VARIOUS: Skin & Butter: an O-zone Assortment
O-zone is a typical home recording studio, eight tracks plus MIDI crammed into the attic, optimized for the post-Residents progressive rock that Andy Kel Loch and Scottt Gold, O-zone's proprietors, admire. (See their 1990 cassette release Men In Black for further details.) This CD exists partly to demonstrate how meticulous production technique can get releasable quality out of home equipment. Their best tunes here are their witty Zappaesque scenarios: Kel Loch's "Fruit or Computer" is a hyperactive rendition of the frustrations of dealing with the machine, and Gold's "Fat Nick" details the colorful career of an orangutang assassin. Also noteworthy is a cinematic arrangement of "Hall of the Mountain King," fleshed out with all the orchestral scope MIDI allows. They've also invited like-minded friends to cut half a dozen tracks, ranging from compelling Rush-like guitar instrumentals ("Forgetting the Party" by Greg Kel Loch, "Subatomic" by Perry Bakalos) to radio-friendly trivia. Disclaimer: I've got a tune on here too, called "Risk;" it sounds something like Emerson, Lake & Palmer with a guest appearance by Nigel Tufnel.
Kel Loch & Gold : Men In Black
When they used to say Eno was God, what they meant was, by esconsing himself in the studio he built a domain where he was omnipotent. Here we have two alumni of The Treatment who got fed up with the club scene's creative limitations and likewise went the studio route, in their basements. Men In Black consists of eight originals with antecedents in classic '70s progressive groups like Gentle Giant, ELP, and Kansas, plus a faithful cover of "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." The subject matter is quite up to date, however, with jeremiads about toxic wastes, psychotic killers, lying evangelists, and other contemporary hazards Brian Wilson or Chris Squire never dreamed of. Highlights include the Happy The Man-style keyboard interplay in "One Good Turn," the percussion and guitar fusillades in "Summer Vacation," and the sarcasm dripping from "Updraft." Some of it is painted with too broad a brush- the progressives vices of virtuoso ego and histrionics overtake "Frantic," for instance- but understatements for wimps, man.
by Jason Rubin
Kel Loch & Gold: Oh, wiseguys, eh?
Even within the ranks of its faithful supporters, the genre of progressive music has a reputation of being an OH SO SERIOUS form of music played by OH SO SERIOUS musicians. and even though we can connect to the passion contained in a piece of music that a pundit may claim to be cold and intellectual, there's something to be said for occasionally having some fun with those pesky creative impulses.
There are, of course, a number of progressive artists who have demonstrated a sense of humor in their work, or who don't take themselves quite as seriously as their music. Among them are folks like Frank Zappa, 10cc/Godley & Creme, Gentle Giant, and and Todd Rundgren. In fact, these artists constitute many of the influences of the latest progressive group to actually smile when playing music- Kel Loch & Gold.
You may remember reading about Andy Kel Loch & Scottt Gold in the Directory of Unsigned Progressive Artists that was featured in the January 1990 issue of On Reflection (Vol. I, No. 12). Former members of the Boston-based progressive band The Treatment, Andy and Scottt left to concentrate on creating original progressive compositions that were complex and interesting but fun and playful, with lyrics that spoke of real conditions in today's society.
After investing in instruments, gadgets, and recording equipment, the two spent the better part of last year working on their first cassette-only album, Men In Black (the title, of course comes from the only Three Stooges short nominated for an Academy Award). Just released and now available via the mail, Men In Black is a strong album that stands up to repeated listenings. Kel Loch & Gold make it clear that newer progressive artists can pay homage to their influences while forging their own identity and breaking new ground at the same time.
The album contains eight originals and one cover tune. the equipment list is something even Jules Verne couldn't have dreamed up: Atari Mega 4 computer, Korg T3 Music workstation, Yamaha TG33 Tone Generator, Roland Pad-80/Octapad II controller, Fender Stratocaster guitar, Ibanez guitar, Roland guitar synthesizer, M.V. Pedulla Series II bass guitar, Lane Poor Minima Classic fretless bass guitar, Digitech DSP-128, Yamaha SPX-90, Lexicon PCM-41, Peavey Programax 10 MIDI amp, Tascam 688 MIDI Studio, Teac A-1200U, and Tascam 112.
