Friday, May 31, 2013

Review - Parthenon Huxley - Thank You Bethesda

Like any skill, songwriting takes work. The good ones make it look so effortless and easy that any schmoe thinks he can string three chords together and have a hit. But to consistently put together memorable songs album after album, year after year? That takes moxie! Although not widely known, Parthenon Huxley has the touch. He honed his skills writing songs for other artists and now spends his time writing solo albums and filling the shoes of Jeff Lynne in the touring version of E.L.O. alongside many original members. Back in the day he formed a band with Rusty Anderson, now Paul McCartney’s long-time touring guitarist. The man had pedigree.

His latest album is Thank You Bethesda and it does not disappoint. Style-wise there’s a bit of Beatles and a bit of E.L.O. but also a whole lot of positive, high-energy rock sprinkled with lyrics of wisdom and humor. The title track teases us with mellotron flutes before a spongy bass takes the lead on a high octane tour, leaving you to breathlessly fix your windblown hair. “Angeleno” is a playful swipe at the fame-obsessed culture of Los Angeles with lyrics of “Sign here for your major motion picture / Sign here on the standard release form.” Though intentionally cheesy background vocals mock the entertainment capital it’s done with such playful panache that the cowbell fits right in. “Buddha, Buddha” takes an easier pace, giving band members room to lay down noodling guitar and keyboard solos, distracting you while the chorus worms its way into your brain. The sizzling “Love Is The Greatest Thing” is classic rock at its best, featuring some simply drop-dead gorgeous guitar tones while Huxley sings “I wanna believe The Beatles / They mean so much to me / I wanna believe that love / Love is the greatest thing.”

In addition to the rockers Parthnon writes a mean ballad. “Long Way To Go” takes a look back on life with lyrics of “I’ve been playing the show / And it’s taken me place I would never have known: / Albert Hall to Pucon” but still he “Can’t love my baby when I’m stuck on the road.” “Beautiful” is a masterpiece, a wonderful love song that any women would be thrilled to receive (“I wish you could see see yourself like I do / I know that you would love the view”) that packs perfection into three minutes.

Be warned: the music of Parthenon Huxley isn’t for everyone. Fans of One Direction, for instance, probably won’t get it. But for those of us who have a few decades under our belts and are tired of hearing songs by Boston played ad nauseum and perhaps yearn for the kind of quality in music that used to be so plentiful, well then, step right up and let the melodies of Thank You Bethesda fulfill your musical sweet tooth.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Beethoven Bites Me

Years ago, when I was but a young lad and the digital format was new, I enrolled in the Time-Life Beethoven club. Each month they sent me two CDs of his music and each month I sent them a check. I was fairly new to classical music and knew that I liked what I had heard of Beethoven so I figured that they, being the experts, would sift through the classical world and would send me great recordings of some great pieces. And for the most part they did and I learned more and more about this form of music. But one day I received a letter that the Beethoven club was being discontinued. What? I had only received thirty-eight CDs and was missing a few piano sonatas and violin sonatas and whatnots. I had put in my time and my money thinking that I would eventually have a full set -o- Beethoven but it was not to be. Eventually I picked up a box set of piano sonatas and a few other important pieces and continued on my merry way.

It wasn't until only recently as I've been enjoying my stroll through classical lane that it dawned on me to use this here internets to find out more about the Time-Life series. It turns out that while the gang at Time-Life released a massive eighty-five record set on the bicentennial of of Beethoven's birth (creatively titled The Beethoven Bicentennial Collection) the current CD set only contained forty CDs. So what did I miss? His opera, Fidelio. Me and opera aren't on the best of terms (as I think the music usually takes a back seat so that those with Lead Singer Syndrome can showboat) so it was not big shakes.

Then I remembered that I still have all of the payment stubs for this series. Egads! Being the reformed packrat that I am these promptly went into the trash after being photographed. I should note that I also still had the very first pay stub (Symphonies 1 for the low introductory payment of $9.99! Plus shipping and handling) but I was not motivated enough to go back inside and intrude upon the kitchen where my wife was making dinner.

