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Let's listen to every album with Roger Dean cover art (in chronological order)

Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
Pretty much exactly what the title says. I have no idea if there will be any interest but I'm doing it anyway!

For those of you who don't know, Roger Dean is an English artist who's best known for painting the album covers of many different progressive rock bands over the years, particularly Yes. He specializes in surreal fantasy landscapes - huge, curving rock formations, floating islands suspended in the air, lush forests with strange creatures living in them... and sometimes just weird stuff like a giant skeleton sitting on an iceberg.

Dean is one of my favorite artists; something about the way he illustrates various scenes is endlessly captivating to me in ways that I find difficult to describe. But it occurred to me recently that, aside from Yes (who are one of my favorite bands), I haven't actually listened to many of the bands he's drawn for over the years. So I thought I would fix that with this project, hence this thread; I figured it would be a good way to both expand my musical horizons and see how Dean's art has evolved over time. If anyone else actually wants to participate, you're more than welcome to! And just because I'm going in chronological order doesn't mean you have to; if you want to share your thoughts on Yes Live Album #47 before I get to it, go right ahead.

Now with all that preamble out of the way, let's start at the beginning, with the first album Dean ever made the cover for:


Gun - (self-titled)
Year of release: 1968
Musicians: Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals), Adrian Gurvitz (guitar), Louis Farrell (drums)
Playlist
I'll be linking the full painting from each album when I'm able; Dean's website has high-resolution scans of nearly every painting he's made over the years (although some of the more obscure ones are missing). The painting for this particular album is called "Race with the Devil", after the first track. And uh, wow this sure isn't anything like his later style at all, huh? It's just a big ol' group of demons screaming at the viewer. I do like the Typhon-looking dude in the bottom right corner, though. As for the music itself...

Gun were originally formed in 1964 as The Knack (no, not that one, or that one), but they changed their name to The Gun in 1967 (and then just Gun). Originally a quartet that included Gearie Kentworthy on bass instead of Paul Gurvitz and Tim Mycroft on organ, they pared down to a trio and replaced Kentworthy with Paul Gurvitz. (Apparently, somewhere during all this Jon Anderson was in the band for a short while, which is hilarious in hindsight.) They scored a hit single with the opening track on their self-titled album, "Race with the Devil", but despite releasing a bunch more singles they never had another hit, and they fizzled out in 1970 after releasing their second album, Gunsight, the previous year. The Gurvitz brothers would go on to form Three Man Army and then later Baker-Gurvitz Army (with Ginger Baker, the former drummer for Cream), along with other musical endeavors; I have no idea what happened to anyone else who was in the band.

Now let's listen to the dang album already, track by track.

1. Race with the Devil
This was their big hit single, and right away there's something I wasn't expecting to hear: brass arrangements, of all things! Apparently Paul Gurvitz wrote them himself, and it's a surprisingly effective complement to the psych rock riffs, which the song launches straight into after a solemn introduction. This is a solid little slice of proto-metal, with a driving galloping rhythm section and a pretty sweet central riff. Fun fact: this song has been covered a few times, most notably by Judas Priest, who replaced the brass arrangements with Rob Halford's operatic vocals (which was a pretty good choice, I think).

2. The Sad Saga of the Boy and the Bee
This song has more of a downcast mood to it, although there's still plenty of sweet riffs to go around. I gotta say, the brass (and string!) arrangements are doing a lot to liven up what might otherwise be fairly standard (but well-executed) late-60's psych rock; there's an especially nice string breakdown near the end of the song. I also like the contrast in mood between the verses and the wordless chorus. The lyrical content isn't especially deep - it is exactly about the song's title - but it does its job well enough.

3. Rupert's Travels
This is a short-but-sweet instrumental. It reminds me a lot of Classical Gas, which was released the same year as this album, so maybe Paul Gurvitz took some inspiration from the Mason Williams tune for his own arrangement. I really like the sudden key change halfway through; it injects some variety into the already-short song.

4. Yellow Cab Man
This is the first song where I actually noticed Paul Gurvitz's bass guitar work, possibly because it's isolated in the left audio channel in this song (with Adrian Gurvitz's riffing in the right). It's a pretty good bassline! It steadily drives the song forward, with just enough contrapuntal motion to keep it interesting, while leaving Adrian's guitar front and center (or front and right, as it were). The arrangements take a backseat for the first time on the album, leaving most of the harmonic and melodic material up to the main band; it really lets the Gurvitz brothers in particular flex their musical muscles.

5. It Won't Be Long (Heartbeat)
The opening thirty seconds are the heaviest bits of music on the album so far, especially where Louis Farrell is concerned; this is the first time he's really been able to cut loose. Things settle down soon afterwards for a more measured, steadier rhythm. There isn't much more to the song than the central riff, but it gets more insistent as it goes on, with the brass and then some backing vocals joining in. Also featured front and center: weird creepy breathing noises! Eventually everything else but the drums drop out before the beat slowly grinds to a halt, which would have closed out side 1 of the original vinyl album.

6. Sunshine
Hey, there's some organ in this track! It's kind of buried in the mix, but you can hear it faintly if you focus on the right audio channel. This is also the first track on the album with a lighter mood to it, which is a nice contrast to open side 2 of the album with. There's a pretty good guitar solo about halfway through which adds some grit to the proceedings.

7. Rat Race
Wow, this track is almost delicate by Gun's standards; it's the closest thing to a ballad on this album, at any rate. The organ from the previous track is slightly more prominent here, and there are even some harp flourishes here and there, which isn't something you've been primed to expect in the context of this band. The string arrangements are also quite lovely here, and the operatic backing vocals add a slightly haunting atmosphere to the song.

8. Take Off
The final song on the album, which begins with a cheeky countdown and an audio sample of a rocket taking off before launching into more sweet riffs. I like how the guitar noodling drifts from one audio channel to the other, which makes the otherwise pretty heavy rocking feel slightly hazy. There's a lot of multi-tracked guitar riffing going on, which I'm always a sucker for, and Louis Farrell is just going nuts on the drums in a way that he hasn't been for the entire rest of the album up to this point; he even gets a solo around the six-minute mark! Honestly, I was kind of expecting the whole album to be more like this track, but I'm glad it wasn't, so I could more fully appreciate the band just cutting loose right at the end.

