Monday, 11 September 2017

REV: The Reflection Wave One—Original Soundtrack, by Trevor Horn

For someone who has been so successful and working in the industry for so many years, it is perhaps odd that Trevor Horn has never released a solo album before. As he says in one of the video interviews for the special edition of The Reflection Wave One—Original Soundtrack, he wouldn't pick himself as someone to produce. Yet here we are, Trevor Horn's first solo album... of sorts. Following on from Producers/The Trevor Horn Band, Horn steps out from behind the recording desk, although a soundtrack album still keeps him one step removed from your usual solo debut.

What then has coaxed Horn out of his shell? The surprising answer is a Japanese anime series entitled The Reflection, co-created by famed comics writer Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor etc. etc.) and director Hiroshi Nagahama (directed Mushishi, The Flowers of Evil, Detroit Metal City). An initial season of 12 episodes premiered 22 July 2017 on NHK. The show has had middling reviews. I'm enjoying it (subtitled), but I wouldn't make any grand claims for it. The story entails a cataclysmic event some years previously, the Reflection of the title, that has left select individuals as superheroes or supervillains. We follow the protagonists along as they team up to fight the bad guys. The anime itself has a blocky visual style, a reference, I take it, to old comic books. And, indeed, the whole story is a paean to a style of comic storytelling that Lee pioneered. There are, perhaps, only so many superpowers to dream up, so some of the characters are familiar: a key villain is a female Magneto, for example. Others, like Lisa Livingstone, are more imaginative. We're still partway through the series, so no comment yet on how it all fits together.

Within all this is Horn's music, but the music is also part of the fiction. The lead single, “Sky Show”, exists within the story as a 1980s one-hit wonder by a character called Ian Izette, who has now donned a super-suit to fight crime. Trevor Horn 'appears' in episode 4 (voiced by someone else, in Japanese) as the producer of "Sky Show". (On the soundtrack album, "Loneliness and Solitude" begins by replicating this scene in English, with Horn doing his own voice, and his daughter doing her voice.) Another four characters in the show are meant to map on 9nine, the Japanese girl group who sing the end title song.

Along with the anime and a forthcoming DVD release, we have The Reflection Wave One—Original Soundtrack (U/M/A/A Inc.). This is available in a regular form on CD in Japan, released 16 August, but only digitally in the US and UK (it's available on iTunes, but not Amazon). The US and UK also get a digital single of "Sky Show" with three additional songs, which are also available on a limited edition expanded CD release in Japan, that also comes with a bonus DVD with various interviews and 5.1 mixes. Thus, you can get all the music on the expanded Japanese CD in the US and UK by getting the album plus single.

 Let's start with the two songs. "Sky Show", befitting its role in the fiction, is kind of like a less dystopian The Buggles. It has that '80s Horn production sound, distinctly Trevor Horn, with a pulsing rhythm and soaring vocals. But, more so, it wouldn't sound out of place on Producers' Made in Basing Street, a companion piece to Freeway, with maybe a few '80s-isms thrown in. (And the extended version would fit on the extended edition of Made in Basing Street, with added instrumental arrangements/solos.) The similarity to Producers is not too surprising with the return of Chris Braide as a co-writer and on backing vocals. (Indeed, there's a version with Braide on vocals on YouTube.) The song was inspired by the great sunsets, a literal sky show, visible from one of Horn's SARM studios.

The third version of the song on the expanded Japanese CD, or a b-side on the US/UK single, is "unplugged" and, I think, is the same version used within the fiction as the supposed original demo of the song.

 The other song, my favourite piece on the album, is "Future Boyfriends", a more modern style, perhaps representative of the 2017 Trevor Horn Band rather than the earlier Producers. It's a co-write with Simon Bloor and Cameron Gower Poole, two mainstays of the recent band. It's a classic of the Japanese anime end credits theme genre. Up there with "Lithium Flower" from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The lyrics are cute and reference the show. It's a good melody, a clever arrangement: a great pop tune. Great vocals by Paget Shand, a little known US singer-songwriter who has her own band as WŸNN.

