Journal 2020

29th December 2020: Cabaret 03 is now done. Next up for the treatment is the rather more direct sounding Cabaret 02, which I haven't listened to in ages now. The Residents once tried the same trick (allegedly) by recording an album and not releasing it until they had forgotten about it. Not that I believe Messrs Flynn, Fox (RIP), Clem and Kennedy about much, but as an editorial idea it seems like a good one. At least this way you can come to the table listening to what is, in effect, someone else's work.

I still like them, though. I will never forget that initial thrill of seeing them at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh back in the days of The Mole Show (which wasn't that great a record series, really) when it was all so cut price looking. Even the venue was barely no longer a church - we were sitting on pews, which somehow seemed fitting. Everything they did from the start up to The Commerial Album was great, but the quality fell away quite quickly after this point.

I will exclude (Whatever Happened to) Vileness Fats from that, as it was released quite a bit later.

I also see that it's Peter Sinfield's birthday, according to the DGM web site. Happy birthday, Peter. You'll always be remembered as the writer of has to be the worst lyric ever written:

I need to suck the breasts of time and freeze her milk in ink

To juggle cruets full of dreams and balance on the brink

24th December 2020: Cabaret 03 is now having the eyebrows put onto it. After that it's a re-listen to Cabaret 02 for the same process. It all never seems to end, sometimes.

10th December 2020: Cabaret 03 is stalling again. I thought I had the framework nailed but now I have doubts about it.

7th November 2020: Cabaret 03 is happening too now, Bed tracks for the first section fell together neatly.

Glad to see Biden got elected. As anyone can tell, there are two kinds of politics in the USA: right wing and very right wing. The polarisation between even these has got more pronounced over the years and particularly in the recent months. I'm no great fan of Biden, but Trump has been a stain on humanity since he got elected, and probably has been all his life. The only dark cloud is that this is not over yet by a bit. I think there will be some serious troubles ahead, not all of it political.

I also don't know who is responsible for this, but it's a work of art:

Reminds me a bit of this:

31st October 2020: Cabaret 02 is now laid down as a series of bed tracks. Part 02 came together quickly and Part 03 positively fell into place thanks to a few things just coming into place at the right time. Time now to string all sections together and listen to them all the way through, then make appropriate notes about what might go where. This one is more percussive, less rhythmic, more odd. In a good way.

27th October 2020: Cabaret 02 is experiencing highs and lows. Sometimes you think what you've done is unmitigated shit, then sounds better the day after. The shit is mitigated. Other times it's not. I have just hit on a rich seam of creative energy thanks (again) to the wonderful Nexus which seldom fails to inspire.

Just also got stung by someone selling counterfeit micro SD cards on Amazon. If you have bought a big capacity card for buttons and find that files just vanish off it as soon as you have copied anything to it, then assume ropey firmware has been put on it to force the capacity up, but obviously not increase the actual storage space on the drive. Kudos to Amazon though: they pushed through the refund at top speed and removed the seller 'caimingfen'.

6th October 2020: Cabaret 01 has been done. Not fit for release yet - I want all three to come out together. The last part was done in an incredible burst of energy, the likes of which I cannot remember in about a decade. Maybe sooner - maybe since mono 1. It all dovetailed just perfectly in the end. I think this one is a major release.

Meanwhile, in other news...I've been listening to the recordings made at Sun Studios by Elvis Presley. Good Lord. That young man could really sing. Also been dwelling in much of The Who as well.

28th September 2020: The backing track for Cabaret 01 now done. Time to let it all settle and see what becomes of it. Maybe give it a week or so and mull it over. Already thinking of the eyebrows on it. It's a departure again, as most things recently seem to be. I do also realise that in some respects I am running on fumes, as some ideas are getting hard to come by. I played the first section of Consonance very very loudly in the car today and was wondering where all that stuff came from and how much of it was a happy accident. I seem to have made a habit of banking on that from the very earliest days, or so it appears.