And that's the album! I wasn't quite sure what to expect just based on the album art, but I think it's pretty solid all around. It's kind of a weird place for Roger Dean to start, given what he would become famous for later in his career, but I think that's true only in hindsight; I'm only speculating, obviously, but back when he was just starting to find work he was probably happy to paint for whoever hired him.

I'm not sure yet how often I'll make posts in this thread; initially I planned on doing one album per week, but I quickly realized that going at that pace would leave me working on this thread for at least a couple years, and I don't want to be shackled to something for that long! So instead I'll just say that I'll make posts as often as I'm able. If you've read and listened along up to this point, thank you! And I hope you'll join me for future albums.
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
We're already leaving the 60's behind as we look at the next album, albeit only just. So let's talk about Earth and Fire. (Not to be confused with Earth, Wind & Fire, of course.)

Earth and Fire were a Dutch band formed in 1968 by Chris and Gerard Koerts, who had already spent several years leading and forming other bands before settling on what would be their longest-lived group. They had a lot of hit singles in the Netherlands and parts of Europe, but were never quite able to catch on elsewhere, despite a major shift in sound in 1977 to try and embrace the popularity of disco at the time. Eventually they split in 1983; there was a short-lived reunion in 1987, but the band stopped for good in 1990.

Today we're going to be looking at their debut album, released in 1970. Apparently the next few albums after this one represent a dramatic improvement in Earth and Fire's personal style, but that's outside the scope of this thread; however, if you know anything about the rest of the band's discography, feel free to chime in! The nature of this thread is going to keep me laser-focused on a very specific group of albums, but I would love to hear about anything that's related to the albums I'll be looking at. Now then, let's take a listen:


Earth and Fire - (self-titled)
Year of release: 1970
Musicians: Jerney Kaagman (lead vocals), Chris Koerts (guitar, vocals), Gerard Koerts (piano, organ), Hans Ziech (bass), Ton van de Kleij (drums, percussion)
Playlist (with a bunch of bonus tracks we won't be looking at today)
No full painting for this one, unfortunately, at least not that I could find. It's worth pointing out that the cover you're looking at was only for the U.K. release of the album, which I imagine is why Roger Dean is the person who painted it; everywhere else this album was released just had a photo of the band as the cover. Personally I think the tree is a little more evocative, but at this point early in Dean's career we're still a ways off from the weird fantasy landscapes he's famous for (and the silly lettering that often goes along with them, to boot). That being said, let's listen to the actual music.

1. Wild and Exciting
This was the first of three singles released from the album. It's pretty firmly rooted in the psychedelic rock of the 60's, but it's structured a little weird at the same time; there are only two verses and two iterations of the chorus each, and the chorus is little more than the song title. Each chorus also gets a unique guitar solo, both in style and content, which is pretty neat! The ending is pretty abrupt, and there's no bridge or anything leading to it; the song just kinda stops after the second guitar solo. Kind of an odd song to pick for a single, but apparently it worked, so what do I know?

2. Twilight Dreamer
Oh right, this band has a keyboard player! After not appearing on the first track at all, it's a welcome addition, even if it's confined to the right audio channel. There are also light touches of flute throughout, which are nice, but I have no idea who actually played the thing; they aren't credited anywhere as far as I can tell. Just like the previous song, the transitions between the contrasting sections are super abrupt and have drastically different styles. There's a pretty good organ solo a little more than halfway through the song, but it doesn't last long, and once again the ending is quite abrupt.

3. Ruby Is the One
This song was the second single released from the album, and it's more straightforward than the previous tracks, without the structural weirdness that's come before. It's also more driven by Jerney Kaagman's vocals, which are clear and powerful. There kind of isn't much more to say here; what you hear is what you get.

4. You Know the Way
Immediately back to weirdness with this one. After some vaguely ominous vocals in the intro, we get a pretty straightforward verse followed by some organ noodling before the intro gets reprised. I'm... not sure what to make of the next section? It's the closest thing to a bridge we've heard up to this point, but it's just some drawn-out guitar notes, not even enough there that I would call it a solo, then we're right back into the verse. Strange all around.

5. Vivid Shady Land
This is apparently the B-side of the "Wild and Exciting" single, and it's another straightforward psych-rock song... except for the surprisingly mellow guitar solo near the halfway point, with little but some organ chords and occasional drum interjections to accompany it. It kind of comes out of nowhere, and I like it quite a bit!

6. 21st Century Show
This track has the most keyboard work in it up to this point, where before it hasn't really felt like an essential part of the band most of the time. The song abruptly slows way down from its otherwise frantic pace near the halfway point for a pretty nice flute solo, and the song ends just as abruptly. Not much else for me to say otherwise.

7. Seasons
This was the third single released from this album, and it was actually written by George Kooymans, the guitarist/singer for Golden Earring. Chris Koerts sings lead in some some sections, and the ending is pared down to just vocals, acoustic guitar and recorder. Can't really think of much else to talk about, honestly! This song didn't really grab me.

8. Love Quiver
The longest song on the album, and it's got a pretty good groove to it. There's an organ solo a couple minutes into the song, and since it's not shoved into one ear I can better appreciate the nuances in Gerard Koerts's playing. Shortly after the solo there's what I can only call a short pseudo-jam, with the organ suddenly way in the back of the mix, the guitar and bass playing single notes, and the drums rushing along, before another organ solo comes along, this one lasting much longer. The song returns to the relative normalcy of the opening verses afterwards before it ends.

9. What's Your Name
An unexpectedly mellow ending song to the album, which was largely hard-rocking and riff-driven up to this point. The song is largely driven by acoustic guitar and flute, and Chris Koerts sings lead vocals again, which is a pretty bold choice to close out the album with. It's a welcome winding down from the rest of the record, I think.

So this album is kinda weird! You can really hear the band straining to push past their musical boundaries, especially in "Love Quiver." Apparently that's exactly what happened on the following few albums, but as I said earlier, that's outside the scope of this thread. In the meantime, I will be back with the next post hopefully soon!
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
For the next album we're moving into jazz fusion territory, as we talk about Nucleus.

