Bliss Release – Cloud Control – AOTM July 2022

Bliss Release – Cloud Control – AOTM July 2022

A question has been intriguing me rather: what are the factors for choosing AOTM? Is it the album I have listened to the most all month (which would be Confident Music for Confident People by Confidence Man)? Or is it the best album I have heard all month (Probably Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds, the more modern recording)? In the end, I have chosen Bliss Release by Cloud Control as it is the most suitable to describe my July. I wanted to play this at a dinner during the hottest day of the year but was constrained to listening to Andrew (Andrwho?) Bird. This would have been my choice and is one of my favourite summer albums. It was introduced to me by my father, whose taste in music is a strong redeeming quality for other nefarious aspects of his character with which one has to put up. I am sure he feels the same about me.

There’s an appealing open-heartedness about the debut from Australian psychedelic poppers Cloud Control, a sense of wide-eyed, slightly fried wonder. You might even pin down their entire worldview to a single line in the song Ghost Story: “I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.” Singer Alister Wright sounds so amazed by everything that one suspects he could conjure awe out of a parking permit renewal reminder. Guardian

There’s Nothing In the Water is very much in keeping with the Cloud Control theme, it is a cool, well produced slick piece of Australian psychedelic pop.

Gold Canary is the standout track on the album. The riffs, drum line and catchy lyrics add up for a real toe-tapping winner of a track. In a way it is about freedom and being released from one’s cage.

 

Just For Now is another perfect summer tune, which allows us to cruise along a mountain highway, or sip tea through a sunny Saturday morning without a care in the world.

This Is What I Said recalls Paul Simon’s Graceland with its African-inflected guitar line and Wright’s conversational but oddly stilted lyric: “She said, ‘Can you feel the tangible chill in the air?'” One half expects the next line to reveal the speaker is nine years old and the child of his first marriage. Guardian

This album has, in various comment sections of the sources I consult for making these posts, been described as ‘criminally underrated’. I am minded to agree. This is close to a perfect album and is certainly a very high quality summer album with ‘good vibes’ as the youth of today would say.

 

Three Favourites – July Edition

Three Favourites – July Edition

Three Favourites are here again. See below three albums covers that have tickled me rather as the month has progressed.

Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath (1980)

There has been a lot of religious art on this blog recently but sometimes it pays to be slightly irreverent. The idea of three angels taking a break from finishing my rosaries when I fall asleep praying, having a fag, is very funny to me. I had not noticed them playing cards before! One of the things which caught my eye on this album was the angels’ shoes. Most of the art on this blog features angels without shoes. What an interesting feature.

Music From the Penguin Cafe – The Penguin Orchestra (1976)

This album was introduced to me by my father. I had forgotten about until Nick and I were flicking through the 1001 albums You Must Hear Before You Die book. This is an excellent album in its own right and contains some superb artwork. HAve a look and be disturbed and amazed in equal measure.

Elvis Presley – self titled – 1956

The picture of the king of rock, early in his career, riffing and having a great time is is very touching. This album cover shows the king in his prime, rocking out. It has made me very happy at the time of writing. Charlotte and I bonded in the beginning of our relationship having dinner at her apartment listening to Elvis’ 1960 album, which I cannot recommend enough.

Well there you have it. Tune in next month for the next covers.

Sabotage, Black Sabbath – AOTM June 2022

Sabotage, Black Sabbath – AOTM June 2022

Sabotage was Brummie band Black Sabbath’s sixth studio album, released in 1975. This was written at a difficult time for the band, who were fighting a legal battle with their former management who were keeping their earnings from them. The album follows some of the technical developments and movements towards synthesizers as the album’s predecessor, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. However, this iconic landmark album takes the band to new heights. Interestingly, Bill Ward forgot his trousers for the shoot for the album cover and had to borrow his wife’s red tights.

