BILL NELSON: Stereo Star Maps (CD on Sonoluxe)
This 2014 release features 71 minutes of soft pop music.
There's a delicate romanticism prevalent in these tunes, tempering the guitar into flows of lavish beauty, bending notes into dreamy tones.
As usual, the guitars offer the album's highlights as far as gripping sounds are concerned. Nelson has a way of persuading the strings to issue levels of cosmic splendor, dazzling and entrancing.
Percussion is present, but often submerged in the mix so they tempos do not disrupt the even flow of gentle euphoria.
A plethora of additional instruments grace this music (horns, keys, and such), as well as a notable degree of slippery electronics, all crafted to lend even more somnambulant elegance to the tuneage.
Nelson's sultry vocals grace the majority of songs here, with instrumentals separating these lyrical excursions. His voice is smooth and almost understated as he croons with nostalgia for the extravagant future we were all promised but that never arrived.
Whether lyrical or instrumental, a soothing mood dominates these compositions. The melodies are serene, contemplative, yet filled with inventive sounds as Nelson coaxes strangeness from his instruments. There's a wonderful 16 minute long piece that explores luxurious resonance, sampled guidance dedicated to fostering the art of constructive contemplation.
BILL NELSON: Shining Reflector (CD on Sonoluxe)
This 2014 release features 55 minutes of stunning pop music.
Here, we have a full range of instruments (guitar, bass, percussion, electronics and vocals) contributing to this tuneage, although (let's face it) the guitar rules with a masterful hand.
Nelson is a guitar virtuoso, so the range of styles and modes he uses his guitars result in a far-reaching span of delightful sonics. He can move from rock-out explosions to shimmering crystalline structures to winsome blues to astral sustains-all effortlessly, deftly crafting tunes that vibrate with their own luminescence. There's one point where some notes sound like horse's hooves.
Percussion plays a stronger role here, providing snappy locomotion for the sinuous tuneage.
Besides a selection of sneaky electronics, piano (and other sultry keyboards) are often utilized to lend a unique edge to the flow.
Nelson's vocals are more direct, as if he's communicating things to the listeners instead of recounting a tale in song. His voice is comfortable, hardly demonstrative, as he sings about stars and rapture and aspirations that are waiting to be achieved.
These compositions are a fair mixture of lyrical and instrumental pieces, but even the lyrical tunes shine with outstanding performances and engaging riffs. While technically "pop songs," this music strives to elevate "pop" to a whole new level, one where melodies can evolve and inject charming diversions, where emotional states are manipulated by the melodies as much as by the words. Some of these tunes shine with an incredible luster.
BILL NELSON: Quiet Bells (CD on Sonoluxe)
This 2015 release features 63 minutes of gentle instrumental music.
Here, we have a dose of elegant instrumentals utilizing a softer side of Nelson's guitar skills.
Ah, but expect more than just ambient tonal structures, for this tuneage possesses a considerable degree of authority and a definite melodic presence. Nimble chords generate somewhat lavish tunes that might dwell on the smoother side of pop, but still evoke a solid response among the listeners.
A good amount of cosmic sustains can be found in this tuneage, but the strings also adopt more conventional modes to express themselves. A touch of twang is often noticeable, as well as some classical strumming.
Some percussion is employed, as well as dreamy keyboard threads, both of which nicely serve to flesh out the music's already intricate guitar demeanor. The infrequent appearance of stately piano lends a pleasant nobility to those passages.
While these compositions strive to explore softer sonic territory, their underlying puissance cannot be denied. The truly ambient pieces flourish with soothing radiance, so much so that they instill a sense of relaxed power in the audience. Meanwhile, the other tunes tend to harness a more direct route to inspiring the listeners with the gentle majesty of their compelling melodies. Undulating riffs find ways for their hypnotic flair to linger, infusing everyone with an unquestioning optimism.
Congenial background music that will equally satisfy more attentive listens.
BILL NELSON: Swoons and Levitatons (CD on Sonoluxe)
This 2015 release features 58 minutes of mysterious pop music.
This release returns to a full-bodied pop album with strong showings from each instrument.
Of course, the guitars rule with their nimble-fingered manipulation and crafty handling. These riffs blaze with molten vigor, carving searing pathways in the audience's psyche with their crisply delineated chords. Strings get bent and treated, but the gutsy aspects inherent in the powerful outbursts flourish in wondrous fashion. Often, dual riffs of undeniably complexity coexist, playing off each other and mounting a strong approximation of ultimate euphoria.
