From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
As a musician Greg Segal has multiple personalities. The man defies categorization, with the exception of being one of the more interesting and inventive guitarists of the past 20 years. An active member of the 1980's DIY underground, Greg released several solo cassettes, but also released four albums on the SST label as a member of the improvisational band Paper Bag (see Paper Bag article this issue). In the 1990's Greg has continued his solo work, as well as having released several CD's as part of Jugalbandi, his duo improvisational project with drummer Hyam Sosnow. And earlier this year he released In Search Of The Fantastic, a multi-faceted guitar lovers album that showcases Greg's talents and creativity as an artist... an artist that continues to grow and develop over the years.
Greg has recently reissued his solo cassette recordings as part of his PAle series, CDR's of the original 2-track cassette masters. Greg is very clear on his web site that these are not remasters of the originals, but simply more durable CDR versions of the original cassettes that he is anxious to make available due to interest in his earlier work, though he does plan to remaster them sometime in the future. Greg is selling each for $6, with the exception of The Fourth Of The Three which has been remastered. Having immersed myself in these reissues I can say that these are all perfectly listenable for the "nice price" Greg is charging and are well worth the purchase to experience the music of an artist who has covered a variety of territory including space rock, psychedelia, progressive rock, ambient, songs, and all manner of good old rock n roll. In fact, if you listen to Aural Innovations Radio Show #58, an all-Greg Segal special (CLICK HERE), you'll hear that even converted to RealAudio the music is perfectly listenable. However, the tentative but curious can always check out Greg's Always Look On The Dark Side Of Life CD which is a compilation of remastered tracks from these cassettes.
What follows is is a retrospective review of the reissues. If this article arouses your curiosity then I heartily encourage you to take the plunge, or check out our radio special to acquaint yourself with Greg's music. I'm confident you'll be glad you did.
A Man Who Was Here (Recorded 1985, PAle 01)
Recorded in two days during April 1985, A Man Who Was Here has some of Greg's most high energy kick-yer-ass rock n roll songs. And indeed there's some very cool rockin stuff in this set. "Nothing New" and "Life In Gameland" are bashing Punk rockers, the latter having a whimsical Ramones-like edge to it. "Delusions" is a hard but dancey rock song. And "So Far" and "Please Say You'll Stay" test the mercurys bursting point for high energy rock.
But Greg doesn't settle too comfortably into any one theme. "If I Die Tomorrow" features gorgeous wailing droney and drifting fuzzed guitar notes backing what is actually a very nice song. Greg excels at creating songs that are in some ways standard and accessible while being completely out of in left field. "Middle America" is an interesting tune, being a Country-Blues instrumental with excellent guitar work and an organ that embellishes the proceedings quite nicely but would probably raise eyebrows at the Opry. "Because You Lied" is a lazy Blues tune. And "A Man Who Was Here" has a heavy prog sound that is similar to "As The Sky Turns To Fire" from Night Circus, though this tune has a molten metallic edge that gives the music an extra dose of bump and grind.
But my hands down favorites of the set are "King Of Illusion" and "King Of The Night". "King Of Illusion" is a kick ass rock n roll track, but like so much of Greg's music it draws on progressive and psych influences and maybe even a wee bit of fusion too. Be careful because the fire engine guitar on this track will drag you around the parking lot until your ass is brush burned into toast. And if you want space madness and fuzz guitar then "King Of The Night" will more than fit the bill. This grungy cosmic rocker is a killer garage-psych-space-prog rockin tune. Just fucking excellent and for freakout tunes this is a standout in the Greg Segal catalog. There's a couple minutes here that sound like they came right off of Hawkwind's Space Ritual. And the closing segment consists of monster heavy rock that brought back beautiful memories of the 70's. Overall, an excellent album and probably some of Greg's wilder moments.
Night Circus Parts One & Two (Recorded 1984-85, PAle 02a/02b)
Recorded in 1984-85, Night Circus Parts One & Two are quite different from one another, though together they represent some of Greg's more progressive rock oriented works. The Part One CD includes loads of gorgeous guitarscapes, 70's influenced prog rock, and Greg's trademark dark and often disturbing songs. Tracks like "The Center", "Running Water", "Erebus" and "Dream Landscapes" all feature spacey ambient guitar excursions, and on all but "The Center" the music forms a backdrop for Greg's monologues. "Audience" shook me up a bit with its eerie monologue speaking of the ghosts of genocides. "All peoples, leaves of the same trees" (i.e., not just WWII and its holocaust, but all such victims).