The album kick’s off with Hole in the Sky which picks up on the band’s earlier success in that it chooses a catchy riff and goes with it. The force of the track is stopped abruptly with the second track, Don’t Start (Too Late) which is an acoustic track. The juxtaposition is said to remind the listener that Sabbath is not to be confined to metal. The overarching theme of this album is insanity and loneliness. These are particularly covered in the epic Megalomania and Symptom of the Universe.

I’m not sure Google gets the picture

Symptom of the Universe is a six and a half minute epic. This is one of the two standout tracks of the album and contains some of its most striking lyrics:

Take my hand, my child of love come step inside my tears
Swim the magic ocean I’ve been crying all these years
With our love we’ll ride away into eternal skies
A symptom of the universe, a love that never dies

Listen to the drumming especially and Ozzy’s evocative vocals.

It is like being dragged, screaming, through Ozzy’s nightmare.

Paul Conboy, in the car with me as his captive audience.

Supertzar is an unexpected track, no lyrics, simply a choir harmonizing a harrowing eery tune. Ozzy said he could not think of any improvement to Tony Iommi’s riffs in the track so he added only harmonisation. The end result is somewhat apocalyptic.

A choir’s vocalizations dominated “Supertzar,”—no lyrics, just dark and fantastical vocal harmonies. In his memoir I Am Ozzy, Osbourne described the day it was recorded: “I walked into Morgan Studios and there was an entire forty-member choir in there along with an eighty-six-year-old harpist. They were making a noise like God conducting the soundtrack to the end of the world.” Classic Rock History

Megalomania is by far the most thrilling track on the album. It is an 10 minute epic which shows us the heights to which Sabbath could go. The word itself is a person who is obsessed with power. Osbourne captures the despairing loneliness with some choice lyrics throughout the track. The varying musical styles within the track’s passages are a testament to the diversity of talent within the band. Fortunately, a third of the way through Iommi interrupted the dread with an energetic riff on an unexpected piano. The listener was abruptly brought out of the dark and back to Earth, a transition mirrored by the lyrics, “Well I feel something’s taken me, I don’t know where. It’s like a trip inside a separate mind.” From there the song became a bold, hard-rocking tale of the narrator’s journey back from madness. (Classic Rock History)

I’m really digging schizophrenia the best of the earth
I’ll chase my soul in the fires of hell?
Peace of mind eluded me, but now it’s all mine
I simply try, but he wants me to fail
Feel it slipping away, slipping in tomorrow
Now I’ve found my happiness, providence of sorrow

More by accident than design, Sabotage ends Black Sabbath’s peerless first six-album run by being a bit of everything that got them there. Where the ambition and expansion of Vol. 4 had about it a glamorous sheen, the golden tint of perfect LA sunshine, here that same artistry is served by the grubbier fists and middle fingers of the four blokes from Aston that made their first three records.

The beginning of the end for the classic era? Almost certainly. But while they were on their hot streak, even as cracks started to show, Sabbath remained absolutely untouchable.

Kerrang

This album quite changed my perception of Sabbath. I knew Paranoid, of course, and some of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath but this was on a different level. It did mark the beginning of the end of the era but I quite agree with Kerrang, Sabbath were untouchable.

Three Favourites – June 2022 Edition

Three Favourites – June 2022 Edition

Hello and good greeting, as Ed Balls would say. Welcome to this month’s edition of ‘I am working too hard so have a few album covers rather than five’ Favourites. See below this month’s picks of top shelf covers.

Takin’ It To The Streets – The Doobie Brothers (1976)

Picture the scene – it is Monday evening. I have just sat through a 7.5 hour mediation at work over a relatively small claim for some encroaching vegetation. I am shattered beyond the normal level for a Monday. Charlotte, my guardian angel, comes over and cooks me a beautiful walnut, pear and gorgonzola risotto. It Keeps You Running by the below band comes on. I am in heaven. Enjoy this splendid cover!