A couple of things I noted. First, they charged sales tax on shipping. That just ain't right! Second, I am a major dork. Third, I paid a whopping $476.34 for these CDs. This was the very late 80s so in today's moolah that's about $968, using the fictitious gubbermint inflation rate of 3% per year. WAS I INSANE?!?!?! Of course back in those days there was no Amazon where you could get the entire collection (and I mean just about every single little thing the man composed on paper, parchment or wallpaper) for a mere $104, even less when it's on sale. But still, it was money well spent, something I looked forward to each month and enjoyed. Well, usually enjoyed. Some of the music wasn't exactly Symphony #9 caliber but Beethoven on a bad day is better than Ratt on a good one.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Just Another Evening in May

Last night I noticed that the chemtrail planes were flyin' mighty low so I grabbed my camera and...

Chemtrail Plane1_1
Chemtrail Plane1_2
Chemtrail Plane 2_1
Chemtrail Plane 2_2
Chemtrail Plane 2_3
Chemtrail Plane 2_4
Chemtrail Plane 3_1
Chemtrail Plane 4_1
Chemtrail Plane 5_1
Chemtrail Plane 5_2
Chemtrail Plane 5_3
Chemtrail Plane 5_4
Chemtrail Plane 5_4 - crop

Turns out there were at least five different planes. My city is very lucky, indeed.

Most of them weren't spraying anything, just flying across the sky over and over and over and over again.* By the red tail I was able to find out that these are most likely 979 Supertankers built by Evergreen, though the ones I've seen online have a blue and green stripe down their sides. Perhaps these lines are overwhelmed by the white sides from the ground. The patent on these is for putting out forest fires though one has yet to be used for this purpose.

* A bit of time to consider this and I wonder, as it was between eight and nine in the evening, if perhaps these were different chemtrail jets returning to their base for the night along a similar flightpath. However as they were flying north-east over Fort Wayne and there is no army base to the NE of our city, I wonder if perhaps they were heading for Canada? The Borden military base, home of the Royal Canadian Air Force? So why are these giant tankers flying from Canada over U.S. airspace each and every day (saw 'em against last night- same bat time). Where's the fire?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review - Synergy - Metropolitan Suite

I don't know why Larry Fast stopped making his Synergy albums. I mean, they were completely unlike anything else being made. They weren't bland New Age snoozefests like a lot of the electronic music of the time (and unfortunately Amazon still lists Synergy albums under the New Age category) but rather they were serious classical compositions with touches of pop and rock. But regardless of why he stopped, his final album, Metropolitan Suite was his crowning achievement.

The first half of this album is a stunning, sweeping, orchestral tone poem depicting New York in the early 20th century. The five movements are his Ninth Symphony, his magnum opus. The first movement is filled with wonder, like turning a bend in the road and finding a city suddenly spread out in a valley before you. The second is filled with uneven progressive, choppy rhythms with comparisons to "Breakdown in Modern Communications" in spades. The other three movements are equally varied but the common melodic themes woven throughout form a very gratifying listening experience especially for fans of Copland and Gershwin.

The second "side" of the album are his usual unconnected compositions. "Into the Abyss" is packed with energy but retains the majestic feel of the first side. "Prairie Light" could be a Peter Gabriel track and "Redstone" is pure energetic synth rock with tidbits of surf guitar and The Car.

The liner notes are also fun to read, at least for old gear heads like myself. "Sound Generation" lists Moog modular synthesizer, Memorymoog, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Oberheim Expander Module (old version), Yamaha DX7, Yamaha TX-216, Emu Systems Emulator II. "Sound processing" has such early digital units as Deltalab DL-2 Acousticomputer, Lexicon PCM-60 digital reverb, Roland Dimension D, Yamaha SPX-90 digital multi-effect Processor, AMS RMX 16 digital reverb, EMT 140 plate echo, Eventide digital delays and more.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Newbery Challenge!

