Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: Oct 2014

The Church – Of Skins and Heart

Some artists are defined forever by their first records. E.g soft rock star Christopher Cross and his debut in 1980. Essentially everything else Cross has ever released has been ignored and not charted. In fact, it’s probably a case of Cross who?

Thankfully, The Church didn’t suffer Cross Syndrome and have gone on to release many superb records, a few of which charted better than this stellar debut effort.

It’d be near impossible to define The Church by any record as each one thrives on its individual, internal logic. Of Skins and Heart is no different. It is a far rougher and rawer record than anything they’ve released subsequently, especially the reflective and atmospheric The Blurred Crusade which came next. Even slow and ponderous tracks like Don’t Open The Door To Strangers have a tumbledown spontaneity.

This record is harder edged and generally rockier than anything that comes after it in The Church‘s oeuvre. In fact, the first four songs on this record thunder along like nothing they have ever done again. When we get to Bel Air, affairs slow down a touch, but a marvellous melody takes over. And on She Never Said, The Church does its best New Wave thing – a genre they never really visited again.

Later releases have included the British Invasion sounding Too Fast For You, the dreamy Tear It All Away and the trippy Sisters, all of which were originally released on an EP with the songs Fraulein and You’ve Got To Go. And why this record never included the wicked, surging Bus Driver is one of life’s ineffable mysteries.

Also, this is one of the few albums to grab me on first listen.

of skins and hearts

LotRO revisited (again)

Or even re-revisited. For the last few weeks, I’ve renewed my subscription to Lord of the Rings Online, an MMO I’ve been playing intermittently since about 2009. They’ve (Turbine) changed a whole bunch of things since I last played early 2013. Significantly, they’ve built upon the Rohan area, and now all of Rohan – Edoras and Helm’s Deep are included. A recent update has added western Gondor (Morthond and Lamedon) and the Paths of the Dead. You can now visit Dol Amroth, which is this game’s second visit to the oceanside after adding Forochel some time ago. Pretty grand place too – Tolkien hints at this in the books though the narrative never visits.

dol amroth

The Dead Marshes are slated to be released in a forthcoming patch too. Later, we’ll get central Gondor (Lebennin, etc) and the Beorning race/class.

Due to this game’s general population decline (apparently or really), I’ve re-rolled on the Brandywine server and started again. I’ve left behind some reasonably high level characters on Elendilmir. No matter – it’s kind of fun to redo everything and I’m paying better attention to crafting self-sufficiency this time around.

They’ve also redesigned class specialisation too and removed or altered some of the deeds. And, for better or worse, Turbine have finally added a world chat channel. Something that should’ve been in from day one.

All up, I find this game compelling – I’m sure 90% of that is the setting of course, but there’s something genteel and solid in which it goes about things.

And people wonder why there is software piracy

Most of those people being managers or executives involved in the pertinent businesses no doubt. Case in point, a new biography of Rush. $38 for the hardcover version. sure, I can understand that kind of pricing but $35 for a digital version?

complete joke

That sort of pricing just encourages piracy.

Operation 47 updated

operation 47

Since I started with Operation 47, I’ll be frank and say I’ve made generally zero progress. Up until a week ago. Why? Simple – I wasn’t paying attention to what I was eating and drinking.

For the last week, I’ve subscribed to a site called myfitnesspal. This place allows you to set a goal – such I’ve done with Operation 47 – and then log everything you’re doing to reach that goal, i.e, everything you eat and drink, and the exercise you’re doing. It has an exhaustive list of foods and drink, and the best thing about it all? You can record packaging barcodes with your mobile phone which saves a lot of manual data entry.

phone screenshot

In the week I’ve been using it, I’ve encountered one product that had no listing and I had to enter it manually, which ended up being a cinch anyway.

Counting calories (or kilojoules, if you like) – that’s what it’s all about. Heretofore, I wasn’t counting anything, just logging what I ate, which didn’t serve much of a purpose save bookkeeping. With myfitnesspal, I can accurately record everything that goes down my gullet. I’ve not gone over my daily calorie allocation (8494 kJ or 2030 calories).

So, my optimism that I will succeed with Operation 47 has returned.

Edit 14 October, 2014 I am at 133.2 kg. That’s a loss of about three kilograms. 

Rush – Hemispheres

This record is the culmination of Rush’s adventures into side-long progressive rock songs. Mind you, they only wrote these kinds of seventies icons for four albums, so when you consider their discography as a whole, it’s a somewhat small part of their sonic output. With that aside, Hemispheres on its own merits is a wonderful album, and stands up well against other luminaries in Rush’s corpus.

For those who don’t know, this record is prog rock/hard rock, with equal shares of either, and most of the time the two genres are blended perfectly. It’s certainly harder than its softer and spacier predecessor A Farewell to Kings.

There are only four songs on this record and Circumstances is the arguable weak link of the quartet. Compared to the sonic boom majesty of the other three, it’s fairly Rush-by-numbers. In saying that, Rush-by-numbers usually exceeds the better efforts of many lesser artists. Such is the power of this band.

There’s signs of things to come too. Both Circumstances and the far superior The Trees have a precision and concision about them that reached a brilliant apex on their next studio record, Permanent Waves. But generally, one Rush album usually foreshadows the next, so – at least to a fan – there’s no surprises here.

Progressive hard music reached its apex with album opener, the six-part Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres, a titanic musical battle between the heart and the mind (signified by the figures on the album cover). Eighteen minutes of mind-bending to-and-fro. It’s Book II, as Book I (The Voyage) ended out A Farewell to Kings. We’ve reached the destination that song was journeying too and the resolution? Listen to it, that’s all I can say further.

