Pink Floyd

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El-P and Killer Mike, AKA Run the Jewels.

El-P and Killer Mike, AKA Run the Jewels.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

And so, another year has come to pass. 2014 offered up a number of exceptional music festivals, buzz worthy releases and reunions that most fans never saw coming. Yes, who would have thought both Wu-Tang Clan and Pink Floyd would deliver new music? And that is just the very tip of the iceberg. Alternative rock and metal artists enjoyed the most chart success in years, while underground rap and hip-hop were right behind them. Some of the biggest contenders in classic rock also proved their staying power and overall relevance by knocking today’s contemporary acts right out of the top spot. And let’s not for U2’s ultimate troll, providing Apple consumers with a largely unwanted product.

2014 was definitely a great year for indie and alternative rock. Iconic artists like Morrissey, J Mascis, Beck, Johnny Marr and the Swans all dropped well-received new records this year. But it’s the relative new-comers who have made quite possibly the biggest impression. Acts like alt-j, St. Vincent, Iceage, Perfect Pussy and The War on Drugs all made quite a splash, topping the bill at many major festivals and influencing a next generation of young alternative garage acts. Post-punk acts Death From Above 1979 and Interpol also marked their return, releasing two great albums respectively.

Classic alternative acts saw their share of success as well. The Foo Fighters’ new album, Sonic Highways, went right to the top of the charts, and successful tours from bands like Pearl Jam and the co-headlining jaunt from Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden drew in fans by the millions. Plus, high-profile reunions from Primus and Faith No More prove that this ear of rock bands still have a lot to say, and the fans want to hear it!

The dynamic duo of rappers El-P and Killer Mike (AKA Run the Jewels), also took the underground by storm with their sophomore collaboration disc, RTJ2. The record featured many high profile guests including Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha and Blink-182 drummer-extraordinaire Travis Barker, and took no prisoners. Dropping alongside the massive reunions of Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan, hip-hop is seeing a new golden age, where classic and contemporary alternative acts of the genre are lining up, providing a much needed breath of fresh air among its massive commercialized market.

Punk rock had it’s share dominance this year. The successful Punk Rock Summer Nationals tour brought together big names like The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pennywise and the Vandals all on one bill. Punk acts as diverse as OFF!, The Gaslight Anthem, The Damned and Against Me! released gritty, brutal records that show maturity and loyalty to the genre’s ethos.

Metal fans had to much to rejoice in 2014. Big contemporary players like Slipknot, Machine Head, In Flames and Mastodon took to the top of the charts, along with genre staples like Judas Priest and Exodus, who experienced the highest first-week sales and chart positions of their entire career. A standout release was Behemoth’s massive opus, The Satanist. The controversial Polish Blackened Death Metal act released both a chart topper and a game changer, bringing wide attention to the act in America, who had previous only seen moderate success.

Fans of Doom and Sludge metal had arguably an even better year in 2014. Heavy hitters Crowbar and Electric Wizard kept it, well, heavy! Not to mention Sludge pioneers the Melvins and the Columbus, Ohio underground sensation Lo-Pan dropping two massive records, keeping fans more than pleased. The bands Floor and Sleep also released new music, proving the sub-genre as relevant and powerful as ever.

Classic Rock artists like David Bowie, Nel Young, Paul McCartney and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released new music, with the latter seeing their first number one album ever. But perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was the return of Pink Floyd. The members have been very active in recent years, with the act’s notable leaders, David Gilmour and Roger Waters, both touring worldwide and occasionally making guest appearances at each other’s shows. However, most fans had dropped the idea of a full-fledged reunion, after a one-off 20-minute set at Live 8 in 2005 and the death of founding member and keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008. But by late summer, surviving members Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason announced a (somewhat) new Pink Floyd album was in the works. The Endless River was released in November, featuring unreleased material featuring Wright, re-recorded with a few new additions. Waters, who officially left the band in 1984, was not involved in the project. The album went straight to the top of the charts, knocking contemporary pop princess Taylor Swift off her fluffy throne.

