Records of the Week with Jon and Ted #7
Each Friday, Editors Ted Nubel and Jon Rosenthal will share their picks for Records of the Week — not necessarily what's out this week, just whatever's on our mind or on our record players.
Starless and Bible Black
It's crazy to think that this record was released the same year as Red: they don't sound enormously different, but they do feel like two sides of the band's sound. Whereas Red is a tightly-focused display of the English progressive rock band's heavier side, Starless and Bible Black spreads out more into some of the weirder and more improvisational realms of King Crimson's 1970s sound. There's the jazzy, angular sound of "The Great Deceiver," the anxiety-laden and lyric-driven "Lament," and even a sort of pastoral prog-rock comfiness in my personal favorite "The Night Watch," discussing the Rembrandt painting of the same name. The second half of the album provides two rather different takes on the long-form instrumentals that the band excels at; "Starless and Bible Black" being a Mellotron-heavy, half-pastoral-half-insane jam, and "Fracture" diving into heavier and stranger territory.
Even with all those in the picture, it fits together tremendously, journeying through all of the eccentric biomes that the band had already mastered just five years after their first album. A lot of this album was actually recorded live and improvised; that isn't that surprising given King Crimson being, y'know, King Crimson, but the record's future-proof quality shows that there's always going to be room at the top for spontaneous creativity.
By the way, King Crimson's full discography is on Spotify now, so if your vinyl copies have fallen to pieces like mine, there's no excuse not to be listening to this stuff all the time
Sing to God
So, first off, Cardiacs has nothing to do with metal aside from some tangential connections to Napalm Death and Voivod (and guitarist Kavus Torabi's early 1990s death/thrash metal band Die Laughing). Self-described as "psychedelic pop," Cardiacs' joyous, and at times disturbing music is the musical equivalent of mainlining caffeine and pure carnival happiness. There is a library's worth of Cardiacs records -- dating from the 1977 Cardiac Arrest demo through their 1999 album Guns -- from which to choose, but it would be criminal to not address Sing to God before all the others as it is the most complete Cardiacs vision in their discography.
Ranging from "Eat It Up Worms Hero'"s discordant chaos to "Dirty Boy'"s endless climaxing (a joke, but I won't go into what the song is about), songwriter Tim Smith's vision is as immense and overwhelming as it is catchy and toe-tapping. A double disc album, Sing to God is filled to the brim with would-be classic songs -- "Dog Like Sparky," "Fiery Gun Hand," and "Odd Even" capture Smith's childlike pop sensibilities, whereas the aforementioned "Dirty Boy" and "Nurses Whispering Verses" pull the overwhelming joy into a headier, more conceptual space. Sing to God is a lot of music, and I won't deny its intimidating stature at first glance, but this album is the best way to dive into the immense and varied Cardiacs discography.
My next recommendation would be to watch the "RES" video for a glance at their early concept (Cardiacs' initial concept was that they were a group of musically talented orphans placed into the band by the orphanage's exploitative Alphabet Business Concern [which still exists as a means of managing the Cardiacs, Sea Nymph, and related discographies], which explains the band's more childlike earlier music and skits).
Cardiacs mastermind Tim Smith passed away this past July after a lengthy battle with dystonia following a simultaneous heart attack and stroke suffered after a 2008 My Bloody Valentine show. Many have professed their love for his music in the weeks and months following his passing, culminating in a powerful cover of Cardiacs' "Tarred and Feathered," linked at the beginning, which features a touching performance by Smith's brother and Cardiacs bassist Jim Smith (he even smiles! Oh, how that hurt). The world is not the same without Tim Smith, whether you knew of him or not.