Sunday, 13 May 2018

Yes - Flight Delayed

I said last time that I had ordered the rejigged Fly From Here album - Return Trip, and that review would follow. Pledge Music managed to upload faulty files (twice at least). The mp3 files I have show at least one loud "pop" on track 3, and faults on another track that was uploaded to Soundcloud for free download. I managed to reduce the pop to manageable levels with Audacity and am happy enough. Replacements for all files have been promised and were allegedly on line on 2nd May (if so can't find them).

The music? Oh yes! Compared to the 2011 version it is a richer sound, more keyboards, and Squires bass higher in the mix. Horn says he took singing lessons before embarking on the vocals, and while he is still not the strongest singer the Buggles vibe (and these were Buggles songs first) works for me. It's more evident than ever that Benoit David (singer of 2011 album) was following a guide vocal from Horn. The main let down remains Steve Howe's guitar. On the early parts he appears to be using a Stratocaster giving a very thin reedy sound, where his ES175 or something like that would have given a much more "Yes" sound. They could have worked that over as well surely and turned this into the last great Yes album.

In the end having now heard the most recent studio album Heaven & Earth I won't be back for more. Archival live albums certainly. Repeating the 7 shows from '72 box set with possibly the Union Tour or the "Ten True Summers" tour from 1979 where plenty of high quality bootlegs exist.

Pledge Music have taken responsibility for the whole download mess, and Geoff Downes has tweeted the bands apology. But given that it takes about 5 minutes to rip a CD to a FLAC or mp3 file why all the problems?

One question has to be why did Yes go the Pledge Music route, are they not marketable enough to make the release of the new album attractive to a label? Or is it as I would suspect the usual with Yes, shooting themselves in the foot by simply being bad at business.

Friday, 27 April 2018

The march of time

Which line up of a band is the "right" one? A question of vital importance in some fans minds, especially so when it comes to Yes.

This week there are two bands calling themselves Yes. The "official" one with two long standing members, one who was there for a bit and came back, and two who came from tribute bands. Then there is Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman now also calling themselves Yes. Anderson & Wakeman have form here as they were in an off shoot in the 80s with Steve Howe and Bill Bruford called ABWH. Keeping up? Thought not, nor am I.

The legitimacy of line ups is an odd question, particularly as many of the heroes of the seventies are getting on a bit and may not always be up for too much touring. In an effort to top up the pension the few remaining "real" members recruit some new talent as band mates retire and hit the road. AC/DC lost their singer, and recruited Axl Rose to complete a tour. For me the picture to the right is all the reason you need why this shouldn't have happened.

In the end you pay your money (or not) and take your choice of continuing to follow these artists. Personally I have been to see Procol Harum (great), Robin Trower (struggling), and others over the last few years because the chance clearly won't be there soon. Others however, like Yes, Renaissance, and Steely Dan I passed on because it feels like time for them to finish as performances don't seem up to scratch or politics has got in the way.

To return to Yes there is still another version of the band that has justput out an album. This one has Downes, White and Howe from "official" Yes, the late Chris Squire on bass and Trevor Horn rubbing out the original singer on "Fly From Here", their 2011 album, and adding his own voice.  Now this one I am interested in. This lineup made my favourite Yes album "Drama" in 1980, which was at least partly written by Horn & Downes in Buggles mode. The 2011 version always sounded like the singer (called Benoit David should you care) was following a guide vocal by Horn, and I gather he was. So my order is in and we will see what the difference is. Watch this space...

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Who said print was dead?

It’s Record Store Day 2018 so I’m going to talk about music magazines.Find it on my Linkedin feed HERE

Monday, 2 April 2018

Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric

A while ago I talked about some artists who you should know about but probably don't. Here's another two.

I have followed Amy Rigby on and off for a good few years. I joined the party with "Til the Wheels Fall Off" which contains 'Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?' a typical Amy song with pointed lyrics over a subversive sounding slide guitar based backing. Moving from there to "Little Fugitives" featuring 'Dancing With Joey Ramone' a song you need to hear now...

Convinced yet? Her new album "The Old Guys" has just come out and is one of her best. The themes have moved on with life, but the words remain to the point. She also writes a mean blog, and should write a book. She has recently toured the U.K. so like me you missed her, but she did a BBC session. Find it here during April 2018. The comparisons to Randy Newman, Paul Simon and Carol King are not wide of the mark.

Backing her on the tour was her significant other, Eric Goulden, better known to the world as Wreckless Eric. They have three duets albums to their name the best of which is "Two​-​Way Family Favourites". Eric also has a new album coming out and if it matches his last "AmERICa" then it will be well worth your time. Eric's voice was one of the highlights of the punk era for me, and it is still there, again the themes have grown up, but the music remains as it always has been, excellent. You haven't missed Eric's tour dates. See you at The Thunderbolt in Bristol on May 18th.

