You could throw darts at the tracklist from Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change and each song you hit would be sadder than the last. Hence this deviation in format from our ongoing playlist of Songs That Broke My Heart… call it an Album That Broke My Heart.
Beck had always been equal parts folk (Mutations) and weird (Odelay), and perhaps at his best when he combined the two. Although his sense of humor and absurdism usually dominates, a pronounced darkness is often present. All of these tendencies were on display on his breakthrough single “Loser”, which, together with the roughly contemporaneous “Creep” by Radiohead, was part of a groundswell of indie rock self-loathing in the mid 1990s.
King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic celebrated its 40th anniversary in March 2013. Originally met with skepticism in 1973, it now lives on in an array of new editions with meticulously restored sound, artwork, and hours of unheard recordings. The 40th Anniversary “Complete Recordings” box set is a beautiful piece of design in and of itself, but all in the service of restoring and preserving the artwork and printed matter that surrounded the original album release. The box includes reproductions of a number of period artifacts, including a handbill, ticket stub, and in the scrapbook, the original variant USLP sleeve, and promo EP. Sadly, the otherwise extensive liner notes do not directly address the sleeve art or design at all.
Declan Colgan (of Panegyric Recordings) contributes an essay to the Complete Recordings scrapbook in which he argues that Crimson’s immediately previous release was a near-fatal commercial misstep for a band already on thin ice. Crimson was long hobbled by a persistent instability following the breakup of the short-lived original lineup that recorded In the Court of the Crimson King, made a huge splash on stages worldwide, then quickly broke up. Only one of the three subsequent studio albums was recorded by anything resembling an actual band. Worse for their commercial prospects, only one further tour was undertaken during this period, and still worse than that, the resulting live album Earthbound looked and sounded like crap.
Is the Doctor Who episode “The Rings of Akhaten” already one of the series’ most misunderstood? Almost two years ago, the Doctor urged his companions Amy & Rory not to live up to the title of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, for the vaguely-explained sci-fi reasons that changing history doesn’t always work out for the best. The Doctor defeated the devil before, in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” from Series 2. Here he has no compunctions in also killing god.
I’ve now listened to three fan podcasts debating the merits of “The Rings of Akhaten”, and was frankly surprised to discover the episode has been met by Doctor Who fandom with ambivalence at best, and outright derision from the rest. I would certainly not try to defend it as an instant classic, but it certainly does not deserve to be counted among the abysmal failures like “Fear Her” and “Last of the Time Lords”. In fact, I would argue it’s worthy of praise for daring to say something potentially very controversial. Perhaps it doesn’t say it very well (as evidenced by the fact that none of the participants in those three podcasts so much as broach the topic), but at least it’s a story that strives to be more than the usual Doctor-defeats-an-alien-invasion routine (not that there’s anything wrong with that routine — as a lifelong fan I love that routine!).
Out of all the various opinions voiced by the hosts of Radio Free Skaro, Verity, and Two Minute Time Lord, I align most with Chip of the latter, who was pleased the show still has the potential to be surprising. But everyone, even Chip, failed to even address what I took to be the major takeaway from the episode: the Doctor essentially rescued a civilization from a parasite they worshipped as a god. He freed a society from their self-defeating religion, and they thanked him for it.
Any playlist of sad songs I might compile must include No-Man, but it was no easy task to select only one piece from a songbook positively chock full of them. To make my job a bit easier, I went back to the band’s beginnings.
Similar in style to their first breakout single “Colours” (a dramatic reimagining of Donovan’s mid-60s folk-pop hit), “Days in the Trees” is very much an artifact of early 90s minimalist art-pop. Despite its superficially dated production, the song is quintessential No-Man: Tim Bowness’ melancholy vocals hovering over Steven Wilson’s looped breakbeat, accompanied by Ben Coleman’s dramatic violin and very little else.
Rock ‘n’ roll is not an everyday conversation topic around our family table, but the improbable longevity of The Rolling Stones was remarkable enough to come up once during dinner. I had recently listened to “Sympathy for the Devil” for the first time in a while, and remarked upon how surprisingly dark and intense it was, so much so that it gave me chills. My grandmother asked why, then, would I deliberately listen to something that unsettled me?
She had a point. Upon reflection, I’ve found that most of the music I hold dear is chilling (like the aforementioned ode to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita), chilly (like some of the more academic, brainy music by Brian Eno, Philip Reich, or Robert Fripp), or just plain cold (pretty much everything else). Some have subject matter that makes you want to jump out a window, some just sound like they do, and some may not be sad per se, but are rather so painfully beautiful I almost can’t bear listening to them.
