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Elemental Favourites

20 Jun

As a follow up to my previous post, I want to now outline my all time favourites bands, as I see them align to those four sacred elements. They fall in no particular order. I have in this case, included the Spirit Element.

Earth: My four Earth gods fell to ( or emerged from the depths!) of Earth at the end of the 1960’s. The bombastic brand of blues that Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham produced under its guise, Led Zeppelin, would seem to  influence more rock n roll bands than any other. The swagger and swoon of  Robert Plant, the immortal riffing of Jimmy Page, the versatile genius of John Paul-Jones and the destruction of John Bonham’s drumming are a tour-de-force of music. Emerging out of the earthen blues, it would be on their third outing simply called III that Earth would show its face in the Led’s music. A calm, folksiness, an ease off of the loud riffs, and mature heartfelt songs, deliver timeless classics like That’s The Way and Since I’ve Been Loving. This style, merged with the original blues style on their seminal album IV. No one in rock would ever forget that climb from Earth to Heaven on the timeless tune, Stairway to Heaven. But my personal favourite tune, one for the diehards, came on the next album Houses of The Holy: The Rain Song. Truly a majestic and elemental ballad, where all four members merged into one unforgettable song.

Personal Favourites: The Rain Song, Stairway to Heaven

Fire : The serpentine charisma of Jim Morrison lightens his band The Doors in an eternal flame. Morrison oozed sex, poetry and onstage shamanism, working his fans in a Dionysian frenzy. Dark lyrics, crooned over bluesy riffs from guitarist, Robbie Krieger. Ray Manzarek would signify the Doors sound with his carnival-like keyboard sounds, atop John Densmore’s kit work. The Doors produced both seminal pop songs ( Light my Fire)  , uneasy listening experiences like the Oedipodian The End and the manic When the Music’s Over. The latter song brooded apocalyptic as Morrison epitomised in song, the disgust of the Vietnam War, amongst the youth culture. His words hung heavy over a generation, like the Earth would explode in flame from the greed of the power hungry. And on the otherside of The Doors, was a man in love, a man wanting to be adored as more than rock star, a man who would inevitably self combust from the burdens of stardom.

Personal Favourites: L.A Woman, The End 

Air:  Air for the most part is unseen, mostly being felt amidst the turbulence of windy days. And like the enigmatic wind, Pink Floyd would soothe us and disturb us within a single sitting. Emerging from the progressive London scene of the late 1960’s, the Floyd were a band that became a beacon of strange and eerie sounds, both beautiful and confronting. Having songs that would reach up to 25 minutes, shows faith in their fans for hearing what they have to say. Listen to one such song, Echoes, not as a pop song with licks and chorus, but as a movement, a statement, akin to classical pieces. Be swept away by its poetic lyrics from bassist Roger Waters and the effervescence of David Gilmour’s Stratocaster. If I have a penultimate album to recommend to anyone its the Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon (Personal album review: https://themightyarmsofatlas.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/dark-side-of-the-moon/) It garners the word masterpiece and should be listened to meaningfully, as its ethereal sounds swirl across your mind and never leave you.

Personal Favourites: Echoes, Time, Entire DSOTM Album

Water: Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said of water :

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

The essentiality of water springs to mind what is essential to me musically. If I had to keep one discography and one only it would be that of The Beatles. Much has been written of the Fab Four (as has all of my other elemental bands) but my appreciation will be voiced here and now. The Beatles flow from Please, Please Me, with all its head wagging pop innocence, to the psychedelia of Revolver, the bravado of Sgt. Peppers right out to the mouth of the ocean, finishing serenely with Let It Be. A generation of people grew up, imitated and followed the Beatles, experiencing their journey alongside them. From do-wop (She Loves You), to intelligent love songs ( Michelle), to far out (Tomorrow Never Knows) and straight simple rock (Get Back). For me its the pure experessions of love and beauty that will always make me love The Beatles. Its their endeavour into eastern mysticism ( Listen to Harrisons Within You, Without You), that made me respect them. Its their humour and silliness that keeps me amused. It is a discography that is flawless, sustaining, enlivening, durable, soft and strong. And immortal.

Personal Favourites: Dear Prudence, Its All Too Much

Spirit: including spirit in this one had to happen. There is one band that lies beyond the visual, the conventional, breaking patterns and touching somewhere immaterial. Tool. They leave the listener with a feeling of surreality, like a hard drug, like a profound thought, like a deep meditation.  Amongst the heavy, advanced riffs from Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor, the layered, powerful drumming of Danny Carey is a  deep and powerful messaged delivered from singer Maynard James Keenan.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving all these opportunities behind.

Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.

(Lateralus)

 

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The Four Elements of Seattle Grunge.

