October 22: Einsturzende Neubaten, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Faust, Genesis, Throbbing Gristle, Yes, John Zorn

In Clive Barker’s ‘Cabal’, there’s a place called Midian which is a sanctuary for all the freaks, monsters and outsiders with nowhere else to go. This week’s collection is kind of like that: square pegs in round holes anywhere else, here they find their square holes to go in. We’re going from Genesis to Genesis P-Orridge as we look at some of the weirder stuff on the list, and take in some of the prog oddities – sorry, odysseys – too. Hold onto your hats…

Einsturzende Neubaten, ‘Kollaps’ (not on Spotify)

The main things I knew about Neubaten were that Blixa Bargeld also plays in the Bad Seeds, and that they’ve often upset venues by trying to drill through the stage. Most of their better-known albums are on Spotify but, in another of the list’s trademark curveballs, the one that makes the cut is their hard-to-source debut. Comprising of Blixa on vocals and guitar with two found-item percussionists, the album is mostly a bracing mix of shouting over sheet metal pounding and power tools: imagine if Killing Joke only used items found in a scrap yard. When a melody finally surfaces, it’s ‘Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)’, renamed ‘Jet’M’. The title track is the most accessible thing here, but it’s relative: little resembles ‘normal’ music. Exciting in small doses, this is an unsettling, disorientating experience.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ (link)

Utter crap but sort of a historical curio in how major labels worked in the 70s: they didn’t want to put out ELP’s classical covers album, but were galvanised to do so when the band’s album about a Mesolithic armoured armadillo sold well. This is Mussorgsky’s multi-part opus re-arranged for rock band, with some cruddy new words and segue sections added (Greg Lake’s solo bit ‘The Sage’ sounds like Floyd’s ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’). You can imagine Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer tearing their hair out as organ solo follows organ solo almost as clearly as you can imagine your older brother arguing with his mates about which way the seven-sided die landed in a room that stinks of weed. Fortunately, this is our last visit to ELP, possibly my least favourite band of the project.

Faust, ‘Faust IV’ (link)

The fourth and last album of the German band’s original incarnation and supposedly the one where they sold out, containing two actual songs (‘The Sad Skinhead’ and the masterful ‘Jennifer’. It’s not exactly ‘Let’s Dance’, though: it starts with a ten-minute Tangerine Dream drone called ‘Krautrock’ and each track seems to subvert expectations set by the previous one.

Genesis, ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ (not on Spotify)

Our final visit to Genesis is also Peter Gabriel’s last album with the band. Sorry Patrick Bateman, but no Phil Collins-led albums. This is a 90-minute opus about a Puerto Rican called Rael who undertakes a strange subterranean adventure following a blackout. Its most striking image, and perhaps one that came to define 70s prog ridiculousness, is of Gabriel adopting the persona of the fearsome Slippermen while a bandmate plays a double-necked guitar:

slipperman.jpg

There’s a lot of bloat and meander on this album, of course, but the album features at least one excellent song in ‘Carpet Crawlers’.

Throbbing Gristle, ‘DOA: The Third and Final Report’ (link)

Neither the band’s third album nor their final one, ‘DOA’ also feels like an unexpected inclusion over ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’. Here, the proto-industrial art collective technically include the single (‘United’, sped up so it lasts just 0:16), contribute four solo tracks and make impenetrably bleak, grisly songs as if soundtracking a JG Ballard reading. The album’s primary ingredients are moody, beatless abstractions, muttered vocals and uncompromising noise: sounds that would perhaps be better supported if only there was a synth and a drum machine behind them, as Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM later realised. The best stuff here is the Krautrock-ish ‘AB/7A’ and ‘Dead on Arrival’. The Gristle’s grim sound isn’t for everyone, and they’re certainly not to my taste, but I’m glad they’re on here to offset some of the tuneful-but-uninspiring fare elsewhere. (Best wishes too to TG frontperson Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, diagnosed with leukemia this week.)

