Renaissance – Grandine il Vento

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A new Renaissance album has to be approached with expectations.  If I rush in expecting something akin to their 1971-1978 heyday, then I’m only going to be disappointed.  If I set my expectations too low, then I’m not going to be fair.  So I approached this openly, as best I can characterize it.

The original band had a number of significant factors contributing to it that would be absent here: Jon Camp's melodic but aggressive bass, John Tout’s classically oriented piano leanings with an inner ear for what sounds right, and, not to be taken too lightly, Terrence Sullivan’s contributions on drums – always appropriate for the music, not more, not less.  Sadly, this lineup almost reformed several years ago, for which I would have paid Led Zeppelin dollars to witness. 

All is not lost, however.  The effort would be pointless without lead singer Annie Haslam, who set the band apart from any era’s progressive rock bands not only be her gender but by her vocal range.   Also, this CD features the return of Michael Dunford, whose compositional skills bring together the pieces amongst which Haslam’s voice are best heard.  Also featured is pianist/keyboardist Rave Tesar, Haslam’s musical partner for many years.

The best news is that the band clearly reaches to the 1975-1977 era for the root of much of the songs.  This is in contrast to the 2001 reunion Tuscany, which by song length and styling never reached beyond “pleasant music.” 

Grandine Il Vento opens with the best and worst of what follows on the CD.  “Symphony of Light,” lyrically an obtuse appreciation of Leonardo di Vinci, begins and ends with a sparsely accompanied operatic vocal, a sterile inclusion that gives no hint to the musical ambition within the frames.  What lies between is a complex, pace changing musical pursuit that takes the listener back to the sweet spot of their career.

And here I am trying to say I’ve lowered my expectations.  But here’s the question.  Am I being too selfish in asking that the band sound like they did almost 40 years ago, or do they sound best with the instruments and production values of that time?  I think both.

“Symphony of Light” is particularly frustrating in that it comes so close to what I want to hear, but someone decided that 1) the bass should exit the mixer only for conjugal visits and 2) modern keyboards would be appreciated by their faithful audience.  No, the bass should be heard, driving throughout each song, and keyboards should only provide color beyond the elegance of intricate piano... and usually very closely calling on orchestral instruments.   I don’t think that’s a secret recipe.  Those two factors are featured in every song that audiences want to hear, and they frustrate each song on this CD.

That said, it’s still an encouraging start.

“Waterfall,” featuring bird effects at the start and close, is a beautiful vocal piece, but falls within the “pleasant music” category.  It’s better positioned as a Haslam solo song, as it’s not representative of the band’s sound.

The title track, translated as “Hail the Wind,” is where the CD begins to earn appreciation.  Less the two failings noted above, this song has what I want to hear.   A musically adventurous song, charged vocals, and even very good lyrics.  A single snippet of Gregorian chants was a nice inclusion.  It might have made a nice motif.  It should be noted that this song excelled live, where the bass could be heard properly.  On record, it sounds like the band is holding back a bit, just a tad too much dead space.

“Porcelain” is a song in conflict.  It features a catchy keyboard melody that sounds like Tesar’s approach to accompanying Haslam’s voice, with musical sections inserted from Dunford to make it sound closer to the band’s sound.  The bass is doing some very Jon Camp-ish things if you listen closely.  It’s imminently listenable, but like Toto’s “Africa,” the lyrics don’t satisfy.

I should have mentioned in the concert review that Haslam was most alive when 1 on 1 with a young disable fan.  It was endearing, and “Cry to the World,” in retrospect, comes across as a more honest expression than the usual “life is cruel and the people in power suck” societal observations.  Ian Anderson’s flute makes this song worthy of repeated listens, but again it sounded even better live.

“Air of Drama” is a winner through and through.  Bassist David Keyes’ vocals blends perfectly with Haslam’s, and it compares favorably with the band’s best, straightforward songs (“Carpet of the Sun,” “Back Home Once Again,” “Northern Lights.”)  The band sounds alive and engaged throughout, and the lyrics and tune allow Haslam to sing nimbly.

John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) is a guest vocalist on “Blood Silver Like Moonlight,” a duet accompanied only by Tesar’s excellent piano.  Like Keyes, he complements Haslam well, who sings beautifully throughout.