The Dreaming – Kate Bush (1982)

Oh Kate Bush, my lionheart. The below has features as our resident writer Nick’s album of the month for May 2022. I could not help but pay his impeccable taste homage in having this as one of the three favourites. Depicting a passage from the song Houdini:

The album cover depicts a scene described in the lyrics to the song “Houdini”. In the picture shown, Bush is acting as Harry Houdini’s wife Bess, holding a key in her mouth, which she is about to pass on to him. The photograph is rendered in sepia, with just the gold key and Bush’s eye make-up showing any colour. Wikipedia

Queen – The Miracle (1989)

This absolutely horrifying number was Queen’s 1989 album. The album was recorded as the band recovered from Brian May’s marital problems and Freddie Mercury’s HIV diagnosis in 1987 (which was known to the band, though not publicised at the time). The cover itself is very strange indeed. I am not sure that I possess the vocabulary to describe the level of horror this induces inme. The merged eyes are particularly disturbing. But it is certainly a memorable cover!

Join me next month for the July Edition of (?) Favourites.

AOTM “The Dreaming” by Kate Bush

AOTM “The Dreaming” by Kate Bush

Once again, I have been given the great honour and privilege of writing this month’s edition of AOTM on the magisterial webpages of Cedric Suggests. This year I have chosen an album by an artist I ignored for years: Kate Bush. Friendship can often form around shared interests and pursuits. For this reason C.S Lewis envisioned friends as being side by side, in pursuit of a common goal or truth. But every so often a friend will also introduce you to something or to someone you had previously ignored and perhaps would never have discovered without them. This was certainly the case with Mrs Bush, who I had dismissed out of hand quite frequently despite Master Conboy’s many pleadings, but who I now love because of my friendship with him.

The first track is ‘Sat in your lap’. Musically, I think I would best describe it as drum-led and up-tempo. It makes for a very energetic start to the album to say the least. The lyrics concern someone who wants knowledge but does not want to expend the effort necessary to acquire it. Instead, the protagonist desires a quick fix summed up by the lines “Ooh, just gimme it quick, gimme it, gimme gimme gimme gimme!”. One of life’s paradoxes is that in order to achieve a level of effortlessness we are so often required to put in a great deal of effort to possess it. To play the piano with real ease, for example, means one must put in hours upon hours of sometimes painful practice to get to that level. Sometimes the work one puts into acquiring something is integral to value of having that thing. The man who reaches the summit of a mountain via an elevator, might enjoy the view, but he can hardly pride himself as a hiker.

kate bush sat in your lap / lord of the reedy river donovan 7" 45 single 1981 !! | eBay

“Bush as Dunce” 

In the chorus the protagonist sings that “I must admit, just when I think I’m king (I just begin)”, which reminds me of those times I have thought I understood something but later realised I did so only rather superficially. So often, our knowledge of things is rather skin deep, a point that can cause us quite a few problems if we begin to think we are a “king”. The philosopher is defined by the knowledge of how little he really knows, the saint by his knowledge of how little he has of anything when compared with the fullness of God. “A little learning is a dangerous thing”, as Alexander Pope said, “drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring”. But I regret to say a little learning is a more common thing than a “deeper understanding” and is if to exemplify that I have quoted Pope without having read the whole poem!

The third track, “Pull out the Pin” is I think a Kate Bush classic. I particularly enjoy the upright bass part as played by Danny Thompson in this track. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame provides backing vocals. The lyrics are from the perspective of a Viet Cong soldier which I think testifies to the tremendous diversity of Bush’s subject matter (which might be unparralled in pop). The protagonist sings of how close they are to the village and the innocents left behind, of the smell of “baccy” and “Yankee hash” of his enemy, of his “silver Buddha”, and of his tremendous will to live which is in opposition to this life-destroying invasion:

Just one thing in it:
Me or him
Just one thing in it:
Me or him.
And I love life!

