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viernes, 29 de mayo de 2015

Van der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers (2011)

Artista: Van der Graaf Generator
Álbum: A Grounding In Numbers
Año: 2011
Género: Progresivo ecléctico
Duración: 48:50
Nacionalidad: Inglaterra


Lista de Temas:
1. Your Time Starts Now
2. Mathematics
3. Highly Strung
4. Red Baron
5. Bunsho
6. Snake Oil
7. Splink
8. Embarrassing Kid
9. Medusa
10. Mr. Sands
11. Smoke
12. 5533
13. All Over The Place

Alineación:
- Peter Hammill / guitar, keyboards and vocals
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and bass guitar
- Guy Evans / drums


Empiezo con este comentario ajeno al mío, pero ojo que el mío no dista mucho de lo que expuesto aquí:

Entre tanta algarabía por el regreso de Yes, tras una década de ostracismo creativo, hemos olvidado, de manera injusta, que una de las bandas más interesantes y llamativas de la época, acaba de editar su tercera placa de estudio post reunión. Hablamos de los británicos Van Der Graaf Generator que, con “A Grounding in Numbers”, demuestran una lozanía envidiable.
En este renovado formato de trío (recordemos que desde el álbum “Trisector”de 2008, que ya no está en la banda el saxofonista David Jackson), el mítico conjunto, logra combinar sus ambiciones experimentales con una particular visión del progresivo y buenas dosis de un rock duro poderoso y visceral.
Además del importantísimo aporte vocal de Peter Hammill (clave en la identidad musical de la banda), lo que llama poderosamente la atención, es el trabajo del grupo de manera colectiva. Sin ser un mal disco, en “Trisector” se notaba que la banda estaba acomodándose tras la partida de Jackson, pieza clave en el sonido antiguo de Van Der Graaf Generator.
En esta ocasión, y desde el inicio con ‘Your Times Starts Now’, que la triada compuesta por el mencionado Hammill, el tecladista Hugh Banton y el baterista Guy Evans, conforman, no sólo un combo musical dinámico, sino también, de una sapiencia compositiva mucho más enfocada y comprimida. Como mencionaba, todas las ambiciones estilísticas de la banda se mixturan y, en temas que en promedio no sobrepasan la barrera de los 6 minutos, el trío logra sacar el máximo provecho a sus recursos.
Si el inicio es una balada al estilo de la banda, entonces ‘Mathematics’ decanta por el lado más clásico, con esas progresiones melódicas habituales de VDGG. Asimismo, el grupo hace un guiño a Rolling Stones en el inicio de ‘Highly Strung’, para después decantarse en la particular –e iconoclasta- visión del rock más duro de la banda.
También hay cuotas de experimentación sonora, como en ‘Red Baron’. A destacar a Guy Evans, que con su técnica, heredera del jazz de vanguardia, le entrega un soporte rítmico ideal a Hammill y Banton. ‘Bunsho’, por su parte, regresa a los cauces más tradicionales del grupo, con un inspirado Hammill en la voz. De la misma forma, la banda llega al punto máximo de su repertorio de sensibilidad más tradicional y, al mismo tiempo, más compleja, con ‘Snake Oil’.
Con ‘Splink, el trío provoca el descanso al auditor más despistado, mientras que el atento, quedará sorprendido por los detalles sonoros que abundan, así como también, con las irregulares métricas de los teclados de Banton. Esta última, contrasta con la potencia rockera de ‘Embarrassing Kid’. La oscuridad de ‘Medusa’ se hace necesaria, mientras que ‘Mr. Sand’, regresa al sonido más clásico de la agrupación, recordando discos imprescindibles, como “H to He, Who Am the Only One” y “Pawn Hearts”.
Entrando a la última parte de “A Grounding in Numbers”, llama la atención la suerte de funk psicodélico de ‘Smoke’. Sin embargo ‘5533’, es una de las composiciones más arriesgadas del grupo, tanto en el disco como de las que tengo recuerdo. Sencillamente, estos dos surcos marcan un apartado llamativo en un trabajo que, en general, posee elementos comunes de musicalidad. ‘All Over the Place’, cierra el disco de una manera brillante, aunando todos los conceptos de la música de Van Der Graaf Generator: desde la experimentación rockera hasta la visión del sinfónico.
“A Grounding in Numbers” es valorable, no sólo por las ganas del legendario conjunto inglés, de seguir entregando más y mejor música, sino que también, porque logra actualizar su sonido, mostrando una banda que se sigue reinventando tras casi 45 años de trayectoria. Nada menos. Además, como trío, VDGG encuentra la vuelta de tuerca que necesitaba, para exponer todas sus virtudes, que en este nuevo milenio, explotan de la mejor manera imaginable.
Felipe Kraljevich M.

Seguimos en la historia de esta fantástica banda inglesa, aún sin su histórico saxo pero cada vez más y mejor asentados en el sonido de trío, y si comparo este disco con su anterior trabajo de estudio, me refiero al "Trisector", resulta que si bien considero que dicho álbum es más sólido que éste, pero en contrapartida aquí suenan más aplomados en su nueva formación y su sonido. Un disco muy agradable y que me gusta mucho, es como ver el nuevo renacer de la banda ya completamente solidificado.
Y para dar un comentario del disco, copio lo que nuestro amigo Lino escribió en un Laberinto que conocemos por ahí:

No hay muchas bandas como esta, hablar de su trayectoria me llevaría horas escribiendo, tuvieron un parate prolongado después de aquella separación a fines de los 70’s y el regreso triunfal lo hicieron en el 2005 con el excelente “Present", de este álbum al actual, solamente paso “Trisector” en el 2008 y al igual que este, “A Grounding In Numbers”, VDGG sigue siendo un trio, con Guy Evans (batería, percusión y guitarra), Hugh Banton (piano, bajo y guitarra) y alma del grupo Peter Hammill (voz, piano y guitarra).
El tiempo pasa y esta gente sigue manteniéndose inclasificables en cuanto a su estilo musical, sonidos canterbury con un retorcido rock progresivo y psicodélico, mas algo de jazz fusión, son algunas de las influencias que marcaron la carrera del grupo y que aun mantienen.
“You Time Starts Now” es la encargada de abrir, demasiada melancolia como para ser la apertura, pero no esta mal, bastante cercana al material solista de Hammill, al igual que “Mathematics”, atmosferica, oscura, con gran presencia del piano y una base jazzera de Guy Evans dándole a las escobillas. “Highly Strung” te levanta, aquí aparece el costado mas intrincado hasta que aparece el pegadizo estribillo, pero instrumentalmente de lo mas sofisticado que plasmaron. Como en varios pasajes del álbum se extraña el saxo del ausente, David Jackson, que hubiese calzado a la perfeccion en este album. Los platillos y tambores de Evans le dan color a la atmosfera de “Red Baron”, que sirve para introducirnos en “Bunsho”, otra pieza dramática típica del grupo, con un Hammill que conoce sus limites y se entrega al máximo, pero lamentablemente ya no es aquel muchacho que grabo “Pilgrims” del indispensable “Still Life” en el 1976. Otra de las mas destacables del álbum son, “Snake Oil”, se divide entre un comienzo con la voz de Hammill bien al frente, acompañado tímidamente por Evans y Benton, para luego explotar con una base intrincada marcada por la guitarra y los teclados o “Splink”, que es el instrumental del álbum que hara las delicias de los fans ultra progresivos, luego le sigue la potente “Embarrassing Kid”, otro tema que demuestra porque el mundo punk venera a Hammill. Continuamos con la tenebrosa “Medusa”, que se diluye en tan solo 2 minutos y te deja con ganas de mas, ya que prácticamente se va en fade out para que se le pegue “Mr. Sands”, otra de las maravillas de este disco. La Psicodelia aparece con “Smoke” y continua con algo de fusión en “5533”. Nos queda solo el final con “All Over The Place”, epica, dramática, sinfónica,mejor cierre no había para el disco.
Como verán es un disco con el sello y la personalidad de esta gente sigue intacto, y aun manteniendolos como uno de los grupos mas personales del rock progresivo. Aquí contaron para la mezcla con Hugh Padgham, reconocido productor ingles que trabajo con Collins, Genesis, Gabriel, Kate Bush y un larguísimo etc...
¿Qué mas se puede agregar de “A Grounding In Numbers?, que este nuevo VDGG ya no se despacha con canciones largas como en “Pawn Hearts” o “Godbluff”, pero que toma lo mejor de estas obras maestras y las reduce al formato canción, haciéndolas “mas accesibles”, lo que será un acierto para algunos y decepcion para otros, como suele suceder, pero es lo que hay y yo personalmente no me quejo, ojala saquen pronto un nuevo álbum como este..."
Lino

