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Old 05-31-2012, 07:11 PM   #1301 (permalink)
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Old 06-01-2012, 01:16 AM   #1302 (permalink)
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A new month, halfway through the year. Let's have some classic rock, shall we? This is the great Jimi Hendrix: but then, you knew that...
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Old 06-01-2012, 08:46 AM   #1303 (permalink)
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As we've found with many of the bands we've looked at in this section, the debut album can be totally different to how they are today, with different influences, styles and moods that were either jettisoned entirely for the second and subsequent albums, or faded away or changed as time went on. Supertramp's debut is a case in point: after this and the followup “Indelibly stamped”, they changed from being a more or less heavy progressive folk rock band to more of a progressive rock and finally into a mainstream rock area, verging into pop on occasion. It's no surprise of course to find that they received their biggest successes off the back of later albums like “Crime of the century”, “Even in the quietest moments” and of course “Breakfast in America”.

But this album is interesting in many ways. Firstly, it contains no lyrics, at all, from either of the two who would become the main songwriters in the band, as according to Wiki neither Roger Hodgson nor Rick Davies wanted to write lyrics, so everything in that department was left up to Richard Palmer. Even stranger, Palmer himself left Supertramp after this album, moving on to join prog rock giants King Crimson, and yet you couldn't say it was down to the quality of the songwriting, as there are some beautiful pieces here. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the music, and then as later that was where the other two shone, but the lyrics on this album read more like poetry really, quite a hippy feel to them, whereas on the next album out both Davies and Hodgson handled the songwriting, and it turned out to be quite a heavier album, though still, like this one, a massive flop.

Here though we're not concerned with how well it did in the charts. Few debuts turn platinum or gold anyway, or have hit singles taken from them. The point of this section is to investigate the beginnings of the artiste, to see how time has changed them, if at all, and how their music evolved, devolved, or remained the same. Many people would point to “Crime of the century” as being Supertramp's first album --- not that surprising, as it did spawn the massive hit “Dreamer” --- and would probably be largely unaware these two albums even exist. But this is where they got their start, this is where it all began and although it's got its flaws, as a debut it's a lot better than some I could name.

Supertramp --- Supertramp --- 1970 (A&M)



The first interesting and innovative thing about the album is that it begins and ends with songs with the same title. The exact same title. It opens on “Surely”, which is half a minute of acoustic guitar and vocal, a short, very short intro to the album indeed, with the mellifluous voice of Roger Hodgson the first we hear, then “It's a long road” is a much heavier, organ-led rocker with a lot of Santana in it, with Hodgson again taking the vocals; most of this album would be sung by him, before he and Davies would begin dividing up singing duties later. Davies is a revelation on the organ though, firmly stamping his own identity on this song, with some rather nice harmonica from Robert Millar, who would become another casualty of band changes on the next album.

Davies' organ introduces the next track, split into two, which is called “Aubade/ And I am not like other birds of prey”, and it's here that you really hear Palmer's overly poetic lyrics, with Hodgson's acoustic twelve-string adding a nice little layer to the organ melody, the song quite Gabrielesque in its composition, rather similar to tracks off their debut. It's a song that wanders and meanders a little though, and I always have trouble remembering it later, when put up against the likes of “It's a long road”, “Surely” and “Words unspoken”. It's quite progressively folky, though the vocal from Hodgson is at times too low in the mix, or he's just singing too quietly, with an echo on the track that gives his singing a psychedelic feel. Some nice drumming from Millar, just heavy enough to get the attention, saves the song from just fading into obscurity.

One of the standouts then comes in the form of “Words unspoken”, again carried on Davies' organ melody, with a lovely little piece of bass from Hodgson as well as a fragile but powerful vocal from him. It's very gentle, very flower-power, but somehow manages to avoid being twee, with a sweet line in soft guitar, the organ the heartbeat of the song. A very medieval sound permeates “Maybe I'm a beggar”, taken in on lilting flageolet and again riding on Rick Davies' organ sound, with a very soft vocal from Hodgson which again makes it a little hard to hear, and therefore to remember afterwards. Richard Palmer joins him for the first time here on the mike, though to be honest his voice doesn't add much to the song. There's a cool guitar break then and Davies goes a bit wild at the keyboard, again very in the Santana style, the song coming the closest so far to Supertramp rocking out, before it all settles down again.

