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Van Der Graaf Generator - ALT CD (album) cover

ALT

Van Der Graaf Generator

Eclectic Prog


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars Only a short year after the rather average GIN album, the trio comes back with an uncharacteristic album, made for recent "odds and ends", improvs, soundchecks and other tidbits of the ilk. Of course, like everyone else, you're tempted to think of 05's Present's second "tedious" disc, and in some ways, you'd be absolutely right to think of it. But Alt is also rather more interesting a release; not least, because it is not overshadowed by a studio album with proper songs, like Present was. So the present (no big "P") album is made up of instrumental pieces that somehow found their ways into tapes or memory banks in the last six years ? none feature Jaxon's sax. And just like the improvised Present pieces from 05 were credited to all four members, all Alt tracks are credited to Evans, Banton & Hammill. The actual piecing/correcting and mixing of the material took place in a very inadapted place, modified by the band, as can be seen in the booklet's pictures.

Opening with birds chirping away, the aptly-titled Early Bird is a slow dronal ambient, but occasionally tense pieces, (as will the closing 10-mins+ Dronus), and in some ways, you could think of some post-rock bands' soundscapes. Some other pieces are more Graafesque sonic-wise (Midnite, Batty Loop, Tuesday Or Extractus), but the conspicuous absence of vocals can somehow dismay the listener, but since we're never (or almost) in an actual "constructed song" context (probably even less so than on Present's disc 2), one should easily adapt and accept Alt for what it is: an anecdotic but instructive Graaf "archival" (not sure this is the right word for it) release. To call Alt an experimental album might just be overstating things (it's not revolutionary or groundbreaking) and yet it teaches us a few things about the band, and lets a different facet of the trio surface. More than in any other Graaf album, Alt lets you see (or hear, in this case) just how good Evans and Banton are on their respective tools. You'd tend to think that Jaxon's absence would be insurmountable on instrumentals like these, but it's just not the case: it forces Peter and Hugh to surpass themselves and be even more inventive. And there is no doubt that Hammill keeps getting better on keys and strings. Actually, Repeat After Me is a fairly good base to solid song, as it seems that it's only missing Peter's deep vocals and solemn lyrics. At times, the trio can get very Crimsonesque in their improvisations, like Elsewhere, Here's One, Colossus (where Banton deals with heavy-duty synth and loops), D'Accord and Mackerel.

One more good point about Alt, is that it made me revisit Present's second disc with the improvisations, and I re-evaluated it (positively) in my book. Soooo, while not a normal studio album, Alt holds at least as much interest as some of the band's less inspired albums like World Record or the recent Grounding, but most likely for the average Graafhead, it will not get as much airplay in the long run, though I will probably be in the minority and come back to it occasionaly.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#779336)
Posted Friday, June 29, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Once it is understood that there are no vocals or songs as such on this hour long extrapolation of VDGG's improvisatory moments, and the album is appreciated on its own terms, there is much to enjoy here.

Beginning with birdsong and cymbals recorded by drummer Guy Evans, it passes through some 14 sections of music where exploration in the moment is key. From shorter jazzier workouts, to longer textural pieces none of it was seemingly `consciously' recorded, it emerged as a by product be it at gig sound checks or instrument checks during the recording of the last two song based albums...almost like an alternative version of the spirit of Van Der Graaf which manifested itself and demanded to be heard.

When the music gels such as on the excellent 7 minute `Repeat After Me', it is a pure pleasure to hear the band in the midst of the creative process and demonstrating that music is an endless set of possibilities.

Ironically, if anybody takes something of a backseat it is Peter Hammill, as Guy Evans' chattering exploratory drumming, and Hugh Banton's relentless pursuit of new keyboard ideas tend to dominate. Banton's organ sounds are perhaps the most recognizable in the midst of pieces where the direction isn't entirely clear, and this is certainly no place for VDGG newbies. For seasoned supporters of the band however, it is a worthwhile addition to the unexpected and most welcome post 2005 reformation catalogue. `Alt' is most successful when it's at it's furthest away from the VDGG we know and love, such as on the closing 10 minute `Dronus' which is redolent of `Atem' era Tangerine Dream.

