Keeping in mind that we are talking about a band with a 30+ year history, 17 Pygmies are a band that has admittedly undertaken many personnel changes (the only original member is Jackson Del Rey) and diverged in any number of musical directions finally decided to "play it straight" or at least "play it as straight" as such a band can. In 2008 Jackson put together the now referred to as the "Celestina" era of the band featuring core members Meg Maryatt on vocals, Jeff Brenneman on guitar and Dirk Doucette on drums to undertake an ambitious 331/3 song 3 CD set concept trilogy about a rather odd feminine robot growing up in outer space a somewhat innocent, childlike manner intermittently interrupted by acts of incredible violence (she has a bad habit of trying to snap a human neck every now and then.)
In 2012 the last CD, entitled "Even Celestina Gets the Blues" not only ended the Celestina trilogy, but also left the story line at such a point that it was only logical to continue the story and further explore the cosmic space operatic poppy space soundtrack music terrain already previously established. Isabel is the first part of another three part concept CD in the vein of Celestina, but following the exploits of Dr. Amelia Isabel, one of the other passengers of the Celestina (the ship and the main character share the same name). The music is at times pensive, brooding, introspective, poppy, proggy, jazzy and orchestral.
There are many musical "touchstones" to Isabel, the most obvious being Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Harold Budd, Brian Eno, John Foxx, The Incredible String Band, "Lamb" era Genesis, Samuel Barber, Arvo Part, Jerry Goldsmith and Christopher Young.
Interestingly, 2013 also found the re-release of a 2 CD retrospective containing three remastered versions of the bands' early works Hatikva (1983) Jedda By The sea (1984) and Captured in Ice (1985). So when we say 2013 is the year of the Pygmy, we ain't kidding!
Over a 30 year period, there is obviously more to discuss, but let's leave it at that for now. All we know is that we are all present in the here and now. Buy the ticket and take the ride.
So for those of you who are already onboard, as well as those who are about to enter into our world, thank you for coming along on this part of the voyage. We could not have done it without you, whoever you may be.
Jackson Del Rey - Vocals, Bass, Guitar, Synthesizer
Meg Maryatt - Vocals, Electric Guitar, Synthesizer, Classical Guitar
Jeff Brenneman - Guitar, keyboard
Dirk Doucette - Drums, Guitar, Percussion, keyboard
• Isabel May 20, 2013, Trakwerx
• Jedda By The Sea (Re-issue) May 5, 2013, LTM Records
• CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) Jan 1, 2012
• CII: Second Son Jan 1, 2011, Trakwerx
• Captured In Ice (1985) 2010 Re-Release, Trakwerx
• Jedda By The Sea (1984) 2010 Re-Release, Trakwerx
• The Outlaw J.D. Ray 2009, Trakwerx
• Lightwerx: Georges Melies DVD compilation 2009, Trakwerx
• Lightwerx: Tarzan of the Apes DVD (original score by Jackson Del Rey)
Track 11. "Stay With Me"
• "Celestina" 2008, Trakwerx
• "Ballade Of Tristram's Last Harping" 2007, Trakwerx
• "13 Blackbirds/13 Lotus" (Double CD) 2007, Trakwerx
• "Last Train" 7" Single 2006, Trakwerx
• "Missyfish" 1990, Nate Starkman & Son
• "Welcome" 1989, Great Jones
• "Captured In Ice" 1985, Resistance Records
• "Jedda By The Sea" 1984, Resistance Records
• "Hatikva" 1983, Resistance Records
17 Pygmies - CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues
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In 2011, I reviewed CII: Second Son (see review), the second album by 17 Pygmies, a band from Los ...
In 2011, I reviewed CII: Second Son (see review), the second album by 17 Pygmies, a band from Los Angeles, California (USA). That album gave me the feeling that life doesn't have to be lived in the fast lane. The album provided some fine relaxing moments to dream away on. For that reason I felt positive about the achievements of 17 Pygmies. I also expected the third and final chapter of the Celestina-trilogy to end this concept in style.
Now one year later I had the pleasure to listen to CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics). Again this CD has been wrapped up in an unusual paper sleeve that also contains a booklet comprising the whole story written by Jackson Del Rey (synthesizer, guitar, bass). The line-up of the band hasn't changed since the previous album. This means that Meg Maryatt is still responsible for the strong female vocals and some playing on the piano and the synthesizers. Jeff Brenneman (vocals, keyboards, guitars) and Dirk Doucette (vocals, percussion, keyboards, drums) complete the line-up of 17 Pygmies.
Musically, CIII is reminiscent of Celestina and CII: Second Son. Once again 17 Pygmies created an album that contains enjoyable mellow music. I think that people who enjoy the music of Tangerine Dream might like this album, because the ambient sound passages are more or less influenced by the early Tangerine Dream. However, in certain passages the music of Karda Estra crossed my mind as well. I noticed the same kind of mellow soundscapes and orchestral passages. Besides I think that people who fancy a band as Nosounds will like this fine album, but also the music of Laurie Anderson and Tori Amos is never far away due to the vocals of Meg Maryatt. This time I can add a couple of names to the list of possible influences: Ennio Morricone and Kraftwerk. To give the album a stronger classical feel 17 Pygmies invited several guest musicians like Bob Mora (bass), Lea Reis (background vocals), Claire Chenette (oboe), Larissa Fedoryka (cello) and Heather Lockie (viola). The music has certain themes that often return throughout the album. By doing so the album becomes recognizable and never gets bored.
Of course this album will not be loved by all people who like progressive rock. It's just a matter of personal taste, but trying to get into this kind of music is certainly no punishment. If you give the mellow side of the genre a try you will perhaps dream away on this relaxing music, just like I did. 17 Pygmies ended the Celestina-concept in style, indeed! I sincerely hope their next album to be as beautiful as this one!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
17 Pygmies - CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues
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The final part of the delicately inspiring trilogy comes so beautifully wrapped it seems a crime to ...The final part of the delicately inspiring trilogy comes so beautifully wrapped it seems a crime to even open it, but I flew in a team of dutiful keyhole surgery specialists who extricated without damage and it was under their solemn tutelage that I also learned to slide the contents back into place so the rose seal remained unbroken.
There is an outer acetate envelope, a single piece of wrap-around card (sealed), a separate wrap around acetate sleeve for the CD, accompanied by a CD sized book, with acetate cover. Their sci-fi tale reaches an end, their music gives itself up to the ether.
‘XXIII’ has a wilderness feel but with active ingredients, either whirring or chiming, so this economy of action is very clear, very instant, and a gorgeous beat flows seductively from the nothingness. ‘XXIV’ also chimes away and while it does so you should know the book continues the story of the space flight which reached a planet full of robots but they escape and make their way back to Earth to digest the usual menu of treachery, despair, love and sacrifice.
‘XXV’ introduces a fuller tone and beautiful singing, with a lightly ominous undertow. I cannot place any special significance for tracks to sections of the story as I don’t read sci-fi thoroughly enough to burrow deeply into meaning. A woozier, spacier opulence fills the sleepy ‘XXVI’ with its grandly eloquent lines and the same kind of oozing vocal harmonics. Like the Carpenters never happened! ‘XXVII’ is emptier and I could be wrong but it’s like the machines are talking to us, or themselves. Gradually a silky, albeit groaning, wash overcomes you and it closes with a chunkier, livelier version of the start. You can get lost in this quite easily.
