Rick Neidlinger: Rattlesnake

I’ve recently started to collaborate with Rick Neidlinger from Kansas, USA, whom I’ve met on SoundCloud and I happen to like his true “southern rock ‘n’ roll” tunes and sound. So we decided to come up with a four-track EP: Rick would write and record everything, and then I’d contribute to the project by recording real acoustic drums, mixing and mastering the tracks.

This is the first result of the collaboration, entitled Rattlesnake:

More coming soon.

NOTE: It has come to my attention that under unknown circumstances certain browsers (for now I’ve experienced problems with Firefox) refuse to display SoundCloud embeds for whatever unfathomable reason. Should that happen to you, you can try heading to https://soundcloud.com/rneidlinger/rattlesnake-2016.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Leprous

Leprous is a Norwegian prog-rock/metal band I found out about from a pal of mine with a compatible taste shortly after they released The Congregation last year. As soon as I got around to listening to it carefully, this and their previous album, Coal, easily “qualified” among some of my favourite albums. The band brings everything I like go the game: superior musicianship; goosebump-inducing vocal lines and superb harmonies in combination with mind-bogglingly complex polyrhytmic (often odd-time, yay) structures; and massive sound.

I was overjoyed to find out they were about to play at the Musik & Frieden club in Berlin on Thursday, because I really wanted to hear them live, obviously. I am even happier to report that their live act is just as great as their last two albums: these guys can play, and they can sing (the lead vocalist is incredible, and the guys on backing vocals are really good as well). And, finally (after two very “subtle” concerts I’ve been to), last night’s gig sounded really good – and was actually loud enough that I felt as if I was actually attending a damn rock ‘n’ roll concert!

But, first things first.

Leprous, the headliners, were accompanied by Earthside from the U.S. and Voyager from Australia.

The music of Earthside was great, actually, and quite an unexpected bonus to the evening. Unfortunately they resorted to a rather extreme kind of “semi-live” performance that I just couldn’t get into. OK, I really understand the ins and outs of live (or pseudo-live) acts and I understand why bands without lucrative budgets will often resort to various “provisional solutions” in order to bring their vision to life despite the “logistic obstacles”. But I tend to be somewhat old-school in this regard: using sequencers, loops and pre-recorded synths in case you don’t have a small army of proficient keyboardists at your disposal is one thing, but having a whole symphonic orchestra and even SINGERS accompany you from a projection screen at the side of the stage just makes me grumble. There’s something about a four-piece band (guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer) accompanying a pre-recorded vocalist that’s just unholy, and such a solution will bother me to the degree where I can’t seriously enjoy the show. I’d be much happier with unembellished instrumentals, which the guys would have easily been able to play, had they wanted to (they are, without any doubt, awesome musicians). I’m also too old to appreciate statements like “you might have seen the following song on YouTube”… Yeah, I might have, and if I wanted to see it yet again, performed in a completely identical manner, then I could have just stayed at home and listened to YouTube real loud. Too bad and a wasted opportunity, because music-wise these guys have a LOT of great things to say. If somebody happens to throw some cash at them, they’ll definitely be going places, because they can rumble with the best of them.

Voyager was, fortunately, more “organic”, though they still used loops and pre-recorded synths. But OK, as long as an actual human is singing and two guitarists (one of them female!), a bassist and a drummer are blasting away, fine with me. However, music-wise I wasn’t very convinced by this particular blend of techno-metal. OK, if it floats their boat… But I couldn’t help scowling a bit at quite a few relatively cheesy tunes (with major chords, perish the thought) and a specifically mellow voice of the singer. This also resulted in one of my more cynical pals defining Voyager as “Modern Talking thirty years later (including perms)”, so after that the whole thing became hilarious: I couldn’t get the notion out of my head, so I couldn’t help laughing into my Weinschorle LightTM (heavy on mineral water) for the next fifteen minutes. As Voyager exhibited a clear ambition to be a “party band”, and did manage to persuade a good portion of the audience, our whole gang snickering at my cynical pal’s diatribes was actually in line with the general sentiment. Voyager was definitely not bad, don’t get me wrong, and they’re obviously great musicians, but their particular blend of genres and “let’s party” attitude is simply not my cup o’ tea. I much prefer your normal gloomy, dark, depressing epic metal – and I finally got my share when Leprous finally came on stage.