Nucleus was founded in 1969 by Ian Carr, a Scottish trumpet player who had previously been in the Rendell-Carr Quintet in the mid 60's. The band would exist in several different forms over the next twenty years, known variously as Ian Carr's Nucleus, Ian Carr with Nucleus, and in the case of their final album credited as Ian Carr alone (but with the band backing him). Despite being the bandleader, Carr was by no means the primary songwriter, with many members of the band contributing material over the years (and there are a lot of them, going by Nucleus's wikipedia page). They broke up in 1989, with a few one-off reunions in 2005, 2007, and 2009; Carr would go on to become an associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and he also wrote biographies of Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis. Sadly he passed away in 2009, after having suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Today we're looking at Nucleus's debut album, released in 1970 when jazz fusion was picking up steam.


Nucleus - Elastic Rock
Year of release: 1970
Musicians: Ian Carr (trumpet, flugelhorn), Karl Jenkins (oboe, bari sax, acoustic & electric piano), Brian Smith (tenor & soprano sax, flute), Jeff Clyne (acoustic & electric bass), John Marshal (drums, percussion), Chris Spedding (acoustic & electric guitar)
Playlist
Rather uncharacteristically for Roger Dean, the album art here is pretty minimalistic, consisting only of the band name and album title on a black background, with a small cutaway in the center that, on the original vinyl release, opened up to reveal a picture of a volcano. I think it fits the nature of the music, being innocuous at first but with hidden volatility. That being said, let's give it a listen.

1. 1916
We start the album off with a strange contrast: a solemn theme played against a frenetic drum solo. This is a good indicator of what's ahead; there's a weird mix of serene atmosphere and intense improvisational chaos all throughout Elastic Rock, with this track serving as sort of a primer to get the listener in the proper headspace.

2. Elastic Rock
The ending drum roll of 1916 flows directly into the title track, which is decidedly more languid in nature. The rhythm section slowly coasts along as the horns play the mellow theme, until a guitar solo starts up a bit over a minute in. Chris Spedding really takes his time with his improvisatory explorations, and once his solo is finished he joins the horns in playing the melody. The song briefly picks up steam halfway through, but settles back down before the solo is done, and the song fades out.

3. Striation
This song consists entirely of the interplay between Jeff Clyne, who is playing his double bass with a bow, and Chris Spedding's guitar. That's... pretty much it!

4. Taranaki
This song, meanwhile, has a little more going on, although it's shorter. It's mostly a mellow little groove, that leads directly into...

5. Twisted Track
We get a nice little introduction on guitar, before the rhythm section and then the horns join in. The horns play through the melody a couple times, before the (now muted) trumpet and sax start playing off of each other, sometimes in a call-and-response fashion, sometimes not. The rhythm section steadily picks up more steam as the horn interplay gets more complex, before finally launching into a full-on groove about four minutes in. The band starts winding down towards the end, as the guitar takes us out.

6. Crude Blues, Part I
A short piece, consisting of a lovely melody on oboe with some guitar accompaniment. It of course goes straight into...

7. Crude Blues, Part II
Right away this is the most active the band has been the entire album, at least up to this point. After the horns play the theme, Karl Jenkins goes straight into an oboe solo, which is not a common thing in jazz. He even starts shredding towards the end of his solo! Once it ends the horns play the theme again, leading directly into:

8. 1916: The Battle of Boogaloo
This song closes out side 1 of the original vinyl, and it's pretty chaotic. The rhythm section plays a metrically intricate groove, while the horns just kind of... ignore that, and play a melody made largely of long drawn-out notes. These two elements clash pretty hard, and yet somehow it works anyway, in part because the musicianship of everyone involved is incredibly tight. The song continues in this fashion for its entire length, and it fades out instead of having a proper ending, implying that it could go on forever if it wanted.

9. Torrid Zone
Side 2 opens with the longest track on the album, and we're back to a mellow groove with this one. The bass and guitar repeat the same riff over and over while the drums steadily drive the band forward, and the horns take their time with a slow, thoughtful melodic line. A couple minutes in the bass starts varying up the riff and the drums get a lot busier as Ian Carr starts playing a trumpet solo; as he continues the guitar and electric piano start interjecting, and the three play off of each other, until it seems like they're fighting for the spotlight. Eventually the solo ends and the band calms down for the moment as the opening section briefly returns, until the process repeats, only with sax this time instead of trumpet. The main theme and riff return once more after the sax solo ends, and we close out with some brief frenzied improv from most of the band.

10. Stonescape
This song starts out as a muted trumpet solo with some electric piano accompaniment, before the rest of the band comes in a bit less than a minute in. This is the slowest, chillest song where everybody is playing on the whole album, and it's a welcome wind-down after the previous track. It ends similarly to "Torrid Zone", with some brief improv from everybody.

11. Earth Mother
This track opens almost as a reprise of "Torrid Zone", but it very quickly goes off in a different direction, with a different central riff and the oboe taking center stage for a long solo. Come to think of it, I can't think of any other jazz oboe players off the top of my head; I'm sure there are some, but it's very uncommon. Immediately after the oboe solo ends the guitar starts playing its own solo, and the rhythm section works itself into a fever pitch as we move directly into:

12. Speaking for Myself, Personally, In My Own Opinion, I Think...
It's a drum solo! A pretty good one, too. Not much else to say; it fades out at the end, leading to:

13. Persephone's Jive
The final track; it fades in at the start, giving the impression that the band had already been playing for several minutes before recording started. It's mostly a frantic groove while Karl Jenkins solos his butt off on the oboe, with the other band members going off on improvisational tangents of their own and the rhythm section holding down the fort. It ends very abruptly, bringing the album to a close.

This is a pretty solid album, I think! We'll be looking at Nucleus one more time over the course of this project, and I'm excited to listen to them again in the future. See you next time!
 
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Krigo

AO Tennis no Kiseki
(he/him)
This is a really cool idea. I'll definitely have to catch up, as outside of Yes and their related projects I haven't really heard much else with Roger Dean cover art.
 

Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
I'm glad you're interested!

Today we're listening to something completely different from what we've heard so far, as we look at a folk-rock band called Dr. Strangely Strange.

