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Tony Arnold - 2009 - "Selective Hearing"

(77:42, ’Gray Mortuary’)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Trotline Recumbent 5:11
2.  And in Arcadia 8:32
3.  Wayfaring Stranger 5:13
4.  Not What I Had in Mind 10:39
5.  On the Embankment 8:42
6.  Victory 6:48
7.  Haunted Airstream 3:42
8.  Gwenhwyfar 8:18
9.  Custom Interior 5:59
10. High Road to Hell 6:08
11. Owltown Reprise 8:30


Tony Arnold – vocals; all instruments

Prolusion. US composer and multi-instrumentalist Tony ARNOLD has been releasing albums steadily for the past five years or so under the monikers Macular Degenerates, Musaphonic, The Pachinko Allahs and Menage ‘A Twang in addition to the ones issued under his own name. "Selective Hearing" is the ninth chapter in his musical history, and is some sort of a Best Of venture, presenting selected works from his previous 8 excursions.

Analysis. Arnold's homepage, which also serves as the internet presence of his label Gray Mortuary Recordings, sports the motto ‘Adventurous Sounds for the Discerning Ear’. Based on this compilation, I have to admit that I find this description rather less than fitting. Most of his creations inhabit a musical universe, which most likely can be described as a form of symphonic progressive rock of the less complex variety. The basic premise for most of these tracks are rich sounding or richly textured synth and keyboard arrangements, with a more or less richly textured arrangement of guitars supporting the tangents, or vice versa. The rhythms supporting this don't have any additional roles than to be pacesetters, keeping up the momentum. Tony Arnold comes across as a more than decent composer, I readily admit that. He's got a talent for putting down engaging melodies and intriguing themes, his vocals are pleasant and he's got a fairly good grasp of finding the right pace for his songs. The momentum is good and at times brilliant, and I did find myself enjoying some of his creations quite a lot, at least early on. The flaws and imperfections do become rather noticeable as the individual tracks unfold though. Mechanical drumming, most likely from a drum machine, gets tedious and downright annoying at times. There are few to none alterations to trace from this part of his pieces, apart from the passages which are without drums altogether. Some of the keyboard sounds chosen come across as odd selections, textures that sounds like they escaped from a less than state of the art eastern block electronic instrument of vintage variety. Others sound much better though, but a few odd choices do manage to ruin the overall effect at times. And while Arnold comes across as a decent tangents man, the guitars are rather less than engaging in this environment. Whether this is due to skill or arrangements is another matter entirely, and most likely they come across as underwhelming due to the major negative part of this disc: mix and production. Arnold has many good ideas as a composer, but as a producer I hope, for his sake, that this album has been some sort of a mistake. The mix is less than pleasant; instruments seemingly meant to harmonize come across as disharmonic and at odds with each other, some layers fade in and out of the overall soundscape, and the general placement of the various instruments in the arrangements is, to be blunt, faulty. As far as production goes, the guitars sound weird; the undistorted electric at times sound like it is played into a microphone placed directly over the strings without the guitar connected to an amp, while the distorted guitar riffs at times sound like they are drowning in molasses. The guitar soloing and at times also the various forms of keyboards get a shrill edge to them that is less than pleasing to the ears, while percussion with a metal based sound could melt earwax and cause dangerous resonances in any nearby glass material at worst. That some of the tracks actually were enjoyable despite of this does tell a tale of a music creator with some skill, but based on this album Mr. Arnold should seriously consider getting a decent drummer and a good producer involved.

Conclusion. Most listeners should probably avoid this CD, first and foremost due to the appalling production. But those who don't mind a really lo-fi approach to their music, those who enjoyed listening to home made demo cassettes in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s might still get some pleasure from this production if they like uncomplicated, atmospheric symphonic progressive rock. Even so, this is a disc that should be approached with a great deal of caution.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: Agst 13, 2010
The Rating Room

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