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Friday, January 30, 2009

29 in 2009 - King Crimson: "In the Court of the Crimson King"

King Crimson:  In the Court of the Crimson King
Originally Released:  October 10, 1969
Genre:  Progressive Rock
Rating:  9 out of 10 Stars

Whoever left the comment about my 29 in 2009 series going the Sufjan Stevens "50 states" route gets mad props from me.  That's actually a pretty clever comment.  However, unlike Sufjan Stevens, I have a day job and responsibilities that need to be attended to.  How I wish I could just sit in my Brooklyn apartment all day in my vintage clothes and play on my banjo!  Alas, that is not my life.  Not now at least.

As it turns out, I still have a very keen interest in current indie music and so balancing my listening with that and these classic records that I have devoted myself too can be quite tough.  As many of my long time readers know, one of my favorite indie bands is The Mars Volta, currently one of the few bands still doing the whole progressive rock thing.  My interaction with the genre has been minimal to say the least.  I am pretty familiar with Rush, and I went through a Dream Theater phase at one point; but for the most part, me and prog rock have never been best friends.

It is with this minimal knowledge that I made the judgement in 2003 that The Mars Volta was one of the most original bands in existence.  However, at just a few minutes into In the Court of the Crimson King, I was made to realize something:  The Mars Volta totally ganked their sound, their style, many of the cool things that they do from King Crimson.  The leadoff track, "21st Century Schizoid Man" is very reminiscent of Amputecture-era Mars Volta; bearing a striking resemblance to "Tetragrammaton."  The difference, however, is clear:  King Crimson did it much better back in 1969 than The Mars Volta ever could have hoped.  "21st Century Schizoid Man" is an amazing piece of rock music, and I am blown away that I have never heard of it up until this point in my life.  How could this not have been an American radio hit, especially considering its many Vietnam War metaphors?

"I Talk to the Wind" is equally as impressive, but the band shows that they are capable of much more than turning the amp up to 11 and rocking out.  This is a much more mellow song entirely, using flutes and clarinets prominently throughout the track.  It's peaceful, moving, and calming.  "Epitaph" is an epic track as well, and though it maintains a relatively slow tempo, the instrumentation and Greg Lake's commanding vocals bring about a wave of excitement every time I listen to it.

I have mixed feelings for "Moonchild."  While I love the "proper" part of the song, the 8-minute free-form section that follows is one of the things that I've always sort of despised about the prog-rock genre.  I'm a fan of melody and form, and the two are sworn enemies of free-form music.  When I heard this song for the first time, it sounded really familiar and I had no idea where I had heard it before.  My answer came after a quick visit to Wikipedia when I found that the indie rock band, Doves, had covered it in their song "M62 Song."  It was always my favorite track from The Last Broadcast, and here I never even knew that it was a cover song!  Once again, my lack of knowledge does me in.

"In the Court of the Crimson King" is probably the band's only song, and the only one I knew that I was familiar with before tackling this album (not counting "M62 Song" of course).  It was the only song to ever be really popular in the United States, and I've heard it on classic rock stations maybe once or twice in my life.  Honestly, it's not their strongest song, though it's easily their most accessible rock song on this record.  It feels like it drags on far beyond its reasonable conclusion, though honestly, which progressive rock song doesn't?  I've found it to be a much better listen when it's experienced on its own, not simply as the conclusion to an intense, long album.

To be honest, I really love this album!  A lot of the time when I should have been listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I was listening to this one instead.  When I tried to skip ahead and listen to Tommy, I just wanted to hear "21st Century Schizoid Man" again.  I am kind of appalled that I'm just now hearing this record for the first time; not just at myself, but at the American music media for not instantly mentioning in their relentless lists of "greatest albums."  It's more than just entertaining or powerful; it's incredibly influential and potentially life-changing music!  Obviously, I'm a fan.  I can't wait to hear what else this band has to offer!

Verdict: Classic

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

29 in 2009 - Elton John: "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

The following post is part of a series known as "29 in 2009."  For more information on the series, click HERE.

Elton John:  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Originally Released:  October 5, 1973
Genre:  Pop, Rock, Glam, and hints of Progressive Rock
Rating:  7 out of 10 Stars

I wrestled for a while on whether or not to give a rating to the entries in this series, ultimately deciding that for those who don't feel like reading, a rating is pretty helpful.  For those expecting my first entry in the series to be posted sooner than this moment, I apologize for the wait.  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is quite an album to tackle, containing 17 wonderful tracks that each deserve an equal opportunity to be loved. 

I went into my first experience with the album with a general expectation of what I would hear based on my minimal knowledge of Elton John's music catalogue.  I've listened to and enjoyed his more famous tracks before, so I was expecting to have a good time listening to this album.  For the most part, my expectations were met and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road does live up to its "classic" status.

The leadoff track to this great album is, in my opinion, the album's finest song.  The 11-minute prog-rock influenced "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" is an absolute blast to listen to, particularly during the "Love Lies Bleeding" portion.  A piano-led rocker (as most John songs are), the song is filled with irresistible melodies and charming harmonies.  Over the last week and a half, I've listened to this song more often than any other Elton John song, and that's not just because it's the first track.  It is simply, a classic piece of music that I was surprised I had never heard before.