 "Future Boyfriends" is only the English-language version of the song. The Japanese version that is used in the show is called "SunSunSunrise" and is sung by a Japanese idol group currently consisting of Uki Satake, Sayaka Nishiwaki, Kanae Yoshii, and Hirona Murata. Signed to Sony, they've had a number of top ten singles in Japan and recently sampled Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" (produced by Horn) for their single "Why don't you RELAX?". 9nine recorded their vocals in Japan, without Horn's involvement.

The Horn soundtrack album just gets you the 89 second version of "SunSunSunrise", as used on the show. For the full song in Japanese, you need 9nine's single release, which comes in multiple variants, although if you've heard the full English version "Future Boyfriends" and the short Japanese edit, then there is not much new on the full Japanese version. Both language versions use an identical backing track. The long version gets you a club break and instrumental section, including keyboard solo.

Although in places the Japanese version is described as a translation of the English, it isn't. There's no relationship between Horn's English lyrics and Kohei Tsunami's Japanese lyrics. This is slightly confusing because Horn's lyrics refer to the series in several ways, whereas the Japanese lyrics don't. Was there a plan to translate Horn's lyrics or just to use English lyrics (as anime sometimes does)? Did 9nine want a single that wasn't so obviously tied to a show? The bigger question is whether we'll see an English-language version of The Reflection and, if so, which version they'll use.

If you get 9nine's single, you get – at least in some versions – two b-sides, "ゆるとぴあ" ["Yurutopia"] and "ケセラセラヴ" ["Que sera, se love"], the latter with music by Kohei Tsunami, the "SunSunSunshine" lyricist. The b-sides are very J-poppy. "ゆるとぴあ" is almost chiptune, with staccato rhyming. "ケセラセラヴ" has a gloriously odd mix of English and Japanese words. My Japanese isn't good enough to fully appreciate either.

To return the soundtrack album, that makes two good Trevor Horn songs, recommended for fans of his work. There's a whole album here though. The score is a score, which means short instrumental cues. Score music is not to everyone's tastes: just get the single if you want the songs.

The track labelled "Main Theme" is the music to the opening credits, kind of a mini-overture for the whole score. This is big, superhero action music, with a scary undertone. In one interview, Horn explains how the good guys get more orchestral cues (mostly written with regular collaborator Julian Hinton) while the bad guys get electronic cues (mostly written with another regular collaborator Jamie Muhoberac), which he thinks might be better. I concur: there's more interest in the electronic cues, like the foreboding "Hear Them Come" (or the more percussive arrangement, "Here Them Come (Again)") or the evil prance of "Reflected". The heroic cues seen more familiar: big, rousing pieces. "From on High", "From Battle to Flight" or "Greater Expectations", for example, could have come from half a dozen other film composers or projects. Which is fine: they serve their purpose in the show.

The pieces were written to clear mood descriptions, which Horn describes in one of the interviews as being very useful. For example, "In a Work of Unreason" is made to be background music. Nice to have, but I'm not rushing to listen to again. Other pieces have a bit more character, like "Loneliness and Solitude" or "The Transition". "I am Alone with Sadness" evokes Jean-Michel Jarre. "Left in a Bleak and Desolate Land" (co-written with Lol Crème) could be on a James Bond score. Some pieces remind me of the Art of Noise, like "In Chaos and Confusion" and "Peace in Blue". "My Daily Life" perhaps get closest to a song structure: you could imagine this with vocals as a Buggles song.

 TL;DR: There are two classic Trevor Horn pop songs here and the cheapest way to get them in the West is the digital single "Sky Show". Hardcore fans will want the whole album.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1985?

A close result in your 82 choices for the best Yes-related album of 1985:

1. Asia: Astra (w/ Downes): 23 votes (28%)
2. Bruford-Moraz: Flags: 21 votes (26%)
3. Jon Anderson: 3 Ships (w/ Rabin): 16 votes (20%)
4= Propaganda: A Secret Wish (w/ Horn, Howe): 7 votes (9%)
4= Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm (w/ Horn): 7 votes (9%)
6= John Paul Jones: Music from the Film Scream for Help (w/ Anderson): 2 votes (2%)
6= Lodgic: Nomadic Sands (w/ Sherwood): 2 votes (2%)
6= Propaganda: Wishful Thinking (w/ Horn, Howe): 2 votes (2%)
9= Rick Wakeman: Live at Hammersmith: 1 vote (1%)
9= Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin: Up from the Dark (w/ Bruford): 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for St Elmo's Fire (w/ Anderson), Agnetha Faltskog's The Eyes of a Woman (w/ Downes), Rick Wakeman's Silent Nights or Beyond the Planets (w/ Wakeman).