‘XXVIII’ shares the leisurely but oddly profound pace, as you could swear these songs are far longer than their actual length, but keep you hooked to their noduled dreaminess, so it’s more time travel than space. ‘XXIX’ is shorter, equally mysterious with its languid pull, then ‘XXX’ drips like a bead of Kate Bush sweat down the neck of a pensive, ghostly horse. Strings saw sweetly as they sing the question, “could this be Heaven?” and I’d say they’re pretty close. While exquisite guitar sighs through a mesmeric ‘XXXI’, a bout of tremulous woe, ‘XXXII’ idles sensitively. ‘XXXIII’ stirs thickly, meaningfully, then vanishes, and we’re left with the oddly titled ‘XXXIII.III’ (in keeping with their initial desire to create, and I quote, “a three part, 33 1/3rd psalms/songs long science fiction story”), the notion of the blues introduced an alien listener, creaking skilfully.
It’s a bewildering thing, in one way, as if discovering some lost opus that manages, across all the CDs to be unlike anything else in your collection, although I’m assuming Floyd fans (Pink, not Keith) might appreciate certain textures and intentions. It’s also a mighty thing disguised as something simple, winsome and well-mannered. A mighty thing…
17 Pygmies - CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues
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the Trakwerx label asked me to take a listen to their current release, I could not have imagined the...the Trakwerx label asked me to take a listen to their current release, I could not have imagined they´d sent me the whole Celestina trilogy by 17 Pygmies. Housed in what must be one of the most precious and luxurious packages on the planet! I took a photo of it (second image) but that does not do it justice. Trust me when I say this is a one of a kind set, that just oozes class…
Musically this has to be one of the most ambitious undertakings ever. Like Coheed And Cambria, 17 Pygmies set out to put a story to music and do so within a number of albums. Three in this case. Loosely based upon a 15th century novel about love and betrayal. Now placed in a science fiction environment. CD 3 has a 42 page book to tell the story by Jackson Del Rey, who also does synths, guitar, bass and vocals. In essence the band are a 4 piece, with several guest contributing.
Each CD has 11 tracks and the song titles are kept simple. They start on CD 1 with Celestina I and end on CD 3 with Celestina XXXIII.III. Oh wait, I forgot, CD 3 has an extra track, to make it a total of 33 1/3 songs…
I have been listening to all CD´s back to back and the atmosphere created is that of a hauntingly dreamy peaceful mood. So their claim at combining classical film scores with psychedelia stands. I might add ambient / new age. So in total the chosen label of symphonic progressive rock does this justice.
The vocals support these moods just perfectly. What is strong about it that the music speaks for itself. You don´t need to read the whole story to get caught by this music. If you take a comfortable seat, put the CD on and start listening, it won´t be long before you are sucked in and are probably imagining being in a film yourself. That is quality!
So a stunning discovery I hope a lot of people will follow up on. Beautiful stuff, so thank you Jack and Meg for letting me take a listen!
17 Pygmies - CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues
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La musica di Celestina sembra provenire dallo spazio profondo, con i suoi movimenti estremamente len...La musica di Celestina sembra provenire dallo spazio profondo, con i suoi movimenti estremamente lenti che sembrano avvenire in assenza di gravità. E’ leggera e splendente come polvere di stelle ed è incredibilmente dilatata ed onirica. In maniera soffice e gentile riempie progressivamente l’atmosfera creando un ambiente sonoro rarefatto e piacevole. Colorazioni elettroniche, sonorità vintage di tastiere e anche strumenti classici come oboe, viola e violoncello, suonati in questo caso da tre special guest, creano qualcosa che sembra orbitare fra il cielo e la Terra, attraverso visioni astrali fatte di suoni artificiali ed elementi musicali più familiari che fluttuano fra il post rock, il pop, l’elettronica ed il prog sinfonico.
Questo album è il terzo capito di una trilogia iniziata con la pubblicazione di “Celestina” nel 2008 e secondo me non può essere slegato dai precedenti episodi, anche perché la storia, narrata in maniera minuziosa nei ricchissimi booklet allegati a edizioni splendide, ricche di ornamenti, guida l’ascolto di una musica che ricrea alla perfezione le ambientazioni in cui si svolgono le vicende di questa saga spaziale che si sviluppa in crescendo, capitolo dopo capitolo. E’ tempo ormai per l’equipaggio di Celestina di tornare sul nostro pianeta, portando con sé il messaggio ed i segreti appresi nel suo viaggio all’interno di un buco nero e questo ritorno sulla Terra è accompagnato da una musica che, rispetto al passato, si è arricchita di particolari e soprattutto di preziosi elementi classici ed orchestrali, pur non perdendo mai quell’andamento morbido e in un certo senso soporifero che perdura dall’inizio della storia, senza mai subire accelerazioni di sorta o brusche deviazioni.
La voce splendida di Meg Maryatt (che suona anche piano, chitarra e synth) ci accompagna di nuovo col suo timbro dolce e rilassante e sembra quasi rivolgersi all’ascoltatore dall’interno di in una bolla dove il tempo è fermo e lo spazio è dilatato all’infinito. I synth sono gli artefici delle atmosfere più belle dell’album e sono suonati praticamente da tutti, dal chitarrista Jeff Brenneman, dal batterista Dirk Doucette e dal bassista e chitarrista, nonché leader del gruppo e autore del concept, Jackson Del Ray. Le trame ritmiche sono appena appena disegnate e si sviluppano spesso in un morbido 4/4 e a volte persino a ritmo di valzer che sembra accompagnare l’ascoltatore in una danza fra le stelle come nella seconda traccia, “Celestina XXIV” (tutti i titoli sono come al solito designati da un numero progressivo in cifre romane) che progredisce in lento crescendo, come una nuvola di vapore che si disperde nell’aria, accompagnata da coltri di Mellotron, una batteria filiforme, atmosfere Floydiane e morbidi ricami elettronici che danno costantemente l’idea dello spazio profondo. Molto belle le linee melodiche del capitolo XXVI, molto minimali e delicate, che ricordano qualcosa dal sapore vagamente orientale. In alcuni episodi la musica si fa più astratta, cosmica e tecnologica, con riverberi alla Tangerine Dream, ma in generale l’ultimo episodio di “Celestina” ci riporta sulla Terra e c’è spazio anche per sorprese come il capitolo XXXI, un valzer anche qui, fatto con strumenti acustici, con la chitarra arpeggiata e gli archi, una vera delizia che risalta particolarmente nel contesto di questo album ma senza bruschi salti, non interrompendo mai il flusso emotivo che perdura costantemente dall’inizio alla fine. Molto onirica è la penultima traccia, il capitolo XXXIII, che somiglia ad una grigia e spenta musica da circo, scandita dai rintocchi di campane tubulari e densamente velata da vapori cosmici. Una trovata molto azzeccata è proprio quella di lasciare ampio spazio alla musica che riempie delicatamente ogni dove, con un intervento molto limitato della voce di Meg che è un bellissimo ornamento più che una voce narrante. Tutta la storia infatti è descritta, come accennato, nel booklet che contiene dialoghi e descrizioni, come il c
CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale Of Love And Quantum Physics)"
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17 Pygmies is a band which has been around for 30 years now. They started out in 1982 when Jackson D...17 Pygmies is a band which has been around for 30 years now. They started out in 1982 when Jackson Del Rey (aka Philip Drucker) started jamming in a garage with a couple of his friends. Soon, this bore fruit, with their take on the Lawrence of Arabia theme. The band went through several stylistic and line-up changes and after 1990 took a 17 year hiatus. When 17 Pygmies resurfaced in 2007, Jackson Del Rey remained the only original member left.
In 2008, the band undertook a monumental task of releasing the Celestina trilogy, which saw the conclusion in 2012, with the release of CIII: Even Celestina Gets the Blues. The story is loosely based on Fernando de Rojas’ work La Celestina. If Rojas's novel La Celestina was a timeless tale of love and betrayal, Del Rey's modern take is a timeless tale of love, betrayal and quantum physics, with the outer space element not only present in the story but in the music itself.
