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King Crimson - Discipline CD (album) cover


King Crimson


Eclectic Prog

4.12 | 1920 ratings

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5 stars

Discipline is one of those albums where, if I go long enough without listening to it, I think, "Well, Discipline is good, but it's not that good. How could I ever have thought it was the best King Crimson album, and one of the best of all time?" And then I may go back and listen to Discipline again, and realize: it really is that good. In an era when prog rock had fallen into disrepair, Robert Fripp got together an astounding group of musicians to make an astounding album.

Part of the reason I like Discipline so much is because it combines an amazing number of elements that I just really like in music. Chief among these are a chorus-filtered guitar tone that just drips New Wave, electronic experimentation, highly complex ostinati out the wazoo, and serious rhythmic complexity. (I occasionally am jolted by just how ridiculous the track "Discipline" is in this respect.) At the same time, it brings together 4 of the most remarkable players in rock music: Robert Fripp (my favorite guitarist of all time), Bill Bruford (my favorite drummer of all time), Tony Levin (not my favorite bassist of all time, but a pretty freaking good bassist/Chapman Stickist all the same), and Adrian Belew (himself a guitar wizard, and also an excellent vocalist.) This last point is something to emphasize--often I feel like vocal lines in instrumentally complex music may detract from it somewhat, and I must say that I find many of the foremost voices in prog somewhat irritating, but Belew smashes both of these trends, fitting into the music and complementing it even when he's just rambling off a surreal monologue. And that is no mean feat.

The album opens with the funky standout "Elephant Talk". Led by a seriously groovy stick intro riddled with tritones and rushing guitar noises, it shifts into a peculiar spoken word portion in which Belew rattles off synonyms for "talk" starting with the first 5 letters of the alphabet ("balderdash, ballyhoo! It's only talk!") In the sections between letters, the band jumps into exciting solo sections, each one notably different from the last, full of elephant noises, guitar synthesizers, plain old guitars, and a dizzying variety of ostinati.

After this excellent opener, however, is "Frame by Frame", which could easily contend for my favorite song EVER. The beginning is undergirded by a guitar line of inhuman speed from Fripp and wobbly chords from Belew, until it suddenly shifts in a section pulling off the bizarre rhythmic trick that King Crimson would go on to use later--playing in two different time signatures, at the same tempo, simultaneously (here 7/8 and 6/8). This is topped off by a nonsensical but beautiful sung part. If I were forced to put this song into a category, I would call it "math pop", and I would argue that this genre is something the world needs more of--it balances a focus on creating very thickly layered ambience with actual melodies on top, which gives it a sort of "sweeping" feel.

These two highly energetic pieces are followed up with the laid-back "Matte Kudasai", a very pretty ballad with only occasional interruptions from repeated guitar patterns that still serve to improve the track. The fading guitar tone used throughout is also gorgeous, and the occasional weird birdlike noises (presumably Belew) give this piece a very effective atmosphere.

After this comes a piece that feels rather out of place on the album, the crashing "Indiscipline". Quiet, throbbing bass sections accompanied by a bizarre spoken part from Belew (apparently a letter from his wife) build tension that is suddenly released in a pounding 5/4 rhythm, with distortion that hearkens back to Krimson's mid-70's work. This happens a couple times until a sudden conclusion, in which Belew finishes with a triumphant "I like it!" I'm actually not terribly impressed by this track, although my opinion toward it has warmed considerably. It drastically improves live, though, with an opening drum solo, longer tension-building sections, and a shift in Belew's tone of voice from strangely detatched to psychotic.

Amazingly, the second side manages to measure up to the quality of the first side. First, "Thela Hun Ginjeet" is one of the most energetic on the disc, replacing the single-note interplay of before with furious chords. It's also the album's third piece with spoken lyrics, this time with a twist--the lyrics are taken from Belew recounting an actual encounter with street thugs in his attempt to gather fake dialogue on this subject. The one flaw I would ascribe to this piece is that, while the others are sufficiently full of changes to hold interest, "Thela Hun Ginjeet" is somewhat monotonous--the narration isn't really sufficient to keep interesting the "verse" sections, which are quite long at times. However, this is a minor complaint for what is otherwise a very exciting song. It does still have an epic instrumental section at the end, which helps quite a bit.

Another breather piece comes after this: the instrumental "The Sheltering Sky", which is an uncharacteristic but even more successful attempt at an atmospheric piece (and in fact, it's yet another of my favorite Krimson songs.) An off-kilter chord progression and minimal slit-drum and bass undergird a guitar synthesizer solo from Fripp for the first chunk; then the guitars shift into playing repeated notes, resembling the methods of the other pieces on the album. However, this is still very different, as it remains subdued, with quiet background noises, interrupted by the occasional wavy descending synthesizer. In essence, this piece takes the characteristic interplay and slows it down enough to allow you to focus on what the individual bits are doing, also adding sufficient ambience and guitar synth antics to make it beautiful. It then returns to the beginning section.

The closer is another instrumental, "Discipline". Here is where the interplay goes utterly bonkers. The entire purpose of the piece appears to be for the guitarists to play two different patterns, then unexpectedly drop a note from one and continue playing while they fall out of sync. But miraculously, it all fits together perfectly--it it becomes engaging rather than noisy. The progression of patterns played isn't arbitrary, but flows nicely. It's really difficult to descibe this piece well, but suffice it to say that it takes the idea behind the album to the extreme and comes out intact.

So, yeah: Discipline is one of the all-time greats, in my view. One might be tempted to think (as I have all too often drifted into thinking when I have not heard this album for a long time) that an album mostly based around repetitive guitar ostinati would be soulless, homogenous, or just boring, but Discipline is none of these things: rather, it is King Crimson's peak. Highlights include "Frame by Frame", "The Sheltering Sky", and "Discipline", but really, apart from "Indiscipline", they're all superb.

*prepares for barrage of rotten fruit from ITCOTCK and Red lovers*

Zargasheth | 5/5 |


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