Dr. Strangely Strange were an Irish band founded in 1967 by Tim Booth and Ivan Pawle; the two of them were the only consistent members of the band, with various other musicians coming and going over the years. After signing with producer Joe Boyd (who was also producer and manager for the Incredible String Band at the time), they released their debut album, Kip of the Serenes, in 1969, and Heavy Petting (which we're looking at today) the following year. The band started falling apart in 1971 after one of their key members, Tim Goulding, left the group to study at a Buddhist monastery and then resume his painting career; they then finally broke up after one last concert on a bill with Al Stewart. Dr. Strangely Strange have briefly reunited for short touring stints over the years, and even managed to write enough material to release a third album in 1997; their most recent release was a compilation album in 2007.

As mentioned earlier, today we're going to listen to their second album. I'll be honest, folk music (and its related subgenres) is far outside my wheelhouse, so my thoughts on this band's music may not be the most insightful. But I'll try my best!


Dr. Strangely Strange - Heavy Petting
Year of release - 1970
Musicians - Tim Booth (guitars, vocals, keyboards, bass), Ivan Pawle (keyboards, vocals, guitars, various other instruments), Tim Goulding (keyboards, vocals, various other instruments), too many others to list here
Playlist
There's a full list of musicians here. Among the more noteworthy guests here are Dave Mattacks - best known as a long-serving drummer for Fairport Convention - and Gary Moore, who along with having a successful solo career was also one of the guitarists for Thin Lizzy, and was barely eighteen when this album was released.

No full painting for this one, alas, but the fold-out packaging of the original vinyl release is pretty neat. Trees seem to be a recurring element in Roger Dean's work even this early in his career, which I think is mildly interesting. Now then, let's give this record a listen.

1. Ballad of the Wasps
A pretty straightforward song, at least at first. You'd think it would just use the standard verse-chorus structure, but it plays with the format a fair bit - there's a long instrumental digression after the first chorus, and the song shifts gears into a different tempo and meter after the second. It stays this way for the final chorus, and you can hear the vocalist laughing as he sings it; whether he was distracted or caught up in the music I couldn't say, but I'm glad they kept that in the final recording.

2. Summer Breeze
After a brief introduction, the drums abruptly start playing a totally different groove as the vocals come in. This track marks the first appearance of electric guitar on the album, and it has some interplay with a recorder, of all things, but I think it works, at least partially because they're in separate audio channels. I also like the stop-start nature of the song - as it goes on it'll suddenly change meter and slow to a stop before proceeding along once more. Towards the end there's a pretty sweet guitar solo, which is a weird thing to say about a folk album, and also it's incredible how skilled Gary Moore already is at such a young age.

3. Kilmanoyadd Stomp
This song has a lovely intro consisting of just vocals and harmonium; the rest of the band comes in after the first thirty seconds, but periodically drops out in a similar manner to the stop-start shenanigans of the previous song. The song then suddenly shifts gears halfway through to a completely different groove, and I'm beginning to suspect that the band just likes doing that, because it happens again towards the end. Not that I'm complaining, because they do it pretty well.

4. I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes
A shorter song, written in the manner of a church hymn. There's not much else to say here, it's just nice.

5. Sign On My Mind
This is the longest song on the album, and I suspect that it closed out side 1 of the original vinyl. The drum beat here is noticeably heavier her than in previous songs, and the song is overall more melancholy in mood than we've heard up to this point. The vocal interplay here is really well-done, with the backup vocalists hanging on certain syllables for a while as the main singer goes on. There's a pretty good recorder solo that goes for a good couple minutes, backed by some intricate mandolin noodling and the ever-solid rhythm section. Then about halfway through we get a guitar solo, and holy crap Gary Moore goes places - you could transplant this solo into a Wishbone Ash song and it wouldn't sound terribly out of place. Towards the last couple minutes the rhythm section picks up in intensity (particularly the drums) and the band is just straight-up rocking out at this point, and now it really sounds like a Wishbone Ash song. Things wind down for the last minute, and we close out the song unresolved.

6. Gave My Love an Apple
Right away this song is capital-J Jaunty. As is common for the band at this point, the song shifts gears about a minute in to more of a shuffle groove, and it briefly changes key signatures with each verse. Near the four-minute mark there's another sweet guitar solo from Gary Moore, but otherwise the song is pretty straightforward, for this band at least. It does slow down for the end, with yet another guitar solo to close us out.

7. Jove Was At Home
This one's a ballad, with just acoustic guitars, vocals, and what sounds like a celesta... at least until the end, when the harmonium comes in and we're in full-on church hymn mode. An odd choice, but it works.

8. When Adam Delved
Here we have a purely instrumental piece, no vocals to speak of. I like listening to multiple guitarists playing off of each other, and this track delivers that in spades, along with some good recorder. Come to think of it, there's an awful lot of recorder on this album, which is not a complaint, merely an observation. The harmonium joins in towards the end and closes the song out - short but sweet.

9. Ashling
This song is back to ballad territory, with no drums. I like how the verses alternate between minor and major keys, and as always the guitar playing is pretty good. I wish I was more well-versed in folk music so I could comment more on the lyrical content or delivery, but it seems pretty good to my layperson ears, in any case. We do get some good vocal canons toward the end, with one vocalist singing slightly behind the other, and it's a pretty good effect.

10. Mary Malone of Moscow
I gotta say, the intro of this song has a really nice bassline. After enjoying it for the first thirty seconds, the drums come back in as the song shifts gears. This song might have the highest concentration of shifting tempos and meters on the whole album - it happens a lot, and the band never stays in one sonic place for long. It makes for pretty off-kilter listening, almost like the song itself is kinda drunk. If it were another group I might be skeptical, but Dr. Strangely Strange have made it abundantly clear by now that they know what they're doing, so I'm content to enjoy the chaos.

11. Goodnight My Friends
A short outro, just vocals and harmonium. It's a good closer, not much else to say.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't this. There's a lot of complex musical intricacy here, but it doesn't sound complicated, or forced - it's just solidly written music all around. Plus Gary Moore shreds pretty hard, which I definitely appreciate. And speaking of shredding, next time we'll be visiting heavier pastures (pardon the tortured metaphor). See you then!
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
Today's album is by far the heaviest we'll have looked at up to this point, and likely will be for quite a while. Let's talk about a band called Clear Blue Sky.

Clear Blue Sky were a band from London founded by three school friends - John Simms (the guitarist and primary songwriter), Mark Sheather (the bassist) and Ken White (the drummer). They originally started as a blues-rock band called Jug Blues that would play at various colleges; they went through several name changes before finally settling on Clear Blue Sky, and their sound gradually got heavier, although they never entirely abandoned their blues-rock roots. They found a manager in one Ashley Kozak and were signed to Vertigo Records (who we've already seen, courtesy of both Nucleus and Dr. Strangely Strange) despite being only eighteen, and released their self-titled debut in 1970.