Even Celestina Gets the Blues was released on 1st January 2012, exactly one year after the second instalment. First, I have to say a few words about the packaging, which is just brilliant. The limited edition, signed CD package, as with all Trakwerx releases, is elegantly packaged in a foil-pressed sleeve, including Part Three of the short story. There’s also a wax seal imprinted in the back, making this CD worth its money for the packaging alone.
The music, much like the story, takes you on a hypnotic space journey. Fans of progressive electronic (or even post rock), with really long and involved developments, should get a kick out of this album, however the instrumentation is quite different to the likes of Tangerine Dream. In that respect, 17 Pygmies mostly take a neo-classical route, with keyboards mostly emulating orchestra sounds. There are also some guest on oboe, viola and cello, who reinforce this feeling. There are only a couple of occasions when this trance-like state abates – for example, the Italian waltz on Celestina XXXI and the blues on the very last track (there had to be some blues with an album title like this).
Every note seems carefully chosen on Even Celestina Gets the Blues. You may not get the most technical music, but the melodies and atmosphere are so gorgeous and engaging, you’ll forget all about the absence of any guitar or keyboard heroics. At first the space journey may seem slow and plodding, but once you get involved into the music, you see that the journey is so full of beauty and wonders, there’s no need for any big bangs, it’s enough just to marvel at the cosmos and all its glorious sights (even though the story does includes elements like religious tyranny and space fights).
The music is mostly instrumental, with vocals scattered here and there for good measure. When used, they fit perfectly. Both the lead singers, mostly Meg and sometimes Jackson, and the backing vocalists keep the spacey vibe of the music going, with soothing and gentle lines working in unison with the instruments.
An album of quiet and ethereal beauty which might seem a bit too quiet when you first start listening to it, but its aesthetics really begin to shine through after repeated listening. Even Celestina Gets the Blues might be the final part of the trilogy, but we haven’t heard the last of 17 Pygmies. With releases like that, which are even better than in their supposed heyday, we can really look forward to more goodies from Jackson Del Rey and his posse. Jackson even said in OUR INTERVIEW that The Book of Celestina itself, which consists of 3 short stories and albums, was part of a larger work – a trilogy, so we may be in for quite a ride yet. Strap yourselves in and get ready for an amazing cosmic journey through the outer reaches of our galaxy.
9 out of 10.
17 PYGMIES – CIII: EVEN CELESTINA GETS THE BLUES (A TALE OF LOVE AND QUANTUM PHYSICS)
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CIII, the third installment in the epic prog-space-rock opera/opus is finally here, concluding story...CIII, the third installment in the epic prog-space-rock opera/opus is finally here, concluding story of the Celestina and her crew.
Musically the things I said about CII still hold true. The beauty and majesty remain intact. Given that, there’s more of a tendency for the band to be more experimental on a wider variety of tracks. The big standout is the inclusion of a lot more digital sounds. I particularly like this as they’re basically retro-digital for lack of a better term. I feel like the whole story of the Celestina as told through the music is one of those tales that is simultaneously grounded to a specific era (makes me think of the late 70s) and yet completely timeless and classic. Seeing as how this is the conclusion, there is a heightened sense of drama as the story nears it’s conclusion. Kind of an Ennio Morricone meets King Crimson thing happening here. 17 Pygmies have really done something special in combing an ongoing narrative across short fiction and several concept albums. It’s something that is unprecedented as far as I’m aware.
No fan of prog rock should miss this album. Available at CD Baby.
Textura reviews "CIII: Even Celestina Gets The Blues"
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17 Pygmies: Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) Trak...17 Pygmies: Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics)
Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) brings to a close an ambitious trilogy that began in 2008 with Celestina and continued on with the blues-influenced CII - Second Son in 2011. In keeping with the ambitious scope of the Celestina recordings, the project includes a three-part short story written by Jackson Del Rey (inspired by the fifteenth-century novel La Celestina by Fernando Rojas), with the story's third part included in the new album's packaging in a mini-booklet format. Science fiction by genre, the story concerns a mission involving the crew of the Celestina who have been commissioned to explore a newly discovered anomaly, possibly a Black Hole, in the grand nebula of Cassiopeia. Along the way, a robot community and the Holy Father (among others) are encountered, and a voyage to the Orion Nebula undertaken. The final part, which musically might be described as sci-fi balladry complemented by a generous helping of prog-rock (the latter heard most clearly in the instrumental overture and the ten-minute “Celestina XVII”), concerns the final flight aboard the Celestina. Overall, the material, often gravitating towards a lullaby waltz form, is somewhat more mellow than what one might have expected, though not displeasingly so.
Jackson Del Rey (vocals, synthesizer, guitar, bass), Meg Maryatt (vocals, synthesizer, guitar, piano), Jeff Brenneman (guitar, synthesizer), and Dirk Doucette (drums, synthesizer, guitar) are the four primary musicians, but there's also a small coterie of guests that contribute oboe, strings, bass, and vocals to the album. Celestina appears to be primarily the conceptual brainchild of Del Rey (he does, after all, receive sole credit for the story), even if the sound most prominently featured on this final part is Maryatt's voice. No worries there: her singing is fine, whether heard as a haunted incantation (the “Cassiopeia” chanting in “Celestina XXVI”) or as part of a lullaby waltz (“Celestina XXVIII (Celestina and Dr. V)”).
The songs are often sonically ornate in a way that suggests some mutant Magical Mystery Tour-Brain Salad Surgery hybrid, and their melodies are often haunting (consider “Celestina XXIX (Red to Blue Faster)” and the lilting meditation “Celestina XXX (Could This Be Heaven?)” as two such examples). The vocal songs are a potent and melodically rich lot, whether oozing bluesy portent (the regal “Celestina XXIV (Blues Theme)”) or cultivating enchantment and wonder (“Celestina XXV (Red to Blue)”). Though there are a couple of exceptions (“Celestina XVII,” for example), the arrangements, instrumentally speaking, are largely stripped-down rather than over-embellished, and the twelve pieces are rooted in an understated palette of synthesizers, guitars, and glockenspiels, with drums and percussion (bells, sleigh bells, etc.) generally used more for colour than beats (interestingly, the album material was originally conceived for string quartet, and in places strings appear alongside the other instruments, most noticeably during “Celestina XXX (Could This Be Heaven?)”).
All told, the strikingly packaged Celestina III: Even Celestina Gets The Blues (A Tale of Love and Quantum Physics) is a marvelous song-cycle that can be enjoyed on its own or as a concluding chapter in the trilogy. Regardless, the richly rewarding final part holds up strongly under repeated visitations. One leaves the project sorry that 17 Pygmies didn't conceive of Celestina as a four-part work, as doing so would have allowed us to look forward to at least one more chapter.
17 Pygmies’ Follow-up to Their Classic Celestina Album Defies the Odds
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Trying to follow up a classic is inevitably a thankless task. What do you do after you’ve recorded y...Trying to follow up a classic is inevitably a thankless task. What do you do after you’ve recorded your Dark Side of the Moon, written your Foundation trilogy or painted your Starry Night? Conventional wisdom is that it’s time to move on, completely shift gears, flip the script and defy comparisons with your masterpiece, even if it might need a concluding chapter. Veteran California art-rock band 17 Pygmies have taken the hard road with their new album CII: Second Son, a sequel to their 2008 tour de force Celestina. That album, based on a short story about love and betrayal in outer space by guitarist/bandleader Jackson Del Rey, is a lavish, majestic, cruelly beautiful song cycle (we picked it as one of the 1000 best albums of all time). This one is similar, right down to the elegant silver packaging, but it’s more of an instrumental suite, sort of like Twin Peaks in outer space. Again, it’s based on a Del Rey short story, a twisted, Rod Serling-style cliffhanger included in the cd booklet. If the plot is to be taken on face value, heaven is autotuned: which makes it…what? You figure it out.
