Archive for September, 2010

Glass Hammer – If

September 29, 2010

As I said in a previous GEPR review, I liked Glass Hammer‘s last album Three Cheers for the Broken Hearted. But I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed with its low Progginess Quotient (“PQ”. Yeah, I just made it up). Fortunately for us, however, there was still more progressive music that needed to escape the fertile brains (and nimble fingers!) of Mssrs. Babb and Schendel. And so, in 2010, they return with a new line-up and an album that can only be described as an unbridled progressive masterwork. If there’s anything negative to be said about it, it’s that it definitely borrows a lot of prog mannerisms from the stylings of Yes. But since Yes hasn’t really been up to the challenge for many years now, I can only say, “Thank You, Steve and Fred!”

But even this complaint is a bit unfair. Yes would have never made this album, in any incarnation. New vocalist Jon Davison really sounds exactly like that other Jon, right down to the vocal harmonies and “DUT-DUT”‘s (obviously designed by the composers to emphasize the similarity in their voice timbres), but though the lyrics are similar in their “spiritual” bent, they are neither the sorts of esoteric poetry Jon Anderson used to enjoy, nor the overtly Christian lyrics sometimes to be found on Glass Hammer albums. Instead, they are simply uplifting messages suitable for virtually any religious belief … though if you’re Christian, you’ll certainly hear some of these lyrics as Christian spirituality.

New guitarist Alan Shikoh sometimes sound more Holdsworth than Howe, but sometimes exactly like Howe. Schendel‘s keyboards are frequently very Wakeman, but other times more Emerson or Banks. Perhaps it would be best to say that all these people are very familiar with the musical style of Yes, and this shows through clearly, but they also all have their own styles that makes this an album that both sounds like Yes and sounds like … Glass Hammer. Even the album cover was done by an artist who clearly is familiar with Roger Dean, in both artistic and font designs, and yet is also different.

I’m prepared to say this is the best Glass Hammer studio album to date, though since I haven’t heard Lex Rex or Chronometree in their studio versions, my comparison may be incomplete. But it would be very difficult to top this one, and I’ll definitely say it’s my favorite studio album from Shadowlands through If, and I really liked most of those. A true masterpiece from guys who consistently amaze, from whom you never know quite what to expect on the next album. If If was a Yes album, I’d rate it only behind Relayer and Tales from Topographic Oceans. Not behind Close to the Edge? Hmm .. it’s a toss-up. Really, If is that good, though very different from CttE. I’ve listened to it at least 6 or 7 times now, and it continues to improve with each listen. I very rarely do that with an album these days, but this one is really inspiring. If you think “they don’t make albums like this any more”, you’re wrong. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Glass Hammer‘s web site

Tangerine Dream – Two Oldies But Goodies

September 8, 2010

Whilst walking on the boardwalk on vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, I happened upon a recycled CD shop. Since we all know that CD’s are soon to be relegated to the same “has-been” category as vinyl, I decided to stop and see if they had anything interesting. Though their prog content was pretty sparse, they did seem to specialize in ’70’s and ’80’s “Classic Rock”. I found a few albums that I thought sounded interesting, and finally left with Tangerine Dream‘s Tangram and Hyperborea albums, neither of which I had ever heard. The originals, not the new re-recordings (see last paragraph).

Tangram turns out to be the first album released by Tangerine Dream after the departure of longtime member Peter Baumann and the addition of new member Johannes Schmoelling. I had stopped listening to TD, one of my all-time-favorite bands, after the release of Force Majeure and Cyclone because I thought these were getting too predictable, and even “poppy”. Now I would say “New-agey”, though that term hadn’t really come into vogue yet. But it seems I stopped one album too early, because Tangram is right up there with the best of Tangerine Dream‘s earlier albums, even my favorites Rubycon and Phaedra. If you’re not into this sort of thing, Tangram won’t convince you otherwise. I saw one review of this album saying it’s the first album that “points the way to their newer, more accessible sound” or some such statement. Not to my ears … two side-long compositions that bring to mind Rubycon far more than anything else. Personally, I was mentally teleported back to the good old days of the ’70’s. Never mind that this album was released in 1980, it still has that ’70’s vibe. Well worth the six bucks I payed for it.

Hyperborea was released in 1983, the same line-up as Tangram and a couple of other albums in between. The sound has changed since Tangram and is starting to move further into the areas I didn’t care for. But I would say it’s still a good album, perhaps a bit like Stratosfear, which I still liked. Not so many sequencer passages (too bad, I like TD‘s sequencer passages), but still containing some of the more atonal soundscapes I also like. A pretty good album, though not their best (in my opinion, of course). Still, at six bucks, it’s hard to say anything bad about the album. It’s still classic TD and not techno dance music.

But a full-priced digitally-mastered re-recorded version? Maybe not. There are such things, of both of these albums. Tangram 2008 and Hyperborea 2008. I’ve heard pieces of both of these. Don’t bother. The originals are far better, to my ears. I can handle a little tape hiss to get those amazing analog sounds.

Click here for the official Tangerine Dream web site