Unfortunately it seems to have not had much success, because the band wouldn't release any more material for the next twenty years. After 1990's Destiny, Clear Blue Sky would sporadically release new albums every few years or so, up to the release of 2013's Don't Mention Rock 'n' Roll; any information past that seems to be scarce, but I don't think the group is together anymore, and in any case Sheather and White are no longer in the band as of 2013.

Anyway, let's give a listen to their debut:


Clear Blue Sky - (self-titled)
Year of release: 1970
Musicians - John Simms (guitar), Mark Sheather (bass guitar), Ken White (drums)
Playlist
No full painting for this album, but what's here is pretty cool: an aerial battle between vaguely bird-shaped planes taking place above the clouds, with some sort of castle looming in the background. This won't be the last time Roger Dean will paint weird flying machines, mark my words. Now then, on to the music.
1. Journey to the Inside of the Sun
a) Sweet Leaf
The first three songs on this album are all part of one long suite that takes up the entirety of side 1 of the original vinyl record. We start pretty immediately with some intricate guitar riffs, as the rhythm section marches steadily onwards. After the riffing is done the band chills out for a bit, as the guitar strums out some heavily delayed notes... then we're right back to the shredding of the opening. (You can just barely hear a piano at this point, buried pretty deep in the mix. No idea who's playing it though; no other instruments are credited besides the ones listed above.) The song continues in this fashion for its whole length, alternating between frenzied shredding and more subdued delayed-note passages, the latter of which closes out the tune; in this manner it's sort of constructed like a rondo, made of contrasting sections that repeat with variations throughout the tune. It's really well put-together considering the age of the musicians.

1b. The Rocket Ride
We start off with a faster tempo for this section, and the bass and drums are much more varied than in the first section... but that abruptly cuts out for a completely different groove, and some vocals! I don't know who's singing here, but they're pretty decent. A bit less than three minutes in a guitar solo starts up, backed by the rhythm section and some overdubbed riffs; it's not very long, and ends right as the next verse begins; shortly after the verse is another guitar solo, not quite as distorted as what we've heard previously. After a comparatively relaxed verse we start building towards the end of the song, and an acoustic version of the main riff fades in as the rest of the band fades out...

1c. I'm Comin' Home
The final section of the song starts off with a pretty nice groove that kinda reminds me of early Led Zeppelin, only it keeps getting interrupted by sudden passing synthesizer notes, keeping the listener from feeling too comfortable. There's a guitar solo about halfway through, and the bass sometimes stops playing the main riff to do some fills of its own. The song ends pretty suddenly, with a final synthesizer interruption sticking around for much longer as the rest of the band drops out.

2. You Mystify
Side 2 opens with a kind of lopsided groove, and the vocals follow suit, making it sound even more off-kilter. The band then smoothly transitions into a bluesy shuffle groove, but this only lasts a short while before they kick into high gear, and another guitar solo begins. Afterwards the two sections alternate again, and then a third, entirely new groove comes in about halfway through the song, and then a fourth; it's impressive to me how effortless the band makes it all sound. The songs ends with a relatively chill outro.

3. Tool of My Trade
This track starts out with some surprise organ; it adds nicely to the song's atmosphere, which is uncharacteristically kind of melancholy. The verse repeats a couple times before we go into a heavier section, which has a couple variations on its primary riff. The band gradually picks up steam, playing ever so slightly faster, until the first section comes back unexpectedly, only still carrying the energy of before. Overall one of the more straightforward songs so far.

4. My Heaven
This song's main riff is decidedly mellow in nature... but the shredding hasn't gone away, make no mistake. The main riff keeps getting interrupted by abrupt, heavier fare, and in one instance by a bizarre acoustic interlude a bit less than two minutes in, but it always comes back, droning steadily on. Finally, about four minutes in we get a short guitar solo, and we end on a repeating riff.

5. Birdcatcher
The final song on the album, and the shortest that isn't connected to the opening suite. We're back to primarily heavy riffing for this one, and it's remarkably straightforward for this band... until about halfway through, when we get two short solos - flute (of all things) in the left ear, guitar on the right. Then, just as suddenly, everything stops except for the flute (which keeps going) and steady clapping, with occasional guitar interjections and a very subtle bassline. And with a final bass riff, the song and album ends.

I don't know that I'm entirely sold on the closing song, but everything else here was pretty good! It's a shame this band have languished in obscurity, because there's some really solid musicianship here, especially for them being so young at the time of this album's release. This isn't the last obscurity we'll be looking at, but that's for later; see you then!
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
Today's album has some interesting history behind it. Let's talk about Midnight Sun.

Midnight Sun hail from Denmark, and were originally called Rainbow Band, but after recording their debut under that name they found out that another group from Canada were calling themselves Rainbow Band. Having renamed themselves Midnight Sun, they replaced their original vocalist, Lars Bisgaard, with Allan Mortensen, and decided to rerecord their first album and release it under the new band name. They made two more albums afterwards, and broke up after the release of Midnight Dream in 1974. Alas, this is pretty much all the information on the band I can find; sometimes that's just the way it is with obscure groups like this.

Now then, let's give a listen to the rare occurrence of a band's second self-titled debut.


Midnight Sun - (self-titled)
Year of release - 1971
Musicians - Allan Mortensen (vocals), Peer Frost (guitars), Carsten Smedegaard (drums), Bent Hasselmann (tenor & soprano sax, flute), Bo Stief (bass), Niels Brønsted (keyboards)
No playlist this time, unfortunately; there is technically an auto-generated playlist of this album on youtube, but it's under the Rainbow Band name and has an extra song from the original recording of the album.

No full painting of the album art either, but there are some interesting things to look at here nonetheless. Unless I'm mistaken, I believe this is the first appearance of a very particular font that Roger Dean has used throughout his career; I don't know if this font has a specific name or if Dean invented it himself, but it shows up all over the place across his body of work. It's that peculiar combination of sharp angles and graceful curves that's striking about it to me.

Also, like, there's a random giant frog just chillin' in the foreground. What's not to like?

