The Colorplates — Agony and Ecstasy
(Green Monkey GM 1017, 1982/2013, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2013-11-05I moved to Seattle in 1985, missing The Colorplates by a few years, but if I'd been here earlier, I probably would have been a dedicated follower. The time period of 1979-82, when this band was active, was a time of musical searching for me: the bulk of progressive rock I grew up with had lost most of its appeal, jazz was sounding rather tired, and most punk rock was just too simple to take seriously on a musical level (though it had other factors going for it). Obviously, the members of The Colorplates (along with precursor bands The Pigments and The Adults) shared a similar attitude. Along with their better known contemporaries (like Pere Ubu, Magazine, The Pop Group, and others), they added avant-garde artistic elements to simple rock structures to create what came to be called post-punk and art-punk. In this case, a background in free improvisation lent elements of chaos to the sound. They also had a propensity for rearranging well-known songs in their own style, as found here with "Purple Haze" (which is every bit as radical a reworking as Devo did with "Satisfaction"), "Break on Through," and "It Was a Very Good Year." The latter is particularly notable for a nutty theremin solo from Harvey Tawney. But aside from the cover tunes, it's notable that the original songs are really good, catchy, quirky, and full of energy. "Call on Me" (present in two different versions) sounds a bit like early Devo with a skronky sax providing demented counterpoint to the melody; "Ornette" features a lurching beat with two guitar parts duking it out for what key should dominate. The four improvisations that finish off the CD feature additional instrumentation, both by band members and guests, providing horns, percussion, keyboards, and "little instruments," and showing the range The Colorplates were capable of. The recordings are stripped down and no-frills, but surprisingly listenable given the widely varying sources. Former band member Tom Dyer, now head of Green Monkey Records, is to be commended for handling the mastering so well. A few tracks, especially the live recordings, are wildly oversaturated and noisy, but somehow that works in their favor, reminding us what it was like in the early 80s when everyone in the audience wasn't carrying around a digital audio recorder. Agony and Ecstasy is a fascinating series of snapshots of a time and place worth remembering.
Freedom to Spend Unearths June Chikuma's Archives – Jun (June) Chikuma is well known for her video game and anime soundtracks, but she also released an album of experimental electronic music back in 1986 called Divertimento where she indulged the kind of spontaneity that wouldn't work in a soundtrack. RVNG Int'l label Freedom to Spend is bringing this overlooked item to broader attention with a deluxe reissue. » Read more
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more