Wherever possible the album links are all to Bandcamp pages. This really is the best way to support the artists as they get more of your money than buying from A****n, which means they get to make more albums and we get to buy them. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Why Pod?

I don't like Apple, I can't understand why the iPhone is so popular when to my mind there are so many better phones available, and as for the computers with their silly mouse and finder screen... So why do I write about the iPod, and what alternatives are there if you want a dedicated music player?

To quote Philip K Dick, I think, "nothing Ubiqs like Ubiquity", and on marketing power alone Apple has blasted most of it's rivals out of the water. Let me be clear the iPod I love is the classic 160gb one that was discontinued a few years ago. I have two, one bought when they were discontinued, and one with a 256gb ssd in it. I'm hoping that will see me OK for a good few years, but the healthy second hand market suggests they will be available, at a price, for some time.

The Pros
I listen to a lot of Podcasts and Audio books, and iTunes, whatever you think of it supports these very well. There are apps, Audible, Stitcher and so on but iTunes does it all. I have a cable that allows the iPod to talk to my car radio, ubiquity again, and cables, docks, and holders are all easily available, even for discontinued product.

The Cons
It's made by Apple and the sound isn't as good as some of the HiFi players, although to be fair decent headphones (I use Sennhesier buds) makes it more than acceptable.

I started my proper MP3 player journey with an old Sony 20gb purple egg which sounded great, but the Connect music manager was hopeless. From there I went to a 120gb iPod which lasted years. When that started to fail I looked at some of the HiFi MP3 players and that is where it all went pear shaped. Having been used to the convenience of iTunes dragging and dropping and having artwork files in place was a nuisance. I tried a couple of different players. The Colorfly C3 sounded great but the stupid little screen and impossible user interface made it unusable. Much the same applied to the Fiio X3 except that it just didn't work properly, freezing constantly, and with minimal interest in problems from the "expert" supplier, who thought that great sound excused everything

The problem with these players seems to be that while it is easy enough to make something sound good, play lossless files and so on, the resources to create well designed easy to use players and a user interface with supporting software are beyond the mostly Chinese companies making these things.

So back to Apple. Yes they are a triumph of design over sound, but in a world of compromises being able to listen to my music or other stuff without constant frustration and glitches is worth it. Anyway my ears are over 50 years old so how much am I losing? File format makes a lot of difference of course and wherever possible I use ALAC, and buy downloads in 320kbps MP3 or better. In the end it comes down to convenience. Apple has taken over the world because they provide a mix of convenience and quality that works for most people. So perhaps I am wrong about their other products, a couple of clients use iMacs and my daughter won't hear of a phone that isn't Apple. The accessibility and interconnectivity is also persuasive.

Apple are slowly killing off the remaining iPods in their range and look to be phasing out mp3 downloads (as are Amazon) in favour of streaming so we can assume that dedicated music players will start to fade away over the next few years. This will of course drive us all to music, podcasts and the rest on our phones. Where does that leave me? My music life committed to iTunes and my phone world with Android...

Friday, 23 February 2018

Desert Island Discs - The Truth...

I heard the end of an old edition of Desert Island Discs on the radio recently, and the inmate chose Heavy Metal band Arch Enemy as one of their pieces. It was someone no doubt famous in their field but unknown to me, and I got to thinking that properly famous people probably don't choose their actual favourite music as it would clash with their "persona". I offer as evidence David Cameron & Ed Miliband's selections, which show all the signs of being picked for a purpose.*

David Cameron's Desert Island Discs:
1. Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue 2. Benny Hill – Ernie
3. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
4. Felix Mendelssohn (performed by Kiri Te Kanawa) – O, For the Wings of a Dove 5. Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
6. The Smiths – This Charming Man 7. REM – Perfect Circle
8. The Killers – All These Things That I've Done
Book: The River Cottage Cookbook - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Ed Miliband's Desert Island Discs:

1. South African national anthem (Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika)
2. Hubert Parry - Jerusalem3. Paul Robeson - Ballad of Joe Hill
4. A-ha - Take On Me 5. Neil Diamond - Sweet Caroline
6. Robbie Williams - Angels 7. Josh Ritter - Change of Time
8. Edith Piaf - Je Ne Regrette Rien
Book: James Joyce Ulysses

Cameron may actually like both Radiohead and Benny Hill, I mean read other posts on this blog for some unlikely to meet on a playlist artists. Ed's list however strikes me as a bit too contrived to appear on the car mixtape of a Sunday afternoon.