1. Talkin'
Two songs got replaced for the rerecording of this album. The opener was the first; originally the album started with a song called "Where Do You Live", but now we have this track instead. The over-enthusiastic video title at the other end of that link makes a good point - Midnight Sun does at times sound like the band Traffic, as well as early Jethro Tull. The electric piano takes center stage as it plays the song's main riff (mirrored in the bass); the vocals come in soon after, and I must say, I think I can hear why the band thought it was worth rerecording an entire album. Allan Mortensen's singing reminds me a bit of David Clayton-Thomas, one of the singers for Blood, Sweat & Tears; they both sound like they're always giving a song absolutely everything they've got, at all times.

Anyway, after two verses Niels Brønsted launches into a solo, and the rhythm section keeps pace pretty admirably. Soon the guitar starts riffing along before taking over for a solo of its own, one that's longer and more frantic. Eventually it ends, and we get treated to two more verses before the song ends with one last flourish.

2. King of the Sun
Apparently this song was released as a single in the short period after the band changed its name to Midnight Sun but before they replaced their vocalist, with a b-side called "Nickles & Dimes" that I can't find any trace of. It's quite different in tone to the previous song, and indeed the rest of the album, sticking mostly to the standard verse-chorus-verse format (but with a really busy rhythm section, particularly the drums). There is at least a pretty good guitar solo about a minute-and-a-half in that goes on for quite a while; afterwards the vocals come back, and we end on a fade-out of the chorus.

3. Nobody
This song is pretty cool! It starts with a haunting arpeggio played on the piano; after a couple repetitions the bass takes over as the piano elaborates on the original motif, then the guitar joins in with its own melodic idea. When the vocals finally come in the rest of the band abruptly starts playing much more straightforward material; the verse kinda peters out, and the intro gets reprised. The two sections repeat, and at the end of the verse the band suddenly starts playing much faster as Brønsted starts up a piano solo. The end of the solo dissolves into a trill that gets more and more distorted, until it somehow smoothly transitions into one last repetition of the intro, and then the song peters out at the end of the final repetition of the verse.

4. B.M.
A short instrumental (except for some vocals at the end), mostly just a groove while Bo Stief plays an upright bass solo. It's interesting hearing how he interacts with his own pre-recorded electric bassline, and it showcases his skills pretty well.

5. Sippin' Wine
This is the other spot on the album where a song got replaced in the rerecording; originally a song called "Where Are You Going to Be?" was here. It's a pretty straightforward bluesy-sounding tune for the most part, but it's worth noting that there's a sax solo about a minute in! It's kinda weird that we've barely heard anything from Bent Hasselmann this entire album, aside from the opening track, but it's nice to hear him flex here, even if it isn't for very long.

6. Living on the Hill
At just under fifteen minutes, this is easily the longest song on the album, and it's also my personal favorite. The rhythm section is at its busiest here (which is saying something), playing frenetic and propulsive grooves the entire time right from the get-go. After the tone-establishing intro the guitar and electric piano start playing an intricate riff, separated into different audio channels for a really cool doubling effect. The riff repeats a couple times, and then the vocals come in, singing what will turn out to be the only verse in the whole song; the verse repeats a few times, and then the main riff returns. After it gets played once, the sax comes in for its own riff, and the rhythm section joins in accordingly; this is suddenly interrupted by a tempo change and a very nice flute solo, and indeed the only instance of flute we've heard on the album so far. This doesn't last long either before the original tempo returns, accompanied by some solo guitar riffing, which eventually turns into a full-blown solo that lasts several entire minutes.

Eventually everyone else but the guitar drops out while Frost continues soloing, and then just before the nine-minute mark the band does what I can only describe as morphing into Black Sabbath; Frost starts playing one riff over and over, and then the rhythm section joins in, while Mortensen is freaking out in the background. Soon Frost starts soloing again, and the rhythm section gets heavier and more intense while the guitar takes off into the stratosphere. After a couple minutes the bass and guitar start playing the same riff, with the guitar playing increasingly elaborate variations of it as the riff continues, until finally the original riff comes back around the thirteen-minute mark. The verse gets one last go-around, and with a final repetition of the opening riff the song ends on a nice big finish.

7. Rainbow Song
A bit of a cooldown to end the album on after the absurdities of the previous track. This song is another instrumental, and is driven primarily by flute and guitar, with no drums to speak of. There are also some faint strings in the background, but they're mixed in such a way that I can't quite tell if they're real strings or a Mellotron approximation thereof (although I'm inclined to lean towards the latter).

Midnight Sun seems to be the band's most well-remembered album, and I think it deserves that just for "Living on the Hill" alone; it's exhausting to listen to, but in a good way, like you just set a new personal best time for running a mile. The rest of the album is pretty good too (minus "King of the Sun", which I'm not hot on at all), although I would have liked to hear more sax and flute from Hasselmann. Midnight Sun's next album, Walking Circles, will be covered later as part of this project, so I just might get my wish yet; until then, see you next time!
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
I gotta step up the pace a little bit if I expect to finish this project in any kind of reasonable timeframe. So let's talk about Osibisa!

Osibisa were founded in London in 1969 by a group of African and Caribbean expatriates, with Teddy Osei being the bandleader; he had moved to London to study music on a scholarship from the Ghanaian government, and managed to convince some of his friends to follow him there. They've been more or less active ever since up until at least 2015, finding the time to release albums semi-periodically in between lengthy touring stints. I'm unsure if they're still together (although I would imagine they definitely aren't touring right now thanks to the pandemic), but the band have a long history of releasing excellent music, and we'll be looking at their first two albums over the course of this project.

Today we'll be listening to their self-titled debut:


Osibisa - (self-titled)
Year of release - 1971
Musicians - Teddy Osei (tenor sax, flute, percussion, vocals), Sol Amarfio (drums, percussion, vocals), Mac Tontoh (trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, vocals), Roy Bedeau (bass guitar, percussion), Wendell Richardson (lead guitar, lead vocals), Robert Bailey (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Loughty Lasisi Amao (tenor & baritone sax, percussion)
Playlist
Full painting
As you can see from the lineup above, percussion plays a huge part in Osibisa's sound, along with the group vocals. Their music is a melange of many different sounds, effortlessly blending layered percussion, rock and jazz instrumentation, and funk grooves in a way that defies easy genre categorization.