The closer, “The Mystic and the Muse,” while still victim to my two production objections, is a fitting finale.  The music recalls Scheherazade most pointedly, all members of the band are engaged making sonic candy, the lyrics are perfect, and the vocals are timeless Annie.  I wouldn’t have minded another 10 minutes of it...

All in all, this was much better than I had expected, and it gets better with repeated listenings, when “what is” can be better appreciated over “what isn’t.”  Ignoring their last reunion attempt, it is particularly pleasing to hear new music from Renaissance after all this time.

Recommended Songs: “Grandine il Vento,” “Air of Drama,” “Blood Silver Like Moonlight,” “The Mystic and the Muse”

3 of 5 STARS

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A Trip to Regions Field

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I recently had the opportunity to visit the Birmingham Baron’s new ballpark in downtown Birmingham, AL.  When I lived there years ago, I saw Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson play for this Chicago White Sox AA franchise. 

That was in a what was a new stadium at the time, carved into the woods in a lightly developed area well south of the City.  It was a very nice facility, as much for its in-the-woods setting as the game, which... bores me.

The area became commercialized around it, and I doubt it retains any charm.  The economic powers deemed it worthwhile to move the team back downtown.  In Atlanta, if the Braves played in the part of suburbia near me, that would be a good thing.  I’d go more often (though not often), but going to downtown Atlanta is a chore, in terms of cost, stress, and time.

Not so in Birmingham.  It takes 15 minutes from about anywhere in the metro area to get there, except possibly those at the whims of Hwy 280 in Shelby County. 

The day was rather grim, cloudy and windy, with the threat and later descent of rain.  But from the main entrance, it’s obvious that the stadium provides the city with a visible marquee.  It doesn’t rise enough to enter the skyline, but it’s quite visible from I-65.

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I arrived early and briefly toured the adjacent Railroad Park, a sliver of land and walking path along the railroad track that divides Birmingham’s Avenues between North and South.  Fairly close to the University of Alabama- Birmingham (UAB), the area is slowly revitalizing.

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Regions Field, as it is called, seats up to 8,500.  This was a mid-day game, with school kids attending.  The Huntsville Stars were the opponent, if anyone cares.  Midday games are probably a good thing for AA ball.  Get up, get on the bus, ride for a couple hours, play a game, ride back, and you’re home in time for dinner.  The Barons won 8-3, for those keeping score.. despite 5 errors.  In any event, it’s a very nice stadium.

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As observed in the pictures both above and below, the railings were of interest. 

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The tall portion makes sense.  People are coming down the steps and it’s located in the direction of travel. 

The other railings were a point of discussion.  It’s very easy to imagine someone reaching for a fly ball and, oops.  There’s an injury or fatality, both to the one falling and those below.   42” it is at the high part.  But the lower railing isn’t required to be as high in stadiums for two reasons: 

1) The railing technically is not in the path of travel and
2) It obstructs sight-lines when seated at the lowest level.

The International Building Code allows 26” for sports venues, and theirs may be 30”.  Standing next to it, it’s a bit unnerving.  Aside from the “path of travel” excuse, it’s quite easy to understand someone may be dealing with a kid or two in tow while carrying sodas and a hot dog and accidentally bump the knees of a person sitting in the front row.  And there’s the edge.

One article points out that only 1 of 22 fatalities have resulted from people trying to catch balls.  It’s not like railings on porches or decks are allowed to be that low, and they’re not in the path of travel, either. 

Anyway, it’s another lawsuit waiting to happen.

On brighter subjects, the field is very well sited.  Running along at roughly the height of the stadium roof in the picture below are active railroad tracks.  The trains go by through the game, adding a novel feel to the urban setting.

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A blown up view of the train:

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The view above points towards the main downtown area, largely a financial, government, and legal sector.  To the right would be the UAB complex.  It brings an expansive view of the city’s future hopes.

And, on balance, it turns its back on Birmingham’s economically challenged west side, where several miles away lies Rickwood Field, where the team began.  Sorry, folks.

By the way, the play of the day:

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Renaissance – Live at Variety Playhouse

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As I stood in the surprisingly long line waiting to enter the venue, I overheard a person passing saying that Renaissance was “indelibly imprinted in my brain.”  That’s the perfect description for me. 

Renaissance is a 70’s progressive rock band, with 6 really good to excellent albums to their credit before they began to fizzle, caught up in the punk and New Wave sea change as the decade ended.  They’re unknown to most rock music fans and were absent on radio even in the days when radio was adventurous and took risks. 