The album serves very well as a stop gap until the next collection of Hammill penned song material, and also as an encouraging indicator that Van Der Graaf Generator (on tour in the USA as I write) are still very much a going concern.

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Send comments to beebfader (BETA) | Report this review (#782633)
Posted Friday, July 06, 2012 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars 'ALT' - Van der Graaf Generator (4/10)

Although I may have not found myself wholly impressed with last year's "A Grounding in Numbers", it was cool to hear Van der Graaf Generator still evolving their sound well into their golden years. Easily predicted, "A Grounding in Numbers" was very laid-back and far from the bombastic madness of their prime. As such, I would have likely expected more of the same from Van der Graaf Generator's next album; a Peter Hamill-driven collection of reflective songwriting, with the occasional progressive twist to keep listeners on their feet.

For better and worse, "ALT" goes against every expectation. To be honest, it doesn't even feel like a Van der Graaf record.

Pink Floyd's black sheep "Ummagumma" was the first thing I was reminded of, minutes into the album. Writing this review, I still think that's what the band was going for on "ALT". For an hour, listeners are exposed to a leaking of hyperindulgent experimentation and instrumental noodling. Van der Graaf's most distinctive element- the voice of Peter Hammill- has been taken out of the mix and replaced by nothingness. Although listeners can still look out for the occasional smattering of guitar and bird-chirping samples, the vast majority of the sound is handed over the Hugh Banton's drumkit and the keyboards. In other words, "ALT" is what Van der Graaf Generator might sound like without Peter Hammill. Was this a hypothetical scenario that many of us dreamt of? Not really.

Of course, taken out of its disappointing context, there is some enjoyment to be had with "ALT". Meeting at a crossroads between minimalist ambiance and experimental jazz, "ALT" gives the impression of an almost entirely improvised effort, the sort of thing that they may have composed over tea-time and went straight to recording. With that in mind, it's surprising that some of these 'songs' came together as well as they did. Although many of these tracks are immediate throwaways, there are a couple of gems. Van der Graaf Generator execute the jazz style very well here; "Repeat After Me" is brooding and cinematic. "Collosus" is a cosmic romp with texture experiments aplenty. It won't fit everyone's taste, and it certainly doesn't fit Van der Graaf Generator's usual sound.

Some of their experiments are very interesting, but I found myself often bored. Even when Van der Graaf latch onto something intriguing, they often stick with it too long. One thing that remains consistent throughout, however, is the production. Although this sound is obviously raw and unrefined, the mix is organic and rich; it feels almost like a live performance. For much of this album, drummer Hugh Banton is given the spotlight, and he demonstrates some great skill as a fusion drummer. Sadly, the pros are outweighed by the overindulgent noodling, hit-or-miss experiments, and an album length that should have been cut in half. All the same, it might be worth a listen; just don't expect it to sound anything like the Van der Graaf Generator you know.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#785648)
Posted Monday, July 09, 2012 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
1 stars VDGG move into exploratory territory and produce a disaster-piece.

The album cover looks as though we are peering through a hole in the wall at VDGG recording this album. Unfortunately someone at the studio must have had a hole in their head to think that people would be genuinely interested in an album full of improvisations.

"ALT" is the latest Van der Graaf Generator album that features original members Peter Hammill on guitar and keyboards, Hugh Banton on organ, bass pedals and bass guitar, and drums by Guy Evans. Normally I would be salivating over a new VDGG release as I am a huge fan of their inimitable sound, however this album was not on my number one hit list for a number of reasons. With the knowledge that this album has no vocals whatsoever one would be forgiven for not being too thrilled to indulge in listening, because Peter Hammill is a master on vocals and the absence of them are always going to be a moot point for conjecture. Secondly, the songs were simply selected improvisations during recording sessions and never really meant to see the light of day and be lumped together here. Thirdly, the instrumentals on the "Present" bonus CD were quite dull so this new album did not show signs of promise. Indeed "ALT" feels like a bunch of bonus fillers and hardly any stand out as nothing more than curios worth one listen and then discarded. If they had been performed by any other band other than the VDGG masters, I would perhaps have no interest at all. However, I have everything related to the band so this album was an inevitable listen, but I was not expecting great things and I did not receive any for that matter.