The opening instrumental sets the stage. It’s a retro 50s noir pop theme done as lushly orchestrated space rock, Angelo Badalamenti meets ELO at their eeriest circa 1980. With layers of guitar synthesizer, electric piano and string synth, it’s a lush, hypnotic wash of sound. They follow it with the first of only two vocal numbers, a 6/8 ballad sung with quietly menacing relish by keyboardist Meg Maryatt (who thankfully is not autotuned) which illustrates the story, that she’s landed in a place that’s too good to be true. Richly interwoven themes and textures follow: creepy music box electric piano, an ominous March of the Robots, backward masking, mellotron, pulsing waves of sound and a mantra of “shut down this process” that repeats again and again.
A variation on the ballad emerges from a long, hypnotic vamp: “There’s a hole in the sky,” Maryatt intones, spellbound, and then the strings go totally Hitchcock, fluttering with horror. “The sky, cold to the sight…” White noise echoes; an offcenter piano waltz, disjointedly disquieting synthy interlude and something of an operatic crescendo with a spooky choir give way to distant, starlit piano that morphs unexpectedly into a methodical, slightly funky Atomheart Mother-style art-rock vamp with distorted guitar and organ. They leave it there on an unfinished note. On one level, it’s a pity all this grandeur and suspense has such a hard act to follow. On the other hand, as lush, unselfconsciously beautiful psychedelia, it stands on its own. And as Del Rey has made pretty clear, this story isn’t over yet: if this is Foundation and Empire, we have what will hopefully be his Second Foundation to look forward to at some future time. It’s out now on Trakwerx.
posted by delarue Feb. 25, 2011
17 Pygmies - "CII: Second Son"
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Der ersten Auflage von "Celestina II: Second son" liegt eine Sci-Fi-Kurzgeschichte bei, die die Land...Der ersten Auflage von "Celestina II: Second son" liegt eine Sci-Fi-Kurzgeschichte bei, die die Landung von Captain Mora und Isabel auf einem fremden Planeten beschreibt. Nachdem die beiden den Planeten durch ein schwarzes Loch erreichen konnten, finden sie auf jenem Himmelskörper eine Robotersiedlung. Eine Siedlung der Bücher lesenden Roboter, wohlgemerkt. Sie werden dorthin von dem Chef-Roboter geführt, den sie am Bach liegend beim Lesen eines Buches angetroffen haben. Durch die philosophischen Diskussionen mit dem Chef-Roboter und durch eigene Beobachtungen erfahren sie, dass auf dem Planeten die ihnen bekannten physikalischen Gesetze keine Anwendung finden. Die Zeit gibt es beispielsweise nicht.
Wie alleine schon an den Tracktiteln ersichtlich, ist "Celestina II: Second son" eine Fortsetzung der 2008 mit "Celestina" begonnenen Gechichte. Dazu erklingt für meine Begriffe eine leicht ungewöhnliche Musik, die bei ihrer esoterisch-ätherischen Art die möglicherweise nicht sehr weit liegenden New Age-Banalitäten instinktsicher zu vermeiden weiss. Im Grunde bekommt man eine zwischen harmonisch und dramatisch wechselnde orchestrale elektronische Musik geboten, die hin und wieder vom Damengesang oder von zerbrechlichen Glockenspiel-Passagen bereichert wird. Auf "Celestina XVII", das aus Damengesang und sanften, dezent von Keyboards begleiteten Gitarren besteht, wird die Problematik der nicht existenten Zeit ziemlich charmant umgesetzt. Sehr ähnlich verhält es sich mit "Celestina XIX", wo die Gitarren durch spartanische elektronische Begleitung ersetzt werden. Die im Hintergrund eingesetzten Geigen sorgen für eine leicht unheimliche Stimmung. In dem alleine von Keyboards bestrittenen "Celestina XVIII" schleicht sich einiges an Dramatik in die bis dahin harmonischen Klänge ein. Das Dark Ambient-Intro von "Celestina XX" wird von einem postrockigen Klangbild aus Piano, Geigen und nach hinten gemischten Gitarren unterbrochen. Das gehört wohl zu der grossen Kunst von 17 Pygmies, dass sie die Instrumente leicht verzerrt und entrückt klingen lassen und damit eine unwirkliche Welt unter der scheinbar biederen Oberfläche suggerieren.
Da die aufdringlichen Pink Floyd-Einflüsse des ersten Teils der "Celestina"-Trilogie völlig verschwunden sind, wirkt der zweite Teil auf mich homogener und eigenständiger.
"Celestina II: Second son" bietet einen sanft-geheimnisvollen Sci-Fi-Soundtrack ohne Film, dafür mit einer vom Bandchef Jackson Del Rey verfassten Geschichte auf 25 Seiten.
LOOSE ENGLISH TRANSLATION:
From: Siggy Zielinski @
The first edition of "Celestina II: Second Son" is a sci-fi short story that describes the landing of Captain Mora and Isabel on an alien planet. After the two were able to reach the planet by a black hole, they find on that heavenly body, a robot colony. A settlement of the robots read books, mind you. They are there out of the robot head, which they found lying by the stream reading a book. By philosophical discussions with the boss robots and our own observations, they discover that they find on the planet, the known laws of physics do not apply. The time it is not, for example.
How alone you can already at the track titles, "Celestina II: Second son" is a sequel started in 2008 with "Celestina" Gechichte. This sounds to my mind a slightly unusual music, the white in their esoteric ethereal nature that may not be very far-lying New Age banalities to avoid instinctively. Basically, you get offered a varying between harmonic and dramatic orchestral electronic music that enriches every now and then by the ladies of fragile vocals and glockenspiel passages is. To "Celestina XVII," which consists of ladies and gentle vocals, subtle guitar accompanied by keyboards, the problem of non-existent time is implemented quite charming. Very similar is the case with "Celestina XIX," where the guitars are replaced by Spartan electronic accompaniment. The viola in the background used to provide a slightly sinister mood. In the disputed alone keyboards "Celestina XVIII" sneaks a lot of drama in the previously harmonious sounds. The Dark ambient intro to "Celestina XX" is interrupted by a post-rock sound of piano, violas and guitars mixed to the rear. This is probably one of the great art of 17 Pygmies that the instruments can be removed easily distorted and sound, and thus suggest an unreal world under the seemingly respectable surface.
Since the intrusive Pink Floyd influences of the first part of the "Celestina" trilogy have disappeared completely, the second part looks at me more homogeneous and independent.
"Celestina II: Second Son" a gentle, mysterious sci-fi soundtrack without a film offers, but with a gang leader from Jackson Del Rey on 25 pages written history.
17 Pygmies - CII: Second Son - Trakwerx
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17 PYGMIES CII: SECOND SON Trakwerx So here we are again then, with a delightfully artistic pac...17 PYGMIES
CII: SECOND SON
So here we are again then, with a delightfully artistic package of wax-sealed delicacies to unfold, and the second in their star-kissed trilogy with Robert and Isobel waking on a distant planet.
It starts cool and lovely, with the blissful ambient 'Celestina XII' and as the title run identically with a different numeral, the album ends with 'Celestina XXII', so singling out individual tracks become pointless. It's about the flow, beginning with a simple synth wash and tiny, discreetly decorative notes on top. Gentle guitar can be easily absorbed or to underpin the vocals of Meg Maryatt, the one easily identifiable contribution, beyond Dirk Doucette's drumming. Elsewhere Jeff Brenneman, Dirk and Jackson Del Ray complete the hazy picture. Their guest Heather Lockie is also strong on her cello
It's also about the story, which comes inside the package, telling of adventurers landing on a planet with two suns and making a rather large leap of the imagination by thinking this could be the second son mentioned in the bible. They find a robot reading poetry, who happens to belong to a commune, of robots who once travelled through space themselves. This isn't their only source of compatible interests. A robot named Herod breaks the neck of Captain Mora to prove they cannot harm one another, as killing here is a sin. They mistrust this robot who they believe once massacred some family members, justifiable cause for concern. Herod protests his/its innocence, and can prove it. Mora survives, despite discomfort. Their own ship's robot representative turns up in neck snappy mood but soon all is well, they find their ship and are all set to take off when they become aware of other old adversaries. The story will no doubt conclude in the final part. HG Wells must be turning in his library card because, like most sci-fi, it's pretty bland.