The flying elephants with butterfly wings would show up on a few of their album covers, but the extremely Roger Dean logo has been used on almost every release from Osibisa. Most of the album covers Dean has painted up to this point have surreal elements to them, but I think this is the first that shows how truly weird he can get when he chooses to be.

1. The Dawn
The album opens with a mission statement of sorts: "Osibisa: criss-cross rhythms that explode with happiness." After some more introductions the percussion comes in. "We call this... The Dawn." Immediately after this statement a simple but incredibly funky bassline starts up, as several other instruments drift in and out of the song. A short flute solo heralds the arrival of the brass section playing the primary riff, but it doesn't stick around before we get a Hammond organ solo that rips pretty hard. As soon as it ends the guitar starts its own solo, followed by the return of the main riff. Another brief flute solo later, and the song closes on a big bombastic finish.

(An aside - this song has excellent mixing! The drums and bass hold the fort in the center of the mix, while various percussion instruments are dotted here and there throughout both audio channels. The guitar is panned hard left and the Hammond hard right. It's a really well-considered mix.)

2. Music for Gong Gong
You can just barely tell from the hum of a speaker that the band recorded these two songs back-to-back, and they're a great contrast to each other. This song has a faster tempo and a little bit more harmonic motion, and the brass section is far more involved, playing some really fun lines as the rest of the band keeps steady around them. About a minute and a half in there's a great tenor sax solo; it ends mid-trill and the Hammond takes over for some equally great riffing. Afterwards there's a percussion break, and it's so good - it's really nice to hear a band with more than one percussionist, and here almost the entire band is jamming along. This break is about as long as both previous solos combined, and when it's over so is the song, just about. This is one of Osibisa's most popular songs, and it's a concert favorite; it's not hard to hear why!

3. Ayiko Bia
This song starts with the band chanting its title, before another fantastic bassline comes in; the bass really drives the song here, with the rest of the band following its rhythm in various ways. About two and a half minutes in there's a guitar solo, the first instrument to break away from following the bass; it starts out melodic and ends up shredding pretty hard. Afterwards there's a trumpet solo, the first time on the album it's taken center stage; once it ends there's another percussion break, and it's just as glorious as the one on the previous track. However, this time the guitar is noodling away in the background, and eventually the bass comes back to herald the end of the song in another bombastic ending.

4. Akwaaba
This song is... twisty, for lack of a better word; unless you're paying close attention it can be hard to tell where the beat is exactly (unless you pay attention to the kick drum, anyway). The brass section is easier to keep track of than the rest of the band, especially 47 seconds in, where everyone else snaps into focus around them. The guitar and keys take over the main riff from there, swapping duties with the brass. About a minute later the groove switches up as the guitar goes into a solo, more soulful than heavy, and afterwards the Hammond plays its own solo. The ending section switches key signatures and builds to a nice solid finish.

5. Oranges
This song is much more straightforward than everything else we've heard up to this point; if it weren't for the added percussion it almost sounds like it could've been released as a Motown single. It's still well put-together though, with a great bassline and sax melody. After some trade-off riffs from the brass section and sax we get a trumpet solo; the drums change groove as it ends and the sax starts playing a solo of its own. Some more trade-off riffs later and the final solo appears, this time on guitar; towards the end of it the sax joins in, as does the rest of the brass, all of them playing off of each other, before the song ends abruptly on one last riff.

6. Phallus C
This is the most metrically complex song on the album, being focused an intricate bass riff in 9/4 time. The lyrics make it clear that the title is a play on the word "fallacy", and the arrangement surrounding the vocals is pretty sparse in comparison to the rest of the album so far. This suddenly changes a bit less than a minute in, when the brass comes in to start riffing and the groove shifts to a fast 6/8. However, this doesn't last long, and soon the opening section returns; the song continues in this fashion for its entire length, alternating between the two sections. There's a tenor sax solo in the next 9/4 section, followed by a guitar solo in the (much longer than usual) 6/8; once it ends there's a percussion break with some vocals thrown in for good measure. The song finally ends with one last brass stab.

7. Think About the People
The final song on the album, and it's rather somber compared to the generally jubilant mood of the rest of the tracks; in fact I'm pretty sure it's the only song in a minor key. It's also more driven by a vocal melody than the other songs, and its lyrics make it clear why this is probably the case. That said, it still grooves pretty hard, with a propulsive bassline and driving drums and percussion. The song slows way down halfway through, but only for a moment, and then we get a Hammond solo. Once it ends, the song slows down again, this time for good, and it fades out on some discordant chaos and faint percussion.

This is the first album in this project where I unreservedly like every single song; no caveats here, this is just a collection of excellent tunes from front to back. If you're going to listen to anything I've covered so far, make it Osibisa!
 

Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
I'm glad you think so!

Today we're going back to weird jazz as we talk about the Keith Tippett Group, and more specifically the man himself.

Keith Tippett was a British jazz pianist and composer, whose career lasted more than half a century. In addition to leading several bands (with his first being founded when he was fourteen) and releasing a plethora of solo material, Tippett worked with many other artists over the course of his career; most notably to me, he worked as a session musician for King Crimson on In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, and Islands. The band we're looking at today, the Keith Tippett Group, was originally founded in 1967 as the Keith Tippett Sextet - I'm unsure when exactly the name was changed - and released two albums: You Are Here... I Am There in 1970, and the album featured in this post the following year. The group disbanded after this album, and all parties involved would go on to other things, which I'll talk a bit about a little later; for now let's look at the next album in this project:


The Keith Tippett Group - Dedicated to You, But You Weren't Listening
Year of release - 1971
Musicians - Keith Tippett (acoustic & electric piano), Nick Evans (trombone), Mark Charig (cornet), Elton Dean (alto sax, saxello*)
Guest musicians - Gary Boyle (guitar), Neville Whitehead (bass), Roy Babbington (acoustic & electric bass), Bryan Spring (drums), Phil Howard (drums), Robert Wyatt (drums), Tony Uter (congas, cowbell)
Playlist
*(It's a soprano sax with a curve at the end, as seen here.)

