Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Ultimate Soundtrack to Your Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare

Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I by KING CRIMSON

A professional music critic (read: disco twink) for the BBC listed this track at number 9 on his list of “10 Worst Songs to Have Sex To,” with the zinger that any children conceived during this would have “bones like joss sticks.” I’d rather King Crimson founder Robert Fripp not have honored such typical lamestream media anti-prog trash with a reply, but his response that  “the bones of anyone conceived to Part One have a large proportion of apprehension, terror, inevitability & metal in addition to joss sticks within their DNA” goes a long way towards describing the many moods of this 13:38 masterpiece. And by “goes a long way” I mean to say it doesn’t capture all of them. It’s just a damned good start.

“Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I” is so perfect for writing post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve put it in heavy rotation on my desk speakers. It opens with a slow fade-in of various xylophoney/chimey percussion instruments courtesy of Jamie Muir. For the first two and one-half minutes we’re lulled into a sense of normalcy. It’s a normalcy tinged with apprehension—say, we’ve got a character flying out to a major city for a job interview. At the one-minute mark a high, thinly metallic wash representing the Mayday Malaise creeps over the vibes. By the 2:30 mark it dominates as the Final Flu. It goes all the way until the 3:00 mark when David Cross’s violin begins its tense, percussive line, culminating into the catastrophic slam of metal guitars at 3:40. The dead have risen to feast on the flesh of the living.

What follows next has been described as rock-jazz “fusion” (it was very much a thing in the early to mid-1970s) but it sounds more like funk to me. Prog funk with a light be-bop flavoring, if you want to get technical about it. Whatever you call it, it evokes the chaos ensuing as the National Guard and the police and the public are overwhelmed by the numbers and rigor-driven strength of the reanimated. 

The track slows down at around ten minutes—we’re taking stock of our situation—and then the violin comes back at around 11:30, deeper, more frenetic. At 12:26 the tension is broken with a crash. But the world is not the same. It’s an uncanny valley where Things Unnatural walk. Imagine  waking up with that eerie Mellotron and guitar soundscape in your head, David Cross’s violin keening throughout for all that has passed, and for the terrors yet to come. As I did this morning, realizing I am very close to finishing Bleeding Kansas

Whatever your apocalypse, Mr. Robert Fripp and Co. have your music for it right here. Thank you, Mr. Fripp and the 1973 incarnation of King Crimson for creating such a challenging and compelling piece. You and all the other great musicians who created and defined that broad spectrum of experimental-exploratory music called progressive rock have nothing to apologize for, or even explain.

Oddly, there is no straight album version of “Lark’s Tongues” on YouTube. I suppose I’ll have to rip and post it myself. Until there, here is a superb, albeit abbreviated performance on some ancient, long-forgotten television program.