Saturday, April 1, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 2008 - Trisector

Van Der Graaf Generator

01. The Hurlyburly (4:34)
02. Interference Patterns (3:49)
03. The Final Reel (5:47)
04. Lifetime (4:43)
05. Drop Dead (4:44)
06. Only in a Whisper (6:43)
07. All That Before (6:26)
08. Over the Hill (12:26)
09. (We Are) Not Here (4:04)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass
- Guy Evans / drums percussion

Van Der Graaf Generator reformed for the second time to make Present in 2005, and since then Jackson has jumped ship for the second time. On the previous occasion that this happened VDGG recruited a violinist and welcomed erstwhile bassist Nic Potter back into the fold; the resulting album, The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome was generally considered a disappointment when it was released but has stood the test of time rather well. This time around the core members have decided to continue as a trio, and the resulting album is perhaps less immediate but deeper and more coherent than Present.

Trisector sees a number of changes for the band, some more obvious than others. The three piece VDGG has something of a keyboard dominated sound, although Hammill's distinctly non virtuoso guitar gets a more than adequate airing, and comparatively short songs are the order of the day. All but one of the nine tracks is credited to Banton/Evans/Hammill, the first time that group songwriting has dominated a VDGG album, and the overall mood and sound is relatively low key and gloomy, perhaps due to the church organ sound that Banton favours for many of the songs. They toured as a three piece before this was recorded, and they are clearly relaxed and confident in their stripped down format. But is it any good? The answer is a definite, though not unqualified, yes. The writing and arrangements are tight and focused, the musicians demonstrate a spellbinding interplay and the album's high points are well up to their extremely high standards.

There are a few weak spots; the instrumental opener The Hurlyburly would have been twice as effective if it had been two minutes long instead of four and half, and there are passages where Hammill adds some lead guitar and the absence of Jackson's sax is really noticeable . On Drop Dead it sounds as though Hammill's old alter ego Rikki Nadir has briefly taken over the proceedings - it will probably work superbly in concert, but the clodhopping beat rather disrupts the flow of the album.

The best tracks more than make up for the weaker moments, though. Only In a Whisper is a jazz tinged number featuring Hammill on Fender Rhodes and Banton on bass guitar, with splendidly restrained vocals and featherlight dumming. It's a beautifully understated performance from a band that has never shied away from the grand gesture, and all the more effective for it. All That Before is an uptempo rocker that really hits home, and Hammill's rhythm guitar playing beefs things up to great effect. The centrepiece of the album is the epic Over the Hill, which is everything an old school prog fan could wish for; time changes galore, constantly shifting moods and tempi and a bravura vocal performance of some suitably oblique lyrics which could refer the history of VDGG or Hammill's own existential turmoil. Prog rock doesn't get much better than this in any era or sub genre.

Following the triumph of Present and the subsequent live shows it seemed that VDGG had nothing left to prove, but Trisector demonstrates that they've still got everything to play for. Banton and Evans have rarely sounded better, and they provide some of the best settings ever for Hammill's voice and lyrics. Trisector isn't Pawn Hearts or Godbluff, but it isn't trying to be, which is probably its greatest strength.



  2. This is my favorite from the current VdGG. Here's a wordy review I wrote:

    Part 1:
    5 stars: NOW it feels like VdGG are back!

    In 2005, interested parties were rightly floored to learn of the reformation of Van der Graaf Generator over 25 years after disbanding. Upon their first new release, Present, they sounded like they picked up right were they left off. It was all very encouraging, but for me, something was lacking. Peter Hammill was as histrionic in his vocal delivery as ever. The band was in top form musically, but something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something was leaving me less excited as I felt I should have been. I caulked it up to the obvious fact that it was 25 years later and these guys are in their sixties. I should expect things to be a bit more settled.

    Next came the live album Real Time documenting a triumphant return concert at London's Royal Festival Hall. Again, the band performed well, a fine show, but still that emptiness in the pit of my stomach. A solid four stars for each album.

    So then came the third release, Trisector. Things promised to be even more problematic. First off, saxophonist David Jackson, a distinctive voice in VdGG since very near it's inception in 1968, left the band. To their credit, all parties kept this private matter private, but one had to suspect that the burden of being a full time professional performing and recording musician turned out, perhaps understandably, to be more than David had anticipated. Not to worry, he continues to, in my opinion, do even more worthwhile work with adults and children with learning and physical disabilities via his Tonewall project. I encourage you to check out the website: [...]

    I purchased this release, VdGG's first as a trio, with something of a weary sigh. To be honest, my expectations had by that point been toned down. The first track was a frankly pedestrian instrumental which didn't bode well for what was to follow, but again, I was sort of prepared for that. Then comes the second track, Interference Patters, and WOW!!! Suddenly I could define and explain what had, for me, been missing. The thing about progressive rock bands like King Crimson and VdGG was that while they could be as artsy or fantasy-driven as the rest of the genre, they also possessed the ability follow the muse where it led and to go off on more aggressive, challenging tangents where you felt like a line had been crossed, a barrier broken. Since most all potential readers will be well familiar with the catalog, I'd refer you to two sections from VdGG's best loved album by general consensus, Pawn Hearts. The second theme in the song Man-Erg as well as the next to last section of the side-long A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers features the kind of music and performances I'm trying to relay. Things suddenly go manic, out of bounds and more than a little out of control. This type of thing was once described as `It's not MAD madness, but it's not always calm clarity.'

    THAT'S what was missing, that kind of unpredictability that used to make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle. The idea of going perhaps too far, where few, if any had tried before. Once that barrier is broken, the band doesn't have to maintain that intensity in each and every song, though they do it more than once on Trisector in my opinion. But once they've done it, just knowing they can and will as needed gives the entire album a wider depth and more overall contrast. It also adds more than a little excitement.

  3. Part 2, later that evening...

    Hammill's writing and performances are as compelling and emotional as ever. So too the bands arrangements continue to be pretty sophisticated. In several places it takes a moment to figure out a time signature or a chord progression, all of which add to the fun and challenge of getting a grip on this music. Can this style of music be seen as pretentious, even pompous, as many see progressive rock these days? Well....yes, but I guess that's part of its appeal to those of us who like that sort of thing. Hey, when the music's boogie, house, blues, hip hop, party music or good time rock-n-roll, it fills a need. It's fun and to really enjoy it you have to jump in with both feet and go with the flow. If it's classical, modern jazz, avant garde or prog rock, etc, it fills a need. It's fun and to really enjoy it you have to jump in with both feet and go with the flow.

    So now, with this album, I feel I can finally join others in celebrating the return of VdGG in full bloom - as fantastic as they were in the day. This one's been going up my Van der chart over the passing months to become at this point, a serious contender for the top 2 or 3 VdGG/Hammill releases. Given the quantity and quality of their output, that's saying a lot. Here's hoping Peter Hammill will continue dealing with subject matter from an older, adult perspective as he did so well in younger days. In that regard, he and the band certainly appear to have all they need to hit a home run.

  4. wow! thanks for sharing your thoughts

  5. Thank for slogging through it all! Thanks too for the VdGG.