The music is far from bland, despite keeping to simple enough templates. It becomes woozier, doomier, grander. At times it reminds me of early movies of the Egyptian era, where a pharaoh's tomb is being opened, or sealed. It also tilts sideways into a vengeful Celtic feel. It has a refreshingly warm glow and that's the brave move, as it could have been all isolation and jangling nerves. 'C XVII' is a charming indie ballard, which then moves into the darkly swooping 'C XVIII' with a portentous synth atmosphere, bleeps and clanking. With recurring motifs, shifts between optimism and shadowy tensions the album drifts impressively on. Stolid bass tones underpin the gases synth mood, but nothing ever gets dour, as sunnier guitar impregnates the gloom. Things get strange during 'C XX' with a stand-up piano, gentle sonic scrying and some abrupt timing accompanied by Twin Peaksy twanginess. The closing track has the roughest edge to it, seemingly advancing towards the unguarded listener, a timely spot of melodrama to set us up for the final segment of the trilogy.
I don't actually like traditional sci-fi so the story aspect doesn't interest me at all. The music however has a superb sense of setting and mood and is consistent in its ability to transport you, bathing you in a cordial sense of abstract intrigue. Their most potent work, I should say.
17 Pygmies "CII: Second Son"
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All music can be defined as a noise, formed by a code (that is to say according to layout rules and ...All music can be defined as a noise, formed by a code (that is to say according to layout rules and laws of succession within a limited space of sound). Listening to music is to receive a message.
I think that's 17 Pygmies are not lost in the space. We feel the absolute control in the shape of the sound, where all is organised. Actually "CII: Second Son" is like the spacecraft itself.
Soundtracks without film . Vanishing images in a glowing halo. Ballads at the border of the kitsch, harmony near an ugly and terrible hole, exploding under the powerfull leitmotivs of this record.
"I draw a circle in the sand
I think that's the way we'll go
I think that we're goin' home"
The combinatorics is the art or science to exhaust the possible. Use a leitmotiv is a attempt to exhaustion. Go and repeat the same tones, colors, shapes and words to make everything different. Fiction fucks reality, we're still here.
Mick Mercer Reviews Celestina
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17 PYGMIES CELESTINA Trakwerx Another artistic and beautiful package from Trakwerx, this CD com...17 PYGMIES
Another artistic and beautiful package from Trakwerx, this CD comes in a silvery black card sheath, with a romantic seal on the rear. You can slide the CD itself without breaking that but then find the CD is housed inside folded acetate, closed by a sticker saying ‘Do you want to know more?’ and despite my most delicate, some might even say forensic, manoeuvring, I managed to tear the sticker. Jackson Del Rey may be a musical master chef but he is prepared to reveal his sauces. Writing on the acetate revealed that the idea behind the record came from reading a novel called La Celestina Tragicomedia De Calisto Y Melbea by one Fernando De Rojas, a tale of forbidden love and deceit. Aha, I knew it! Why else would the sleeve encourage damage, inviting the wrecking of something heavenly? But that wasn’t all, it seems, because a newspaper headline, ‘NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak Charged With Attempted Murder In Bizarre Love Triangle’ also played its part. A short novel was then penned, simply Celestine, and this record is the soundtrack to its movie, comprised of eleven tracks, all called Celestina, so I shall opt for numbers.
‘C1’ seeps into life as a light, dusky bit of psychedelia laid low by lethargy, but you can imagine yourself on a balcony watching the night sky to the accompaniment of a neighbour below reliving his past when Pink Floyd at Pompeii was the height of sonic adventures. A glass of wine, the occasional shiver from the cold, a longing for a cigarette, and was that a shooting star? ‘C2’ is moodier pop with a female vocal moving over poisoned Bond movie music. A failed casino assignation, a surreptitious syringe, and now glassy eyes staring at a frosted motorway surface. With ‘C3’ the sun comes up slowly synth-drenched and a thousand kittens stretch after a night of blissful dreams. They are then protectively shepherded into the cat play area as ‘C4’ bleats a little like an unsettling migraine.
Giant dragonflies are coming for you in ‘C5.’ You can see them in the distance, like vast gliders of considerable portent, blindly zeroing in on your idle curiosity, fear long since forgotten by their alien beauty. They’re taking their time, which is where assassins can come unstuck, and the track gradually builds to a darkening close, listless dragonflies overhead like army supply helicopters, but they are driven away by an army of long haired pre-Raphaelite poets in hero shirts who flop down during ‘C6’ for a tedious literary picnic, sucking the air out of the tranquil country setting, the river turning to stone as the wispy music turns light brown beneath the hazy vocals.
‘C7’ is so pretty that moles emerge from the ground convinced they can see, although noticing the poets they happily bask a while they wriggle back underground to their Avengers dvd sets, where ‘C8’ joins the small community in an altogether less stripped down melodic entreaty, becoming a small and gloomy ambient with some intestinal guitar problems. The moles casually turn it over and start massaging it until a holistic form of electronic pulse starts to respond to their angelic sighing.
One mole pushes ‘C9’ back into the sunshine into a grotto they have built to pay homage to Twin Peaks, a favourite with moles the world over, and there is lays bathed in morning light, a downed Julie Cruise missile. When the music sheds its ethereal cocoon and crawls away towards nightfall it finds itself staring at a doom-ridden spider web that is ‘C10’ and things seem serious, almost final. All observers can tell the ominous mood in the sparest setting swells to convey tension and yet there is hope here, or hypnotism
And so it came to pass that in ‘C11’ that the moles convinced the dragonflies to leave, having taught the unruliest spiders a thing or two, who then, shamefaced, took over the running of the casinos, where covert assassinations were frowned upon, as were poets and Pink Floyd and, with a new 17 Pygmies display of demurely crestfallen tapestries to wrap ourselves in we all lived happily ever after.
17 Pygmies 'Celestina'
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- Label: 'Trakwerx' - Genre: 'Rock' - Release Date: '30th September 2008'- Catalogue No: 'TW 10...- Label: 'Trakwerx'
- Genre: 'Rock' - Release Date: '30th September 2008'- Catalogue No: 'TW 1010'
Straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak: "Celestina is a concept album (remember that term?) about a doomed space flight by a bunch of astronauts getting high on pure oxygen while exploring a giant gas nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia. Really." That would indeed make sense. The word 'space' is likely to feature quite highly in this review. I'm afraid it can't really be avoided, not when the listener is faced with music of such an expansive nature. Let's be clear though; this isn't the cold, 'scientific' space as defined by Nasa. This is the sort of space as seen in sci-fi, space-exploration films of the 50s, 60s and 70s. This is space as seen through a kaleidoscope. And despite the expansive nature of the album and the wandering, meandering nature of many of the songs, there is also a real sense of claustrophobia. It's psychedelic, heady and intoxicating, like being trapped in little more than a tin-can, sharing your oxygen with four other people for twelve months. The album and tracks take their titles from 'Celestina', a mediaeval Spanish text from the 15th century. The text, which deals with courtly, but tragic, love, provides the thematic base for the album as well: love and longing. An orchestral space-opera is on the cards.
