I don’t often write about Greek bands and for good reason. If there is one thing one can write about the rock underground in Greece is that it is unpredictable. Its rare highs exceptional, its frequent lows painful and the uncertainty surrounding the future of a band, person or even a release a dire constant, in this country devoid of the necessary cultural and economic foundations to support musicians (and, arguably, artists in general), unless they fall in that sonically and æsthetically narrow slice that spans everything between contemporary greek-kitsch and the multitude of offsprings of the archetypal oriental-meets-byzantine ‘folk’.
In the past decade I’ve followed, albeit from a certain safe distance, this hellenic rock underground; defiant, full of energy and with the appearance of Spinalonga Records in 2005 and several other projects like it in the years that followed — some not-for-profit, others commercial — organised, promoted, somewhat more efficient that what you’d expect from any ‘underground’ music scene.
Even in the rose-tinted 2000s, few bands ever managed to survive the Greek cultural decay (one that preceded the economic and political decay we live in), few artists went on to bigger and greater things and the good (and few amazing!) releases that came out were often followed by the harrowing silence of a breakup, leaving the audience stymied and disappointed. Cube, while never in the spotlight, at times verging on the border of dissolution, have maintained a constant understated presence that transcended the changing landscapes of its members and tastes.
Yet despite their perseverance, there was little on the record about their contribution to rock. Apart from a few bootlegs and ‘fan’ videos of live performances online, the last thing reminding the world of Cube was their 2002 EP, a release not representative of their evolving æsthetic, skill, maturity or, for that matter, lineup and a few tracks in diy, limited release, such as Spinalonga’s own ‘In the Junkyard’ among others.
Two days of listening to Bon Iver (the new album) by Justin Vernon’s synonymous band. Part of me admires this guy for evolving, for moving on and not capitalising on what he achieved with ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ three years ago. Yet another part of me is sad; all that made “For Emma” the jewel it is, is all but gone from this album: the emotion, the pain, the pure, unadulterated sound and simplicity of Vernon’s voice + his acoustic guitar. Without arrangements, without electronics and fx*, without guest musicians or overengineered sonic landscapes. That’s where ‘Bon Iver’ is different to its predecessor and so much like other contemporary indie/folk albums: there may be some glimpses, sporadic moments of brilliance that reminded me why I liked the band in the first place, but as a whole it’s an average album. But then again, it is clear to me that ‘For Emma’ was the exception, not only because of how it was produced (the product of a three month seclusion at a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin), but also because of the ripple it created exactly because it was so authentic yet so different to everything else that made it stand out. In that respect ‘Bon Iver’ is nowhere near ‘For Emma’ territory, but still an album that showcases Vernon’s songwriting ability and unique voice.
* Ok, there is some autotune in use in For Emma..But it really doesn’t detract from the statement above.
It’s nine years since Brett Garsed’s last solo album, Big Sky. And while his output has more or less declined in volume this past decade, his latest album, Dark Matter is a great example of contemporary Rock Fusion, along the lines of Big Sky as well as many of his numerous appearances and collaborations.
Although I only got the album a few hours ago, I have found it to be particularly interesting in that it literally ‘fuses’ (pun intended!) several familiar — at least to me — related styles: Vintage Satch, Liquid Tension Experiment, touches of Holdsworth, Fripp, Metheny and Shawn Lane.
The tracks are more upbeat and energetic than those found in Big Sky; jazzier at times, heavier in others, with a distinct bent on fusion. I particularly enjoyed Avoid the Void, Dark Matter and Enigma, although I cannot say that any of the other tracks were disappointing.
Dark Matter may be an interesting album, yet it is somewhat typical of the genre, which has been largely stagnant for years. It may lack the exceptional feel one finds at times in Big Sky — there are no tracks like Trinity or Drowning, for example — but includes many tracks with more uplifting, polished and — I might argue — technical deliveries of interesting compositions and improvisations that lean heavily on Garsed’s signature technique and sound.
For those enjoying rock fusion, progressive rock and virtuoso guitar instrumentals this is definitely an album worth getting and listening to. Those more familiar with Garsed’s competence and compositional skills (and more demanding of their music) may have expected a bit more.
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would’ve never have believed this came from a human messing with a pad. What you can’t see from this video is the volume pedal that Haynes typically uses, which takes dynamics to another level, nevertheless this is insanely good.
The Books are back! After four — long — years The Books return with The Way Out. An album upon which they’ve worked for a year and a half, it is a gradual evolution of their fantastic work of the early to mid 2000s. Familiar, yet daring in parts, The Way Out felt like ‘more of the same’ at times, with some notable exceptions (e.g. ‘I Didn’t Know That’). The ‘experiment’ that was Books keeps going; The Way Out may be interesting, true to The Books heritage, and evolved, but somehow the end-result is not as immediately attractive as their previous works.
Two years after Guitar Rig 3 was released in autumn 2007, the fourth iteration of the software modelling application for guitarists was released by Native Instruments. This time around a combination of an ever increasing workload, little free time and the fact that Guitar Rig 3 was ‘good enough’ for my needs meant it took me a while before deciding to buy Guitar Rig 4.
A special offer by Native Instruments landing in my email inbox a few weeks ago, some free time to play the guitar — after weeks of not touching it — and the ease of buying software online meant that Guitar Rig 4 was running on my MacBook Pro in no time.
This release is the first one that dropped support for Power PC Macintosh computers, around three and a half years after Apple stopped selling them. There is no good reason for this change, Guitar Rig 4 would run comfortably on PowerMac G5s and maybe even the last generation of PowerPC-based iMacs.
One of the most impressive and original groups that I’ve listened to in the past few years, I’ve been meaning to write something more substantial about this for ages, but never got around to doing it. Difficult, but warm, exceptionally rich in sounds and meaning and at the same time simple, even minimalist in structure, but above all uncategorisable, The Books [on Wikipedia] make music that I’ve come to love more than most in the few years that I’ve been aware of them. It’s not just the rhythmic patterns, the exceptional sampling of natural sounds, the vocals and dialogues, the instruments that are presented in such a subtle, refined way, but the extreme attention to detail and extremely artful manner in which effects, speech samples, sounds and acoustic instruments come together in a glorious reminder of how great real music can be, no matter whether it is the result of natural or artificial means. This is not a band keen on posturing or interested in demonstrating technical prowess; their music is timeless precisely because it focuses on what matters and does away with trends. The music of The Books has soul, but at the same time retains a musical sophistication that’s rare. Open minds and open ears required.
For some unknown reason someone [or a group of people] have been hitting Magnatune hard with credit card fraud, to the point where the company was dropped by their payment processor.
This is a great example of how a good company [and one that helps artists worldwide] gets harassed by ‘criminals’ only to find itself punished by the very same people whose inadequate systems are responsible for the mess in the first place: Visa. John Buckman reports that Magnatune saw ⅓ of its subscriber base disappear due to this change [Magnatune is now depending on PayPal for its credit card transactions and the fact that each payment goes via another entity makes it slightly harder to charge the recurring fees subscriptions bring, without asking the users to register with PayPal etc].
As regular readers may have noticed, I am a great fan of Magnatune; both ethically and artistically I find their effort and business commendable and I have, over the years, found several excellent albums from that company. I hope that things get better for them soon. As a sidenote, I really wonder why someone would hit Magnatune in this manner. Clearly it’s not aimed at getting hold of the music, given that you can get the tracks for free anyway…