A couple notes about the musicians featured here:

-Nick Evans, Mark Charig, Elton Dean, and Roy Babbington would all go on to play in Soft Machine for various lengths of time. In addition to that...
-Robert Wyatt was the original drummer for Soft Machine and founding member of Matching Mole, and was an influential figure in the early days of what's called the Canterbury Scene, a term that refers to both the scene itself that took place in the Canterbury area and the unique genre of music that sprang from it.
-Gary Boyle is most notable for being the founder of Isotope, a jazz fusion band that released a few albums in the mid-70's. He also recorded with Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll Tippetts, and was a member of The Echoes, a group most famous for being the backing band for Dusty Springfield in the mid-60's.

As for the album art, it's kind of an outlier in relation to the rest of Roger Dean's career as a whole; he doesn't really paint people that often in his work, much less a closeup profile like this. You can see the full thing here; it's interesting to note that the band photography for this album was handled by Dean's brother Martyn. Now then, on to the music.

1. This Is What Happens
Right away we're introduced to this band's particular brand of frenzied energy, with a short horn riff followed by what might be a relaxed piano-focused tune, were it not for the frantic playing of two drummers who have absolutely no chill whatsoever. There are brief hints of a theme in the horns, but it seems like they're always interrupted by the business of the rhythm section. Pretty soon there's a cornet solo, and Charig does an admirable job of not being buried by everything else that's happening around him. About halfway through the song his solo ends and Tippett takes over on piano, and the rhythm section calms down slightly. Once it ends we go back to what passes for the main riff as the cornet freaks out with long sustained notes. The ending is very strange - a few seconds after you think the band is done, the cornet and piano come back for some frenzied improvisations that eventually fade out.

2. Thoughts to Geoff
This is the longest track on the album, and it starts with nearly two minutes of sheer chaos. A groove does eventually emerge, with the brass playing a theme that's echoed in the guitar, and it's not afraid to go to some pretty dissonant places. Afterwards there's a trombone solo as the rhythm section generally just makes a mess of things. Once Evans is done, Charig starts freaking out on the cornet as Tippett plays crunchy piano clusters (with occasional guitar interjections), and then eventually Tippett starts soloing in earnest. Towards the end of his solo the sax and guitar start having their own freakout, and eventually the whole band descends into chaos again, only barely managing to start playing the main theme towards the end of the song before fading out on more chaos.

3. Green and Orange Night Park
I really like the piano-and-drums-only intro to this song (although the guitar soon joins in); about thirty seconds in the horns start playing a solemn theme as the chaos of the other instruments continue, which makes for a weird contrast in mood. Once the bass guitar comes in nearly two minutes into the song the other instruments calm down considerably (although the drums are still incredibly busy); afterwards there's an alto sax solo backed up by a killer groove in the rhythm section. Partway through the solo the rest of the brass starts playing melancholy horn stabs, and honestly to me this whole section is pretty incredible for how everything fits together - that mix of pensive sadness and barely restrained chaos makes this easily my favorite track on the album. At some point the trombone starts playing a counter line to the rest of the brass, but otherwise the solo continues throughout the entire rest of the song, and towards the end the band builds up to a fever pitch, only fading out instead of properly ending. It's honestly kind of exhausting to listen to!

4. Gridal Suite
In a stark contrast to the previous tune, this track opens with some pretty dissonant horns, and indeed it's pretty much just that for a solid minute. Eventually the drums come in and starts mutually freaking out with the sax; after another minute the bass and cornet come in to play some nonsense of their own, and uh, y'all? The whole track is like this. There's just not a lot for me to latch onto here; unlike the previous tracks where the chaos was somewhat controlled, here the whole band is playing with wild abandon, in that free jazz sort of way that I don't enjoy listening to very often. It calms down somewhat towards the last third of the song, but not in a way that I can really describe beyond "absurd jazz noodling".

5. Five After Dawn
Starting out with some more dissonance (this time some fun string harmonics) is not a good sign after the last track, but a coherent theme does appear in the brass thirty seconds in, albeit only briefly. The horns kind of ebb and flow, going off on improvisational tangents before coming together for a couple seconds, before going back into the dissonant atmospheric soup of the rest of the song. Again, the whole track is like this, and while it's not as chaotic as "Gridal Suite" there still isn't much for me to latch onto. It kind of reminds me of a Charles Ives piece, actually, now that I think about it, but I dunno, something like "Central Park in the Dark" is easier for me to grasp than whatever's going on here.

6. Dedicated to You, But You Weren't Listening
The title track is a mere thirty-odd seconds of a horn melody, with some brief improvisational offshoots. (It is also in the playlist I linked above twice, for some reason.) Afterwards we go straight into...

7. Black Horse
The final song from the album starts with two drummers groovin' pretty nicely, and then the bass and guitar come in to add a central repeated riff to the proceedings. About thirty seconds in the brass starts playing a theme that contrasts nicely with the riff. Pretty soon afterwards there's a succession of solos a few band members get their turn to shine, starting with trombone and going to guitar and sax . Once they're all done everyone returns to the main theme, ending the album on a fadeout of repeating riffs. I gotta say, having some actual structure feels really nice as a closer after listening to the rest of the album, and I'm sure that was deliberate on the band's part. (I'm also pretty sure that this track has the only appearance of electric piano on the album.)

This is an intensely weird record. It kind of feels like a way more extreme version of Nucleus, and I'm not sure I would have made that connection were it not for this project. I don't really like free jazz - and unfortunately for me that's about two-thirds of this album - but there are some undeniably great moments here, especially in "Green and Orange Night Park," which as previously stated is hands-down my favorite track here. I didn't dislike the album, nor do I regret listening to it, but a fair chunk of it is maybe a little strong for my tastes. We'll continue down the weird jazz lane for a bit as Nucleus makes a return next time. See you then!
 
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Albatoss

Dreaming of better days
(They/them)
I've been busy lately, but I was fully intending to post the next album in this project today. However, it has come to my attention that Roger Dean has jumped on the incredibly stupid NFT bandwagon. I don't know if he got suckered into it, or if knows about the economic and environmental impact and went ahead with it anyway, but either way I don't feel comfortable continuing this thread in its current form, or possibly at all. There are a lot of good albums (and bands) that I hadn't gotten to yet, but I can't just ignore the album art (and, by extension, the artist) attached to them.

I might start a similar project at some point in the future, when I'm not as busy. But in the meantime, I guess I'll just let this thread rot.
 
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