23 December 2009

CD REVIEW: Taylor's Universe, Artificial Joy

Our last review of 2009 is the newest release from Denmark’s Robin Taylor. Artificial Joy is the latest release from his group Taylor’s Universe.

If you’ve read any of my posts/reviews in the past, you know that I have covered a lot of Robin’s releases. The man is nothing if not prolific, but the more impressive part for me is that his releases are so consistent. After the course of fifteen or so albums I have listened to, I can’t say that I have found a naff one in the bunch. Certainly there are ones that don’t hit quite as hard, but in general, his compositions are always strong, and his choice of players is always spot on.

Taylor’s Universe albums tend toward the more tightly composed side of things, and this album is no different. The 7 tracks selected for this release, spread across a nice, compact 45 minutes, are all incredibly tightly written, polished and arranged. Generally speaking, the pieces are fairly bright and upbeat, but some changes of pace and sound throughout keep things from becoming too bland. As one would perhaps expect, there are even a few nods to the edgier, more angular Crimson side of things sprinkled about…I have to admit that these angry, edgy moments are some of my favourites.

“Atmosfear” is typical of the brighter side of Taylor’s composing. We’ve got some januty sax playing, a circus like organ line, and some very tasty guitar playing courtesy of Michael Denner (who has been working with Taylor for a bit now). While I did at first miss the contributions of Karsten Vogel when he and Taylor went in different directions, I am finding that Jacob Mygind’s playing throughout makes me miss Vogel a good bit less. Carsten Sindvald adds some nice clarinet playing as well, and all of this is wrapped up in a composition that never overstays its welcome, yet feels far more brief than its 7:04 timing indicates.

“Laughter,” on the other hand, is a far different monster. Featuring spoken vocals from Louise Nipper, the piece is one that seems born of the seeds planted by a song like King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginjeet.” A strange, somewhat disturbing story of a woman making a 911 call to report an accident, only to be subjected to gales of insane laughter, the music and words fit together perfectly, with a disconcerting vibe felt throughout. I keep coming back to this track, peeling away layers upon layers of sound, and still haven’t come close to feeling I’ve gotten to the bottom of it yet.

“Fame,” at 9:44, is the longest track on Artifical Joy, and it has been selected to close out the release. I feel at times that this song is the kitchen sink piece on the album (as in, everything including the kitchen sink), as just about everything I have ever heard in Taylor’s oeuvre is on display here. We’ve got some heavy guitar playing, tight, bottomless grooves, and playing that is both light and dark, heavy and soft. The ride out, which again evokes Crimson at its heaviest in1973, cuts off abruptly, leaving the listener hanging breathlessly, bereft of climax or conclusion. It’s a slightly risky take, in my opinion, but it pays off. The sudden shifts in mood and playing never feel forced, either…there’s no intentional attempts to be complex and avant here; it all seems natural and unforced.

I’ve selected these three tracks, rather than reviewing track by track, because I think they are the most exemplary on the release. I don’t want to overlook the other fine compositions on Artifical Joy; each is excellent, and more than worthy of repeated listens (as I can attest, as I’ve spent a good bit of the past week or so living with this album, trying to take in as much of it as possible). Robin Taylor’s been on a bit of a tear in 2009, with three different albums (See my review of Isle of Black from 10 March and Return to Whatever from 23 June), and if Artificial Joy is any indicator, 2010 should be an interesting one indeed for Mr. Taylor.

Work (4:41)

Artificial Joy (4:25)

Days Run Like Horses (7:02)

Atmosfear (7:04)

Laughter (7:01)

Telephone (4:59)

Fame (9:44)

Jakob Mygind: saxophones

Carsten Sindvald: clarinet/saxophone

Finn Olafsson: electric guitar

Michael Denner electric guitar

Robin Taylor: vintage keyboards, electric guitar, percussion

Flemming Muus Tranberg: fretless bass

Klaus Thrane: drums

Louise Nipper: voice