For many people the music of Van Der Graaf Generator (VDGG) is difficult to swallow. The compositions are on the whole rather complex and the vocals of Peter Hammill (guitar, keyboards) are not every one's cup of tea. However, those who have a problem with Hammill's voice should listen to their latest album, since the follow-up to A Grounding In Numbers (2011, see review) doesn't feature any vocals at all, but I doubt if this will make a difference!
ALT is the name of VDGG's new studio album that will be quite a surprise to many people, because this completely instrumental album isn't an ordinary VDGG release. In fact the album is one big musical experiment because the music has been fully improvised. In the press information it's said that most of the music was made while 'only the left side of their collective brain was engaged'. It also said that the album is 'a mixture of improvisations recorded during sound checks and in the studio'. These sonic creations offer a fascinating glimpse into an alternative VDGG sound world. They compare ALT to the second CD of the double album Present (2005), an album I'm not familiar with so I can't tell you whether this is true or not!
Even measured against VDGG standards, this stuff is at the wacky end of the scale, so to speak. This album certainly shows another side of this band. You might call it a unique listening experience that you won't listen to a second time. Once you've heard the album you're probably in need of something else to free your mind from this experimental stuff. Maybe Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton (organ, bass pedals, bass guitar) and Guy Evans (drums) wanted to please themselves with this kind of weird music without taking the listeners into account!
I guess you have to listen to ALT yourself to be able to describe what happens during this one hour of music. Mainly due to the use of the organ it sometimes hold hints of a style Pink Floyd had during their sixties psychedelic period. At other times the sound is related to the music of Tangerine Dream. A title as Dronus already indicates the kind of music it contains, namely the early days of Tangerine Dream with a lot of drones. Highlights are difficult to find on this album, but if the drums are involved the music gets a positive injection. Therefore a track like Midnite Or So really felt good while playing it. The melody performed on the organ sounds rather strong and the supporting drum parts lift the track to a higher level. This certainly is one of the two highlights on ALT together with Tuesday, The Riff, another piece with strong rhythm parts.
Again, this instrumental album shows another side of Van Der Graaf Generator that will certainly get positive, but also very negative reactions from their fan base. Some of them will hate it and are dying to hear more music related to the style of music they're used to. Others will go along with this experiment and enjoy it all the way through. Personally, I never felt comfortable with the music of VDGG. With or without singing the band never really pleased me. Also this time it's all too experimental for my ears.
** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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