"As The Sky Turns To Fire" is a heavy power prog instrumental with classic keyboards that will make fans of early 70's progressive rock drool. "For Ann" is one of my favorites of all of Greg's songs. I love the transition from a kind of prog-pop sound, to fiery rocker, and then proggy jazzy sound. Nice guitar work and plenty of thematic shifts. "Cold Sky" is a rock song like the prog-pop parts of "For Ann", but this one has more down n dirty in-yer-face rock guitar.
The Night Circus Part Two CD consists of four tracks, but is dominated by the two 20+ minute epics - "Night Circus, Part One" and "Watcher". "Night Circus, Part One" opens with an acoustic and raw acid drone electric guitar combination that I really liked, but soon transitions into a moody avant theater soundtrack piece. Maybe a bit like The Residents circa Mark of the Mole. But things get seriously intense as a high volume rumbling machine-like landscape is colored by all manner of guitar efx. Fun sounds tread across the sonic terrain making for an enjoyable and varied listen. Dig that organ!!! Overall it's like a prog/space-Krautrock/avant-theater soundtrack work that flows seamlessly across it's 21 minute length, conjuring up imagery that for this listener was surreal and bleak. Who needs drugs when you can slip on the headphones and fall into a trip like this. "Night Circus, Part Two" is yet another excellent example of Greg's prog-pop songs.
"Watcher" really took me by surprise, opening like something from an early Genesis album. Like Trespass or Nursery Cryme, though spacier. After a few minutes the music transitions toward Greg's more theatrical style with narration, the music being more whimsical then heard on the rest of the album. But it quickly returns to a dreamy classic prog style with all the key elements that fans of early 70's progressive rock would enjoy.
Night Circus is a concept album dealing with the destruction of civilization by supernatural forces (see Greg's web site for the full story). That said, I'd say it flows very nicely. The overall feel is dark, but not overly doomy, certainly communicating Greg's subject. But it's the varied blends that makes much of the music work. I like the atmospherics and varied guitar work. And I was surprised to read that the music was originally written while Greg was in his teen years. Ambitious stuff indeed.
The Fourth Of The Three (Recorded 2/86, PAle 03)
Recorded in 2/86, The Fourth Of The Three consists of 4 lengthy tracks of Greg's guitars excursions and are from studio recordings that were first released on the "Experimental Guitar" cassette. Travelling through harsh and often experimental realms, Greg's guitar improvisations explore ambient space, noise, drones, and virutally every sound that could imaginably be wrenched from the instrument. Fans of aggressive keyboard based space ambient will find much to enjoy here and have extra fun with the knowledge that the guitar is the primary sound generator.
"Giger Landscape" is the most aggressive track consisting of rumbling molten droning guitar driven noise-scapes. But Greg's style of aggression produces the same results as an ambient exploration does... only the excursion weaves its way across a sonic battlefield rather than drifting through the cosmos. Sure, things get seriously brain shattering at times but settle in when you're feeling a little wired but anxious for some aural adventure and leave the driving to Greg. There's lots of variety amidst the chaos and I usually sensed that the sounds were following a determined path. Some of it reminded me of Keiji Heino's work though not nearly as much of a wall-of-noise as Heino produces.
"IALDABAOTH" is a standout track featuring spacey semi-Frippoid guitar-scapes that are both cosmic and playful. Shades of a more guitar heavy version of early Tangerine Dream come to mind, as does some of Manuel Göttsching's work. Greg creates a cinematic landscape that evolves continuously covering majestic symphonic highs and image inducing spacey thematic constructions. "Discharge" is similar but heavier on the Göttsching/Ash Ra Tempel sounds. And "Horsehead" is similar to the other tracks but is more "musical" and has more of a "rock" element. I'm reminded of Discipline-era King Crimson though Greg is much looser in his structures and willingness to do 360 degrees turns, and is certainly way deeper in freaky land than Crimson ever got. An excellent set of spacey experimental guitar excursions that fans of Greg's more recent In Search Of The Fantastic CD should check out.
Water From The Moon (Recorded 12/86-3/87, PAle 04)
Recorded between 12/86-3/87, Water From The Moon is one of Greg's creepiest, freakiest, and most purely psychedelic albums. "Clear Day" opens the set with some raw Bluesy psych rock featuring dirty psych guitar that jams, bubbles and trips along against a steady thudding rhythmic pulse. There are two parts to "The Invasion", the first being a freakout bit with tribal percussion, a glom of ethnic influences, and creepy vocals. Then it transitions to a style that's very much a trademark Greg song and includes progressive and psych influences fused together in an interesting way. Hard to describe but most intriguing. Dig that pounding Magma bass. "Nothing In The Dark (That's Not There In The Light)" is a nice combo of strumming acoustic guitar and piercing electric guitar solo. "My Soul Wants To Move South" features a similar blend of strangeness. "I Was Back In School Again" is something of an acoustic folk-rock song. And the title track has some cool fuzz guitar and eerie keyboard atmospherics.
