Tuesday 3 March 2020

Some musical matters

The excellent London band Hat's off Gentleman It's Adequate (fronted by Malcolm Galloway) have released a new album entitled Nostalgia for Infinity:


Quoting from Malcolm:

"The theme of the album is the frailty of civilisation, from a variety of perspectives, including 7 tracks inspired by the science fiction novels of author and former astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds, and others relating to nanotechnology, the Second World War, and environmental destruction.

The album is broadly within the genre of progressive rock, but includes elements of classical music, minimalism, electronic music, funk, and metal."

The band are playing a number of dates throughout 2020. To my chagrin I haven't yet managed to see them, but I hope to make amends before long. I'd like to thank Malcolm and the rest of the musicians involved for their kindness and enthusiasm in taking inspiration from my stories, and wish them all the best with this new release, and future activities. I shall be listening to their tracks while I continue work on my next novel, so hopefully a little of their music will bleed through into the words, completing the circle.

In other news I continue to delight in vinyl, and am slowly adding to my existing collection. Most of my recent purchases are records that I've previously owned as either tapes or compact discs, but which have come to mean enough to me that I've felt the urge to have them in the older format as well. Since the latest three are all very different albums, I thought they might merit a brief mention.

First up, Kate Bush's Aerial:

I've had this album on CD since its original release in 2005. I have a small but well-loved selection of Kate Bush vinyl so when I saw this sumptuous double album I decided it would make a good addition. There's an additional factor, though: parts of it have been re-recorded. Without going into the ins-and-outs, some of the vocal contributions on the original version have been replaced by a different performer, in light of developments that KB could not have been expected to anticipate fifteen years ago. It's a welcome change, one that I imagine will have been controversial in some quarters, and probably not an easy step for KB, but it rescues an album that had become largely unlistenable in parts. Replaying this new release, I was surprised by how the familiar the record was to me (I've misplaced my CD copy so hadn't listened to it in some time) and also how well it holds up. We're lucky to share the planet with Kate Bush.

Going back a decade and a bit, my next acquisition was Suede's 1994 album Dog Man Star:

I liked Suede's first album so I was quick off the mark with this second release, and very glad to be able to have it as a vinyl double album. By 1994, at the beginning of Britpop, we were starting to enter the era of the bloated CD, those albums with too many tracks and too-long a running a time. By the end of the decade, the average album about had about 15 tracks, not to mention the obligatory hidden bonus at the end. The result was records that were difficult to listen to in one sitting, difficult to assimilate as a whole.

Dog Man Star is nearly an hour long but it never feels padded or self-indulgent. I well remember feeling that it was something special the first time I heard it: swooning, grandiose, just possibly a little pretentious, but magnificently, unapologetically so, and it's never dipped in my estimation. Suede were soon cast as yesterday's men in the increasingly tedious Britpop narrative, eclipsed by Blur and Oasis, but for my money they were better than most of their contemporaries and continued to make interesting, vital music long after the spotlight have moved on.

Finally, back not just another decade, but another two, to 1976:

A few years ago I acquired a box set of Joni Mitchell albums, including everything up to 1979's Mingus. Until then I'd liked Mitchell well enough, but never been drawn in to the point of owning her records. Then I heard something on the radio - it was either "Coyote" or "Free Man in Paris" and something demanded that I investigate properly. Listening to these records, spanning the first ten or eleven years of her career, was a blinding revelation. Each was wonderful in its own way. But nothing grabbed hold of my brain to the almost pathological degree that Hejira did. For several months I played almost nothing except this album, entranced by its moods and hypnotic motifs. It's an astonishing piece of work, a record that sounds either timeless or weirdly contemporary depending on the time of day. For me the fulcrum of the whole thing isn't Hejira, the title track, but the long opener to the second side: "Song for Sharon", a mesmeric marvel of mood and imagery. I knew then that I'd have to have this record on vinyl one day, and now I'm very happy to own it. With contributions from both Larry Carlton and Jaco Pastorious, it's the node in the jazz-rock universe between Steely Dan and Weather Report.


  1. That's awesome. I'll definitely check out Nostalgia of Infinity. The only other album I know of that was based on a sci-fi piece was Mike Oldfield's 'Songs of Distant Earth', which he did a pretty decent job on with regards to making the listener feel they were in an A.C Clarke story.

  2. I posted a question a couple of weeks ago about having your novels set to music...clearly my thoughts have been overtaken by events! Oh well...