I'm not sure whether it's inexperience or the bad production (with which the band are credited as a unit), but the sound of this album is muddy, confused and quite, well, quiet. The vocals frequently seem too low in the mix to be properly heard, and the percussion tends to come and go. “Home again” is a short little acoustic ballad, almost gone before you know it, then everything rocks out with “Nothing to show”, which shows evidence of the sort of style Supertramp would experiment with on the next album, only to drop entirely after that. Definitely a band feeling their way, finding their sound. On this we hear for the first time the voice of Davies, as he joins Hodgson on vocals, the two perfectly complementing each other, so much so in fact that you wonder they didn't do it more often later on.

Also here we first hear the expertise and technical prowess of Davies on the piano, as he unleashes an extended solo in the last minute or so, then Hodgson gets in on the act musically, throwing in some fine guitar flourishes. Another standout up next, as Davies on piano and Hodgson on vocals join together for “Shadow song”, a beautiful little introspective ballad, with some more lovely flageolet from Hodgson, then run into the longest song on the album, and one of the longest ever Supertramp songs. “Try again” clocks in at an impressive twelve minutes, edged out only by the title track to “Brother where you bound”, which would not be recorded for another fifteen years, and with Hodgson having left the band. Opening on gentle flageolet it again moves to the stately beat of the organ, with another low vocal from Hodgson, slow percussion and as it goes along some expressive acoustic guitar along with Richard Palmer's balalaika playing, which really reaches something of a crescendo in the sixth and a half minute and the whole song goes into a blues/boogie jam.

There's a kind of “psychedelic tune-up” at the ninth minute, then it all goes back rocky in the eleventh, mostly on the back of organ as the drumming speeds up and becomes more intense, the vocal too growing in desperation and volume as the song approaches its end. Yet, for all its length, I still fail to remember much about this track when the album is over. The album ends as it began, on “Surely”, with the same melody, vocal and almost the same lyric, except that one extra verse is added to the beginning. It's also differentiated from the opener by a powerful organ outro with guitar accompaniment, which fills out the promise of the song seen at the beginning, and closes the album powerfully, as it opened it enigmatically.

This is not by any stretch a fantastic debut, and I'd never list it as one of my favourites, but it is interesting in that it shows a band who are at this point trying to find themselves, work out what they like and what they don't, and how they want to sound. For the band, even more than for the listener, it's a voyage of discovery that was to lead, pretty much literally, to the promised land. In a few short years, Supertramp would be a household name, with hit singles and as many people hating them as loving them. They would forever polarise opinion between rock fans, one half of whom thought they were soft and had sold out, the other which maintained they were one of the original progressive rock bands, and kept true to their beliefs.

Either way you look at it, whichever stance you take, or even if you take none, it can't be denied that this was one hell of a way to start out on that journey, and from such small beginnings grew such timeless classics as “The logical song” and “Dreamer”. Not bad for two guys who never wanted to write lyrics in the first place.

TRACKLISTING

1. Surely
2. It's a long road
3. Aubade/And I am not like other birds of prey
4. Words unspoken
5. Maybe I'm a beggar
6. Home again
7. Nothing to show
8. Shadow song
9. Try again
10. Surely
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Old 06-02-2012, 09:41 AM   #1304 (permalink)
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Old 06-02-2012, 09:44 AM   #1305 (permalink)
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Ah, not a fan but the worm couldn't resist dedicating this to Laura. Maybe you should buy a new alarm clock, gurl!
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Old 06-02-2012, 09:51 AM   #1306 (permalink)
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Dark eyes --- Half Moon Run --- 2012 (Indica)


An indie band who have been together now for just over two years, Half Moon Run hail from Ottawa and British Columbia in Canada, and look to be well on their way to joining such other musical exports from that country as Arcade Fire, Glass Tiger and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Not that their style or music is necessarily akin to any or all of those bands, but they do have that certain something about them that seems to indicate that they may soon be spoken of in the same breath as them, and labelled perhaps as one of the brightest new Canadian hopes for 2012.

Half Moon Run are a trio, and this is their debut album, with influences ranging from rock and classical to electronic and folk. Each of the three bandmembers are versatile musicians, each playing more than one instrument and often crossing over, though it's the heavenly vocals of frontman Devon Portielje that really grab the attention and make you believe this is a band who are going places. They've already gone down well at local festivals, and no doubt will soon be on the road to support this, their first album.

