Archive for the ‘Yes’ Category

foiledSOUNDTRACK: YES-90125 (1983).

90125After the tumultuous release of Drama, Yes broke up.  And then, soon after, they got back together.  This time Jon Anderson was back on lead vocals and Trevor Horn was…producer?  Steve Howe did not return after the breakup.  He was replaced by a different Trevor, Trevor Rabin.  And returning behind the keyboards was original original keyboardist Tony Kaye (woah).

This reincarnated Yes was supposed to be a band called Cinema with Squire, Alan White and Trevor Rabin.  But when Anderson and Kaye joined in and Horn agreed to produce, they became Yes again.

They got rid of the old logo and replaced it with a bland one but a new symbol.   Long gone is Roger Dean, replaced by a high-tech looking cover and a high-tech sounding album title 90125 (which, rather lamely was just the records catalog number (7-90125-1).

Despite the old school returnees, this album was pure 80s pop.  I can imagine that many diehard yes fans hated it when it came out.  There are moments of yes (Anderson’s voice and the harmony vocals), but there’s no intricate guitar, there’s no melodious synths, even the drums are modern sounding.  The biggest difference between this and previous albums (aside from the whole new wave feel) is the crispness of the recording–sudden starts and stops, and really quiet breaks of songs.  It’s very “produced” and not very warm.

But I wasn’t a die hard fan when it came out and I rather liked it and I still do. In fact I talked about this album a while ago, so i figured I’d just contextualize some of those ideas.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” is a much-sampled 80s classic.  The quality of the sound is pretty great and the music is also really spare–not a bad thing, just surprising.  This and “Hold On” were written originally by Trevor Rabin (even though “Hold On” sounds very Yes with the choruses and big vocals).  “Changes” was also written by Rabin.  And I am fairly certain he sings the lead vocals, although I can’t find that information anywhere–it certainly isn’t Anderson.

“It Can Happen” is a very poppy song (well, they all are) which was originally written for Cinema, but which they modified for Yes.  And so was “Cinema,” the two-minute instrumental.  It was originally 20 minutes long, but they seriously reduced it for the Yes album–I’d like to hear the original to see if there’s any sense of a Yes epic in there.

“Leave It” is one of my favorite songs from the album with the voices which I assume are sampled, but possibly not  There’s just so much electronic manipulation here, it is so un-Yes, but it sounds great.  The production is perfect and the song is great.

“Our Song” has a really good chorus but it doesn’t quite achieve the excitement of the earlier songs.  “City of Love” is the same for me, moments that are good, but the quality had to drop off somewhat on the record, right?.  “Hearts” is the longest song and it actually lasts too log.  Again, the chorus is good, but it kind of drifts after a bit.

That doesn’t stop it from being a great album, with a ton of great songs front loaded on the album and presumably a nice load of cash for the guys to spend (how mad must Howe be that he chose that time not to come back?).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  This is a biggie, look who has left!

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson (#1, replaced Trevor Horn #2) vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Tony Kaye #1 (replaced Geoff Downes #4)-keyboards
Trevor Rabin (#3 replaced Steve Howe #2)-guitar

[READ: April 20, 2015] Foiled

Jane Yolen has written over 300 books apparently.  I know her more as a children’s book maker and hadn’t read any of her YA books.

This book was really wonderful.  And I’m aware that it’s part one of two, although it ended satisfyingly.

Aliera Carstairs is a fencer in high school.  She started fencing when she was 11 and had a real aptitude for it.  Her coach suggested she could make nationals.  She has defeated girls and boys much older than her.  She has a gift.

She has no social life, but she doesn’t mind.  She doesn’t fit in with the jocks, the goths, the nerds or really anyone, she just is herself.  She also has a cousin whom she visits every Saturday.  Her cousin has rheumatoid arthritis so she is confined to a wheelchair.  But she and Aliera play role playing games every Saturday.  While they play, Aliera becomes queen Xenda of Xenon, swordfighter extraordinaire (which she knows is not much of a stretch, bit it’s still fun).

She also has a mom who loves buying things at yard sales and Salvation Armies.  And she manages to get Aliera a practice fencing sword for $2.  It has a really cheesy ruby on the handle but aside from that it’s quite good. (more…)

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ny13SOUNDTRACK: YES-Drama (1980).

dramaAfter a few albums that seemed to lack the oomph of previous Yes outings, they stormed back with Drama.  And you know it’s proper yes because Roger Dean drew the cover!

