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30 May 2010

Tim Buckley - 'Blue Afternoon' (Straight)

You can see there's been some gap since the last post, which is attributable to a holiday, but actually I've listened to Blue Afternoon about five times before being able to write about it - twice before the break and thrice since. Blue Afternoon is a 'sleeper' if there ever was one. Somber in tone, the avant-tendencies are stroked a bit further and one can't deny the Astral Weeks fuzz in the windscreen. Or maybe it's like if Happy Sad was just Sad Sad. A gentle guitar strum guides every song, but there's still some noodly bass and piano parts, and the occasional guitar flourish, like when Lee Underwood rips it up on 'So Lonely'. 'The River' is an epic in under six minutes, full of percussive swells, grand scenery and confident pain. 'The Train' takes us closer to 'Gypsy Woman' territory but that opening riffstrum is a classic rock gesture if I've ever heard it. I think the reason many of us are still interested in Tim Buckley in 2010 is just how far he pushed himself over a handful of albums. Things are so fluid here, the songwriting is freeform, there's jazzglue everywhere and its truly genre-defying. But you can go back to find more details every time. The wooly recording quality makes everything feel like it's from another time and of course his tragic death inflates the star. Maybe I've always been a halfassed fan of avant-garde music because it's most powerful to me when it combines some sort of forward-thinking whatthefuck innovation with something human that I can connect to. Pure experimentation can alienate me (sometimes) whereas using musical invention to extend human expression, well, fuck yeah, that has the emotional wallop I want. The crazy jamjazz breakdown about 3/4 through 'The Train' is almost out of place but when Buckley comes back in, wailing and gibberishing over extended dissonant jamming, something blows the hair out of my eyes (and it comes from the stereo speakers, readers). It's a weird contrast with the first half of the album, which are mopey yet beautiful songs, but it somehow feels cyclical, which is why I've listened to this 5 times now. Mine is a promo copy on Straight, with crystal-clear looking vinyl that somehow sounds crackly and dirty - maybe it's just a cheap promo pressing? Supposedly the material from this was recorded at the same time as Lorca and Starsailor's outer explorations so you can appreciate his sense of grouping. And now it's onto those....

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