Yes, ‘Fragile’ (link)

I’ve kind of become fond of Yes through this project, ‘The Yes Album’ being my favourite. This is the follow-up to that album, and sees a significant personnel shift with Rick Wakeman joining the band and contributing a Brahms cover as early as track 2. I always thought Jon Anderson’s voice was the band’s defining feature, but I’m starting to think it’s actually Chris Squire on bass: many of the songs here, such as ‘Roundabout’ and ‘South Side of the Sky’, are driven by a robust rhythm section mixed high and demanding attention. The album is maybe a bit too tricksy for my taste overall, but they’re less alienatingly tedious than their reputation or their peers.

John Zorn, ‘Spy vs Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman’ (not on Spotify)

Ornette Coleman was a saxophonist who released a seminal album, ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’, which isn’t on the list. I’ve listened to it; its Fast Show atonal skronk is about as accessible as Sun Ra. On this album, Zorn fuses that sound with what sounds like Napalm Death’s rhythm section, resulting in a blending of free jazz and grindcore. I mean, fucking hell right? Released in 1988 and therefore the only jazz album post-1980 to make the list, this is an aggressive, hectic take on the genre which could have breathed more life into jazz, but instead is without any real precedent or antecedent. The most listenable thing here is ‘Feet Music’, which starts with a conventional 80s 4/4 rhythm section jam and has the saxes playing identifiable melodies for once. Almost definitely one I won’t be listening to again.

Next week: it’s Editor’s Choice! After this week, it might just have to be seven of the most melodic records I can find…

Status update: 665 listened to (66%), 336 remain.

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June 18: Can, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, King Crimson, Supertramp, Tangerine Dream, Yes

Twas on the eighteenth day of the sixth month,

said the wizard to the apprentice

That JT listened to the prog rock albums

With all of the pain of a dentists.

Yea, though every track was long,

Young JT must not cry

For he tries his best to complete his quest

1001 Albums Before You Die.

Yes, this week we’ll be looking at some of the prog albums on the list, with a couple of interlopers from Krautrock. If you’re wondering where Pink Floyd or Rush are, click the links. If you’d like a more Father’s Day kind of list, perhaps this one might suit; if you’d like a list including my own dad’s music taste, one is here.

Can, ‘Future Days’

Tago Mago‘ appeared in the very first post way back in February 2016, so another visit to the abrasive Kraut weirdos was long overdue. Just four songs on this album, including one that takes up an entire side of vinyl, yet even if they completely dispense with conventional song structures or hooks, its burbling, hypnotic drones felt more accessible than ‘Tago Mago’. ‘Future Days’ has something resembling a rhumba beat for the majority, while ‘Bel Air’, this week’s longest track at nearly 20 minutes, goes from floaty e-bow doodles to heavier, darker rock territory. Pretty good.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, ‘Tarkus’

The first album I listened to this week has a side-long track about a geodisic armadillo born out of a volcano and armed with enough weaponry to have epic battles against other part-machine animals. Oh goody. The best parts of the title track are the contributions from Greg Lake: normally a bassist, his vocals and guitar solos lighten up a track that is mostly organ soloing. On the B-side, there’s an accessible pop song called ‘Jeremy Bender’ which lasts just two minutes and a daft Eddie Cochran jam among more waffle. This was a struggle.

Genesis, ‘Selling England By The Pound’

Here’s your Patrick Bateman reference before we start. One of the final albums with Peter Gabriel as singer and bandleader, this album has a great first half with ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ shaking off its folky opening with rhythms that wouldn’t sound out of place on an FKA Twigs record, ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ mixing psychedelic electric sitar with African-style rhythms and esoteric vocals, and ‘Firth of Fifth’ featuring jousting keyboard and guitar solos. The album comes unstuck on the second half though: Gabriel’s jaunty character studies on ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’ are at odds with the track’s fussy time signature faffing, while the next two songs are dull. ‘Aisle of Plenty’, meanwhile, is a reprise of the opener (with new, supermarket pun lyrics) but its clattering, overlapped tape loops sound like an early attempt at a remix. Pete’s weird sense of humour gives the album its distinctive character, but it also sounds as though it pulls in different directions to the other guys.