It opens with a great dark riff and some big heavy bass—where has that been? And then the vocals come in—band harmonies like Yes has always done, but something is…different.  And around 3 minutes in, you realize what it is, so you check the liner notes (remember those?) and… woah Jon Anderson, the voice of Yes, has defected! And in his place is singer Trevor Horn from…The Buggles?  Trevor and Geoff Downes the creators of The Buggles were fans of Yes and when Anderson and Wakeman (yup, he’s gone too) left, the rest of the gang asked the Buggles to join in.  It seems that they had a few songs already written and the Buggles guys wrote a couple songs and there it is.

Horn’s voice is surprisingly close to Anderson’s (although he can’t reach the high notes.  But he has a lot more bass resonance so when he belts out notes he sounds really powerful.

And it turns out that Drama is very high on my list of Yes albums, even without Anderson  The band seems really interested in making big loud rock again, which I’d rather missed.

“Machine Messiah”  is over 10 minutes long.  There’s some great riffs and time changes and a big soaring guitar solo (Steve Howe is still on board).  There’s a slow middle section about 6 minutes in with acoustic guitar and simple vocals. The final solo repeats the same melody but it seems to swing more.  Near the end they revisit the slow section with new wave keyboard sounds that I imagine Wakeman would never have agreed to play (although he did play some weird sounds on Tormato).  Especially with the group vocals, it’s easy to imagine that this is indeed classic Yes.  A ten minute song with no wasted moments

“White Car” is a 90 second throwaway track.  It feels like they invited the new guys to fill some space. It’s not bad, it’s just a jingle with inscrutable words.  His voice soars similar to Anderson’s but not quite.

“Does it Really Happen?” has a big bass rumbling sound and bright keyboard chords. It goes through several sections before settling into a pretty typical Yes riff.  It really highlights the harmony vocals again. At the end of the song—a complete full stop, a new keyboard riff comes in with a repeat of the rumbling bass. It lasts only for a minute or so and then fades out. But it’s nice that Squire get a chance to wail

“Into the Lens” is a great song that opens side two.  The opening bass and counterpoint keys of is pure Yes, which is why it’s surprising to find out that the main section of the song is pure Buggles.  Indeed, the “I am a Camera” section of the song was written by Trevor and Geoff and they even recorded it with out all the complicated intro on the second Buggles album (it’s called “I am a Camera.”  There’s a cool bass section that may actually be piano? It’s got a cool end section with staccato riff repeated three times and an odd pause signature.  The opening and closing sections (the Yes parts) work really well with the catchy middle part (which really doesn’t sound like Yes at all, but still works and is super catchy).

“Run Through the Light” has fretless bass!  And that bass was played by…Trevor Horn.  What?  Chris Squire is either a total pushover or the most generous founding member of a band ever.  It says Squire played piano on this track, although for the life of me I can’t hear any piano at all.  It’s a decent song but probably the least interesting on the disc.

And them comes the best Yes riff since the early 70s–the wild bass line of “Tempus Fugit.” The song opens with some keyboard phrases that don’t at all suggest there’s going to be something spectacular coming next, but in true Yes fashion, the boppy opening mutates into a super fast bass line with appropriate synth blasts.  While not as great as say Roundabout, it soars over just about everything since then, and is an overlooked Yes gem.

I noticed on 9012live that Squire plays the “Tempus Fugit” riff riff in a bass solo—evidently, Anderson (who returned after this record) refused to sing any sings from Drama.  Which is shame because there’s some good stuff there.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  This is a biggie, look who has left!

Chris Squire-bass
Trevor Horn (#2, replaced Jon Anderson) vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Geoff Downes #4 (replaced Rick Wakeman #2)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: April 12, 2015] “Apollo”

This story has two parts, a part set in the present and then a flashback which takes up most of the rest of the story.

As it opens, the narrator is visiting his parents in Enugu.  He says that his parents have changed since they retired.  They used to be critical thinkers (professors both of them).  They often challenged each other in intellectual ways–even seeing who could publish more papers.  But since they have retired, they have become almost comically gullible.  They would often call things “nonsense” but now they believed just about everything they read in the paper.

And on this occasion they are telling the narrator about a robbery that occurred in town.  This is nothing unusual.  But when they say that the leader of the gang was Raphael, it gives the narrator pause.

His parents don’t think he remembers Raphael, but he does.  Raphael was one of the house boys who worked for his parents.  There were a number of them, but this one made an impact. (more…)

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nymarc22SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tormato (1978).

TormatoTormato might be Yes’ most hated album (I think people grudgingly respect Topographic, but they hate Tormato).  I mean the cover is weird and, well, weird.  The songs are not bad but they sound so far from Yes of old, that it could possibly not be the same band.  And then there’s those lyrics.  I find myself blaming Jon Anderson for this middling period style of Yes music.  It seems like he was the impetus behind topographic and he has a number of songs that he wrote on the last two albums.  If Anderson is the flighty stratosphere, Squire and White are the ground.  And the ground is sorely lacking on the last two albums.

