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  • biceeichler
    Getting down into the neglected final letters of the alphabet, here s the small list of U titles in my CD marathon... U Totem, U Totem - This is the album
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2006
      Getting down into the neglected final letters of the alphabet,
      here's the small list of "U" titles in my CD marathon...

      U Totem, U Totem - This is the album that really hooked me on
      avant-prog. For me, it doesn't get much better than the opening
      song, "One Nail Draws Another". It's a fifteen minute track
      that seems to go by in five and has everything one could want in
      a prog song - a stop-and-start opening, mysterious lyrics (sung
      in three different languages) that sound partially like a
      comptemplation of war and partially like nonsense, gorgeous
      female vocals, unusual bordering-on-orchestral instrumentation
      and even some fairly catchy sections. That track and the
      odd-time instrumental "Dance of the Awkward" are favorites, but
      the whole album is excellent. I had probably heard a couple
      avant-prog albums before this one, but stumbling on this disc
      in a used CD store is what really angled me off the path of
      purely symphonic prog and into more obscure areas. After
      hearing this, I started buying any Cunieform release I could
      get my hands on, and seeking out stuff by related bands like
      5UUs, Motor Totemist Guild and Thinking Plague. U Totem is
      second only to Zappa in expanding my idea of what music could be.

      U.K., U.K. - I know this is heresy to most prog fans, but I
      think the band UK is hugely overrated. This album in particular
      is always spoken of in reverent, glowing terms that made me run
      right out and buy it shortly after I started reading the prog
      newsgroup. Man, what a disappointment. Sure, there is some
      flashy playing here and there, but there are also looooong
      boring stretches where nothing's going on. Yeah, I know, they're
      building mood and atmosphere...but it's still boring. And the
      whole thing just sounds so digital and sterile. Urgh. I think
      that's my major hang-up with this album - the keyboard sounds are
      beyond awful. It doesn't help that I'm not a fan of Holdsworth's
      guitar stylings. I've read again and again about how these guys
      succeeded as a latter-day prog "supergroup" while Asia failed
      horribly at the same task. I know it's just a matter of opinion,
      but I find Asia's first two albums a lot more enjoyable than UK's
      two studio CDs. Maybe it's just because I heard Asia first.

      Magma, Udu Wudu - forgive my lack of umlauts in the album title,
      I'm too lazy today to fire up the character map. Hey, I just
      noticed that my CD cover is autographed by Christian Vander
      (although it must have been a very fast autograph - it looks
      more like it says "Destroy Amy6". Took me a while to figure it
      out). If I remember right, I got this as part of one of the
      early fundraiser auctions for NEARFest, along with a signed
      copy of Attahk. Those were the last two Magma CDs I needed to
      complete the "main sequence", so I put in a bid of $46, not
      really expecting to win. But I guess no other Magma fans
      wanted autographed copies of these CDs. Anyway, this isn't my
      favorite Magma album, but it makes for OK background music. It
      sounds like a collection of odds and ends, with a bunch of
      short tracks that are augmented with lots of synthesizers and
      only a little of the grandeur and big vocal attack that I
      normally associate with Magma. Then there's the side-long
      "De Futura", which a lot of fans rave about and I'm sure the
      bass player I work with would LOVE (because it's basically a
      17 minute bass solo), but I find kind of meandering and
      repetitive and not real exciting. Kind of ironic that I
      basically paid double for this album and then ended up not
      really being all that thrilled by it.

      "Weird Al" Yankovic, UHF Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Al
      gets bashed a lot (the latest that I've seen is Dweezil Zappa
      saying that he wanted to tour performing his father's music so
      that people would see that Frank was "not just a Weird Al
      Yankovic"), and rarely gets praised. So, for the record, I think
      that Al is not just brilliant at parodies of famous songs, but
      his originals are usually just as funny and clever. An example
      of the latter on this album is "Generic Blues", which sounds
      like every blues song you've ever heard musically, and has lyrics
      that go way, way over the top. The best bit is when Al tells
      the guitarist to "make it talk, son" and then after several
      seconds of generic two-note blues guitar solo, he says "OK, now
      make it shut up". Since this album is a soundtrack, it also
      features songs from the movie UHF plus some audio clips of
      commercial parodies, etc. But about half the album is new
      stuff that wasn't in the film. There's the required polka
      medley, this time made up entirely of Rolling Stones songs.
      I'm also partial to the parody of the Fine Young Cannibals "She
      Drives Me Crazy", done as "She Drives Like Crazy" with lyrics
      about a dangerous driving girlfriend. "Fun Zone" is a really
      catchy little instrumental from the movie that shows that Al's
      band can actually play some non-joke material. "Spam" recasts
      REM's song "Stand" with lyrics about the mystery meat product.
      But the crown jewel of the album is the closing track "Biggest
      Ball of Twine in Minnesota", an epic pseudo-country original
      about the most pathetic vacation ever. Classic. But then,
      maybe I'm just easily amused.

