Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 13]

 

pPrince live in houston 1982

Prince at his pre-superstar peak, December 1982 in Houston, Texas

[…continued from last post]

After the last disc of Prince live in Detroit in November, 1982, I was wondering just how redundant the video included as the final disc in the set would be. The show recorded on video for the DVD was about a month out from the Detroit date on the first leg of the “1999” tour. How different could it be? I watched the DVD eager to see what I had missed 38 years earlier.

prince live in houston DVD cover art

Live In Houston 121/29/82 | DVD | Disc 6

Prince: 1999 SDLX box disc 6 – Live In Houston 12/29/82 – US – DVD [2019]

  1. Controversy
  2. Let’s Work
  3. Do Me, Baby
  4. D.M.S.R.
  5. Interlude
  6. Piano Improvisation
  7. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
  8. Lady Cab Driver
  9. Automatic
  10. International Lover
  11. 1999
  12.  Head

What was immediately apparent about the concert video was that it was definitely a piece of its time. The show was probably recorded to U-matic video. The quality was better, but not that much better, than VHS. It looked like pro level video tech of the era. It was definitely shot  with a multi-camera setup!  It had a lot of analog grit to it. There was no doubt a hell of a lot of time-base correction going on to render these nearly 40 year old tapes viewable. There were video dropouts occasionally. The audio sounded like a mix of soundboard and acoustic pickup.

Duane Tudahl was in charge of the restoration for DVD, with Niko Bolas in charge of the audio. David Dieckmann edited this and each of these pros really pulled a rabbit out of their hat to get the end product behaving as nice as it does. Fans like to moan about why this or that 40 year old concert video isn’t on blu-ray but such a thing is technically a pipe dream. This video had maybe 330 lines of horizontal resolution if it was shot on U-matic SP. But that’s all right because it was Prince in front of the camera! This DVD looks like what may have been a bootleg video in the 80s except for the sophistication of the multi-camera setup. It was not “directed” up front, but was edited to make a pretty damned hot video for our eyes a few generations later. The end product had a dreamlike, illicit feel due to the technical challenges leapfrogged to bring it to us today. There’s not even a menu or any DVD user interface. You put it in and it plays.

I loved the fact that the show had not been lit for video, but presented it with theatrical lighting as the audience saw it.  So some of this meant that the stage was black except for strobes throbbing to the beat with star filters. Or the stage was bathed in a blue so deep you could barely see the star dressed in purple. For “Controversy,” Prince was seen only in silhouette until the song ended and he slid down the Batpole® for “Let’s Work.” But when he performed “Let’s Work” and said “watch me work” all eyes would follow that man moving on the stage like a genius.

The set still opened with a smoking hot duo from “Controversy” but the pacing and song order was pretty different from the audio CD on disc 5. Obviously, Prince liked to mix things up. Maybe the biggest change here was the inclusion of him performing a piano improv after Lisa Coleman’s synth intermezzo. He sat down at the electric piano and riffed with something of a boogie woogie feel to it before settling into the showpiece of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” The Live CD stretched this one out to twice its length. He did the same here, with teasing lines ad-libbed to the audience. And when I say ad-libbed, I mean that he really threw down almost a completely different rap for three minutes before the last two lines wrapped it up in the same fashion as he did a month earlier in Detroit. Color me purple… and impressed that he didn’t just have a rote structure to this vamping. Of course, he still held the audience in the palm of his hand.

The main improvement on this DVD to the live album is that you can see all that he was doing on the stage! On seeing the presentation of “International Lover” we now knew why we didn’t hear Prince for the last third of the song as he was back on the 2nd floor thrusting his pelvis towards the brass bed while the band created beautiful music together. Sure, it was a hot performance of the music, but seeing the guy do mid-air splits in his heels, even at the youthful age of 24, was jaw-dropping. And he wasn’t the only hot mover on stage. Bassist Mark Brown was no slouch in the move-busting department either. Seeing the look on Dr. Fink’s face when he played the solo to “Head” was worth the price of admission. This show may be a little rough around the edges compared to what we expect from a concert video now, but no one would tear their eyes from the screen when this was on. Prince was riveting, and he molded his band for as much impact as he could get from them, musically and visually.