Many of music’s mega-stars also pulled some noteworthy stunts. Taylor Swift, or most likely her label reps, pulled her latest release off Spotify and other popular music streaming services, forcing fans to purchase the physical copy. U2, took the opposite approach, and gave their new album, Songs of Innocence, away for free via Apple products. Both stunts garnered the acts equal publicity and equal dismay from the public. While Swift seemingly took a stance for the current value of music, U2 received a lot of heat for the ostensibly generous move, with high-profile acts like Pink Floyd and Foo Fighters criticizing them for “devaluing” music. This only goes to show that 15 years after the explosion of Napster, the music industry, as well as some of today’s top artists, are still on unstable ground. As of 2014, the future of the music industry was murky at best.

Let’s not forget who we lost in 2014. Iconic folk singer and activist Pete Seeger left us early in the year, while legendary blues guitarist Johnny Winter and punk icon Tommy Ramone of the Ramones passed in the summer. Ohio rock legend Denis T. Menass of classic rockers Left End also passed away in the summer, before his former band was honored at the Youngstown Music Awards later in the year. Bass virtuoso and Cream founder Jack Bruce left us in October, while the heavy metal community lost former Static-X frontman Wayne Static and Black Tusk bassist Jonathan Athon both in November. Later in the year, Jack White’s touring keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens and Small Faces Ian McLagan had passed away. For a complete tribute of 2014’s fallen musicians, visit here.

Although rock music, in all of it’s various sub-genre’s and identities, is not the dominant force in music that it once was, it is no where near out of the equation. While pop and country largely dominate the charts, and reality television continues to pump out one manufactured one-hit wonder after another, the real music fans have spoken the loudest. In 2014, rock, alternative, and especially metal acts, have pushed the highest number of physical album sales, proving their loyalty to their art. And as we move further into the digital age, where the value of music is constantly being questioned, it is the fans, all of you, who’ll ultimately deliver the final answer!

Cheers to 2015! Go out to shows, support local/regional/independent music, and keep buying records!!

Rush circa 1977.

Rush circa 1977.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Progressive rock, lovingly referred to as “prog,” originated in England and developed in the rest of Western Europe (reverse of classical music) in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. It developed from the aforementioned experimental, psychedelic, and space rock genres, all of which are sometimes associated more broadly nowadays as forms of art rock. Musicians/composers all of these attempted to recreated music in a more  artistic way drawing from visual art as inspirations for themes and concepts as well as literature… Much like how opera was always composed along side a libretto (script) as well as various other visual art forms like costume design.

Though the Beatles’ baroque pop elements and The Who’s rock opera reintroduced classical terms back to us, earlier in the 60’s and 70’s, progressive rock kept expanding on the overall musical complexity of the aforementioned which the flavors and textures instrumentation of the avant-garde instrumentations of experimental, psych and space pioneers. The standard 3-4 minute song that some of those pioneers still tried to adhere to turned to unabashed musical trilogies, epics that often stretched to 20 minutes (roughly equivalent to about one side of an album) or even 40 to 60 minutes in length (a whole album) like symphonic and jazz records in which one piece could possibly take up one whole side of a record or a whole record.

Indeed, artistic and literary concepts contributed to the eventually commercially successful psych/space rockers Pink Floyd, it was artists like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer that brought this term to even the radio, though the music was spliced into smaller parts or movements to accommodate radio play.

Perhaps the most imperative aspect of this first period in prog rock is the use of other instruments besides the standard guitar, bass, drums line up of most of rock’s history up to this point. The first most obvious is keyboards which each of its precursors re-established as well. (Brian Eno, experimental; Ray Manzarek, psychedelic; Richard Wright, space.) These keyboardists as well as the undeniable guitarists of the 60’s and 70’s such as Hendrix and Clapton (particularly his work in Cream) that were already established as great musicians kept fostering the reverence for virtuosity on said instruments but others as well.

This aided in the eventual symphonic accompaniments of Tull’s work and caused people to reexamine works such as The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed which ended up becoming a commercial success for them and subsequently paved the way for classics such as Yes’ Yes Album and Close to the Edge, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s self titled debut LP.

