Saturday, January 23, 2010

Van der Graaf: This ain't scary!

Man, I was really intimidated by Van der Graaf Generator's PAWN HEARTS (1971). This album had me nervous. Scared. Seriously.
Almost every review I've ever read about these guys stresses how dark & doomy & Xtreme they were:
"Contemplating the Meaning Of Life? Or your place in the Afterlife? This is NOT the music you want to listen to...."
"Cacophonic caterwauling from the very pits of Hell!"
I 1/2 Xpected 2 have my brains start dribbling outta my ears after 5 mins of listening.
But VDGG hailed from a classic period of British Prog, King Crimson's Bob Fripp sometimes helped them out on guitar, & I was eager 2 hear them & C how Xtreme they could get. I couldn't C how they could B NE more Xtreme than Crimson at their wildest & weirdest....
So, Bing a coward, I took the coward's way in.
I listened 2 the bonus trax 1st.
"Theme One" is OK -- an instrumental reportedly composed by Beatles producer Sir George Martin as station-break music 4 the BBC -- it has some nice gtr (presumably by Fripp) & a nice early-'70s prog-combo feel, & it moves OK. But it's not distinctive -- it's really lite & anonymous. Almost mechanical. It could B NE1.
"W" is an intresting downbeat # w/ a suprise Nding that really isn't much of a suprise, tho I did do a double-take toward the stereo. Nice gloomy lyrics that got my attn. I sorta liked it.
"Ponker's Theme" was oddly Njoyable -- sorta cocktail-lounge jazz, but w/ some nice sax by David Jackson.
The other 2 bonus trax were closer 2 noise Xperiments rather than songs -- glass shattering, echoes, sudden upswells of pure noise -- but OK noise, nice noise. Not scary.
So I took a deep breath & started playing THE REAL ALBUM.
"Lemmings" was OK. Sorta cold at 1st, but involving enuf. & as 4 the lyrics -- Cing the madness of Modern Life & Dciding not 2 join along in it -- I had NO trouble relating 2 THAT. & Dspite the gloom in places there's still an uplifting msg at the Nd: "What choice is left but to live?/To save the little ones?/What choice is there left but to try?"
"Man-Erg" was even better, w/ lots of Xcellent riffing sax from Jackson, & Hugh Banton's ominous, heavy organ tones. & as 4 Peter Hammill's singing -- well, I might not join him in summa his more operatic, more dramatic flights, but I could C myself screeching along w/ this stuff in some kinda fashion -- U probly wouldn't wanna hear it.
& the impact of Hammill's vocals mixing w/ the almost-martial music during "Man-Erg"'s closing lines: "Killers, angels, all are these:/Dictators, saviours, refugees" -- great stuff!
There R actual memorable TUNES here -- imagine my suprise....
So far, pretty neat. Sorta a Crimson-ish sound w/ the dominating sax & the heavy organ & the occasional blasts of pure group-noise. I would think Crimso fans would eat this stuff up.
On then 2 "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" -- this may take a few more listenings, but I survived it. Some of this is REALLY noisy, especially in the middle -- there's more of Hammill's sometimes-screeching, sometimes over-dramatic singing. But there's also lots more great sax -- the deeper the sax tones, the more I like it -- & more of that ominous organ. & the closing theme, "We Go Now," is pretty good. Overall: Noisy, but not bad at all, & it doesn't drag even tho it takes 23 mins. & even here, Dspite the darkness, the lighthouse-keeper finds some hope. This stuff ain't Dpressing. I'm actually suprised how positive some of it is....
I might also wanna write a note 2 remind myself that putting some music on -- NE music -- really improves my mood. I played thru PAWN HEARTS this aft & somehow felt better than I have in 2 wks. Not quite the response I Xpected 2 what's sposta B such a heavy piece of work.
Yes, I played Van der Graaf Generator & it cheered me up. That should tell U something about how dark & gray & Dpressing the winters can sometimes get out here in Western Washington. Or something about the inside of my head....
Overall, I'd say PAWN HEARTS is the best, most intresting "new" music I've heard in quite awhile. & it's WAY EZer 2 get in2 than, say, oh, Animal Collective. So now I'm starting 2 wonder if this band's dark&doomy rep has bn a hype 4 all these yrs.
I listened 2 Van der Graaf & I liked it. It made me feel better. Really. In fact, I haven't felt this good since ... aacckkkkkk... hacccckkkk.....pthpthpthhthh... hhhhh ... . . .

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