The songs, if you can call them that, are very dull at first. The first three songs, 'Earlybird', that sounds like someone taped a bird whistling, and then Woody Woodpecker joined in, 'Extractus', nothing more than a short burst of percussion over a improv guitar lick, and 'Sackbutt', an organ filler, just cruise along with ambient melancholy atmospheres, and some are less than 2 minutes long and perhaps should have been merged together as one longer song. They have no impact at all and are frustratingly dull with no melodies or specific musical soloing. I could not believe this was VDGG who are usually so brilliant at their craft. The tracks were recorded during soundchecks or studio gigs as the band were noodling around searching for new sounds and melodies but should they be released for public consumption. Heck, if all bands released their in between songs kanoodling we would be inundated with this mediocrity. The problem is rather than producing memorable glorious prog classics, they do indeed simply sound like they are improvising in a studio in between playing masterpieces such as 'Killer' or 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'. Of course there are no masterworks such as those here, not even close, but I hoped something would jump out and bite me.

'Collossus' is the first lengthy track at about 6 and a half minutes so I hoped for greater things after the slow dull start. It features some interesting low keyboards and improv percussion. The organ is quite chilling, and it is darkly atmospheric, symphonic even. It builds with flute synth and harpsichord sounds as well as some baritone. The percussion hi hat work is excellent as can be expected from the great Evans. The track continues to build with intense organ flourishes, sporadic jazz drumming and some weird sounds. Overall the best one so far but still nothing compared to previous VDGG.

'Batty Loop' returns to the less than 2 minutes filler, and it is just basically frenetic percussion and improvised electric piano. Just a bunch of noise that has no appeal to me at all. At this stage I am already frustrated with the album and hope it will improve dramatically. 'Splendid' is a decent length at 3:45 and is a slow paced heavy drum pounder with a grinding organ solo. I quite liked this one, especially the dramatic organ flourishes and odd bassline. The track is a darker improvised instrumental and even has a semblance of melody hidden within. Perhaps it is the best on the album at this stage and I wished that the rest of the album could have been as intriguing. The drum solo at the end is fantastic; yes, splendid is an apt description.

'Repeat After Me' is 7:39 in length so is one of the longest tracks on the album. It begins with beautiful piano and guitar notes. It hangs onto a pretty dreamy melody for a while, and then moves into some mesmirising passages of piano tinkling along with Banton's bass pedals. Another of the better tracks on "ALT", and thankfully lengthy enough to enjoy without interruption.

'Elsewhere' is another longer track, 4:19, and has some eerie effects that showed promise. Again the percussion takes centre stage with frenetic Evans attacking his snare and hi hat with force. The effect is quite mesmirising especially the weird guitar playing and synth swirls. This is totally experimental and show the band exploring a diverse sound. It settles into a jazz fusion feel still with the spacey synth techniques. I like the rhythm that locks in sounding like a spaced up Miles Davis. Overall, not bad and nothing like the VDGG you would have heard before.

'Here's One I Made Earlier' with the amusing title is 5:44 of sheer exploratory improvisation. It drones with menace and draws one in gradually with some odd guitar sounds. It sounds very similar to King Crimson's Fripp for a while. The spacey textures are prevalent and I hoped it would build into some dynamic musical shapes. However this one meanders on one note for a length of time, and never really takes off. The band seem to find an interesting sound but then they labour on it too long, over doing it with obscene self indulgence. Even just a verse from Hammill would have helped here, but if this is the new direction for the band I may be jumping off the the good ship VDGG.

'Midnite Or So' has an intriguing intro with cathedral organ sounding like walking into an old church preparing for a service. It sounds as filler as the rest of the album. The organ is fuzzy and almost feels like the same melody as a classic I can't remember but have heard somewhere. The drums are loud and splashy adding a heavy atmosphere. I like the organ grinding on this, but it kind of sounds like the middle part of a song rather than a stand alone piece.