There’s no Roger Dean on this album either (more Hipgnosis with a giant tomato spill (get it, Tormato?  No I don’t really either.)  Wikipedia sheds some light, kind of:

Howe pitched the album’s original title of Yes Tor, referring to the highest point on Dartmoor, an area of moorland in Devon, England. Wakeman claimed to have thrown a tomato at the pictures taken for the album as he was disappointed with its design. The album’s title and cover was changed accordingly. Howe said it was someone at Hipgnosis who threw the tomato on purpose, something that he felt insulted about.  According to White, the band “couldn’t decide on the cover. I think Po … put a picture of a guy with divining sticks on the front.  He took it home one night and decided it wasn’t working. So he threw a tomato at it”. 

I always thought it was drumsticks not divining sticks.  Oh well.  So there that in no way clears up the tomato business.

So what about the music?Even though Squire shows up a bit more here, the overall sound of the album is really tinny—a problem that to me plagued Yes throughout this period—there’s just no low end to speak of, even when Squire does some rumbling lines.

“Future Times/Rejoice” opens with an interesting riff and some cool bass lines from Squire.  The song itself is bouncy and jaunty, moving along briskly with some wild riffs from Howe.  It’s kind of refreshing.  At 3 minutes the song slows down with some counting and replies from Anderson. The next section has a pretty classic Yes build up and then a return to the beginning of the song. There’s a very 70s sounding keyboard solo from Wakeman as the song reaches the end—which is a coda called Rejoice (starting at 5:44), which is mostly harmony voices until the repeat of musical themes from earlier.

Next comes the divisive “Don’t Kill the Whale” This is one of those major heart-on-your-sleeve songs.  Musically it’s pretty interesting with some wild soloing from Howe, but those lyrics: “don’t kill the whale, dig it.” It’s hard not to agree with the sentiment but it’s hard to sing along to at the same time. The synth solo is also astonishingly dated and kind of nauseating at the end.

“Madrigal” is a ballad played on a harpsichord with vocals from Anderson. By the end some classical guitar is played with it. It’s a pretty piece.

“Release/Release” is probably the most interesting track on the disc. It’s got a great riff from Howe and although (some of) the synths feel dated it rocks along like a good mid 70s rocker should. I like the audacity of having a “live” drum solo tacked into the middle of the song. It reminds me in style of a King Crimson track with the staccato voices, although it is not produced anywhere as well.

“Arriving UFO” is, indeed, about seeing UFOs.  The narrator is incredulous about them at the beginning of the song (which comes with very “eerier” keyboard notes) but I believe is a believer by the end. I do like the way the music builds for the bridge, although the chorus is bit much (as is the dreadful synth middle section). The solo section has some really bizarre sounds that I take to be “alien” conversation. Whether its made by guitar synth or voice I cannot say.

“Circus of Heaven” might just be the worst Yes song ever. It is all high notes (even the bass is high notes). Around 2 and a half minutes in the song shifts from its whimsical circus feel to a slightly more serious tone that hearkens back to better Yes moments, but it does not remain there.  Rather, the narrator asks his son what he thought of the circus of heaven and then Anderson’s actual son tells him that he’s not impressed. It’s hard to listen to I have to say.

There’s more high notes in “Onward” which is more orchestral washes and Anderson’s vocals over the top. It’s not really much of a song, frankly, even with the string arrangement.

“On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is nearly 8 minutes long.  It tries to hearken back to longer classic Yes songs but it never quite makes it.  It opens with some loud basslines, some fiddly Howe guitar bits and a lot of synths. But none of it sounds as interesting as previous long song intros. Even the wah wah bass sound isn’t as interesting as the early 70s bass sound. Anderson comes in almost 3 minutes in and around 3:30 the song picks up speed and the elements gel in a really good way. Around 4:45 the song slows down to an interesting instrumental section with bass and percussion.   After a return to vocals the fast part picks up again, although with a synth solo that is less than stellar.  There’s a lot of “la la las” in the song and a mention of “celestial seasons” which I hope came out before the tea brand.  The song isn’t bad, and if Yes didn’t have such a great catalog behind them I might actually say it ‘s quite good, but like the rest of the album it pales with their peak.

And that’s probably why Wakeman left again and, shocking, Jon Anderson split from the band too (which i find surprising since I feel like the past two albums were all about him).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   With the middling success of Going for the One, this line up stayed in place for a second album!

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keybaords
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: March 22, 2015] “Sleep”

This story was written in direct address, from an “I” narrator to a “you” subject.  It really personalized the story and was interesting to watch as the story that started as one thing was able to travel to another thing entirely.

