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Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: roye albrighton

A Welcome Return by What’s Left of 70s Psychedelic Legends Nektar

Nektar were one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands of the 70s, sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Forty years before crowds of thousands were taking to the streets to protest corporate-fueled global warming, Nektar were putting out records with sidelong, acid-inspired cautionary tales about eco-disaster. After the band’s arguably best and ironically most hopeful album, Recyled, frontman/guitarist Roye Albrighton left. A lacklustre 2004 reunion cd, The Prodigal Stranger, was followed by an unexpectedly transcendent tour, reaffirming that they were still a mesmerizing live act.

Albrighton died three years ago. Since then, bassist Mo Moore and Ron Howden – one of the edgiest and most distinctive rhythm sections of their era – pulled another band together under the Nektar name, adding two guitarists – Randy Dembo and Ryche Chlanda – along with keyboardist Kendall Scott, whose textures match original organist Taff Freeman’s  mghty grandeur. The result is a new album, The Other Side, which hasn’t hit the web yet but turns out to be surprisingly fresh and invigorated. Even if it’s loaded with riffs nicked from Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and the group’s first incarnation.

The presence of Albrighton looms immensely over this record, from its innumerable baroque-tinged cascades, to the flaring guitar codas his songs would peak out with. And he had his hand in some of the material on the record, notably Devil’s Door, which opens with his own solo taken from a 1974 concert soundboard recording. The songs are a mix of lavish epics with lofty peaks and desolate valleys, themes morphing into different shapes like an Escher mobius woodcut.

The album opens with a nine-minute tour de force, I’m On Fire, a triumphant, galumphing dinosaur rock anthem that strikes a balance between the baroque and Led Zep, with a bridge that goes from balmy to Pink Floyd Wall grit It’s amazing how vital the rhythm section still is: Moore has the snap and crackle that elevated him above most of the other bassists of his era, and Howden negotiates whatever tricky directions the songs take with typical heavyfooted elegance.

SkyWriter is a a broodingly catchy ballad that Chlanda originally worked up with the band in 1978. I’s closer to ELO than, say, the Dead, with a minimalist Procol Harum-ish organ solo and a searing, Albrightonesque guitar break. The album’s most gargantuan creation is the diptych Love Is/The Other Side, an eighteen-minute monstrosity that begins as a pharaphrase of the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky with George Harrison slide guitar grafted on. The segue into the title track raisies the energy a little, shifting back and forth between an orchestral 70s psychedelic sound – Pink Floyd’s Dogs is an obvious reference point – and slicker 80s chorus-box guitar sonics. An unexpected neoromantic piano interlude signals an eventual break in the clouds.

Drifting, a mostly instrumental number in 9/4 time, is another Animals-era Floyd knockoff. Albrighton’s gentle, pastoral intro doesn’t hint at the syncopated 7/4 pulse that Devil’s Door will hit – it’s a shock this metaphorically charged anthem didn’t make it onto a Nektar album, live or in the studio, in its heyday. Scott’s high-beamed, richly textured keys here are one of the album’s high points.

They follow the Synergy-istic keyboard soundscape The Light Beyond with the sweeping, unsettled folk-rock vistas of Look Through Me, Dembo’s twelve-string acoustic guitar front and center. They close the album with Y Can’t I B More Like U, a late Beatlesque ballad that they eventually take bouncing down the hobbit trail. Good to see these guys still vital after all these years.

A Brilliant, New Wave-Tinged Debut Album and a Bowery Electric Release Show by Tracy Island

Let’s get any possible preconceptions out of the way, fast: Tracy Island are not a couplecore band. Multi-instrumentalists Liza Roure and her husband Ian Roure have played together for years, in the brilliantly lyrical Larch – which Ian fronts – and also in the late, great psychedelic new wave band Liza & the WonderWheels, in which Liza switched out her keys for a Strat. In the wake of the demise of the latter group, she’s been fronting a duo project, Tracy Island, with Ian on lead guitar. Now, at last, Tracy Island have a characteristically catchy, brand-new debut album, War No More, streaming online and an album release show coming up on November 3 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. It’s a hell of a triplebill, with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7 and then art-folk icons the Kennedys headlining at around 9, celebrating the release of guitar genius Pete Kennedy’s new album Heart of Gotham as well. Cover is a ridiculously reasonable $9.