But I’ve listened to those albums many, many times.  Indelibly imprinted, indeed. Thus, I was thrilled when they were scheduled to return to Atlanta last October.  Only, that didn’t happen due to a back issue with its central figure, lead singer Annie Haslam, gifted with a 5 octave range.  The concert was rescheduled for April.

Then, in November, Michael Dunford, the only other original member touring with the band, passed away.  This essentially left Annie Haslam returning with a “new” band, albeit one that has played together for several years.  And this was fine, because I saw her in the same venue about 10 years ago, and it was a wonderful performance, regardless of who was playing the music.!cid_391E8B97-2B93-4E5A-9177-A213162A9090

Only, 10 years ago turns out to have been 15.  1998.  It recalibrates my thinking about what “old” is and looks like.  That would be older than me, perhaps, and looking like the others in line almost universally. 

I arrived early enough so that I could claim a seat near the front, finding, as expected, that they had placed plastic chairs in the area where people otherwise would stand in front of the stage.  Third row.  Perfect. 

The concert began with... well, the band coming out to enthusiastic applause, followed by Haslam who smiled and relayed a story that she had shortly before stubbed her toe while outside and had ice on her foot backstage.  “Now we’ll carry on...  Oh.  Now we’ll begin with...”  The lady’s got personality, she’s accustomed to the stage, and she does things her way.

They began with, surprisingly, “Carpet of the Sun,” Michael Dunford’s favorite song.  This was a surprise as this stop on the tour was to perform not one album in its entirety (as is fashionable) but two, Turn of the Cards and Song of Scheherazade.

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It was obvious, even among dedicated fans that were going to be generous in any event, that there remained the question of whether Haslam could still manage those impossibly high and soul gratifying notes.  It was the same question I had when she was 50.  And after “Running Hard,” that question was answered to everyone’s satisfaction.  Her voice has matured, certainly.  But she’s still got it.

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Turn of the Cards is an excellent album, but one with darker tones and, left without something to lighten it, risks a depressing atmosphere.  Not good for live entertainment.  That something is Annie Haslam, who is full of surprises.  I know some of her interaction is canned, but much is in the moment.

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There was a bit about having not eaten yet, not eating chocolate at all (or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as I would later find out when helping her spell my name on her autograph), and Indian Food.  “Anyone like Indian Food?  It makes you fart a lot.”  No maudlin performance here.

There was a small break between songs when she asked that a large unwieldy goblet of water be replaced with a smaller glass.  In the interim, out comes drummer Frank Pagano to do a moonwalk, singing the chorus of “Carpet of the Sun” backwards while keyboardist Rave Tesar played the tune likewise.  An entertaining piece of Vaudeville, and one I’m fairly certain I saw back in 1998.  Still, it was funny.

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The stage was sparsely furnished, the generic house kit for bands who travel without props.  The band’s performance is rather static as far as their delivery, so motion captures the eye.  In 1998, Haslam was barefoot.  This time, it was stockings.  Her feet tap to her own rhythms, at times with the beat, and at times... a mystery.

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The band played all of Turn of the Cards, took a short break, and returned for Scheherazade.  Consisting of only four songs, they are more brightly toned, and the title track far more complicated.  Keyboardist Jason Hart mentioned that he was given 80 pages of music, and that wasn’t all of it.

The star of the show was obviously Annie Haslam.  Rave Tesar, a musical companion for over a decade, expertly handled the piano and other keyboard parts.  The most engaging, though, was bassist, David Keyes.  The piano is the predominant instrument in their music, but the bass defines and/or propels much of Renaissance’s music, and that was in full evidence here.  Original band member Jon Camp created wonderfully melodic bass lines to these songs, and to watch the constant motion up and down the fret was very enjoyable.  I asked Keyes after the show how he might describe the challenge of playing bass for the band.  He said it “was like a marathon.  You have to build it in pieces.”

The encore included two songs from their new, just released CD.  These included “Cry to the World” and the title track, “Grandine Il Vento.”  I’ll review that CD separately, but suffice it to say that both fit very well with the “classic” era songs.

As mentioned, for those patient enough to wait, was the opportunity for autographs.  I still don’t know what to do with autographs, because they ultimately don’t mean anything.  But I love the opportunity to say thanks, especially to an artist (and musicians) that is indelibly imprinted in my brain.