Como bien dice alguien por ahí, esta es una de esas bandas que odias o que amas, sin términos medios, por lo pasional, visceral, oscuro y personalísimo de sus música y su lírica. Este disco sigue la misma tónica, y a pesar de la presencia de opiniones controversiales hasta la fecha, no puedo encontrar nada que me impida decir que esta es una sólida muestra de un gran arte musical, de ideas profundas y quizás con alguna falta de su brillantes pasada, pero demostrando igualmente que aún tienen bastante cuerda para seguir rockeando como los mejores.

Después de “Trisector”, muchos esperábamos con verdadera ansiedad éste nuevo trabajo de los míticos integrantes de ésta super-banda setentera: Van Der Graaf Generator. Y no nos defraudó, aún con la todavía-no-incorporación de Jackson en el sax, las huestes de Hammill han hecho un trabajo bien redondo, es increíble que éste trío continúe haciendo buenas cosas. Hay que decir que, básicamente, el disco es un reflejo burdo dela personalidad del versátil y a la vez extraño cantante: un material denso, que nos lleva desde el rock setentero más encomiable, hasta las neuróticas y esquizoides manifestaciones de una mente privilegiada como la de Hammill , notablemente interpretado, sin fallas, de excelente producción, con un marcado trabajo de Banton en los teclados, principalmente el órgano, que és el que lleva la batuta en todo el disco, amén de un excelente desempeño del batería Evans.
´Your time starts now´, es una plácida, tranquila, melodía, la cual es sostenida por los acordes de un órgano finamente interpretado por Banton, la inconfundible, expresiva voz de Hammill, junto con la del tecladista sirviendo como fondo, nos trasmiten introspección, quietud. 3:03, un breve puente del órgano semejando acordes de flauta. Me recuerda ´Still life´y ´Refugees´, de su época de oro.´Mathematics´, parte de una sonido lejano de sintetizador, que da paso a un piano acústico, precediendo la voz de Hammill que dirige al grupo a un muy breve instante rockero, para después manifestarse hasta cierto punto caótico y frenético con esos cambios de tonalidad vocal así como las voces que sirven de fondo. Hay una alusión directa al teorema matemático de Euler. La pieza finaliza con acordes sencillos y repetitivos de teclados.´Highly strung´, es una maravilla. Empieza con un compás rockero de 4/4, para que a los 0:17 se manifieste un extraordinario cambio con increíble compases de la eléctrica, batería y sobre todo, la neurotizante voz del cantante(¡¡ como extraño el sax de Jackson!!), que por un momento, a los 1:35, retoma nuevamente ése compás inicial, a los 2:07, arpegios de órgano y nuevos cambios. Una verdadera manifestación de Art- Rock.´Red Baron´, es un breve intercambio de lucidez percusiva de Evans, con cambios de ritmo y magistral técnica, teniendo como fondo al tecladista. Instrumental y etérea,´Bunshö´, sin lugar a dudas, la mejor pieza del disco. Inicia con melodiosos acordes de eléctrica que acompañan a la voz, a los 0:47 cambio de ritmo, variación y tonalidad vocal en un breve puente, para continuarse con la melodía principal. A los 1: 46, nuevo cambio con riffs de eléctrica, teclados de fondo y la notable variación en Hammill en el marco melódico, más cambios y al fondo arpegios de eléctrica, excelente desempeño del batería, para que al final voz y eléctrica se encuentren.´Snake oil´, es una pieza al más clásico estilo “vandergrafiano”, acordes de órgano, la voz repite las estrofas en una forma en la que sólo Hammil lo puede hacer, la voz toma un tinte esquizoide, después de un breve puente de teclados se presenta a los 2:38 un aparente diálogo entre la batería y el órgano, la voz es persuasiva, insistente en su interpretación. Se escucha un fondo de arpegios lejanos de eléctrica. A los 3:46, entrada del Hammond, voz y sección rítmica, para que el órgano se explaye en breves arpegios para continuarse con la interpretación inicial hasta el final del track.´Splink´, es una suave tonada en la que se deja escuchar una guitarra lejana con efectos etéreos, entre la que se escuchan disonanacias aisladas, para que posteriormente se presente un interesantísimo cambio a los 1:03, dado por un sonido semejante a un clavicordio, disonante, fuera de toda melodía, que al final se incorpora inteligentemente al contexto de la pieza. Instrumental en su totalidad.´Embarrasing kid´, también principia con un Rock/Blues, un típico sonido setentero, en él que se incluyen interludios dados por cambios rítmicos y vocales, éstos últimos le dan un verdadero aire de los 70´s, se manejan como coros o voces adicionales, una melodía que va en un ´in crescendo´, a los 2:34, espléndidos arpegios de eléctrica para finalizar la pieza.´Medusa´, presenta misteriosos acordes de eléctrica a los que se agregan las voces, desplazándose en ésa directriz a través de todo el track, a los 0:50 se agrega un acorde de teclado obsesivo, persistente hasta el final. Sin cambios.´Mr. Sands´, se manifiesta con un sorprendente juego coral, a la mejor usanza de los 70´s, al que se incorpora todo el grupo, destacándose el trabajo del órgano y la batería, el cantante manifiesta toda su entrega interpretativa, con expresividad y emoción al incorporarse a los 0:35, escuchamos puente de acordes de órgano, posteriormente se vuelven a escuchar los coros y el juego órgano-batería, a los 2:20, un magnífico cambio el cual se continúa con la melodía-base, posteriormente, interludio entre el teclado y voces distantes, el órgano es la base del track hasta el final.´Smoke´, es una corte pieza que manifiesta esa obsesión de Hammill, piano en acordes así como guitarra discretamente distorsionada, algunas voces ambientales en un inicio, para después el órgano tomar las riendas de la melodía. Irradia locura, repetición, característica musical del grupo.´5533´, es otra obsesiva y corta pieza dada por marcadas disonancias de guitarra y órgano, la sección rítmica sigue el juego, a los 0:26, escuchamos a Hammill narrando y diciendo el título de la melodía, las disonancias se repiten así como la narración. Casi al final, voces repitiendo números y el título de la canción.´Al over the place´, es un plano percusivo, acompañado por acordes de teclado, se agregan las voces de Hammill y Banton, hay un discreto cambio, para luego manifestarse la estructura básica de la melodía, 1:48, entrada del grupo que no se modifica hasta pasados los 3 minutos en donde se manifiesta un evidente cambio dado por los teclados y voces distantes para continuarse con acordes de eléctrica y entrada del grupo con un aire de sobriedad, el teclado acompaña en una magnífica cascada para terminar la pieza.
Sin lugar a dudas, estamos ante uno de los grandes lanzamientos de éste año. Un disco excelente que nos demuestra que hay VDGG para rato (sin embargo, ¡¡extraño el sax de Jackson!!). Una espléndida muestra de verdadero Art-Rock.
Imprescindible.
ralp58

El disco es decididamente más fácil de escuchar que sus lejendarias obras maestras, personalmente lo encuentro lejos de toda genialidad pero muy disfrutable, muy artístico y muy coherente. Esa es mi apreciación, luego cada uno tendrá la suya y ya sabemos que siempre es imposible las objetividades, pero en el caso de los VDGG las subjetitividades toman un rol protagónico al máximo, así que lo único que puedo hacer es seguir presentándoles comentarios ajenos, como el que sigue, que además está muy bueno.