Pull Out The Pin | Kate Bush Encyclopedia

“Mrs Bush at War (not Barbara)”

Another track I love from this album is “the night of the swallow”. The lyrics outline a dialogue between two lovers, the woman pleading for the man to stay, the man desperate to leave and start his adventure. It seems to be some kind of illegal mission, perhaps smuggling something or some people, for which he will serve as pilot. The logic of the lady’s position appears to be the opposite of Bruenhilde’s thinking in the prologue to the Goetterdaemmerung, who says to Siegfried: “wie liebt’ ich dich, liess’ ich dich nicht?” (“how do I love you, if I do not let you go forth”). I love the Irish folk music that backs the chorus and provides an excellent contrast with the more restrained verse sections, echoing the chasm between the protagonists’ positions.

Kate Bush - Very Rare : Night of the Swallow - 45 rpm - Catawiki

“Bush, the Irish Bard”

The final song I wish to speak about, for the sake of brevity, and in order to complete this post within this month, is “Houdini”. This is the source of the rather interesting album art for “the Dreaming”. Bush, playing the part of Houdini’s wife (Bess), prepares to kiss the great escape artist with a key on her tongue that he will use to escape from the handcuffs. The album art I think illustrates well how Bush transcended our modern pop conception of “sex symbol”. She is perhaps “sexy” here, but I think it is an expression of her own sexuality and will, and is not the same as our contemporary game of peep show disguised as “liberation”. I rather suspect that for those who did/do fancy her, she was no mere object to gorp at. But it is such musings that have led Paul Conboy to suggest Mrs Bush might need to file for a restraining order against me, so I best stop…

Houdini | Kate Bush Encyclopedia

“A Key Moment”

The song’s lyrics discuss how Houdini’s wife attempted to speak to her husband after his death through the occult. Houdini had apparently come up with a solution while still alive to ensure that when Bess did reach him through a séance, she could be sure it was no hoax. The code was apparently “Rosabel believe” and the lyrics suggest she heard him say this during a séance. Now I do not agree with “this sort of thing” myself, but it makes for an interesting song as does the bass and strings parts. All in all it is gripping story telling.

Why do so many Irish Catholics love being mocked by Father Ted?

“Careful now, with these séances!”

I have only just dipped into the surface of the brilliance of this album in this blog, so please listen yourself and drink deep the springs of its genius. Lest we be guilty of thinking we are “king” when we have only just begun.

We must all remember we are only at the beginning of things. We have just begun being friends, just begun being lovers, just begun our mission to perfect and regulate our love. Our King, who is alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all things, will find us at our beginning and lead us to our ending.

Mahler Symphony No. 1 “the Titan”

Mahler Symphony No. 1 “the Titan”

Please note I have inserted timings for moments in the symphony that I have discussed in the blog. These timings relate to the recording linked at the bottom of the page if you should wish to listen along while reading. 

Around eight years ago, during one idle summer, I stumbled across a youtube video with a recording of Leonard Bernstein performing Mahler’s 1st symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. I was immediately drawn by the symphony’s unusual nickname “the Titan”. Titanic symphonies of almost an hour length were a passion of mine at the time and so I was keen to give it a try. I sat stunned as the mysterious introduction unfolded, just as I had been when hearing the openings of Beethoven’s 9th symphony and Bruckner’s 3rd. But this was different, while in Beethoven’s 9th the first D minor theme proper had quickly emerged from the mist with a tutti outburst (as was the case more or less with Bruckner’s 3rd albeit with a good deal less haste), the introduction of this symphony seemed to remain in a kind of musical stasis for much longer. When eventually the first theme did surface I was faintly horrified. It seemed to me to be a tune of such absurd banality that I was stunned. How could this Mahler follow something so sublime with a theme like that?! I turned the video off immediately. Over the years I have learnt to appreciate and indeed love this contrast of the sublime and banal that is so typical of Mahler’s music, but it has been a long process. Let us take a closer look and see if we can re-evaluate things from the beginning.