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Here’s a couple of the songs they played but from yesteryear, visually and aurally decent recordings, even. 

 

 

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What’s in Your Backyard, Part Two

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The Bushnell trail camera broke, and we finally got it repaired under warranty.   This brings us one year forward from our last observations of the critters that travel along the path in our back yard that borders Little River.  Mother Nature is alive and well.

We have a possum.  He makes the rounds each night, including to our front yard bushes where he digs out the mulch. 

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We have a rabbit.  We don’t see too much of him, but maybe he knows he’s a dinner entre inhabiting a high-traffic zone.

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This guy might be interested, for example.  He and his like are regulars.

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Let’s brighten Wile E. Coyote’s portrait up a bit.

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This raccoon pokes around every night.

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All of the animals, except the possum, seem to stick to the path basically above the raccoon in the photo and enter/exit at the bottom of the picture.  Towards the left is the river and to the right is a steep incline to our house.

See the little white blip next to the tree?  That’s not a camera flaw (... like the dark splotch upper right... thank you Bushnell for returning a working camera but with dirt either inside the lens or on the sensor...).   Anyway, it’s a critter watching and waiting for Rocky to leave.

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It’s kind of interesting in that a week later, Rocky hasn’t shaken his tail:

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These ladies are regulars as well, from two to four at a time.  They’re shoppers who browse the offerings very slowly.

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Our fox is a regular visitor.

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Here he is a week later.  Maybe he’s looking for Rocky.

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In the absence of a bear, we arrive at our Grand Finale.  Our bobcat, who obligingly gave us a still shot rather than his usual blur of motion.

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With a little Photoshop help to brighten out day:

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Stay tuned for more... as soon as we get the camera fixed.  Again.

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Steven Wilson – Live at Variety Playhouse

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On both the strength of his last CD and the infrequency of his visits, I was pretty excited to see Steven Wilson again.  Add to that my son’s enthusiasm, and we’ve been sitting on tickets for months. 

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After all that sitting, we decided we’d do the rest standing.  So it was that we arrived at Variety an hour and 20 minutes before the doors opened.  We stood, and we stood.  We listened to a street barker play 70’s songs on a questionable guitar, talking with no one in particular between selections.  The dollars were few in his tip box but he played and played.  Finally, the doors opened.

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Another 10 minutes earlier might have placed us on the front rail.  That’s a costly 10 minutes as standing otherwise unsupported wears.  Nevertheless, based on prior shots of how Wilson arranges the stage, we were slightly right of middle where he would stand and to the left of fleet fingered guitarist Guthrie Govan, perfect positioning less the 20” forward or so.

We were reminded by the staff a couple of times about “No photography!”  Wilson argues that all the LCD screens amongst the audience is distracting to others, and they certainly can be.  Which is why a compromise with his fans ought to be possible.  “During this one song, you can take photos...”  But that didn’t happen.

At 30 minutes prior to the start of the concert, a “moon image” from the last CD was projected on the stage background.  Add passing clouds, with ambient music.  The image would soon begin to morph into other sad, tired, or skeletal faces and return to the moon shot.  It was something to watch while, you know, just standing there.

At 8:00 sharp, the band took the stage, launching into “Luminol.”  The song demonstrated his band’s various musical chops, after which he implied an insult to the talents of his prior band, Porcupine Tree, with his accolades of his current group.

And they’re talented.  The afore-mentioned Guthrie Govan can play about anything and play it extremely well, from Vai-like speed to jazzy tones to lead slide to vastly repetitive arpeggios.  Journeyman flautist/saxophonist Theo Travis is similarly versatile and used to great effect.  Bassist Nick Beggs plays and dresses like Tony Levin, the former of which is a great thing.  Keyboardist Adam Holzman brings a keen jazz background and is a perfect compliment to Wilson’s more open approach to composing music. 

Last was Chad Wackerman, playing his third gig with the band as the “full time” drummer was committed to play with Satriani in May.  Wackerman played for Zappa, which means he can play.  But to deliver on the goods with a five hour rehearsal the day before their first U.S. show was amazing, Atlanta being the second.  The percussion parts are very complicated, and he sounded great, sight reading his notes on each song throughout the show.  Pretty amazing.  I suppose there is a difference between playing everything technically vs. with feeling, which makes sense given his time with the material. As it turns out, Wackerman himself had an emergency and the original drummer is returning for future shows until his Satriani rehearsals begin, per Theo’s blog notes).