Van der Graaf Generator es la típica banda que odias o que amas hasta la extenuación. Empezando porque su alma máter siempre fue, es y será Peter Hammill, y hablar de su música es hablar de su alma, medio dulce, medio atormentada, en parte sensata y milimétrica, en parte esquizoide a más no poder. Esa idiosincrasia ha perseguido siempre a VDGG desde finales de los 60 hasta el día de hoy -más de 42 años, se dice pronto-, y no se ha visto apenas limada por la industria ni por la voracidad de sus seguidores en todo el planeta.
De VDGG, que ahora regresa con su tercer álbum de estudio tras su reunión en 2005 -se separaron como formación original en 1977 con ‘The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome’, se pueden decir cosas asombrosas. Como que tu vecino, inmerso en la veintena, te ponga de repente a estallar las paredes un disco de su primera etapa -verídico-. O como que digas su nombre en cualquier bar de supuestos entendidos de la música y te miren como si hubieras dicho el nombre de Satán, bien porque lo desconocen, bien porque les suena a banda del diablo.
Pero aquí están, sanos y frescos. Hammill, que inicia otra década más con sus compañeros de fatigas Guy Evans y Hugh Banton, ha querido meter algo de su estilo en solitario en este ‘A Grounding in Numbers’, el cual, vaya por delante, está al mismo nivel adquirido en 2008 con el excepcional ‘Trisector’. En ese álbum se formalizaba el terceto, dejando la formación de cuarteto del disco ‘Present’, que suponía en 2005 el regreso y la reunión de la mítica banda, con el siempre polémico socio David Jackson -en los 70 no mantenía buena relación con Hammill-.
Y sí, este ‘A Grounding in Numbers’ es por momentos un álbum más propio de Hammill que de VDGG. Algo que sería poco creíble para el que comience a escuchar el disco, puesto que la apertura corre a cargo de un tranquilo, glamouroso y cuidado tema llamado ‘Your Time Starts Now’, que recuerda mucho a ‘Refugees’ o ‘Still Life’. Impresiona todavía cómo pueden sonar tan delicados unos teclados, imitando una sección de viento de madera. Realmente increíble. Sólo por escuchar este corte merece la pena el álbum, tal como suena.
Y este disco, dedicado como su título indica, a los números y a las matemáticas -de ahí que su fecha de salida fuera el 14 de marzo, que en formato de fechas anglosajonas corresponde a 3,14, el inicio del número pi-, da paso inmediatamente al tema ‘Mathematics’, que hace referencia a un teorema matemático de Euler. Ya esta canción da paso a los VDGG más frenéticos y caóticos, los dionisíacos, dejando atrás a los VDGG más apolíneos, porque la banda siempre ha tenido estas dos caras, las cuales vienen unidas y son inseparables.
Tras esta extraña carta de presentación llega el puro rock progresivo setentero con ‘Highly Strung’: guitarras, compases imposibles, cambios de ritmo continuos, la voz de Hammill ya desbocada y teclados a modo de pinceladas incoherentes, inconexas. Esto es art-rock puro y duro, con raíces. Y en definitiva, un gran temazo. Le sigue la instrumental ‘Red Baron’, un juego de bases rítmicas entre Evans y Banton, con teclados de fondo a modo de atmósfera etérea. Otro tema que sólo podía hacer una banda que vivió los 70, en plena psicodelia. Y cuando ya hemos alcanzado el climax, en pleno orgasmo musical, este terceto nos regala ‘Bunsho’, quizás el otro gran tema del disco. Se trata de un tema que evoluciona tras una entrada serena a un rock marcado por la letra que canta Hammill a su puro estilo libre, alcanzando grandes octavas y recitando estrofas fuera del ritmo del tema. Es su sello de identidad. Puro sonido VDGG clásico que configura un temazo agresivo y directo verdaderamente convincente.
Después nos regalan algo de tranquilidad y paz con la al comienzo bucólica ‘Snake Oil’, que va derivando después en otro esquizoide tema en el que dialogan base rítmica y piano a modo de batalla. El tramo final termina de convencer a los que aún no estaban muy situados en la canción. Otra joya. Para acompañarla, otra instrumental, la segunda del disco, ‘Splink’, un bello pasaje sonoro de guitarras dulces acompañadas de unos teclados puramente ‘vandergraafianos’, alocados y fuera de la armonía y la melodía. Por cierto que esos teclados van evolucionando hasta terminar sonando un maravilloso clavicordio del siglo XVIII. Otro lujo por parte de VDGG en este disco tan variado.
Variado porque tan pronto escuchamos esta instrumental llega ‘Embarrassing Kid’, otro rock con alma blues al más puro estilo Peter Hammill. Después de él, la banda sigue jugando con el intercalado de cortes de poca duración. ‘Medusa’, de apenas más de 2 minutos, es otro mordisco de bella factura del que se echa de menos una mayor extensión, porque prometía, pero se queda en eso: en una pincelada de gran música. Se trata de una trágica, triste y desesperada canción basada en una tranquila base rítmica y un acompañamiento de órgano fantástico. ‘Mr. Sands’, el siguiente tema, es otro setentero rock donde el órgano lo impregna todo de melodía y ritmo, sonando al más puro estilo inicio de sus andaduras en la década de los 70.
Los dos siguientes temas son de corta duración, rompiendo la anterior estructura que prometía reiteración. Son ‘Smoke’ y ‘5533’, que no llegan a 3 minutos. El primero es una nerviosa composición que transmite esa locura que sólo VDGG saben transmitir, aunque es un tema al más puro estilo carrera en solitario de Peter. En la misma línea está ‘5533’, que si bien ahora hace de nuevo referencia a la temática de los números, sigue la estela del corte anterior.
Y ya para acabar, ‘All Over the Place’, que ofrece algo nuevo respecto a anteriores. Otro rock acelerado y alocado al estilo ’70, donde la novedad es cómo emplea Banton los teclados como instrumento principal de la canción desde los primero segundos de la misma. Sin embargo, sobre la mitad de su extensión, y haciendo honor a la esencia del rock progresivo, muda y se transforma en un tema radicalmente diferente, tranquilo y sosegado, con la voz de Hammill como hilo conductor y gran protagonista. Para finalizar, un tramo épico con guitarras y teclados neoclásicos de nuevo, ya sin voz y con una magia indescriptible para quien no pueda escuchar el disco. Porque es imprescindible. Que nadie dude de que los viejos dinosaurios del rock, progresivo o no, están más que vivos y tienen mucho que aportar. Sobre todo cuando no se arrastran sobre los escenarios, como es el caso de estos más que míticos Van der Graaf Generator.
En lo puramente técnico, hay que destacar que aunque el disco sigue la línea de ‘Trisector’ en cuanto a la realización, ha sido editado esta vez por Esoteric Records, una sección del gigante Virgin. Las mezclas han sido realizadas por el productor Hugh Padgham, aunque el principal trabajo de sonido y producción ha estado a cargo del mencionado Pat Moran, recientemente fallecido. Una última duda… ¿cómo es posible que el material del álbum se grabara entre los días 3 y 9 de abril de 2010 y haya tardado un año en ver la luz? Cosas que sólo los genios hacen...
Pablo M. Beleña

Y a continuación, las palabras y opinión de nuestro eterno comentarista involuntario de siempre:

