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Mike Keneally - Wing Beat Fantastic CD (album) cover


Mike Keneally


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4 stars After Scambot 1, which revealed us a record where composition was mainly an extension of improvisations, Mike Keneally offers, this time, an album of what we usually understand as songs. We know in advance that this record is a collaboration with Andy Partridge, one that was schedule since 1988, back in the days of Frank Zappa's last tour. We can understand the fascination that XTC could have had on Mike's taste and more so the opportunity to work on that vein. Knowing the subsequent output of Mike's career, we sense that XTC melodic sensitivity is somewhat sprinkled across almost all of the albuns that Mike recorded, along with the snippets of prog-rock ranging from Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa to Soft Machine, or John Scofield's jazz-rock albuns or Radiohead's vocal work. Although we can somehow identify all this references, what is extraordinary and makes him one of the most original voices in music today (not only in rock, i would say) is the ability of Mike Keneally to transform all the music that he touches into something really important and profound. It is as if all music is instantly filtered and put into a universe where nothing is casual, where all vocals and guitars are carefully layered, and compositions are rarely what they appear at first audition. Just like what we normally expect from a true artist and not only a musician. Mike surely learnt surprise and eyebrows with Frank Zappa even if he is more and more sounding in the antipodes of the latter. Wing Beat Fantastic, the album, opens with one of the three instrumentals that Mike placed across the record and serve as chambers to the "actual" songs, but also as if he wanted to give us a hint at the relaxed and intimate atmospheres of "Wooden Smoke" - his "acoustic" record. Once established this sort of low profile, Mike can carry on to his main goal - the songs he crafted with Andy. "It's Raining Here Inside" is the more straight forward song of the record but already gives us an "inside" of things - a place where rain creeps in, a paradox that will be developed later. Exactly like in "Hallmark" from the last album, the song is simple, with an unusual choice of chords, the sort of thing that would never happen in a conventional pop musician, Mike gives us a beautifully played guitar and solo, with a nice arrangement of voices in the last verse that remembers of the lush harmonies that could come out of a XTC album. When we arrive at "Wing Beat Fantastic" we begin to enter in the paradox. A simple fantastic beat is dressed with a beautiful melody. Voices and guitars (acoustic and electric) weave a fabric with nice contrasts, it is an absolutely marvelous piece. One of my favorites. The main melody can put you singing all day. Segue the second instrumental, the second part of "The Ineffable Oomph of Everything". This one is shorter and shows us again his excellent playing. "You Kill Me" starts with a sort of Gentle Giant melody that will be re-enacted throughout the song with a Zappaesque sensitivity. The record develops now a more extrovert side. The music is still relaxed but the lyrics are more political and it is here that i find that Mike could have been more radical and go deeper, mainly in terms of interaction of the players. I miss Brian Beller's interactions and dynamics. "Friend of a Friend" is once again an instrumental that opens us the phase III of the record. It starts with "That's Why I Have No Name". A strange melody that extends the inside/outside lyrical dynamic. The musical adventure on this one seems to border Radiohead's open atmospheres, or is it Robert Wyatt's ambiguous universe creeping? "Your House" is simply beautiful. The more i hear the more i fall in love with the song. Once again, the in/out paradox is stated, but this time the song and melody is emptied out of any ambiguity, in line with the unequivocal "your house" repeated on the lyrics. The line "I've got the number from a friend of a friend of a friend" is simply gorgeous musically and lyrically. The voices perfectly recorded, the harmonies are built slowly and carefully. Somehow, i feel the same placid intensity of some Hammill records: "silent corner and empty stage" or "chameleon in the shadow of the night", even if the voice couldn't be more different. Phase III continues with "Miracle Woman and Man" - the paradox widens and becomes more complex. The man and woman theme mirrors the strange arrangement that seems to glide from genre to genre as if it was someone dressing and undressing strange clothes, unsure of his sexual inclination. (Sorry about this one MIke!) "Inglow" is and extended instrumental with Mike playing tablas beautifully. It is here that we get to feel the "Wooden Smoke" atmosphere that was presented to us on those initial tokens. Like "Your House", the ambiguity vanishes and we get a sense of the INside - as the title indicates. On "Bobeau" I have the same feeling as with "You Kill Me" in terms of dynamic. I miss Brian Beller's dynamics and interaction. Minneman's beautiful playing is sort of alone on the different, gorgeous an complex parts of the song. Think I will wait for the Live version on this one, but then i will miss the beautiful arrangement of the trombones. I think we can't have the cake and eat it too. As if to reinforce this feeling, Mike finishes the song with an inspired and (unfortunately) bobbing in and out of water short guitar solo. "Land" is simply amazing. Guitars and voices entwine as if the paradox could be resolved finally in this land. But i think we dare not say or think so. Mike will take us to a new voyage soon. All this said, I give this one a 4 star. It is a beautiful record, but i miss the interaction a bit and the lack of improvised stuff that Keneally normally gives us. Otherwise it is simply gorgeous in composition, arrangement and playing.
Report this review (#801317)
Posted Monday, August 6, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I can't believe how unpredictably talented Mike Keneally truly is. There is no music this man cannot beautify, and, in this case, extend to galactic proportions. If you are even remotely a fan of XTC, Andy Partridge, the Beatles or Mike Keneally, this album can be the happiest musical INFECTION you have had in years.