Steven Wilson is, of course, the star of the show.  He commands the stage, just as he commands the audience.   I’ve lifted pictures from Wilson’s European tours, which very closely resemble this show.

Wilson would eventually play all the songs from his latest CD, as well as four from his prior.  Not exactly being an intermission, a video was projected onto a gauzy screen for several minutes during which the band left the stage.  This was an intro to “The Watchmaker.”  The band shortly returned to the stage to play that song as well as Wilson’s creepiest, “Index.”  Up close, the curtain was distracting.  From afar, maybe it looked better.  My thoughts were those of another progressive rock band’s, “Tear Down the Wall!”  It was extremely annoying, especially considering the fantastic lighting the band brought with them.

Beyond the music, Wilson interacted with the audience to good effect.  He roamed the stage while others stayed near their posts.  Wilson is a fine guitarist and has a preference for aggressive guitar chords amongst all the other intricacies of the music, which somehow seems to excite the crowd.  As close to Govan as we were, I thought his talents might have been used more frequently in a live setting.

Watching Wilson is interesting in the way he conducts himself.  Playing barefooted isn’t a big deal, especially as careful as he is to have carpeting around.  But the way he points in different directions or makes hand gestures at certain musical insertions reminds me a bit of Amadeus, the movie about Mozart.  Is he playing theatrically?  Or is he “seeing” the music in his head, everything in its right place?

All in all, it was a great show.  The concert lasted about 2 hours and 20 minutes, and the set list benefitted from the variety afforded by three solo releases by Wilson.  The pace was unhurried, the musicians seemed to enjoy themselves, and the music was varied in pace and style.   The musicianship was excellent, as expected, and the sound was superb, which is a trademark of Variety Playhouse.  It helped that Wilson engaged the audience, and the crowd was likewise respectful to his wishes in quieter moments.  No breaking of bottles, whistles or pointless shouting kinds of things.

It was worth standing for almost 5 hours, which says something.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Luminol
Drive Home
The Pin Drop
The Holy Drinker
Deform to Form a Star
Postcard
(video)
The Watchmaker
Index
Insurgentes
Harmony Korine
No Part of Me
Raider II
The Raven That Refused to Sing

Encore:

Radioactive Toy

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Dining in Style

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Having recently taken my mom to dinner at Red Lobster, a favorite of hers, I recalled my childhood years and the rare trips to “eat out.”  We would on rare Sundays go to Blazers, a seafood restaurant by the lake, as I recall.  It, like any other trip to a restaurant other than a Drive-in, was a dress up occasion.

Times have changed, and casual dining has taken hold.  I’m generally okay with that.  But, the dude with the wife beater T-shirt, sweat pants, and unshaved face, leaving the restaurant with a date, led me to reflect on just how much the standards have changed. 

So, how do you know, anymore, when more formal attired is appropriate at a restaurant?

Well, Sinatra Restaurant at the Wynn in Las Vegas in a no-brainer.  I can’t imagine any man without a jacket desecrating the remembrance that is that restaurant. 

That’s easy.  But, locally, casual dining seems to have taken hold everywhere.  Is it a certain entree price that defines the dress?  Seemingly not.   And I’m not actually complaining as such.  Jeans are omnipresent.  Certainly they’re more comfortable than wool or linen dress pants.  Well, maybe not, but there’s an intractable paradigm that says I shouldn’t curl up on a couch or invite a dog into my lap while wearing dress slacks.  Jeans are appropriate for some places, and other places not.

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining at Bone’s Restaurant, a longtime fixture in Atlanta’s Buckhead area.   “Known for business lunches and business dinners” may bring an expectation to the classic, masculine tones of the interior, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Although the food was good, it’s the ambience that I remember, not the least of which was the bar at the entrance where men sat drinking mixed drinks... at lunch. It’s a tribute to old time elegance.   There were no men without suit jackets, and many wore their jackets through lunch rather than hanging them on their seats. 

Red Lobster brought to mind that our whole society is reflective of a sample group of patrons at Wal-Mart, the lowest common denominator in public dress and behavior being perfectly acceptable. That may or may not be a model of societal endurance.  We’ll see.  But from a business standpoint, perhaps Carnival Cruise Lines will provide a leading indicator of how it pans out.

In any case, I’m glad places like Bones exist.