Now to the songs. Side One leads off with "Canon," written as a response to megastar charities like USA for Africa. without disregard for the nobility of the effort and its success in bringing issues like hunger to the public agenda, Kel Loch pleads instead for long-term political change: "Lying, corrupt and selfish leaders profit from the dying/ Upon whose backs the empire stands/ Crying- we shed a tear and send a dollar but we're buying/ the means for the powerful to subjugate the destitute."
Musically, the second track really gets things going. "Summer Vacation" is a fiendishly fun tale of a schizophrenic boy at a summer camp. Kel Loch tells both personalities' stories in overlapping vocal lines. One is happy-go-lucky, the other is happily homicidal. Greg Kel Loch serves up a burning guitar solo followed by pseudo-operatic ominous shouts. the song closes with the evil side gloating over his savage victory and the sound of crickets chirping in a too-quiet night. Save this for next year's Halloween party tape.
"Industrial Waste" follows. This is a reworking of a track the pair did with The Treatment. The target here is those who manufacture, use, and dump poisonous chemicals and toxins into the environment. The one-line chorus, "A waste is a terrible thing to mind," tells it all. This track has a very mechanical feel to it, with fast disjointed lines of guitar, trumpet, and various electronics.
"Updraft" is another older tune with a strong-but-too-slow-for-funky bass line by Gold and "power chords" credited to guitarist Dave Stura. Kel Loch sings long vocal lines lamenting the wasteful American way of life. After the darkness of "Industrial Waste," this song seems to belie its own negative message with a bouncy arrangement that includes organ samples (I think) and tenor sax.
Side One closes with a fairly faithful cover of Brian Wilson's "I Just Wasn't Made for These times" from his magnum opus, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. This song, almost a quarter of a century after it was written, is an excellent choice for Kel Loch & Gold because it relates to the frustration of being a creative person in a formulaic world. For Brian, it was wanting to explore limitless sonic possibilities while his record label, his family, and the rest of the Beach Boys wanted the same old hits. For Kel Loch & Gold, as well as all the other progressive-minded musicians in the world, it is a cry against an industry that stifles originality and forces groups into a narrow mainstream. This is a nice touch.
Side Two offers more musical excitement. "Frantic" is an anthem for those who despise religious fanatics and their fund raising tactics. Thesong starts out moody and atmospheric, until a collage of evangelical voices opens the musical Pandora's Box. The manic beat is augmented by guitar and synthesizer lines. The pace slows to an offbeat time signature as more taped voices add to the outrage and confusion. If there's a way to insult every imaginable religion, these guys do it all and with humor, too.
"The Fact or Fantasy Factor" is a short song that proposes that the American two-party system hides the fact that there is instead a two-class system: the ruling class (those in government) and the peasant class (you and me). The over-distorted vocals are actually a good metaphor for the song's hypothesis. How many of the nation's voters really listen and understand the issues compared to those who base their decicsions on distorted TV images?
"One Good Turn" features more dueling vocal lines and a driving rhythm. Kel Loch takes the fighting spirit of the american colonists and tries to instill it today to keep the common people from being hapless victims of bureaucratic hypocracy. This tune goes right into the big closer, "Resolution." Just under nine minutes long, "Resolution" takes up the fight proposed in "One Good Turn." Before a backdrop of dramatic keyboards and terrific guitar work by Dave Stura, our hero sheds his complacency and takes a stand: "Immortality will have to wait 'til I clean up the mess we've made/ Responsibility rests firmly on the shoulders of the one who always rested in the shade."
The topics are heavy and the angles are decisive but this is really a fun album. In fact, this could well be the new direction for progressive music that we have been hoping the '90s would provide. Using modern technology and abandoning '70s cosmic themes in favor of real-world topics, Kel Loch & Gold create eclectic works that look over their shoulders at the '70s while their style and well-focused concerns belong to today and the challenges of the '90s.
Working on their own, there is always the danger of adding too many layers and/or sacrificing purpose for effect. In a couple of places, they almost cross that line but manage to pull it in due mainly to the humor that lurks mischievously inside each song. The end message of this work seems to be that the times are desperate and extreme action is needed, but there's no need to lose your sense of humor over it. Kel Loch & Gold are a couple of forward-looking musicians who are dedicating their lives "for duty and humanity;" that goal and their album both sound really good to me.