As I’ve already stated above, in my book Leprous are simply amazing. Their live act was completely on par with the best bands I’ve seen over the years and did perfect justice to the ingeniousness of their last two albums. If anything in this world still happens because of merit and superb achievements, they should be one of the bands that go places. Their professionalism and amazing music will hopefully place them on more “prominent” stages in the future, because it was somewhat sad to see them pour their guts out to a half-empty hall (which I really didn’t expect: I mean, what the hell do folks do with their time these days, if in a city of 3.5 million people not more than 200 souls can be bothered to spit out the meager 21 euros for a prog-metal feast such as this triple concert)?

But OK, at least this way a wish I’ve been toying with for a while came true on this occasion: we found a great spot on the comfortable bleachers in the far corner, where the sound was absolutely the best due to the extra bass boost, and we could lounge there in our makeshift thrones, in a strategic position slightly elevated over the enthusiastic crowd jumping directly in front of the stage. Even visibility wasn’t too impaired because of the relative emptiness of the hall, and whenever one of us felt like it we could actually stroll to the front and stand six point six six meters from the stage. Perfect for grumblin’ ole geezers. The only thing I was worried about throughout the continuous onslaught of the greatest tracks from The Congregation and Coal was whether Leprous would play my two favourite tracks –

– and they finally did. Down, my (temporarily) second-favourite track, was (without counting the single-track encore) their penultimate choice; and they blasted through my (momentarily) favourite track, The Valley, last (with perfect vocals: the stamina of their lead singer / keyboardist is simply astounding, and this was after tracks with growls and screams et cetera). Perfect.

The only hesitation, preventing me from being completely fascinated by the whole affair, was a peculiar, nagging suspicion that I was once again witnessing the death of “rock ‘n’ roll” concerts as I have known them; live performances on their way out. First of all, the lack of people interested in this event was astounding; and as I stood in front of the stage absorbing The Valley it was blatantly obvious to me that I was standing among musicians, mostly – a small, inbred tribe of fans that knew many an insidious syncopated trick, pulled off by Leprous, by heart. There was a notable lack of any innocent bystanders (save for the few obligatory bored-looking musicians’ girlfriends); of people who weren’t “in the know”, but still enjoyed the show; just another case of musicians playing for musicians.

Furthermore, prog rock/metal has – in the last decade, with the technological advances in music hardware – progressed (pun intended) to the point where the sound of these bands is virtually indistinguishable from one another, as well as from their recorded work. Three hours into mastodonic, larger-than-life, “God’s-own-amp” riffs I started thinking, holy fuck, when did this happen… And the zero-tolerance-for-any-errors-or-deviations attitude, exhibited by the bands, obviously stems from the absolutely rigid, in-ear-monitored, metronome-dictated song structures of today’s top-notch performances. Once upon a time underground bands were happy if they could get their hands on a few beat-up Marshall heads, and rejoiced at every opportunity to decently record anything… While nowadays underground bands actually live in their own studios, and all the “zero-mistake” perfectionism of creating (and editing) music in studios trickles over to live performances to the degree where you’re actually listening to studio albums, only louder… And everything is fuelled by the digital conundrum of computers, sequencers, software, amp simulations, cab emulations, time-synced effects and visuals, eight-string guitars quadrupled through Kemper/Axe FX/etc. processors, gates, compressors, EQs, exciters, saturators and limiters and maximisers to the point where you’re not sure – particularly if you’re a grumblin’ ole geezer – that any of what you’re hearing is actually organic at all… Or whether the bands are simply aspiring to simulate every nuance of the digital fabrications they have been constructing in their virtual studios to the point where the once separate sides of the creative process (songwriting, studio production and live acts) become indistinguishable. I mean, how far away are these simulations from simply becoming full-blown “virtual” performances? Hell, for all anyone seems to care, what would actually be the difference of modern rock/metal bands simply performing in their own living rooms and being projected as holograms into their audience’s living rooms (or clubs, for the purpose of sheer loudness) all over the world? I’m afraid the only thing separating us from that is some good and affordable 3-D projection technology.