Llegó por fin al mercado musical el nuevo disco de una de las encarnaciones más añejas y respetadas de la historia del rock experimental desde los 60s en adelante: Van Der Graaf Generator. El disco en cuestión es "A Grounding In Numbers", el decimoprimero de toda su trayectoria y el segundo del trío que grabó "Trisector" algunos años atrás. A pesar de que ha pasado algún tiempo desde la separación de David Jackson del cuarteto reunido en "Present", no es fácil quitarse de encima su legado tan vital para el sonido VDGG, especialmente en los momentos donde reina la melancolía misteriosa o se impone la fuerza de una armazón sincopada recurrente, sitios donde el "inexistente cuarto miembro" del actual trío sabía cómo marcar su osado sello característico. Pero en fin, "A Grounding In Numbers" es un síntoma de la vitalidad que este trío todavía tiene para ofrecer dentro del oficio de la música: los fundamentos sonoros y estilísticos de este disco sostienen varias ligazones con las atmósferas reflexivas que inundan los últimos discos de Peter Hammill, así como con las aventuras más típicamente rockeras que Hamill manejó en sus discos 70eros. Por lo leído en la red en las últimas semanas, no somos pocos los que consideramos que este disco más parece un solista de Hammill acompañado de sus dos más leales camaradas de toda la vida, pero hay algo más que esto en el disco: a eso puntan las descripciones expuestas en los siguientes párrafos.
'Your Time Starts Now' ocupa los primeros 4 BE minutes del álbum, con un aura reflexiva que prácticamente se regodea en su compás lento (tirado hacia lo jazzero) tras un brevísimo prólogo de flotantes sonidos psicodélicos de sintetizador. No esperemos algo como 'The Undercover Man' al abrir "Godbluff": la intención de Hammill & co. en la dupla de 'Your Time Is Now' y 'Mathematics' (canción que perpetúa lo reflexivo con el añadido de arreglos instrumentales un poco más complejos) es la de establecer una calma contemplativa antes de lo que seguirá después. Con 'Highly Strung', la atmósfera sónica empieza a adquirir más intensidad y músculo: hay algo de las tradiciones del Hammill solista 78-80 en esta canción patentemente rockera, además de algún recordatorio de las dimensiones más robustas del "World Record", aunque queda claro que así como se sigue notando la ausencia de David Jackson en los temas lentos en lo que se refiere a aportar matices etéreos de flauta y saxo soprano, en piezas rockeras como ésta no hubieran venido para nada mal sus armonías de saxos dobles e incluso algún solo demoledor. 'Red Baron' es un instrumental guiado por cadencias tribales de la batería y retazos minimalistas de sintetizador y guitarra, algo muy a lo krautrock (miren por dónde=85). 'Bunsho' restaura el factor rockero en una clave menos vigorosa que en 'Highly Strung' pero reformulándolo en un lenguaje sónico más sofisticado: ahora podemos hallar cercanías respecto a los dos primeros solistas de Hammill post-"Pawn Hearts" así como con la etapa 75-76, aunque el hecho de que la canción dure poco más de 5 minutos impide que la canción se explaye en vuelos instrumentales y ornamentos épicos propios de la escuela añeja VDGraffiana - bueno, es así como quiso el trío hacer esta canción. 'Snake Oil' ofrece la ventaja de continuar con el momentum iniciado por la canción precedente, y teniendo en cuenta su cariz propiamente hammilliano en cuanto al manejo de armonías conjuntas de piano y órgano y los cambios de ambiente, se puede con justicia señalar que en esta canción en particular renace completamente la esencia VDGG. Pero una vez más=85 !qué bien hubiesen quedado unas orquestaciones de saxos múltiples y florituras de flauta en el clímax que se inicia poco antes del segundo minuto y medio! !Y qué sentido hubiese tenido entonces que VDGG se sintiera a sus anchas para desarrollar la fastuosidad inherente a su estilo único y especial! Más allá de añoranzas por un presente irreal y un pasado inexpugnable, son muchas las razones para considerar a esta canción como la cúspide del disco (al menos, desde la humilde posición de quien esto escribe).
Después del auge emocional motivado por la secuencia de 'Bunsho' y 'Snake Oil', llega el instrumental 'Splink' para expresar matices abstractos donde conviven suaves atmósferas "cuasi-hawaianas" con aires de teatro de vodevil, articulados en torno a una batería eminentemente jazzera y alimentados con surrealistas ornamentos de guitarra slide e intervenciones diversas de los teclados: de esta manera pasamos al vigor sincopado de 'Embarrassing Kid', sanamente reciclado a través de variantes rítmicas inteligentemente fluidas. 'Medusa' regresa a la espiritualidad meditabunda de las dos primeras canciones en un tempo de 11/8, y también regresan esos aleteos psicodélicos de sintetizador que habían ornamentado el inicio de 'Your Time Is Now'. Por su parte, 'Mr. Sands' retoma la faceta más optimista y extrovertida del disco, aunque las cadencias instauradas por la labor de Evans hacen que el swing sea menos rockero y más emparentado con lo jazzero: el esplendor de esta pieza compite seriamente con el de 'Snake Oil', especialmente en lo que se refiere al experto manejo de motivos recurrentes para crear algún tipo de tensión ágil. En este momento solo quedan poco menos de 12 minutos para la conclusión del disco, y este proceso es iniciado por 'Smoke', una pieza de ambientación ligera, con una batería casi anclada en la nostalgia de la psicodelia beat de fines de los 60s y unos teclados definidos en lo funky. Se vienen a la mente evocaciones de 'Two Or Three Spectres', la canción que cerraba "Nadir's Big Chance", pero la sensación no dura mucho porque apenas llegado el segundo minuto y medio, arriba abruptamente '5533', una pieza jazz-progresiva que ostenta su compleja estructura rítmica mientras que Hammill habla/canturrea sobre el misterio de los números en consonancia con la estructura rítmica misma. ("Se puede crear un patrón matriz a partir de casi cualquier cosa / trazando imperfecciones causales en el flujo de información, / descontando el traspié de la identidad profesional. / Y el número es=85 cinco-cinco-tres-tres-doble-dos-tres". !!Éste es el Peter Hammill de siempre, el artista con corazón de científico y el científico con mente de artista!!). 'All Over The Place' cierra el disco con un cierto retorno a la vibración meditativa con la cual había comenzado, pero las bizarras armonías de los teclados (tanto el órgano como el sintetizador que imita el clavicordio), los ornamentos que Evans usa en su labor percusiva y el tono contenidamente furioso que Hammill emplea ocasionalmente en su canto hacen que esta canción no refleje languidez ni apatía, sino más bien un último momento de esfuerzo mental por entender alguna parte de la inmensidad que nos rodea, un momento de energía mental. La secuencia recurrente con la que se despide la canción (que hubiese supuesto un gran fade-out de haberse organizado así sus últimos instantes) porta una magnificencia innegable, lo cual inevitablemente nos lleva a evocar por enésima vez el cuadro contrafáctico de tener a nuestra disposición los aportes del "inexistente cuarto miembro"=85 Estoy totalmente dispuesto a admitir la posibilidad de que esta apreciación específica vicia u oscurece la apreciación general adecuada del disco, no me defenderé de esta noción si es que alguien me interpela con ella.
Balance final: "A Grounding In Numbers" es un muy buen disco que contiene varios momentos de grandeza progresiva (o afín a lo progresivo) que repite en ciertas dosis la proyección sonora explorada y explotada en "Trisector" pero que, tal como se indicó en el primer párrafo de esta reseña, guarda más conexiones estilísticas y ambientales con algunas fases de la prolija y diversa carrera solista de Peter Hammill. Ahora bien, no seamos injustos con el Van Der Graaf Generator de hoy en día: es una banda que sabe funcionar y crear como tal a la perfección, una banda que sabe sacar provecho de su veteranía a través de una sólida concientización sobre su talento y visión artística, y "A Grounding In Numbers" confirma esto sin lugar a objeción.
César Mendoza

No saben lo que me costó hacer todo este festival de VDGG, ahora estamos llegando a su fin y espero que lo hayan disfrutado y que sigan disfrutando la banda de acá en más, yo por mi parte me alcanza con habérsela dado a conocer a algunos de los gurrumines que visitan nuestro espacio, eso por un lado, y por otro por reivindicar una banda histórica (y a la que alguno a denominado la mejor banda de rock inglesa de la historia) en todo su potencial.
Ahora los dejo con algunos comentarios en inglés, mientras les dejo este otro disco para que vuelvan a pasar otro fin de semana a puro VDGG.