What are the special ingredients of this hushed opening that so attracted me on that occasion. The first element is an A natural drone spanning several octaves (the same note played very quietly, moving up by an octave in a glissando), about as close as one can get to a kind of musical quietude (0:05 to 0:11 of track 1). This drone is soon joined by the second element, an interval of a descending fourth played in a call and response type fashion by the woodwinds, and a little later forming a short motif based on this descending interval (0:11 to 0:34 of track 1). This is then joined by a fanfare motif first played by the clarinets (0:35 – 0:43 of track 1), then eventually by muted trumpets (Mahler calls for the latter to be played in the distance as if they are heard far away) (1:07 – 1:14 of track 1). The clarinet imitates the call of a cuckoo but with a slight twist, unlike in nature the interval is here once again a descending fourth (1.28 of track 1). We now have a beautiful chorale theme in the horns that sounds full of innocence like the new morn (1.33 – 1.49 of track 1). From the musical void we are beginning to hear stirrings of life. A chromatic bass-line brings the first signs of any real tension to the music urging it towards a new direction (2:21 of track 1). Soon the “banal” theme emerges, but listen closely to how it starts with that same interval of a descending fourth that has been so prominent thus far in the music (3:02 of track 1). The theme has been prepared all along.

The question we may well ask is what does this strange and quiet introduction signify? Mahler gives us a clue in the score, he marks this section “Naturlaut” (sound of nature). In other words the music is conveying the hushed sounds of nature at its most tranquil, the impression one gets when alone in a wood perhaps. And what about the meaning of the main theme? Here, we also have some indication from Mahler. The melody is derived from the song “Ging Heut’ Morgen über’s Feld” (which describes the happy sensations upon observing the natural world) from Mahler’s song-cycle “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (“Songs of a Wayfarer”). This theme seems to represent nature, or a view of nature, at its most joyously innocent. The contrast was necessary: Mahler wanted to represent both views of the natural world, the sublime and the naïve. With all the musical elements in place Mahler now draws both from the introduction’s motifs and the mono-thematic exposition to construct a movement in unconventional sonata form. Close attention should be paid to the role the descending bass-line motif plays in injecting drama and tension into the movement, and the role of the fanfare motif in overcoming that tension.

Photo Tour of the Czech Republic - Radio Prague

The second movement begins with a Ländler, the country cousin of the Viennese Waltz, beloved throughout the Habsburg lands including in Mahler’s own native Bohemia. This rustic music has a surprisingly raucous atmosphere for the concert hall. Mahler would certainly have heard music like this as a boy in his father’s tavern in Iglau (modern day Jihlava). The horns are required to use a technique called “stopped horn” whereby the player blocks the bell of the instrument with their hand creating a veritably gnarly and uncouth sound. The central trio section is more elegant and intimate in tone and provides a respite from the stomping jollity of the peasant dance in the outer sections (2:50 – 5:36 of track 2). One more contrast in this symphony of contrasts.

If I had been patient enough to listen past the opening movement on that first occasion, there is no doubt I would have been shocked further still by the third movement, one of Mahler’s most unique creations. It begins with an eery funeral march which employs the tune of the popular round “Frère Jacques” refashioned in the minor mode (Mahler marks it “Bruder Martin” in the score). Here, then is a yet more bizarre contrast, nursery music used to create a solemn funeral march. The strangeness is intensified by the choice to introduce the melody with a solo double bass – an unusual instrument to say the least for a solo (0:10 of track 3). Later, the music gets weirder, sounding to many audiences like a Kletzmer band (2:27 of track 3). It seems unlikely that Mahler was actually channelling Kletzmer here as he had almost certainly not heard such music at this point in his life and this part of the movement probably owes much more to the Bohemian folk music he would have heard as a child. One thing is for certain though, this sped-up almost grotesque folk music provides for a very odd juxtaposition to the solemnness of the opening march.

Mahler explained that the movement had been partially inspired by a famous engraving known as “the Huntsman’s Funeral” by Mortiz von Schwind. The engraving depicts a torchlit funeral procession of forest animals carrying the body of their deceased enemy the hunter. The beasts appear to celebrate his demise with an unrestrained whimsy that gives the engraving a sharply ironic air. It is that same juxtaposition of earthy revelry and themes of death and loss that permeates the main music of the third movement. A lyrical contrasting section is set against this morbid humour (5:20 – 7:19 of track 3). It is based on music from the fourth stanza of another of Mahler’s songs “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen”: “Die Zwei Bluen Augen”. The text of the song describes how the protagonist and spurned lover has set out into the wide world and eventually found comfort asleep under a Linden tree. As with Schubert’s “der Lindenbaum”, we sense that there is a longing for the consolations that might come through death and an end to earthly miseries. 