I know, the last paragraph makes me sound like a technophobe, which I certainly am not (quite the opposite)… But the methodical approach to music – mechanically blasting through a collection of flawlessly-rehearsed mathematically-inspired phrases without an inch of room for improvisation – can be rather tedious and the bitter “inorganic” aftertaste of the whole affair lingers nevertheless.

Bullet Democracy releases “Suicide Circus”

My good pal Giulio Tarantino has just released his first EP, entitled “Suicide Circus”, as a (for now rather fictitious) band called “Bullet Democracy”:

According to his Bandcamp bio, Giulio Tarantino (a.k.a. Bullet Democracy) is an Italian film director, musician, singer & songwriter, currently residing in Berlin, Germany. He makes a living as an Italian deli proprietor and keeps buying useless junk at the local flea market.

All of this is true. Giulio would probably perish in considerable pain if he were prohibited from haggling at the local flea market, the exact purpose of which continues to elude me to this day. Be that as it may, I’ve gladly assisted him in the realisation of his long-time dream of publishing an album, so I recorded, produced, mixed and mastered his debut while also playing drums, percussion, bass, keyboards and additional guitar on it. I’d characterise the four-track EP – which Giulio is also determined to present live at some point in the future, at least with a limited acoustic live line-up – as a sort of grunge with Italian pronunciation. It may be interesting for some music aficionados to know that Giulio’s distinctive vocal has such a low register that we had to resort to recording three of four tracks on this album with a baritone guitar tuned to B E A D F# B (as well as drop A, where necessary).

The EP is available for download on the Bullet Democracy Bancamp site (name your price / free).

“Short and to the Point” EP released

The soundtrack for the upcoming theatre performance “Kratko in jedrnato” (Short and to the Point), directed and co-written by Marko Djukić, has just been released as a 15-minute EP, entitled “Short and to the Point“. You can download it on Bandcamp (free / name your price) or grab a free download here.

All tracks on Short and to the Point were composed, arranged, recorded & produced by Borut Praper (a.k.a. Ray Kosmick). All instruments performed by Borut Praper. Produced, mixed and mastered by Ray Kosmick in S.U.R. Studio, Berlin, in 2016. The cover artwork is a screenshot from the film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans by F.W. Murnau (1927).

Theatre performance credits:
Starring: Branka Hočevar, Helena Bevc, Renata Jančar, Neli Mlinar, Tamara Kragulj, Aja Kobe k.g., Roman Tišler, Urh Props, Maks Kovič, Žiga Rappl, Gal Mavretič
Set design & costumes: Katja Sladič Rudolf
Assistant set & costume designers: Tina Baš, Tjaša Doblekar, Tessa Adamič
Hair stylist: Nina Vozel
Light design: Aljoša Vizlar
Technicians: Jure P. Končar, Matej Bračun
Performance produced by the TOMBAS society in cooperation with the Litija Cultural Centre

Fortunate Finds: Tigran Hamasyan

Classical folk jazz heavy metal fusion

Lately I’ve been writing a lot, so I’ve mostly abused jazz, fusion and classical categories on Deezer on a daily basis, simply because though I enjoy listening to music while I write I tend to avoid anything with lyrics. Especially the silly “I love you / but you left me / so my heart is breaking” variety or “shake yer booty” gems that plague music perpetually and seem to have a profoundly detrimental effect on my blood pressure (though, admittedly, even the most intriguing of lyrics don’t do much for my writing focus – quite the contrary). On the other hand, instrumental music, especially if it’s not too engrossing, can help me “get in the zone”.