When, in 2005, Van Der Graaf Generator released its first album in over 25 years, the reunited group proved it was not only possible to go back, but that it could be done without sacrificing forward-thinking modernity. Inconsistent, perhaps, but Present (Charisma/Virgin) demonstrated, with "Every Bloody Emperor," a group still capable of soaring majesty and nightmare-inducing maelstroms. The subsequent tour, documented on the breathtaking Real Time (Fie, 2007), provided even clearer notice that VdGG was back, and with a vengeance. The classic lineup may have been showing a lot more gray hair—or in some cases, no hair—but this was no progressive rock dinosaur, going through the motions in capes and spandex. Still, when saxophonist/flautist David Jackson quit following the tour, leaving VdGG as a trio with singer/pianist/guitarist Peter Hammill, keyboardist Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans—founding members, all—most fans thought, regretfully, that it was over for good.
Instead, the remaining trio released Trisector (Virgin, 2008), and even the biggest skeptics had to admit that, despite the obvious loss of Jackson's colors, it was a far better—and certainly more consistent—album than Present. Three years of touring—again, documented on the equally stunning Live at The Paradiso (Voiceprint, 2009), and including a stop at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival—proved that VdGG could not only continue as a trio, but that it could actually surpass its previous work both in the studio and in concert, uncannily avoiding the seemingly inevitable calcification and sedimentation of time, and performing on spare, almost spartan stages with no visuals other than some effective and well-designed lighting. A Grounding in Numbers represents a number of firsts for VdGG: it's the group's debut for Esoteric Recordings; it's the first album, since its classic Pawn Hearts (Charisma, 1971),to involve an outsider in the process, in this case engineer/producer Hugh Padgam (Peter Gabriel, Yes, XTC, Genesis); and, most importantly, it's the group's best album since its early-to-mid-1970s heyday, easily standing alongside Pawn Hearts and Godbluff (Charisma, 1975) as a new classic in the group's 40-plus year history.
A Grounding in Numbers' 13 tracks—another first for VdGG, with only three songs breaking the five-minute mark, and a full five under three minutes—don't run continuously, yet there's a cohesion of theme and musical purpose that makes the album feel, instead, like a 49-minute suite, where the increasingly cathartic "Bunsho" references the opening "Your Time Starts Now," without ever entering the bombastic and self-indulgent territory of the dreaded "concept album." Hammill continues to explore personal matters—including the passage of time and approaching end of life, explored more thoroughly on Trisector but less pervasively so here—singing with as much unbridled power and vitality as ever; his lyrics sometimes direct, but elsewhere as oblique as always. Who, after all, would make a line like "P to the power of one-times-pi is minus one" the chorus to the appropriately titled "Mathematics"? A pianist capable of navigating complex arrangement, effortlessly conjoined with Banton on the interlocking contrapuntal lines that weave in and out at the start of "All Over the Place," his guitar playing remains paradoxically raw—more punk than prog on the potent mixed meters of "Embarrassing Kid." Still, on the softer "Splink," his warm-toned slide guitar demonstrates there's always more to discover in Hammill than might appear.
Banton continues to assume much of the group's sonic breadth, leaping between keyboards tones—largely organ but, with his modifications, far more texturally expansive—while concurrently working his bass pedals. Evans demonstrates even greater range than usual, from his gentle brushwork on "Your Time Starts Now" to the tribal toms underscoring the sonic interlude, "Red Baron." But it's together with Hammill—where the whole truly exceeds the sum of the parts—that they explore more raucous and rocky terrain than usual on the propulsive "Highly Strung," while building to an anthemic climax on "All Over the Place," ending the album on an unresolved yet absolutely perfect note.
Effortlessly cohesive, combining some of Hammill's most lyrical writing since Still Life (Charisma, 1976), and some of his most effectively layered vocals since Pawn Hearts, with the group's most unsettling, dissonant and unfettered music since that same classic album, the shorter pieces might suggest that this is Van Der Graaf lite; but while many of its songs can, indeed, be taken as separate entities, it's when they're taken together, in their full, 49-minute glory, that A Grounding in Numbers's biggest rewards are revealed. Other decades-old groups may continue to mine their past catalogs for legions of fans hungry for a bit of nostalgia, but Van Der Graaf Generator, instead, continues to create compelling new music that takes its innovations of 40 years ago into a new millennium. A Grounding in Numbers possesses everything that made Van Der Graaf Generator great back in the day, while its avoidance of so many of classic prog's trappings mean it remains relevant, meaningful and, most of all, vital.
John Kelman

Van Der Graaf Generator is a a band that nevertheless the passing of time maintains its quality and power.
Is difficult for a classic prog rock band to maintain its very good line through the years...too much temptations and pressures because of the market.
But VDGG now appears with a very good album in the line of their best albums. Very good sound.
Melodies in the line of their best RIO avant prog ...but with the addition of some modern RIO songs as Primus or Les Claypool.
So it is always a pleasure to listen to a classic prog rock band that always is offering the music you expect for their style ..with nowadays sound as technology offers and with some refreshing modern prog rock songs.
Robert Sargent

Seniors' supremacy
Just what an album!? After my little break (or not so little) from writing reviews on PA, I decided to come back in writing exactly with this breathtaking album by art rock pioneers - Van der Graaf Generator. The choice isn't accidental. That pause in writing helps me to get into this magnificent band properly. Undoubtedly there is a new direction in the conception of the band with this album. It's still a trio, without a brass section, but that's substituted very well with different kind of ideas.
Despite the presence of controversial reviews to date, I cannot find anything annoying or embarrassing into A Grounding in Numbers, but only well-arranged, profound and developed ideas in professional manner of production. The album is a fountain of progressive rock music with compact sound and strict songwriting abilities of the band members in varied and dynamic style. It's obvious how the routine of Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans raise the album to that high level it deserves to receive in fact.
The musicianship is just... special with a word. An album without naivety, insignificance or boredom constructed in not exactly the most familiar VdGG style. People who know what are doing and more importantly - why. That's VdGG nowadays with the release of A Grounding in Numbers. Without a single note on the wrong place.
The last and most significant thing I'd like to comment is the genre of the album or the domain it's produced of. That's strongly art rock oriented album without typical (of the band) dark atmosphere and brass section. With lots of Canterbury sound and space rock motifs and themes connected in faultless psychedelic way. The songs are usually much shorter than most of previous albums' songs. But their ideas are developed precisely and concrete in the short-songs situation. Give little more chance to this professional and hard-digestible album. 4,5 stars will be deserve rating, which should be rounded up.
Atanas Dimov

Over two years after the release of the fabulous Trisector, VDGG returns with another batch of tracks written and recorded as a trio. Well after the excellent surprise of Trisector, the three compadres were going to have a tough time equalling or topping their previous effort, but then again the Generator always pull up aces from their sleeves when they need to. The least we can say is that A Grounding In Numbers is another worthy album despite the relatively (read too) sober artwork (well the vinyl features a cut-out) and the continued trend to avoid the famous logo.
After a strong Your Time Starts Now (but not equalling the previous openers like Bloody Emperor and Interference Pattern), the album flips to the unofficial title track, dealing with an artificial (IMHO) concept about numbers and maths. Some might consider this "theme" a stroke of genius, but I can't help but thinking that Hammill might have had nothing stronger a thought to deliver to us at the time of writing and recording the album. Musically, the track is a small tour de force, but the weak lyrics bug me. Some tracks (a fair bit actually) are in the fairly basic (and disappointing) verse-chorus mode (well the usual VDGG complexity aside) with a short solo, like Highly Strung, which could've been AC/Roxy/DC-like with an almost tasteless chorus line, if you get my drift. Later on the album, Embarrassing Kid and Mr Sands are made from the same mould and Smoke has an almost new-wave/electro-pop sound (which I really don't think appropriate for them) and segues into another early-80's-ish track, 5533, which sounds a bit like the Talking Heads with a return to the math theme.
There are some brilliant interludes (but not enough, IMHO), which allow for some breathing space, like the haunting instrumental Red Baron (Evans' awesome drumming), duly separating the violent Highly Strung from Bunsho, a quieter track, which seems to evolve from the Baron's descent, and where Peter deals out a decent guitar and very personal lyrics about his creation process. The challenging Snake Oil features a slow crescendo, some abrupt dynamics and then leaves the floor another instrumental interlude Splink, which is definitely not as successful and features some clunky harpsichord over those wild drums of Guy. The album closes on the longest (barely 6-mins) All Over The Place, with Hammill all over the harpsichord and the band finally unleashing mean solos to arouse our intellect. Too little too late, though. I'd love to have received as a bonus the non-album B-side instrumental piece to have taken the place of say that Embarrassing Kid song.
Well if Trisector was quite a successful album that seemed to be over too quickly, I can't really say the same of AGIN, which tends to add up a bunch of fairly similar tracks (despite all having their own life), thus bringing a certain kind of fatigue around the 4/5th of the album. Indeed, what was clicking so well on the previous album was that the longer tracks provided breathing space and more instrumental interplay and moody ambiances. Here, the shorter song format (only four above the 5-mins mark) seems to hamper the song contents to deepen and explore their own soul to the fullest. Don't get me wrong, AGIN is still a very worthy Generator effort, but it won't retain its brilliance as long as its predecessor.
Sean Trane

