Wednesday, August 04, 2010

An Obsessive Look At The Upcoming King Crimson Releases - Islands and In The Wake Of Poseidon

There are two reasons why you might be excited for the next batch of the King Crimson 40th Anniversary Remixes/Deluxe DVD-Audio packages.

Firstly there is the new mixes. Steven Wilson, best known as the front man of Porcupine Tree, is a master music producer. He's also a huge King Crimson fan. If there's anybody who's going to go back to the original multi-track tapes and create a shiny new stereo mix that's faithful to the original but clearer and bolder sounding, it's him. But wait! That's not all. Anyone who has had a chance to listen to any of the Porcupine Tree 5.1 surround sound mixes will know that nobody does it better than Steven Wilson. He's turned the act of mixing surround music into a real art. After much persuading, Steven finally convinced Robert Fripp that King Crimson's back catalogue would be a perfect fit for the DVD-Audio format. So far they have released In The Court of The Crimson King, Red and Lizard. They have been nothing short of spectacular.

(A note to all you audiophile geeks out there: There has been some complaint that these releases have been mastered at a louder level then they could have been. While it is true these are pretty loud releases, they are a far cry from the brickwalled loudness war victims that we've seen (heard, actually) over the last few years. Frankly, unless you are really into high end audio and really picky about loud mastering techniques, you'll find these releases to be perfect sounding. In other words, unless you are a super picky audiophile, you probably won't notice anything wrong. They sound great.)

The second reason that King Crimson fans will likely be all over these releases is the bonus tracks. While going through boxes of tapes to prepare the new mixes, Steven Wilson has unearthed a plethora of rare unheard recordings that have been sitting in the vaults for decades. As part of the 40th Anniversary, we're getting the chance to hear many alternate and early takes of legendary tracks. These are pretty indispensable if you're a hard-core Crimson nut. Some would argue that the live TV performance video included as a bonus on the Red DVD-Audio is worth the price of that disc alone, never mind the stellar 5.1 mix.

The details for Islands and In The Wake Of Poseidon have just been posted online. As other music blogs have already posted the details, I'm going to try and provide some bonus analysis and obsessive detailed guess work as to what these releases are going to look, sound and feel like. (they'll probably smell like "new-CD")

First we'll take a look at In The Wake Of Poseidon:
Here are all the gory details as seen on Burningshed.com

CD:

Original album - 2010 mix

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End

Bonus Tracks

11. Groon
12. Peace: An End - Alternate mix
13. Cadence & Cascade (Greg Lake guide vocal version)

DVD-A

MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround/DTS 5.1 Digital Surround - 2010 mix:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End
11. Groon

MLP lossless/LPCM - 2010 stereo mix:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End
11. Groon

Original 1970 stereo mix, 30th anniversary remaster:

1. Peace: A Beginning
2. Pictures of a City
3. Cadence & Cascade
4. In The Wake of Poseidon
5. Peace: A Theme
6. Cat Food
7. The Devil's Triangle (part I)
8. The Devil's Triangle (part II)
9. The Devil's Triangle (part III)
10. Peace: An End

Bonus Tracks:

1. Cat Food (single version)
2. Groon (single b-side)
3. Cadence & Cascade (unedited master)
4. Cadence & Cascade (Greg Lake guide vocal version)
5. Cadence & Cascade (instrumental take from Wessex Studios)
6. Groon - Take 1
7. Groon - Take 5
8. Groon - Take 15
9. The Devil's Triangle (rehearsal version from Wessex Studios)
10. Peace: An End (alternative mix)
Woah. Let's break this down.

As with the past releases, these are going to come in a two disc digi-pack. Disc one will be a regular CD featuring Steven Wilson's and Robert Fripp's new stereo mix. Judging from the releases we've heard so far, these will sound very similar to the original mix. This is in contrast to the new mixes we've heard from Genesis where they have often drastically altered the original feel of the songs. Steven's approach has been basically to use new digital mixing tools to make things sound clearer and cleaner. (An example would be the new Lizard mix, which cleans up things quite a bit without changing the emphasis that existed originally.) It's important to note that the original multi-tracks of The Devil's Triangle were not found for this release, as such we're going to have the original mix instead, albeit now spread across three tracks on the CD.

The CD will contain three bonus tracks. The first of which being Steven's new mix of the super jazzy B-Side Groon. Things get really interesting with the second bonus, an alternative mix of Peace: An Ending. In its original form, the album closer has always had a very sparse, echo filled feeling with Greg Lake's mournful vocal eventually joined by Fripp's jazzy acoustic chords. It'll be really interesting to see what Mr. Wilson has done to spruce it up. The final bonus track on the CD will be "the first CD appearance of Greg Lake's guide vocal take of the beautiful ballad Cadence and Cascade." As you probably know, this track was Gordon Haskell's first contribution vocally to King Crimson. He would become the full time vocalist on Lizard. While Greg Lake is featured as the main singer on the album, by the time it was being recorded he was already well into his transition to joining supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Hearing him on Cadence and Cascade should be an interesting listen. (Some King Crimson fans have already heard this track as a download from the DGMlive website. This will be its first appearance on CD.)