So to make Desert Island Discs a bit less bland we need less famous people as they have more radical tastes than well known people. I tried this theory out on Twitter and Facebook and it works. A couple of votes for 1970s Miles Davis ('Miles Runs the Voodoo Down' & 'On the Corner'), several for various bits of King Crimson, Nick Drake, surprising amounts of Country and Folk, and Saxon. This is of course completely unscientific but gives me hope that someone may ask for my picks one day. So please take note of...

1. Steely Dan - Aja, 2. Ramones - Rockaway Beach,
3. Over The Rhine - Latter Days, 4. France Gall - Evidemment,
5. The Beatles - The Long and Winding Road, 6. John Coltrane - Blue Train,
7. Beach Boys - God Only Knows, 8. John Martyn - May You Never
Book: Robert Byron - The Road To Oxiana

 But if you ask me tomorrow...

* The information came from this Telegraph article

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My weird take on Yes

When I mentioned Yes in my post on Progressive Rock I got this tweet. I asked why weird and got no reply so here are some more weird opinions.

Yes, like Elbow and Camel, are so much better live than on record. Rick Wakeman describes their albums as "sterile" and he is often right. The Union album is quite dreadful, but the tour that went with it, eight musicians playing for the music rather than themselves, the convenient doubling of everything except Bass & singer allowed songs like 'Awaken' to expand and evolve. The current state of play is that there are two bands called Yes, with 2 or 3 "proper" members each, and some extras. The whole mess is explained in detail at Henry Potts' site. Personally I could care less.

So why write about them? I joined in with the Drama album in 1980, and only dabbled with their music until the Internet came along. Drama was and is a great album, top drawer songwriting, crisp production, and the best ever examples of Chris Squire's bass as lead instrument style in 'Does It Really Happen' and 'Tempus Fugit'. The new boys brought new vigour to the music. Geoff Downes simpler sound pallette feels more integrated with the rest of the band, particularly Steve Howe's guitar, than Wakeman did on either of the previous two albums. They were unafraid to innovate, Trevor Horn playing bass on Run Through The Light for instance.

So with the advent of the interwebs (in my world) about 1999, I started looking backward, and catching up with what bands were doing. This was the heyday of the email newsletter and information and opinion about new releases and band activities was filtering through as never before. Yes had one and I subscribed, just in time for "The Ladder", another album with a fair bit of innovation, while remaining undeniably Yes. It's the best songs 'Homeworld (The Ladder)', and 'The Messenger' that work best and Bruce Fairbairn's production doesn't pander to their more noodly tendancies. The Ladder songs come properly alive on "House of Yes: Live from House of Blues" the album resulting from the following year's worth of touring. Some of the old stuff is given a makeover and Steve Howe manages to play on Trevor Rabin era songs, although he is far from happy about it.

After the orchestral "Magnification" album which failed mainly due to lack of good material and being released on 10th September 2001, innovation and progress stopped in Yes-World. They retreated to the formula pioneered at the Keys To Ascension shows in 1996, largely ignoring anything after 1979 (ok they did play the title song of Magnification in 2002 and a couple more newer songs in 2004). Innovation having died, and unwilling to wait on Jon Anderson's health the band fractured recruited a couple of Jon-alike singers and set off on tour in 2008. None of the resulting music or numerous live albums sound like anything other than going through the motions. With Chris Squire gone and Alan White using a sub/back up drummer in recent years they increasingly sound like their own tribute band. The "other" band Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman spreads its net wider, talking in material from all eras (except Drama which none of them played on)

So my weird conclusions are that Yes work best when a producer has a firm hand on the tiller. They thrived on innovation, particularly live. The best Yes music is song based and not about awesome musical technique. They were and probably still are a band ruled by their business decisions, rather than musical ones. Oh and Chris Squire is God's own Bass Player.

This being true I would suggest listening to

Yes (1969) A good bridge between the sixties and seventies, with a few cracking songs
Going For The One (1977) The return to songs after the noodling years
Drama (1980) Something new and different
Talk (1994) The best Rabin years album, with a good balance between his & Jon Anderson's influence
Keys To Ascension (1996) The best look back at the seventies, technology had caught up and the material was fresh after being set aside for a while.
House of Yes (2000) A contrasting look at old material and some new songs

I have to say I'm looking forward to Fly From Here - Return Trip in March 2018, same album with Trevor Horn taking lead vocals, the follow up to both Drama and The Buggles Adventures in Modern Recording which Yes fans should certainly hear. The best Yes album of the last 15 years is Anderson/Stolt's Invention of Knowledge, 

With the blue touch paper lit I'm now retiring to a safe distance. Feel free to disagree with me...