King Crimson, ‘Lark’s Tongues In Aspic’

Entering the 70s with a completely new line-up, Crimson here had the unusual line-up of guitar, bass, drums, percussion and violin, while losing both Peter Sinfield and Ian McDonald, the main writer and composer respectively of ‘In The Court of The Crimson King‘. Unfortunately this meant that while all the musicians were interesting sidekicks – Ian Muir particularly bringing toys, thumb pianos and random junk to the percussion rack – nobody seems to be taking the lead with melodies or hooks. The album often falls prey to the pitfalls of ‘Moonchild’, where interesting fragments wither on the vine of endless noodling improvisation. The exceptions are ‘Exiles’ (‘In The Court…’ in summary) and ‘Easy Money’, which sounds like a Dave Gilmour track deflated by Muir’s collection of half-broken toys. Mainly dull to an unforgivable degree, this is also KC’s final appearance on the list: ‘Red’ missing the cut.

Supertramp, ‘Crime of the Century’

Only knowing the hits, I’d assumed these were a sort-of Scouting For Girls 70s soft-rock act, yet Google insists this is a prog album so in we go. The album seems to be almost a compromise between pop and prog – like how the hand and the head are united by the heart in ‘Metropolis’ – with seven-minute songs tempered with choruses and singles. The first half doesn’t quite work, with the dire “work/shirk” rhyme of ‘School’ and the uncertain delivery of the title in ‘Bloody Well Right’ (maybe Mark E Smith could credibly use that phrase in a song, but not Supertramp). The second half works though, with the big hit ‘Dreamer’ and the sober ‘Rudy’. Mainly driven by piano and Wurlitzer, this was better than I was expecting.

Tangerine Dream, ‘Phaedra’

A trio of Germans recording in London with a modular synthesizer that went out of tune every day, Tangerine Dream’s spacey instrumental wanderings must have driven people round the twist in the 70s. Heard in 2017, though, it sounds like a precursor to acts like The Orb, more concerned with changing mood through a switch in modulation or phasing than through a chord change. The title track is nearly twenty minutes of distant electronic burbling, a remote star becoming a supernova, while the following tracks explore the frozen planetary wastelands left in its wake. Maybe I’d developed Stockholm syndrome at this point, but I loved the inscrutable, enigmatic soundscapes here.

Yes, ‘Close to the Edge’

I’d enjoyed ‘The Yes Album’ so let’s see whether Jon and the boys pull it off again here, where there are just three tracks in 37 minutes. The first, the side-long title track, feels unnecessarily cluttered at times thanks to its weird time signature shifts and ostentatious arrangement (there’s a church organ here), but the rock music parts (#2 and #4) are pretty good. On the other side, ‘And You And I’ has a pleasant twelve-string melody, nice synthesizers, a strong melody and less arsing around changing time signature every three bars. ‘Siberian Khatru’ has a headache of an outro: the guitar is playing in one rhythm and time signature and everything else seems to be playing in another. This isn’t as good as ‘The Yes Album’ but it’s certainly listenable. Drummer Bill Bruford left after this because of the sterile, laborious recording the band preferred: listening to the more spontaneous-sounding studio take of ‘Siberian Khatru’ that appears as bonus fluff on Spotify, he might have had a point. (Bruford would go on to join King Crimson for ‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’.)

Next week: This week was pretty white lad heavy, so let’s hit the dancefloor next week with some funk!

I’ll also be releasing an EP next week as Year Without A Summer, so feel free to write a pithy review of that from Monday.

Status update: 541 listened to (54%), 460 remain

January 22: Tim Buckley, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Simon and Garfunkel, Yes

Welcome back to 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die! This week, I’ll be looking at seven artists who each have three albums on the list, but which I’d never heard.

