Monday, August 30, 2010

King Crimson - Heavy ConstruKction

8/10

The three-disc live box set Heavy ConstruKction is a considerable improvement over the album that Crimson was touring at the time. The live production is noticeably better than that on Light; the electronic drums aren't quite as annoying and the songs don't have the canned feel that their original studio versions had. There are also a bunch of interesting song choices, including some bizarre covers (David Bowie's "Heroes," the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows") and an acoustic rendition of "Three of a Perfect Pair."
But where Heavy ConstruKction really shines is in the improv sections. Disc three is made up almost entirely of improvised pieces, and they're all great; there aren't any boring quiet stretches like Moonchild or aimless noodling like on THRaKaTTaK- I wouldn't have guessed that they were making this stuff up as they went along. This set is worth a purchase for the third disc alone.

Friday, August 27, 2010

King Crimson - The ConstruKction of Light

5/10

The ConstruKction of Light heralds another lineup change, where Bruford and Levin departed, leaving the band as a regular four-piece. That didn't have a whole lot of impact on the band's sound, although the mix isn't quite as active with just one rhythm section. If anything, ConstruKction suffers from the same flaw as Three of a Perfect Pair- the material is just too derivative. "Fractured" gets a re-working as "FraKctured," in addition to a fourth part to Larks' Tongues in Aspic. Neither of these tracks do much to justify their existence- why bother rehashing songs that were perfectly fine in their original forms?
Another major flaw on the album is that Mastelotto's drums are electronic and very fake-sounding, making one pine for the day's of Bruford's wanky but natural style. The fake drums just give the whole album a very "industrial" feel, which I've never been a fan of. The rest of the band isn't particularly inspired, either, but the drums are just rancid.
I felt that the strongest tracks on the album were the non-instrumentals "ProzaKc Blues" and "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Wax Museum" The former uses vocal filters to great effect, turning Belew's performance into a hilarious "wacky negro voice," and the band's take on the traditional blues form is a riot, while the latter is another good song in the funk-metal vein like some of the stuff on THRAK.
The ConstruKction of Light just isn't very good; it's harsh without being intriguingly so, and there's a lot of boring spaces. It's not the worst studio album by King Crimson, (that dubious honor would have to go to Islands) but it can be easily skipped.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

King Crimson - THRaKaTTaK

4/10

Yes, this is the infamous all-improv Crimson album. To tell the truth, when I listened to this for the first time, I was expecting something completely horrible, but ended up being disappointed anyway. You see, there's just enough interesting instrumentation here for a really unique sound- Fripp's soundscapes, Belew's screechy, scratchy guitar, Bruford's marimba, and even some piano- but the fact of the matter is that the players are rarely on the same page. It's not quite as cacophonous as I expected (you rarely hear all six musicians going at it at once), but it's pretty rare that the musicians' noodling coheres into anything interesting, and the fact that there are as many decent parts as there are is probably just a result of the infinite monkeys theorem.
All of these tracks except the opening and closing renditions of "THRAK" were improv sessions in the middle of live versions of "THRAK," it kind of reminds me of Frank Zappa's albums of guitar solos. However, Zappa's Guitar albums took their solos from a whole bunch of different songs, while the atmosphere on THRaKaTTaK doesn't change much from track to track (I refuse to call these improvs "songs"). Just like Islands two decades before it, THRaKaTTaK is a failure; a unique failure, but a failure nonetheless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

King Crimson - Thrak

8/10

Another decade, another Crimson. This is the "double trio" incarnation of the band, where the rhythm section of Pat Mastellotto and Trey Gunn joined the previous lineup (although to tell the truth, there weren't too many points on Thrak where I could make out more than one bass or drum kit playing at the same time).
Thrak is a pretty diverse album. There are a whole lot of instrumentals, and while some of them are quite short and underdeveloped, others are considerably better (the drum solo in "B'Boom" is great, with an awesome bass drum sound awesomely contrasting the other drums). "People" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" seem to be concessions to funk metal bands such as Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers that were popular during the mid-90's, but there's still quite a bit of 80's style Crimson in the guitars, especially the interplay between the guitar synths and more traditional tones. (At least they didn't try to follow this up with a nu-metal album- although that would have been the most hilarious trainwreck.) "Walking on Air" and "One Time" are some more laid back songs that work pretty well; I especially enjoy Belew's vocal on the former, where it almost sounds like he's channeling George Harrison or John Lennon. "Dinosaur" is also awesome, with its throwback Mellotron intro and awesome plodding rhythm.
Still, there's a bit of filler here; both of the short "Radio" and "Inner Garden" tracks could easily have been left off without losing much, and the second part of VROOOM VROOM wasn't really necessary, but Thrak is quite a fine entry to the Crimson canon nonetheless.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another vacation

I'm spending next week on vacation with my family, so I won't be doing any reviews. I'll be back to my normal schedule after I get back, though.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

King Crimson - Absent Lovers

9/10

Absent Lovers documents the last live show performed by the 80's version of the band, and it's a fine performance from all involved. Pretty much every song here is at least the equal of its original studio version, and most of the issues I had with the production on the tracks from Beat are absent here (although Bruford's electronic drums don't always sound great).
If you're interested in hearing earlier material performed by this lineup, you'll be left disappointed (the only pre-Belew songs here are Larks' Tongues Part II and Red), but this album's a great buy for anyone who doesn't want to get the 80's studio albums. I didn't like the fact that they managed to include every single track from Discipline except my favorite, "The Sheltering Sky," but that's just my personal preference. All the band members give spot-on performances, and the material is great. It's a great document of Crimson's live prowess.

