US - Virginia - Full Moon 195 - 08/02/12
It's a label showdown!
Metronomicon Audio vs. Jester Records - Round 38
Magnus Moriarty™: Perhaps Interior Heart Politeness
(2008 Metronomicon Audio: MEAU.0038.CDR)
Anthony Curtis: Book Of The Key
(2004 Jester Records TRICK-038)
Welcome to round 38 in the label showdown series between Metronomicon Audio and Jester Records!
Since we've more or less totally missed out on reviewing the output of these two great labels, we are going
through their entire catalogues, matching the releases from each label consecutively against each other.
Humorously counting goals
and giving out yellow
and red cards, soccer style -
but first of all reviewing the music. For more introductory information on this label match, see
Perhaps Interior Heart Politeness is presented in a double fold-out digipack with a folded poster.
The Anthony Curtis release comes in a CD jewel case with a booklet with art & info.
Most of Magnus Moriarty™'s previous releases have been enjoyable, establishing him as the
melodic pop-wizard of Metronomicon Audio. On Perhaps Interior Heart Politeness, Marius Ergo helps out
on vocals and a lot of the instruments (guitar, bouzouki, bass, mandolin,
banjo, organs, synths, melodica, harpsichord, glockenspiel, tambourine, etc.) while Moriarty™ himself
plays almost all the same instruments in addition to the drums. Ergo has also written one of the songs,
the rest are by Moriarty™.
The album starts out with the eerie intro of "For The Anoraks", before jumping right into "Warning From The Skies",
a fine melody using multitracked vocals to great effect. "Paramount Hotel" is more of the same, with a
jingly-happy summer rhythm. But it's Ergo's song "Wichita Mind Control" that is the first nugget,
with its magnificient and bittersweet melancholy chorus. "So Five Lightyears Ago"
is in parts darker than the average Moriarty™ song, and flirts slightly with 80's new wave aesthetics,
for instance the midway bass parts. "Hence The Icon With A Light On" is quicker and organ-driven
while the semi-proggy "Charter To Orion" varies in intensity, but neither will probably stick in the
listener's ears for long. The same can be said for "No Tale For A Ferry", and by now the songs
start sounding very similar to eachother. The shorter and simpler folky melody of
"Rally Monte Carlo" works better. After the half minute interlude of "Timid Raids Thessaloniki",
"Collectable Starships" flows by, before "Toy Train To Neptune" rounds it all off, and neither produce
the finale one could hope for.
To sum it up: There is no doubt that Magnus Moriarty™ knows his way around a good pop song,
but again the songs are too alike, and unfortunately that goes for the arrangements too, like cooking the
same stew over and over with too many of the same ingredients.
It may be tasty and nutritious, but
Perhaps Interior Heart Politeness really doesn't take it any further than that, and compared to his previous releases,
the album is slightly disappointing. Perhaps hiring an external producer is what it takes to get Moriarty™ to fulfill
his potential and make a really marvellous album? It's also saying something that the album's stand out track is the one written and sung by
Marius Ergo. It's a gem though!
Book of the Key is somewhat of a surprise addition to the Jester catalogue, being an experimental avant/prog-jazz album
that would fit right into the MoonJune Records rooster.
Anybody into progrock would know the name of bassist Tony Levin, having played with King Crimson and Yes,
and many others. Equally renown is Mike Keneally, guitar and keyboard player extraordinaire, who has served time with Frank Zappa
and Steve Vai among others. Having these players in your backing band sure sounds promising.
Also in the band are violinist Jeff Gauthier, drummer Lewis Pragasam and Ronan Chris Murphy on harmonium, all
new names to me. And who is Anthony Curtis?
The liner notes give nothing away, besides listing Curtis as a guitarist, it features only paragraphs from the writings of
ancient philosopher Iamblichus and photos of trees. However, given the assembly of musicians, it comes as no surprise to
learn that Curtis is pushing the borders of his instrument. The 12 minutes long opening "Ruin" seems most of all
like a warm-up piece, with guitar excursions over a rather straight repeating bass theme, and steady 4/4 rhythms. "Gallabalba" is both friskier
and Frippier, and happily too short for its square disharmonies to cause ear tension. "Inland Sea"
also moves around rather simple bass themes, creating a base for Curtis to improvise to. Loosely arranged, it shows
his ability to let his playing flow in directions perhaps not planned for. The title track is the longest track here,
23 minutes, of which the first 10 are based around a loopy, intense and funky bass theme, with Curtis fuzzy
improvising around it and astray, all rather exhausting.
Midways things mellow out, only to slowly build up towards a funky atonal avant-jazz eruption.
Luckily "Hymn to Helios" slows down the album, but the guitar is still in your face, with gliding distortion.
The percussive based "Balinus" gives you no rest, with samba rhythms, deep bass moves and distorted guitar solos.
"Saturnalia" sports some quirky riffing, but is equally intense.
The acoustic "From Towers to the Dome of Heaven" is an aural oasis, where the gentle violin of Jeff Gauthier
feels like a soothing calm flow of clear water. The third long track, titled "Hikmat al-Ishraq" (a reference to
Islamic philosophical works), suggesting an eastern influence, but this is not showing in the music. Instead we
get another piece quite similar in form and content to the two other long tracks, but arguably this is the most
interesting of them. The ending "Oracle" tries to soothe things out, but it's too late, I need some serious rest.
To sum it up: The formula of short, simple, monotonous and repetetive bass motives that most songs are built around,
proves to be a fine vehicle for Curtis' guitar playing, but also quickly grows boring to listen to.
It feels like the guitar is constantly trying to break free-jazzy
from the strictly fusion-grounded bass, like they don't really belong together.
The experimental, disharmonious and arrhythmic nature of Curtis' playing makes it hard for the listener to glue this together,
The keyboards seem to be building harmonies in a world invisible to the guitar, and Pragasam is no doubt a great drummer, but you'd
almost have to be a drummer yourself to notice on this guitar and bass dominated album. An original album, without doubt, but a challenging listen.
Match result: Metronomicon Audio 2 () - Jester Records 2 ()
Next head-to-head meeting is the Ergo album Mountaineering from Metronomicon Audio which is up against
the Espen Jørgensen release On The Great Alkali Plains from Jester Records.
Copyright © 2012 Knut Tore Breivik