It begins with the narrator, an older man, talking in his mind to his young lover.  The younger man’s parents are concerned that the narrator is older, but they do like him.  I loved the way it was constructed with him reminiscing about how they met and about how the world allowed them to be together: “Germany, Ireland, the Internet, gay rights, Judaism, Catholicism, they have all brought us here.”  The beginning of the story really stresses their differences, which he finds charming:

“Like a good American you wear a T-shirt and boxers in bed.  I am wearing pajamas like a good Irishman.”

They have been sharing living space for a while, but the younger man is concerned that the older man’s dreams are plagued by nightmares.  The nightmares are so strong that the older man often screams out loud –but does not wake up. (more…)

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harpers-sept-2014-LA-coverSOUNDTRACK: YES-Going for the One (1977).

Yes_Going_for_the_OneThere’s many interesting things about this Yes album.  It was the first album since they hit it big to not have a Roger Dean cover (it did use the logo of course).  This cover is a photo done by Hipgnosis.  It also features the return of Rick Wakeman (the first player to come back).  Further, there aren’t really any epic songs.  Sure, there’s a 6 and 7 and even a 15 minute song, but none of them feel epic.  There’s even a song less than four minutes long!

It’s also interesting for having a naked man on the cover about a year before Rush would release Hemispheres with a naked man on the cover.  Must have been a thing.

This album opens with a big rock n roll bluesy guitar and steel guitar solo and sounds nothing like any Yes song ever did.  Then Anderson’s voice comes in and it sounds a lot more Yes.  But again, something feels different about this album.  The song is only 5 minutes, but it has many different parts all anchored by the wild careening steel guitar.  The chorus “going for the one” is pretty catchy and is probably the most memorable moment in the song, although I understand it did pretty well as a single.  The wavery solo at the end just shows how much the guitar permeates this song.

“Turn of the Century” is a 7 minute song. It is mellow and is mostly Howe’s classical guitar and waves of keyboards.  The song slowly builds.  It is quite pretty.  It was originally supposed to be short but it grew during the recordings and includes a very lovely Wakeman piano solo and a beautiful Howe classical solo at the end.

“Parallels” was written by Chris Squire and was supposed to be on his solo album, but it didn’t fit.  So instead Yes recorded it together.  It opens with Rick Wakeman playing a church organ (there’s a fascinating story about how they recorded that).  This of course makes the song feel bigger than it needs to.  But Squire has a great sense of interesting vocal lines, and this song sounds like pure Yes.

“Wonderous Stories” is a sweet song that sounds like it could be the closing credits of a kids’ fantasy movie.  “Awaken” is the fifteen minute song.  It opens with a classic sounding piano section.  The keyboard washes come in with Anderson’s vocals.  And the around 1:30 the song kicks in with a cool Howe guitar riff and some big Squire bass.  This middle section rings as classic Yes–lots of guitar and bass pyrotechnics and Anderson’s voice floating over the lot.   The solo culminates in what feels like a great conclusion to this song–except that the song has only hit the 5 minute mark (and there’s ten more to go), but that doesn’t stop the song from building and building (with some great Wakeman moments). And then it reaches a hard stop for a pause as the song rebuilds with a lot of percussion and keyboards.   This meandering instrumental section is cool and trippy and lasts for about four minutes.  When the song resumes, it picks up more or less where it stopped with Anderson’s voice soaring over what sounds like ea choir of voices.  Around 12 minutes in, Wakeman gets another pipe organ solo–it’s a brief flourish before the song kicks back in to build to the proper conclusion.  Except that once again, the song fades away and there is a quieter coda, of keys and bells and Anderson’s voice.  It feels like it should be bigger and grander somehow.  And it may just be a poor production quality that makes this album seem flat.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   Here we have the first time someone has returned to the band, with Wakeman deciding (for no doubt complicate reasons) to return.

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2 replaced Patrick Moraz #3)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: April 12, 2015] “French Town Rock”

This is another excerpt from a novel (A Brief History of Seven Killings).  This excerpt is done in a Jamaican dialect, which I found challenging to read.

I enjoyed that there was a guy named Shotta Sheriff.

The story comes down to gambling and money.  There’s a character known as the Singer.  His brother fixed a horse race and made a ton of money.  But then he absconded with the profits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKnov2014YES-Yesterdays (1975).

yesterdaysAfter Relayer, Yes decided to explore solo projects.  And their label released this compilation.  Oddly enough, it consists entirely of songs from Yes and Time and a Word (and is a great collection of those two middling albums).  It also includes a B-side called “Dear Father” and, most unexpectedly, a 10 minute version of the Simon and Garfunkel song “America.”  All the songs have the original lineup except “America” which features Howe and Wakeman and was recorded in 1972.

