19 August 2015

Frank Zappa - Dance Me This

I never thought the day would come when the Grand Zappa’s studio output would finally dry up; but saying as it has been 22 years since Frank moved on to the next journey, it had to happen at some point.  Even up to the end, he was working in the studio and organising jamming sessions with artists from around the world.  I remember watching a documentary which showed one of these session when Frank had some Tibetan throat singers, an Irish band and some other exotic people who would be in the area and they would jam out. I cannot remember the name of the Irish band, but I do remember that the tin pipe player would be saying “Frank, should we start this with a bit of a drone from the Tibetan fella” and the music was just intense.  I think that some of this album might have been taken from those session, but it might have been from other periods (Zappa was famous for taken pieces of songs from other performances and splicing them together – something that Dweezil Zappa has also done.  With this being the 100th release, I am approaching it with a bit of fear – you cannot help but build something of this nature up in your mind, I have no idea what to expect (you never do with Zappa) and to expect anything other than off the wall music which will strangely normal for this man – so long story short – yeah to new album, scared it will explode my mind; on with the show…..

Starting the album is “Dance Me This”, it is a mash up of Tibetan throat music, haunting panpipes and early 90’s guitars and keyboards.  The keyboards are almost too happy at the high end scale of the synth compared to the rest of the song.  It feels slightly intrusive to the number, it has a feeling of sit-com music whilst the rest of following the pipes on a drone tripping jam.  It is not a band song, but those high note keyboard sounds just do not mix well the rest of the end of the number.  In comparison the synth is wonderful mischievous on “Pachuco Gavotte” and they are straight out of ‘Jazz from Hell’ era Zappa.  It is not as outlandish, but it is still a strange and bizarre song which I think would be handled beautifully by the Ensemble Modern who were the Orchestra Frank Zappa used for the wonder ‘Yellow Shark’.  It does not let the listener rest on a part of the song as it is jumping all over the place and attack from the moment it starts until the moment that it ends; of course I love it, the strange feeling of the number is one of the best things about the song and also one of my favourite parts of his repertoire.  The third track is the first of a pieces of music that share a name – it is called “Wolf Harbour” and starts with strange synth sounds, mixed with running water, sudden clicks, a bass drone that rumbles like a monster and you are not too certain what is going to come up next.  It feels like it is very akin to the disturbing nature of ‘Civilization Phaze III’ which scared the living Bee-Jesus out of my when I reviewed it all that time ago.  The haunting bell that start to toll and the noises start to come quicker and more frequently, it is eight plus minutes of atmospheric avant-garde noise and once more I do love it; but it is not easy on the ears – it is hostile by design so you are not supposed to relax here.  So, it is mission accomplished by this song as it morphs into “Wolf Harbour II” in a stream of percussion.  You are awaiting for some sort of crash into the side of you, but it is more subtle than that, you get the odd symbol crash and the odd gentle rustles from the instruments and then it is eerie drone drifting in the background. The percussion which forms the structure of this song is frantic, but without being loud as it is more about the feeling and not the way it hits you – it feels as if something is creeping toward to you or attacking your senses, once more I am in raptor but without any sense of comfort and certainly no compassion shown to the listener.  The change into “Wolf Harbour III” is sudden as it goes from all out percussion to atmospheric synths in an instant.  Keeping up with the “Civilization Phaze III” feeling of the pervious numbers, you are taken further down the rabbit hole towards fuck know where and there is no hope of exit until you have finished it.  The water noises keep crashing and returning to the song, making the listener dazed and confused along the way.  It does not rest on its laurels for an instant and takes the listener down a strange, wonderful, scary and mind fuck of an adventure so that you are slightly scared and incredible curious what those loud horn noises were all about.  Sinister times are about at the harbour, so far I am mesmerised and a little but terrified.