This box caught up with Prince at the end of a three album arc where he had made a leap from a technician going through the motions professionally, to being an artist. Listening to his first two albums reveals a precocious talent emulating [single-handedly] the best that his peer group had to offer. Maybe Stevie Wonder could do as much by himself in the studio. The first two albums were professional, accomplished R+B product with tentative forays into Rock, but little more. Prince was making sure to use all 48 tracks available to him because he’s Prince. And he had a lot to prove at a very young age.

His game changed radically with his third album, “Dirty Mind.” One can dramatically hear the influence of Punk and New Wave resulting in the artist stripping things down drastically from the rococo swells of “For You” and “Prince.” Prince had eyes on not being pigeonholed as a “black” artist from the very beginning and he wisely sought a path to a sound that could be his for the taking. Looking back to Sly Stone and his fusion of Rock, R+B, and Funk a decade earlier, it was not for nothing that Prince formed a band as racially and sexually mixed as The Family Stone had been. Then he stopped his apprenticeship and began to act like a master. Forging a provocative sound with the numerous tools at his disposal.

The albums “Dirty Mind,” Controversy” and “1999” were a developmental arc where he gained my attention in a big way as he was synthesizing new strains of pop music to provide a foundation for the 80s. “Dirty Mind” were the bold first experiments in this new form. “Controversy” was his consolidation and extension. And the fecund “1999” period had the artist with his home studio built as the governors to his recording speed were well and truly cast off as he could now record 24/7 with impunity. And this “1999” SDLX box presents a lot of music for what amounted to a six to eight month period in his creative life.

In the final album, we can agree that he reached a peak of consistent form in a double album of 12″ dance singles even while he was recording the foundations of parallel careers for his protege bands which were actually like Prince shell companies. Bands in name only but the handiwork of Prince almost completely. The “1999”‘ tour was like a Dick Clark 60s pop caravan tour where all of the music had been written and recorded by this one man. And the Vault showed that it was just the half of it. He was imagining music that would manifest in albums two to four albums into the future. He was running a multidimensional creative campaign for three brands extending half a decade into the future. Was there another musician with a vision this penetrating?

At the end of the 70s, fat and spoiled Rock bands were blowing half a million dollars creating a self-indulgent studio opus every five years as the ideal by this time and Prince was running corkscrews around the likes of Fleetwood Mac even as he simultaneously managed to green-light Stevie Nicks re-write of “Little Red Corvette” as “Stand Back” and still drop down to the studio to deliver 20 minutes Oberheim synth magic on the master by his bad self! I say that no performer has ever been on a streak this hot, ever.

So when I had the opportunity to buy a mint copy of this “1999” SDLX box for 60% above retail price, I jumped on it. I’ve been listening intently to almost nothing but this for the last two months. And I’m here to proclaim that I absolutely got my three figures of satisfaction out of this already! And I’m looking forward to the notion that maybe we can one day get a similar box for “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy,” though I’m not holding my breath. Back then Prince used pro studios and the cost was a prohibitive factor to laying down Vault tracks for the one day when they might be used. But a Monk can dream!

So “1999” was the exclamation point on the first flourish of a career arc that swept up Prince into the New Wave and placed him on the precipice of superstardom. A place he would readily conquer with his next album even as it proffered a more eclectic mixture of Rock and Pop with the New Wave DNA ebbing back as he left that subculture to conquer the mainstream. He would never be quite as important musically to me as he was in the ’80-’82 period but that’s not to say that I have no time for the rest of it. Not by a long shot. That $160 box of “Sign O’ The Times” with three Vault discs is now calling out to me like a siren. The more I hear from The Vault, the more amazed I am. We’ll see where we are when it comes out on Sept 25th.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 12]

Prince live on the 1999 tour

The “International Lover” was poised for takeoff

[…continued from last post]