'D'Accord' is next, a 2:30 minute keyboard driven track, with dark atmospheres. It sounds like part of 'Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' at the start. Unfortunately it meanders on for too long and doesn't develop into anything really. This feels like such a lazy album that may have been completed in a single day; it just fails to impress me at all. 'Mackerel Ate Them' runs for almost 5 minutes, and begins with crashing drums and improvised keys that sound like an insane horn. The drums are incredible on this, wild and frenetic as only Evans can be. He has a field day on this album but just sounds like he is doing what he feels like regardless with what is happening with the keys and bass. Indeed, all members sound like they are playing their own song on this. This is quite fascinating for a while but soon wears out its welcome. There is no structure and the messy musicianship is all over the place. As the drums fade out a new sound is introduced sounding like a fizzling synth and then some spacey keys join in. The effect is rather creepy and then the drums return just as I was beginning to enjoy the weirdness. A shame really as this one had potential to develop into something special, but it just does not go anywhere. 'Tuesday, The Riff' is next, at almost 3 minutes in length, it has a doomy melody that I latched onto immediately. The organ is again cathedral like and well played as expected. The guitars are heavier and hold the downbeat riff as manic percussion blazes away. Again this one actually jumped out as one of the best tracks thanks to the atmosphere and especially the riff and towering percussion.

'Dronus' ends the album with a lengthy 10 minute mini epic that I had high hopes for as most lengthy VDGG tracks are awesome. It begins with the obligatory drone creating an air of portentous threats. The atmosphere is intense as the drone pulsates and builds with layers of synths and some esoteric violin sounds. There is no percussion or guitar just swathes of synths and the overall feel is like floating in space. Eventually the first drum beat is heard, jazzy and out of sync but it does not overwhelm the meandering soundscape. I was quite hooked on this sound for a while but I looked at the track time and it still had about 4 minutes to go. The percussion keeps an interesting feel and the drone begins to lessen in intensity as the drums build to very fast backwards percussion. There are other backwards sweeps of synth and this is one of the more chilling tracks on "ALT". It is very long and drawn out and, despite having an initial impact, it is hard to maintain the interest on one note, but it is not as bad as some of these other tracks that feel like throwaways. In fact this track is akin to the work of Tangerine Dream or Can.

The problem with the album is not so much the absence of vocals, I don't mind instrumental music at all, rather the problem lies in the simple indulgent improvisation and raw quality. It sounds as though you were watching the band live as they fill in between actual songs, and indeed this is really what it is. We are a fly on the wall listening in on the improvisations of VDGG. But it doesn't work as an album to return to. It may be OK for one listen but who wants to shell out for an album to listen to once? King Crimson are known to produce lengthy musical improvisations on the live stage but somehow they pull it off in a much more endearing manner. Perhaps one could forgive the album if it had been the bonus CD to "Grounding In Numbers" but I believe strongly that this album will really alienate some listeners from the incredible potential of the band. I am really at a loss as to the poor quality of this album as I absolutely adore most of the VDGG catalogue. I would prefer any of their albums over this, and that shocks me because this is the latest VDGG, and it is not even as good as their debut. Strike this album down as their definitive worst. Disappointment of the year, without a doubt.

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Send comments to AtomicCrimsonRush (BETA) | Report this review (#790854)
Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
1 stars Although others have pointed out the experimental aspects of Alt - an album on which Van der Graaf Generator dispense with vocals entirely to create a set of improvised instrumentals - the truly fatal flaw of the experiment is that it almost entirely lacks in novelty. We've already had two releases of the band improvising away; a few jams emerged on the quasi-official compilation Time Vaults whilst the second disc of Present consisted entirely of improvised instrumentals. I don't know anyone who listened to the second disc of that album and said "You know what? What VdGG should do is create a whole standalone album just of this sort of stuff, because after sitting through that I am desperate for more."

To add insult to injury, the album isn't even particularly well produced. We're not talking full-on Time Vaults sound quality issues here, mind, but it is a marked step down even from the lukewarm standards of the second disc of Present. (In particular, Guy Evans' drumming is far too loud in the mix.)

Whilst this sort of noodling might be a good way for the band to hit on musical ideas to be worked into structured compositions, there's little satisfaction to be gained from listening to the process as it's presented here. I think this is one of those cases where an otherwise competent set of musicians have created an album deserving only of the minimum rating: not only is the album based on an idea with fundamental flaws which really should have been evident from the start of the process, but it's a re-run of an idea which they tried and didn't do brilliantly at before, and it isn't even recorded at their usual high standards of production. It's almost as though they strolled into a studio, humped the instruments for an hour, and then decided to sell the results as a VdGG album to see if any of us would notice we'd been had. We've noticed, lads.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#790864)
Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
Guldbamsen
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP
Site and Forum Admin
3 stars Side-swiped dog

Wow this album is getting trashed just about everywhere you look! Sure, if you're approaching ALT from the viewpoint of a long time fan, who adores everything with a bit of Hammillesque vocal spurts on top of it, then you have already set yourself up to fail from the get-go.