So I got me a wild hair and thought it might be nice to read every Newbery award winner of the course of the next decade. Checking over the list I discovered that I'd only read Wrinkle In Time and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (and I mean that I actually read the books... homie don't count watching the movie as having read the book, unlike some people I know). I also have nothing against reading juvenile fiction. Often it's quite entertaining and have a length that fits with my current lifestyle (a thousand page beast would take me half a year.)

For my first choice I selected Gay Neck. You know... in this PC world it's impolite to laugh. During the first four chapters I learned a little bit about India and pigeons and why I didn't need to read any further. Snoresville. I also learned that I needn't subject myself to the Newbery Challenge.

Click here and you too can claim that you've read Wrinkle In Time!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Music Review - Synergy - Cords (1977)

I first heard the music of Synergy, a.k.a. Larry Fast a.k.a. Peter Gabriel's keyboard guru, on a late-late night Headphones show (can't remember the name... Psychedelic something?) on 103.9(Rock 104, for those in the know), a local album-oriented rock station. The piece played was "Disruption in World Communications" and it blew me away! The next day I was on the phone to the local Wooden Nickel to see if they had a copy. They did... on clear vinyl.

Getting the platter home and onto my turntable I was delighted to hear more of the same. Since this was around 1987 I was surprised to hear such well developed synthesizer sounds coming from a 1977 album. Wasn't that supposed to be the era of blips and beeps? Well, it mostly was but Larry Fast is a genius who built his own hardware, laboriously combining tracks to create these symphonic masterpieces. Often with early synth music the sounds pull you out of the experience. Not so here. The entire package is so extremely well executed that you can focus on the music, not the way it is delivered. This was also at a time when I was just getting into classical music so I was amazed to find music that used "modern" synthesizers in an instrumental format.

So about this "Disruptions" piece that so grabbed me. It still grabs me. It starts off with a light rhythm played on chilled bell tones while a flute-like sound overlays a calm melody. A malevalent sound intrudes briefly and the calm melody continues. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Another beautiful melody is introduced alongside harpsichord tones but is soon interrupted but dissonant tones. Not to be outdone the original melody returns, attempting to recover control, bolstering itself with brass bass tones but soon the chaos returns, attempting to merge itself with the original melody. The struggle continues but ultimately the chaos wins out as the song grows more and more dissonant.

What could be a mere novelty composition is, in the hands of Larry Fast, an amazing and engaging work. At one point I attempted to turn this into a marching band piece for a composition class. Can you imagine the nice, straight lines of marchers slowly dissolving into chaos on the field? But I wasn't able to transcribe the song well enough and it now sits somewhere in a box in my attic.

You can get your hands on this album for as cheap as a penny (plus shipping). Oh joy!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Symphonic Finale

Today is the day. The last symphonic trip through memory lane. Sorry it's been more enjoyable for me in being able to hear the music that it was for you in having to skip over my posts where I write out 'em. For the last one I settled on Dvorak's razzamataz wing-ding #9. I bet that's the first time the New World sympony's been called that! I learned a very important lessons: Russians in 1965 did not have access to cough drops. Or at least they have no problems with warfing all over the place during a recording session. But now I come to a very difficult decision, one which will require the consultation of my psychic friend: What's next? I ran a query in my ultra-dorky homegrown classical music database and settled on a mishmash of works I have labeled as "Orchestral Songs", "Other Orchestral", "Symphonic Poem" and "Tone Poem." It's a real mishmash of 350+ compositions encompassing three minute Slavonic Dances, The Planets, synthesizer compositions by Synergy, pieces by Steve Reich, Scott Johnson, P.D.Q. Bach... It's going to be a wild trip! Plus there are a number of duplicates (three versions of Night on Bald Mountain [or Bare, if you dare] and four versions of The Unanswered Question) but still, it might take me through to the end of the year. But it's all good, trippin' down nostalgia avenue and taking the time to enjoy these compositions again.