So, three very different albums all close together in the top three, with a narrow victory for the third Asia album. But Bruford, Downes and Anderson all manage to be on albums at the top and the bottom of the results.

Horn productions get most of the rest of the votes (combined, they get the same as 3 Ships). Wakeman does badly: he was on three albums that year, which together could only garner a single vote.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

REV: Half the Sky


Half the Sky, 22 June 2017, Cafe OTO


The band:
Yumi Hara: arrangements, piano, keyboards, lever harp, voice
Miwazow [Miwazo Kogure]: koto, ching-dong [chindon’ya] percussion, voice
Chlöe Herington: bassoon, soprano sax, melodica
Dagmar Krause: voice
Wataru Okhuma: alto sax, clarinet, assorted percussion and squeaky things
Nasuno Mitsuru: bass
Chris Cutler: drums

Set:
“Auschwitz/Babel”
“Dry Leaf”
“Black Gold”
“Arcades (of Glass)”
“Banknote”
“The Empire Song”
“Heart of Stone”
“Waited/Justice”
“Anno Mirabilis”
intermission
“Half the Sky”
“Gretel's Tale”
“Falling Away”
“Slice”

On a hot summer’s evening, we entered Cafe OTO to be confronted by an explosion of instruments: a bassoon stands upright, a microphone taped to its end; a koto juts out into the audience; a miniature Japanese drum peaks over a chair; a small saxophone lies on another. Yumi Hara is on one side, checking her scores and her harp. Cutler is checking a cymbal before going backstage. Well, backstage means a room behind the audience. Cafe OTO is a cafe, an assortment of chairs clustered around the sprawl of instruments. The audience is mostly ageing and substantially bearded, although there's a higher proportion of women than most prog gigs. The venue is nearly full: I guess around 75 in the audience.

This is the Anglo-Japanese band's first UK show after dates in Japan (mainly) and France. They were recording the evening, with three small video cameras set up, and Hara invited the audience to take photos or video too, as long they then sent them to the band for use and they don't disturb others. I don't know whether there will be a formal release as a result, or just YouTube videos etc.

I presume Cutler and Krause need no introduction. Yumi Hara is in Henry Cow spin-off The Artaud Beats and other projects with Chris Cutler; she has also worked with Daevid Allen and Hugh Hopper, as well as doing photography for Steve Howe and Bill Bruford. Miwazow and Okhuma are in Japanese street music-meets-RIO band CICALA-MVTA (“mute cicada”). Mitsuru is in Korekyojinn, with Tatsuya Yoshida, who also works with CICALA-MVTA. Herington is in Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and VÄLVĒ.

The band was put together by Hara with Cutler to play Lindsay Cooper’s music in Japan. You can read more at http://www.yumiharacawkwell.co.uk/HTML/HalftheSky.htm Hara also had to write scores for most of the original music and then arranged the material for this different line-up, including some Japanese instruments.

The first set was the music of News from Babel, focusing more on the first album, plus “The Empire Song” from “The Golddiggers”. Justice was done to the originals, Cutler’s lyrics through Krause’s vocals contrasting with the complex yet driving music. “Dry Leaf” and “Banknote” were particular highlights for me. Mirazow and Hara backed up Krause on vocals, which worked well: giving a richer sound, but not obscuring Krause's distinctive style. Miwazow took the lead very successfully on “Heart of Stone”, while Krause dropped out of singing parts of “Anno Mirabilis”, yet the Mirazow/Hara combination still sounded spookily like her.