I am a long time fan, but seeing as last years release never really spoke to me - never actually left the ground(pun intended), I had zero expectations for this one, which in all fairness should be the way to approach any new music release. Gone are the theatrical vocals, and what meets you straight off the bat, is an album that sounds ridiculously close to what Floyd did on the studio side of Ummagumma. Now, first of all, I happen to adore Ummagumma and rate it among my favourite Floyd releases ever - especially due to that mad studio side. Secondly - ALT never really gets as bunkers, and while it may sport the occasional freak-out drummer's delight, the vast majority of this album seems held together by an uncanny 'togetherness' unfolding between these musical compadres of old. -A bond that is damn near impossible to replicate, unless you've spend the better half of the last century playing music together.

From the beginning bird chirps and experimental sways of keys - ALT develops fluently and uncompromisingly as you go along its rather bulky surface. Contrary to classic Van Damme Generator, here the emphasis lies in the powerful and highly imaginative drum-work of Guy Evans and the equally challenging organ n keyboard gulps from Monsieur Banton. These guys really get to stretch their legs, and to me personally it feels as if Hammill, while growing in artistic instrumental capability, resides comfortably in the back throughout the course of this album. That is not to say that he doesn't add something to the proceedings, but merely that the captain of this sea vessel has the poise and calm to stay where his work is most appreciated in regards to what the given musical piece wants, searches for and accomplishes. I think that is the mark of a brilliant musician, and even if Banton and Evans do most of the talking, I think it just as important and interesting that Hammill is able to do this. Respect!

How is the music then? I'd say it fumbles around in different areas of rock and jazz rock, but what most of these pieces have in common is that they shape themselves as they go along. You'll hear a starting keyboard section that goes from ambient shimmers to all out teutonic phrasings with bass pedals ablazing and the stillness of the drums slowly evaporating into a shamanistic onslaught of precision and countering brute force. Then you have the slowly droning pieces, such as the closing track, that wander along like a foggy presence in search of something tangible and real. It never gets there, but it still gets quite beautiful and free. Other such intimate docile sonic creatures are made up of thin almost whispering piano and chiming instrumentation that waft and ooze like something straight out of a serene morning movie with dew, awakening drowsy animals and atmosphere up the wazoo. So apart from the, at times, rather bulky and tumultuous tracks on ALT, you also get served with music that is as beautiful as it is smooth and clean.

Outside of this quality, I have had an atrocious experience with ALT playing in my ears. I was on my way home from work - awaiting the bus, and this beat down German sheperd suddenly appears out of the blue. Wandering freely around without a collar - only reacting to what its nose tells it - it rather blindly and clumsily trots out on the road, where a fast paced car side-swipes it with a huge meat thump - sounding like a fist kissing a t-bone steak. The dog whimpers and runs madly in the other direction tale between its hind legs - and yours truly still listening to Colossus with its confusing meters and with arms waving frantically after the car.......... Somehow this image stays with me every time I put this album on - that meandering dog suddenly being hit by a car. Maybe it says something about my wild and incoherent mind, but I'd like to think it speaks about ALT in a way that I could never do. The music is a meeting of the casually meandering and the powerful menacing slabs of life intervening. For me it's all about the dog though.

Please give ALT a chance. Leave your expectations at the door, and an album of quirky charm, nonsensical things and steaming jams will emerge from its dreamy cover art - hopefully transforming your made up mind of how the mighty Van Dammes of the world preferably should sound and feel... 3.5 stars.

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Send comments to Guldbamsen (BETA) | Report this review (#804595)
Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I read all the many reviews on the net, I feel the urge to point out in thick black ink a few things, so as to correct common misunderstandings and mistakes joyously committed by reviewers all over the world.