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The Flaming Lips – The Terror

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There was a time when I thought The Flaming Lips were the coolest band out there.  The duo of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots were an aural proof, and their celebratory concerts were life affirming events.

That was a point, or two, in time.

One of the things that I favor in bands is artistic growth, a sense of moving forward rather than repeating what has been done before.  I tell myself that, but when they perfected their efforts on The Soft Bulletin, I have to recant.  Give me more of that!

I looked forward to each of the albums that followed, but with less optimism each time.  It’s clear that they’ve moved beyond the point in time that I favored.  Whether they’ve embraced the notion that there’s no such thing as a bad idea is up to the listener.  But, their last, Embryonic, was a cruel, harsh electronic violation to the ears compared to the melodic appeal of their best work.  Simply, they chose to mutilate their former selves.   The horror.

And now comes The Terror, an effort which is less off-putting but which also offers no appeal for listeners hoping to hear from the band as they were a decade ago.  This is a muted affair, with spare percussion, repetitive keyboard and electronic loops, and a lead singer so focused on the mission that the exuberance of his former self has been banished.

You might call it art.  I’m sure many will.  And if I were in a room on a Saturday night, alone, with the lights out, my eyes closed, ensconced in my recliner, and well into my third St. Bernardus Abt 12, I might recall The Terror as having been a moving experience the following day.  I would also not be able to describe a whit of it by track or a memorable moment.   Perhaps I’d describe it as a soundtrack to a movie that they did us the favor of not filming in the back yard or a choice for a reimagined 2001: A Space Odyssey. One where Hal wins.

But, similar to Radiohead’s Kid A, which I had to listen to in the early morning lest I be asked to explain to my wife and kids why I found pleasure in it, I think I might try the Belgian method. 

But given what Steven Drozd admits in a “Spin” article, I think I have the right approach:

As a songwriter, you usually write the song and then figure out what the sound should be. But the process for The Terror was we'd find a cool sound: a distorted drum machine or something from a shitty amp or something made on a crazy monosynth that was given to us that other people would think was just a piece of junk. Whatever it was, we'd just record it and catch that sound and then go: "Okay now we're gonna make a song out of the sound.

I don’t think this is as great a work as Kid A, by far, but I’m encouraged that the band has managed to focus their effort from start to finish.  The noise is controlled, the experimental electronics vary (barely) enough to keep interest, and there are worse things than Wayne Coyne mantras.

Still, I’ll hope the group pulls a Neil Young with a random shape shifting to their more appealing past the next time out.  But I won’t count on it.

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

Currently, the album can be heard on NPR’s site:

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myajc.com

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I kind of laugh at my local newspaper, the Atlanta Urinal-Constipation.  Oh, I’m sorry, it’s the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to liberals, and I should refer to it as such for its more common familiarity. 

I stopped subscribing to their print edition years before it was the cool thing to do.  Too much paper, too little time, too little of interest to read.  Sports.  Maybe comics.

Dropping newpapers subscriptions became cool when DSL and broadband allowed the internet to breathe.  At first, newspapers just splashed their main stories online, but they eventually learned the secrets of virtual eye candy and consumer browsing choices.  It’s an easy read that takes less than 2 minutes to consume.  It’s drive-thru fast news.  And, deservedly,  www.ajc.com has been my homepage for years.

Why, though?

It seems like it ought to be.  I live in Atlanta, and I want at least a little local news.  I guess.  Actually, I live in the burbs, and the news reminds me how glad I am not live where all that news actually happens.  To be honest, in 10 minutes of 750 AM commute in the morning, I’m pretty caught up on what I need to know.  Sure, it doesn’t have depth, but I’m at least current.  News, traffic, sports, and weather.  Thank you. 

Still, ajc.com sits there when Chrome greets me after a click. 

What news there is... I’ll read some of it.  But I’m much more likely to check out photos of a local concert, see pictures of somebody’s fashionable crib, scout out events happening over the next weekend, or play their very pleasurable Find Five Challenge, easily the best thing on the site.

No comics, though, at least without a deep dive in the menus.  That doesn’t matter much, anymore, though, because after Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Dilbert left the scene, there was really no point.

Well, except Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich, who draws whatever the Obama administration tells him is true and right.  Funny stuff. 