All the tracks are titled 'Celestina' plus a Roman numeral, the point being that this is an orchestral suite, and a piece of music that should be listened to in its entirety. No skipping, no fast-forwarding and no singles. 'I' opens proceedings with a Caravan-esque bass-line. This is a woozy, spacey opener with 2001-style guitars and a ringing organ. Simmering and atmospheric it may be, but ultimately it feels a little dragged out and lacking in development. It's clearly meant to be a scene-setter, and understandably the sort of thing that is to be expected from a concept album. However, at three minutes plus, it's rather a long scene, which feels distinctly lacking in action. The opening track raises an issue that is inherent in many soundtracks, and particularly soundtracks that exist for their own sake. The music is there to offer accompaniment, to, indeed, 'soundtrack' the images. The relationship is generally symbiotic. Films without music can often feel empty. And soundtracks without images can often feel under-developed, limited and will sometimes struggle to hold the listeners attention for the simple fact that the music is simply there to complement the images. Soundtracks that exist without images, without one half of the formula, are generally going to be at an immediate disadvantage. Courageous doesn't begin to tell the story.
'II' launches us back into the fray. The seductive female voice whispers a 'How does it feel/to be so close to heaven?' refrain and the whole track embraces a more orchestral feel. It's languid, it's relaxed, it's trippy, but it also feels more developed and properly formed. This is the soundtrack to floating in space (as if I knew what that actually felt like).
'III' trades in the slightly stoned haze for a soaring, retro, indeed rather grandiose space-pomp. This is exactly the sort of music that would sound right at home soundtracking the Carousel scene in Logan's Run. There are plenty of cymbals and the track adopts an almost ambient, down-tempo vibe for the last minute and a half. Synth lines pour into the void that is left around the 2.45 mark and the pompous meandering is left behind. However, the retro-feel remains strong throughout and the song sways to its conclusion, leaving me with the slightly irrational desire for tinfoil jumpsuits and the entirely rational desire for Jenny Agutter. Indeed, even the numeric appellation of the tracks feels authentic and faithful to the sci-fi of old: Logan's Run (Logan 5, Jessica 6), Star Wars (IV: A New Hope, V: The Empire Strikes Back etc etc), 2001: A Space Odyssey...
'V', at 12 minutes plus, is the longest track on the album by some way. It's a haunting piece that makes use of the time at its disposal: shimmering melodies weave in and out but remain tantalisingly out of reach, reluctant to really take proper form. Guitar echoes float up through the mix at various intervals, seemingly at their leisure. At about the half-way mark, everything starts to coalesce, and finally arises the possibility of an actual song appearing from the hypnotic, swirling mess. The drums, never actually absent, become a bit more insistent, a bit more driven. But it never really happens. The bass starts to throb a bit more, but rather than reaching for the climax, the song stops and the listener is left with more echoes, like a star that has just imploded with nothing more than a pop and a slight ringing in the ears. It's an intriguing track that refrains from really cutting loose, but sits on the edge of perception, hanging onto a real air of menace, and a brooding, ever-so-slightly frightening atmosphere. This sinister, other-worldly aura is heightened by the mournful, throaty voices that bring the song to a close.
After the rumbling, sinister overtones of the previous track, 'VI' feels like a breath of fresh air (ironic considering the lack of just such a thing in space). It feels like stepping out of an debauched, all-night party of alcohol and drugs to bright, clear sunshine. Meg Maryatt's vocals are light and airy and whilst the shimmering, psychedelic feel never goes away, the twinkling keys and buoyant percussion makes this song incredibly pleasant. It's an impressive change of mood that nevertheless hangs onto the general theme of the album. The theme of love and longing has not yet really been discussed, but to my ears it's the longing that is in the ascendency for most of the album. Any sense of love is tempered by feelings of insecurity, uncertainty and unease, as if love is but a transient high to be experienced and savoured just like another fleeting, more often than not chemical, high. VI is a good example of this, the mournful 'Why did I love you/from the start?' and 'You touched my soul/now I know I can love no-one but you' lyrics signifying a serious comedown. Indeed the lyrics are entirely contrapuntal to soaring delivery and laid-back groove of the music.
'Celestina VII', a three-step swing, with Maryatt again musing on 'heaven', is another chilled-out trip, far more lushly orchestral than the previous tracks. This spacey-wander through the galaxy lulls the listener into a delightful reverie as the music washes over. It's a sweetly beautiful track that is completed by the distant chiming of a bell, the last sound left as the song fades to a whisper.
Having lulled the listener into the almost soporific, doped-out haze, 'VIII' performs a complete reversal of the relaxed, languid 'breather' of the previous two tracks. This one throws the guitar into overdrive, and the track takes on an aggressive, throbbing attitude that has been markedly absent from album thus far. Female harmonies push the guitars apart, calling for calm, but it is merely temporary. The throbbing overdrive is joined by another, this time squalling, guitar. The angelic, ethereal voices soar out of the speakers, the gorgeous yang to the guitars' dark and foreboding ying. Neither appears victorious, for both collapse, seemingly exhausted from the conflict. Silence reigns, punctuated by little more than a faint xylophone melody. But wait! The voices, noticeably fatigued and diminished, return for one last appearance. Weakened but not bowed, they see out the last thirty seconds of the track.
'IX', another noticeably retro track, has enough space-age synth chords and reverb to send any galactic traveller into
throes of ecstasy. It's another more ambiently-orientated piece, unsurprising considering its predecessor, and is less concerned with where its going, merely content to enjoy the leisurely ride while it lasts.
The final 'proper' track of the album, 'Celestina X' opens with a dreamy glockenspiel twinkle, languid in tempo but crystal clear in tone. Wavering chords creep up on the melody, the first indication that all may not be as it seems. A sinister synth bass-line starts to pound, clearly intent on upsetting the mood. Like a dream that starts off pleasantly, but becomes more and more unnerving, this track leaves the listener unsure as to how to feel. The unease never fully materialises, but remains constant and nagging. The mood is not helped by the sudden, slightly disorientating disappearance of all but the twinkling keys, right at the end.
'Celestina XI' closes the suite by reprising the caravan-esque bass-line, this time slightly fleshed out by arpeggiated guitars and sharp pulses of strings, resolutely anchored in the background. The tempo picks up briefly towards the end, teasing the listener with promises of development and elaboration, before the whole thing rolls to a halt.
As is to be expected from a concept album, themes revolve, rotate, fade in and fade back out. The whole album is awash with reverb and a general feeling of being ripped to the hilt. And yet, far from getting high off too much oxygen (see the press release blurb), some of these tracks are so dense, so close, so incredibly heavy that it's like the listener has rather been deprived of oxygen. The very paradox of space, that it can be at once so immense, so open and so liberating, and at the same time be so constrictive, claustrophobic, and restricted is reflected perfectly in the music. It reaches for the stars and takes us on a journey that is both futuristic and retrospective. Psychedelic, heady and overwhelming at times, it also manages to hold onto that grandiose, cinematic, wide-screen scope. And to finish off the argument began at the beginning of the review regarding the very nature of soundtracks, it should be noted that there is another, as yet unmentioned, type of soundtrack, a sort that taps into both the listener's imagination and experience, to create a piece of music that can soundtrack dreams, ideas or indeed moods. 'Celestina' falls into that category. Cassiopeia was a mythological Greek queen, fabled for her unrivalled beauty. Unrivalled is always a dangerous term, all too often leading to overwhelming vanity, overweening pride and hubris, the sin to top all sins in the ancient world. So without offending anyone on this plane or any other, I shall just say this: 'Celestina' is an impressive, at times unnerving, at others staggeringly beautiful, piece of music.
