Always Look on the Dark Side of Life: Selected Recordings, 1984-1993
Known as “guitarist of a thousand sounds” for his work with the improvisational bands Paper Bag (with whom he recorded four albums on SST in the late ’80s), Jugalbandi, and others, Greg Segal is one of very few artists whom I would feel comfortable calling a true original. Bursting with raw creativity and compelling visions, Always Look on the Dark Side of Life compiles well over an hour’s worth of tracks selected from five of his hard-to-find, cassette-only solo albums that have never before been commercially released.
Ranging from prog and psychedelia to experimental, jazz, and righteous garage-rock jams, Dark Side reminds me of one of those cool underground tapes you heard once at a party in college, but could never find again afterwards. I’ve always been a sucker for ’70s-style concept albums, so the pieces drawn from Greg’s Night Circus just blew me away. “Introduction” sets the stage with haunting synth, building slow menace like a dark cloud brewing, then sending its gray tendrils out to caress the entire world with blight — the feeling is very much like the opening credits of a horror film, the beginning of a headlong descent into untold terror and madness. “Cold Sky” lives up to that promise, with unsettling jangling guitar and a riot of noisy drums that could have been an out-take jam from the sessions for King Crimson’s Red or Starless and Bible Black. The lyrics tell the story of a night circus that is really only a cover for a ragtag band of the damned led by a young man given awesome powers by unknown demonic spirits, with which he proceeds to destroy human civilization, sucking the lives and souls from the few mutated survivors in “Night Circus (Pt. 2).”
I also loved pretty much every track taken from A Man Who Was Here, intended to sound like late ’60s/early ’70s prog and psychedelia. Listen to the delightfully meandering guitar solo from “If I Die Tomorrow,” or the introspective lyrics of “King Of Illusion,” which sound like they could have come straight off a Renaissance album, and you’ll hear what I mean. But Greg takes all these influences and makes them uniquely his own, ending this set of tracks with the title song from the album, “A Man Who Was Here,” with its awesome, roaring guitar solo at the end, screaming “I!” into the void, forever leaving the mark of “a shadow seeking darkness/a man who was here.”
I wish Greg had included more from his Experimental Guitar album; the one cut here, an edited version of “Discharge,” is very cool, starting with a rumbling like a spaceship taking off and continuing with eerie guitar notes blinking like stars in the endless darkness, interrupted with electronic buzzes and blips. Several of the dream-inspired pieces from Water from the Moon also affected me deeply, including the vision of a perfect world of peace and happiness glimpsed through a wavering looking glass on the title song, ending with heavy, fuzz guitar, hypnotic, water-glass synth, and thumping percussion. I also loved the chilling serial-killer song “The Taker,” beginning with spooky plucked, echoing guitar touches, and continuing with a pounding drum like the fear-filled heartbeat of one of the victims whose death will make the killer a star. Chilling flocks of guitar notes mob like black ravens wheeling across the ruddy sky, the trees dripping blood that flows in rivers down the streets, finally lapping at your own front door…
Phantom Airship Records: http://www.gregsegal.com