There's a lovely folk sound about “Full circle”, which opens the album on soft acoustic guitar with rumbling percussion coming in, the vocal from Devon almost rap-like in places, then some beautifully inspired guitar from Conner Molander adds more layers to the song, but the real centrepiece becomes the triple harmonies on the vocals. A restrained and yet powerful song, it says what it needs to say without shouting or any instrumental histrionics. Almost acoustic in ways, it's simple and yet very effective, and leads into “Call me in the afternoon”, a little poppier, led on another nice guitar line but with an electro drumbeat that makes the song a lot dancier and yet keeps from going all the way down the electronica path. Definitely one for the audience to clap along to.

Really introspective guitar takes us into “No more losing the war”, almost early Floydesque in Devon's vocal and the simple guitar line, slowly evolving into something more intricate, little in the way of percussion as the acoustic guitar leads the song along until about a minute and a half in when the drums cut in but not too forcefully. Lovely bit of slide guitar from Molander, and soft keys from Dylan Phillips, a very gentle yet bitter song, which could make a good single. Elements of REM and Travis in the song, then “She wants to know” is a faster, uptempo rocker with some bright piano and a frankly menacing bassline, the guitar punching up the intensity as the song moves along on an almost new wave synth melody.

One of the standouts is next, the beautiful laidback blues ballad “Need it”, where Conner Molander excels on the guitar (although it could be Devon, as they do tend to interchange) with some solid organ and great vocal harmonies; you don't so much hear this song as let it wash over you, drowning you in its sumptuous melodies and gentle nuances. Rolling, chugging drums then kick the tempo up a little for “Give up”, with another great guitar line and drawled, weary vocal from Devon which suits the theme of the song perfectly. Some nice soft keyboards slide in, and Devon's vocal gets a little more ragged and hoarse, as if he's reaching the end of his rope. It really is the drum (drum machine?) that carries this track though, providing the melodic canvas upon which the rest of the instruments paint the picture. There seems to be some violin in there too, but solid details on the album aren't easily available, so I couldn't say for sure: could be on the synth. Very effective though.

“Judgement” opens on a simple acoustic piano run, soon joined by bass and some sparse percussion, then breaks out into a sharp, punchy electronica tune with some very rocky guitar which pulls the song from electro/dance to rock and back, sort of like a tug-of-war is going on. The keyboards are bright, happy and chirpy, the guitar more growling and insistent, then things get even more dancy and darkly electronic with “Drug you”, with its trance-like rhythm and melody, while in almost direct contrast we have the lovely, dreamy “Nerve”, with an almost John Lennon-style guitar sound and a certain sense of early Deacon Blue about it, mixed in with a little Prefab Sprout.

Though there's no title track as such, the title is mentioned as the opening lines to “Fire escape”, a laidback little ballad which rides along on a sprightly little guitar track and is augmented along the way by some soulful harmonica, again possibly on synth but it sounds quite authentic. The album closes on “21 gun salute”, a rolling, sweetly organ-driven half-ballad with gentle percussion that later in the song kicks up into a higher gear, with Devon singing at the top of his game and some lovely electronic touches on the keys to fill out the song. It's a good closer, and an example of how versatile this band are, how they can cross from genre to genre with relative ease, comfortable in either, or both.

As a debut album this is quite stunning. I had never heard of the band prior to this, and like a lot of the newer material I review here, it was a punt: I liked the name, both of the band and the album, and just took a chance that it would be good. It is. It's very good. It's not quite the debut of the year so far, but it's pretty damn close, and it's certainly an album I'm glad I took a risk buying.

Half Moon Run. Remember the name. Watch for them at the bigger Canadian festivals, if you're lucky enough to be able to see them live over there, and don't be surprised if they cross the Atlantic and start making waves over this side of the world. In fact, don't be surprised if you start hearing them on the radio, or they appear on TV. You can't hide talent this good, and you can't hold down a band like this for very long.

TRACKLISTING

1. Full circle
2. Call me in the afternoon
3. No more losing the war
4. She wants to know
5. Need it
6. Give up
7. Judgement
8. Drug you
9. Nerve
10. Fire escape
11. 21 gun salute
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Old 06-03-2012, 10:03 AM   #1307 (permalink)
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Old 06-03-2012, 10:06 AM   #1308 (permalink)
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Anyone remember a band called Wax? This was their big hit, it's “Building a bridge to your heart”. Well, if it was being built here in Ireland, with our current economy, it'd only be half built!
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Old 06-04-2012, 10:18 AM   #1309 (permalink)
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Old 06-04-2012, 10:24 AM   #1310 (permalink)
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Great song from Al Stewart, this is “On the border”.
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