Onwards anyway. Cabaret 02 will comprise some of the leftovers from the earlier stuff that I worked on last week. After that I am thinking of parking this and doing some writing. We shall see.

21st September 2020: Cabaret's piece still to be assembled - not sure how part 3 is going to start off. A few ideas have been and gone and nothing has settled properly. Some work with cellos and violas proved promising, but came to nothing. This may be because I was monitoring it using a set of earbuds instead of my usual monitor speakers. What sounded great there (for a second) suddenly sounded flat and unengaging, so it was binned.

20th September 2020: Now over the other side of the second section of the first part of Cabaret. It's a weird mixture of minimalism and exactly the opposite.

11th September 2020: Still working through the skeleton of Cabaret 01. Weirdly for a mere 'framework' it has 72 tracks in it so far which means I have to split it into parts to allow Reaper to be able to process it all properly. (Also, to allow me to follow what is happening) The first section comprises six sections in total, so it's ambitious.

Another random shoutout to Cloudseed which is not so much a reverb as a whole sound processing system. It's up there with Valhalla, if you ask me.

Masses of options, as you can see. I still haven't scratched the surface of this one. Sometime I'll post a list of my favourite plug-ins for the sake of comparison. Right now I'm exploring decent track and mastering compressors. Most seem to be pretty brutal, but that might be because I really don't know what I am doing with them.

Now playing: The Who at Kilburn 1977. Gordon Bennett, what a band!

10th September 2020: Started on some skeletal structuring for Cabaret 01 which is going to follow the same outline as Assonance, probably.

Just finished Michael Cohen's book (I was sent an advance copy by someone who has it - the idea of paying a felon for their felonies is distasteful to me). Not sure what I was expecting, really, but his assurances in the foreword seem to bear out scrutiny: Trump doesn't want you to read this, and you'll not end up liking Cohen when the book is finished. It does seem at times to be an extended bleat about how I was bad, but Trump was worse which isn't completely convincing at times. I don't doubt that there is a ring of truth to some of it, although it feels like another in the 'echo chamber series' which I have grown to dislike. I also have an issue believing in his complete redemption - this was someone I formerly loathed and probably still do. The book should be subtitled perhaps I got a bit carried away.

6th September 2020: Tesseract released.

4th September 2020: Tesseracts #1, #2 and #3 have been beaten into shape with a few amusing additions. As ever, I find that 90% of my time is taken up with the last 10% of the piece. Planning in the head and some on paper for #4 (which is rare for me, I know) but it runs the risk of running away from me.

Brief shoutout for Spitfire Audio and their absurdly beautiful (and free)) plugins. Right now I am playing around with 'Granular Whalesong' which is every bit as weird as it sounds. Wonderful stuff, guys.

2nd September 2020: Tesseract #3 has been worked on and worked over and is in shape enough to call it a final draft. Time to relisten to #1 and #2 to see how they can be finished off, now. I have a notion for #4 which is so outrageous that I am not sure if I can even pull it off, but I will try.

30th August 2020: The bedrock of Tesseract #2 has been laid down. It starts nowhere and goes nowhere, but has a certain drive to it that I find quite pleasing, in a quiet sense.

Work for Tesseract #3 has started with a weird bit of inspiration from an aborted project that I last visited in 2008. If I remove the underlying efforts (made by someone else) I have a reasonably pleasing soundscape left above it. It might need some balancing. It also saw a return to using Acid Pro 7.x again, which was a strange experience. It still has a very natural feel to it, even after some time away from it.

25th August 2020: Not too harsh. Back to filling it with doubt.