17 Pygmies - Celestina
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CD Review: 17 Pygmies – Celestina October 31, 2008 [editor’s note: this being Halloween, it’s o...CD Review: 17 Pygmies – Celestina
October 31, 2008
[editor’s note: this being Halloween, it’s only appropriate that we’d review the most haunting cd of the year]
17 Pygmies’ new cd Celestina is a concept album, an eleven-part symphonic rock suite about love and betrayal in space based on a short story written by bandleader/guitarist Jackson Del Rey. It’s a lush, beautiful, absolutely haunting, mostly instrumental art-rock masterpiece, without a doubt one of the most gripping albums released this year. Celestina is symphonic in the purest sense of the word, a theme and variations that twist and turn and recur throughout. Its rich, icy layers of guitars and synthesized orchestration fade in and out of the mix, alternately hypnotic and jarring, with echoes of Pink Floyd, the Church, the Cocteau Twins, and echoing in the distance, Del Rey’s pioneering noise-instrumental band Savage Republic. The narrative traced by the tracks – simply titled Celestina I through XI – is discernable from the start, and it’s not pretty, despite the music’s glimmering grandeur.
It opens with the introduction of a disarmingly simple, gently menacing, Middle Eastern-inflected central theme, ambient and atmospheric with washes of strings, perhaps created by a guitar synthesizer pedal. The next movement, bracing and stately with reverb-and-delay guitar, is a dead ringer for legendary Australian art-rockers the Church circa Priest Equals Aura, singer/bassist Meg Maryatt’s disembodied, ethereal vocals perfectly capturing the mood. “Feels like heaven,” she sings, but the unease in her voice is visceral. Celestina III builds the instrumental theme introduced in II with lush washes of strings, getting gentle and really pretty at the end yet without losing its menacing undercurrent
In Celestina IV, a new theme is introduced with octaves in the bass. “What’s that sound?” Maryatt asks, her voice processed to a horror-movie timbre.The album’s centerpiece is its turning point, a murky, reverberating twelve-minute feedback instrumental evocative of Yo La Tengo at their most thoughtful or a quieter Savage Republic tune. It’s absolutely evil, the guitars’ low resonances phasing in and out for minutes on end until the bassline making a tentative entrance, pushing the melody around, finally grabbing it by the throat and thrashing it around with methodical, deadly force. Throat-singing over the low-register roar adds yet another layer of sinister overtones. At the end, the drums stomp on it a couple of times just to make sure it’s dead.
The next cut is a big, anguished, puzzled ballad with stellar vocals again from Maryatt: it’s something of a cross between a macabre DollHouse anthem and a standout cut from Priest Equals Aura. In VII, reverting to classical mode, the initial theme returns, mingling with its counterpart from II, taking on an altogether different meaning. At the end, bells toll quietly in the background. A fight scene ensues, a quietly anguished cry in a vacuum followed by a long noise jam, the instruments locked in a battle to the death, ending with the same long series of distant wails that began it. When the main theme recurs again, the arrangement is more ethereal and far darker, making it clear that the whole idea of this relationship was disastrous from the start. Closing the suite, loops of tinkling electric piano contrast with a wobbly wash of synth, building to a haunting, darkly nebulous constellation of strings. The cd ends on a surprisingly anticlimactic note, just the guitar playing simple arpeggios with an 80s chorus-box feel.
As with all of 17 Pygmies Trakwerx albums, the cd is beautifully packaged in an artsy, cleverly handmade cardboard sleeve and insert. Available at cdbaby dirt-cheap for thirteen lucky bucks. You’ll see this in the top five or so best albums of the year when we publish the list in December.
Categories: Music · Reviews
Tagged: 17 pygmies, art-rock, celestina, jackson del rey, meg maryatt, Music, orchestrated rock, Reviews
CD Review: The Outlaw J.D. Ray
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A cynical New Yorker might call this 17 Pygmies’ Pete’s Candy Store album (after the little Brooklyn...A cynical New Yorker might call this 17 Pygmies’ Pete’s Candy Store album (after the little Brooklyn bar that’s spawned a million quiet oldtime and roots bands since the mid-90s). 17 Pygmies date from the 80s, so they get cred for being both new wave and indie when actually what they’ve evolved into is a majestic art-rock band. And the grass isn’t growing under their feet. Hot on the heels of their lush, richly atmospheric, utterly macabre Celestina from last year (Lucid Culture ranked it one of the three best albums of 2008) comes this similarly quiet, spooky, mostly acoustic suite with even more of a minimalist feel. Built around simple, elliptically ominous lyrical riffs along with a main theme and variations, it’s sort of an acoustic Celestina. But by contrast with that album’s vengeful angst, this is a meditation on separation, longing and death.
It begins on a defiant note with Ain’t Gonna Work, a slow, swaying, pre-Civil war waltz with lush layers of acoustic guitar from founding member Jackson Del Rey along with bandmates Jeff Brenneman and Meg Maryatt (who also contributes accordion, mandolin, banjo and vocals). The waltz theme continues, hypnotically as a sense of dread quietly grows: by the fourth track, where the electric guitar finally tremolos its way in, it’s clear that this romance is doomed. A minor key is introduced, stately with slide guitar and mandolin trading sweet/harsh textures. Let It Rain the Blues, a gentle duet juxtaposes Del Rey’s resignation with Maryatt’s fetching, consoling tone – there’s a little Lisa Lost (of the late, great NYC noir rockers DollHouse) in the unaffected warmth of her phrasing.
Denouement arrives on the wings of a brisk bluegrass tune, but she’s not ready to give up on the guy, even if this means the next place she sees him is heaven. We never get to see if this actually happens or not, through a slow, elegiac return to the initial waltz theme, a banjo tune that sounds as if it’s sung from the point of view of the girl’s mother and then a swaying Mexican border ballad with some juicy Spanish guitar and mandolin phrasing. As you can imagine, this story doesn’t end well. Who would have thought that 17 Pygmies would have had a great Americana album in them? It’s just out on Trakwerx.
The Trakwerx Collective Lightwerx: Georges Melies
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A dvd to give Steampunk fans wet dreams this is a 15 film/soundtracks offering of cinematic history ...A dvd to give Steampunk fans wet dreams this is a 15 film/soundtracks offering of cinematic history with artists paying tribute to one of the most important silent era film pioneers, in case anyone thought it was an obscure George Melly import. I will review this in depth in THE MICK, as I can include more visuals there, but here you get a hint of what is involved, and it’s a fascinating release. While I would normally avoid really ancient films down to the lack of conventional excitement you can only view something like this with total retrospective respect for just what this man was doing at the birth of cinema, like a midwife gone mad.
‘L’Impressionniste Fin De Siecle’ gives a clue to Melies’ past, as he was once a magician, and here we see a man performing tricks, as Jo Gabriel provides gentle fluttering keys which turn briefly jaunty in turn with the crafty visual display. We appear to enter the underworld, complete with gauze-draped ladies and chubby male dancing demons during ‘Le Danse Infernale’, for which Tommy Santee Klaws deems relaxed acoustic and piano as accompaniment in a Buckleyesque style, although how lyrics of love quite fit this story of rumbustuous weirdoes I have no idea.
‘Lune A Un Metre’ is crazy, where a wizard we have to get used to seeing accidentally conjures up an angry moon which is forever eating and vomiting things, wizard included. Luckily there’s a commendably strern Margaret Dupont (Groucho fans will know) figure to tell it to fuck off out of it mate, or gestures to that effect. Jackson Del Rey himself, the driving force behind this project, having already done new Noesferatu and Battleship Potempkin scores, mixes doomy orchestral synth with a saucy oboe as well as a weird vocal declaration of lurve himself, so I assume it’s catching. Gods Of Electricity go for clattering ambient sounds throughout ‘Mobilier Fidele’ where we set inanimate objects moving, with furniture filling a house unaided. Lynda was on hand to point out to me the sort of things young Georges was doing which hadn’t been encountered before, such as close-ups, perspective, dissolve features etc. I nod dumbly and peer at the screen. (I like to think I do it well.) Clattery ambient they may be, but the Gods Of Electricity also have a cunning percussive rhythm going at times, like an undercover Gene Krupa on manoeuvres.