“Looking Around” and “Survival” from Yes and “Time and a Word,” “Sweet Dreams” “Astral Traveler” and “Then” from Time and a Word.

“Dear Father” is a  sounds very much like a B-side from Time and a Word (meaning it has elements of Yes, but not enough to make the song especially interesting).  The bass is thumping, but there’s also strings which add a less dramatic element than intended.  The ending sounds very 1970s (almost like a TV special) especially in the way the strings swell, but it’s a cool sounding end to the disc.

The sound of “America” (which opens the disc) is pure early 70s’s Yes, with loud guitars and some good bass lines.  They play around with the original quite a lot (and most of the time it is unrecognizable).  I really enjoy that the guitar and bass throw in lines from the West Side Storys “America.”  There’s moments where you know the S&G original (like the “I don’t know why” line and they play it totally wrong (but in very Yes fashion), but other parts like “counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike” sounds different but also really good.  This is the kind of cover I like, when a band completely make a song their own.  I still prefer the original, but this is an interesting interpretation.

The cover of the album is the last one that Roger Dean would do for the band for a while.  It’s pretty bizarre (even for a Dean cover) with a little boy peeing on the back.

[READ: March 27, 2015] “The Great Exception”

This story comes from The Strange Case of Rachel K.  I assume it is a short story, as I can’t even imagine what it might have to do with Rachel K in general.

This piece opens with Part 1 in which there is a brief history of people’s beliefs in the flatness and/or roundness of the Earth.  The Admiral goes to the queen to inform her that the Earth is actually shaped like a pear or violin and he requests gold for his expedition.  But when he is in her presence, and a little drunk and a little bold, he informed her that the earth was really shaped like a woman’s breast.  The orient was the protrusion.  And the nipple–he locked eyes with the queen–was warm and tumultuous.

The Cardinal had given him excessive jewels to wear on his hand and they flash as he makes the shape of breasts in the air in front of the queen.  She gave in to his request and he set sail with no instruments, using only his instincts. (more…)

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lp14SOUNDTRACK: YES-Relayer (1974).

Relayer_REMUS_spine_Layout 1After Tales, Rick Wakeman left and the band decided to get back to business.  So they made an album kind of like Close to EdgeRelayer is a dark album which didn’t quite bring the band back from the brink (even if there were only 3 songs and one was 20 minutes long).  It did sell well, though, even if there wasn’t any real radio airplay.

I happened to really like this album in college (my friend Sean introduced me to it).  And there are moments here that I think are great, but I can also see that it is not quite as user friendly as CttE.

I love the way “The Gates of Delirium” opens with guitar harmonics and some loud bashes of noise (good to see Squire and White asserting themselves again).  The lyrics come in around 2 minutes in and it’s a very sweet and interesting opening.  The guitar lines grow more complex as the song progresses.  Anderson says that it is a war song, with a prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.  The “listen” section is quite catchy and moves along very well.

Around 5 minutes, the song changes into more of an instrumental sound (the charge, perhaps?)  A great riff begins at 8 minutes with a very heavy section (the battle?) beginning as well.  Squire takes over around 10 minutes and then the chaos befalls the song.  Anderson and White stopped by a scrap yard and bought metal car parts which were used as percussion during the song’s battle section. During the battle section, White formed a tower of the parts and pushed it over to make a crashing sound.

Patrick Moraz (who later played with the Moody Blues) took over for Rick Wakeman on this album and the difference is notable.  Moraz adds good keyboard sounds, but it is so clearly not Wakeman–there’s no flourishes or frills  (one imagines he would have added some pretty impressive things to this battle scene).

At around 13 the battle ends and a new riff comes out–uplifting but not overtly so.  Then things mellow out at around 15 minutes, with some washes of sound.  The biggest surprise comes around 16 minutes when the song turns very pretty with a slow echoey section known as the “Soon” section.  This section, which is about 5 minutes, was released as a single.

Track 2 “Sound Chaser” opens with a weird keyboard sound and then some chaotic drumming and bass (it’s loud and cool).  This is their jazz fusion song with drumming that’s all over the place and some cool riffs.  There are vocals (it’s hard to imagine them fitting vocals on to the riffage).  And then around 3 minutes the song turns into a big time guitar section with a lengthy dramatic solo and then Moraz’ keys underneath.   At 5 and a half minutes the songs mellow out an Anderson begins singing a gentle passage.  Then a little after 6 minutes the songs repeats with the chaos of the opening and that cool riff.  But this time, a noisy guitar picks up afterwards and a new riff begins and slows down until the unusual “cha cha cha/cha cha” section begins.  It’s followed by a wild keyboard solo from Moraz.

