It’s no secret I’m a fan of King Crimson. What probably is a secret, though, is that I prefer the Adrian Belew era of the band in the 80s and mid 90s-2000s to the earlier (admittedly excellent) incarnations in the 60s and 70s. I’ve been partial to the man ever since hearing him sing “City of Tiny Lights” on Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti and the live document Baby Snakes. The first time I heard King Crimson’s Discipline I was hooked, and later tracks like “Three of A Perfect Pair” solidified my infatuation with the man’s unique melodic phrasing and percussive proclivities. Side One, the first of three (initially) related solo releases from Belew finds those tendencies in great synchronization with his backing band, which in this case happens to be Les Claypool from Primus and Danny Carey from Tool.
Each album explores different attitudes about playing, and Side One focuses on his role when in a trio format. If you’re familiar with King Crimson’s 1995 THRAK the music on Side One has a similar rock feel, especially on the first three tracks where Claypool and Carey contribute. Opener “Ampersand” ably shows off how Carey is simply one of the best drummers alive, and Claypool is surprisingly restrained, content to work within the rhythm and Belew’s sense of timing. It’s still technically amazing, but never sits in front of the song, leaving that area for Belew’s many shifting guitar sounds and his great vocals. “Writing on the Wall” has a funky syncopation that blends in with droning guitar notes before the high pitched group vocals enter, intoning that they do intact see the writing on the wall. “Matchless Man” is a more contemplative affair, moving into psychedelic territory. Sounds both forward and reversed sneak up in the corners of your headphones, infiltrating and passing into the universe.
The rest of Side One is largely a solo affair, grouped into two sets of there songs. “Madness,” “Walk Around the World” and “Beat Box Guitar” all have a strong art rock feel that jibe close with a lot of what King Crimson were doing after re-forming in the mid 90s. The final set of songs find Belew investigating his more experimental art tendencies, with the songs working as a sort of suite (complete with commentary about disappearing elephants). Even listening now it feels a bit disconnected and disjointed after the way the first three trio tracks hang together.
But I can’t help but be drawn to his voice, and the way he uses guitar to paint large swatches of space. It brings together everything from his time with Zappa, King Crimson, and even in moments his appearances with Talking Heads, and I find myself captivated at how many moods he’s able to convey and still sound so singular on this release.
Maybe it helps it’s only 33 minutes long? We’ll see, since I’m covering Side Two tomorrow…