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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Album / Video of the week, Dec. 22

Album of the week: Lingua Ignota - Caligula

By the middle of the second track on this album, I made myself a mental note: "I shall not find even ONE negative review of this album from anybody who makes a living writing reviews". As the other tracks rolled by, I googled a couple dozen sources and found this opinion completely vindicated. I cannot exclude that if I spent a couple more hours, I would have found a dissenting opinion or two, but instead of wasting those two hours away, let me waste just ten minutes to provide this dissenting opinion on my own part.

First and foremost, let us take this record completely on its own terms, without knowing anything about its author, its lyrical subjects, its sociological context in 2019. The only context in which we are allowed to take it is the musical context - it would, at the very least, be disrespectful to the genres of Neoclassical, Industrial, Goth, Darkwave, etc., if we pretended that they never existed and that "Caligula" arose out of nowhere. The question then is: is "Caligula" outstanding enough in terms of all those traditions to merit being noted?

Unfortunately, I am not that well acquainted with all these musical styles to answer that question objectively. Subjectively, though, the musical backbone of "Caligula" largely seems to consist of boring minimalism - very, very long, ambient-ish pieces, usually milking the shit out of a small bundle of bass piano chords (for understandable reasons, she doesn't favor the right side of the keyboard too much) and toccata-and-fugue-ish organ runs. Any kind of development is generally confined to the vocalist's voice, which works in three different modes: (a) gravely whisper, (b) lithurgic chant, (c) banshee scream. Modes (a) and (b) are passable, but not particularly outstanding; mode (c) is pretty much the record's major selling point, because even in this world of liberated and empowered ladies, this kind of high-pitched, guttural, tear-your-lung-out screaming can be more shocking than, say, female growling vocals (which are no longer a rarity at all).

The problem is, this is precisely one type of gimmicky attitude, and it is reproduced ten times on ten tracks that often run close to 7-8 minutes, making for one hell of an exhausting listen. Almost like the DNA of a living cell, each of these songs on its own contains the entirety of Lingua Ignota's message: a combination of medieval / baroque church atmosphere + an artistic recreation of the spirit of "I Spit On Your Grave". That's fine enough for one song - why extend it to ten, if all they have to support them is atmosphere, rather than interesting melodies?

And this is, of course, precisely where all the extra-musical context comes in. It's 2019, it's the age of liberation, it's the age of protest against domestic abuse, and apparently that's what it is: Kristin Hayter's loud and proud symbolic artistic statement on the horrors experienced by women at the hands of their abusers. Brilliant move, for sure: dare to write that this album is MAYBE not very musically interesting, and MAYBE not exactly as shiver-inducing and terrifying as it insists it is, and what you're doing is you're disrespecting victims of abuse and protecting men's rights to beat up their girlfriends. Give "Caligula" anything less than an A- (the minus, of course, is only for being way too short) and you're probably a male chauvinist who deserves all the multiple curses set upon him by the protagonist.

Well, having already sacrificed my credibility so many times anyway, I'll go ahead and say: "Caligula" is a curious artefact if taken in a small dose - preferably just one track, any track will do. But in general, it is murderously overlong; its "classically trained" artist is a musical amateur who spends way more time on self-aggrandizing than on mastering her craft; and it takes itself more seriously in depicting horror and suffering than an Auschwitz survivor probably would. Adding insult to injury, Hayter has the nerve to adopt an artistic pseudonym based on the life and art of St. Hildegard von Binden, unquestionably one of the most unique female talents of the Medieval ages - whose penchant for all things weird and mystical was fully compatible with writing some of the most technically accomplished and challenging (AND beautiful) vocal melodies of her time, and whose art, for that matter, never ever focused on self-aggrandizing or self-pitying.

Consequently, my humble piece of advice: if you are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, go listen to one track - like I said, any one will do, I'm just providing the link to the one tune that has all the ingredients in their right places - and then rather take some time to listen to Hildegard instead. (The early music ensemble Sequentia specializes on her works, and though they, too, are all atmospherically similar, each simple antiphon has more dynamics in it than all of "Caligula").