Mirazow brought J-pop style to RIO, with giant hair, spangly clothes and some great dancing to "Black Gold" and "Arcades". Her CICALA-MVTA bandmate Ohkuma was more Marx brother in style, the two injecting a sense of fun and absurdity in places (as with their assorted percussion and other instruments on “Banknote”), without compromising on the technical complexities of the music. Mirazow focused on vocals and percussion, but played koto as well, with sections of “Arcades” working nicely re-arranged for the instrument.

The set built to a climax, with a wild vocal from Krause on “Waited/Justice”: she wailed so hard she even sent her sheet music flying. Then finishing with an extended “Anno Mirabilis”, although the audience did not take up Hara’s invitation to sing along. Cutler played fantastically throughout, usually looking completely serene, but I would upgrade that to ecstatic as he powered through “Anno Mirabilis”.

All the band were excellent. It was Ohkuma and, perhaps in particular, Herington who had the hardest jobs on wind instruments, not helped by the heat. Hara switched between piano and harp for most of the first set. Mitsuru was a reassuring presence at the back.

There was then an interval, much of the audience going outside to the street for some cooler air. A DJ played… I think it was Thinking Plague.

Without Krause and with Hara’s harp pushed to the side, the band returned for the instrumental second set of Cooper’s music for Henry Cow. This was both problematic, yet still great. They had to re-start both "Half the Sky" and "Falling Away" from partway through and re-started "Slice" from the beginning. They also appear to have forgotten to do an improvisation at the end of "Gretel's Tale". As the band said and we know, Cooper wrote difficult music. But the audience were forgiving and the playing sublime in between the breakdowns, particularly the spirited performances of "Falling Away" and "Slice", the end of "Falling Away" perhaps getting the biggest applause. There is a directness and energy to Cooper’s compositions that comes through in live performance, alongside the complexities.

Poll: what "side" projects are you looking forward to?

The latest poll asked what side projects you all are looking forward to. You could, and did, vote for multiple answers, so after 245 votes, the results are:

1. Anderson/Stolt 2: 69 votes, 28%
2. Billy Sherwood's tribute album to Chris Squire (w/ Moraz): 52 votes, 21%
3. New Buggles album: 42 votes, 17%
4. New Steve Howe Trio album: 30 votes, 12%
5. World Trade's Unify (w/ Sherwood): 26 votes, 11%
6. Downes Braide Association 3 (w/ Pomeroy): 16 votes, 7%
7. Rodney Matthews' Trinity (w/ Wakemans R & O): 5 votes, 2%
8. Chrysta Bell's We Dissolve (w/ Downes): 1 vote, under 1%

There were 4 votes for 'other': 2 for ARW (who I weren't counting as a side project andI presumed you were all looking forward to), 1 for CIRCA: (fair enough, but no known plans for future activity yet—fingers crossed that we hear something) and 1 for Renaissance's A Symphonic Journey (w/ Brislin). I didn't know about the last, so thanks for the heads up!

The win for Anderson/Stolt represents the very positive reaction to the first album. Lots of interest in Sherwood's Squire tribute: it will be interesting to find out which other artists are involved. The Buggles come in third, although exactly when an album will emerge is far from clear. Fewer votes for the less well-known projects, like We Dissolve from David Lynch's friend, Chrysta Bell.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1984?

What was the best Yes-related album of 1984? You answered...

1. King Crimson: Three of a Perfect Pair (w/ Bruford): 66 votes (59%)
2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Welcome to the Pleasuredome (w/ Horn, Howe, Rabin): 21 votes (19%)
3. Metropolis Official Motion Picture Soundtrack (w/ Anderson): 8 votes (7%)
4. The Art of Noise: (Who's Afraid of) The Art of Noise (w/ Horn) 6 votes (5%)
5. Rick Wakeman: Black Knights in the Court of Ferdinand IV: 4 votes (4%)
6. Patrick Moraz: Future Memories Live on TV: 3 votes (3%)
7= Patrick Moraz: Human Interface: 1 vote (1%)
7= Patrick Moraz: Time Code (w/ Bruford): 1 vote (1%)
7= Jaamaladeen Tacuma: Renaissance Man (w/ Bruford): 1 vote (1%)
7= Claire Hamill: Touchpaper (w/ White): 1 vote (1%)

And no votes for Moraz' Future Memories II. So that was pretty decisive. More polls soon...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1982?