      Pink Floyd, Ummagumma - It's a damn shame the band didn't just
      make this a double live album, since disc 1 is the only official
      live release of the band in their prime. And I'd much rather
      have another disc of live early Floyd than the "experiments" that
      make up disc 2. I'm sure everyone has already heard the album,
      but if anyone hasn't - the second record was along the lines of
      ELP's "Works", with each of the four members of Pink Floyd
      getting half an album side to create some sort of solo piece.
      Wright's organ and piano (and is that mellotron in part 4?) piece
      "Sisyphus" has a few decent moments, but overall is pretty dull.
      Same with Waters' folky "Granchester Meadows", although his "Several
      Species of Small Furry Animals" is a minor psychedelic masterpiece.
      I actually kind of like Gilmour's "Narrow Way", although overall
      it's nothing to write home about. And Mason's drum-solo-with-
      tape-effects "Grand Vizier's Garden Party" is OK for a listen or
      two but gets pretty tedious after that. As an odd footnote - in
      college a guy in my dorm bought "A Nice Pair", a compilation of
      the band's first two albums. For some reason the live Ummagumma
      version of "Astronomy Domine" appeared on that copy of Piper at
      the Gates of Dawn instead of the original studio version. That
      was the only change though. Odd. Anyway, we all had Dark Side
      through The Final Cut memorized so we thought we were Pink Floyd
      experts. When he bought "Nice Pair" we all gathered in his room
      to listen to it...and man, did we think it sucked. Fortunately,
      I had him make me a cassette dub and gave it a few more listens
      and eventually came to love "Piper" and like "Saucerful". But to
      this day I always expect to hear the live "Astronomy" when I put
      Piper on, and always expect to hear "Lucifer Sam" as track two
      of Ummagumma.

      Frank Zappa, Uncle Meat - ah, now this is more like it. This
      double album is possibly the cornerstone and high point of the
      early Mothers of Invention. It was intended as the soundtrack
      for a low-budget monster movie that Zappa wanted to make, but
      even the planned low budget was beyond his means at the time, and
      it wasn't until a couple decades later that the movie was finally
      released on video tape. By that time it had mutated into part
      monster movie, part making-of-the-monster-movie, and part
      documentary/concert film of the early Mothers. Whatever else it
      is, most of it (the non-concert part) is nearly unwatchable.
      I got a copy in trade (it's long out of print) and watched it
      exactly once. I don't even know where the tape is anymore.
      Coming from this obsessive Zappa collector, that should tell you
      something. Fortunately, the music of the album far exceeds the
      movie it was intended for, mixing rock with chamber music, jazz,
      snorks, speeded-up vocals and all sorts of other oddities. The
      melodies are some of the most memorable that Zappa ever wrote,
      and would turn up again and again on his later albums. There
      are just a bunch of must-have Zappa tracks on this one: Uncle
      Meat, Dog Breath, Sleeping in a Jar, Pound For a Brown, Mr. Green
      Genes, Cruising For Burgers and the lengthy jam of "King Kong".
      Plus a bunch of other excellent bits and pieces. If you're at
      all serious about collecting and/or understanding Zappa, you need
      this album. Beware though that when Ryko re-released it on CD,
      they added three new tracks, which are referred to on the Zappa
      newsgroup as the "penalty tracks". Two audio excerpts from the
      movie totaling over 40 minutes long, plus a song recorded in the
      80s that sticks out like a sore thumb. They're the first three
      tracks on disc 2. Don't feel compelled to listen to them more
      than once. The real pisser is that if they hadn't been added,
      the whole album would have fit on 1 CD. Grrrr...

      Yes, Union - my standard line on this one has always been that
      it should have been called Onion, because it made Yes fans want
      to cry. Eight members of Yes - pretty much everyone who had been
      in the band up to that point (except Peter Banks and Patric Moraz)
      and the first reunion of the "classic" Anderson, Squire, Bruford,
      Wakeman and Howe lineup in years - and this was the best they
      could come up with? Heck, even Tony Levin is on this album. So
      why does it suck so bad? It just sounds completely uninspired,
      from the bland Roger Dean cover to the slapped together "album"
      formed from the half-finished ABWH and YesWest albums each
      faction was working on at the time. Oh well, at least the tour
      to support the album was pretty good. The one positive of this
      album was that it made me re-evaluate my "prog snob" attitude.
      After each track, I'd either say "That completely sucked - it
      must have been the YesWest line-up" or "That was pretty good,
      it must have been the ABWH line-up". Then I read the liner
      notes and discovered that I had it completely backwards. The
      few songs I liked (particularly "Miracle of Life") were YesWest
      tracks. D'oh.