Occasionally, however, I’ll stop in the middle of a sentence, drawn irresistibly to what I’m hearing. That’s what I love about random mixes and pre-made playlists on Deezer: there you are, cruising along nicely, and then all of a sudden a particularly intriguing tracks pops up, seemingly from nowhere, and you know immediately you have another “fortunate find” on your hands. So about a month ago I was typing away indifferently, minding my own business, and then this starts playing:

Of course, as this is right up my alley, I immediately unglued my considerable posterior from my exercise ball… (Why are you frowning at me like that? Due to incessant staring at the computer screen, high-speed typing and mousing away I started having problems with my back, neck and wrists a few years ago, so I bought a ball to sit on and an ergonomic keyboard to manhandle, what of it? It helped.) I shuffled over to the laptop, plugged in my sound system just for music purposes, to check what was it that I was hearing – like I normally do when I notice something really great. And there it was, Entertain Me by Tigran Hamasyan.

Thoroughly entertained, I’ve since listened to his whole discography on Deezer and became quite a fan of his Shadow Theater and Mockroot albums. There’s nothing wrong with the others, of course – I listen to those as well, but the two I’ve enjoyed most contain a notable abundance of those “heavy fusion” moments I love and adore, complete with a good dose of melancholy, thoroughly odd time signatures, and some radical drum playing, which I, as a drummer, always appreciate. So I guess Mr. Hamasyan and his crew will be responsible for my inspiration for quite a few pages of the novel I’m currently writing.

Unfortunately, this Armenian prodigy pianist lives in Los Angeles for some reason (perhaps he likes the weather?), so I doubt I’ll be able to catch his band live any time soon – though I certainly would if I could. Here’s one of my favourites from Shadow Theater – live; so, yep, due to the exquisite musicianship exhibited by these guys it would certainly be worth seeing:

Fortunate Finds: Vennart

Many years ago – shortly after they released Effloresce – I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Oceansize. Here’s Unfamiliar, one of my favourite tracks from their superb third album, Frames:

I grew to like the band immediately, so much so that I eagerly followed all their releases until their unfortunate breakup in 2011. I particularly appreciate their wonderful blend of odd time signatures and superb melodies, as well as what are often quite epic running times of their tracks: they’ve always had a knack for developing their ideas slowly and meticulously, not adhering to some arbitrary postulates about what is an “appropriate” length and what isn’t. Furthermore, as a drummer I became quite disillusioned with the over-abused straightforward 4/4 beats sometime in the previous millennium, as soon as I was old enough to know better: why write a song in 4/4 (or 1/1, as I often refer to the lousiest and most horrendously simplistic examples of that – kick hat kick hat kick hat kick hat), when you can annoy people with something fascinating like 33/16, I say! On the other hand I’ve always had a weakness for haunting melodies. Hence my obsession with bands that blend superb musicianship, intricate rhythms and great harmonies (plus vocal lines, if applicable). If the lyrics also happen to focus on anything else apart from the eternally imperative relationships between lovers, preferably on something a little bit disturbing, all the better.

Anyway, as saddened as I was to learn that Oceansize fell apart – especially because I really wanted to see them live at least once, but haven’t had the opportunity – I never went as far as to check out any of the potential spin-off projects by any of the former band members. But, lo and behold – a few days ago a friend of mine, who has introduced to me a heap of musical discoveries over the last two decades or so, mentioned that vocalist and guitarist Mike Vennart, one of the founding members of Oceansize, had his own project now. So I checked it out, enjoyed it immensely, and here it is, in all its glory. Obviously Mr. Vennart still has his “mojo”, and I hope his band drops by Berlin sometime…

(The 30-second Deezer previews – if you don’t have a subscription – are not ideal, but in the absence of better options they should suffice. If the player doesn’t load, your browser is probably blocking third-party cookies, which you can always unblock in the browser settings if you wish.)

