The Winter of Our Content: Hello Sunshine My Old Friend

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Oh great yellow god of the sky, we take your sighting as a blessing. The bees are buzzing by, flowers sway in the breeze, and Louis Armstrong is warbling away. Although this winter’s not been that cold, with no snow or ice, well, at least not in the south east of England, it’s still a grey–clouded, gloomy affair, so now it’s over, let the good times roll. And Jesus Christ, let the floods stop.

I got through far fewer albums than I thought I would for the winter album series, covering eight out of the twenty records I had anticipated writing about. I found writing about music to be interesting, fun and frustrating in equal measure, and quite rewarding when it comes together, although such acts of completion always happens at least a couple of days later than anticipated.

As you may be able to tell, I have thus far found that dissecting my own thoughts upon music to be an elusive undertaking, but I suspect this to be the case for most people. That said, and despite my earlier observation about summer being less conducive to the album format, I’m considering doing something for it similar to the winter album series. Until then, I’m going to try to write a few pieces on notable bass guitarists, and a few reviews via the first impressions of friends unlucky enough to have agreed to help me.

On a final note, one album I listened to with the expectation of including it in the winter series, and had a complete change of heart about, was Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Why I thought it would be suitable for winter I don’t really recall through the wisdom of hindsight, but it now seems obvious that it’s music for Spring or Autumn; it’s rife with talk of times of transition, and its wry humour possesses neither the gravitas of winter nor the good–time–rock–out vibe of summer. Expect a piece on it soon(ish).

“And with a pen and pad I compose this rhyme

To hit you and get you equipped for the summertime.”

– His Royal Freshness.

 

 

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The Winter of Our Content VII: Cracking The Sky

'Now I'm lost...in oblivion'

‘Now I’m lost…in oblivion’

As a skint student, I shamelessly borrowed this album from my friend Chief around a day after he bought it, having eagerly anticipated new Mastodon material since discovering Blood Mountain in 2006. There aren’t many bands I keep an eye on for new releases; I’ve generally come around to the school of thought that I’ll hear it when I hear it, and buy it when I can afford it. Gojira, Baroness and Mastodon are the exceptions to this rule. Back in my student accommodation and admiring the lush signature artwork of Paul Romano, instead of getting on with the set reading of 400 pages of Virginia Woolf, I put on Crack The Skye, and didn’t get past first track Oblivion for some while. When I finally got into the depths of the album, with its vocal harmonies, the new style of drumming, the riffs…

Oblivion starts with a Black Sabbath type of intro, speeding into a fast, syncopated verse. The vocals are softer than on previous albums, and the first vocal line is very prog; ‘I flew beyond the sun before it was time’. A tambourine rattles and stomps underneath a shifting bridge riff, and the transition into the chorus is both mournful and joyous, like watching the last beam of autumn sun disappear, with harmonised vocals singing ‘leaving you behind with my lonesome song’. After a guitar solo which slithers through tones, the song pauses, takes in a breath, and enters a final chorus, ‘Now I’m lost/In oblivion’…a few have ventured here, but none have ever returned…

…is that a banjo? The jangling intro of Divinations is followed by big, blocky, distorted chords under gruff vocals, entering mystical realms and summoning souls. Unexpected touches, like the surf tone on guitar solos, are part of Mastodon’s excellence. ‘Divination’ is defined as the foretelling of unknown information through unusual powers of perception, but what I’m voyaging towards I don’t know…we continue down the rabbit hole…

and Quintessence lumbers in slow and low, with lots of layers and a touch of smoothness from the vocals and synths. I take step after step, weighed down by the snow on my boots. Then it gets jazzy, with a fiddly, spiralling guitar picking up the pace, and then it’s all imperative punk, with semi–gang vocals shouting  ‘Let it go, let it go…’ in the chorus.  This is a strange land, roamed by monstrously strange souls. Dozens of miles of deep blue snow and dark pink skies stretch out all around…

Fellow adventurer and scientific expert, Dr Keilliher, expostulates in the log book, ‘Quintessence…I think it means like the fifth element or something’[1]. It is linked to aether, the souls and spirits of all things. This may be what we’re after. After an angular guitar solo, a yeti trudges by, playing his doomy Moog synth and bidding us ‘Speed farewell’.

…the ice walls on the horizon slowly grow, and Usurper, part one of The Czar, flows in with a ghostly, icy synth. Chanted background vocals, drifting acoustic guitars, echoing drums and a synth pulse and swirl, static for three and a half minutes, before a pentatonic chord sequence and rolls of drums start part two, Escape, and we now venture by the light of the moon, disappearing into the deep black hole of the night. Ruinous events account upon the horizon, and we must seek to unravel and abrogate their natures before the moment of their occurrences are reckoned upon. Log entry: just received advice from Captain Sanders on vocal harmonies; ‘You just have to close your eyes, grab your balls and think of the 1970s’[2]. Sucked into the depths of part three, Martyr, it seems like the journey is over, and we are finally leaving the material world behind…but it’s not that easy, and it re–enters with part four, Spiral, slower, dreamier…a blizzard is sweeping in, and the wind is picking up. The hardships inflicted by this land are taking their physical and mental toil upon us…

Ghost Of Karelia is a new leg of the journey after the 11 minutes of The Czar, but its flanged texture, squelching bass, huge gong in the background and lines like ‘facing the north’, means we still have far to venture in our journey. In the words of Captain Sanders, our task is ‘epical’. This adventure through these dark lands started a long time ago, in arcane circumstances, and as we pass into the aperture in the ice wall past huge pillars, an eerie, gothic glockenspiel and the ascending and descending power chords of Crack The Skye sound, I am reminded of Master of Puppets. This quest is of a scale I had not reckoned upon.

Maybe this is what we are after; to crack the sky, and travel beyond this realm. Indeed, in our previous ventures we sought each of the elements, finding the secrets of water in Leviathan (although we lost Captain Ahab along the way), those of earth in Blood Mountain (after a brief spell of clinical lycanthropy), that of fire and its purgative properties in Remission, and, er, punk in Call of The Mastodon. This album is the fifth element; aether, the soul and spirit of all things. We drive onwards to our goal, hoping to find this ‘Blessed visionary…’

…only a thin line now lays between success and defeat. Our uncertainty grows as we tread these ethereal lands, the chiming of ice echoing in our ears, and we hear of The Last Baron, and his promise of ‘We can set this world ablaze’. Frank Zappa floats by, playing a crazy trumpet line on his guitar[3] , and as the final line of ‘I still can’t see it’ sounds and the Northern Lights flutter, I realise many years of venturing are left.

We have lost ourselves to our pursuit, but in doing so have transcended this mortal realm, and are happy in our abandon…

 

 


[1] Source – Crack The Skye documentary

[2] Source – Crack The Skye documentary

[3] Source – Crack The Skye documentary