Video of the week: Peter Gabriel - Live In Athens 1987

Since I don't have any DVDs of Goth-type women playing Satan's brides (I do so wish at least a single complete Nico concert would become available one day, but it's probably not going to happen), let's go for something completely different and promote this wonderful live show from a still relatively young Peter Gabriel instead. This was filmed soon after the commercial success of So, so that he probably finally had a large enough budget to afford a proper filming crew - and here we see him still in top form, with great prancing energy, a head full of hair, and a superstar confidence that has not managed to erase the cute shyness and modesty of his early days.

There is a price to pay, for sure: this being the mid-1980s, you're gonna have to tolerate the hairstyles, the trench coats, the portable keyboards, and whatever other trappings have not survived the era for good reasons. But once you get past that and just concentrate on the awesome music, the unbridled enthusiasm, and the always amazing Tony Levin on bass, pretty soon you won't be noticing the side effects - more likely, you'll just be saying to yourself, "oh God, how young and dashing that guy actually used to be!"

But I probably wouldn't be recommending this show so heavily if it wasn't for one particular performance that cut straight to the heart - the hypnotic 9-minute rendition of 'Mercy Street', a song I didn't even remember all that well in its studio version, here expanded to the status of a heartbreaking Christian prayer for the ages. If it's rock theater (and, in a way, everything that PG does has always been rock theater), then it's a prime example of how to work that "suspension of disbelief" thing and make the viewer reach catharsis and purification through art, something that all the Lingua Ignotas of 2019 will probably never learn to do.


30 comments:

  1. An expected opinion from a painfully conventional rock "critic", who failed to understand this cinematic masterpiece.

    Not a "male chauvinist", but a modestly average taste in music, anti-scaruffian in nature and dated in essence.

    A person who, over the years, failed to recognize the greatness of Desertshore, Astral Weeks or Loveless, is expected NOT to understand Caligula.

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    1. "Anti-Scaruffian in nature" - I actually like this. Could probably hang this on the site as a personal motto, except that not a lot of people know who Scaruffi is. As for your other witty observations, you have obviously not bothered to check what I actually wrote on Loveless, and you have no idea of what I think of Astral Weeks. So you can keep your understanding of the "cinematic masterpiece" to yourself, especially since you seem to have a hard time yourself expressing it in words.

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    2. What is your opinion of Astral Weeks anyways?

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    3. I like Astral Weeks as good as anybody, but I think its "unconventional" status might actually be a little overrated.

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  2. Please, don't even try it. So, now you are undermining Scaruffi's importance? Never mind you discredit me, but him? That was low. Anti-scaruffian is obviously not a compliment, as he was always forward-thinking and indipendent.

    As far as Loveless goes, yes, you modified your original opinion, but it has more to do with it becoming canon, and it took you time to get there. Oh, not to mention you are still not there with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, as it obviously does not follow the patterns you recognize. Many classic albums don't, and it's ok you do not get them, but it's also ok for others to comment on your limited approach. This is about music, nothing personal, so do not get personal, mkay?

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    1. I am not exactly sure how you measure Scaruffi's importance, nor am I sure of how you are able to penetrate within my mind in order to see what made me change my original opinion on MBV (did I even change my original opinion on MBV? I certainly don't remember having one). Even then you contradict yourself, because obviously now I endorse MBV because "it is canon" (whatever that means), but I do not endorse NMH even though it is also canon. If you want to really prove that somebody like Scaruffi is "forward-thinking and independent" while my opinions are "painfully conventional", you're gonna have to do a better job, I'm afraid.

      Anyway, if you have something substantial to contribute, by all means do so. So far, everything you've written here boils down to "you just don't get it", which is pretty personal in itself, I'd say.