‘Princess Nicotine’ finds 17 Pygmies plucking and a plunking, with some lighter oboe and delightful keyboards, all of it seriously serene, with just a hint of suspense and unnecessary vocoder as we watch a fatuous oaf smoking a pipe, with the aid of some tiny girls who poke fun at him, and one deliberately flaunts her arse, which must have been way ahead of its time. Then again, it was Paris, I daresay, the capital of filth back then.
Cult With No Name are thoughtfully austere for their handling of ‘Le Melomane’ in which some hot chicks stand by obediently as their conductor removes his head and throws it up repeatedly onto some empty sheet music above him, and there his heads stay, becoming music notes. The tune appears to be God Save The Queen slowed down. Meg Maryatt also keeps things stark with keys and strings, adding jocular, wiggly electronics in ‘La Cornue Infernale Alchimiste Parafaragamus,’ where that annoying wizard creates something unexpected in a laboratory experiment which ends in his death, and here Meg adds some vocal weirdness to match the imagery.
‘Voyage A Travers L’Impossible’ is a mini-epic of a film, and totally mental, as people go off on a voyage of discovery in a train with rockets attached, meaning they can visit the Sun, which eats the train, so the music of Lea Reiss also shifts from swirly synth fun with a hazy female vocal glow, to some serious hip hop rasping bass and Industrial rock guitar, and it’s good to finally hear someone introduce solid modern sounds into their approach, because it doesn’t all need to be chintzy or delicate.
‘L’Eclipse Du Soleil En Pleine Lune’ is again wizard-afflicted, as he teaches dull pupils about the sun and the moon and the stars flit about, in what is the only dull film, in comparative terms, as so much of it takes so long to do anything, sleight of hand replaced with over-sized boxing gloves. Sparkle Girl runs backwards vocals through scattered ambience and film spool noise for it. ‘L’Artiste Et Le Mannequin’ sees 17 Pygmies pop in for a mellow blend of polite strumming as an artistic temperament snaps and he attacks a woman with a broom. There’s a weird noises alert for Stephan Graham’s appearance, and suddenly The Clangers are among us for ‘Le Diable Noir’, in which a man is turned insane and thrown out of his apartment having set fire to the bed while chasing out the devil, who he also attacks with a broom, clearly the Edwardian’s weapon of choice. Tommy Santee Klaws opts for slow guitar in a dying light and garbled vocals as the colour-tinted ‘Eruption Volcanique a La Martinique’ goes about its business like a miniature Gerry Anderson landscape, with so much smoke at one point you can barely see anything else.
‘L’homme a La Tete De Caoutchouc’ finds Melies blowing his own head up really big with the aid of some handy bellows, as Kulfi brings us an arthritically throbbing arty-punk mess. Smoldering Ashes have ragged indie charm in mind for ‘Le Locataire Diabolique’, in which some nutter occupies a barren room in a hotel, fills it with furniture and guests from his magic triangular suitcase, and even pops a disgruntled policeman inside a piano.
We close with the well known ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’, a veritable Jules in the Vernian crown: judges, wizards, hefty dames, it has it all. Men go to the moon, which they clearly don’t find as exciting as anticipated because they immediately settle down for a good night’s sleep, which Jackson Del Rey (for it is he!) has created electronic snoring for. His soundtrack here relies heavily on static and sonar bleeping but starts with the Apollo 11 countdown that includes the wonderful line from Houston that ‘guidance is internal’ which could be a nerd’s equivalent of silence is golden. We get “the Eagle has landed”, and end with “one small step”, which is entirely fitting for Georges in his overall impact, so music and film work superbly together, modernity and antiquity locked in a heavenly embrace, as the Houston team inadvertently admit to an interest in porn by gasping, ‘you gotta bunch of guys about to turn blue’ which you’d think they might have kept to themselves. Meanwhile on the moon the intrepid explorers turn out to be just what you’d expect, killing the first alien they encounter, and returning to Earth on their rocket, which descends into the sea by parachute. How psychic was he?
The music is rarely intrusive, which is probably the point, and hard to judge in some ways. Without the films it’d be a pretty random compilation, that’s for sure, but with these brilliant glimpses into the past it all hangs together like some suicide pact with a sense of swing and this dvd is not just stunning, but dead cheap, and will prove absorbing to more than just film nuts, I assure you.
Ballade Of Tristram's Last Harping
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Their second album within the span of a year, California's The 17th Pygmy, once a side-project for m...Their second album within the span of a year, California's The 17th Pygmy, once a side-project for members of Savage Republic, take their psychedelia seriously. Much like Kendra Smith's Opal, Pygmy play hypnotic, unhurried tunes that glaze with chiming guitars and vocals that thrive in a catatonic state. Nothing rushes them. New vocalist Meg Maryatt never oversings. She lets the chips fall where they may. The eight-minute "Beautiful Lie" resembles a walk in the woods where paths meander and occasionally stop you in your tracks with their unexpected pleasures. "Just Like Brian Jones" resembles the blurry cascades of the Stones' own Satanic Majesties pursuit. Backwards effects and other trippy experiments work naturally. Yet, despite its '60s antecedents, the retro vibe is more directly '80s Paisley Underground.* Rob O'Connor
February/March 2008 issue
17 Pygmies – 13 Blackbirds
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17 Pygmies is the name of the band. Former Savage Republic-an Jackson Del Rey and Louise Bialik’s lo...17 Pygmies is the name of the band. Former Savage Republic-an Jackson Del Rey and Louise Bialik’s long-running West Coast outfit started out as a skewed new wave/pop band but has gravitated toward art-rock since. This new cd has been a long time coming, and it’s been worth the wait. It’s a beautifully rustic, mostly acoustic record with vocals generally by Bialik, austere fingerpicked guitar, autumnal melodies and light percussion in places. Think of it as the thinking person’s alternative to Hem. It picks up steam as it goes along.
The understatedly memorable opening theme, Heavenly Intro is reprised at the end of the initial tracks as Heavenly Creatures. In between, we get the pretty title cut and the absolutely gorgeous Tree of Life (if this is about pot, it must be seriously hydroponic). After that, the stately waltz Get Out!, the haunting 6/8 ballad Water Carry Me with its pastoral blend of guitar, piano and violin and then truth in advertising with A Brief Interlude – more 6/8 time with beautiful fingerpicked classical guitar, sounding like a good baroque classical piece. The next song, 125 History has ghostly vocals set to stark strings; Lila Paosa, which follows, is another quiet pretty song with ringing overtones from the guitars and organ adding just a tinge of disquieting dissonance. Strings come in toward the end and build to a crescendo. Ubi Sunt (Latin for “where are then”) and Heavenly Creatures feature both piano, voice and strings. There are three bonus tracks on the first cd – quite possibly left over from a previous project – which make a good triptych in 6/8: an instrumental with piano and strings, an original song, and a cover of the McCartney chestnut from the White Album followed by a piano instrumental to close it.
This is a double cd: the second one is called 13 Lotus which (seems to be) 13 remixes of the song from 13 Blackbirds. It’s pretty much all hypnotic, sleepy, downtempo, mostly instrumental trip-hop variations except for a rather disturbing version with sirens phasing from speaker to speaker which will quickly have listeners rushing to the window and then wondering where all the emergency vehicles are. It’s all well worth owning and comes in a charmingly illustrated, Edward Gorey-esque double cardboard sleeve. CDs are available at better retailers and online.
We play sets anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the time slot.
The set changes frequently, but most recently include songs from our latest release "The Outlaw J.D. Ray":
Ain't Gonna Work
Atlas Shrugged Blues
Your Smilin' Eyes
and various other songs:
The Clock Song
Like A Diamond
She Gets High
I Know My Train's A-Comin'
There are no upcoming dates at this time.