“The Huntsman’s Funeral” by Moritz von Schwind

The final movement is the dramatic linchpin of the whole symphony. Mahler gave the movement the title “Dall’ Inferno al Paradiso” (“from the Inferno to Paradise”) and it appears to represent a battle between these two oppositional forces for one man’s soul. The movement begins abruptly with a cymbal clash followed by an orchestral outburst that Mahler described as the “outcry of a deeply wounded heart”. There ensues are short introduction with several motifs taken from Liszt’s Dante symphony, for example the motif first heard at (0:09 of track 4) is based on Liszt’s crux fidelis motif (used in the Dante symphony and elsewhere by Liszt), though Mahler has modified the intervals so that it conforms to the minor key. Another motif taken from Liszt’s Dante symphony follows based on chromatically descending triplets (0:11 of track 4). Out of this infernal introduction arrives a terrifying march-like main theme, its first four notes taken from the minor-version crux fidelis motif (1:06 of track 4).

Gustav-Mahler-Kohut.jpgMahler at the time of writing his First Symphony

This first theme is developed, hogging the stage like a rude bully, before finally culminating in swelling sounds in the brass and sneers based on the descending triplets (2:41 – 3:16 of track 4). A transition section follows that leads into a surprisingly beautiful song-like second theme that in turn builds to a sumptuous outpouring of emotion (3:17 – 5:48 of track 4). Does this theme perhaps represent the divine love that must necessarily save us from our ruin? Whatever the case may be we are not allowed to rest too soon, the exposition closes with music from the first movement’s introduction now combined with the minor-version crux fidelis motif and the descending triplets motif heralding a return to the stormy beginnings of the finale (5:49 of track 4).

The development begins dramatically with a combination of the minor-version crux fidelis motif and another inferno theme from Liszt’s Dante symphony (6:13 of track 4). Yet out of the maelstrom emerges hope, with fanfares reminiscent of the first movement returning followed by the crux fidelis motif now in the major mode with its original intervals restored and combined with an adapted version of the grail theme from Wagner’s Parsifal (6:58 – 7:14 of track 4). The trumpets attempt to mount a chorale-like theme which is interrupted by a return to the minor key and the tumult of the beginning (7:15 – 7:25 of track 4). The theme of victory first heard at (7:01 of track 4), however, soon emerges again but now fortissimo and what is more it leads to a surprising and spine-tingling modulation to D major (the key by which Mahler is to represent paradise) (8:25 – 8:39 of track 4). The chorale-theme returns resplendently (8:40 of track 4), its source of inspiration being the theme first heard at (0:25 of track 1) at the very start of the symphony based on descending fourths. From 8:51 of track 4 try singing “and he shall reign for ever and ever” to the melody and you might find yourself also believing Haendel’s Hallelujah chorus had some influence here too.

Motifs from the first movement now return at the conclusion of the development like memories of a past innocence fast receding but not forgotten (9:46 of track 4). They are heard, however, alongside motifs from the finale such as the devilish descending triplets motif. From memories of youth, we return to the song-like second theme which mounts to a beautiful though almost heart-breaking climax (11:33 – 13:14 of track 4). The dreaded march-like theme comes back and seems at first in danger of gaining momentum but it soon dissolves preparing a recall of the climatic passage which came near the conclusion of the first movement (13:15 – 15:15 of track 4). Fanfares herald the return of the motif of victory, a modulation to D-major and the finally the chorale-theme that leads us on triumphantly to a glorious conclusion (15:16).

And so a symphony of contrasts, of both sublime and naïve elements, the beautiful and the grotesque, ends with the greatest contrast of them all: that between heaven and hell, with heaven victorious at the last.