No, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of Mike Oldfield’s discography. I am assured by polite company that it is enormous. Hergest Ridge, while not as commercially successful or as well known as the guy’s debut (Tubular Bells), still tells an interesting commercial story – it reached #1 on the British OCC album charts before being knocked off a mere three weeks later by … you guessed it, Tubular Bells. Progressive rock used to be big money; now, the music industry is shriveled and dying even as the quantity of available music increases at an ever growing rate. But let’s not dwell on such things for the moment.
Hergest Ridge is a compilation of two lengthy instrumental pieces that presumably are inspired by the scenery of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands where it was conceived and recorded. You can imagine how such sparsely settled countryside (… by European standards; compare to the USA if you need a laugh) would make for generally soft and approachable music, although there are a few sections that break this rule, including the famous “thunderstorm” in the second part that was my formal introduction to this album. One of Mike Oldfield’s famous gimmicks is that he imitates some structural aspects of orchestral music by recording lots of instrumental parts and overdubbing them to make dense walls of sound; he also uses a lot of studio wizardry to make instruments sound like other instruments. The sheer amount of effort here means that any attempts to transfer Hergest Ridge to other arrangements would dramatically alter its sound, even if maybe not so much its structure.
Since I haven’t listened to the rest of Oldfield’s discography, I can’t say to what extent the upcoming songwriting tropes hold elsewhere, but one thing I’ve found particularly notable is that this album seems to strike a balance between the extended ‘narrative’ songwriting a lot of other progressive rock albums engage in and a more ambient approach. The number of discrete song sections on display (which are a good sign of the former) is easier to pick up on, at least initially. The order that Oldfield organizes each part of his songs, as well as the transitions between them, though, emphasize mood and texture over dynamics. If you’re not paying attention, Hergest Ridge seems to repeat itself a great deal, but there’s enough subtle microvariation here to keep that from literally being the case. I should also note that the second part, while not dramatically different and even sharing many of the same musical themes and motifs, is more active and formally structured than the second.
Most likely, Oldfield’s greatest strength on this album is the aforementioned ‘ambient’/’progressive’ fusion. It’s not entirely unheard of, and a lot of bands on one side of the fence stuck their toes through to the other just to feel out what it was like, but it’s still pulled off well here. It doesn’t always align with my tastes, but it does make for an interesting spin on the era’s formulas.
Highlights… aren’t exactly helpful on an album with only two tracks, but do pay close attention to the aforementioned “thunderstorm” after 8:30 in Part II.
This probably takes the record for “Bad Ideas installment that took the longest to cook”. The food themed edition, by comparison, didn’t take nearly as long!
191. Radical Islamic guitar solo
Where’s the mufti? I gotta tell him that “The Twelve Imams” would be a great name for a band.
192. 12 minute extended disco version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”
We should’ve stuck with “Disco Duck”. Oh well! Let’s have the local radio station play that 50 times in a row.
193. Fartwave in smellovision
The only reason people care about electronic body noise music is that they don’t have to stick their noses in it.
194. UAV drone doom
Predator missiles might sound cool when slowed down, but then they miss their targets and fall out of the sky.
195. Imperial March of the Lollipop Guild
Alternatively: “We Represent A Mafia Don”
196. Gangsta-ass square dancing
Stop! … promenade time!
I t ok a pict r of tis songs wavef rm and it snds s0 amazin’ and i am go1n to upl ad it to 9GAG
198. Folk speedcore
Seriously, though, have you ever heard a “speedcore” song that actually had content between the samples?
199. Skaldic ska
I just cheated you out of an actual joke here by observing that I’m morbidly curious about what some of these bad ideas for music would sound like.
200. Protoss power metal
YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL GUITAR SOLOS, EXECUTOR.
If these ideas were food, you’d have died of starvation long ago, but these should keep you going at least for the next 40 seconds or so.
Now this appraisal might become entirely irrelevant and useless if I ever get around to Confield, but at least compared to previous Autechre material, LP5 is “Expert Mode Unlocked” given tangible audible form. At least from an aural perspective it comes off even more abstract and artificial than before, although repeated listening has clued me in to just how much of the band’s previous techniques and arsenal remain. Now, I realize this is a snooty and even elitist way of describing how I’ve engaged with LP5, but bear with me – after all, I might end up reviewing one of Autechre’s earliest albums at some point, and I need an excuse to (most likely inaccurately) work in the phrase “filthy casual”.
For better or worse, there’s a great deal of musical substance on here that I’ve never even considered trying to incorporate into my own work. I guess that sort of makes this album an antithesis of self, just like the last album I wrote about. For one, the emphasis on ‘ambient’, slowly evolving soundscapes that I picked up on from Tri Repetae is still around; I’d go as far as claiming these are even more necessary since consonant phrases are on the decline here. Some of these tracks arguably have pop style hooks; I don’t think it’s the main intent, especially since the sort of modal, more conventionally structured songwriting I’ve heard on previous Autechre albums is hard to find here. Instead, Autechre seemingly relies more heavily on percussive rhythms this time around, and furthermore does some very strange things with tempo. I kind of want to make a song using the constant BPM change gimmick of “Fold4, Wrap5”, although incorporating such a thing into the sort of music I actually like to write could be … difficult.
If there’s one thing that Autechre definitely does well on LP5, it’s that they nail the ambiences. As I’ve said before, that’s definitely not easy to do, but at it’s best, LP5 has spawned some incredibly vivid mental images in my head. The architecture metaphors people like to throw in when talking about this band are at least apt, although sometimes the slow evolution and attention to transitions does something especially amazing, like briefly turning “Drane2” (arguably the hit single of this album) into the world’s most hellish call center about 2/3rds of its length in. It helps that that track in particular has one of the densest soundscapes; most of the tracks here are a bit sparser and take more time to sink in, but you can still get some sort of storytelling potential out of them.
To be honest, it didn’t take me as long to value LP5 as highly as I do now; it’s not perfect, and nor is my understanding of it, but the depths that remain are certainly worth plumbing.
Highlights: “777”, “Under Boac”, “Drane2”