Even more catharsis. BANDS I LIKE AND PROBABLY SHOULDN'T #1 - Neutral Milk Hotel. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea isn't just a great title with a great cover. It has superb pushed to the max with compression production values (which leaves the whole thing monstrously fuzzed around the edges) but also has some of the most extravagant lyrics and overall concept you're likely to come across. If songs about Anne Frank, wrapped around powerful pistons, two-headed boys, carrot flowers, flame-filled pianos and ghosts in the thunderclouds are your thing then this is the album for you. I cannot quite describe the music in it other than to say it's a distressing mixture of folk, rock and roll, horns, battered drums and hollered lyrics. On paper none of this should work. But it does. Accounts of the live band sound like extraordinary chaos.

I have to admit, this is the only thing of theirs I have heard. I am worried that anything else would be rubbish.

24th August 2020: Too harsh on myself. It's going better than expected...

13th August 2020: Work started on Tesseract at last. That said, I am feeling completely uninspired and know deep down that what I have done will be scrapped.

31th July 2020: Good grief #2. Just found some guy has written a thesis using mellotronworks as a sample set in his work to find if you can determine the sound of a Mellotron inside a recording. Or at least I think that is what he is doing. But it's a genuine surprise. I must see if I can contact him.

Losing myself in JS Bach this morning. I could never tire of this. I am playing the Helmut Walcha complete recordings and whereas I have no doubt the player is doing well, I have heard a few duff notes here and there. Do people recording this serious stuff never go for a retake? There is an absolute howler in BWV 540 which should have stopped the session in its tracks, yet Helmut soldiers on. This makes me think there are several situations which could be true:

His tempo can be a bit weird at times too. There are some odd moments of speeding up and slowing down, which have a mild comedy effect, as though he is peering at the score in the slow parts. At least this lets me recall one of my favourite stories.

This story is told of the composer Johannes Brahms, who had four friends who were string players. They were very poor musicians, but such nice people that Brahms enjoyed associating with them. They decided to surprise Brahms and spent six months assiduously practicing Brahms' latest quartet. One evening they cornered Brahms at a party, and the first violinist said: "Johannes, we have a surprise for you. Come into the next room please." Brahms followed them into the next room, the players took out their instruments and started to play the quartet. Well, the first movement was about as much as poor Brahms could bear! He got up, gave a polite but sickly smile, and started to leave the room. The first violinist ran after him and said: "Johannes, how was the performance? Was the tempo all right?" Brahms replied: "Your tempos were all good. I think I liked yours the best."

28th July 2020: Good grief. Now moved onto John Coltrane and finding it really quite brilliant. I'm not sure just how much of it I am actively listening to, but what I can hear of it I really enjoy. And now it's Wes Montgomery. Full House is just brilliant. Am I finding something new after all these years?

And then I hear some Soft Machine and it all makes sense gain. This is why I hate jazz. It's not a spectator sport, really. On the subject of the Softs, I can take I and II, but even the revered III makes me want to hide. Yes, even Moon In June.

Slight update: there is a breed I have observed on Twitter (and elsewhere) who not only insist on publishing photographs of their current album on play (usually next to a record deck for extra credentials) but who insist on putting out their jazz records there as though it makes them better people than the usual prog rock brigade that they usually get lumped into. In short, there is a 'jazz afficionado' type out there who uses the genre more as a means of establishing their personal 'interesting qualities' than as a source of actual pleasure. Or at least that's the way I read it. Apologies to anyone slighted by this, but it's so apparent that it would infuriate were it not so transparently an attempt to cluster for attention. What makes it worse is that some of these people - one or two of whom bathe in the reflected light of the bands they love in a passing manner only, but who doubtless see themselves as a part of 'the music business' - have followers themselves who ape their qualities the same way that the culprits slavishly ape the phrases, repetition, writing mannerisms and opinions of those they follow. All kind of tragic really. And naming no names of course.

25th July 2020: Sorry to hear about the passing of Peter Green, but in all truth I probably liked his band more than I liked him. I won't say a bad word about him though - he was a great musician. I am a bit repelled by all those crawling from the slime to say how much they liked him and how they were just playing his music this morning like they and they alone are the immortal memory. In some ways, this ties in with a Rick Beato video I was watching earlier which asked why people hate jazz. I really don't think they do; they just hate the people who think they know better than you do. Same for Peter Green and the myriad others who made some impressions on a life before that life started making out they were the messiah.