Lots of good music in 1982, the first complete year officially without a Yes being active since the band formed:

1. Asia: Asia (w/ Downes, Howe) 50 votes (53%)
2. Jon Anderson: Animation 18 votes (19%)
3. King Crimson: Beat (w/ Bruford) 9 votes (10%)
4. Genesis: Three Sides Live (w/ Bruford) 7 votes (7%)
5. Kate Bush: The Dreaming (w/ Downes) 5 votes (5%)
6= ABC: The Lexicon of Love (w/ Horn) 2 votes (2%)
6= The Dregs: Industry Standard (w/ Howe) 2 votes (2%)
8. Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Somewhere in Afrika (w/ Rabin) 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for Demis Roussos' Demis (w/ Anderson), The Roches' Keep on Doing (w/ Bruford, Kiki Dee's Perfect Timing (w/ Moraz), Rick Wakeman's Rock 'n' Roll Prophet or Dollar's The Dollar Album (w/ Horn).

Your winner was clear in Asia. A respectable second for Animation, a much-loved solo album from Jon that suffered an ignominious CD re-release saga.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Why I think a new Union is unlikely for now

It's looking likely that the current Yes, or at least Howe, White and Sherwood, will re-unite with Anderson Rabin Wakeman for one night only at the Hall of Fame induction. This will only fuel the expectation of many Yes fans that history will repeat itself, that Yes and ARW will come together for a new Union.

I am sceptical. It could happen, for sure. This is Yes and its Byzantine line-up history is surely far from over. But I'm guessing that an official Yes/ARW reunion, beyond the induction ceremony, is unlikely.

People see the parallels with ABWH v. YesWest, but I suggest that was a very different situation. Two bands, both struggling, found the union mutually beneficial, a solution to both sides' problems. But today's two acts are more comfortable, so the same incentives don't exist.

While we talk about ABWH v. YesWest, remember that YesWest were moribund. They played no shows and released no material in the entire period ABWH existed. Rabin was off doing other things for much of the time. Despite looking, they failed to find a replacement for Anderson: yes, Squire wanted Sherwood, who sang on some demos, but both Rabin and indeed Sherwood himself never supported the plan. They had recorded some demos, but Atlantic reputedly rejected them.

The owners of the Yes name today are in a very different position. They have done 8 years of international touring and released two albums, that sold reasonably well. They're a proven deal. It looks like their label would happily take a new album from this line-up. I'm sure the label would be happier with the higher sales that Anderson back in the band would bring, but official Yes today has shown it can cope without him.

In the run-up to Union, ABWH were imploding. Remember that all the shenanigans around Howe and Wakeman being replaced by session musicians, that was happening before the union was agreed. They could barely stand to be in a room together. The band was dysfunctional. It's no surprise Anderson was thinking about the other guys! He'd worked with them recently and to great commercial success.

In contrast, ARW now are getting on like a house on fire. They appear to being have more fun, to have tighter relationships, than most Yes line-ups ever have had. No-one appears to be looking for an exit.

ABWH were falling apart and YesWest were struggling: the union looked like a good idea to the alternative. Today, ARW and official Yes are probably smaller commercial concerns, but both seem more stable than their predecessors. A union may be just as attractive, but the status quo is better these days, on both sides.

There are plenty of other differences to stop history repeating. The relationships are different. There's no Squire, who had seemed the most likely figure to bring people together. People are on different sides. Three quarters of ABWH had all worked extensively with Squire and White, and half with Kaye too; in comparison, Downes and Davison have no connections with the other side. It's been longer apart. Anderson had barely left YesWest, compared to now, over 12 years since he was in Yes.

If a reunion now is less likely, could anything change that? What would tip the balance and push everyone together again?

Money is the obvious factor. If one or other band sees their ticket sales collapsing, that could see them hurrying to negotiate a deal, although equally they might just choose to pack it in, let the other side 'win'.

Line-up changes would also shift the dynamic. If Rabin returns to soundtracks, or Wakeman decides to milk the recent top ten success of Piano Portraits, then the remaining two are in a much weaker position. Health problems could hit almost anyone, in Yes or ARW.