The penultimate chapter of the five tracks “Wolf Harbour IV” goes back to the percussion style of “Wolf Harbour II”, but it is with more venom and anger.  You can hear the aggressive nature of the number at the beginning, which also comes back with an atmospheric section that is punctured with obscure synths and the bell is tolling out infrequently.  To say this section goes from style to style with lightning speed and you are unable to keep a track on it sometimes.  Once more if you can get this sort of music it is very impressive, if you find it hard to follow you will always be lost.  “Wolf Harbour V” just goes for broke as far as the song is concerned, you are no left alone even in the quiet moment as you know there is something under the tune which is going to get you at any moment.  It does not alter from it course for one moment in these five songs and it is with a relief and sadness when we say goodbye to the Wolf Harbour suite and head into “Goat Polo”.  This song is what “Dance Me This” should have been, the synths are darker and the drumming is manic, you have the throat musicians coming back in like the howls of ethereal banshees to throw you sideways and it is just an obtruce piece of music that symbolises a lot of Frank Zappa’s later day writing.  Hands down it is the best individual track of the album and makes for one of the best pieces I have heard in a long time. After this is the criminally short “Rykoniki”, another track which could have been off ‘Jazz from Hell’ as it is strange and bizarre music that goes on what is firstly perceived as random tangents; but it slowly and surely it starts to make sense with repeated listens; the only think is that it is very short but that is a person thing – it still sounds amazing.  “Piano” is the penultimate track of this album, which is (as you may have guessed) a piano piece that is incredible frantic and heavily dramatic to say the least.  Due to the nature of the song, it is a challenging piece to say the least and if you are not previously versed in the later day piece of Frank Zappa (and to be honest I think we are all playing catch up still) and avant-garde jazz piece – then approach this with care.  It is also a song in two clear halves; the first is just the piano, flying as the wind and landing in seemingly random places (but there is nothing random with what is going on here).  The second half has percussion, bass, wood and synth added to the mix; this is actually the easier section of the piece to follow as you have other sounds to bounce off and they all compliment the piano.  The first half is just bonkers, the second half is still as bonkers – but you have been institutionalised at that point.  Then the song starts to morph into the last piece which is called “Calculus” which returns to the themes of “Dance Me This” and “Goat Polo”, the throat singing is back and all sense of order is down to personal perception at this point if we are honest.  Speeding up and slowly down just adds to the sense of confusion that is this songs signature, so you think you have it and then it is doing something completely different. It is a strange track to end the album on, but this is far from a conventional album and it feels as if it is just a pause until the next song.  Sadly, the music has ended.

I really have no idea what to say at this point – to be reviewing what is billed as the last Frank Zappa studio album is a strange thing in the first place (especially so long after his passing – the wonders of Frank’s constant recording), the album itself is just mad; I mean it is ‘Civilization Phaze III’ mad and then some.  You are listening to a man who is not long for this world, still on the ragged edge of creativity with his music, challenging what he was doing and moving ever forwards from the man who created “Peaches En Regalia” but sharing that some mind space.  This is one for fans of the man, it is not something that would be accepted by the general masses and that is the way it is supposed to be.  Frank Zappa was creating music that was not always for general consumption, not in some highbrow, shallow and pedantic way; he was doing music that was for a different mind-set to those who find people like the Rolling Stones and One Direction the pinnacle of music, it is designed to challenge, to be non-conformist and to be for a man who was always perplexed by what was considered to be correct in popular culture.  Now, I cannot give this a mark out of ten as it is just too crazy and to mark it as such would be heresy; it is getting the mad as a box of kittens picture and I hope you do get to hear it sometime.  I love it and whilst the studio journey might be over, I know there is still a hell of a lot of stuff to listen to out there. All hail Mr Zappa, there has never been one like you, sadly there might never be again.

Crazy Cat symbol - This album cannot be marked, so here is a box of kittens

You can purchase the album directly from the Zappa webstore here 

You can also visit the Frank Zappa website here 

This album is not available for streaming, if that ever changes I will up date it here

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