Monday, September 21, 2020

Listening Booth - LPs for Isolation

Over the years, particularly in the digital age, we've lost that sense of active listening. There's less time these days to sit there and meditate on the entirety of an LP. As magnificent as it is, we've parted out Dark Side of the Moon, as if we were following the instructions from "One of These Days:" "One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces."

Over the pasts six months, many of us have the time again, and rather than tearing our hair out, here are some albums that approach the brilliance of DSOTM, albums well worth devoting 40 minutes of uninterrupted time.

 Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed. Commissioned to record a stereophonic rock 'n' roll version of Dvorak's New World Symphony for the new "stereo" label, Deram, the Moodies were given a top-notch producer (Tony Clarke), a full orchestra, and conductor/arranger Peter Knight.  Though initial sessions went well, there was little heart in the project.  With an orchestra on hand, the band were able to convince Clarke and Knight to record the group's own songs.  Though Decca was initially appalled that the band would be brash enough to hijack the project, they let it go through. The result was Days of Future Passed. It was an album overshadowed by the heavy hitters that year, from Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour to The Velvet Underground and Nico, Days stands up to this day.

Radiohead, Kid A. Those who know me know that I don’t have much regard for the 90s musically. Not that there weren’t great LPs, just not many of them. So when Kid A appeared in 2000, I was thrilled, if not overwhelmed. Was it as good at Dark Side? That part was a little frightening. Of all things, it's Neil Young, particularly with After the Gold Rush, who is Thom York's biggest influence. One of Neil's "tricks," like Bowie's, is to start afresh with each LP – which for Neil has led to a lot of subpar recordings, but that’s what York did with Kid-A, abandoning the guitar-oriented splendor of the first LPs for PF-like synths. Kid A is that good: it deserves its place alongside Dark Side of the Moon.

While King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, while still obscure to most, is the monumental LP in the band’s 50-year canon, I tend to listen to In the Wake of Poseidon a bit more. The opening, "Peace - A Beginning," has Greg Lake in an enigmatic cavern, chanting an ethereal pastiche. "Pictures of a City" crashes in like a thinking man's metal with medieval nodes and a jazz structure far more sophisticated than anything on Court. The piece does indeed bear strong relation to "21st Century Schizoid Man," but a clone? No way. Nothing as complex and demanding as this could be seen as part of a formula. "Cadence & Cascade" as "I Talk to the Wind 2.0?" Again, nearly, yet more sophisticated. This is an adult ballad, a summery-yet-melancholy love song. Beautiful. The title track has echoes of "Epitaph" but its lyrical cleverness lends it credibility. The rest of the album holds its own, moves on, exemplifies: "Peace (A Theme)" shows just how good Fripp was as an acoustic minstrel; the hilarious and jazzy "Cat Food" is "Moonchild" plus; and "Peace (An End)" wraps it up in emotive style. "Peace is the end, like death of the war" - lump in throat time. Advice: listen to Wake as if Court didn't exist.

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