One of the good things about this boxed set was that it gave me a chance to experience the “1999 Tour” live on album and video. Prince had brought the tour to [sort of] Central Florida when the “1999” tour played at the Lakeland Civic Center in early 1983. I knew the tour was happening and was interested in seeing it but the facts were that in 1983 I had still yet to see any sort of rock concert yet. The acts I was into didn’t play Orlando. And the Lakeland Civic Center was in a sleepy orange grove town halfway between Orlando [large] and Tampa [larger] and 50 minutes away from either metropolis. Lots of acts that would draw more than the 3,000 that the Bob Carr PAC in Orlando but less than the 60,ooo of the Tangerine Bowl had few choices in the entertainment environment of the time but to play there. So hearing and seeing this tour as in the box were a second chance for me to experience Prince as I would have liked to in 1983 when I had no wheels and none of my friends were making any trips to see shows either.

prince live in detroit 1999 cover art

Live In Detroit 11/30/82 | Disc 5

Prince: 1999 SDLX box disc 5 – Live In Detroit 11/30/82 – US – CD [2019]

  1. Controversy 5:46
  2. Let’s Work 5:27
  3. Little Red Corvette 4:12
  4. Do Me, Baby 7:18
  5. Head 4:12
  6. Uptown 2:43
  7. Interlude 2:25
  8. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? 7:03
  9. Automatic 7:02
  10. International Lover 8:40
  11. 1999 10:24
  12. D.M.S.R. 8:02

The concert opened with the infamous varispeed “don’t worry…I won’t hurt you…I only want you to have some fun” tape before laying into an intense opener in “Controversy.” That was my favorite Prince track of the time [still is, really] and I really would have lost it if my first song from Prince would have been this one, but it’s a natural set opener. It lays out the Prince ethos succinctly and declares his aim boldly. Live, it didn’t contain the lord’s prayer but still had the “people call me rude” chant. Ultimately, it was all about the coiled guitar riff vying with the synths.

A one-two punch from “Controversy” continued with “Let’s Work” that continued the jam and moved on from the LP length to partially incorporate the “work it” coda from the 12″ mix. The came the first track from the new album. Little Red Corvette” showed up in the flow here with the 7″ single version, but with an added bombastic showbiz coda the built up to several climaxes. And what is Prince unless he can deliver several climaxes? Dez Dickerson might have had one foot out the door by this tour, but he sure delivered on the even better lead solo here.

I’ll bet that Prince thanked his lucky stars that Simmons Drums were released to the market in time for this tour. Without them, the precise percussion that was the foundation [via Linn Drum originally] on the albums drawn from for this set would have faltered with only acoustic drums. “Head” from “Dirty Mind” in particular, benefited from the precise thwacks that Bobby Z. was able to give the song live, but the song’s greatest asset was the lascivious synth solo that Dr. Fink was able to give the song live; making Prince’s original solo sound positively chaste in comparison. After it was delivered, the song sped into a little over two minutes of “Uptown” to finish the “Dirty Mind” portion of the set. It seemed like a tease, in comparison. I would have wanted more in concert. Then Lisa Coleman got the synth spotlight with a chance to solo for a few minutes as she crafted the intermezzo to the concert.

Surprisingly, the then new B-side to the “1999” single was given the spotlight in an expansive rendition of just Prince and piano, finger snaps, tambourine, and lush close harmony singing by the band. The song normally stood at 3-4 minutes, but here, Prince teased the audience [who was with him every step of the way] into twice that with his increasingly provocative raps measured in between the backing bursts of “how come U don’t call me” on the beat. This continued for as long as Prince could stretch it until he declared “aw let’s go… she ain’t gonna call” and the song wrapped up, abruptly.

The second half of the set delved deeper into “1999.” “Automatic” was recast in a very different light as the machine-tooled, aerodynamic precision of the all-Prince + machines album version was translated to a much less clinical arrangement. One with room for the guitars and bass to manifest at the song’s midpoint; taking the pneumatic track into the red for some visceral Rock music grit.

The live version of “International Lover” was announced by Lisa Coleman in stewardess mode, but overall, the live version, while longer, was a less campy take with none of the smirk audible as on Prince’s album performance. Here, he was perhaps more serious and less tongue-in-cheek about the nature of his seduction. After his stream of pillow talk at the song’s halfway point the instrumentation took over as Prince was surprisingly quiet for the last third of the song [we’ll find out why, next] as the synth players vamped and shimmered over the beat until the destination [a.k.a. “satisfaction”] was reached.