“To Be Over” opens with some more gentle notes as it slowly builds. Sitar plays over the notes.  This is a mellow track with lovely harmony vocals.  There’s an interesting slide guitar section in the middle of the song.  It shifts to a very typical Steve Howe guitar solo after that (very staccato and interesting).  By 5 and half minutes there’s big harmony vocals and then around 7 and a half minutes the song breaks into a new, catchier section, with a cool keyboard outro.

It’s not as immediate and grabbing as previous Yes albums, but I still think it’s pretty great.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   Here we have a new keyboardist, although Wakeman would soon be back.

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Patrick Moraz (#3 replaced Rick Wakeman)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: March 24, 2015] “The Route”

I’m generally puzzled about the fiction in Lucky Peach.  It’s usually food related, which makes sense. But this one wasn’t especially.  And then at the end of the story to see that it was originally published in Escapes in 1990 just makes the whole thing seem odd.  But hey, they can publish what they want, right?

The story is about a married couple–she is a youngster and he is middle-aged.  Their marriage is poor and so they go on a road trip from New York.

Each entry in the story is about a spot and what they did that day–traveling through Connecticut and Spotsylvania, Virginia.  Until they get to North Carolina where he is bitten by a bat.

And this is evidently, fatal.

They continue on South, with this soon to be fatality proving to be an aphrodisiac.  They go through Georgia and into Florida. And they finally get to Mile 0 in Key West.

The whole story was strange and unsettling and I really didn’t get a lot out of it. It seems odd that they would bother to reprint it here.


The rest of the issue was, as usual, excellent.

There were several articles about wheat and other grains and interviews with different chefs.

But my favorite article was the one about Colonial Chocolate (and how Mars got involved).  And my second was about the Monopoly game at McDonalds which I’ve never played and had no idea was over 25 years old.

The theme of the issue is obsession, and there are obsessions about endives (pronounced ondeev) and Pizza (including the guy with the record for most pizza boxes) and so much more.

The story about a Jewish man and his love of pork was interesting, especially the part about pork roll:

She takes a bite and her eyes roll back.  Then she hands it to me.
As I dig into my first Taylor Pork Roll I realize that everything I appreciated in the ham… is more concentrated in this superior sandwich.  It’s saltier porkier and smokier and the flavor lingers on the tongue….  It’s like a ham sandwich squared.

There’s also a fascinating look at Ranch dressing and its belovedness in West Virginia.

I may not always love the stories, but Lucky Peach continues to be a great magazine.

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atwq3SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974).

Tales_from_Topographic_Oceans_(Yes_album)After the huge success of Fragile and Close to the Edge (with its 18 minute suite), what could Yes do next?  Well first they would release a triple live album, which I’ll get to later.  And then?  Why they would release a double album with only 4 songs on it!  That’s right 4 songs each around 20 minutes long!  And it would be ponderous and pretentious and it would be reviled by everyone!

The album shipped gold (because their previous records were so popular) and then sales plummeted.  The album is much maligned and, frankly, deservedly so.  Now, I love me a good prog rock epic.  So, four 20 minutes songs is pretty heavenly for me.  But man, these songs just don’t really have any oomph.

My CD’s recording quality is a little poor, but I don’t know if the original is too.  The whole album feels warm and soft and a little muffled.  You can barely hear Anderson’s vocals (which I believe is a good thing as the lyrics are a bunch of mystical jiggery pokery).  But despite the hatred for the album, it’s not really bad.  It’s just kind of dull.

Overall, there is a Yes vibe…and Yes were good songwriters–it’s not like they suddenly weren’t anymore.  There are plenty of really interesting sections in the various songs.  It just sounds like they have soft gauze between them.  Or more accurately, it sounds like you get to hear some interesting song sections and then the song is overtaken by another song that is mostly just mellow ambient music.

Without suggesting in any way that this album influenced anyone, contemporary artists are no longer afraid to make songs that are super long (see jam bands) or songs that are just swells of keyboards (see ambient musicians).  Yes just happened to put them all in the same song–way before anyone else did.

The album is very warm and soft—rather unlike the last couple of Yes albums which were sharp and harsh.  There are washes of keyboards and guitars and Anderson’s echoing voice. But what you’ll notice is that I haven’t really mentioned Chris Squire.  He’s barely on the album at all, and when he is, it’s usually to provide very simple bass notes–bass notes that anyone could play–it’s such a waste!  And while Alan White is no Bill Bruford (who was off rocking with King Crimson then), he’s also barely there.  In fact, Rick Wakeman himself is barely there–the king of elaborate classical riffs is mostly playing single notes at a time.  According to Wikipedia,

Wakeman took a dislike to the album’s concept and structure from the beginning. He made only minimal musical contributions to the recording, and often spent time drinking at the studio bar and playing darts. [During the recording session] he played the piano and synthesiser on the Black Sabbath track “Sabbra Cadabra”.