Although Tracy Island is a duo project, this is a full-band album. Ian handles the bass and Liza the drums, for a tersely tight groove; in the spirit of the WonderWheels, this is otherwise strictly a guitar album, no keys. The two open with a WonderWheels song, What You Want, a perfect marriage between cheery 60s Carnaby Street riffage and vamping, watery, chorus-box new wave. Likewise, the metaphorically-loaded Playing Checkers, Ian’s icy strobe guitar rising over its balletesque rhythms up to its vintage soul-infused chorus. Then the two go back to the skinny-tie era with the seductively propulsive Midnight Lightning.

Low Strung reaches back toward 70s folk-rock, but with a Beatlesque stroll. Can Better Days Be Far Behind is a real stunner, especially by comparison to the cheery material that precedes it, rising from a brooding, wary stroll to Ian’s blacklit, reverbtoned Roye Albrighton art-rock incisions. The album’s most gorgeous and troubled number is Cold Wind, the duo’s aching vocal harmonies over Ian’s ominously chugging bassline and supercooled rivulets of vintage chorus-box guitar. The enigmatic instrumental break midway through offers a fond nod back to the surprisingly focused jamming that the WonderWheels would often break out.

The moody ambience continues with the plaintive Land of Opportunity, part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” Liza broods. From there the two take an unexpectedly successful detour into simmeringly wounded Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris Americana with I Spy. The album comes full circle, back to catchy new wave with Message in My Head and its wry shout-outs to a classic by X and also a 70s pop cheeseball by somebody else. Ian’s meticulously timbred blend of flash and focus have never been in better form, and the same can be said for Liza’s early-spring brook of a voice, so clear that you can see yourself all the way to its depths. You’ll see this albun on the best of 2015 page here at the end of next month.

And for a fun look back at how crazy the WonderWheels could get, click the listen button here and scroll down to the “Hall of Eds,” three pretty wild live versions of the concert favorite Eddie Come Down from over the years.

Mahogany Frog Make Quirky, Catchy Psychedelic Art-Rock

If you heard Mahogany Frog for the first time and didn’t know who they were, you might assume that they were a European band from around 1974. If you like your music terse and wrapped up in a neat three-minute package, this Winnipeg, Manitoba group is not for you, although their most recent album, Senna is a lot of fun. What differentiates multi-instrumentalists Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin, bassist Scottt Ellenberger and drummer Andy Rudolph from the legions of artsy stoner bands from thirty years ago is that their songs here are all instrumentals, and they’re pretty much through-composed: hardly anything here ever repeats, creating a constant element of surprise, a surreal, nonlinear narrative. That the music would be so consistently catchy despite the absence of recurrent hooks speaks to the band’s tunesmithing. They employ a chateau full of vintage keyboard settings but none of the cheesy ones. Tempos tend to be tricky, although the bass and drums aren’t very busy: they go more for a hypnotic, looping rhythm. The guitar, surprisingly enough, is the tersest instrument here: no garish, extended soloing, just layers of incisive, occasionally noisy, biting phrases, one after the other. At the risk of sounding painfully stoned, this is an audio kaleidoscope. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s main page.

The album opens with the two-part Houndstooth, and within thirty seconds the echoes of Pink Floyd’s Echoes make themselves apparent in the gorgeously echoey, shimmering guitar riffs over tightly scampering keys, bass and drums. It builds with a tricky baroque rock flair and then sails with a David Gilmour-esque bite. A bass riff appears out of nowhere and signals the second part, which is a lot trickier, somewhat more aggressive with the guitar distortion and layers of keys and closer to what a lot of people would call prog (a listen to some of this stuff out of context might trigger an “eww, Yes!” but that comparison doesn’t hold up long: this band is vastly more focused).