Also featured on the album is the original "Candle in the Wind" - a beautiful, humble ballad about Marilyn Monroe - and the instantly recognizable "Bennie and the Jets," which, honestly, needs no commentary on my part.  Add in "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and you have a handful of Elton John's most popular songs all on one album.  Who couldn't love that?  The surprising thing is how the quality of the songs on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road rarely, if ever, falter.  It's rare that you see a record of this magnitude achieve such greatness on every single track. 

To be absolutely clear, where the album does start to lose points from me is in its continuity, or rather its flow.  There is no logical reason for putting a soft ballad in between a prog-rocker and unabashed piano pop.  The album literally feels like you're listening to a greatest hits album because a.) all the songs are great, and b.) it feels completely disjointed.  Pick a genre that was around at the time, and chances are it's here in some form.  "Jamaica Jerk-Off" is an awesome song, but its tropical vibes feel misplaced between "Grey Seal" and "I've Seen That Movie Too" (another one of my favorites).  

My assumption is that the disjointed feel of the record is primarily caused by the limitations of the vinyl format.  When originally released, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a double album consisting of four sides.  Obviously, you can only put so much music on each side and therefore tracks need to be shuffled around in order to make them all fit.  I get it, and surely this won't be the last time I run into this "problem" of listening to an older album on a modern medium.

Despite my nit-picking, one would be remiss to not listen to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  Though it sounds almost cliche to say, this is an album that truly does have something for everyone - assuming that you don't have a inexplicable desire to listen to German techno or Akinyele at all moments of your existence.  I enjoyed my experience with this album and will continue to listen to it for some time.  I recommend that everyone else do the same.  If you have any questions about my experience with this album, please leave me a comment and I'll get back to you.

Verdict: Classic

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hanne Kolstö and Love:Fi to Perform at SXSW

Try to follow me here, folks. 

For those of you who may be a bit new to the blog, I used to run this feature called Myspace Music Mondays in which I would profile talented artists who I totally found on myspace.  On January 21, 2008 I profiled a young woman from Norway who I felt had what it took to be the next, oh I don't know, Bjork.  Her name is Hanne Kolstö and she sings with several different groups.

As it just so happens, Hanne and the guys from Love:Fi will be performing at this year's SXSW festival in Austin, TX on March 18.  Now I know that for many of you attending the festival, hearing some little known group from Norway is no big deal, but trust me, you're in for a treat!

There's no word yet on specific times or location, but do yourself a favor and try to discover something new.  Who knows?  You may even get to say "Yeah, I heard them before they got famous" to all your friends a few years from now.  Just a thought....

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

29 in 2009: An Introduction

Seeing as how Audio Overflow is essentially a defunct blog at this point, I've decided to turn the scarce amount of posts into something worth reading.

I don't think it's too big of a secret that my knowledge of "classic" albums is severely lacking. Ask me about anything made after 1990 and I could spout off just about anything and make it sound intelligent. But before that year, most of my musical knowledge is hit and miss. Therefore, I've decided to make it a personal goal of mine to listen to 29 albums this year - all of which need to be considered classic by someone, and need to have been recorded before the year 1990.

Who specifically am I mostly unfamiliar with? Brace yourself. Bob Dylan, Cheap Trick, Jethro Tull, Miles Davis, Buddy Holly, Bob Marley, Jimmi Hendrix, Billie Holiday....need I continue? There's a serious gap in my musical knowledge and I need to fill this gaps with greatness!

That's where you, dear reader, come in. Leave a comment below. Give me at least one classic album that I need to listen to in 2009 and chances are I probably will. Accompanied with each listen will be me blogging about my thoughts on each suggestion. That blogging could come in the form of a review or any other type of writing. My musical tastes have been known to say the least (I loathe most stuff by the Beatles - though I've never really heard all their druggy music), so there may be some interesting reads in there.

So what do you say? Are you in? Bookmark this page and keep an eye on the list below as I will add records as I listen to them along with links to whatever it is that I end up blogging about. Let the suggestions begin!!!!

  1. Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  2. King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King
  3. The Who: Tommy
  4. Nick Drake: Pink Moon
  5. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
  6. Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers
  7. Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland
  8. Buddy Holly: Buddy Holly
  9. Jethro Tull: Aqualung
  10. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico
  11. The Doors: The Doors
  12. The Clash: London Calling
  13. The Allman Brothers: Eat a Peach
  14. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
  15. The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  16. The Smiths: The Queen is Dead
  17. R.E.M.: Murmur
  18. Joni Mitchell: Blue
  19. Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
  20. Led Zepplin: House of the Holy
  21. Pink Floyd:  Dark Side of the Moon
  22. Frank Zappa:  Over-Nite Sensation
  23. Joy Division:  Unknown Pleasures
  24. David Bowie:  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  25. Sonic Youth:  Daydream Nation
  26. Janis Joplin:  Pearl
  27. The Rolling Stones:  Exile on Main St.
  28. Tom Waits:  Rain Dogs
  29. The Beach Boys:  Pet Sounds

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