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Van der Graaf Generator is a stripped-down trio of original 1968 members Hugh Banton (organ), Guy Evans (drums) and Peter Hammill (vox, guitar, piano), who made a storming return to live performance in the spring of 2007. The band started recording their album in July 2007, after a period of mixing and overdubbing Trisector. There are nine pieces on the album, one of them instrumental. Unusually for VDGG, only one of these is more than ten minutes long - indeed, five come in at under five minutes. There are, of course, passages of great complexity but there's also a confidence about the group which allows them to leave some simple things as they are.
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Top Customer Reviews
The theme here seems to be the coming to grips with getting older and facing the inevitable, but by no means in a depressing way. A prime example is The Final Reel, a song about an elderly couple deciding to end it all while they're still able to make the decision for themselves. It's handled in a sweet and poignant way.
Highlights abound; the spirited playing throughout, the amazing Over the Hill, that literally had me catching my breath and gave me goosebumps, All That Before, a song relating to absentmindedness that actually brings humor to the subject and there's so much more.
If you're a VDGG fan that's worried that you might not like this because DJ isn't on it, don't be. I promise that you'll be more than happy to own it. I think anyone who enjoys good intelligent music that's well-played will love this CD. Here's hoping there are more releases to come.
The compositions are very well constructed with intricate tempos and deep moods.This cd is full of energy and VDGG fans will be delighted. I consider it way better than Presence. You will not be dissapointed if you are into quality prog.
But having said all that, how is the disc?
"The Hurlyburly," at 4'38", opens the album with train noises, tuning up, and the band fiddling around on their instruments before dropping into a straightforward, instrumental rocker. In all, it sounds more like a somewhat lazy, amped up jam session; in particular, the "looseness" that characterizes much of Hammill's solo guitar playing sounds sloppy, hesitant, or simply too repetitious. Not a very promising start, but the piece is short, and when not listened to closely fills up the background well enough.
"Interference Patterns," at 3'52", provides a 1000% contrast, opening with a broken up, linear keyboard line that sounds like a handsome hello backward to Gentle Giant. Bass joins the keyboard pattern, which squirrels back and forth between two different time signatures, as Hammill begins to bend and twist his typically intelligent lyrics to fit the keyboard pattern--itself creating a kind of interference pattern. At this point, it's already clear that this song will get an immediate second playing, but then at 1'42", suddenly the music erupts into a crazy multidirectional keyboard carnival, hectic doubled notes and drums thrumming out. A stand-out track that already makes the disc worth buying.
"The Final Reel," at 5'49", is a gentle, somewhat bleak narrative about a worn out Jack and Jill, who see their time has come and decide to skip the final reel, as it were. This is a slow building song, the moves almost imperceptibly from a kind of loungy-beginning, to a jagged, harmonically knotted up finish. If Hammill had any doubts about calling up his old bandmates to help out with more music, this song should put it to rest--it's very easy to hear the Hammill-solo version here, ably and cunningly fleshed out by Evans' and Banton's considerable musical experience and insight.
"Lifetime," at 4'47", is the only Hammill-only composed song. Again, one can hear the Hammill vs. VDGG contrast easily; Hammill's lyrics float in the middle, noodling a bit on guitar, while lush keyboard accompaniments provide a boundary and a cushion for that, and Evans simply sits on his high-hat, until the more expansive coda that rounds out the song. Pretty, serviceable, the sedate moodiness of this piece makes it sink somewhat into obscurity.
"Drop Dead," at 4'52", gronks out a fuzzy guitar line to chase off any indolence leftover from the last piece, and drops square into another straight-forward jam-session sounding rocker. Certainly, the super-energetic bass line here (apparently by Banton), the way the keyboard solo(s) are layered from foreground to background, and the petering out of the ending is not without interest, but this is another piece that tends to fare best as background music.
"Only in a Whisper," at 6'44", balances bright cymbally drums against lightly "plucked" keyboards with Hammill's slightly reverbed voice gradually howling in the center of things. As with "Lifetime," there's an intriguing kind of disconnect between the vocals and the music; like Bowie's "Station to Station," the intersection of the music and the vocals is pretty tenuous--Hammill croons and wails fluidly, while Banton and Evans put out jangly, snappy music. At least until toward the end, when the vocals reverb even more and the music melts along with it. Perhaps a set up to ...
"All that Before," at 6'29", comes thrashing like some kind of royal caravan right through the proceeding mood, slow rising arpeggios, and power chords setting a powerful and immediate impression. This introduction then drops into a driving, rhythmic keyboard riff that seems vaguely like "Interference Pattern," (in part for the way Hammill wittily mashes his syllables into the limited space of the time signature. The topic is a fairly hilarious take on impending senescence.) But then, 57 seconds into the piece,, the theme is restated with massive guitar backing, and the piece takes on epic overtones. The riff returns again at 1'41," with keyboards to add to the aggressiveness. Then, even sweeter, keyboard and guitar solos start floating over the top of the main riff, sliding howling lyrics, the opening riff into the mix as well ... And the song is only half done. There's absolutely no question here that the band massively overindulges in repeating this riff; they go back to it no less than a million times, and I don't care. Consider that these guys are pushing 60, and it is clear how this song is THE anthem telling death it can just f* off and wait. All the better that it's about impending dementia then ... the end even melts away and apart, with trebly keyboards a la the earliest VDGG, and even Hammill's now ages-old wondering "Who am I". Has a very different ring now, than at 20.
"Over the Hill," at 12'29", is the obvious compositional epic, still exploring the effects of time. Opening with a classic VDGG organ, vocals, drum arrangement, a few skittery disjointed notes taunt of bridges to come before returning to the opening mood again. At 3'21", the edgy keyboard lines return and finally accelerate, only to simply pass away after two minutes with a restatement of the opening music in a much more symphonic vein briefly. A moodier bit in piano, bass, and drums eases along for a bit, giving way to another restatement, that itself is shredded to pieces by a heavy, rabid skysaw of a line. They could have kept that up for longer as well, but it halts and returns to the opening them yet again. (If the description sounds a bit piecemeal, the piece is too; the parts don't seem to hang together implicitly). Things build, becoming grand (and even sounding a bit like Radiohead for a moment) before trailing off--a proper sense of somberness returning.
"(We Are) Not Here," at 4'04", booms out with another jagged, linear keyboard line in a varied time signature, with Hammill's voice rising up and floating over the top with a broodingness that the rest of the album has not had. (It wasn't necessarily missed though.) Ghostly foreshadowings accompany the vocals, then at 2 minutes, whole choruses of smooth, high harmonized voices counterpoint the main vocal, adding to the eeriness of the piece. (This is definitely a vocal extravaganza, as the rest of the album has not been.) At 3 minutes, the choir of voices takes over ... the music breaks apart, and the train sounds return to close out the disc. Another stand-out piece.
In all, a very solid disc, though I find that the stronger pieces make the rockers or more sedate pieces seem tepid by comparison. But even if I had to program out everything but "Interference," "All that Before," "Over the Hill," and "(We Are) Not Here" the disc would be well worth it. Definitely glad I got it.
Yes, I am reminded of Van Der Graaf from H to He through World Record.
Trisector is good, but, I miss the "epics"!
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This extraordinarily fine work belongs in EVERY collection of listeners who enjoy progressive rock of the old school variety.Read more