Ironically, I am actually listening to Sketches of Spain right now and really enjoying it. Then again, this is the apex of the arc. I hear some Stravinsky in this. How odd is that?

14th July 2020: Fractal has been released, sooner than expected.

13th July 2020: As predicted, the film I alluded to yesterday is already going some distance towards illustrating the content of what otherwise is a fairly conventional piece of music. The issue might be that I have more to say than I can in seven minutes, so I make it much shorter and to the point. I wish I had Adam Curtis' gift for analysis and narrative. The forthcoming Tesseract might feature more of this. Who knows?

12th July 2020: Anyone unfamiliar with this should make themselves familiar with it at the earliest opportunity:

I find it deeply, deeply interesting. I'm not sure how much of it I completely buy into, but I buy into enough of it to know that he is on the right track. I do very much enjoy his presentation style, along with the cutup source of the film content. Some of this is going to inform Fractal #4 without a doubt.

5th July 2020: Been a while now. Now working my way into Fractal which started quickly then slowed down drastically. You make one terrific arpeggio which you think you will be able to build on and then you realise you cannot but at the same time don't want to let it go, so you sit on it and it never moves anywhere. And then it does. Now working on the fourth of four tracks on it, the last one being quite a departure from my usual. Also finding a strange happiness in vi-IV-ii-III7 which is an odd thing since it is the basis (mostly) for so many things I've known, probably (with knowledge) all the way back to the coda to A Saucerful of Secrets, which to me was always better played out live. But I digress.

23rd May 2020: Trying to listen to Isomorph objectively and failing. The oldest thing I can listen to with any sense of disassociation is probably mellotronworks which is an astonishing 12 years ago. I can listen to ongoing works with engagement (maybe only because they are 'what I am doing' at that time) but the nanosecond they are in the can they are yesterday and I need to move onto something else.

I was watching a documentary the other day about Pink Floyd, and the 'debates' they had over mixes and takes, and how Waters and Gilmour had anxious and fierce arguments about the bed tracks for Comfortably Numb which had the most miniscule of variations, yet were the source of such contest. I kind of get that; when you are in the zone, one take and another are incredibly different and lend themselves to much thought and debate, but invariably are something eventually submerged in a mix somewhere they cannot be heard by anyone without the ears of a pipistrelle. I am as guilty of that as anyone else.

Magma playing in the background. What a band. Oh to have that vision.

19th May 2020: Isomorph is released.

11th May 2020: Isomorph is happening. The first one is good, the second is bitty but not too shabby either, and the third is frankly beautiful and fell into place in about two hours. I am very pleased with this. When something comes together this quickly it's usually a sign of two things. (1) That it's 'important' in some sense, and (2) that you should do no harm to it by tinkering. Hard to resist, but that's the discipline. Ideas for the fourth section are distant at the moment. I am liking this EP format.

I am just as pleased with my latest purchase of a Roland Rubix 22 audio interface. Very impressive stuff and very recommended. I plumped for this after I found that the higher priced models were sold out. It has a very quiet noise floor and literally is about as plug and play as you can get, plus Reaper seems to really like it too. That has to count for something.

Lockdown persists....

24th April 2020: Biggest influences? There is always the magnificence and sheer strangeness of posted missing Steve Moore, but the other voice I always, always draw upon is that of Bill Nelson. Not the Bill Nelson of BeBop Deluxe, nor even of the beautiful organic pop of the 1980s that John Peel showed me. No - this is the Bill Nelson of the home studio. The notebook fragments. The lofi free albums that he had pressed alongside his more mainstream albums such as Sounding the Ritual Echo and more polished La Belle et la Bete. When Trial By Intimacy came out I was entranced, so much that I partly pilfered a title of his for my own.

