Welcome to the meandering musical insights of Aaron Joy (me!), formerly known as the Roman Midnight Music Blog. Here you'll find nearly 750 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie, good & bad, U.S. & foreign. A new review every Monday.

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November 8, 2021

Dennis Young ~ Grey Umbrella (album review) ... Liquid Liquid's no wave experiments lives on in a worldbeat cornucopia!

Style: experimental, instrumental
Label: Gertrude Tapes
Year: 2021
Home: New Jersey

Member: Dennis Young ~ synthesizer/Roland Groovebox

Guests: Sal Principato ~ vocals/bongos
James Bally ~ melodica
Ray Bally ~ electric guitar
Joe Braverman ~ tenor sax/ flute
James Duncan ~ trumpet
Brad Kleiman ~ electric bass/guitar 


Before I review Dennis' 2021 album Grey Umbrella, I'll confess that when I gave this album an initial spin I had never heard anything he had done on his own nor with his no wave/post punk group Liquid, Liquid. I only knew his reputation for pushing boundaries through experimental music, but not what that meant. I'd heard his production work with Brad Kleiman, who did the cover here, & seen him once with the Ray Bally Band, but those are not too experimental, though Bally does have a quirky side to his poetic songs. I've reviewed both Kleiman & Bally many times, & they appear on this album. Therefore, I originally came to this album completely ignorant of where it falls in his musical resume, & how it compares to or reflects his other work. Like many reviews I do, I set the writing aside & came back to it few weeks later. In the time between I listened to some Liquid Liquid, though I held off listening to his solo work as I plan to consider those releases for this blog. If you came here wondering how Grey Umbrella compares to his noteworthy past, I would venture to call this a modern electronica reinterpretation of Liquid Liquid's early '80's acoustic sound. Actually, I should clarify, this feels more like a modern electronica reinterpretation of the spirit that seeps through Liquid Liquid's musical explorations. To put it another way, when Miles Davis worked with hip-hop before his death & seemingly directionless looping in the 1970's, such as with A Tribute To Jack Johnson, he wasn't really so far off from where he was with his early hot groups or with Bill Evans & company. He was looking for the same soul of the music he always had searched for, trying to find the sound between the notes & the mood of the moment, just with different tools & styles at his disposable. Grey Umbrella is the later day hip-hop to Liquid Liquid's early Kind Of Blue approach. If you're not a jazz fan & don't understand this reference, than check out these two Miles albums to see if you can figure out what I mean. Actually, they are worth a listen, given I consider the later a masterpiece of piano playing. Also, if you like the former album, then check out Grey Umbrella. From what I could find of Liquid Liquid on youtube this album very much feels to me like what they might do if they decided to record again, while modernizing their sound at the same time, aka Liquid Liquid Ver. 2021. I do know that in context of his solo work, which I've not heard, some people may disagree with me. Feel free to comment & look for to future reviews of said work, where I'm liable to reference Grey Umbrella. Grey Umbrella started life in 2017 - I do not know if it was a rainy day - with Dennis creating a handful of home recordings of solo live jams using a Roland Groovebox paired with a synthesizer. He sat on the recordings until 2019, when he invited other musicians to add instrumentation, including Brad Kleiman & Ray Bally, & his former Liquid Liquid bandmate Sal Principato. It was released June 2021. I don't know if Dennis left his friends alone to create, or worked with them on their parts, or added more of his own while they chimed in, or took what they gave him & twisted it around. The end result doesn't sound like here was a piece & then here's an addition, here's a fragment & then another fragment, & lets hope everything works together. The additions don't crash against the foundations, but everything weaves together like a meticulously planned tapestry. It can be hard to often figure out which part is the original & which is the addition. I tried & quickly gave up. Grey Umbrella is full of surprises as the 14 songs weave through a range of styles, well beyond the Liquid Liquid template, which is why I clarified earlier the spirit of the old band over being an update or imitation of the old days. Opener "Steel City" at first made me think of industrial music with its alienating synthetic sound. Yet, this couldn't be farther from Throbbing Gristle or Nine Inch Nails or any mainstream industrial group. On repeated listens I began to think of Depeche Mode around the time of Construction Time Again. I'm a fan & became a fan by reading about their early experiments in pop meets industrial music, including recording sounds of actual pipes & machinery. That flavor of proto-industrial is what "Steel City" feels like to me. Its alienating, yet almost welcoming, as layers weave in & out over a fairly simple drum beat. You get lured in. Then everything changes with "Groovy Dance Party," which is indeed an electronic dance party, but of strange sounds you've likely not heard on the dance floor. The third song in "Siam I Am" has an unexpected Asian-esque looped drum part, clearing giving warning that all expectations are off the table. Every song that follows will surprise the listener with some new style or sound. To put it another way, it sounds like it was created on a day when a synthesizer was going stir crazy sitting at home, & just went bonkers covering as much musical territory as possible. One will find here quirky dance beats, like "Groovy Dance Party" & "Radical Robots", alongside fun little soundscapes, such as the cosmic sounding "Creepy Clocks" & almost ethic dance beat of "Pots & Pans", to music paintings, like the intense "Giant Spiders From Mars" that feels like the sound of NYC's streets interpreted through music. Then there's "Ham & Eggs", with the sax in a prominent role, that is a spicy little number that sounds like someone recorded tucked away Mexican club, like Jack Kerouac might have picked up Tristessa in. "Vikings From Zeeland" has a mystical Arab-esque flute & melodica weaving through a heavy dance beat. Its an interesting juxtaposition of styles that works, yet always walks the line of failing at any minute. Another crash of styles can also be heard on "Central Station", featuring a dup beat with a soothing melody that couldn't be more different. The pairing really shouldn't work together, but somehow the right groove was found as the glue. There's something here for anyone, whether you're a DJ looking for a beat, or someone interested in experimental instrumental music, or a fan of Liquid Liquid. Share in the comments what song grabs you. I'm quite curious how others perceive this cornucopia. I should have maybe said at the start of this review that I have an appreciation for all music odd & experimental, whether its Lou Reed's Lulu or John Cage "4'33"", which I wrote a book about actually, or Throbbing Gristle. Sometimes I don't always like the music, but I find the ideas behind the creation fascinating. That being said, there was one track on that album that left me less then enthusiastic. "Kiss Me On The Cheek" sounded like early 2000's Moby had remixed a simple phrase by an R&B singer. I was waiting for a big bass drop & some highly fast beats to take over. It was the most normal sounding track on this album, & by being so normal it became the least interesting. Essentially, sounding like real music is an ironic loss in this context. Its a trivial complaint, but I don't get to say anything like this that often.

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