Monday, October 12, 2015

Van Der Graaf Generator

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other
H to He Who am the Only One
Pawn Hearts
Blender, 2006

by Simon Reynolds

Earlier this year Van Der Graaf Generator reformed and released their first album in decades. The timing was perfect: groups like Mars Volta have been busily rehabilitating and renovating the “prog” concept by giving it an aggressive, noisy edge. Punk-prog was always VDGG’s game, though. Check out these reissues and you’ll see why Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten admired VDGG frontman Peter Hammill’s piercing vocals and macabre lyrical imagination. Now and then you’ll even hear  uncanny advance glimpses of Rotten's snarl-sneer in Hammill’s aristocratic and dramatic tones. On 1970's The Least We Can Do, though, the singer sounds more like Arthur Brown of "Fire" fame, while the music has yet to shed the glad-rags of late psychedelia. On H To He, from later in 1970, VDGG blossom into a mighty monster with hard-riffing tunes like "Killer," powered by the rasping raunch of David Jackson's twin saxophones and the murky churn of Hugh Banton's keyboards. " 1971’s Pawn Hearts climaxes with the ten-part song-cycle "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," which took up entire second side of the original album and moves through trudging bombast, woodwind-laced ambience, musique concrete outbursts, and more. Yes, it's portentous, and sure, it's pretentious. It's also visceral, and surprisingly swingin', thanks to the lithe drumming of Guy Evans. These reissues are expanded with splendid bonus material like the 15-minute triptych "Squid 1/Squid 2/Octopus."  

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