Evidently Anderson wanted a pastoral feeling in the studio

According to Squire, Brian Lane, the band’s manager, proceeded to decorate the studio like a farmyard to make Anderson “happy”.  Wakeman described the studio, “There were white picket fences … All the keyboards and amplifiers were placed on stacks of hay.” At the time of recording, heavy metal group Black Sabbath were producing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the studio next door.  Ozzy Osbourne recalled that placed in the Yes studio was a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn to give the room an “earthy” feel. Anderson recalled that he expressed a wish to record the album in a forest at night, “When I suggested that, they all said, ‘Jon, get a life!'”

So we have an earthy pastoral album.  But what about the four sides?  Steve Howe describes it:

“Side one was the commercial or easy-listening side of Topographic Oceans, side two was a much lighter, folky side of Yes, side three was electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity, and side four was us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie.”

Despite Wakeman’s complaints, he did have some nice thing to say about it.  he said that there are

“very nice musical moments in Topographic Oceans, but because of the […] format of how records used to be we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double […] so we padded it out and the padding is awful […] but there are some beautiful solos like “Nous sommes du soleil” […] one of the most beautiful melodies […] and deserved to be developed even more perhaps.”

And if Rick Wakeman says an album is padded, you can just imagine what the rest of the world thought!

The lyrics (and mood) are based on Jon Anderson’s vision of four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively named the shastras, based on a footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  So if I read this correctly–he wrote 80 minutes of music based ona  footnote!

The four songs are

“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” [which Howe says is the commercial or easy-listening side] builds slowly and eventually adds vocals.  And then come the drums and a decent keyboard riff.  There’s some noodling on the keyboards.  The riff is catchy but not immediate (which might be the subtitle for the album).  At nearly 4 minutes a faster section kicks in and there’s a catchy vocal part, which seems like where Anderson might normally soar but he holds back.  The “must have waited all our lives for this moment moment moment” is catchy, but again I can’t help but feel it would have been much more dramatic sounding on an earlier record.  At 7 minutes there’s a nice jump to something more dramatic—good drums, but the bass is mixed very low (poor Squire).  There’s some good soloing and such but it is short lived and things mellow out again.  It resolves into a new riff at 9 minutes, but resumes that feeling of washes and noodling guitars.  At 11 minutes there’s an elaborate piano section and the song picks up some tempo and drama. Especially when the bass kicks in around 12 minutes.  The most exciting part happens around 17 minutes when the whole band comes to life and adds a full sound, including a good solo from Wakeman.  And while this doesn’t last, it recycles some previous sections which are nice to hear.

Track 2 “The Remembering (High the Memory)” [which Howe described as the much lighter, folky side of Yes] has a slow, pretty guitar opening with more harmony vocals.  The whole first opening section is like this—layers of voices and keys. Then come some keyboard swells and more vocals.  Some bass is added around 6 minutes. And then around 8 minutes the tone shifts and there is a lengthy slow keyboard solo that reminds me of the solo in Rush’ “Jacob’s Ladder” (released 6 years later).  At around 9 minutes there’s a more breezy upbeat section with a cool riff.  At 10:40 a new section comes in with some great bass lines and guitars and an interesting vocal part. It could easily have been the structure for a great Yes song (vocals are singing “relayer” which of course is their next album’s title). But this is all too brief (it thankfully returns again) and then it’s back to the gentle keyboards.  At 12 minutes there’s a new medieval type section with some great guitar work.  When the “relayer” part returns around 13 minutes there’s a whole section that is great fun.  And even though it doesn’t keep up, the song feels rejuvenated. By around 17 minutes there some interesting soloing going on and then the band resumes to bring it to the end (with a reprise of an early section). And the final section is quite lovely.

Track 3 “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)” [Howe: electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity] is probably the most interesting.  It opens with some clashing cymbals and then a fairly complex percussion section and mildly dissonant guitar riff.  There’s even some staccato bass line. The vocals come in around 4:30 and the song shifts to a less aggressive sound, but the big bass continues throughout the beginning of the song until a fast riff emerges around 6 minutes. But more unusual Yes-type riffage resume briefly before segueing into the next part with lots of percussion.  While the staccato bass and drums continues, Howe solos away.  Then around 12 :30 the whole things shifts to a pretty, slow acoustic section with a classical guitar and vocals.  This entire end section sounds like it could easily have been its own song and it is quite lovely.  Howe’s acoustic work is great and there’s even a lengthy solo.

