Kim Style from Iron Kim Style
Seriously Deep by Colours from Silent Feet


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