The bulk of this release takes place on its second disc, the DVD. The main feature, and what I'm most excited for, is Steven's 5.1 Surround Sound mix. As I've mentioned countless time before, the guy is the master when it comes to this stuff. His work so far in this series has been sheer brilliance. (You can read my over-detailed review of Lizard on this very blog!) In my mind, the kind of music featured on Poseidon will work wonderfully in 5.1. If you're a big fan of this music, you owe it to yourself to hear it in this format. I can almost promise that your mind will be blown. I can't wait.

As with the new stereo mix, the original tapes for Devil's Triangle were never found. The 5.1 version will feature an upmix. What this means is Steven and co. will use fancy computer software to create a "fake" 5.1 mix from the two-track master. It's hard to explain how it works without getting too technical, but considering how far this technology has advanced in the last five years, this should be a decent sounding alternative to doing a full-on 5.1 remix.

The DVD will also contain both the new and original stereo mixes in high resolution lossless audio. One advantage of the DVD-Audio format is its ability to store the audio at higher bitrates and sample rates than you can get on CD. Most audiophiles claim that this brings digital music to a sonic level much closer to what you could get in the analog days of vinyl LPs. If you have a DVD player hooked up to your main sound system, this is probably the way you'll want to listen to these albums. You can leave the DVD at home and bring the CD in your car. Works out rather well, I'd say.

The DVD also allows room for even more bonus tracks. In addition to the single version of Cat Food and Groon (which we've had as bonus tracks on the last release of this album) we'll get even more versions of Cadence and Cascade. I'm not sure what the Unedited Master refers to, but I'll asume that original version is edited in some ways in comparison to what was originally put together. I might be wrong, but it'll be interesting to see what this is exactly. The Instrumental Take is pretty self explanatory. It'll probably be an alternate take without any vocals. We'll also get some early takes of Groon. The jazzy improvised nature of this track probably means each version will probably be substantially different. Finally we get an early rehearsal of The Devil's Triangle. I wonder if it's even more Mars-like than what's on the album.

All of this for £12.50 GBP (probably around $20 American).

Now let's examine the very underrated Islands:

The track list for Poseidon was relatively simple compared what Island's is going to look like, again here it is courtesy of Burningshed.com


CD:

Original album 2010 mix:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Bonus tracks:

7. Islands (studio run through with oboe prominent)
8. Formentera Lady (original recording sessions - take 2)
9. Sailor's Tale (original recording sessions - alternate mix/edit)
10. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls (previously unreleased)
11. The Letters (rehearsal/outtake)
12. Ladies of the Road (Robert Fripp & David Singleton remix)

8 - 11 mixed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels

DVD:

MLP Lossless 5.1 Surround / DTS 5.1 Digital Surround:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Mixed & produced from the original multi track tapes by Steven Wilson.
Executive producer Robert Fripp.

MLP stereo / LPCM stereo - Original album 2010 stereo mix:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Original album 1971 mix, 30th anniversary remaster:

1. Formentera Lady
2. Sailor's Tale
3. The Letters
4. Ladies of the Road
5. Prelude: Song of the Gulls
6. Islands

Islands: Alternative album:

1. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 2
2. Sailor's Tale - Original recording sessions - alternate mix/edit
3. The Letters - Rehearsal/outtake
4. Ladies of the Road - Rough mix
5. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls - Previously unreleased
6. Islands - Studio run through with oboe prominent

1-3 & 5 mxed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels.

Routes to Islands:

1. Pictures of a City - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
2. Sailor's Tale - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
3. Islands (fragment) - Robert Fripp reference cassette - mellotron on vibes setting
4. Formentera Lady - Rough mix from album recording sessions
5. Sailor's Tale - Rough mix from album recording sessions
6. Drop In - Early rehearsal by Islands lineup
7. The Letters - Live at Plymouth, mastered by David Singleton
8. Sailor's Tale - Live at the Zoom Club, mastered by David Singleton

Islands: Additional tracks: Assorted Ladies:

1. Ladies of the Road - Robert Fripp & David Singleton remix
2. Ladies of the Road - Original recording sessions - take 5
3. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 1
4. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 3
5. Formentera Lady - Original recording sessions - take 4

2 - 5 mixed by Steven Wilson from the original session reels.
That's a lot of Islands.

I've always loved this album. I know it's hardly considered one of the great Crimson albums, but the wild free-form jazzy improv and the almost soothing classical always, in my opinion, made for a really interesting listen. If Steven Wilson can bring the soul of the album out in the remix, like he did with Lizard, I'm sure this will become the definite version of Islands.

The CD features the brand spanking new stereo mix by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp. Again, don't expect a grand re-visioning or a great departure from the original. Mr. Wilson has a great deal of respect for these albums and strived to recreate them as closely as possible. If any changes exist you can bet they have been commissioned from Mr. Robert Fripp himself. I'm such a fan of the Lizard remix and it's subtle cleaner and bolder feel that I have great expectations for Islands.