Percussion is prevalent here, providing locomotion, although the rhythms are generally languid and relaxed in contrast to the fiery postures adopted by the guitar riffs.
Liquid keyboards lend a sinuous flair to the mix. There's even an appearance by soulful harmonica, complimenting the guitar's hillside twang.
Nelson's vocals explore realms of fascination and wonderment, man's sense of awe in face of the world's commonplace marvels.
These compositions capture a taste of unbridled optimism with deft ease. The tunes are fluid and entrancing, each piece featuring an instrumental passage best characterized as: as close as one can get to ultimate bliss (while keeping one foot firmly planted here in the real world)." So many memorable melodies...where do they all come from?
BILL NELSON: The Sparkle Machine (DDL on Sonoluxe)
This 2013 release features 72 minutes of superb instrumental music.
Lush tunes delivered with emphatic devotion and loads of inventive wizardry (in composition and performance).
As usual, the guitars dominate, and considering their sheer brilliance, let them rule! Nelson doles out riffs of searing power and endearing beauty and dazzling weirdness. His versatility doesn't seem limited by the laws of physics; he never stops producing enchanting surprises. Riffs are expressed via everything from severe twang to languid ballad chords, from gutsy guttural licks to shimmering clouds of chords. There's E-bow note-bending, fervent slide sustains, and heavenly strumming.
Ah, but other instruments share the stage, like: percussions of all sorts, from isolated beats used as punctuations, to snappy rhythms that pursue serpentine paths through the mix. While the majority of the album's songs do not utilize percussives, those that do generate memorably inventive rhythms.
There are keyboards present, but their presence tends to be difficult to pinpoint, so effortlessly does Nelson blend everything together into a gestalt sound. But the keys are generally there, slithering through the mix and subliminally enhancing things. A bevy of incidental effects (sometimes the mix is delightfully crowded with them) can be found throughout these songs, and (at a guess) it's doubtful Nelson's creating them all with his guitars-so one cannot overlook these electronic embellishments.
There are occasions, though, when actual keyboard rolls feature prominently in some tunes, their posture fluid and sinuous.
As far as vocals go, a few tracks feature sampled snippets from antique recordings and old radio programs, providing verbal cues more than generating any lyrical flow...but there's no conventional singing. Indeed, most of the tracks shine with instrumental glory.
These compositions are solid, heartfelt, and enduring, easily earning themselves fond places in your frontal lobes. They go beyond "pop" music, delving into contemporary genres, whether they be called "jazz" or "rock" or a "fusion" of the two. Nelson's ability to channel epic feelings through music is at his best here, conjuring tuneage of a lasting character.
BILL NELSON: Noise Candy (limited edition 6CD set on Cocteau Discs)
The first notable aspect of this release is the unspeakably impressive packaging. The six disks come in a sturdy fold-out case that measures 5x10. Glossy, full-color printing decorates every square inch. Open the box and the glorious interior is revealed: the CDs set into trays, with an elaborate 52 page booklet (again: full-color, on glossy heavy stock paper) that contains all the lyrics and numerous pictures and pieces of friendly art.
Although compiled from a vast archive of unreleased tracks composed and performed throughout the Nineties, there is nothing secondary about this music. These songs exhibit the man's talents in prime form.
CD 1: Old Man Future Blows the Blues (69 minutes)
Each disk offers a slightly different slant of Nelson's versatile music. This one's classification is congenial pop tunes with a touch of light-hearted blues.
While the sonic range is varied, guitar cheerfully dominates this music. Nelson is a world-class virtuoso when it comes to coercing miracles from this instrument. Effects and treatments are too innumerable to describe, producing ecstasy in never-ending waves of inspiring pinnacles. Percussion tends to be generally artificial, but quite snappy and unstale, providing thrilling rhythms that rock and sway with verve and energy. Basslines hide in the mix, fundamentally subliminal but contributing solid foundations. Keyboards and electronics sweep through the tunes like glistening honey, candy-coating riffs with their heavenly resonance.
Nelson's vocals are sultry yet masculine, deep-voiced and melodic in the extreme. His lyrics are truly inspired, generating catchy and intriguing phrases with exuberant fever.
