Schwarz - Hard listening - 2000
This is the second album of the Spanish musician Schwarz, one of the sadly few examples of music with progressive flavor of the Spanish scene, published in his own record label Sandwich Records. His group had already published in December of 1998 the excellent album These songs mean nothing in the independent record label Greyhead. I have consciously written "progressive flavor", as his music could not easily be located inside the purest side of the progressive music.
Schwarz mixes in a huge cocktail shaker progressive rock, cosmic music, Canterbury, space, krautrock and electronic (a la Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Focus, Hawkwind, Can, Gong, Ozric Tentacles or VDGG) with other spices coming from outside our favorite genre as psychedelic (Grateful Dead, Spirit), post-punk (Television, the softest Sonic Youth or Fugazi), and ambient-drone-rock (Tortoise, Labradford, Spiritualised, Smog). For you to make an idea, the album includes samples of amongst others Enrico Caruso, Ash Ra Tempel, King Crimson, and Miles Davis.
You should never expect here a resemblance to the more grandiloquent type of progressive groups as Yes or ELP (Schwarz has stated many times that he hates these groups), but to the most intense as the first Pink Floyd, VDGG, King Crimson or Gong
Nothing better to understand the band than the explanation the own group makes on their wesite about the recording sessions of the album. "Hard Listening's recording was carried out in a dreamy and almost delirious way. In night sessions, with the group playing in direct, the studio only illuminated by psychedelic projections (the same ones they use in concert), and the musicians in a state of certain surreality."
The band was formed in the moment of recording the album by Alfonso Schwarz (voice, guitars, sitar, theremin, samplers, synthesizers, effects), Juanma Martínez (bass), the excellent and wonderful Mª Dolores González (synthesizer, mellotrón, piano, organ, samplers), and J.A. Ross (drums) with the collaboration in some songs of Cesar Verdú (bongos). After the release of the album, J.A. Ross abandoned the band to devote himself to his own group, being substituted by Cesar.
This is an excellent album, of those that were it signed by an English or American famous group with promotional resources, would sell plenty of records. It includes twelve excellent songs, in which they create exciting atmospheres, with long unreal, dreamy and shaking instrumental passages, full of shades, intensity and repetitiveness, and impregnated of the most cosmic and toxic essence of the 60s, all this above a beautiful pop base.
The records starts with the brief "Ugly World At 9:00A.M." (2.25) an exercise of guitars markedly similar to Sonic Youth in Daydream Nation or Spiritualised. Next, "Hard Listening" (4.18) moves among psychedelic sounds in the wake of the first Pink Floyd or Hawkwind. "Travels Without Moving" (7.10), one of the jewels of the record, moves through a beautiful repetitive psychedelic passage with ghastly keyboards and organs, a nice electronic voice remembering to the first Ultravox, and soft but sharp guitars. The song sounds strangely like Tortoise but with much more presence of guitars. "Sunday" (3.13) is an acoustic slow tempo piece in a more modern style (Jayhawks, Smog) with a beautiful structure and crystalline melodies. A marvel.
"Sun And Moon Vibrations" (6.31) shows influences of the most cheerful krautrock (Can) and psychedelia, with the sound of hallucinating theremins. We continue with the more different song in the album. "I'm Bored With Rock'n'Roll" (4.50) turns out to be a hallucinating mixture of the voices and repetitive rhythms of Kraftwerk or Suicide with crying guitars. "Outsider" (8.00) becomes gradually a mellotron, sitar, and organ party on a melodic base of keyboards and sharp guitars, in one of the most cosmic and space pieces in the disk. "Through Your Eyes"(2.55) is an acoustic ballad interpreted by Alfonso, with a sad and lonely voice that reminds me from the wonderful Nick Drake, over a guitar base and a beautiful progressive mellotron.
"Tsunami" (4.59) is a strange instrumental repetitive mix of samplers, synthesiser and rhythm section in an interesting electronic cosmic style, with certain likeness to Ozric Tentacles. "Moonsickness" (7.24) is a beautiful progressive-cosmic discharge with a flush of mellotrons and very clear influences in sound and voices of Syd Barret's Pink Floyd, and Van Der Graaf Generator. The most progressive song in the disk, without a doubt. Nearly finishing the album, "Narcotic" (6.21) recaptures a beautiful mixture of exquisite space prog (beautiful flute) with current sounds as those proposed by Spiritualised or Flaming Lips. To finish, "The Hardest Way" (8.16) in what is the final show of brilliant ideas of Alfonso Schwarz in a slow and experimental theme, played almost alone that includes constant references to his favorite styles: psychedelic, space progressive and ambient rock.
In summary, this is one of those albums that make me feel happy, a band that picks up the best essence of a glorious time as the last sixties and first seventies, and sparkles them with modern touches of quality, converging in an original and very interesting music. A great album that the lovers of the most cosmic progressive must buy. You won't be sorry, certainly.