VDGG continue to transfix listeners with consistent passion, experimental structures and dark lyrics.
Mathematics was my worst subject at school but Van der Graaf Generator somehow manage to make mathematics fascinating. Their latest release is a study in numbers, and mathematical formulae, structured around ideas that involve descents into madness, losing faith in love, experiencing alienation and intense isolation wallowing in the sadness of feeling worthless. Yet there is no pity, Hammill is just telling it the way it is and demands nothing from his listeners only to understand this is how life can become sometimes. His form of therapy does shine a ray of hope, because as we listen to his heartfelt pleas and warnings we can take from this a lesson not to take what we go through for granted, and to learn that everything has a time and a season, and it's only a matter of crunching the numbers as we sail through life, with its imperfections and disappointments. Along the way on this journey Hammill introduces us to some unpalatable but delightful characters such as Medusa, Red Baron, Mr Sands and an Embarassing Kid. Throughout there is a wicked sense of black humour as Hammill teases and makes double entendres about his weird cynical outlook on life and all its troubles. There is no sign of any Lighthouse Keeper epics, every song fitting neatly into no less that 6 minutes, and 5 songs are less than 3 minutes, acting as short sharp shocks of prog.
Along with the lyrics and symbolism the VDGG trio of percussionist Evans. Organist, bassist Banton and guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist extraordinaire Hammill enlighten us with some of the strangest music they have ever put their hand to. I always missed the sax on the last 2 albums, but somehow the trio are working to perfection overall on this album. It may not be quite the masterpiece of the 70s classics, but "A Grounding In Numbers" delivers a strong blast of prog from beginning to end featuring some songs of absolute genius. It is no mean feat for a band that have been around since 1969 that they are still able to captivate with their unique brand of prog. A track by track breakdown, and lyric samples, may help to capture the greatness of this collection of songs.
'Your time starts now' has some great lyrics; "power so strong, growing stronger, with self belief you've pulled through but you belong here no longer, fly by night it's over, day by day it's done, was it simply oversight that's left you overcome". The slow melancholy pace is tempered by Hammill's menacing vocals. The flute sounds sombre and yet beautiful. The restrained musicianship is minimalist overall and the song is moreover driven by strong vocals.
'Mathematics' has a very slow meandering style of tempo and some of the most adventurous lyrics which are a bunch of mathematics and similar ideas, "here be numbers transcendental, on an imaginary axis spun, decimal places without limit and zero and one", and Hammill goes on to explain the power of Pi and complex mathematical figures. The organ playing has a similar feel to vintage VDGG and the structure is quirky in places, with an odd time sig spun throughout the musical web. The track refers to 'Euler's Identity' which is sometimes referred to as the Mathematical Poem. I guess uni students could use it to remember complicated mathematic formulas.
'Highly Strung' is one of the best and heaviest tracks, with weird time sig, and stronger vocals, the guitars are raucous and barely keep time with the metrical shapes of Evan's percussion and Banton's booming bassline. This is as good as some of the 70s VDGG, and there is a riff that sinks into the system. The keyboards are wonderful and Hammill's spirited vocals have a lot to say; "the beat the heat is astounding, the pressure the tension full blown, the static is crackling around me, I can't hold I can't let go". Wonderful instrumentation compliments the unrestrained surreal lyrics.
'Red Baron' is an instrumental that features tribalistic drums and a foreboding gloomy atmosphere, slowly building and threatening with cymbal crashes, and woodwind. The drums of Guy Evans are the real drawcard of this piece, played to manic perfection.
'Bunsho' has some melodic guitar and strong offbeat structure. Hammill is reflective and sombre; "no one can really tell when their hands been played out well, and I don't even know how my old story goes". The unusual beat is typical of VDGG and appeases any addict of the band who are used to this type of music. It is pleasing to note that VDGG are not commercialised here, and may even be as progressive as some of their classic material of yesteryear. This is a return to form, after some disappointing work on previous recent albums.
'Snake Oil' is one of the best, an exhilarating piece that comes straight in with Hammill following the melody closely with some bizarre lyrics; "here comes the paraphernalia, here comes the cattle refrains, repeat ad infinitum," he mentions such unusual ponderings as 'anal retention', brain washing', and "what's coming next, well nothing is coming and nobody here knows the search for the questions", and "there's only one answer the believers can allow, teacher knows best, let's all put the teacher to the test". Only Hammill can get away with these type of lyrics. The beat is unusual again and progressively shifts into a totally different feel towards the end, focussing on Banton's fabulous organ playing. It returns to the main melody eventually after taking many twists and turns. This is perhaps one of the best songs from the band since the "Godbluff" days.
'Splink' has a pleasant sounding vibrating guitar intro with backwards glass shrieks creating a distinct ethereal atmosphere. The keyboards overlayed are way out of sync and then another keyboard begins out of sync with the main beat, Evans then improvises and the beat is chaotic, nothing blending in yet somehow making the thing work. This is as weird as it gets, the band have a lot of fun experimenting with various sounds and time sigs in a delightful instrumental.
'Embarrassing Kid' is a rocking song with a cool riff and jazzy time shifts, driven by strong drum patterns and multi layered guitars and bass. The lyrics are as bold and cynical as Hammill gets; "Embarrassing kid, try to bang on the lid on the can of worms, it remains really strange and uncomfortable territory where my secrets are hid and are never observed, I can hardly conceal it, where my ashened face got drained of blood, everybody can have a damned cruel laugh." I am not sure what happened to embarrass the kid but it made a lasting impression, as does the infectious melodies of the song. A very good highlight with memorable tune and rocking riffs.
'Medusa' is a creepy slow number with glum lyrics, "Welcome to the coils they're here to set you free, from anguish and dull toil but she says what you see is what you get from me." The crawling atmosphere is dark and foreboding with the strange shifting signature and ascending guitars.
'Mr Sands' is a showcase for Banton's organ and there is a very proggy time sig, Hammill sings to the same keyboard motif. The song changes in style a few times, delightfully slowing and speeding up at will. The lyrics are intelligent and dark, "everything's a cult in a world that is very dull and the truth is only slowly revealed, now Mr Sands is in the house, from the gods the music shouts and echo around the hall, and someone lets the secret out when the safety curtain falls." The piano work is terrific and there is tension and release with volume shifts. It is a great song that exudes passion and the power of the band at their best.
The surprisingly funky 'Smoke' features some weird whispering on the intro and a bizarre sounding musicscape. The funky rhythm continues as Hammill's multi layered vocals warn us to "just be careful" sounding a bit like Bowie in places. The repeated lyrics are a bit tiresome, but the song is saved by the overall distinct feel that is unlike other VDGG.
'5533' has an offbeat rhythm that never settles down. Hammill tells us, "you can make a metric pattern out of almost anything, counting out the football of processional identity and the number is 5533223". He goes on to tell us about other facts of numbers and estranged mathematical musings. It certainly is an attention grabber. Hammill even uses his high falsetto on this track. It is a weird thing to hear him singing about numbers, but it is only a short track and works okay.
'All Over the Place' is a powerful song that is exactly what the title says, beginning with a medieval sounding keyboard with off sync beat and Evan's sparse drums. Hammill tells us about being "driven to distraction by witless revelry, eventually," and then goes on in another section totally removed from the main melody; "he scattered himself all over the place while hiding behind closed doors". The piece is striking for its unusual structure, it slows down with minimalist vocals and keys, until a very strong melody locks in at the end. This certainly is one of the highlights of the album and perhaps one of the darkest excursions into the madness and brilliance of VDGG. It ends with a moody melody that cuts out as if the power has been switched off.
The final word on this is the latest release of the VDGG trio is the best of their last three albums. "Present" and "Trisector" are not quite as good as this album, though they all have excellent moments. "A Grounding in Numbers" is the most consistent VDGG of recent years, every song has something unique to offer with a few surprises, some songs are ferociously experimental, injecting a myriad of styles and quick changes within the frameworks. The songs sit well together with the concept of numbers coming across strongly. The trio sound absolutely terrific, there is passion, and there is that old VDGG magic. I don't think fans of the group would be disappointed if they are looking for some new VDGG with drive and vitality. There are no epics, but the band know how to pour their heart and soul into their craft. VDGG have aged well like fine wine, and Hammill still knows how to stir the emotions, belting out the darkest prog ballads with utter conviction.
Scott Tuffnell