Then the synthetic whipcrack of the “1999” intro made room for the eponymous song of the album to finally play out. It played closely to the 7′ mix before extended to the “party” call-response movement as on the LP version. Then, after the “mommy… why does everybody have a bomb” section, the song took off at midpoint for uncharted territory as the groove got embellished with further funky guitars and synth licks that expanded upon the arrangement.

Prince led the audience in a call-and-response volley, giving our ears the extended 12″ mix of “1999” that were were secretly pining for. After a second drop of the “mommy” speech, the guitars got specially crunchy while the synths became climactically church like, leading the song to a powerful apotheosis over eight minutes in. Don’t let the timing I listed fool you. There then came two minutes of cheering before the encore!

Which was a dramatically reconfigured “D.M.S.R.” The tune was familiar enough to its halfway point, but the it shifted gears dramatically with a whole new phase of melodic development as the shimmering synthesizers began working their way up the octaves as the guitar and bass syncopated with the rhythm to build up the pressure, where it finally plateaued for a few bars before the “don’t worry” voice returned to signal the end of the show.

It was certainly a treat to hear the differences between the album and in concert renditions of this material. The tape used here was a soundboard recording and drummer Bobby Z’s brother and Prince confidante David “Z” Rivkin must have worked wonders to get this show mixed in to this level of coherence. At times, especially early on, one can hear Prince obviously moving around onstage vigorously, as he drifted from mic to mic; sometimes being picked up primarily from the monitors. He was definitely not wireless. At times backing vocals and guitars were also variable in the mix. The lack of glib slickness is a big plus with me. This is just the sort of live recording that may have a lot of sweat put into its production, but it’s nevertheless a more honest document of the show than a multitrack remote truck recording where almost every voice and instrument might have been re-recorded in the studio to simulate a highly idealized “live album.” This was recorded probably for review as a matter of course and it sat there for almost 40 years to give the teenagers in us a glimpse into what it was to experience Prince immediately before the flashpoint of superstardom. Taking Post-Disco studio music made by a single person and letting a Rock band cut loose on it.

Next: …Prince In Tejas

 

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 11]

prince vault computer

Batman had the Batcomputer® so it follows that Prince had the Vaultcomputer® – click for legible instructions

[…continued from last post]

“No Call U” was a retro Rock and Roll song, albeit made strictly with synths and drum machine. It was an upbeat rocker not a million miles away from a “Jailhouse Rock.” One could imagine Little Richard tearing this one up in 1957 easily enough, but the song’s coda marked it as being obviously pitched as material for The Time. There Prince was definitely using his “Morris Day voice” to ad lib on the outro proclaiming that “I’m the coolest” and wanting the girl to call him. The liner notes claimed that since Jill Jones did BVs for this one, that it was destined for her long-gestating album, even though a tape with her vocal has not been found yet. I say that’s crazy. I say that this was for The Time.

While “1999” marked the end of Prince’s New Wave fusion era, “Can’t Stop this Feeling I Got” was a rare example of Prince diving into uncut New Wave. This one was all bass/guitar/drums with nary a synth to be found, apart from the screaming Farsisa patch keeping time at a steady series of eighth notes. This sounded like nothing more than a song that would have sat nicely on The Boomtown Rats “A Tonic For The Troops” while Prince’s vocal had gospel and soul inflections that were not part of Bob Geldof’s toolkit. This song would emerge years later on the “Graffiti Bridge” soundtrack in a version that stripped off the synths but still had the old New Wave urgency.