16 Jun

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For years I’ve been a headbanger on one hand, and a psychedelic, esoteric, spiritually thinking individual on the other hand, as I’m sure are many of my fellow humans are. When one absorbs copious amounts of a thing (whether it’s a concept, an idea, a notion, a way of life and in this case music!) it seeps into the understanding of another thing. This slice of writing is more or less just randomness, a stream of consciousness that has arisen after years playing those great Seattle bands of the early 90’s. My understanding of the properties of the four alchemical elements has intertwined into the characterisation of listening experience of the following four bands. It’s purely personal opinion and I’d love for anyone to critique it, expand on it and do their own. I’ll follow this piece up with my four favourite bands of all time and how I define them according to those sacred elements.

Earth: The bluesy riffing of Jerry Cantrell, the pained wails of Layne Staley and their combined harmonies are Earth to me. The simplistic acoustic ballads are powerful, the honesty of the content evoked is heavy listening, truly Staley’s anecdotes of heroin addiction aren’t easy to hear. It’s not just that their seminal album is called Dirt, it’s the feeling of helplessness that his voice will give you that makes you feel as he did: down in a hole.

Personal Favourites: Rain When I Die, Would?

Fire : The scintillating sounds of Nirvana, for me, align with the qualities of fire. The erratic and unpredictable expression of the immortal Kurt Cobain truly ignite the listener. The band played a no frills style of garage punk rock, which to the snobby musician is too simple. Yet it emanates the sometime calm, sometimes out of control nature of fire. Cobain is conjuring the fire god of yesteryear, Jim Morrison. He is adored by a generation, yet misunderstood, not wanting to be an idol for “grunge”. For many Nirvana were a fallback, at a confusing time in their lives. The sexual frustration of puberty. Relationships. Emotions that burn.

Personal Favourites: Drain You, Aneurysm

Air: As if soaring on an eagle, Chris Cornell’s voice flies sky high over the guitar of Kim Thayil; Air coming to me in the form of Soundgarden. If Chris Cornell isn’t considered one of the great singers of all time, the critics best have a good excuse. It’s thunderous and dynamic, fierce and gutsy. And Matt Cameron is as damaging as wrecking ball on the drumkit. Soundgarden have their ethereal moments. Listen to their hit Black Hole Sun, when Cornell wails and Thayhil solos like a tornado, you’ll know why I felt the Air in Soundgarden.

Personal Favourites: Rusty Cage, Slaves and Bulldozers

( Like the wind shapes earth, hear both Staley and Cornell blast out a powerhouse performance on AIC’s Right Turn)

And finally Water: Water is said to typify emotion. My first ever big concert was Pearl Jam, back in 2006. So my emotions are tied strongly to this 5-piece. Like water they’re ever changing, fluid, but most of all essential. They’ve got the radio staples like Better Man and Daughter, but it’s the personal tunes like Black and Release, where one can feel frontman Eddie Vedder’s fragmented upbringing. His voice is as iconic and unique as the other elementals aforementioned. But like the calming effects that water bring, the sheer joy that guitarist,Mike Mcready’s playing gives, makes the tragedy a bit easier to bear. To hear pure emotion from a guitar, I’d point to his pre Jam work, with Temple of The Dog. With the Air god Cornell wailing flawlessly about a lost comrade, it could only be Mcready’s guitar work to steal the show on the song, Say Hello to Heaven.

Personal Favourites: Black, Yellow Ledbetter

So there you have my Alchemy of Grunge spiel. You can naturally say all bands are representing all the elements and I’d gladly hear anyone’s spin on it! Or maybe next time you’ll hear what I hear?! Happy listening y’all.

Astral Weeks

23 May

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“To be born again…”

Has an album ever been more emotionally stirring? Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks epitomises accoustic/pop but shouldn’t be labelled one. Combining elements of Classical, Jazz and Folk, Morrison’s eight-track masterpiece is pure magic. The loosely jammed music which flows throughout the album is that of pure genius with Van leading the way on guitar and his emotional, baritone voice. Apparently he told the session members to “just play”, giving them some loose chord patterns to follow, which cites the notion; precision isn’t the key to perfection.

Astral Weeks, is a gorgeous opener. Immediately, Van’s lyrics wash over you, emanating a sense of warmth and happiness that few album openers can deliver. “To be born again” he tells us throughout seven minutes of bliss. Beside You then backflips from what the opener delivers. This beautiful “Spanish” hand picked piece, depicts what can only be described as Van’s emotions for a girl as he lays “beside her”.
Sweet Thing is another surreal and gorgeous acoustic ballad that should be played over all candle-lit dinners. If any song were to hit the charts from this album Sweet Thing, would be it. However the charts and Astral Weeks were world’s apart. The album and all of its songs didn’t venture into the charts. It only went Gold in 2001 – 31 years after it’s release. But Rolling Stone considered it worthy of a #19 position in its 500 Greatest Albums. In this sense ‘Weeks defied the notion of the charts and its influence on music.

