The Colorplates — Agony and Ecstasy
(Green Monkey GM 1017, 1982/2013, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2013-11-05I moved to Seattle in 1985, missing The Colorplates by a few years, but if I'd been here earlier, I probably would have been a dedicated follower. The time period of 1979-82, when this band was active, was a time of musical searching for me: the bulk of progressive rock I grew up with had lost most of its appeal, jazz was sounding rather tired, and most punk rock was just too simple to take seriously on a musical level (though it had other factors going for it). Obviously, the members of The Colorplates (along with precursor bands The Pigments and The Adults) shared a similar attitude. Along with their better known contemporaries (like Pere Ubu, Magazine, The Pop Group, and others), they added avant-garde artistic elements to simple rock structures to create what came to be called post-punk and art-punk. In this case, a background in free improvisation lent elements of chaos to the sound. They also had a propensity for rearranging well-known songs in their own style, as found here with "Purple Haze" (which is every bit as radical a reworking as Devo did with "Satisfaction"), "Break on Through," and "It Was a Very Good Year." The latter is particularly notable for a nutty theremin solo from Harvey Tawney. But aside from the cover tunes, it's notable that the original songs are really good, catchy, quirky, and full of energy. "Call on Me" (present in two different versions) sounds a bit like early Devo with a skronky sax providing demented counterpoint to the melody; "Ornette" features a lurching beat with two guitar parts duking it out for what key should dominate. The four improvisations that finish off the CD feature additional instrumentation, both by band members and guests, providing horns, percussion, keyboards, and "little instruments," and showing the range The Colorplates were capable of. The recordings are stripped down and no-frills, but surprisingly listenable given the widely varying sources. Former band member Tom Dyer, now head of Green Monkey Records, is to be commended for handling the mastering so well. A few tracks, especially the live recordings, are wildly oversaturated and noisy, but somehow that works in their favor, reminding us what it was like in the early 80s when everyone in the audience wasn't carrying around a digital audio recorder. Agony and Ecstasy is a fascinating series of snapshots of a time and place worth remembering.
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more
Joel Vandroogenbroeck RIP – Word has reached us of the death of Joel Vandroogenbroeck, best known as one of the founders of Brainticket, He also recorded electronic music under a variety of names. He was born August 25th, 1938 in Brussels, Belgium and died December 23, 2019 in Arlesheim, Switzerland, aged 81. » Read more