Monday, August 9, 2010

King Crimson - Three of a Perfect Pair

6/10

Three of a Perfect Pair is one of those albums where each side is very different. The first side is fairly poppy material similar to the stuff on Beat, but more energetic, while the second side is mostly avant-garde compositions. Both sides have some good material; my favorites include the wonderfully melodic "Man With the Open Heart" on side one, while I also enjoy side two's "Industry" (it reminds me of "Providence" from Red in how it starts out as random-sounding noise and comes together magnificently).
However, this album doesn't really do a whole lot that King Crimson hadn't done before. The first side is very similar to the previous two albums, while the second side borrows heavily from the avant-garde songs from the John Wetton era, albeit with much more modern production. There's even a third part of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" at the end. It seems to me that King Crimson didn't have a whole lot of new ideas when they were recording this album, and it seems a little derivative of their earlier work as a result (although I would have liked to hear this lineup's take on the first three albums). It's never quite unpleasant, but it doesn't quite measure up to Discipline, and in retrospect, it's not that surprising that Fripp broke the band up for a decade after the ensuing tour.

Friday, August 6, 2010

King Crimson - Beat

6/10

Beat is a mild disappointment after Discipline- the songwriting and instrumental prowess haven't really deteriorated, but the rhythm section on some of these songs is stuck in 80's Production Hell, with ridiculously overcompressed drums and weird-sounding effects on the bass. Also, Beat's pace isn't quite as wild as Discipline's; most of the material here is quite a bit slower than on that album, although it's still quite intricate.
Some other songs like Heartbeat and Two Hands would almost sound like they were designed for adult contemporary radio if not for the twisted sense of ambience which Fripp brings to them. In fact, some parts of Beat sound quite a bit like something off of Fripp's collaborations with Brian Eno, especially Requiem. That track is somewhat unusual in that I enjoyed it even though it's obvious that it was mostly improvised, as opposed to the improvised stuff that I hated on Larks' Tongues and Starless. I guess that if King Crimson had a sellout album, it would be this one, but they just couldn't quite pull it off. There's just too much instrumental weirdness here; even when Crimson tries to imitate 80's AOR, they can't quite do it without sounding unusual.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

King Crimson - Discipline

8/10

King Crimson came back in 1982 with this album. Fripp, of course, is still around, and Bruford has been held over from the previous incarnation, but bassist Tony Levin and frontman/guitarist Adrian Belew are new. Discipline is heavily new-wave oriented, although it's definitely on the avant-garde side of the genre.
I'm going to be upfront about this: I frequently find Belew's vocals annoying. He often just sounds snarky as hell, especially when he tries to sound funny. He would improve as time went on, though. However, the instrumental aspect of the album is awesome. The playing is just so dense and multilayered, with the bass frequently acting as a second or third guitar. I'm not sure how much of the guitar playing is Fripp's and how much is Belew's (I assume the guitar synths are usually Fripp, but that's just speculation on my part), but it's never less than great.
My favorite song on the album is "The Sheltering Sky," with its laid-back twin guitars, but even the lesser songs here are still pretty good- everything's well produced and intricate without going into solo wankery. Discipline probably isn't what people used to King Crimson were expecting their reunion to sound like, but when have Fripp and company done anything predictable, anyway?

Monday, August 2, 2010

King Crimson - Red

10/10

Red does pretty much everything right. The band was officially down to a power trio at this point, although David Cross, Ian McDonald and some other musicians show up from time to time. Red has little of the avant-garde dicking around that polluted the previous two albums- this is still progressive rock through and through, but it's fairly straightforward, with just one track, "Providence" that goes out of its way to be weird (and even it comes together beautifully near the end). This is remarkably heavy stuff for 1974, and it's surprising that the horns mesh with the other instruments as well as they do. This album also has a lot of variety of moods and textures- the title track is a heavy hard rock instrumental, "One More Red Nightmare" has an awesome groove, "Fallen Angel" is surprisingly sorrowful, and "Starless" starts out mellow and goes through several instrumental sections, eventually becoming frantic. Red is also very well produced, with a mix that emphasizes all the instruments well.
When it comes to my favorite King Crimson studio album, it's basically a choice between this and the debut, and I have to go with Red, mostly because Moonchild doesn't go anywhere after the first few minutes and Providence works pretty well. I think that Court has better high points, but I don't think Red has a single major flaw- it's amazingly consistent the whole way through.