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King Crimson


Review by Julie Knispel

10 years following the dissolution of King Crimson following a trilogy of world and gamelan influenced albums, the band quietly rejoined forces in a small studio in Woodstock New York to create a new band and a new sound. Expanding beyond the quartet that created those 1980’s albums, the core group (Robert Fripp. Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford) was joined by new members Pat Mastelotto (drums, formerly of Mister Mister) and Trey Gunn (Stick) to create what founding member Robert Fripp called a “double trio.” The line-up was in part a conceptual experiment, as the group could become a pair of trios playing against each other, or a trio of musicians in duet playing sections or movements in (or out of) unison. In practice, this led to incredibly dense, complex composed pieces, while improvisations would evolve in unexpected and often unintended ways. Prior to releasing their only studio album, King Crimson released a “calling card” of sorts via their new private label, Discipline Global Mobile. Titled VROOOM, the mini-album compiles a number of working versions of tracks that would appear in final form on 1995’s THRaK album, along with two pieces unique to this release. The material is uncompromising in a way that is quintessentially King Crimson, showing no lessening of impact or intent in the decade long layoff that preceded this release. Fripp and Belew’s guitars slash and cut through the mix, exhibiting heaviness not evident in the band’s sound since the mid-1970’s. Bill Bruford handles acoustic drumming and percussion, adding flash and filigree while Mastelotto generally holds down the shifting beat on a mostly electronic drum kit. Finally, Tony Levin and Trey Gunn’s bass and stick lines wind around each other. Not content to simply hold down the bottom end, both players often reach the higher registers of their instruments, adding a third and sometimes fourth lead voice to the band’s already dense sound.

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Track by Track Review
Much like “THRAK,” placed later on this release, the EP’s title piece is a lengthy instrumental which showed beyond any doubt that the double trio King Crimson lineup meant business. The composition is broken into two distinct sections. The first is an intensely heavy movement, with layers of heavily distorted guitar and a general tone not unlike Red-era Crimson. The second section features lighter, cross picked guitars while the bass players handle a stately melodic line. The piece swells and moves through these sections with ease. The reassertion of heavier themes would later be excised as a separate track on 1995’s THRaK album, with spoken word lyrics, as “Coda: Marine 475.”
Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream
Presenting some of the same jerky, interleaving arrangements that the 1980’s version of King Crimson made their own, this track is based around a heaving, syncopated rhythm and stream of consciousness lyrics sung in a processed voice that often bears comparison to later John Lennon (not surprising, considering how Belew is heavily influenced by the Beatles). It’s a deceptively complex piece that offers a look at what King Crimson’s newest vocal material would be like.
This track shows the beginnings of the kind of social consciousness that would become more evident over time as King Crimson grew through the decade of activity that followed. It is perhaps the band’s most prescient track, as Adrian Belew rattles off verses that might have seemed slightly more shocking in the somewhat less cynically jaded 1990’s. The chorus today strikes as incredibly precognizant: “all around us the rules are changing taller walls and stronger cages nothing is sacred or too outrageous taller walls and stronger cages what in the world has happened to the world?” In the space of 1 minute 35 seconds, Adrian Belew packs in more lines of lyrics than on the rest of the vocal tracks on VROOOM combined.
This song would later be used as the title track to King Crimson’s only full-length studio release in the double trio iteration. Every bit as heavy as “VROOOM,” which opens this EP, the song can be described/defined in much the same way as Fripp defines the title word: A sudden and precise impact moving from intention, direction and commitment, in service of an aim. This song bears comparison to earlier King Crimson efforts such as “Red” and “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II,” with multiple polyrhythms playing against each other simultaneously, ebbing and flowing in and out of sync. The piece is intense, refusing to let up until the very end.
When I Say Stop, Continue
King Crimson in the 1970’s often released improvisations on their studio albums, with several of these tracks rated among the band’s most recognised pieces. “When I Say Stop, Continue” would be the first example of the type of improvisation this iteration of the group would dabble in. Very loose and free, the piece achieves what the title sets down, as the band is counted to a stop, only to keep playing after the final count.
One Time
King Crimson ballads should not be lugubrious. “One Time” succeeds at this; the track is quiet and restrained, almost conventional in construction. At the same time, it offers up some of the most memorable melodies in King Crimson’s lengthy back catalogue, along with some of Adrian Belew’s most inspired singing. Stripped down and sparse in sound, this is a track that could have achieved massive radio airplay had it not the “stigma” of having King Crimson’s name attached to it. “One Time” is a perfect example of the band’s solid songwriting skills and ability to craft a track bereft of complexity and angularity for complexity and angularity’s sake.
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