In North America, few bands followed this movement but the ones that did saw great respect. Bands such as Starcastle, Happy the Man, and highly recommended pick, Crack the Sky, had seen limited success relatively speaking but still have devoted fans to this day. Alan Parsons Project and the Electric Light Orchestra saw more success as they were a bit more radio friendly and as even more radio friendly hybrids inevitably came about like Southern rock-prog such as Kansas, arena rock from many regions like Boston, Styx, Journey, GTRForeigner and Queen came about. It was in this roar of the arena rock movement of the pinnacles of prog, its sub-genres arena and math rock combined, Canadian band, RUSH.

Rush’s numerous epic albums moved prog rock back to some of its purest forms. They raised the bar for this genre as well as the aforementioned sub-genres that came about and most importantly to the soon to develop, Heavy Metal. In fact, besides the other obvious proto/traditional metal acts such as Black Sabbath (and arguably Led Zeppelin) which shaped its heaviness it was bands such as Rush that shaped the technicality and speed that would find themselves prime features of what most people think of when they think of metal in its broadest, or perhaps most popular, terms.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Kraftwerk put out their famous lengthy epic, Autobahn, and then several Italian and French acts followed those sort of prog rock waves. In fact prog rock in its most pure form still enjoys a following attracted by even the most obscure of European bands. However, nothing was as successful as bands like Rush who remained steadfast all through the second and third waves of prog rock as well as many the greats from the first wave who continued to record all through the decades and influenced much rock and metal into the 80’s and 90’s such as QueensrÿcheDream Theater, Tool, and modern acts as varied as Mastodon and Opeth, all of which I look forward to examining in my next series on the sub-genres of Metal. Stay tuned…

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick (Part 1)

Crack the Sky – Sea Epic

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

Rush – The Temples of Syrinx

Dream Theater – A Mind Beside Itself II: Voices

Tool – Parabol/Parabola

 

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Experimental rock evolved into Psychedelic rock with artists like Syd Barrett in the 1960’s. After his departure from Pink Floyd, new lead guitarist, David Gilmore, helped solidify another subgenre offshoot and the 70’s brought progressive and psychedelic rock outfits such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind to the foreground as they evolved into Space Rock. Space Rock which was characterized by increased instrumental passages (especially on keyboard/synthesizers) inspired by the science fiction themes and soundtrack music of the day and/or astronomy.

Delia Derbyshire, famous for her composition of the Doctor Who theme song was also a premier influential composer of other music within experimental genres in addition to being a great captivator and sonic painter of the beyond for incidental music in TV and film. Brian Eno, known as both a composer and a rock songwriter, was a major player as well. As for pop/rock songwriters they began to follow suit and added elements, but it is perhaps the lyrical themes that became the most influential, which became evident in other subgenres of rock such as folk rock (Donovan, Cat Stevens) and glam rock (T. Rex and David Bowie, whom worked with Eno.) In fact, the enchantment of space travel and the science fiction that British kids were being raised on became paramount in David Bowie’s most successful records, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Space Oddity. And as Pink Floyd declared themselves Space rock in the70’s, Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme could be often heard in some variation on the synth parts in performances of  “One of These Days,” from 1971’s Meddle.

More and more pop and mainstream radio rock was also being affected. Even before Gilmour made the decidedly Space rock turn with Pink Floyd after Barrett’s Psychedelic/early Space rock departure, the Beatles, the Stones, and the Steve Miller Band wrote songs with similar themes. Indeed, it became a cultural phenomenon more than a musical one. Perhaps the race for space during this period in history influenced this tendency.

Just like with any political movement in history, cultural and artistic history is often the victim of bandwagon mentalities and the genre suffered a marked decline in popularity until the 90’s with the exception of being cleverly evolved and disguised within Progressive rock (Rush, Yes) and Art rock.