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    2. I am a hipster like you, Anonymous. And i am here in this loveless neutral milk hotel, creaming over those records. Join me in hipsterhood, you have to love them even if you hate them. Everyone here does. It is a status thing. Everything here is a status thing, you have to pretend. I don't know scaruffo, i know fantano. The melon God. Fantano and me - collective hipster orgasm. I hope scaruffo is as hipster as fantano. Oh, i know RYM. Many hipsters on RYM. We pop out five star votes to the albums on top, so people will see what a cool music tastes we have, better than anyone.

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  3. Of all these things, I can only confirm that maybe I thought I read somewhere you changed your opinion on Loveless. Maybe I din't.

    However, your original review of Loveless failed to understand the greatness of that album, just like you failed to comprehend ItAots, Moon Pix and many other unconventional masterpieces.

    Nothing boils down to "you just don't get it", that's your easy way out (for such an intelligent person you should know better). But your opinions ARE very conventional, no doubt about it. Also, every now and then, someone on RYM references Scaruffi, so why do you keep undermining him?

    It would be fair to say "yes, I lean towards simpler/more conventinal" rock music, and that is fine. Not everyone is supposed to like everything. Just accept the way things are.

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    1. Let me get this straight: my original review of Loveless, which I never wrote, failed to understand the greatness of that album. Correct?
      Speaking of easy way outs, let me remind you that when praising or putting down a piece of music, I actually try to justify this evaluation, whereas all of your comments basically consist of one sentence: "you fail to understand the greatness of so-and-so". Exactly who of us is taking the easy way out here?
      My opinions, first and foremost, are my own, just the same way that Scaruffi's are his own (and we certainly agree on many things and disagree on others, as is normal between human beings; however, the fact that somebody mentions him now and then on RYM has nothing to do with "importance" - some people there mention me or Mark Prindle or other web reviewers as well, and none of us are important). For that matter, the "conventional" opinion on "Caligula" as of this moment is that it is a masterpiece - so while you may certainly disagree with my assessment, in this particular matter it is you, not I, who is being "conventional". Additionally, as far as music goes, "Caligula" is fairly simple music, certainly nowhere near the level of, say, such personal favorites Cocteau Twins or Kate Bush. So, again, wrong ballpark here. One of the reasons why I dislike it is that I'd actually prefer it to be at least a bit more complex than what it is.

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  4. First and foremost, the first time you wrote a Loveless review was for your Important album series, so for me it was an "original" review, and it failed to understand it.

    Second, this is your blog and my job is not to write reviews, but to shortly comment on yours. To deny you have a conventional taste is to discredit your old site as well, which was the epithome of middle-of-the-road approach. Do you wanna do this to yourself?

    Scaruffi is the opposite, and if you discredit him, do it for all of you and accept that noone's opinion (yours included) is not untouchable. So to suggest that people do not know who he is was low.

    Finally, you misunderstood the term "conventional". The fact that Caligula is seen as a masterpice does not equal Caligula being a conventional album by any means. So, I am not being conventional, but that's not even the point, stop mentioning me and focus on your own work. Also, calling Caligula fairly simple music is again misunderstanding of repetition in music, which is one of its basic characteristics/elements..

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    1. OK, since I obviously have nothing better to do, let's continue this. First and foremost, the Loveless review that I wrote for my Important album series is almost the exact same one, with a tiny bit of extra editing, that was later published as part of the entire page. Nothing substantial about it has changed, and my evaluation of the album had always been positive from the start. Perhaps it was you who failed to understand the review, not I who failed to understand the album.

      Second, while I certainly do not intend to discredit my old site as a whole, it is also clear that I certainly do not hold on to a lot of opinions and statements that I wrote when I was 20 years younger. So it's not a question of "wanting" to "do this to myself", but a logically normal question of growing up and gaining more experience - precisely the kind of experience that tells me Loveless is a great album, whereas Caligula is an unimaginative chunk of pretentious boredom. Nevertheless, both on my old site and in my new blog I have always welcomed opposing opinions - ones that present and defend their owners' points of views rather than smugly brush you off with a laconic "you don't get it".

      Third, I still do not understand how I am "discrediting" Scaruffi by saying that not a lot of people know (not "nobody knows", mind you) who he is, which is the absolute truth. If I said something to the point of his being an ignorant asshole, or not having a right to his opinions, etc., that could count as "discrediting".

      Fourth, I am not misunderstanding the term "conventional", because you yourself are applying it in two different senses, as in "conventional opinion" and "conventional music". The opinion that Caligula is a masterpiece is most definitely conventional, and I do not share that opinion. That it is not "conventional music" is one thing I can agree with you about - but I've never pledged to endorse a piece of music simply due to the fact that it is "unconventional". Some music follows the established rules in a good way, some music breaks established rules in a bad way.

      Fifth and final, reducing music to repetition, forgetting about the importance of dynamics and development, is in itself a fetish that has lost its appeal ever since minimalism ran its basic creative curve. It's a bit like saying "Cubism is intrisically superior to realism", forgetting that we are no longer living in an age where cubism still retains its original freshness and shock value. But hey, at least you have come up with one substantial counter-argument fourth time around, for which I thank you.

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  5. Who are we kidding? Your "original" review of Loveless was not doing justice to the masterpiece the album is. It was not a neg. review, but it it did not understand its grandeur, even with those descriptors at the bottom of the page. Let's not try to rewrite history here.

    Now, it seems to me you just can't stand being criticized. Your old site cannot be undone, and let's not forget how conventional your taste was.

    You tried to discredit Scaruffi in a subtle way, first by implying he is not all that well known, and then by admitting you like anti-scaruffian tag I gave you. You shoud admit you are oppsites, what is wrong with that?

    Conventional has two different meanings, sure, but the one that aplies to your taste almost always has to do with your preferences for more traditional sounds and rock music. That's what your old site tought us as well.

    And I have not reduced music to repetition, but it is a vital element of it; also if you cannot hear dynamics or development in Caligula doesn't mean it isn't there. Also, what? "minimalism ran its basic creative curve"? in what universe? I guess you just have a strong dislike for it, although Caligula is far from basic minimalism anyway (have you heard Neoclassical Darkawave and even Black Metal in it)?

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    1. OK, let's end it here, this is getting us nowhere since you are just repeating your strange pretenses without paying attention to my answers. Let other readers decide whether they think my review of Loveless "understood its grandeur" or not.

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    2. I will say that when I originally read your review of Loveless I didn't like the album myself, and I thought upon reading your review that you more or less concurred with me. And by the time I read the updated review for the blog I had finally managed to "get" Loveless and upon reading your review thought you did justice to what's so wonderful about it.

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    3. Is darkaway goes hipsterway? Than i like it! Loveless neutral milk hotel are conventional because it is rock. We hipsters now been said we should love hip hop instead. It is not conventional. I hope darkaway is hip hop. Than i give it five stars. Rock is not cool, one star from me.

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  6. It's you in these comments the one who does not listen and accept his limitations. Funny how most of your readers agree with you, now I do remember my comments being delete before... Is this the pattern, hmmm

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    1. Since George is too polite to say it let me: Scaruffi is a pretentious nobody with idiosyncratic opinions and a cult following that parrots his opinions, no more and no less. Nothing wrong with that of course, but he has no more "authority" than any random person with a rym account.

      What is most amusing to me is the fact that you deride "conventional" music while praising albums like Aeroplane, Loveless, and Astral Weeks. While I like all those albums (the last especially), from a purely musical perspective they are all very, very conventional. Indeed, the songs on them are all mostly just mid-tempo 3-4 chord strummers (most of which are simply c-f-g or g-c-d over and over again with a-minor or e-minor thrown in occasionally).

      Put another way the albums you characterize as "unconventional" are pedestrian from a purely musical (notes on page) perspective and are only unique if judged on their extra-musical qualities, such as lyrics or arrangements.

      Meanwhile, songs by someone as "conventional" and mainstream as Burt Bacharach are infinitely more complex than songs on the albums you listed, utilizing far more unusual chord progressions and tempo shifts while remaining melodic. That's not even getting into classical music; Mozart is inherently more complex than any popular music while remaining more melodic and accessible to the general public than any of the albums Scaruffi praises.

      You are of course entitled to like anything you want but don't condescendingly pretend that your taste in music is unique and refined when you can't defend your opinions on musical grounds and mindlessly parrot the opinions of a single eccentric internet reviewer.

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  7. Well, GS, if you're a "painfully conventional rock critic" because you think Lingua Ignota boring then so am I. And you already know my answer - as soon as such unconventional critics manage to say something sensible about Catoire and Ustvolskaya I'll consider to take them seriously. Until then I'll won't give a Surinamese dollarcent for the cheapo "you don't appreciate it because you fail to understand it".
    Let me grab the opportunity to submit a request too: Altestorm's Captain Morgan's Revenge and eventually Black Sails at Midnight. This song and video, taken from the latter album, will tell you within four minutes if you think it worth reviewing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta-Z_psXODw

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  8. Why you all so blue? Scaruffi's greatest legacy is to make us discover brave new sounds, of couse noone is saying his taste is impeccable. That much should be clear.

    Also, Moon Pix and such are not TOO unconventional, but let's not even start talking about certain Tangerine Dream albums George disses. I mean, if he doesn't fully get even Moon Pix, how can we expect him to praise Caligula?

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  9. I feel like even the song that you posted goes way beyond your descriptions of the album. I dunno, I feel like it's really powerful. From about the 4th listen the album began to make sense to me. Your criticism is valid but I just don't feel any of the flaws when listening to it. It's just so gut-wrenching on a visceral level. It's kind of like listening to Dylan and thinking "yeah, but that's just a standard blues progression". It isn't wrong, but there's so much more to it.

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    1. Be it Dylan or Lingua Ignota, I think it all really boils down not to the innovative or unusual value of the chords played, but to the overall aesthetics of the final product. Some people might (and many do) dismiss Dylan because they don't accept that aesthetics, just as I don't accept Lingua Ignota because I don't accept its aesthetics, it's all perfectly normal. All artists have their flaws and their merits, and then it is a matter of personal preference whether you are ready to ignore the flaws or irritated enough to dismiss the merits.

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    2. I think I can make this extra summary of my reaction: I dislike the record because it borrows heavily from the arsenal of the cheesily grotesque - black metal-style lyrics, insane screaming, old B-movie style instrumentation - yet at the same time insists that it be taken completely seriously, without a hint of irony or humor. It's like watching a Vincent Price movie that strives to be Tarkovsky.

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  10. Also forgot to mention I'm glad to see you appreciate Hildegard von Bingen George. I've only discovered her this year while exploring Catholicism but there is such purity and beauty in her compositions. My favorite and a recommended starting point for those looking to explore her work is Columba Aspexit, performed here by the great Emma Kirkby (audio could be better but Kirkby's fantastic performance makes up for it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpmMeIQywYc

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  11. Kirkby is great (is this the Gothic Voices or just her solo?), and there are some other fascinating interpretations of Hildegard (Garmarna's Swedish-folktronica versions are great), but for my money, Sequentia's massive effort still has all of them beat.

    AFA Lingua Ignota is concerned, I tried it, was bored and did not go back to it. But what do I know? My taste runs to post-bop, free jazz and experimental folk nowadays; surely, the epitome of convention.

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    1. Yeah, something tells me your idea of experimental folk is Richard Dawson rather then Desertshore.

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    2. Vinecent price whales of august also has though. August Emperor too godspeed you

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    3. I suggest not listening to "somethings". Assumptions are for asses.

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  12. Someone's really desperate. Too bad the result is just plain horseshit. It probably fits perfect in its own chosen mix of genres, but if George is right in saying that one track is enough (and who am I to doubt that?) to know them all (more or less, I suppose, but still...) I simply don't get the merit for either the artist or the listener. Okay, tinnitus, if that is what you want from a record. I certainly don't.

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  13. > Criticises Lingua Ignota for being "self-aggrandizing"
    > Uses Hildegard to earn "music critic" cred

    Choose only one, George!

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