      Dread Zeppelin, Un-Led-Ed - given my enjoyment of musical parodies
      (see Weird Al, above), how could I not check out a band that did
      Led Zeppelin covers in a reggae style with an Elvis imitator as
      the lead vocalist? Obviously, I couldn't. That's just too weird
      a combination to pass up. I did at least wait until I found a
      cheap used copy of this, their debut disc. But it was entertaining
      enough that I also bought the follow up, "5,000,000 (Dread Zeppelin
      Fans Can't Be Wrong)". After two albums of Led Zeppelin parodies,
      even the band started to realize that the joke was wearing thin,
      so they switched to disco parodies on their third album, but by
      then some of the original band members had left and the band
      really seemed to be running out of steam. I gave up on them and
      assumed their 15 minutes of fame were over. A few years later I
      found a cassette of "The Fun Sessions" (where they parodied a
      range of classic rock artists) on sale for 50 cents and gave
      it a shot. Not bad, but not enough to revive my interest. I
      just looked them up on the All Music site and was stunned to
      discover that not only have they put out a couple more Led Zeppelin
      parody albums, but they also released a Christmas album and a
      disc of originals. Plus a live album ("The Song Remains Insane",
      which I've got to admit is the perfect title). That has to set
      some sort of record for stretching a joke past the breaking point.
      Still, this first album is a lot of fun. These guys would
      probably be great to see in concert.

      Can, Unlimited Edition - when the local Borders opened several
      years ago, they had a few Can CDs in the racks. They were
      overpriced (like everything at Borders usually is), but the shock
      of finding an obscure prog band in a major chain store caused me
      to buy "Tago Mago" and "Ege Bamyasi". Those discs didn't put
      Can on the list of my favorite bands, but they were OK. I
      liked the hypnotic drumming and some of the psychedelic parts.
      So when I found "Unlimited Edition" in a used CD store, I grabbed
      it. Apparently the band had their own studio and therefore
      recorded nearly every little jam and improv they ever performed.
      This disc brings together the best of these "unreleased" jams.
      Nineteen tracks, ranging from 1 to 2 minute ditties to a massive
      18+ minute track created from various stitched-together bits and
      pieces. Some tracks are instrumental, but most feature rambling
      vocals in Japanese, English and Gibberish. The question is, if
      this stuff wasn't good enough to release on the original albums,
      why is it good enough to release on its own? And the answer, IMHO,
      is that it's not. There are interesting bits here and there
      (mainly the "Ethnological Forgery Series" tracks where they play
      things like Gamelan or Dixieland, badly), but for the most part
      this is a pretty boring disc. I've listened to it a few times
      hoping it would eventually "click", but so far it hasn't. For
      obsessive Can collectors only.

      Frank Zappa, Unmitigated Audacity - this is part of the "Beat the
      Boots" set. The title is taken from the lyrics of one of Frank's
      songs, but it could refer to the bootleggers audacity in actually
      releasing this awful sounding recording. For that matter, Zappa
      and Rhino showed some serious audacity in re-releasing it and
      actually charging money for it. This is one of the crappiest
      sounding boots I've ever heard - horribly muffled, with a ton of
      hiss. I think I described it in the Zappa reviews on my web site
      as sounding like it was recorded by a tape recorder wrapped in
      layers of cloth, stuck in a shoebox and dropped in a trash can
      about a block from the venue. Well, maybe it's not that bad,
      but boy does the sound on this CD suck. So why was it released
      at all? Because the show has some historic value - it was the
      10th anniversary of the formation of the original Mothers of
      Invention, so the band (mostly from the Roxy era, with Don
      Preston sitting in) performed a set list of songs from Freak Out
      and We're Only In It For The Money, plus an encore of Camarillo
      Brillo. This is another CD for obsessive collecting fans only.

      Brand X, Unorthodox Behavior - you know, this has never been one
      of my favorite Brand X CDs...but this morning it's really sounding
      good to me. Maybe because I haven't listened to any fusion-type
      music in ages. Whatever the reason, Percy Jone's amazing bass
      work is really jumping out at me, and Phil Collins - what a damn
      shame it is that anyone ever let him near a vocal microphone.
      Man, this is good stuff. Makes me wish I had brought some other
      Brand X CDs in to work today.