Of course, this album contains the first in a long line of Rush epic instrumentals – the marvellous La Villa Strangiato, which went some way to cement the band’s reputation in technical excellence.

As said before, Hemispheres is the peak of Rush’s prog rock phase. It’s also the last album to genuinely feature long, thematic songs usually associated with the genre. Sure, Permanent Waves had Natural Science, but it never felt like a prog rock song. It doesn’t have that same quality – whatever that may be. I can’t put my finger on it. In any case, Hemispheres is a superb record, taken on its own merits or part of the progressive rock oeuvre.

rush hemispheres

The top The Church albums and songs

Edit: I wrote this before Further/Deeper was released. I’d put that about number 7 or 8.

OK, this is directly inspired by this where they individually ranked their top 15 The Church records along with their three favourite songs from each.

Disclaimer: I’ve never really given Sometime Anywhere, Hologram of Baal, After Everything Now This or Uninvited Like The Clouds good solid listens. Well, that’s four records I can’t include – wow, what sort of Church fan am I? I know, right? Also, I’ve included their “acoustic” remakes, their album of outtakes and an initially internet-only release here too. Although I have Remote Luxury listed, I’m going to include Sing Songs as part of it, as the whole shebang was re-released this way anyhow. Ditto with Of Skins and Heart – this record was re-released with three songs from a 5-track EP (Too Fast For You) tacked on the end, so I’ve taken into account the songs included.

OK, this list is how I feel as of right now, the 11th of October, 2014. Ask me to pick them again in a month and it’ll be different. Format is record : songs

15. Back With Two Beasts : Ionian Blues, Pearls, Saturation
14. El Momento Siguiente : North, South, East and West, Wide Open Road (Triffids cover), Electric Lash
13. Forget Yourself : Nothing Seeker, Song in Space, Lay Low
12. El Momento Descuidado : 0408, Tristesse, Till The Cows Come Home
11. Untitled #23 : Cobalt Blue, On Angel Street, Happenstance
10. A Quick Smoke at Spots : Ride Into The Sunset, Forgotten Reign, We Both Know Why You’re Here
9. Magician Among The Spirits : Ritz, Grandiose, Comedown
8. Remote Luxury : In This Room, No Explanation, Shadow Cabinet
7. Of Skins and Heart : Bel Air, For a Moment We’re Strangers, Tear It All Away

All right, this is where it gets hard.

6. Gold Afternoon Fix : Monday Morning, City, Russian Autumn Heart
5. Priest=Aura : Feel, Kings, Chaos
4. Starfish : North, South, East and West, Antenna, Spark
3. The Blurred Crusade : Just For You, A Fire Burns, Field of Mars
2. Heyday : Disenchanted, Columbus, Roman
1. Seance : Fly, One Day, Disappear

There you have it. Rankings 1 through 6 are very much subject to whimsical change. I rate Seance slightly higher than Heyday simply because it’s a darker record, more reflective, sombre etc. I like that in my music. But, what does this list mean really? Well, there’s a preponderance of older material here. The top 6 are all 80s records with the exception of Priest=Aura which just scrapes in to 1990. I’ll have to disclose here that I simply haven’t given their later material serious and repeated listens. And yes, that’s something I intend to rectify, and in the meantime this list can definitely said to be statistically biased.

As far as best songs go, well for me, the definitive Church song is Columbus from Heyday. That encapsulates every positive feature and aspect of the band I can name. Honourable mentions go out to 0408, Just For You, Feel, Grandiose and In This Room. Another marvellous song I haven’t listed here – as it was a B-side – is Life Speeds Up. It’s up there as well.

Rush – Presto

After Rush’s decade-long voyage through synth-ville, they end the 80s with this superb record. The keyboards are still here, but they’re not front and centre like they were on Power Windows and especially Hold Your Fire.

This record was a return to form for Rush for some. Guitars and drums are up front, and the songs are far more direct in their structure. Lyrically, it delves into the personal with a mystical bent theme that has carried through from Hold Your Fire. In saying so, things do get a lot deeper on this record. Rush directly addresses suicide on The Pass, unwanted and cloying fame on Superconductor and seems to mention infidelity on Anagram (For Mongo). This is in addition to the now-typical musings on things environmental and the trope of getting older.

For the first time arguably since Permanent Waves, Rush has crafted an album where the music slots together seamlessly. A cynic could argue a lot of the music sounds the same, and sure it does, but it’s one of those somewhat rare instances where a “sameyness” works in favour of the record. Alex Lifeson has rediscovered the power chord and a few of the tracks grind with gorgeous power, particularly album highlight Superconductor and close to second-best War Paint. There’s even a bit of pseudo-reggae with Scars and some critics have deemed Red Tide to be homage to The Police. What it all means is that Rush has moved away from the more progressive nature of their earlier material and are maturing into a thinking man’s hard rock band. Something they’ve carried on to this era.

Hey, nothing wrong with that. And Presto, like most of their stuff, is unlikely to win any new fans over. Much like all Rush records, this platter is an acquired listen but what a listen it is. It’s damned close to their best record. A superb return to heavier form.

rush - presto

Mark Lawrence – The Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War, #1)Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Doesn’t hold a candle to the first series and Jalan is nowhere the character Jorg Ancrath was. And as Mark Lawrence has admitted, there’s a bit of Fraser’s Flashman in Jalan. Well, Jalan is no Harry Paget Flashman, VC. Not even close. Not even remotely. He’s a pallid clone of a pallid clone. In fact, Jalan is not even a close runner to Vance’s Cugel, who’s #2 when it comes to fictional cowardly rogues.

Which is all a shame because I like Lawrence’s smart-assy writing. It’s refreshing and makes a change from the “fantasy is serious business” style many of his peers have.

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