Monday, 14 September 2015

Tim Bowness - Stupid Things That Mean The World

It is heartening indeed to see Tim Bowness's latest effort hit the inaugural Prog Rock Album Chart at number 9. Though his No-man cohort Steven Wilson receives a lot of attention in various quarters, it is welcoming to see Bowness achieve success with his new album. Hot on the heals of last years studio album, it is obvious he wants to keep the momentum going and this new album is as good if not better. Bowness always excels at heartfelt melancholy with a sense of loss and here he excels in getting right to the core of those emotional pointers. Maybe I just like being a bit miserable, but honestly Tim Bowness like the best of Peter Hammill always takes you right to the heart of the rawness of how emotional experiences can leave their imprint on your soul. It's about connecting with the artist and Bowness sure does connect!

On this album he again surrounds himself with talent of the highest order. From Phil Manzanera, Andrew Keeling again producing beautiful string arrangements, Bruce Soord excellent on guitar and mixing and Rhys Marsh whose pedal steel playing is sublime. Mention must be made of Jarrod Gosling, whose wonderful artwork adorns this and last years Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. There is a video on Tim Bowness's web site where Jarrod talks about the artwork and it's relation to two classic albums by Genesis. See below for a hint of where he is coming from.

So, another excellent collection from Tim Bowness. I don't think he needs Mr Wilson now. That may mean little chance of another No-man album in the foreseeable future, but with the quality of what he is producing here, that's nothing to be too upset about.




Thursday, 10 September 2015

Riverside - Love, Fear and the Time Machine


Album of the year was going to be easy. Steven Wilson. Sorted. Now comes along the new Riverside and all change. I have been a fan of this band since their first album. Their mix of heavy, metallic prog and Floydian atmospherics was a potent brew. But with bassist Mariusz Dudas's solo project Lunatic Soul and the bands last album, Songs for a New Generation, their was change in the air. Things were becoming less metallic and more melodic. This new album takes that even further and adds in a particularly 80's vibe, recalling the prominent high end bass sound of early Cure and New Order. It all works a treat and presents their best album by far. Mariusz Duda is on an inspired songwriting roll at the moment and is producing some fantastic songs with the band all working in harmony to realise their most atmospheric, solid effort to date. But it is Duda who is the star. His voice and his bass playing has never sounded better. Yep, album of the year!



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Fred Frith SHM-CD Papersleeve Editions


Completing the trio of Henry Cow related SHM-CD sets which Belle in Japan have released are these three early solo albums by guitarist Fred Frith. As per the Henry Cow and Art Bears titles, these papersleeve editions have lots of bonus tracks. These bonuses are similar to those which were included in the early 90's editions as released by RecRec Music in Europe and East Side Digital in the US, but these new issues carry a slightly different roster than those. Fred Frith himself remastered these albums for his own Fred Records a few years back, but they didn't include any bonus tracks and he also completely changed the artwork. That was a shame as Gravity comes with a wonderful sleeve painted by Robert Wyatt's wife Alfreda Benge. Also, the releases I have in the series, including the Massacre and Skeleton Crew albums sound a tad loud and harsh and therefore I prefer the RecRec editions, which also included usefully enlightening sleeve notes. So it was interesting to see how these SHM-CD versions would sound.

Firstly, the interesting aspect of those bonus tracks included in these new editions, is that according to the credit sheet they were remastered by Bob Drake in 2015. That was a surprise as I hadn't read of Bob remastering any Frith related material this year. I wonder if they were specifically for these releases or something else?

I have had Gravity in various incarnations over the years. Above is my original Ralph Records vinyl from back in the day along with the RecRec and SHM CD's. I have to say that the SHM does sound as good as the RecRec, probably more detailed and dynamic. The overall remastering was done by Kazuo Ogino who has been responsible for all the Belle releases. I assume he takes the existing digital files and tweaks them a bit. It can be frustrating not being able to find information on the sources of these releases.

The bonus tracks are a mix of those presented on the RecRec releases and from other sources like the Keep the Dog live release which Frith released on his own label. I am particularly pleased to see the guitar piece "Oh Wie Schon Ist Panama!" Included on Gravity as that is a personal favourite. It is a thoroughly beautiful piece and is why I love Frith's guitar playing so much. For me, he is one of the best guitarists ever. He covers so much sonic ground, from tightly arranged sophisticated soloing through to completely free form guitar abandon. Yet, even in his manipulation and abusing of his guitar, he never once loses sight of the musicality of what he is doing. Always out of the chaos comes beauty and form. I don't think he gets the recognition that his multifarious projects deserve. He is quite unique.

So my Fred Frith box sits quite comfortably alongside those Art Bears and Henry Cow sets. Well done Belle for releasing these beautifully presented classic recordings. They are a delight! Along with the Gong and Phil Manzanera boxes, the Japanese SHM papersleeve industry have had quite a fruitful year.