Talk From The Rock Room: October 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Yoko Ono + Plastic Ono Band-'Getting Invisible'-Take Me to the Land of Hell LP

     Yoko Ono, the name elicits images of long black hair, howling, screaming and emotion inducing artistic statements. Well, it should also now bring to mind, relevant and thought provoking rock music on the cutting edge of a musical blade. Working in conjunction with son Sean Lennon and other musical heavyweights the current Plastic Ono Band Yoko's newest creation, 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' is a divergent collision of dance, Avant-garde, trance, rock, swing and about any other genre of music that you can possibly think of. Spinning in the 'rock room' today, this consciousness stretching piece of art is a work that any connoisseur of experimental yet melodic music will want to dig in to. The images created by Lennon/Ono/Honda's tasteful production techniques frame the narratives of the songs, adding visual mind images to the sounds. Retaining some of the hallmarks of the elder Lennon's collaborations with Ono, this new Plastic Ono Band work, 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' blossoms into a familiar but distinctly expansive and continuously changing direction.
      The album begins outside, the evening conversation of nightfall creatures, bird chirps and insect bleats set the scene. Yoko narrates through clouds, and the inky blue veil drawn over her vocals. The music changes, a dance beat appears then explodes into full on Yoko vocal blasts. The music becomes dramatic with Nels Cline's recognizable guitar strikes lifting the song to a new level. The song becomes a massive theatrical opening to the record, including multiple elements of the bands arsenal, finishing with scathing found guitar sound that segues perfectly into 'Cheshire Cat Cry'.
     Spotlighting the trio of Ono, Lennon and Lenny Kravitz (playing clavinet and drums) this funky street savvy jam slinks along dropping a down beat reminiscent of David Bowie's 'Fame'. Yoko seductively preaches, smiling slyly, similar to the songs subject. The content hasn't changed for Ono, 'Stop the violence', stop all wars' is the message, a mantra over the fat bass being played by her son.
     The third track on the album is the sticky 'Tabetai', the song teeters on percussive rhythms, alternating sounds and cosmic effects. The tasty lyrical content is reflected by the mischievous instrumentation and Ono's pleading vocalizations.
     'Bad Dancer' follows, and begins as a true 'dance' track with fuzzy hypnotizing bass and jumpy programmed beats. The track becomes gradually twisted by the musical additions of Adam Horovitz and Mike D (Beastie Boys) who remixed the track to feature aural hallucinations. Already in the first four tracks the diversity and talent of the collected musicians is fully on display and appropriately mind blowing.
     One my personal favorite tracks on the record is the autobiographical 'Little Boy Blue you're daddy's gone', featuring electronic specialists the 'Tune-Yards'. This song contains no guitars, and is an aqua colored drift through soft Fender Rhodes accents and tender bass pulses. Yoko carries the melody vocally, while a fusion of synths, shakers and samples create a comforting layer of sound to which Yoko adds here longing vocalizations. The songs dissipates into a swirled and weightless interlude with Ono emotively lamenting. Another uniquely developed and produced track that only the mind Yoko Ono could have developed. More of a mood than a movement.
     'There's No Goodbye Between Us' contains all of the hallmarks of a Ono ballad, similar in scope to past glories such as 'Hard Times Are Over' and 'I Want My Love To Rest Tonight'.  A song about acceptance, regret, and hopefulness for the future, Ono interprets this song beautifully and tenderly, as it contains more ace production techniques covering the song in a spacy mist.
     '7th Floor' comes rolling in on pulsating percussion and a funky guitar/keyboard combo groove. Direct and aggressive vocals from Yoko seductively speak over the unjulating sea of electric swells and guitar breakers. The strata of the song exposes the essence of Ono's talent and musicianship. Reminiscent in content to past Ono work 'Yang Yang', and containing as delicious of a groove, this track is a peak moment on the album. Kudos to Nels Cline, Sean Lennon, and Jared Samuel for intense contributions, and sympathetic instrumental support.
     'N.Y. Noodle Town' begins as atmospheric folk number sung endearingly by Ono, and by its conclusion morphs into a silvery sound scape of guitars. A paean to her adopted hometown, the song rises skyscraper high, and basks in the warm sun. Cline's lap steel is very much a centerpiece, elegantly outlining the text of the song.
     'Take Me To The Land of Hell', the title track, is the most straightforward song instrumentally, but also the most naked lyrically.  Containing piano, cello, and hummingbird guitar the song chronicles Ono's journey up the 'blood river', to meet her lover 'soul to soul'. Dramatic in its construction, the slightly grim innards of the song increases its gripping power.
     Featuring Sean Lennon on china doll piano and spotlighting an accompanying string trio, 'Watching the Dawn' sits perfectly in contrast to the previous 'Take Me to the Land of Hell'. The song is an airy Ono directive to, 'Remember we were offsprings of lovers and dreamers, Remember we are descendants of thinkers and builders'. The first blush of day breathes in the gentle accompaniment as Ono adds an obvious but not always heeded reminder that 'We are here together'.
     'Leaving Tim' changes things up completely with a 1920's saloon swing, reminding me of 'I'm Your Angel' off of 1980's 'Double Fantasy'. Lightening the mood slightly, the track has an audio verite sound and contains infectious good time foot tapping. Yoko sounds like she having a good time too.
     Again playing 'Yin/Yang with the track listing, the next and final song 'Shine, Shine' opens with Ono howling like a hammer, her vibrato moans working in conjunction with incendiary instrumentation tastefully remixed by record producer extraordinaire Cornelius. The circular porcupine bass line underpinning the song is massive, providing structure the crisp disco guitar riffs. Ono's performance vocally colors between the lines, adding cinematic contrasts to the pulsating groove. The song taffy pulls in multiple directions at once causing aural disorientation, instruments bounce in and out of the mix, creating a windy vortex of white noise that appears in an almost tangible form, then becomes transparent, dissolving into the swirling sound.
     Ono's 'Take Me to the Land of Hell' is a divergent array of styles, musical guests, and instrumentation tied together by Ono's songwriting, vocals, and production. The LP is a testament to her continued devotion to peace and artistic expression. Similary to Ono's earlier recorded efforts with Sean's famous father, Sean Ono Lennon has now taken a lead role as a musical arranger and partner with his mother on her Plastic Ono Band projects. Reaching her 80th birthday, Ono is still relevant artist, collaborating most recently with 'The Flaming Lips' for a live version of "Cheshire Cat' on the David Letterman show. Regardless of any preconceived prejudices about her voice, or her involvement in the breakup of any famous rock bands people may have, Ono's importance in forward movement of art cannot be denied. Whether it be musical or conceptual, Ono's ideas initiate thought and cause reaction. Join the Plastic Ono Band on an excursion through the 'Land of Hell', marvel at the images and sounds revealed to you.