Newspapers are dying.  Total circulation is dropping almost as fast as their staffs.  Reuters and AP do most of the world’s reporting, and newspapers pay to republish what’s going on.  The ajc wisely avoids paying others for news when there are so many SUVs crashing through guardrails, high school coaches charged with molestation, and Obama platitudes out there for daily disclosure.  Did you know the President is returning 5% of his salary back to the Treasury?  That’s the zenith of the ajc’s national reach.    

Local news can be reported.  It doesn’t take much time and energy to state what happened.  Now, journalists and editors... those start costing money.  But does factoid-news require a news “paper?”

Nope. 

Naturally, more newspapers are beginning to charge for digital content.  Having gotten “free” news for years, I resist paying for it now.  I should note that as careful as I am, the web designers still manage to hide clickable ads in spots where my mouse lands when I just want to scroll, so I do pay with the aggravation of having to hit the “close” button or the “back” button.  Well done, indeed for treating your cursory audience with respect.

As of last October, print circulation amongst newspapers was actually fairly even from the year before.  Although a single point in time, I assume that the people who still want papers get papers.  Paid digital had risen to 15.3% vs. 9.8% of subscribers in the same period.  Got it.  People will pay for the news, even digitally.  And more certainly will in the future.

And maybe they should.  After all, it’s exactly the argument of environmentalists.  The savings of forest, chemicals in pulp plants, oils in presses, and fuel in trucks is worth any offset in corresponding jobs.   It’s the beatific vision of a green world economy.

It certainly should make sense to advertisers.  They get hard data about the number of people who click their ads, how long they stay, transaction percentages, and whatever else the data monster will give them.  That’s much better than buying 1/8th of a page and never knowing if it’s ever noticed by the audience. 

So, the ajc.com is now offering myajc.com.  The “my” would rightfully be worded because you’ll have to pay for it in short order.  It’s gloriously free of tacky expanding banners and hidden ads in the background.  It might be worth paying for just that... and if I read the news.   They promise more news and, oh, investigative reports, because we don’t want to know just exactly how corrupt our local politicians are, we also want to know how long they’ve been corrupt and if anyone else can be blamed for it. 

I will say that visually, it’s formatted nicely and those using iPads and the like would prefer it over the noise at ajc.com.  Whether that audience wants expanded news or just drops by for a brief respite from Angry Birds is another question altogether.

So, let’s look at the subscription fees, all of which include myajc.com!

  • A newspaper every day delivered to your door:  $5.81 per week.  If you like the newspaper, that’s actually a great deal off the retail price.
  • If you find that the news Monday thru Wednesday isn’t worth your time, you can get the rest of the news for only $4.78 per week.  You saved $1.03 by not getting 3 newspapers.  Apparently, they recognize M-W papers aren’t worth retail either.
  • Well, let’s say you just want the fat issues, the ones with the larger weekend previews and coupons and such.  Thursday and Sunday, no fuss:  $3.32.  Friday and Saturday’s papers must be better than those earlier in the week, because they’re worth $0.73 each vs. the $0.33 for the others.  $3.32 for two papers.... it’s close to retail, but it’s yours if you want it.
  • Let’s skip the Thursday stuff and go for the couponer’s nirvana, The Sunday Paper:  $3.32.  Well, if that don’t beat all.  The price is there in black and white, and so is the message.  The Thursday paper is worthless.  I guess the advertising inserts pay the freight for that rascal.
  • And, what if you don’t have a cat, a painting project, or a plant that needs newsprint bedding, and you just want your news virtually?  (insert Richard Dawson voice)  “Survey says... $3.46!”  Now, that’s something. You’re be charged $0.14 EXTRA to NOT receive something that has to be printed, trucked and thrown on your driveway.  That sounds like the kind of math that led to the Affordable Health Care Act.

But, I get it.  If people don’t buy The Sunday Paper, the weekly capstone issue, then...  circulation really drops.  If that happens, advertisers won’t buy space and insert coupons, at least at a price which makes he effort worth doing.   And then even more people won’t buy the paper because there are no longer enough coupons to make it worth the cost.

And therein is the state of newspapers in America today.  The number of people who buy newspapers for coupons are the equivalent of independent voters.  The buys and the buy nots have made their stand, and it’s a fight for the middle.

Rest assured, publishers.  I’m certain the internet will never become a medium for coupons.

*cough*

By the way, if anyone from the ajc takes offense, please publish an investigative piece on how the first 6 rows of the balcony seats at the Fox always seem to end up in the hands of scalpers.  There’s a story there.  Prove  yourself.

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