  3. Please forgive my extended response; I can get carried away sometimes.

    "Nostalgia for Infinity" is a really cool record. I’m mad that I didn’t think of opening an album with a song called “Century Rain” first. I love the drama of it; I think tracks like the aforementioned one and “Conjoiners” really capture the atmosphere that I get from many of your novels.

    "Dog Man Star" is a fantastic record. I remember when I first listened to it, I had to replay ‘Introducing the Band’ several times in a row before continuing because it’s such a wicked, dark, exhilarating way to open the album. There’s a certain sinister romance to the entire record that I’ve never encountered in any other (even the first Suede album). I have the special edition which includes some non-album tracks, and I almost always listen to it as a double album in this order:
    1. Introducing the Band
    2. We Are the Pigs
    3. Heroine
    4. The Wild Ones
    5. Stay Together (Long Version)
    6. Daddy’s Speeding
    7. The Power
    8. The Living Dead
    9.New Generation
    10. My Dark Star

    1. This Hollywood Life
    2. The 2 of Us
    3. Killing of a Flashboy
    4. Modern Boys
    5. We Believe in Showbiz
    6. Black or Blue
    7. Whipsnade
    8. This World Needs A Father
    9. The Asphalt World
    10. Still Life

    While my personal favorite Joni Mitchell record is "The Hissing of Summer Lawns", I think that “Hejira” is her most singular work. Like you, I went through a period of total obsession when I first discovered it. It’s swirling, hypnotic, and evocative of something I’ve never been able to properly describe (and the only other song that takes me to the same place is Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”; I’m not sure exactly why).
    I completely agree about “Song for Sharon” being the centerpiece of the record (along with, in my estimation, “Coyote”); it’s usually the moment on the album where I’m most lost in its textures and imagery. I also think that "Refuge of the Roads" is Mitchell's greatest closing track; it never fails to give me goosebumps and leave me musically exhausted (in the wonderful way that the best music does). I’m not really familiar with her work in the eighties and beyond, but I think every record she made between 1968’s “Song to a Seagull” and 1979’s “Mingus” ranges from good to mind-bogglingly excellent.

  4. Just watched this video where Rick Beato (a YouTuber) interviews Larry Carlton. It's a fascinating bit of musical insight. Among other things, he talks a little about his playing on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" and "Don't Take Me Alive" as well as Joni Mitchell's "Amelia". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1c9lx0KFkO4

  5. Larry Carlton is a genius.

    I tried learning the solo to Josie. Becker plays it on the album, supposedly, but Carlton did all the live takes.

    Kid Charlemagne, Caves of Altamira, Don't Take Me Alive ... when I first dropped the needle on that album, having heard anything off it apart from Haitian Divorce, I couldn't get over the escalating excitement of those three opening tracks. Don't Take me Alive is somewhere in my top SD tracks.

    If you're that far into the SD rabbit hole, worth digging around on Youtube for some of the Gaucho outtakes that have begun to resurface in the last couple of years, including The Second Arrangement, Stand on the Seawall, Kulee Baba etc. It's nearly as good as finding another Dan album.

    1. The solo on Josie is great. That song also has some really fantastic rhythm guitar/bass interaction.

      The Royal Scam is a wonderful album. As far as the opening sequence is concerned, I've recently decided that Don't Take Me Alive and Kid Charlemagne should have switched places. The intro on Don't Take Me is so epic (largely due to Carlton's contributions) that it just begs to be track one. I think my favorite song on that record is the title track, though. I love the cyclic piano part and the almost dub-like approach to the arrangement - various bits of instrumentation poking into the mix at perfect times. The lyrics, too, are some of their best.

      The SD rabbit hole... ha, yeah, I’ve certainly made myself comfortable inside it over the last few years. I don't know how I missed the Gaucho outtakes until now, but they're quite good; thanks for mentioning them. I'm particularly sad that we'll never get to hear the proper version of The Second Arrangement; the demo is great, but you can tell the song had a ton of potential once fleshed out. I’d hate to have been the engineer who accidentally erased it - I don’t know if I’d have the courage to break the news to Becker and Fagen.

  6. Rick just put out an analysis of "Amelia". Thought you might enjoy it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r45L38Eyhpw

    At one point in the video, he plays part of an interview where she comments on her approach to suspended chords, and she refers to them as "chords of inquiry". I've never heard anyone describe them more perfectly.

    Also, re: The Royal Scam. I'm back to preferring the original sequencing. Kid Charlemagne is too perfect an opener to be anywhere else on the album. You're completely right about the opening three tracks and their escalation of excitement. I suppose I've just got an endless need to tinker with tracklists.