Space rock began as an English phenomenon, and as such it saw its eventual revival in the late 80’s in British alternative rock bands which others could not describe the general sound as spacey or ambient. British bands such as Radiohead, Amplifier, Oceansize, Porcupine Tree, Kasabian, and Mugstar held these elements dearly into the 90’s and American bands went onto as well.  Autolux, Hopesfall, Lumerians,The Secret Machines, The Mars Volta, The Boxing Lesson, Cloudland Canyon, Angels & Airwaves, Tool and Zombi are prime examples, though they all fall into some varying sub-subgenres which begin to split hairs, they are all “spacey” bands.

In the 90’s the term resurfaced to describe the many bands that were labeled as

alternative rock bands but that (specifically) British and American audiences craved a bit more specifics in explanations to others. Shoegazing, stoner rock/metal (sludge) and dream/noise pop acts often saw greater success when sometimes using the words “space” and/or “spacey” to describe their sounds so fans could know what other bands they might enjoy. Kyuss, Slowdive, The Verve, My Bloody Valentine, Flying Saucer Attack, Loop, Ride, Shiner (band),The Flaming Lips, Failure,Year of the Rabbit, Cave In, Sun Dial, Hum, Orange Goblin, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and Mercury Rev employed the hallmark layers of sonic walls, textures and of course experimentation and many classified themselves as space rock or offshoot, dream pop before the term shoegaze and its sub-subgenres were even a thought.

Nowadays, although it is a more reputable descriptive term for many acts, the term only seems to be used by bands that decidedly use it. Other common descriptions indeed make it obvious that there is a blur in the experimental subgenres. The Flowers of Hell, Comets on Fire,and Flotation Toy Warningall of which who employ the old elements of 60’s/70’s Space rock in their own original ways. Seattle band, Lazer Kitty has a wonderful sound and a performance video of theirs can be seen below as well as a few other tracks that chronicle pivotal points in space rock.

Pink Floyd – One of These Days

Pink Floyd – Careful with that Ax, Eugene

Gong – Flying Teapot

Gong – I Never Glid Before

Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

The Verve – Slide Away

Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Lazer Kitty – Hyperion

In addition to this list other Picks of the Week that were played on air for this subgenre can be found on the Raw Alternative’s Facebook Page.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

For decades Experimental Rock has developed, undeveloped and done 360 degree turns. We can say that Experimental Music started with Classical and Jazz but in Rock the first pioneers lied seemingly quiet and dormant under their more traditional rock and roll peers since the early 60’s until listeners were ready for the next “thing.”

Luckily, the social and cultural climate was becoming more interested in outside or even foreign idea(ls), modes of thinking, fashion and art. This would of course inevitably happen in music as well. The most popular music of course was rock and roll. And one of the grandfathers, Frank Zappa, composer, producer, album art designer and director, while known for his dozens of records with The Mothers of Invention and solo actually had a rough start getting into music… Business wise. Though in his youth he studied advanced composers while still partaking in his generation’s R&B and Roll and Roll he was at first (like most innovators) overlooked as the standout artist he would grow to become.

He began writing contemporary classical in his youth and attempted to front projects before his first well known one, Captain Beefheart. He recorded some tracks with the name The Soots but they were turned down due to having no selling point. In the early 60’s, (at the height of Beatlemania) he began recording and experimenting with multiple overdubs, tape manipulation and less likely instrumentation. As a film composer he paid the bills and managed to take over what became his own studio, Studio Z. In addition, he started as guitarist with The Mothers, which managed to get paying gigs.

While Zappa made ends meet he still did it creatively though he was producing and writing songs for other groups throughout the early and mid 60’s. Actually, though none of them achieved much commercial success, he managed to get his music heard on a late night syndicated show, hosted by Steve Allen wherein he did what well he pleased with experimentation and sonic architectures.

The Velvet Underground was also experimenting, though eventually more known as a Psychedelic band (subgenre) their use of instrumentation was outside of the framework though they did still compose “hooky” melody lines.

These two artists were pinnacle in the many that were to follow experimentation, even the Beach Boys (a pop group) were on board, as composer Brian Wilson always admired advanced composition and the famous Pet Sounds resulted.