“Do Yourself A Favor” began with a beat suggestive of the one on Toni Basil’s “Mickey” before settling into a smooth soul groove more akin to the first two Prince albums from the late 70s than where his head was at in 1982. The prominent synth strings definitely were of that era. Strangely enough, it was a song by Pepé Willie a musician who was married to Prince’s cousin who originally recorded the song as “If You See Me” in 1975 with a teenaged Prince contributing guitar to the session. The Purple One revisited the song from memory seven years later as a long and more conventional R+B soul groove, but the ad libs in the second half of  the song were absolutely in his “Morris Day voice” and redolent of the Day personal as well; marking this as more material aimed at The Time. Due to the changes wrought over the gulf of time and the hazards of memory, Prince was credited as co-writer on this version.

I was bowled over by the immediately brash “Don’t Let him Fool Ya.” The deep synth bass was infectious and the jamming groove suggested tight band choreography on the stage with keytars a’plenty. But once Prince opened his mouth, I got the feeling that this was absolutely Vanity 6 material as he was dissing a lame guy as a warning to other ladies not to fall for his lines. It was down to Prince’s vocal delivery, which was him mimicking a woman’s delivery. There’s a difference between Prince’s famous falsetto and Geraldine Jones. But yow, here was another jamming Vanity 6 number that I was loving [see “Make Up” on “Originals”] and I am starting to get the notion that after years of resisting the cheap come on that was Vanity 6, maybe it’s time to hear it all?

“Teacher Teacher” was another pop/rock outlier with no synths or drum machines; just twangy guitars and vibe that was more Tom Petty + The Heartbreakers than dance floor. It sounded like it could have been recorded any time in the previous decade. It was another example of Prince writing and recording songs no matter what genre and vibe they might slot into when the spirit hit him. Any type of song was worth getting down on tape for possible use later.

Finally, the last Vault disc ended with a tour demo of a medley [“Lady Cab Driver/I Wanna Be Your Lover/Head/Little Red Corvette”] of Prince material dating from 1979-1982 for his “1999 Tour.” The arrangement of “Lady Cab Driver” was so far removed from the LP cut I had a hard time imagining the words to that song in the instrumental bed. More than anything, it reminded me of the vibe that The Machinations attained on their magnificent single”Pressure Sway,” which I always thought had a distinct Prince vibe. I could sing that one just fine to the instrumental here.

It was most exciting hearing Prince update the groove to “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” a great song, but definitely of the 1979 milieu, to sound more contemporaneous to his newer style. This time he was singing to the demo and the minute or so of that one was quite a tease. I would have liked to hear his revision of the entire song. But that was “War + Peace” compared to the 2 bars of “Head” that were barely there at all before segueing into a more dynamic and anthemic “Little Red Corvette;” also instrumental. This was the latest of the Vault tracks in this box; dating from January 1983, immediately prior to the second leg of the “1999” US tour. At the time of this tour demo, the single had not yet been released and had yet to be the hit that he would hoist his star from.

Next: …Got Live If U Want It

 

 

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 10]

tapes in the Prince Vault

This Prince Vault shelf clearly had masters of “Neon Telephone;” destined for The Three O’Clock – right next to “Pop Life Outtakes”

[…continued from this post]

So the ante had been upped on “1999” Super Deluxe with a second disc of Vault Tracks. At first as these SDLX editions of of “Purple Rain” and then “1999” were released, I was assuming that Vault tracks were randomly by the Powers That Be  to make for a pleasing, if eclectic SDLX set, but the reality was actually that all of this music was contiguous to the period where the albums in question had been recorded. A vast and potentially dizzying array of music in a wide variety of styles had been put to tape, as Prince had by then, a professionally outfitted home studio to tinker in 24/7. And there was no stopping this guy.

prince 1999 vault disc 2

Vault Tracks 2 | Disc 4

Prince : 1999 SDLX box disc 4 – Vault Tracks 2 – US – CD  [2019]

  1. Possessed (1982 Version)
  2. Delirious (Full Length)
  3. Purple Music
  4. Yah, You Know
  5. Moonbeam Levels
  6. No Call U
  7. Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got
  8. Do Yourself A Favor
  9. Don’t Let Him Fool Ya
  10. Teacher, Teacher
  11. Lady Cab Driver / I Wanna Be Your Lover / Head / Little Red Corvette (Tour Demo)

This disc began with a song I’d heard before in a radically different version on the Vault Tracks disc included with “Purple Rain.” This version of “Posessed” was leaner and meaner, with none of the diffuse filigree that dissipated the song’s energy into slightly jazz-inflected realms. No, this one was a full-bore Prince dance track, built on a repetitive Linn Drum beat with a pair of dueling synth riffs slithering through it all. The interest was easily maintained throughout the 8:46 length by the artist himself, who made sure we were never bored. Prince uttered “step on it” for effect to [non-present] drummer Bobby Z.  to keep the needle moving towards the red.