“Cyprus Avenue”, was apparently a street in Morrison’s native town Belfast, which divided the town. One side being the rich part of town and the other side (Morrison’s) the poor industrial side, where the poor kids played and hoped to get to the other side of the street, one day. Cyprus Avenue is also the fourth song on Astral Weeks. Yet another gorgeous sweeping ballad, led by a harpsichord, Morrison is at his most personal on this track. “Caught one more time / Up on Cyprus Avenue / Yes, I may go crazy / Before that mansion on the hill”. Following the journey down Cyprus Avenue, The Way Young Lovers Do jumps out of the gloom. Although probably out of place on this album, you can’t help put tap your foot to this bouncy and upbeat jazz song. The next track is a sprawling epic called Madame George. Dreamy and thought provoking lyrics skip around you across nine minutes of brilliance in which Van sounds like a child again, talking about this ethereal figure named Madame George. Next, you’ll find yourselves drifting into a dream as Van’s Ballerina slowly pirouette’s into your soul. This is the most emotional song of the album, and believe me there is a lot to. Slim Slow Slider concludes Astral Weeks. Sounding like it should be played in the death scene of some Hollywood epic, it is a slightly sombre song though beautiful in its tragedy.

Astral Weeks is an unforgettable music journey. It is raw emotion laid down for all amidst dreamy lyrics and superb musicianship. It is understandable why this album did not receive recognition in its time. No one had heard anything like it. And no one ever will again.

The Dark Side of the Moon

23 May

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Breathe, Breathe in the air”, Pink Floyd’s guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour quietly asks us on The Dark Side Of The Moon’s opening track, Breathe before we are launched into one of rock music’s true masterpieces. The bands first “concept album” deals with the pressures and hardships of everyday life which eventually lead to madness, while covering themes such as time, travel, money, war and death along the way. In essence, it is a metaphor for life, which any listener will relate to. Bassist and band leader Roger Waters’ beautifully crafted lyrics are just one of the numerous reasons behind The Dark Side’s success.

“ Ticking away, The moments that make up the dull day, You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way, Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown, Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.”

Another reason the album was and still is a success is it’s state of the art engineering/ producing by Allan Parsons, who would later form “The Allan Parsons Project.” Parsons was largely responsible for the sound effects heard throughout the album. Tracks such as Time, in which you hear a series of ticking clocks and alarms in the build up to the song and on Money when the song is introduced by a series of chiming cash registers are all evidence of Parson’s craftwork. A further element incorporated into the album that is almost bizarre is the inclusion of seemingly random bits of dialogue that add a human element to the album. “There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark,” says Abbey Road doorman Jerry Driscoll over the albums final track Eclipse. These studio techniques, although dated, heavily influenced progressive rockers such as Rush and Yes.

Then of course there is the musicians themselves. Waters, Gilmour, Rick Wright (keyboardist, vocals) and Nick Mason (per-cussionist) all shine, showing cohesion and skill across the entire album that begins with the two-part song Speak To Me/Breath. While merely mood setters for the album they do their job. We are then literally taken On The Run, a song relating to travel, that although not appealing to the ear is revolutionary due to the use of the synthesiser. Time is one of two epic tracks on the album, starting with the ticking of clocks and gradually working into a masterful piece of music. Lyrically this is Waters at his best as he appeals to the importance of time in everyone’s life and how it can just slip us by Gilmour also shows the world that he can play guitar with an eye-opening solo in the middle of the track. Following a brief reprisal of Breathe we are forced to face death, with a beautiful piece by Wright on The Great Gig In The Sky, that includes one of the finest vocal performances in rock history by session singer Clair Torrey. She wails to the heavens as if in pain then all ceases. Before long Money is thrown in our faces with Waters again displaying his lyrical talent. “Money it’s a crime, Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.” Money was Dark Side’s most successful single, with it’s catchy bass riff and odd timing. The theme of war is next considered on the albums second epic, Us And Them. A beautifully crafted piece, it is easily the most dramatic song on the album, helped by Wright’s and Mason’s deft touches. Any Colour You Like is a strange instrumental, rhetorical in ways that is asking the listener to take the song on board “anyway they like.” The Dark Side of The Moon concludes in spectacular fashion with the two parts of Brain Damage and Eclipse. Brain Damage is a wonderfully witty song with Waters putting the listener inside the head of a lunatic. “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me,” he says, before the track leads is into Eclipse, a summary of ever day life. The album then finishes how it starts, the last thing you hear being the sound of a heart beat. After listening to The Dark Side of The Moon you realise that your not being told anything you don’t already know. The album is essentially life being thrown at us in the most incredible way possible. If you do not own this masterpiece proceed to nearest CD store and purchase it immediately.