Back in the 1980s - when John Peel's show was mandatory listening for anyone who cared - I found there was something in every show worth finding. It was there I discovered Bill's music, but also that of The Stranglers, Sun Ra, The Fall and many others that have stuck with me through the years. My best mate and I bonded over a love of Pink Floyd early on, but our tastes diverged a bit until I played him The October Man by Bill Nelson from The Love That Whirls. It was under that umbrella that we found a common interest again, and went to so many late night gigs together. The highlights were the Clash's 'busking' gig at Coasters in Edinburgh (they were his very favourite) and the Residents at the Queen's Hall where we saw them torture Penn Gillete during their low-tech play of The Mole Show.

He never made it with me to the show at Queen's Hall where Bill Nelson played his music alongside Richard Jobson and Frank Chickens, but the gig and the venue were nothing short of a revelation. I couldn't wait to tell him about it and share that experience with him. My friend died a few years ago, taken far too soon. I didn't know what to say or to whom, so I wrote a note to Bill Nelson who wrote a beautiful note back to me without knowing who I was. That counts.

Every year on Boxing Day, I post Pink Floyd's Mudmen to Facebook for my friend, as it was his favourite tune. I don't care if no one sees or or understands it. I just want to plant it, as a memory to him and the kindness we had for one another.

And to let whatever is left of him know that I miss him.

19th April 2020: Quarto is released. Listening back to it I was worried that I wouldn't like it, but I find it much more appealing than I would have credited. I put some of the credit for this down to the rather outstanding DC1A3 Compressor which I acquired recently. Lots of paid plug-ins might seem nice, but the free stuff keeps delivering, really.

Also, been counting the sheer number of typos on this web site. Extraordinary.

Quarto 1/4 - that moment when the choir comes in. Liking it.

13th April 2020: Just about to review what I put together yesterday. Always a moment of trepidation when you do this. Sometimes it can be hey that's not half as bad as I was expecting whereas sometimes it can be what the hell was I thinking?. Even thinking about where I was heading with this makes it seem strangely incongruous. That moment of doubt is all I need to pull the plug on it. I think I am just looking for the excuse to do so.

(Post review) A bit of both, really. I may keep going on this for now. It's not so bad as to throw away completely, but may not reside in this space.

12th April 2020: Just yesterday I found some inspiration for the fourth quarter of Quarto which is at odds from the plans I had for it. We'll see if it works out, so right now I am reserving judgement on it.

Thinking about the next EP now, which will take up Quarto 4/4 if the new idea works out. For now the next EP has the working title of Isomorph, but that is likely to change.

Where do the names come from? Who knows? Nothing to do with me. It has come as news - even a surprise - to some people to find that my first few releases were named after my cats, albeit in an oblique manner. Six Consequences was named after a project I had come up with in Systems Theory between myself, Greg and Steven whereby we would musically mimic the child's game of 'Consequences', in that we'd come up with several 30 second' worth of music each without knowing what the others were doing, then somehow sequentially stitch them all together to make something coherent. It was probably a stupid idea as it would never make sense, but it was a notion to shake things up.

Ironically, what interests me the most right now are notions of noise and monotony. One key. One chord. Even one note. (Hello GY!BE and Hope) Anything that compels and draws the listener in by fair means or foul. Who was the best at doing this? I know of many contenders, but to me What Goes On by The Velvet Underground from 1969 has to be the greatest example of them all. My only issue with that song is that it doesn't go on forever.

Stirling Moss, Peter Bonetti and Tim Brooke-Taylor all gone in one day. How did that ever happen?

10th April 2020: Quarto coming along in fits and starts. Like most things I find it's best when you don't push at it too hard. When things need to happen they happen. I remember a story about a famous songwriter who was smitten with an appalling dose of writer's block and who was so frozen by it he thought he'd never produce anything again other than abortive fits and starts. He did the exact opposite. Rather than sit in his studio at home and try to make something happen, he rented an office, put on a suit every day and worked there nine to five, breaking an hour for lunch, uninterrupted by anything around him. For him it worked, but it's not a remedy for everyone.