Up until about 3:45 it was the basis for a 7″ single, but the song of Prince’s erotomania began to break down and show the man’s state of mind as he drawled “I got this luuuust” in the earthiest manner possible before detailing in the breakdown how “f***** up in the head” this woman had him. He got pretty explicit at describing what’s at stake in the breakdown. Let’s just say that Tipper Gore would not approve. Then he circled back for the kill with some hot guitar solingo before the ice cold ending let us know it was time to move on. This was definitely the definitive version of “Possessed” to be had out there. This year, anyway.

“Delirious’ had always been a short, sharp Prince song around this time period. The hit single edit was well under 3:00. And the LP version wasn’t too much longer at 3:56. But it’s welcome to know that there was actually a long, 12″ single length version of “Delirious” at 5:59 to be finally had since there was [criminally] never a 12″ single of the A-side. It could have fit on the LP with the first two tracks only taking up about 11:22, but we now have the long version of “Delirious” that we’ve always wanted on “Vault Disc 2.” It’s fun to hear this and pick out the edit points for the LP mix. And its existence is further proof that Prince really was looking at an album of 12″ singles.

The previous disc had “Rearrange” which was a self-reflective funk song about trying to find his voice. “Purple Music” was another, much longer track, that looked internally into the question as it posited a new “Purple Music” that was a sophisticated new hybrid. And Prince’s sound this time could replace any drug he might care to take.

“Don’t need no reefer, don’t need cocaine
Purple music does the same to my brain
And I’m high, so high
Don’t need no cymbals, no saxophone
Just need to find me a style of my own
And I’m high, so high” – “Purple Music”

The groove was another repetitive, trancelike slipstream of Linn Drum with bass and scanty synths but the x-factor here was definitely the fruity licks of jazz guitar that were new to the Prince palette. His vocal was distant with hazy effects as he did sound intoxicated in his revelry. He kept the breakdowns and tonal shifts going for a long time. At the 8+ minute region, there was a psychedelic breakdown with Prince taking the role of a valet with crisp diction, drawing a morning bath for his charge before losing his bearings in the purple music swirling around him like an opiate. In the final minute the tracks finally crossed the line into jazzfunk with some bass and guitar interplay before the song abruptly evaporated on the jazzy guitar solo.

I’d heard about “Yah, You Know” and certainly lived up to the advanced billing. This was a gimmicky slice of New Wave Bop that sounded for all the world like DEVO performing a cover of The Standell’s “Dirty Water” [not a bad thought, actually] around the same time that they did cover “Working In A Coal Mine.” The metronomic, gridlike synths blared on a very close cousin to the classic “Dirty Water” riff while the glamstomp beat ignored everything else going on in the song. The jauntily mocking song seemed to be a portrait of someone Prince might have known.

I loved the phrase he coined to describe the “polyester punk to the bone. No wonder you came alone. We’re all grossed out ‘Cause you spit when you talk, Say yah, you know.” When the lyric described the loser sitting unemployed at home “watching television like a fool,” Prince wittily interpolated the Andy Griffith Show theme into the synth leads. The dead giveaway that this was a real guy the song was about came in the outro, where Prince imitated the space cadet in question with what was probably a real quote.

“Yah, you know, like, I would get a job
But the world’s gonna end soon…
You got any ‘ludes?” – “Yah, You Know”

When Prince died in spring of 2016, the first posthumous track from The Vault was “Moonbeam Levels” which figured on the “Prince 4Ever” compilation. I had not managed to hear this one yet, but it really played like the best possible track that might have been a big hit from the “Around The World In A Day” album. It had that kind of stately trippiness to it with a complex piano ballad verse structure mated with a honestly anthemic chorus in a way that was still new to Prince’s output at the time. This showed that even while making what turned out to be his last New Wave/Post-Disco album blown up into 12″ singles, parts of his brain were already occupying the space that the album following his next one [or two] would come to inhabit. It could have honestly fit onto “Parade” as well! Prince was playing 3-D chess when every other musician was mastering checkers.