1. Alt has been released after "A Grounding", yes. Alt was NOT recorded after this album and is NOT a new album by the band! The recordings behind ALT mainly go back to the years around Trisector, which is quite logical as we have the same trio at work! Look carefully at the back cover of your copy of ALT and you will see the mention: recorded and mixed between 2006 and 2012.

2. Why have so many people problems to accept that an artist - especially one having been active in so many years - may someday wish to do something completely different than what they're known for? Why are the dogs slipped free, barking as loud as they can because Peter Hammill is NOT singing or because this album doesn't taste like their fave VDGG ice cream?

3. All the promotion text publicly printed all around the world before the release made it clear: ALT is no ordinary Van Der Graaf Generator album! Peter Hammill even explained in details what it was about. So why all the fuzz, disappointment and harsh critics ending sometimes in an explosion of very low star grading? Payback for a personal unjustified frustration?

4. Alt is a meeting, a long-time-running experiment, an exchange of views, an event (Evans was sleeping in a tent inside the studios!!), an ongoing reflection, three men at work, a test of new recording technologies, Alt is NOT a duplication of a receipt-based VDGG wax museum!

5. One of the consequences of such an experiment is that the musical interrogations, questionings, may appear unhomogeneous, fragile, maybe unsure at times. So is musical life too!

6. My strongest and only advice to any of you about to listen to this album: be amnesiac! You don't know who's playing, you listen to the music of an unknown group and you judge from there.

7. oooh you'll probably say I didn't write anything at all about the music and this isn't quite a review! Well, what I would write about ALT as a reviewer has been already said many times, many places, by many people so I wouldn't repeat it. Instead, here's a subjective and entirely personal description of my experience, as I saw the pick up of my turntable slowly going down: I was entering a dark and mystical lab, not sitting on a chair with a lot of wires connected, no, freely moving, sensing, reacting, feeling my ears massaged by a constantly evolving musical material, micro changes in sounds or lines working like enzymes, toying with directional perspectives and dynamics, remote, near, low, loud, slow, fast, finding myself after some time in some kind of mental otherworldly condition .... until the wake up call, the repeated click of the pick-up.

That's ALT for now.

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Send comments to Music By Mail (BETA) | Report this review (#807167)
Posted Sunday, August 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars A previous reviewer wrote "Unfortunately someone at the studio must have had a hole in their head to think that people would be genuinely interested in an album full of improvisations." Well, some vdGG fans are genuinely interested in this album! Yes, it is a mixed bag. In some cases, I think they took a long jamming session and excerpted the best stretch (a good idea). Lots of jazz drumming and crazy organ playing (Banton and Evans certainly know each other so well that they really can play off each other) or moody piano by Hammill (reminiscent of way back to "Fools Mate"). The last piece is reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream or Pink Floyd; another one could be a forgotten Fripp&Eno outtake; rarely is it "standard" vdGG fare. There is easily enough material here as seeds for a complete excellent album or two; perhaps it's a pity they didn't do that, but I am glad to have heard it nonetheless. It is odd to hear so much vdGG material without a word from Hammill; but I don't have a problem with that.

Rating Alt is tricky. I'll give it a a 3.5: it is pretty disjointed as an album, and it would be the last album I'd ever use to introduce a newbie, but the atmosphere it evokes in places is excellent. Maybe over time I'll tire of it, but right now I'm looking forward to my next listening ...

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Send comments to Rob the Grey (BETA) | Report this review (#838902)
Posted Monday, October 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars "Alt" is meant to represent another side of VDGG, one they haven't shown on recent studio albums. It's a VDGG showing experimentation, search and innovation, but frankly, the split-up between the generally confused experimentation on this album and the rather dull song writing and worn-out ideas of the previous two releases couldn't be more frustrating.

"Alt" is an album that has more ideas and gut in any random minute then the 2 previous VDGG albums combined, but that gut is totally directionless, a misguided missile that lacks Hammill's sharp songwriting. If the previous VDGG album was a Hammill solo album with the wrong band logo on the sleeve, then this is the result of internal politics allowing Banton and Evans to show off their chops. Why can't we have the best of both worlds combined into one anymore? It shouldn't be out of their reach, they sure didn't have any problem doing so in the 70s.