Track 4 “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” [Howe: us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie] is also quite good.  It’s probably the most fully Yes track of the four, with many sections of “full band” material.  There’s a noodly guitar intro switching to an interesting dramatic minor key movement.  There’s a pretty, if simple, riff (done by guitar and voice) that is quite lovely.  Around 4:30 the guitar solo brings in a riff from a previous Yes song. By 7 minutes, the song settles into a fairly conventional sounding Yes song (with actual bass and drums and…sitar!).   Around 11 there’s a bit of Wakeman soloing (he did show up for some of the album after all) and then some wild guitar and bass work.   The crazy percussion resumes and there’s a wild keyboard solo on top of it. The end of the guitar solo even has a bit of “Born Free” in it.

I hadn’t listened to this record in probably 25 years.  And so I listened to it 4 times in the last few days.  And I have to say that I thought it was bloated and awful at first, but it slowly grew on me.  I found some really interesting sections and some very cool riffs.  If these pieces could have been truncated into individual songs they would be quite good.  The biggest problem for me is that so much of it is so slow and mellow–like it’s building up to a big climax which never arrives.  On previous albums, Yes had made quite a show of being insane musicians, and that just isn’t here.

So even though I have come around on these songs, they certainly aren’t my favorites.  But if you’re at all interested in Yes, there’s some gems hidden away in these monstrosities (just don’t think too much about what Anderson is talking about).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  The band stayed together after Close to the Edge, but this was too much for Wakeman who left after the recording:

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: June 20, 2015] Shouldn’t You Be in School?

I am finding this series to be ever more and more confounding.  And I know that is its intent, but it is still a challenge.  Whenever anyone asks a question someone else replies that it is the wrong question.  But they never say what the right question should be (deliberately confusing!).  There are also so many threads and confusing characters, that if Snicket didn’t make the story funny and strangely compelling, it would be incredibly frustrating.

In this story, Hangfire, having been thwarted in his previous endeavor to capture children (for what end we do not know) is back with a new plan to capture children.  Also, the mysterious (and presumably wicked, but who can be sure) Ellington Feint has returned as well to help or hinder as she sees fit.

The other characters are back too, of course: Moxie is back taking notes, Jake Hix is cooking delicious foods at Hungry’s (in fact there are even some recipes that sound pretty yummy–Snicket himself makes a passable tandoori chicken).  S. Theodora is still his mentor (and the pictures by Seth of her are hilarious).  Late in the book Pip and Squeak show up.  And naturally the policemen and their bratty son Stewie are there too.  And we are still wondering what in the heck is going on with the bombinating beast.

There’s also some new characters, like Kellar Haines, a young boy who when we first meet him is typing up something in the offices of the Department of Education (with posters all over the walls that say Learn! Learning is Fun, etc).  And his mother is also becoming quite chummy with S. Theodora.

The danger in this book is fire.  Building after building is being burnt down.  The Stain’d Secondary School is engulfed.  Even the library is at risk!  And that’s when S. Theodora solves the crime!  She gets the library Dashiell Qwerty arrested for setting the fires.  And even though it is quickly determined that he did not do it (a building was burnt down while he was in custody), that doesn’t stop S. Theodora and her new friend Sharon Haines (in matching yellow nails) from partying.  It also doesn’t stop Qwerty from being taken to prison.

This story is a bit darker than the other ones (which were admittedly pretty dark).  Every kid is being drugged with laudanum which makes you sleepy.  We’re unclear exactly what they are being drugged for, but Snicket has a plan to stop it.  Snicket himself winds up getting beaten up–pretty badly–from Stew and others.

And for the first time, S. Theodora is kind to Snicket (more or less) and apologizes for her behavior (sort of).

By the end of the book a plan is hatched, a bunch of people join the V.F.D. (as seen in A Series of Unfortunate Events) and someone is taken to jail. There’s even a mysterious beast who is living in the fire pond.

As in previous books there is ample definition building–either from people saying they don’t know what a word means so that it can be defined or from Snicket himself simply defining a word.  As in “my brother and I played an inane game” “inane is a word which here means that my brother and I would pretend we couldn’t hear each other very well while we were talking.”  This game actually sounds fun:

What do you think of the weather this morning?
Feather? I’m not wearing a feather this morning.  This is just a hat.
Just a cat? Why would you wear a cat on your head?
A Bat in your bed etc etc.

The artwork by Seth is once again fantastic and noirish.

And the end of the book has a fragmentary plot “a great number of people working together, but they plotted together in such a way that nobody knew exactly what the other people were doing”  And finally we learn what the right question is, but it’s the unsatisfying: “Can we save this town?”  We’ll have to find out in the concluding book 4.

You can also check out the website for some fun.

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