Onto England, Syd Barrett and his project, The Pink Floyd formed and their first record The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded in 1967 (the same year of the aforementioned musical developments were made alongside in the US.) The Infamous Summer of Love was the name of this music explosion in American but also in England. Pink Floyd was on board this movement whether Syd knew it or not, as were the Beatles. In fact, the first Pink Floyd record was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith.The Beatles were recording, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which also put experimental rock into the limelight in their own psychedelic pop/rock way. In August, Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne” reached honorable status on the English charts in part due to their other single, “See Emily Play.” The full length, Piper at the Gates of Dawn was unexpectedly successful in England, hitting the top of the album charts and subsequently their third single the very baroque pop, “Apples and Oranges,” perhaps because it was about a common theme, love.

During their British tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, around the time of his third hit single, several guitarists began to replace Barrett though he was a the brainchild of the band because of his legendary erratic behavior, which was due to a chemical imbalance made worse by LSD use. Speculation suggests that though he achieved commercial success it aggravated him and his schizophrenia. He was soon to be seemingly forgotten. Nonetheless, he remains an innovator in sonic exploration and (often bizarre) rhythmic experimentation and overall, a master architect of guitar.

In later years, he reemerged as a “bedroom” songwriter of odd little ditties that were melodic but still arrhythmic. Lyrics might have not been as relatable as many songwriters are known for but they allowed for more abstract understanding such as achieved by daydreaming or meditation. One feels like fly on the wall of a man trying to distinguish between lucid dreams or his waking on a Sunday morning as he tries to make as mundane  a decision about whether to have coffee or tea.

Hendrix, on tour with Barrett and early Pink Floyd rose to his success in 1967 as well but in terms of what he wanted this music to be called he once was very defensive. He was quoted as saying:

“We don’t want to be classed in any category… If it must have a tag, I’d like it to be called, ‘Free Feeling’. It’s a mixture of rock, freak-out, rave and blues.”

Though not known as a pop artist, he appeared on British television shows, Ready Steady Go! and the Top of the Pops, though his single, “Hey Joe,” made a small splash in 1966.

In Spring 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s singles, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and the album Are You Experienced? joined the queue with the Beatles and Pink Floyd. And through Zappa, Barrett and Hendrix experimental rock had a large impact and subsequently Psychedelic and Space Rock which was born in the sixties and of course even more sub and sub-genres flourished throughout the seventies until today.

Throughout the seventies, Pink Floyd kept going with the Psychedelic elements into Space Rock and finally to Concept(ual) Rock. Alongside the ever changing climate of the seventies Zappa continued his career and in Europe, Kraftwerk introduced us to electronic instrumentation which was then considered extremely progressive with their first LP, “Autobahn.” Though many electronic elements were used it was still classified as rock and led to yet another subgenre, Krautrock.

Sonic Youth began experimenting back in America and of course became the example for many new bands and defied subgenres into the 00’s. In both rock and electronic, composer, Brian Eno and Thom Yorke of the very successful Radiohead, began to become household names to many musicians to the present day when it comes to experimental and sonic architecture, much like Zappa. Modern Baroque Pop artists such as the Animal Collective and Arcade Fire also have owe much to these innovators who influenced even the previously mentioned former “bubble gum” writers like Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson who continue to impact every songwriter in ANY genre.

Many artists and subgenres developed merely from musicians wanting to think outside the perimeters of rock and roll song structure and instrumentation. Very obvious references to Jazz, notably Acid or Progressive Jazz have been made especially early one all but at the core Experimental Rock is about using other elements and bringing them back to rock whilst being inventive yet not “being weird for the sake of being weird…” as Hendrix once remarked.

Picks of the Week leading to this article:

  • “Room Full of Mirrors,” Jimi Hendrix
  • “Joe’s Garage,” Frank Zappa
  • “Interstellar Overdrive,” Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd
  • “Octopus,” Syd Barrett

Frank Zappa

Syd Barrett (live with Pink Floyd)

Syd Barrett (Solo)

Sonic Youth

Brian Eno