The second of the modern albums as a three piece, and one that deals with the relatively easy (!) subject of numbers and mathematics, Van Der Graaf return seemingly in fine fettle.
Certainly, the opener, Your Time Starts Now, is almost commercial, or at least as near to that damning word that the band have ever come to. As with the second track, Mathematics, there is an accessibility that one never really associated with the band, and the three members play extremely tightly backing Hamill on fine form. Especially enjoyable here, as throughout the work, is Hugh Banton's organ work.
However, as ever, it is in the lyrical department that the band will be judged on this album. Hamill is about the only person on this still intact world who could make something as specialised, and, indeed, loathed by generations of schoolboys, as the subject of an entire album's worth of material.
What I will say, however, about this work, is that they miss David Jackson's madcap eclecticism on tracks such as Highly Strung. Sure, it's strong, and the type of music that we all used to enjoy spending ages "getting into", as opposed to the openers, but there is, in my opinion, something missing. Pardon the cliche, but it is almost as if this is eclectic by numbers, rather than the lunatic element that the four piece band used to set them apart from many imitators. Having said that, even here, the chorus is toe tapping stuff. Strange days indeed.
Red Baron, the first instrumental of the album, is a short exercise in dark landscaping that, again, I feel, would have benefited from the more left field approach Jackson would have brought. It is, by the way, very reminiscent of the type of instrumentals Gabriel was experimenting with in the early 1980's.
Bunsho is impressive, and the type of track that would have been quite at home on earlier albums, or much of Hamill's classic solo works. Extremely dark musically and lyrically, the listener is never quite at home or comfortable with this one. In other words, classic Van Der Graaf.
Snake Oil is in the vein of the opening tracks, enjoyable but strangely and instantly accessible at first, but after a few listens becomes rather pedestrian. Again, by numbers rather than fierce and far reaching as I like the band.
Splink is another short instrumental, which finds the band experimenting, with Banton's keyboards especially completely out of synch with all else, set against an almost country & western backdrop. It has filler written all over it, really.
Embarrassing Kid is, I am afraid, well, embarrassing. More upbeat than much else on the album, it nevertheless plods along to a simple guitar riff and is almost a dead ringer for a Blur track, (honestly!)
Medusa is quietly dark, with a quaint keyboard plinking over the main riff. Hamill also, probably unintentionally, sums up much of the album when he sings "what you see is what you get from me", something the band could never really be accused of in the past. Indeed, that was much of their charm.
Mr Sands is almost a return to form, featuring Banton at his best on keys, and Guy Evans at his jazziest on drums. Almost a paeon to earlier works, and certainly deliberately written and performed with a 70's feel in mind, it is good. Now, just where is that sax to round things off?
Smoke, if I hadn't checked the CD inlay, I would swear featured a certain Mr Bowie on guest lyrics, and is a mercifully short piece of repetitive nonsense.
5533 is a lyrically treatise on the beauty and applied form of mathematics, with Hamill lecturing us against a slightly offbeat backdrop. Fun, without ever really threatening greatness.
The album closes with All Over The Place, which starts off as if it wouldn't be out of place on any Blackmore's Night or Renaissance album, such is the medieval feel of the harpsichord used. A more minimalist approach is used as the track kicks in, and it is certainly one of the highlights of this album, at least ending on a strong note both vocally and in the dark feel of the music.
I have listened to this band for many years. Some of their work, Pawn Hearts, Godbluff, and The Quiet Zone especially, rank amongst the finest albums I have in my collection. I am also not one to have a dig at a band simply for attempting to do things differently or in a more modern context, as a glance at any of my reviews of later "classic" band releases will testify.
However, I can only really rate this as a good album at best, and it is certainly absolutely non essential. Much of it feels very formulaic and, in parts, extremely tired. When they are good, the band are still a match for almost anyone, but, the first CD of The Present aside, nothing I have heard from the later albums makes me want to come screaming back for more. I also like it less and less the more I listen to it.
There have been, and will be, far better releases in 2011.
Steve Lazland

Let me just point out that after David Jackson left the band in 2006 and I first heard "The Hurlyburly" off of Trisector, I had written off VDGG. I just wasn't interested in hearing this aged band anymore without Jaxon and with Hammill playing more guitar. Finally, months after A Grounding In Numbers came out, i decided to give this incarnation of VDGG a try. Good move because I think this is a great album. Sure David Jackson's presence is always a plus but Hammill, Banton and Evans prove to be capable of creating and recording great music. Some people call this a Hammill solo album under the VDGG banner. I don't hear it. Guy Evans and Hugh Banton without a doubt put their stamp all over this recording. Hugh's eclectic use of organs and synths flesh out these songs beautifully and Guy Evan's amazing drums drive all of these songs with aplomb. A Grounding In Numbers is a collection of songs that has the look and feel of of a concept album without actually being one. With recurring lyrical themes about numerology, the seamless way the songs segue into each other and the different moods created. Even Hammill's limited raw guitar playing finds a nice role on this album by filling up space. I still don't care for his tone though and he's far from being an expert. The band covers quite a bit on this album. An inspirational ballad sans cheesiness(Your Time Starts Now), Rockers (Highly Strung and Embarrassing Kid), experimentation (Red Baron and Splink) spacey funk (Smoke), jazzy quirkiness (5533) and good old fashioned VDGG done in a modern way (All Over The Place and Mr. Sands)
My only complaint is I wish they would get a decent producer. This album doesn't sound bad at all, in fact it sounds better than their 2 previous albums but a great outside producer would certainly benefit them.
ster

Few days ago was released in Italy the new work of VDGG: Obviusouly I bought it immediatly: the first thing I noted was that there are any epic piece. the longest track is 6'01''. The music is darkest than trisector but there ìs not the schizoid side of VDGG. Highlist are: - Your time starts now, a typical VDGG's ballad - bunsho, the most complex track - medusa, short, but dark - all over the place, a beatuful conclusion,
I'll see the gig in Vicenza and hope to heard this new pieces. But , as all the VDGG's fan I have an hope: the return of Jaxon, but maybe it's a dream !!!!!
Fabio Borussia