"Alt" has turned out to be many's favorite "let's bash an album" of the year. Well, it's an easy victim given how much it challenges the expectations from fans, certainly after our ears got lazy from the rather dreary easy-listening-VDGG of recent years. Nevertheless, despite my frustrations with "Alt", I found it an interesting and in places beautifully abstract album, especially the second half is most satisfying. I also haven't missed Jackson's saxophone on this album. Hats of to Hugh Banton for this.

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Send comments to Bonnek (BETA) | Report this review (#852583)
Posted Wednesday, November 07, 2012 | Review Permalink
Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Here's an album almost guaranteed to challenge the ProgArchives rating guidelines. Awarding it two 'fans only' stars obviously doesn't work, judging by the disappointment of so many longtime fans and the low overall score of the album on these pages. And a single star hardly seems fitting for such an unapologetically defiant collection, so contrary to expectations that it even excludes the voice of Peter Hammill, typically the band's focal point and most distinctive element.

But isn't that a part of what Progressive Rock is supposed to do: shake the cages of our musical complacency? According to drummer Guy Evans, these fourteen "instrumental improvs and experiments" (and not songs, please note) were "made while we weren't looking", at various points over the previous six years. Some appear to be concert excerpts; others must have happened during studio rehearsals or soundchecks; most are little more than unclassifiable flotsam from the back of the Van Der Graaf closet. The sound quality varies wildly according to each source (none identified, by the way), making the project even more willfully self-indulgent, in the best meaning of the word.

A brief digression...according to guitarist ROBERT FRIPP, self-indulgence is an occupational hazard of the Prog Rock experience. "In practice, when you let rip this is always a risk", he once wrote, especially when "acting in accordance with one's own musical sense-of-rightness."

This particular bit of creative cage rattling was perfectly timed, arriving so soon after the too- polite "A Grounding in Numbers" album. Here the group was daring to swim dangerous waters again, and without life jackets. The results are more reckless, more unpredictable, and (yes) a little more incoherent as well: the price you sometimes pay for making serendipity your muse. I can't pretend it doesn't wander down some musical cul-de-sacs or chase its tail in circles at times. And never mind how well it actually succeeds (or not, just as often). The album is still a fascinating dissection of the collective VDGG brain pan.

In his sleeve notes Guy Evans adds, "These tracks really require you, the listener, to complete them and give them life." Which may sound like a cop-out of sorts, but he has a point. Even at their best (which this album never pretends to be), Van Der Graaf Generator has always been a difficult band to appreciate. To some fans, that's exactly what makes them so attractive.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#941299)
Posted Monday, April 08, 2013 | Review Permalink
1 stars First, let me say that I'm not a die hard Van der Graaf Generator fan, and have only recently gotten into listening to them. I'm only 19 years old, so I don't know if I'm qualified to review this band, but I'll give it a go. :)

Now, I grew up listening to mostly video game music, which we all know is mostly instrumental and sometimes ambient. Despite a song not having lyrics to sing, it can be proven to be pounded into our memories just as much as a song with a catchy chorus or memorable lyrics. I mean, how many of us remember the Super Mario theme? Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that a instrumental song can be proven to be just as powerful as a non-instrumental song as long as that instrumental song has a...:

1) Catchy beat / rhythm

2) Doesn't bore us to sleep (though calming songs are fine, what I mean is that the song keeps us entertained throughout)

3) Has interesting and intense instrumental parts

4) ...actually goes somewhere

Okay, now that's out of the way, let's get on with this album!

...man, I guess Van der Graaf Generator doesn't want to follow my steps because this is indeed a poor album. Some would argue that some of these songs go somewhere, but to me, they most definitely don't. All this album is to me is just a bunch of jam sessions and extended reject openings for various Van der Graaf Generator songs. The question I want to ask is, why bother making this? I mean, this album screams pointless. Basically, it's like an Ummagumma tribute, and though Ummagumma was a bad album, this tribute makes us that hate Ummagumma want to play it all day long just to get this crap out've of our heads, which shouldn't be hard, as none of the songs on "ALT" resonate in the brain very long.

Agree or disagree to my review, and if I'm not the only one that feels like this, please reply! :D

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Send comments to thenightfly (BETA) | Report this review (#1138199)
Posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | Review Permalink

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