23rd March 2020: I have listened back to Vectors again, and it needs revision. There are still mistakes in it and - worse - there are moments that sound just wrong to me now. It's being fixed.

17th March 2020: The mistakes are coming thick and fast now. Listening back to Vectors I heard a glaring mistake in the fourth track where a sound in 4 was trying to walk over a pulse in 3 and at the wrong tempo. All re-edited, re-mastered and re-uploaded. Not good though.

Work restarted on a couple of Oddzial ideas. This is one that has never really left me. The ambient sounds have now given way to some really deeply abstract stuff. The latest one is really quite scary, reminiscent of the remarkable This Heat in some ways.

Thinking of the next one already. It has a working title of Quarto, for now.

15th March 2020: Vectors released.

24th February 2020: Vectors has been started and already it's shaping up quite well. The plan is for an EP of four arrangements, with most of the parts drawn from elements of Blanchette, or at least that is the plan at present. Of all the Colours that one was my favourite, both to make and to listen to. Don't ask me why. It just sort of worked. Some of it does seem to be expandable, so I will try to do so, although much of what will be expanded upon is already going to be played about with to such an extent that it will be unrecognisable.

17th February 2020: I've made a small change with Cantus this time - the CD release is different from the MP3 release on the download page. Up to you to notice how!

16th February 2020: Shite and hellfire. I made a mistake. Cantus was uploaded incomplete. I managed to mute a whole bank of tracks on Cantus 20 which have now been restored to both the track and the ISO from the CD. Apologies.

12th February 2020: Cantus is released!

10th February 2020: Cantus 20 now done, after so many false starts. As ever, serendipity wins in the end. All uploaded, ISOs done, web page being set up. Give me a day or two to get it finalised.

27th January 2020: Eyebrowing complete on Cantus at last. I just have to find inspiration for the 20th track which I have started (and scrapped) about 10 times now.

26th January 2020: More catharsis. BANDS I FEEL I OUGHT TO LIKE MORE THAN I ACTUALLY DO #3 - The Beach Boys.

Oh higher power, give me the strength to say this. OK, now if asked I would always say that I have no idea what my favourite song actually is, but I am pretty sure that whatever it is it was written by Brian Wilson. I am also still fairly sure that this is true. But the analysis of the whole situation reveals something a bit different.

To date, as far as I can tell, they have made 30 albums in the studio which really comprises their actual output. The 50+ compilations are taken from these, and frankly the half-dozen or so live albums aren't great as they were never exactly a sensational live act as far as the music goes, and all fall into the you had to be there bucket.

The oldies are really for the nostalgia circuit. With piteously few exceptions, I'm not keen on them at all. They may have captured a mood in the USA and have some meaning there, but the notion of driving up and down in your car, having your best girl on a Saturday night and having a high school ring that you gave to her at prom by the root beer stand is as foreign to me as being true to your school. It's all from another time and another place. The songs about surfing, cars, girls and dancing may well be well-crafted, but lyrically they are pretty dreadful and musically they are...dare I say it...occasionally monotonous.

Things only got more interesting around the time of Today! where the songwriting skills that Brian clearly had in spades was allowed to flourish beyond the confines of a formula that some more conservative elements were alarmed he was fucking with. The song cycle on the second half of the record is pretty damned magnificent, although a bit short - and therefore requiring to be padded out with a meaningless and hugely dated interview which breaks the spell a bit. Things progressed further and upwards into Pet Sounds which is maybe one of the four albums I'd cite as being the greatest ever in the history of modern music. The SMiLE debacle was upended by so many things - drugs, internal strife, drugs, finances, collaborators, the record company, drugs, etc - that it was never going to happen, even in an alternative world where dreams all come true. I think that is something that so many people overlook when trying to think what might have been. (Controversial opinion alert: I also think the album would have been widely panned had it come out in 1967)