Let's face it, as good as this VdGG album is, it's not going to convert you if you aren't one of the faithful already.
For myself listening to it for the best part of a year now I must say, it's a definite grower, not too sure initially, certainly some great bits that get greater with repeated listening, but then some bits you're not sure of, even after a few listens.
After seeing the band perform the majority of the album live earlier in 2011, I must say it did change my mind regarding a couple of songs I was never sure of. Perhaps, seeing them performed live made more sense, but certainly the final two tracks "5533" and "All Over The Place" definitely made more sense to me after seeing them performed live.
Of the other tracks, I have to say, that "Highly Strung", "Snake Oil" and "Mr Sands" are as good as anything they have done since their heyday. "Snake Oil" contains the lyric of the album "...anal retention, to an astounding degree...", and the straight-ahead five-bar blues riff of the "chorus" to "Highly Strung" is unusual for a VdGG but definitely works.
Perhaps a couple of tracks don't work so well, "Red Baron" and "Splink" spring to mind here, but certainly the other tracks are definitely worth a listen; the unusual time signatures of "Mathematics" for example seems jarring, but impresses with repeated listens.
So, as I said, it won't convert you, but if you're a wavering VdGG fan then definitely seek this album out, I think it is the most consistent of the recent trio of releases.
Mike

After reading other reviews, I feel compelled to give my two pence about this album. I am a big VDGG and PH fan and I was glad about their 2004 return, which also gave me the possibility to finally see them live (and it was possibly the best concert of my life, that was Milan 2004), but their two reunion albums did not convince me that much, Trisector coming slightly before Present. I still thought they were too much "PH albums" with the others as session-men. But this last one is for me the first true VDGG generator album of the new generation, and an enormous step forward in terms of songwriting. It has not left my car-stereo in the last two weeks. Instead of commenting on each song, I will just point out the highlights, that is Bunsho, Medusa/MrSands, and All over the place. This is World Record-feel 35 years after. This is what VDGG should be in 2011. The loss of Jaxon is no doubt painful but Hammill on guitar and Banton playing everything else but the drums cover this gap brilliantly. And what to say about Evans, in one of his best percussive performances... The VDGG trio has come to an apex. Looking forward for more gigs!
aprusso

I´m a VdGG fan since my first acid trips way back in 1970 (H to He). Peter Hammill is one of my great idols of the decade (Hammill for the 70s / John Cale for the 80s / Richard Thompson for the 90s / John Coltrane for the noughties) and I still love his music and especially appreciate his continious developement. And exactly this is it: Grounding by Numbers is a step forward, something brave and exciting. Tell me one more of these old heroes (you discover 3 of them in the bracketts up here) who is able to emerge in this late bloom.
I´ve seen VdGG last month in Berlin and have to admit that I still painfully missed David Jackson (nevertheless it´s been a fantastic concert.) In the same way I grievously missed Hugh Banton in the era of Van der Graaf . But Hammill is still there and still going strong. Long may he live in health and good fortune and may he keep his creativity until the end. There are only a few of these old special growing heroes left (Woody Allen included). Without them the world would be a dreadful place. Beside all this bullshit of mine, the music on Grounding... is a slow burn. Believe me. I´ve just started to take Trisector into my heart.
Berndt Buch

Their return album (Present) had a few great moments but quite a lot of fillers. Trisector also had some great moments but too many things were missing there apart of Mr. Jackson: a better execution at some complex parts, a better degree of arrangement, a deeper sound. I have to say that I was not too optimistic about a third record, but "A Grounding in Numbers" is a nice surprise to me. There are many good ideas and a lot of energy. Most of the tracks are really interesting, with a good balance between writen music and some jamming/ambiance parts. The songs flow during the album very well. The fact that there isn't a big epic is not necesarilly negative. Better no epic that a not convincing epic. A great new in this work is that mixing/production was done with Hugh Paghdam (Gabriel, Collins, Genesis...). The result is a clear sound but really deep and warm. Everything sounds great: drums, organ, guitar, vocals. Hammill is doing much more backing vocals that usual with VdGG and that work great in this album. A fearless great effort!!
Ziggy

The question is "what do you expect from van der graaf in 2011??"...to rediscover prog rock?...maybe a new masterpiece like pawn hearts? if the answer is yes , then don't bother with this album. If you simply expect a good album that neither adds nor removes anything from the history of this band then you're welcome!! So , the duration of the songs is shorter (the longest song approaches 7 minutes) There isn't any epic! (is it really necessary??) , the production of hugh pudgham is simple (that doesn't mean it's bad) as it must be for the sound of this band and in a vintage way with not so many overdubs (except maybe from the vocals) as usual in all the latest productions worlwide. There is not even one bad song in this record but i think the best moments are Bunsho , Snake oil , Medusa/Mr.sands and All over the place. It would be a mistake if we tried to compare this with the older stuff of V.D.G.G. I think we can only compare this with the reunion albums. It is surely better than "present" and very close but a little step lower (in my opinion) from "trisector".Hugh Banton has made an excellent work with his keyboards and bass pedals filling Jackson's absence but it's obvious that if David was still in the line-up , the arrangements would be much more interesting! Conclusion: for the V.D.G.G fans this is a must!! For someone who has not get in touch with any of the band's previous works , it is not a bad choice but deffinately not their best album. I'm a fan of this band and this is exactly what i was expected to hear from them in 2011...and (as always) i enjoyed !!
rikkinadir

Having just stumbled upon this album a couple of hours after it was released, I quickly snapped it up on iTunes. I was thrilled that I had been able to skip the anticipation, as I had heard rumblings of a new album, but had no idea of a release date.
I will get the comparisons out of the way first, as it is nearly impossible to consider this album without setting it next to VdGG's previous effort, Trisector - these are the only two albums to feature the version of Van der Graaf with just Hammill, Banton and Evans and for awhile, Trisector was the only representative of the potential of their 21st century sound without David Jackson. Trisector felt as if the band were still writing classic-style VdGG songs but simply without the saxophone/flute and therefore the sound of the album felt somewhat incomplete. Not terrible mind you, but just slightly lacking in their adjustment to their new format. I only realized that, however, after listening to A Grounding in Numbers.
This album has a much better hold on the trio format and fills out the sound rather nicely, leaning on Peter Hammill's guitar often, though not quite as overtly as on Trisector (though the album even moves to a guitar/bass/drums format on "Highly Strung" and "Embarrassing Kid"). There is a little more texture to the way the songs are presented and little touches of sonic fiddling that make effective transitions between the numerous songs on the album - a format that beautifully suits the modern version of the band. At 13 tracks and no song longer than 6 minutes, A Grounding in Numbers bares little resemblance in format to the band's much-lauded Pawn Hearts, nor should it. The ideas come quickly on the album and then depart again before they have a chance to become tired - many of the tracks on here are under 3 minutes! Perhaps it's because they are no longer concerned with providing a bedrock for the Jackson's saxophone to vamp over and realize that much of the potency of their ideas in this incarnation only last for so long. In fact, there's nary a solo to be found on the record - Banton and Evans instead, as always, provide an often-jagged architecture for Hammill's voice to occupy.
The album is held together with sort of a loose theme of mathematics (indeed, one chorus is "P to the power of i times Pi plus one is zero", while another is "5 5 3 3 double 2 3", making explicit the quirky time signature on display), and it still all somehow sounds menacing and convincing coming through Hammill's vocals - reminiscent, actually, of their foray into science on Trisector's "Interference Patterns." Not that many tracks explicitly deal with the theme, but it does give the impression of some grand design within the inner workings of the album.
This is VdGG in fine form and the fact that they are still putting out albums of this quality when they could be (rightly so), resting upon their impressive laurels is quite a boon to all fans of the band. It is absolutely in your best interest to check out this album - it speaks a lot to a necessary modernization of prog. This album doesn't sound like a band 40+ years into its career; it gets back to the spirit of the genre rather than emulating its forebears - fewer long, sprawling songs and more of just having fun picking apart music and putting it back together in strange configurations.
Nicholas Daniel

Cabe destacar la gran capacidad creativa de la banda, que a pesar de los años no ha decaido (al menos no demasiado) y durante este nuevo milenio han editando grandes obras, entre la que situamos a este disco que presentamos ahora.



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