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April 4, 2013

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Various Artists: Playing Hide and Seek with the Ghosts of Dawn (Lovely Sorts of Death)

King Crimson’s 1969 album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is an undisputed prog-rock masterpiece, covering sonic extremes from the impossibly fast and tight runs of “21st Century Schizoid Man” to the pastoral “I Talk to the Wind” and the apocalyptic “The Court of the Crimson King.” Held in such high esteem, it was just a matter of time before a concerted effort was made to cover it in its entirety, and here it is—a limited-edition vinyl album entitled Playing Hide and Seek with the Ghosts of Dawn.

The big name here is The Flaming Lips and the album follows that group’s cover of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, with cohorts Stardeath and the White Dwarfs and about a million collaborations in the last few years. Although The Lips play  on only one track, “Epitaph,” the album actually follows in the aesthetic of the band’s dark, evil-sounding 2009 album, Embryonic.

Linear Downfall’s take on “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a fuzzed-out, psychedelic, sludgy, head-bang-inducing monster, with female vocals that alternately sport an attitude and gasp for air. Although some of the more complex, breathtaking sequences of the original have been simplified, it’s one hell of a track, possibly a bit like Lightning Bolt crossed with Hawkwind and ’70s-era Miles Davis. New Fumes (aka Daniel Huffman) tackles “I Talk to the Wind” with faux flute and winds among uneasy electronic atmospherics, sometimes going into the cosmic realm and erupting with buzzing, jarring synthetics.

“Epitaph” features a simulation of a children’s chorus and a noisy fog of an ending, and the album loses a little steam on its second half. “Moonchild” from Spaceface eschews the free-improv wandering of the original for one that maintains a basic theme and slowly dissolves, and “The Court of the Crimson King,” which would have been the most fitting Embryonic-esque track, doesn’t quite deliver an earth-shaking ending. Despite its shortcomings, the album sports a fun curiosity and the admiration of music misfits covering their heroes.

New Order: Lost Sirens (Rhino/Warner Bros.)

New Order is a band that can be forgiven for its transgressions. There are the occasionally awkward lyrics—“Tonight I should have stayed at home / Playing with my pleasure zone”—from “The Perfect Kiss.” There’s the out-of-tune singing on the high notes of “Age of Consent” and the group’s live performances are known to be uneven.

The members can be forgiven because despite some flaws, their songs can be absolutely sublime. Since forming after the legendary post-punk group Joy Division ceased to exist (in the wake of lead singer/lyricist Ian Curtis’s suicide), New Order has proven to be profoundly influential, particularly to dance-oriented artists, but there’s a quality that others can’t quite capture.

The newly released album, Lost Sirens, is compiled from material recorded during the sessions for the 2005 album, Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, and only one track—“Hellbent”—had been previously released, on the combination Joy Division/New Order 2011 collection Total. “I’ll Stay with You,” with some slightly distorted guitar licks and Bernard Sumner’s familiar, comforting vocals offers nothing particularly new but works just fine as an album opener. “Sugarcane” has a post-disco, new-wave method and a chorus that isn’t shy with the hooks. And “I’ve Got a Feeling” is all about layered guitar licks and strums atop a bed of drum machine beats.

“Californian Grass” has some cringeworthy lyrics, (“We can stop at a grocery store / Buy a drink for a few dollars more”) and “Shake It Up” is another offender, containing mangled clichés. However, about four minutes into the song, it throws out an irresistible twist, somewhat redeeming itself. Bassist Peter Hook—who has since left the band—acts more as a soloist than a rhythm section anchor, playing his characteristic high-on-the-fretboard notes with a specific timbre. The album ends with a remixed version of “I Told You So,” originally on Waiting for the Sirens’ Call, shedding its Swedish reggae rhythm for a slowed-down “Be My Baby” drumbeat with low-tuned drums and resembling the Velvet Underground track, “All Tomorrow’s Parties.”

By New Order’s standards, it’s a sub-par album, but fans won’t be able to hate it.

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April 4, 2013

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