The bonus tracks are vast and numerous on this release. The studio run through of Islands will probably be a very raw and personal sounding version of the soothing track. We also get an early and alternative version of Formentera Lady and Sailor's Tale. A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls is apparently a never heard before track. It should be pretty interesting to hear as it contains early ideas that would come into play in the next incarnation of King Crimson featuring Bill Bruford and John Wetton. Finally there is the Fripp/David Singleton remix of Ladies of the Road. This is one of the few tracks on this release not mixed by Steven Wilson.

Once again, it's the DVD that should be the most interesting part of the whole package. I can laude more plaudits upon Mr. Wilson's skills as a 5.1 mixer, but I think I've done more than enough praising on this blog already. Jeez. He's damn good. Do I have to say anything else? I own quite a large assortment of surround sound music and the ones he's been involved in stand heads above the rest. Got it? Understand? Great. Islands should be another masterpiece, unless he somehow manages to completely drop the ball. I doubt it. If he mixes Prelude: Song Of Gulls in the way I imagine he might then I'll be a very happy camper. If he doesn't, I'll never buy anything he does ever again. Am I kidding? (yes) Who knows anymore? (I do) Moving on...

As with every single one of these 40th Anniversary releases, you'll get both the new and original stereo mix in glorious sounding high resolution. As long as the mastering on these is tastefully done, they should become the defacto way to listen to this album at home in stereo. Considering the others have been mastered a touch loudly so far, I wouldn't let go of your original Islands vinyl just yet.

The bonuses on this DVD are too numerous to mention individually. Seriously, Islands is getting quite the treatment in this area. Luckily for me they have been grouped into sections that will make it easier to break down and not be here slaving over this post for the rest of my life.

The first section is called the 'Alternative album', and is just that. It will consist of alternate mixes and early versions of just about each track in their original running order. Prelude: Song of Gulls is being swapped out completely for A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls and should make the later part of the album much less sleep inducing. (For the record: I always enjoyed the pretty/sleepy nature of the end of this album.) This 'Alternative' version should be an interesting contrast and a must hear for the Crimson freak that lurks within.

Routes to Islands is filled with an assortment of goodies including even more early and alternative takes of the album's varied compositions. Pictures of a City performed by the Islands lineup of the band is crying out for special mention. Anytime a different lineup of King Crimson tackles an early track it tends to result in what is usually a completely different sounding song to what came before. Also of note is Robert Fripp's cassette demo of the song Islands played on mellotron. This section of bonus tracks concludes with live renditions of The Letters and Sailor's Tale. I doubt that these have been heard outside of the Crimson fanclub download/mailing list. As you know, the Island lineup of Crimson was one of the few from this early era that actually played live and these should make for an exciting listen.

Assorted Ladies is the title of the final section of bonus tracks. Including the early take of Formentera Lady included in the 'alternate album', you now have all the first 4 takes of this track to obsess over. This is something that will probably only be of interest to the most diehard Crimson fanatic, but you'll probably have a decent feel of how the song progressed and evolved in the studio, from take one to what finally wound up on the album itself. Very interesting stuff.

Congratulations! You've read my entire over-long, over-nerdy, over-the-top preview of these yet-to-be-released reissues. You might call me insane, but to be fair I wrote this post over the course of 3-4 days. The fact of the matter is I wouldn't dedicate all this space to these reissues if I wasn't so impressed with what we've seen so far from this series. These are the kind of quality packages that most big record labels can only dream of releasing. The people involved have always lived comfortably outside the mainstream and have earned their living by producing quality products and doing so in a manner that doesn't rip off their fans. In fact, I recommend ordering these through either Burning Shed or DGMlive because the people who worked hard to make them will receive a larger share of the profit. These are people who care about their art and respect the people who buy it.


If it wasn't for the unexpected friendship between Robert Fripp and Steven Wilson, we'd likely never see these releases. Wilson has earned his reputation as a master-class producer and there is probably nobody in the business who is more qualified and better equipped to tackle this project with the level of respect and skill that we've seen so far. Keep it up!


4 comments:

Palmer said...

Off topic - take a look at the second story here, The Entropy Composition:

http://www.bigfinish.com/142-Doctor-Who-The-Demons-of-Red-Lodge-and-Other-Stories

Should be a fun listen.

Paul Di Meglio said...

@Palmer

"A lost prog rock symphony is unearthed from the vaults – with catastrophic consequences for the entire cosmos."

Nice! Doctor Who and Prog Rock. Sounds awesome.

Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

I find that there is a similar audiophiliac sound to both the Genesis and the King Crimson remasters. Both are victims of dynamic compression - however, both are much less so than just about every other recent remaster I've heard. I think Steve AND Nick have done wonderful jobs on their respective tasks. Very similar processes were involved in cleaning them up, and the changes in nature of the Genesis tunes are little different and in some cases less drastic than the changes made by Robert Fripp because "he never liked that bit". Hope he asked the whole band he was a part of about those changes.

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