      Various, Unsettled Scores - aka the Cuneiform love-in discs. This
      two disc set released in 1995 features a large number of the bands
      that were recording for Cuneiform at the time. But it's not your
      usual sampler - instead of playing their own music, each band
      played a song by another Cuneiform group. It's a pretty brilliant
      concept really - if you're not familiar with the label's brand of
      avant-prog, this set makes a good introduction, showing off both
      the bands and the style of music. And if you're already a
      dedicated fan of the label, you need to buy it anyway because
      it's all new versions of the songs. And it's interesting to hear
      how one band interprets another band's music. All in all, I like
      this set a lot, although I don't know that it directly lead to me
      buying any other Cuneiform CDs (I already had a lot of the music
      represented here, and other purchases were based more on which
      CDs ended up on the Cuneiform "bargain" table at festivals). Hey,
      I forgot there was a U Totem performance on here. Bonus.

      Spin Doctors, Up For Grabs...Live - this was the band's first
      release, a live album recorded at the Wetlands in New York. It's
      supposedly an EP, but it's 45 minutes long so it would have
      qualified as a full album back in the vinyl days. It only has
      six tracks though, so maybe that's why it's considered an EP.
      This disc went out of print almost immediately (I stumbled on one
      in a used CD store about a year or so after getting into the band
      via "Pocketful of Kryptonite"). Then the band became mega-famous
      due to "Pocketful", so four of the tracks from this CD were taken
      and remixed, and six more live recordings from the same show and
      a radio appearance were put together to make the 10 song live
      album "Homebelly Groove". The other two ("Big Fat Funky Booty"
      and "At This Hour") were redone as studio tracks on the band's
      ill-fated second album, "Turn it Upside Down". They should have
      just thrown the live versions on that album, because the studio
      version of "Booty" sucked all the life out of it. The studio
      "At This Hour" was OK, but for some reason I keep thinking that
      track was one of the ones they transplanted to "Homebelly Groove".
      Anyway, technically all the tracks on this EP are available on
      other albums, so it's kind of redundant. But it makes for a nice
      introductory album for the band (which was its purpose), and I
      sometimes grab it when I feel like listening to some live Spin
      Doctors (although most of the time I'll go for the much better
      "Homebelly Groove").

      Bruford/Levin, Upper Extremities - I guess the title is technically
      "Bruford Levin Upper Extremities", so it should have been in the B
      section. But I entered it into the inventory program as listed, so
      here it is in the U section. it's been a while since I've listened
      to this CD, and I almost forgot how good it is. If you're into the
      jazzier end of prog, this is a must-have. Kind of a cross between
      King Crimson and fusion-era Miles Davis, with David Torn going nuts
      and creating all sorts of weird effects with his guitar. The music
      ranges from upbeat and driving to gentle and mellow. The show
      these guys did at Orion studios is one of the highlights of my
      concert-going career. My wife and I showed up a bit late (hey,
      it's a long drive from Hershey to south Baltimore), and the door
      that the audience enters through was the same door that band used,
      and they started the show by having each guy enter one by and and
      start soloing. We got there, I think, just in time to see Tony
      Levin walk in, and Chris Botti was standing in the doorway waiting
      his turn. There was a guy working "security", and he wasn't going
      to let us go in, but Botti stepped aside and waved us through.
      Very nice guy. After the show I got this CD autographed by the
      whole band, as well as "Cloud About Mercury", Bruford's "Summer
      Had Its Ghosts" and Levin's "Caves of the Iron Mountain". With
      Botti's solo career going as well as it is, I bet his autograph
      is probably worth more than Bruford, Levin or Torn's.

      XTC, Upsy Daisy Assortment - XTC seems like a band that I *should*
      like, but for some reason I just don't. They get praised a lot by
      the same people on rec.music.progressive that usually listen to
      the same stuff I do, and Mike Keneally lists them as a huge
      influence (there's a musical quote from an XTC song worked into
      Mike's "Day of the Cow"). I also like Primus' cover of "Making
      Plans for Nigel". So why don't I like XTC themselves? I just
      don't know. Maybe it's the vocals. There's just something
      about the band's music that rubs me the wrong way. Anyway, I
      decided that I had to at least give them a try, so I bought this
      "hits" collection. There's probably a track or two that I like
      (although looking at the track listing on the back of the CD
      case, nothing's jumping out at me), but...I'll probably
      eventually sell this one off.

      -- Bob "Bice" Eichler
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