Also appearing are sampled voice snippets from old radio and TV shows, children's records, and other, more esoteric sources. These utterances are brief, and generally used to clever effect.
It is no secret that Nelson has a steady eye on the future, with a touch of classic space age sensibilities rooted in Golden Age visuals...such as gleaming crystal cities, aerial railways, jet towns, streamlined rockets with flaring fins. The man's spiritual sense also shows through, with frequent references to eternal love, deities of all varieties, and a resolute sense of optimism.
CD 2: Stargazing with Ranger Bill (55 minutes)
This disk features tuneage with more of a cowboy flavor (not to be confused with Country & Western music).
Here, the guitar often adopts a prairie twang, conjuring campfire gatherings under a big yellow moon. Tall tales are swapped, and everyone chews chaw with gusto. But fear not, there's still a strong presence of Nelson's signature E-bow guitar sound, bending notes in mid-play via electromagnetic manipulation.
This mixture of modern and wild west produces a curious form of nostalgia, as the lyrics combine high-grass plains with outer space, valiant steeds with hot-rod racers. The melodies carry abundant cowboy sentiments as the steel pedal slide guitars spiral into a miasma of churning interstellar clouds.
CD 3: Sunflower Dairy Product (71 minutes)
This disk examines existentialism with a peppermint twist, pop music that bridges the gap between candy bars and the Milky Way galaxy.
While Nelson retains his prior mastery of the instruments, the music on this disk resonates with a pronounced smoothness, more sultry in a masculine manner, more in tune with feminine ears. Lavish guitars swing into play, tickling smiles from the audience as the riffs plunge into realms that sparkle with electronic effects. The percussion is snappy, belting out tasty rhythms that propel the tuneage into congenial astral territory. Nelson's crooning waxes nostalgic about the future while recommending glucose as an emotional solution. Glistening embellishment pours from the almost-imperceptible crevices in the mix, spilling like honey over the dearly heartfelt melodies.
CD 4: King Frankenstein (71 minutes)
This disk explores a darker side of Nelson's creative capacity, injecting grittier riffs and transforming the silken tunes into dramatic snapshots.
Vivacious pyrotechnics overwhelm the guitar-playing with dazzling intensity. The songs evoke ascendant sensibilities, driving the listener to heights where the air is rarefied and donning one's space helmet might be advised. Monsters become humanized, and accident is unmasked as the true adversary plaguing mankind.
In all fairness, not all the pieces on this disk are dark; in fact, even those who display a darkness are hardly ominous. Tracks like "The Invisible Venus of New York City" and "Sunny Bungalows" provide optimistic vistas of sound amidst the harsher pieces. The tension becomes a warning sign of obstacles to overcome instead of unavoidable dire consequences. Fantasy blends with surrealism as Nelson redefines life in terms that are guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone's lips. Eastern theology collides with Western philosophy, producing an enthusiastic nirvana of left-of-center insights.
CD 5: Console (70 minutes)
This disk consists mostly of instrumental tracks, exhibiting Nelson's talent of splicing together samples to produce highly infectious melodies.
Piano emerges here, not to dominate but to enhance the winding percussion and cosmic guitar. The tunes are littered with sampled phrases that effectively imbue the whole with a sense of intimacy, as if the ancient voices are bestowing the audience with invaluable advice.
The overall velocity of the music steps back, adopting a more languid delivery, dreamy and stately. Crescendos are liable to loop back into sedate passages, leading the listener into a profuse labyrinth of undulating harmonies. A sense of fancy is prominent, as if every ear belonged to children who are still mesmerized by the simple mysteries of life. Much of the experience conjures an afternoon spent investigating an old attic where boxes of exotic old phonograph records provide a wealth of innocent amusement.
CD 6: Playtime (72 minutes)
This disk is almost a compendium, a mixture of all previous elements, peppered with optimism and laced with some particularly ecstatic guitar performances. The keynote here is: funtime devoted wholly to entertainment. Philosophy and wisdom are still present, but they are hidden in uptempo pop tunes that appeal to audiences of all ages.
The pace resumes its frivolous stature, with peppy rhythms and intricate guitar licks and fascinating vocal qualities. The future merges with the now; romance faces off with contentment; enigmas are bamboozled; and you are invited to ride the Astral Tramways of England.
No one escapes this CD set without a generous dose of uplifting sentiments and entertaining melodies.
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