Expo 67 (a Montreal historical reference) opens with a quick Welcome to the Machine-style envelopey white-noise synth intro and then moves to more straight-up and anthemic, with more echoey Echoes guitar, oscillating synth floating over twinned guitar/keys harmonies with a wry sense of humor: some of the late Billy Cohen’s artsier stuff sounds a lot like this. Flossing with Buddha is a catchy pop song, thinly disguised, followed by the album’s most warmly tuneful number, a diptych titled Message from Uncle Stan. Judicious Britfolk-tinged electric guitar multitracks build toward an anthemic Roye Albrighton-style crescendo, catchily looped phrases over a misty squall where the bass and drums don’t come in for several minutes. The second part layers dirty, distorted guitar and electric piano within tricky tempo changes, swirly organ raising it to a big crescendo; it ends enigmatically, unresolved.

The strangest, and most fascinatingly original track is Saffron Myst, a steady, psychedelic, early 70s soul tune given the art-rock treatment. Clavinova appears over a thinly veiled clave beat through a series of jazz chords that hint at a return to a catchy chorus but never quite go there; the ending is unexpectedly and effectively comedic. The album ends with Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service, another two-parter which goes for a triumphant overture vibe, an artful blend of bubbly sound effects within a maze of slide guitar and crescendoing, whirling keys. It all falls apart in the middle and ends on a surreal note with a brief quote from a Jean-Philippe Rameau baroque sarabande. Moonjune Records, home to all things global and prog, put this out this past spring.

Mothership: Tuneful Texas Metal That Doesn’t Waste Notes

Imagine a metal band that doesn’t waste notes or get self-indulgent. Hard to believe, but that’s Texas power trio Mothership, whose self-titled debut album is out today from Ripple Music. In a style where so many acts either ape the classics or the flavor du jour, it’s refreshing to hear a band who have an instantly recognizable sound, one that draws on 40 rich years of heavy rock but isn’t reverential about it. There’s plenty of post-Sabbath, Orange Goblin-ish chromatic riffage, but without the death-rattle vocals. It’s a compliment to say that there actually a couple of tracks here that could have been radio hits back in the 70s, when a couple of obvious reference points, Blue Oyster Cult and Molly Hatchet were peaking. Guitarist Kelley Juett is the real deal, capable of rapidfire Adrian Smith/Dave Murray runs but more likely to bend notes into the ozone and build a tune like Buck Dharma, or go surrealistically screaming in the same vein as Nektar’s Roye Albrighton. Juett’s bassist brother Kyle and drummer Judge Smith keep it low to the ground with a cast-iron swing, without cluttering the arrangements.

The opening instrumental, Hallucination, has a long intro that nicks Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine before the first  fuzztone riff kicks in, multitracked bluesmetal  riffage with a neat Hendrix allusion kicking off a doublespeed stampede. Cosmic Rain is heavy Texas boogie as BOC might have done it – think Buck’s Boogie, but more creepy and sludgy, the bass kicking off a Maidenesque interlude that finally gets an overamped wah guitar solo.

City Nights motors along with a vintage Molly Hatchet groove, sounding straight out of 1978, with a wickedly haphazard guitar solo running down the scale and obliterating everything in its path. From there they segue into Angel of Death and its Motorhead-meets-BOC assault.

Win or Lose is not the Sham 69 classic but an original, sort of the Kinks’ Superman as Sabbath might have done it and a clinic in good, smart, heavy guitar: slurry chromatic riffage, East Coast boogie, nonchalantly maniacal tremolo-picking and acid blues. Elenin works a fast/slow Maiden dynamic for all it’s worth, through a squalling, psychedelic end-of-the-world scenario.

Eagle Soars blends Texas boogie and Sabbath into a crunchy, menacing roar. The album ends with Lunar Master, a hallucinatory biker epic that nicks the long interlude from Maiden’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, right down to the tasty bass solo and a zillion menacing, echoey layers of guitars as the song rises again. The vinyl record (!!!) and cd each come with a download card and a poster; you’ll have to supply your own hooch. And you don’t have to be a metalhead to like this: much as it’s loud and trippy, it’s also catchy as hell. Let’s ask the devil to send them to New York and book them into St. Vitus.