Cheshire Cat Cry-David Letterman

Moonbeams-'Take Me To the Land of Hell'


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Put the Boot In: 'Interstellar Overdrive'-Pink Floyd May 6, 1968 Rome, Italy

     Today in the rock room I am exploring a FM broadcast of three songs and a interview from Dutch radio of Pink Floyd, hailing from May 1968. These tracks come from the groups performance at the Palazzo Dello Sport in Rome, Italy for the First International Pop Festival. Other bands on the bill included the 'Byrds'(with Gram Parsons) and the 'Nice'. Mid 1968 was a strange time for the group who were in the process of reinventing themselves after kicking principal songwriter and group founder Syd Barrett from the band. According from the text 'In the Flesh' this concert is from May 5th, the CD packaging says May 6th, which I believe may be the broadcast date. This is like previously stated a FM broadcast so the sound is relatively good with proper levels and nice clarity. The recording has only 3 songs and an interview, so it is a quick but enjoyable listen, from a interesting period for the band. The group during this performance is a four piece featuring Roger Waters (Bass, Vocals), David Gilmour (Guitar, Vocals), Richard Wright (Keyboards, Vocals), and Nick Mason (Drums), this would remain their line up until 1979.

     The concert begins with the MC's introduction along with the radio broadcasters introduction. The first track is the Morse code opening of Syd Barrett's 'Astronomy Domine'. The first song of the groups debut LP sneaks out with dramatic vocals and percussive statements. The instruments tumble and fall like ancient stones, dropping into an abyss of descending chromatic runs dressed in enigmatic organ swells, and cymbal washes. The song tumbles over itself weightlessly, often referred to as 'space rock', the band was not enamored with that term, but it is quite apt in some cases. The song balances on its quirky changes, moving through the falsetto howls of the chorus, and eventually peaking in a heavy reinstatement of the theme.

     The next track on the recording is an interview with Roger Waters where he states his beliefs regarding the staging of a pop festival in Rome, and the misgivings of doing so. He is also asked about the 'progressive' or 'experimental' aspect of 'pop' music and where the Floyd fits in to this movement. Interesting listen.

     The following song is the strange and abstruse 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' penned by Roger Waters. The tune which would remain in Water's set lists in different arrangements for years, here is played early and close to its original ideal. Opening on hollow tribal tom tom rolls that on the studio version were played with Tympani mallets, the song slinks along without bass and containing only terror inducing keyboards and Waters sinister whispers, 'Witness the man who raves at the wall, making the shapes of his questions to heaven'. Gilmour's muted cotton covered riffs move in and out of the track like a snake in the grass, sliding up against Wright's keyboard statements. The clandestine mantra starts to gain momentum, rotating, gathering cosmic ice. Gilmore joins with an over driven tone, playing droning licks similar to Indian raga riffs. The song then again falls dynamically into just keys and woody drums, only to rise from the psychedelic ashes to a well placed peak. The conclusion of the song hangs draped like a veil over the parchment portrait of a spectral woman. Waters bass appears toward the end at around eight minutes to help usher in the ending smoothly.

     The bootleg recording concludes with 'Interstellar Overdrive', a song thematically related to the earlier ''Astronomy Domine'. The song begins on the chirp of Waters psychotropic guitar birds that squeak and squeal in conjunction with Wright's merry go round keys. The song becomes a cluster of celestial horses jumping stars, eventually becoming a weightless improvisation floating through dark recesses. The song becomes minimalist, similar to 1970 Grateful Dead 'Dark Stars' then enters into a Waters bass groove. Gilmour is throwing out strange schizophrenic statements, that quickly disappear after four minutes leaving Waters and Wright to gaze at each other through darkness. Formlessness becomes form, Mason comes thrashing in with weighty drums and the band coalesces into a thick reinstatement of the theme in a big way. A highlight of the recording. Brief applause can be discerned at the conclusion before the tape cuts off.

     Apparently only 400 people attended this performance, probably the reason for Waters negative comments during the interview portion of the recording. Regardless, this capture is a adequate sounding representation of Pink Floyd during a time of reinvention and musical questioning. While extremely short, it is a very enjoyable listen with more than a few highlights. While my discovery was because I was virtually thumbing through a hard drive directory of music to enjoy, and this one stuck out as needing a good solid listen. If it sits silent in your collection I would recommend doing the same. There is also available, limited filmed footage of Floyd's performance which some I have included below. This is a good reference to enjoy in conjunction with the audio. There is apparently more hidden in the depths of someones vault, but only time will tell.

Pink Floyd-Interstellar Overdrive 5-5-1968 (Video)