Next: …Vanity, Thy Name Is Prince?

 

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Record Review: Logan Sky Soundtracks His Own Video Game with “Sacred Runes”

logan sky sacred runes cover art

Etrangers Musique | UK | DL | 2020

Logan Sky: Scared Runes – DL [2020]

  1. All Was Lost 00:27
  2. Sacred Runes (theme) 01:16
  3. Homelands 01:53
  4. Cursed 00:38
  5. Cave Ambience 00:34
  6. Forest Spawns 00:25
  7. Venture 00:47
  8. Rivershrine 00:29
  9. Labyrinthene 01:33
  10. Tyler’s House 00:32
  11. The Fall 01:10
  12. Cave Encounter 01:18
  13. Activation 00:13
  14. Unearthed 00:28
  15. Demonic Fire 01:00
  16. Unearthed Creature 00:42
  17. Sad Lands 01:47

A few weeks ago, busy synthesist Logan Sky had emailed telling the Jones + Sky mailing list of his new video game soundtrack for “Sacred Runes.” Logan had been involved in making an interactive game using the Scratch platform of MIT’s Media Lab. Then life got in the way for a few weeks. And the still warm Prince thread. I looked into the game platform just now and for the quick glance I saw, it looks like a mashup of Hypercard stacks and and Atari 2600, for you old timers. This event was as close as I have come to a video game in 40 years. Naturally, the visual adventure game sports an enhanced soundtrack courtesy of game creator Sky’s day job as a synth player of a stoutly analog persuasion.

I finally got the chance to give the soundtrack a “spin” and it’s a brief series of mood pieces; none longer than two minutes that existed to enhance the mood of the game and no more. It’s all very “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am.” While I have enjoyed the solo and even group efforts of Sky working in the distinctive John Carpenter influenced Synthwave genre, most of these pieces were a few steps away from that vibe as most lacked in a rhythm component. Instead they built more contemplative moods through layers of melodic structure.

In that sense these tracks are mostly “mood haiku” and more spare in nature than most of what we’ve heard from Sky previously. The brief tracks may have been made with as little as four tracks in a DAW. In 1985 a Tascam Portastudio would have been the likely environment of their creation. A few longer pieces stood out. “Homelands” had a sophisticated build of rhythm and atmosphere to posit a delicate tribalism that was new to the Sky experience that I’ve heard. While “Demonic Fire” sat firmly in his comfort zone of Synthwave with the building of a driving rhythm dynamic from a somber starting point in its tight minute of length. Listen to it all or even download it below:

Why not have a go at the game itself as well? Click the splash screen below to play the game online.

sacred runes game splash screen artBy the way, I should mention that it thrills me to see that Carpenter’s D.I.Y. soundtracks, derided in their time by soundtrack snobs, have now spawned an entire genre two generations later by the new breed. Meanwhile Logan Sky has made his first interactive game and given it a little soundtrack love while moving forward on his main thread partnership with Steven Jones with their next opus currently in the oven.

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Echorich’s Tales Of Misspent Youth a Must-Read At New Vinyl Villain

We all know and love Echorich, right? He’s been a top commenter since the earliest days of PPM, and today The New Vinyl Villain has an amazing post of his days as a Club Kid in the City That Never Sleeps. A must read for the amazement factor.

