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FM - Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] CD (album) cover




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3.60 | 95 ratings

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2 stars Here's the second album by FM, which at the time consisted of singer/multi-instrumentalist Cameron Hawkins, drummer Martin Deller, and new violinist Ben Mink. Direct to Disc has one fifteen-minute track on each side of the original vinyl album: Hawkins's "Headroom" and Deller's "Border Crossing." As implied by the title, both are live-in-the-studio recordings. (Apparently six takes of each side were recorded using tapeless, direct-to-lacquer technology. The best takes were used for the album, although more than one take of "Border Crossing" ended up being released.)

With their virtuosic approach, frequent drum solos, occasional (and occasionally Lake-like) vocals, and overall grandiosity, this power trio reminds me of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But whereas ELP had classical influences, this Canadian group, which started out in art music, has more in common with 1970s fusion. And there's also bass sequencing (which fellow Canadians Rush would pick up on in the near future), synth experimentation, and other spacey studio-based exploration on Direct to Disc. This is especially true of "Border Crossing," the third movement of which seems largely experimental. At least I think it's the third.

Of the two works here, "Headroom" is the better composition, in my opinion; the playing and production are great on both sides of the album. It's admirable that Direct to Disc was recorded live, but this self-imposed restriction probably had a negative impact; had the group used overdubs on "Headroom," or made use of postproduction editing on either side (maybe even significant editing in the style of Teo Macero or Frank Zappa), Direct to Disc could probably have been substantially better. Instead, the compositions appear to be compromised due to the limitations of the recording method. For example, near the middle of "Headroom," Deller takes a half-minute drum solo (around 6:20 to 6:50) with just a single undulating synth bass note in the background (I assume this a a bass pedal). My guess is that this is a necessary respite for Hawkins and Mink during which they tuned their instruments. This happens again from around 11:08 to 11:53. Again, this is kind of cool in one sense, but to me, the studio trickery of overdubs and edits tends to be a good thing.

Direct to Disc is a truly interesting listen, but not an unusually enjoyable one. I'd strongly suggest starting one's FM experience with Black Noise, their debut album, recorded the prior year with violinist "Nash the Slash."

patrickq | 2/5 |


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