The story of King Crimson’s revitalization for a new decade with the album Discipline has been told many times over. The 1981–84 period is usually discussed in terms of personnel, with most commentary marveling that no two consecutive prior King Crimson albums had ever before featured the same lineup. No doubt, for a band defined by perpetual lineup changes, it was novel indeed to finally stabilize around a fixed group of musicians. It’s a handy narrative hook upon which to hang a record review, but it’s only part of the story.
1981–1984 saw the band unusually focused on a core set of musical ideas. They laid them out in a nearly perfect thesis statement in the form of their debut album Discipline in September 1981. This “new” Crimson was to be defined by interlocking guitar parts (shared at first by two virtuoso guitarists, but expanded on later tunes like “Neal and Jack and Me” to encompass the full quartet), bleeding-edge technology (drum and guitar synthesizers, plus the futuristic instrument the Chapman Stick), quirky New York pop tendencies (of the Talking Heads variety), a dash of world music influences (particularly Afropop and Indonesian gamelan), and composition derived through improvisation (examples being “The Sheltering Sky”, “Requiem”, and later most of side two of Three of a Perfect Pair).
King Crimson Album Art: In the Wake of Poseidon
A commenter got in touch with some very interesting details regarding Tammo de Jongh’s painting for King Crimson’s In the Wake of Poseidon… or should I say twelve paintings? If this sounds interesting to you too, well, what are you waiting for? Read all about it in our revised visual essay.
King Crimson exploded right out of the gate in October 1969 with In the Court of the Crimson King, one of the few debut albums to become an instant classic. Popular music history is littered with examples of acts that didn’t peak in artistic and/or commercial terms until well into their recording careers. Artists as diverse as Genesis, Brian Eno, and Radiohead searched for their voices until their third albums, and even the sainted Beatles didn’t go from merely excellent to sublime until Rubber Soul, their sixth. But In the Court of the Crimson King was the complete package, and remains significant and influential to this day in both musical and visual terms. Eric Tamm describes the album’s impact upon the music scene as a sort of cosmic big bang that produced a number of splinter genres:
In retrospect, whatever one felt about this music, the seminal nature of the album cannot be denied: the variegated yet cohesive In the Court of the Crimson King helped launch, for better or for worse, not one but several musical movements, among them heavy metal, jazz-rock fusion, and progressive rock. As Charley Waters, writing for the Rolling Store Record Guide, was to put it some years later, the album “helped shape a set of baroque standards for art-rock.“ – Eric Tamm, Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft, page 43
Twenty-six people were shot to death yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, including 20 children.
In a separate but related fact, you are the first Facebook friend I’ve ever unfriended. Or is that “de-friended”, or perhaps “ex-friended”? Regardless, I’d like to briefly explain why.
I was social networking skeptic until I joined Facebook in 2008. I still run hot and cold on the site; sometimes absent for months, other times engaging daily with friends about things both important (weddings, elections, hurricanes) and trivial (a movie I dug, what I had for lunch, photos of my cats).
But it frankly gives me warm fuzzies to think that I have Facebook friends from around the world, of all ages, races, political affiliations, sexual orientations… basically every way that human beings can be different from each other. Sometimes I see posts I disagree with, just as at least some of my own have probably irritated others.
The recent American election, for instance, engendered a huge amount of rancor on social networks. Friends and family accused each other of being unpatriotic for supporting different candidates. I myself am certainly not innocent from pointedly posting or “liking” articles that reflect my own views, nor do I expect others to refrain. But as a matter of principle, I have never blocked or unfriended anyone.
King Crimson’s eleventh studio album THRAK veered away from their prior discography in more ways than merely how it sounded. The band’s radical new form and sound was fittingly captured and delivered in a very different package than anything that had come before; not only were the fashions and times very different than their last outing circa 1984, but even the formats had changed. The 1980s band employed minimalist design on the larger canvas of the LP record, replaced in the 90s by dense textures on tiny CD inserts.
Eric Tamm published his book Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft in 1990, when King Crimson appeared for all intents and purposes defunct. He nevertheless correctly nailed its cyclical nature:
“King Crimson had always been a way of doing things, and indeed with the new band [King Crimson 1981–84] the historical King Crimson pattern played itself out once more: a short period of intense collective creativity resulting in a dynamic new musical style, followed by a decline into somewhat mannered refinements and repetitions of original insights and a fragmentation of group identity due to the individual creative leanings of the musicians.“ – Eric Tamm, Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft, page 9
Looking back from the point of view of 1990, the major phases of the King Crimson lifecycle did indeed fall into a trilogy of trilogies: roughly three albums per three years (with varying gaps of inactivity in-between). After their singular debut in 1969, this pattern fits the bumpy transition period of 1970–71, the adventurous jazz rock fusion period of 1973–74, and the new wave / math rock curveball of 1981–84. The THRAK era is where this organizational scheme falls apart. In stark contrast, this phase spanned 1994–96 but produced only one studio album. Continue reading →