Moments in this album, I am thinking, "this is the XTC album I was waiting for...", then you start thinking, "this is XTC 2.0", followed by "my God, Mike Keneally loves XTC more than I do... is that possible?". You have to double check the credits to make sure Colin Moulding isn't singing in the background. The way Mike has recreated the XTC harmony/production values are incredible. A couple of times you think you are listening to the guitar and singing of Andy Partridge (he is responsible for the co-writing and a few drum loops-which, needless to say, are exquisite).

OF IMPORTANT NOTE! This album will NOT sink in with one listen. This is the most important part about listening to ANY Mike Keneally venture (except maybe "Dog"). The first reaction is that the first half of the album is the best and only part, HOWEVER a real serious uninterrupted focused listen to the latter half of the album reveals something so deep and lyrical it becomes more infectious than the first half. The second half of the album is like a musical dreamscape washed in a haze of atmosphere with hidden complex melodies that stick like glue.

In my opinion, this album makes up for the slightly spotty nature of Scambot 1. If that album left you a little cold, this one will make you fall in love with Keneally all over again.

Report this review (#802086)
Posted Wednesday, August 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Transatlantic (the Neal Morse band) is the nearest comparison I can think of for Wing Beat Fantastic: low-to-moderately energetic songs, mainly guitar-based but with some low-key piano and sufficient harmonic and rhythmic surprises to keep the attentive listener interested. The inattentive listener will find a smooth, pleasant background for their party, housework, etc.

This album is my introduction to Mike Keneally, so I come to this review with but one preconception: my sister texted me from her local record shop with, "They played something that sounded kind of folky and proggy, so I got a copy for you, and one for myself." (I love my sister. Music industry accountants love her too.)

Andy Partridge I remember from XTC in the early-'80s. I've not heard any of his work since then, but I heard that XTC went pastoral. Since there's no lack of pastoral moments on Wing Beat Fantastic, I can putatively attribute those to Mr Partridge's influence.

The album flows well, with short instrumental segues between songs - with one notable exception. Both times I've played this CD, I've been in the flow of the music and then - silence. Both times i looked up to find the CD had finished playing. There's no gesture to close the album. It simply stops. it jars me out of the comfortable mood into which it lulled me.

It's a pleasant listen, and a couple of orders of magnitude more interesting than anything at the top of the commercial charts. It doesn't interest me enough, though, to plow through the accompanying booklet with its brown-on-brown, small-print credits to find out who did what with what. I'll play it again for background music when I have visitors or when I'm pottering around the house, but not for active listening.

Report this review (#905946)
Posted Monday, February 4, 2013 | Review Permalink

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