Fortunate Finds: Ibrahim Maalouf

Can’t wait to hear this live

I’ve recently stumbled across some of Ibrahim Maalouf‘s gems and took an immediate liking to his work. He seems to be quite renowned – especially in the Francophone regions, it seems – so I guess the guy is not exactly news, but he was a new discovery for me. Here’s the first track I’ve heard from him, which has persuaded me to explore the whole of his discography on Deezer:

The whole Illusions album is a great mix of jazz/fusion/rock/eastern ethnic influences, while some of his other albums also include more prominent classical elements. Here is another track from Red & Black Light:

The best news is that the guys are playing in Berlin in the end of February, and I fully intend to check them out.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer @ Steven Wilson

or, Sulking at a Burial Vault Interior Decorators Convention

DISCLAIMER: I never take any pictures or, perish the thought, make videos of concerts I attend, simply because I go there to enjoy the show, not stare at a damn eyephone like so many of our fellow concert-goers do these days. So you can be sure that every picture or video I may stick in this report I’ve blatantly borrowed from the internets.

KSCOPE522_COVER-MED300Steven Wilson is one of my favourite music heroes of the 21st century. I better get this out of the way immediately. I’ve previously seen the guy with Porcupine Tree in Ljubljana and Blackfield in Berlin. Last year the tickets to his solo project’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. tour sold out so quickly I inadvertently missed the whole thing, so I went this year instead. Throughout the concert I couldn’t help but wonder how the one I had missed was like, because this year much of it was like a burial vault interior decorators convention – fascinating, but pretty morbid.

Although Wilson’s crew is new, missing two of the “superstars” from last year (I was particularly disappointed that drummer Marco Minnemann is now frolicking around with The Aristocrats rather than submitting to my amateurish scrutiny), their musicianship was sublime. I won’t elaborate much on this – as expected, these guys are top-notch, their playing (and crooning) makes your head spin, makes you want to deposit your own musical gear and gadgets in a dumpster, and that about covers it, no need to go into details.

As much as for his obsession with gloom and doom (in my book that’s a good thing), Steven Wilson is also known far and wide for his focus on sound. Thus I fully expected the sound to be equally sublime as musicianship, but… I’ll just put it bluntly: it was highly disappointing. Sometimes I just don’t know how this can happen – is the sound guy on really lousy drugs? Fell on his head? Are the acoustics of the venue so peculiar as to confuse him, or make his job impossible? What could be the cause of this suffering? It was a flashback to the open-air Faith No More concert I had the misfortune of (not) hearing at Zitadelle Spandau last year, and which gave me ear warts… Though, to be sure, this wasn’t anywhere nearly as bad (I’m never going to the Zitadelle again in my life, not even if Frank Zappa himself rises from the dead and appears there). But it was still pretty bad.

First of all – interested as I was to see how the new drummer Craig Blundell would fill the shoes of the (figurative and literal) giant Minnemann – drums were so damn quiet it drove me nuts! What’s the use of Blundell raging down an (extensive) collection of toms (the guy can really play, hats off!), when I can’t even remotely hear what the hell he’s doing? I understand some people hate it when they cringe involuntarily each time the drummer hits the snare, feel nauseated at the kick of the bass drum, and worry about bleeding out of their ears due to the cymbals poking holes in them, but man, it’s supposed to be a ROCK concert. At least one filling is supposed to vibrate in your teeth, and you should get some tinnitus to take home and keep you company when you rest your weary wobbly head on the soft pillow. There was absolutely no punch or definition to the kick, toms were so smeared you couldn’t tell what was what, and when accompanied by bass (or Chapman stick) everything blended together in a distasteful, unintelligible soup booming away in the realms of muddiness without any definition whatsoever. Equally shocking was the fact that the snare(s) suffered severe lack of clarity and punch, were far too soft in louder parts (except maybe when played over loops), and most of the cymbals were virtually inaudible. It was as if somebody had covered the drums with feathers (or cut away loads of mids). The only redeeming quality was that the hi-hat and a few of the numerous splash cymbals were quite audible (though, again, only in high frequencies, so they sounded awfully thin), thus I was at least able to revel in some superb details that Blundell obviously put so much effort in. To my complete surprise, equally weird was the sound of the guitars – as if somebody had castrated everything at about 2 kHz. The vocals sounded great, though, and the appearance (and superb performance) of an actual singer (Wilson’s words, not mine!), Ninet Tayeb, was much appreciated (by everyone, it seemed).