The albums that followed this were seriously patchy. Smiley Smile is maybe the weirdest thing they ever did (try listening to the intro to Little Pad and not think about a hazy shade of of dope smoke and crashing standards - the Brian of only two years ago would have forcibly thrown this tripe from the studio), and is only really kept afloat by Heroes and Villains and the magnificence of Good Vibrations. Wild Honey has a strong rendition of one a great Stevie Wonder song, but with so much filler that it's more like polyfilla than honey. It also sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. Or a swimming pool. And that sort of charts the arc for the band for the next half dozen records: some great stuff like Til I Die and Slip on Through with some stuff that is of such dubious quality it's hard to imagine the Brian from Pet Sounds ever letting this stuff through beyond a doodle on the piano and a shake of the head. Albums such as Sunflower have a reputation for brilliance that I fail to see. For every It's About Time you have to have a Deirdre, a Tears in the Morning and the execrable At My Window. No wonder their sales hit the floor and started digging. (We should also remember that the actual version of Sunflower we now have was rejected twice by Reprise. Let us be thankful that this spared us When Girls Get Together)

So devoid were they of ideas (they had a few submissions rejected by the record company in this time, and small wonder) that they had to revive the ghosts of first SMiLE and then that of Brian Wilson himself just to get back in the game. Problem was, for every great song they released there were two or three of really low quality. The album Surf's Up is as good an example as any. The last two songs on it pretty much define what 'genius' means to me, but the rest of it...oh boy. And let's not forget the lyrics of Jack Rieley. Or maybe we should. I have made a compilation of the best songs from this point up to the rather lightweight Holland (after which they became simply and uniformly dreadful) and it's not enough to fill a CD. So my love of the Beach Boys releases really only rests with Pet Sounds.

Is it a flawless album? Of course not. Brian spent so much time dicking with it that he ran out of studio time and mixed it down in a day, and it sounds like it. But the music and arrangements hit a peak they simply would never get near again, mostly because they kept Brian away from the pursuit of the melancholy. Part of that is likely down to the fact that the album didn't sell in droves, which cast a pall over everything and got Capitol the excuse to rush out yet another compilation album of surfing songs of theirs to cover up for it. So is one album and some scattered successes enough to warrant my admiration? Maybe. That one album is properly fantastic (and has better than average lyrics. (something they clearly forgot when they did Al's feet song on Surf's Up) In some ways, the best of the band was not just Pet Sounds but the offshoots from it - the original SMiLE sessions (of which I have hours of geekery, I can assure you), Song Cycle by Van Dyke Parks (I wish he had done more in this vein) and the properly stupendous Pacific Ocean Blue from Dennis Wilson which is a serious contender for being almost up to the mark with the best of his elder brother's work. Yes, seriously. And Bambu isn't half bad either.

Maybe the best of it is that with one album being so good, the rest smacks of being a magnificent failure. That gives it a strong appeal - the idea of what might have been, rather than what it actually was.

25th January 2020: Eyebrowing continues unabated. This is pretty exhausting - it's easy to write down things as you hear them (or don't) but another to enact them.

24th January 2020: Eyebrowing Cantus with fury. The next in the series of abstractions will be an EP named Vectors.

15th January 2020: Still not feeling 100% but markedly better. I've shut off eyebrowing Cantus for now, but find that I am replaying bits of it in my head. Usually the bits I want to fix, too, so it's not as if it's the best bits either. Damn.

12th January 2020: Not feeling great, taking the time to identify and apply eyebrows onto Cantus. I actually cannot remember another project where so many have occurred to me, even after the process has completed itself. When one layer goes on, another layer is suggested. I'm left wondering how this is ever going to end.