But it's "The Taker" and "The Rogue's Adventures in Dreamland" that really make the album. I've heard "The Taker" several times now and it gets my vote for one of the scariest songs ever recorded. I'll let you go to Greg's web site to read the lyrics that tell of the psycho subject of the song. But the music that backs the words is totally space freaky with a massive wall of sound backdrop, chainsaw guitars, and grinding solos. Put on the headphones and turn out the lights... and lock the doors. And speaking of spooky, "The Rogue's Adventures In Dreamland" is yet another horrific story with Suspiria styled howlings and ghostly groans along with fuzzed and ambient guitarscapes and kick ass old time Hawkwind styled Space Rock. Lots of WILD contrasts. Overall an interesting set that has some interesting music and songs but also some of Greg's most memorable music.
A Real Human Being (Recorded 10/91, PAle 05)
Recorded in 1991, A Real Human Being is music Greg recorded to accompany a video project. The music consists of sometimes dark, sometimes playful, often spacey atmospheric soundtrack music. I found it to be similar to some of the soundtracks Bill Nelson has done. You'll hear a dash of Residents too, not to mention much of Greg's trademark ambient guitarscapes. It took a few listens for this one to grow on me, but there's some interesting music here, the aptly titled "Fight Segment" being the track that grabbed me the most. Overall there's some interesting stuff here and I'd be interested in hearing it along with the video.
Darkland Express Parts One & Two (Recorded 1991-96, PAle 06a/06b)
Recorded between 1991-96, Darkland Express Parts One & Two are the most purely song oriented of Greg's releases, and an interesting set of songs they are. And while these may be songs I'd still call this a guitar lovers album. A lot of it is just really solid rock music. But there's plenty of variety that makes each song a fresh listening experience. I dig the rawness of the sound. Under headphones I feel like I'm listening to Greg performing live in a small bar, giving the music a very personal feel. Throughout the 36 tracks that make up this two volume collection we hear a variety of sounds that draw on 70's rock influences. Hard rock, Blues, Progressive, and plenty more that's not so definable. But there's an abundance of contrasting sounds and styles that go together nicely and give the songs a sound that you can groove to but are still way off in left field and offer lots to digest for those who want to tune in closely. There are way too many songs on the two CD's to cover them track by track but I'll whiz through several of the standout tunes to give you a feel for the variety of music you can expect.
From Part One, "Darkland Express" is a kick ass instrumental rocker with Country influences and some smokin guitar licks. "Home Again" and "The Bust" are two more rockin highlight tracks, the latter having a grungy but almost Beatles-like feel. "Life In A Vacuum" reminds me of an old Bowie song. "Honor" is a thrashy rocker with a New Wave-ish pop feel. Maybe a bit like an old Squeeze song. "Climb Out" is another tune with a pop sound that reminds me a little of Olivia Tremor Control (who Greg predates by several years). "Hellhound In My Heart" features grungy Blues rock combined with an eerie spacey horror flick soundtrack bit. Wild! And "What Gives You The Right" has an instrumental section with a killer anthemic feel to it. It brought back memories of my youth attending Summerfest concerts at Rich Stadium in Buffalo.
Part Two of Darkland Express offers more fun tunes plus captivating and inventive guitar work. "Out Of Reach" is a peaceful instrumental with multiple varied guitars. "Not Me" features similarly diverse guitars plus vocals (though the guitars are the highlight). "Phantom Glass Smashers" took me by surprise sounding like a thrashy old Who song. "Underworld" is a darkly dreamy and ambient instrumental with freaky guitars and synths (or are they guitars?). But there's rhythm to it as well, especially from the bass that carries the lead melody. "L.A. River Rafting" alternates between driving rock and King Crimson-ish guitar patterns. "The Exploration" consists of excellent soundscape guitars that get mucho freaky and intense. "Leaving" features classic 70's psych rock that recalls the Grateful Dead but has some welcome spacey elements and trippy wah guitar. "Points On A Line" is a jazzy rocker with a Beat poet/Tom Waits styled monologue. "The Time To Be" is upbeat and dancy, being something of a novelty tune relative to most of Greg's songs. And speaking of upbeat, check out the jazzy "Open Letter From The Author" for some cool grooves and an explanation of what Darkland is about in case you've come to the end of the set and are still wondering.
And there you have it. For more information you can visit the Greg Segal web site at: http://www.gregsegal.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Greg Segal; PO Box 82525; Portland, OR 97282-0525.
CLICK HERE to listen to Aural Innovations Radio show #58, our Greg Segal tribute special.
CLICK HERE to read the Paper Bag article that also appears in this issue.