Whether it was just the strange acoustics or not I do not know, but boy do I not appreciate listening to underwater rock concerts, because that’s how this felt. Either that, or the way your hearing turns sour when the rapidly-changing air pressure screws around with your eardrums. I, for one, do not appreciate the fact that I can calmly discuss the finer points of existentialist philosophy with my wife while the band is supposed to ejaculate a FFFfortissimo, goddamnit!

So, while the sound struck me as if it was actually geared towards a meditation retreat of the local Geriatric Tibetan Monk Association rather than a rock crowd, the atmosphere at Tempodrom in Berlin was absolutely funereal with everyone sitting in their chairs like so many (aging) statues. The fact that throughout the first part of the concert (the whole Hand. Cannot. Erase. album performed live, which was beyond lovely) we were forced to watch a monotonous documentary film about a depressed middle-aged middle-class woman living in a socialist-realist block of flats, in the sole company of her cat, where she despaired and pined away endlessly while smoking and staring into nothingness, failed utterly to uplift my spirits any, thank you very much, and it was also highly distracting, what with the low volume of the music and all that.

OK, I get it that Hand. is a conceptual album about a woman who disappears and whom nobody misses for three years. Fine. It is a touching, depressing, even creepy premise, something for a bit of dismal literary fiction few people will read, but many will praise. But, man, do the existential crises of middle-aged middle-class chain-smoking cat owners (apparently mercifully abducted by aliens in the end, so at least there’s that) feel misplaced and self-absorbed when you live in a world teetering on the brink of the precipice, in a city where tens of thousands of migrants are freezing their asses off in refugee camps without the comfort of their tomcats, cigarettes, or even a clean toilet and a shower, for that matter. But, admittedly, at least their fellow refugees know where they are, so they’d be missed, had they been missing: in the next bunk, damn it! They’re either in the next bunk or dead or worse! Roll call, everyone!

The only break from this bleak, life-annulling documentary feature – I must emphasise that I’m grumbling about the monotonous art video here, NOT the musical performance! – was the following animated gem:

Even though the dirge once again laments a forlorn and morose middle-aged middle-class housewife, at least this housewife, according to the yarn, apparently saw her nearest and dearest shot before despairing and pining away. Granted, that is extremely unfortunate for her, though by this point I was tempted to proclaim: “They had it coming, just jump over the edge!” And everybody would hear me, too, because the soundtrack was so infernally quiet. Damn it, I’ve experienced more cathartic moments – in terms of loudness – in my car!

Fortunately, Steven Wilson heeded my prayers and turned off the docudrama for the second half of the concert, and the guys launched into an astonishing mix of mind-boggling psychedelia; some very surprising numbers (the menacing, evil “collector” thing comes to mind, whatever that was, haven’t seen or heard it before – ah, Index, from Grace for Drowning, thank you, Google); a bit of new material for the upcoming album 4 ½ (sounded very sexy); dramatic, theatrical (in a good way) punches in the gut; and a good measure of Porcupine Tree tracks to boot, thank you, sir! I was almost able to forget about the feathery drums when the band blasted through Open Car.

In conclusion let me retract the position I’ve recently expressed elsewhere: that I like sitting down at concerts, because I’m a grumblin’ ole geezer and standing among evil rockers for three hours gives me back pains. I’ll amend that: that would only work if I were the only one sitting down in some strategic elevated position, with a nice cold beer on the hand rest of my well-cushioned throne, with everyone else standing. But this… The fact that last night we were a seated audience only contributed – in combination with the chamber-music sound level and the consequently overly distracting dreary video – to utter morbidity. It certainly bothered Wilson as well, because he admitted – after the much appreciated and completely non-cheesy homage to the late David Bowie (Space Oddity) – to feeling as if he stood in a graveyard, so he asked us to have some mercy, stand up, and sing along to the Sound of Muzak, which we happily did. Even the Germans, despite their proverbial reserved attitude.

So, all in all, a remarkable concert, with some annoyances and inconveniences – but what would I be grumblin’ about without those, right.