Looking back at the Bacchanalian nights of my early 20’s living in NYC, most of the fun I had was in The Limelight Night Club on 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Chelsea. Less than a year after opening, my friends and I had found our way to become regulars in the club’s third floor […]

via EVERYONE’S YOUR FRIEND IN NEW YORK CITY (4b) — THE NEW VINYL VILLAIN

– 30 –

Quote | Posted on by | 5 Comments

Jan Linton Reissues DLX RM of “Sendai” EP As Tribute To Matthew Seligman

on matthew seligman sendai 2020 cover art

Jansongs | HK | CD | MRC 013-006 | 2020

Jan Linton + Matthew Seligman: Sendai 仙台 Special Extended Edition 2020 CD [2020]

  1. Sendai #1 Earth
  2. Sendai #2 Radio
  3. Sandai #3 Message
  4. Sendai #4: Plant/Metal
  5. Sendai Plant/Metal Extended
  6. Radio [Matthew’s remix]

Back in April when we sadly lost Matthew Seligman; a bass player who anyone reading these words is likely to have on their racks, Jan Linton left a comment on the post saying that he was planning on re-issuing the “Sendai” EP that he and Seligman had recorded as a pair in 2012. Matthew’s adopted city had been devastated by the Fukushima tsunami in 2011 and the duo had recorded the EP as a fundraiser for the city’s rebuilding charity. Now it’s back [after selling out] in an extended form to commemorate the talents of Seligman; whose family receives his share of all sales. I can truly state that anyone pining for the distinct pastoral/abstract ambient vibe that was coursing through “Another Green World” would find much to love here.

“Sendai #1 Earth” began with a subtle flourish as a hum began to coalesce in the soundscape. Subtly throbbing until the distant echo of a driving trance rhythm stepped forward while washes of evanescent wind chimes and virtual cymbals echoed the tidal flow surrounding the city of Sendai. While Jan Linton was manning the synths, guitars and sequencers, the fretless bass of Seligman was at the forefront of the music’s melodic development here with deep contours of bass taking me back to the bass undertow vibe of Roxy Music’s “Manifesto.” Listen below:

The second track, “Sendai #2 Radio” was a brief, quasi industrial soundscape with the sound of choral wash patches drifting like fog over the landscape built here. Long echoes of distant sound suggesting construction filtered into the foreground from the horizon. Bass was an architectural hum as the sound of machinery eventually formed the track’s abrupt coda.

The third track found “Sendai #3 Message” with more prominent swells of bass and air jets of crashing wave synths. There were also shimmering tidepools of synth sound that again called out to the power of the sea. The wind chimes were echoed with metallic clanks of synths that momentarily broke the spell of placidity.

The final original track, “Sendai #4 Plant/Metal,” was home to the most traditional guitar sounds that this EP had thus far. The sequenced synths provided a melody shot through with hope and optimism. Then Linton’s e-bow guitar built up swells of melody over the loops. With a slightly dissonant, noisier guitar tone doubling into the mix. Did I mention” Another Green World?” This track was taking me back to side one of “Evening Star” with its cumulative beauty built up in subtle layers.

The original EP ended there, but this edition had two more bonus tracks. The extended 2020 mix of “Sendai #4 Plant/Metal”brought the bass guitar of Seligman to the spotlight along with the synth drones of the song for a more contemplative view of the beauty on display there. Sequenced synths raining down like droplets of water ushered in the bass at midpoint along with a more isolated e-bow from Linton at the periphery of the song. The synthetic birdsong in the coda was delightful. This mix was a radical new vision of what was music of high subtlety. Fans of Bill Nelson’s ambient side from the 80s would really enjoy this cut. Finally, “Radio (Matthew’s remix)” was a mix of the second track that took the vibe closer to that of traffic [or cicada] sounds with the washes of synth noise. The random jolts of viscous bass bubbling up through the mix here served only to highlight the insect tension that never resolved.

The various flavors of ambient sound here stuck close to the all-important Fripp/Eno/Nelson/Sylvian axis of abstract/ambient sound with Seligman playing a role close to Percy Jones while Linton exercised his freedom from guitar clichés that I’ve come to expect from him to create the atmospheres. The 2012 Edition is long gone, but there are 50 CDs of the new expanded version in Linton’s Bandcamp store, so if this is in your wheelhouse, by all means act soon. $15 nets you a CD with a six page booklet of Matthew Seligman’s liner notes which could not fit in the first edition. Hit that button below.

post-punk monk buy button

– 30 –

Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment