New & Old: best new record & oldie that still sounds great


Ignorance by The Weather Station & Octopus by Gentle Giant

So far as I can tell Ignorance is the fourth record by Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, who records as The Weather Station. There have been some very good records released already in 2021 (Celeste’s latest for example) but Ignorance is excellent and feels like a record I shall still be listening to one year from now.

Joni Mitchell is without doubt my most beloved singer-songwriter and Tamara sounds rather similar, with a light airy voice that floats above and in and around the music. Her voice belies the intensity of the lyrics.

I like the songs, the voice, the musicians – the whole package. The songs resonate with me, touching on subjects from relationships to climate change. Arrangements and musicianship are excellent and, on the whole, restrained without being sparse. There is also a lot of variety here, with many changes of pace, orchestration and a myriad selection of instruments.

The music sounds great: congratulations to the producer/engineer. The quality of sound is very good, especially drums, which makes the record a very pleasant and engrossing listen even at low volumes. I am listening to a standard CD-quality version streamed from Tidal, but I feel tempted to hunt down a vinyl version, which I have just discovered actually exists. I shall be ordering from The Weather Station shop as soon as I’ve published this post!

Weather Station website.

Gentle Giant

Gentle Giant is an entirely different bucket of whelks, being probably the best and yet most underrated of bands labelled ‘prog rock’. I am lucky enough to own a high resolution 2015-mix of Octopus, a record first released in 1972.

I owned the record back in the 1970’s and I really liked it. My LP has long since disappeared, probably from a stall at Camden Market, but the hi-res download sounds incredible and as fresh as if it was recorded last month.

For over 40 years I have believed In A Glass House was my favourite Giant album, and it is indeed excellent. I think that may in part be due to one of the most memorable gigs of the 70’s. It was at Plymouth Pavilions and opened with a darkened church-like hall and slightly tense hush. Suddenly and unexpectedly the audience was shocked into a gaping-mouth trance as a very large but focussed beam of brilliant white light flashed onto a mirror mosaic, simultaneously with the disturbing sound of loud shattering glass falling all around us, swiftly followed by the manic bass opening of The Runaway. The effect was shocking and exhilarating.

In A Glass House is bloody good. I am beginning to think that Octopus might be marginally better. In practice, they are two very different records musically, though both distinctly Giant.

If you were to ask me: what is quintessential English Rock, should such a thing exist, you might think I would point to one of Jethro Tull’s earlier recordings. Whilst that might be a good choice, my answer would be Octopus. No doubt in my mind.

Make no mistake about it, Octopus is not for the feint hearted. It is challenging, complex and densely layered music that takes quite a few listens to understand. Dramatic changes of pace and loudness. Sparse and classical one minute, racing drums and bass with numerous overdubs the next.

For me, Octopus remains one of the best records of all time, and I am still enjoying it in 2021. Who’d have thought it!

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