AFTER CRYING: AFTER CRYING 6 (BG CD 009)
TOWNSCREAM: NAGYAROSI IKONOK (BG CD 011)
In my review here of After Crying's first five albums (which I recommend reading before continuing with this review), I concluded by worrying about what effect Csaba Vedres' exit from the band might have had on its future, and at the same time I expressed optimism about "his next project." Here now is the evidence that I needn't have worried about After Crying -- and justification for my optimism for Vedres.
AFTER CRYING 6 is a very powerful album, a strong follow-up to the band's last studio album, DE PROFUNDIS. Most of the music is written by Balazs Winkler and Peter Pejtsik (although Vedres is co-composer of the first piece -- perhaps a left over?), and it's largely orchestral in nature, with few obvious solo spots. I hear bits of Mussorgsky and Janacek, along with echoes of King Crimson and ELP (indeed, the final track, "Conclusion," is subtitled "A tribute to Keith Emerson"). A long album (over 73 minutes!), it opens with "Save Our Souls," a kind of overature except that it seems more to sum up past After Crying music than to introduce the music that follows. The second piece, "Panem et Circenses," is a 29-minute, 6-track suite. It draws for inspiration on King Crimson's "Cirkus" (LIZARD) and ELP's "Karn Evil 9" (BRAIN SALAD SURGERY) -- the lyrics at one point state that "it's Crimson Circus of the hell" -- but transcends them both. Darker and more powerful than anything After Crying has ever done. This is followed by the brief and intermission-like "Intermezzo," and then the second major suite, "Farewell to 20th Century." This one run five tracks and 27 minutes. The album concludes with the almost eleven-minute "Tribute to Keith Emerson."
As you may have guessed from the titles and the lyrics I quoted, this album marks After Crying's return to the use of English. Most of the lyrics are in English (a couple passages are in Hungarian), and the notes/credits are bilingual, which allows me to figure out the credits on the earlier albums (lead vocal = "enek"; keyboards = "billentyuk"). I assume this return to English is motivated by a desire to reach out to the audience that lies beyond
Townscream -- Csaba Vedres' new band -- presents its album entirely in Hungarian, however. The band's name is its only excursion into English on this, its first album. The band is basically a quartet, plus a lyricist (King Crimson's original setup). Vedres plays piano and a Korg synth, and does the vocals (sometimes processed through something for vocoder-like harmonies, one of his trademarks in After Crying). He is joined by Peter Acs on bass, Gabor Baross on drums, and Bela Gal on cello and synthesizer. In addition, three guest musicians supply flute, trumpet and trombone.
Townscream's music is all written or co-written by Vedres. There are thirteen tracks, adding up to more than 72 minutes -- another long, meaty album. The first four tracks (which add up to almost twenty minutes) make up the title ("Nagyvarosi Ikonok") suite. The eleventh track, "Hajnali Enek," is co-credited to "Fripp," and incorporates Robert Fripp's "Peace -- A Theme" (from King Crimson's second album, IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON) as a bridge-like second melody, to good effect. The music is pretty much a direct continuation of Vedres' music for After Crying, but with perhaps a bit more of an edge. The title suite makes use, in its third section/track, of "found sounds," industrial sounds assembled into train-rhythms, reminiscent of early Musique Concrete. (This too is a continuation of train-rhythms first used on After Crying's third album and used again on their latest album; train-rhythms are a true product of our age, and they can elicit surprisingly strong emotional responses in us.) Later on the album Vedres assembles birdsong equally effectively.
Townscream has a drummer; After Crying often dispenses with drums. Townscream's approach is less orchestral, the arrangements more spare. Otherwise, there is little difference in the nature of the two groups' music. In both cases the music is ambitious and complex, but at heart melodic and evocative. Vedres' split from After Crying has led to the best of all possible outcomes, from my point of view: twice as much exciting new music. Both of these albums are 1997 releases, and they bode well for future albums from both After Crying and Townscream. Once again, highly recommended.
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