Review: Albatross


The progressive rock band Albatross appeared, released one self-titled album in 1976, and then disappeared. Listening to this album, it’s very easy to see why. The album is dominated by a fourteen-minute track called “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse”, which contains lots of crude synthesizers, lyrics about the Book of Revelation, and a segment of seemingly random notes that’s reminiscent of the Crazybus Theme.

Progressive rock is frequently referred to as “70s rock by bands who acted innovative and pretentious but in truth just copied Yes.” And this describes Albatross perfectly. Every single prog rock cliche is present in this album. Every gimmick and mess.

Dare I say that Albatross is the New Deal Coalition Retained of progressive rock? Yes, I do. But unlike that, it’s not creepy or mean-spirited (well, except maybe for “Humpback Whales”, the track that glorifies whaling to the tune of what one listener called ‘Dancing Gnome Music’). In fact, from time to time, this album is actually fun in a so bad it’s good way.

Review: The Ringmaster Part 1

The Ringmaster Part 1

Robert Reed has been one of my most treasured finds. One of the few people who makes music in the style of the legendary Mike Oldfield, he has just released a new album, The Ringmaster Part 1. I instantly got it and listened to it as I type this sentence. Having listened to a lot of Reed’s other work, this is a fine successor.

This kind of long-form instrumental progressive rock (including Oldfield himself) is ideal writing music for me. It’s long, so it’s not repetitive. Yet it’s not as intense as vocal music. A lot of prog rock has long sections of filler you don’t really pay much attention to consciously (though not in a bad way) followed by big set pieces that you do-a perfect combination for when you need that occasional jolt.

If you like instrumental rock, you should get this album (and Reed’s other work).

Review: Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart

One of my favorite strange musicians is Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet, so I knew I had to get Mike Barnes’ biography of him. Barnes goes into great detail on the eccentric musician and his works. One thing that’s made clear is that his persona was not an act-van Vliet was truly eccentric and difficult to deal with, to the point where it’s quite understandable why he left music and spent the rest of his life as an artist, where he had much more complete financial and creative control.

Everything from Beefheart’s struggles with the labels to struggles with the various “Magic Bands” to his lifelong on-and-off friendship with Frank Zappa is covered here and covered well. Also covered is the very origin of the nickname, coming from a bizarre film project known as “Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People”.

The book is strangely at its weakest when it gets to the music itself. In part this is because any description in text of Beefheart’s music fails to do its” quirkiness” justice, but Barnes makes it seem particularly dull, which it is definitely is not. For instance, the description of “Kandy Korn”, my favorite Beefheart song because it manages to mix his weirdness with genuine melody, is long, pretentious, and doesn’t give a good impression of the music. That being said, this book isn’t bad as far as musical biographies go.