8th January 2020: More candid thoughts from the pen of the writer: BANDS I FEEL I OUGHT TO LIKE MORE THAN I ACTUALLY DO #2 - King Crimson. Yes, honestly. If asked I'd have said this was my favourite band ever, yet actually thinking about it I wonder just how much I really appreciate them after all. Their first album may be most famous for its glorious and menacing artwork and the first and last songs on side one - the sheer brilliance of which is still striking to this day - but the other side is half unlistenable improvised tripe and half some weirdly hippy stuff with cringey lyrics, albeit with a sizzling arrangement. The second album is a clone of the first (their retake on Mars is nothing but a disappointment, watered down to such an extent that it just disintegrates into noise rather than structure). The third has one moment of really great melody and arrangement, surrounded by a load of sheer and utter nonsense with a terrible singer and a disinterested band, and their fourth - whilst better - only comes alive when the singer shuts up and the guitarist plays.

The Wetton stuff is great, doubtless (though Larks Tongues is wonderfully ferocious in parts, yet is also paradoxically pretty weedy at times when the live versions of these songs were far superior - compare Exiles there with the same tune on USA or The Night Watch and you'll see what I mean), but I don't really get what people revere about Red. Nice title track, but the following two songs are a bit...ordinary. Starless is of course their magnus opus but unfortunately, that's where it all stops. Their eighties albums were one catastrophic disappointment (I will never forget the feeling of playing it then checking the label to make sure that the shop hadn't given me a Talking Heads album by mistake) followed by two more that were very much worse. Fortunately they ran out of steam at this point. On being revived, things were little different, just a bit noisier. Whilst Thrak had a few moments to love, nothing else they have done since is anything I ever bother to play. If I listen to them at all now it's to Wetton and Co playing live, and even then their repertoire was very small and pretty repetitive, so I tend to go for the improvisations. Their most recent output has been pretty uniformly dreadful, aside from the unexpected moments like Level 5. In some ways I liked the ProjeKcts much better, as it seemed to make the band into the small(er), mobile, intelligent units they wanted to be.

There are of course other things to annoy you about the band. The endless reissues. The boxed sets upon boxed sets. (Both of which are ironic given that at one time the band - ie, one of them that claimed not to be the band at all - was at pains to say there was 'nothing in the vaults' - I'll give you the Elephant Talk quote on that, if you like) There is also the whole Cult of Fripp that I find unsettling too, where people seem to take on his repetition, mannerisms, turns of phrase and even his photography styles in a rather weird and slavish way. It's just a band, you know.

Ironically, this band sounded better recorded live to me, yet when I saw them in Edinburgh in 2015 I was bored beyond shitless. It was like watching a tribute band doing a drum clinic with iPads for Mellotrons and MIDI for a heart. The irony here is of course that the tribute band comprises people who have been in the band in one form or another, but who are somehow trying to emulate their youth for a weird nostalgia market which the band - there I go again - said it would never pander to. They were more like The Hollow Men. There was nothing to entertain me about them, and I am afraid that this is the way it will remain. What excited me when I was 16 or so now seems like a quaint toy I used to play with and put away in the cupboard when I grew out of such things. It's like a half-remembered film or TV show that fills you with nostalgia, yet which really lets you down when you finally see it again. It had its day, and now it's over and really has been since around 1975.

Update from 13th April 2020: The above is mostly nonsense. I spent a large part of yesterday listening to Epitaph (their live sets from 1969) and being blown away by the playing, the invention and the brutality of some of it. And it is brutal. At the end of one of the Fillmore sets you can hear the announcer telling the (somewhat devastated) audience to stay where they are for the next act. Having just heard them blast out their overwhelming take onMars you can almost hear the next act think 'well...fuck that idea...' as there is simply nothing you could possibly do to follow it. Thus inspired I went through other catalogue highlight and yes, they were a great band until 1975 when it all stopped and should have been left that way.

Back to Current Journal

Archived Journals

Journal 2023

Journal 2022

Journal 2021

Journal 2020

Journal 2019

Journal 2018