Tim Buckley, ‘Goodbye and Hello’

I had Jeff’s dad down as a gloomy folky, so it was something of a surprise to hear him being so direct and engaged with a full band complementing him. Released in 1967, the album is far out even by the standards of the decade: ‘Pleasant Street’ twists Buckley’s androgynous falsetto into a wail of despair while ‘Hallucinations’ has a disarmingly cacophonic arrangement. The only wrong move is the title track: a preposterous, overloaded pomp-folk wander nearly nine minutes long. Some of the arrangements would have benefitted from some restraint (the choir on ‘Morning Glory’, say) but this is a pretty wonderful album.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Bayou Country’

Even though Creedence were from California, you can imagine boating through the Louisana swamps with this album playing, imagery supported of course by the titles. The best-known track on this album, and in CCR’s repetoire, is ‘Proud Mary’, which is also the song least concerned with heavy blues riffs, sludgy harmonica and Robert Plant wailing. I don’t generally care for this sort of sound, but some of the songs are good examples of the genre, such as ‘Born on the Bayou’. Other songs sound half-finished: ‘Keep on Chooglin” for example.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners, ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’

All three Dexys albums from their original run appear on the list (none from their comeback). This is the first, which symbolically starts with a radio being tuned away from Deep Purple and the Sex Pistols. Like me, you probably think of Dexys in dungarees playing violins. We’ll come to that era later: on their debut, they’re all about brassy soul with organs and, of course, that Kevin Rowland yelp, surprisingly listenable over the course of an album. While the B-side can’t match the A-side (the A-side has ‘Geno’, for one), I really enjoyed this.

Peter Gabriel, ‘Peter Gabriel’ (I/’Car’)

Gabriel’s solo debut and the first of four self-titled albums, this album is unusually hard to find online, which is possibly the influence of anti-streaming Crimson King Robert Fripp, the album’s guitarist. While Fripp’s contributions here are among his most unremarkable of the decade, Gabriel himself has an abundance of ideas: ‘Down the Dolce Vita’ goes straight from orchestral bombast to clavinet funk, ‘Excuse Me’ features a barbershop quartet and the second track’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ was a legit hit. Nothing struck me as demanding multiple listens here, but it’s clearly the work of an imaginative songwriter. I look forward to hearing more Gabriel.

Roxy Music, ‘Roxy Music’

Brian Eno is on the list about a million times in some form. Of course he started off in Roxy, and this album sees him mostly in the background, manipulating the other instruments and adding spacey VCS3 effects. The sound is unusual enough already, blending artsy experimentalism with sexy glam rock and regularly using an oboe, an instrument rarely used in rock music. I’m not sure I was entirely convinced by this. Still, the good one is meant to be ‘For Your Pleasure’, which we’ll come to later.

Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’

Would it surprise you if I told you this album starts with ‘Scarborough Fair’? The duo’s third album was recorded with 60s regulars The Wrecking Crew (‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Forever Changes’ and so on) and is a pretty enjoyable folk-pop album. As you might imagine, it’s a very 1966 album: one song has the subtitle ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ and another is a cover of ‘Silent Night’ with Vietnam war footage played underneath it. The major bummer is ‘A Simple Desultory Phillipic’, an awful Dylan pastiche.

Yes, ‘The Yes Album’

When I was growing up, Yes had a kind of reputation for unbearable pomposity, probably thanks to fifth album ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, an 81-minute, four track double album. Posterity has been kinder to ‘The Yes Album’, however, insofar as it sounds pretty damn good to these ears. Refreshingly free of excess despite the long song length, the album combines McCartney-style melodies, long solo guitar instrumentals, three-way harmonies and fuzzy organs and at 41 minutes it’s a concise introduction to the band.

Next week: I’ll be checking out all the reggae on the list. I’m sure there’s plenty!

Status update: 395 heard (39%), 606 remain