John Ludi is the latest persona of a local music veteran whose spent better than twenty years creating music both with bands such as “Pliny The Elder” and “Soft War” and as a solo artist. After returning to Michigan three years ago, battered and bruised from a soul-searching trek across America, John Ludi turned his thoughts inward and began his latest, and perhaps greatest work, entitled “Rise Above or Fall Below”.
If you’ve been to his website, you’d know that John Ludi loiters on the fringe of popular culture: where undisclosed numbers of alien abductions and cattle-mutilations are covered-up to prevent a worldwide panic; where out-of-body-experiences are investigated to validate the existence of the soul; where a small faction of social deviants practice yoga, mindfulness meditation and live ‘a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, frugality, and avoidance of debt’ (a radical notion in 21st century America if ever there were one); and where some truly interesting things happen if you’re paying any attention. Ludi doesn’t collect “Anomalinks” as he calls them because he’s gullible or prone to conspiracy theories, but because he’s well-read and insatiably curious about a world in which he finds himself ill-at-ease.
To everyday, red-state, Bush/Cheney bumper-sticker folk who insist that conspicuous consumption and media-inspired ass- sniffing are the height of human experience, John Ludi is just another deluded liberal (though he insist on the term “pragmatist”) blathering on about finite resources and unnecessary violence in a world intent on eating itself. But to those who feel comfortable on the fringe, despite its capricious and sometimes silly nature, and who realize the value of curiosity and the rarity of humility in a world controlled by arrogant, hyper-confident predators and the wanna-bees who will lie, cheat, kick and kill to take their place, John Ludi is the voice of sanity put to music – more precisely, well- crafted, synth-pop rooted in late 70’s to early 80’s art-rock and new-wave.
“Rise Above or Fall Below” is Ludi’s latest release, a cohesive collection of 13 songs with a nod back to art-rock and new-wave in the tradition of of Peter Murphy, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Nick Cave and bands such as The Fixx and Roxy Music.
The songs tackle such heady themes as modern decadence (“Whore of Babylon”), spiritual opportunism (“Feel of Clay”), diminishing biodiversity (“Web”) and insatiable materialism (“SUV”). There’s also a bit of introspective self-loathing to keep him from getting too puffed-up (“Mediocrity” and “Mr. Sad”) and failing that, Ludi works his punk muscle on “Best of Armageddon”.
But its Ludi’s personal struggle and his search for meaning in life that makes this musical journey so compelling. You can hear his hunger for enlightenment on the hip-tripping dance gem “Rise Above” and his belief in transcendent divinity on “The Way”. There’s a weary wistfulness on “Still Comes The Dawn” and palpable yearning on the closer “…or Fall Below”.
Though relatively dark for a pop culture hit, “Rise Above or Fall Below” is a compelling listen from a seasoned artist in search of self-realization.”
“It’s been four years since Ludi’s blend of raucous humor, interesting accompaniments and left field visions have crossed my desk. Late 2001 was when Hell’s Laughter and Heaven’s Ache(1) made it to us. John Ludi’s style has changed only minimally, showing a higher standard of recording and more maturity, but retains the same tongue in cheek left field advances that he was purporting back then. Much about John is artistically inclined. Even the press kit is hilariously sarcastic and brilliantly written from the opening statement: “God I hate press kits!!!” to the enclosed “Impersonal Form Letter” and the requiscent Press Release written as objectively and distantly as possible.
The opening Whore of Babylon takes a dark cliché and bubbilizes it with pleasant synthetics and key licks. “Hello? Do you remember me? I was your conscience.” is the first lyric of the Rise Above or Fall Below release and already gives you an idea of the writing skills of John. This opening track, on the whole, is slow moving and almost dragging without becoming boring, the synthesizers keeping the otherwise sloopy rhythm from getting mired in the mud and pulling it along brilliantly – a bright melody, dark content and dragging beat all fused together into a cohesive piece of music.
The happy thump of Webf ollows and is combated by the light strumming strains of guitars and keys. Filling the Hole gets quicker in speed, but somehow retains a strangely effervescent quality to itself regardless of the heavier guitar melody and strong keyboard chords. After some strangeness we get smooth and leery with The Way which flutes its way into the mix. Zen like in its lyrical content,The Way is an uplifting piece amidst the previous strangeness. Still Comes the Dawn continues this style, but utilizes guitars more heavily instead of keys.
Mediocrity defies its name by being possibly the most climactic song on Rise Above or Fall Below. This gives way to the groovy bassline of Feet of Clay. Chorus parts slam into a heavy-handed and unexpected groove with the end result being Feet of Clayis a top track on the release. Home reminds me of shoegazery rock by Plastic Houses(2), Cinnamon Drafthouse(3) or JackieOnAssid(4). Another favorite,Mr. Sad, continues this trend – John tends to bundle his songs in nice patches of 2 or 3 likeminded tracks.
John Ludi has a certain laid back but honest groove about him and his work. From the ethereal pieces like The Way and Still Comes the Dawn to the guitar-centered Filling the Hole and groovy Feet of Clay, he can mix and match colors and sounds like a Lite Brite on acid. Always on the fringe of the mainstream with his sarcasm and wit, John Ludi is worth checking out…he can save the day from the doldrums of radio.”
John Ludi bills himself as a TRULY independent recording artist, as well as a writer, social critic and paranormal researcher, whose musical roots are in 70s prog and punk. With credentials like that, it’s perhaps not surprising that he self releases. But surely this is just because record companies have no imagination.
Rise Above Or Fall Below starts off with the epic Whore of Babylon, an ecclesiastical organ setting the mood. A little over a minute in, it shifts to percussion and piano in a slow north african march beat. Ludi sings about illusion and desire. A prog chorus kicks in — “The Whore of Babylon!” — and then back to the march beat. The chorus repeats, an eastern-sounding guitar solo takes us out. The song is a little over 7 minutes long. I don’t normally do blow-by-blows like this, but I haven’t heard a song like this in years.
Certainly, John Ludi harks back to a mid 70s vibe that isn’t often emulated, or at least not with a straight face. Is he serious? Well, yes. John Ludi is a man with a message but he’s also a musician, and this is his music. And his message.
I won’t actually tell you what the message is but here are a few song titles: Web, Filling the Hole, SUV, Mediocrity, Feet of Clay, Mr. Sad, The Beast of Armageddon. Despite the titles, there’s really no pontificating. You can hear prophecy or not, depending on your mood and/or openness to strange new ideas.
Having just reviewed Todd Rundren, I’m more inclined to listen to John Ludi openly. And despite my resistance to prog (I am female, after all), I found myself liking this record. Filling The Hole has a nice choral arrangement. Ditto for Rise Above which is again epic, in a good way. Beast Of Armageddon is an all-out rocker. The percussion is solid throughout. The guitars are interesting. The psychedelic effects are fun. Ludi’s vocals grow on you. It’s a bit long, I will say that, but otherwise, what’s not to like?
All the same, I have a hard time picturing a large market for this album. Sure, my prog friends who grew up in the 70s in places like Baltimore and Buffalo, but what about the kids… Then again, White Stripes are a huge hit, so you never can tell. Prog revival anyone?”
Indie Spotlight @ N-Zone Magazine
“Right now I’m listening to the title song, and it’s got some dark, swinging, drummed Bowie in there, as John speaks from behind the lights. A mixture of confidence and political restlessness dots this man’s works, as can be illustrated in the opening ‘All Dead Dictators’. With synth and strumming guitar somewhere in the next block keeping company with the vocals, a surreal world is slowly created, turning and turning upon itself. ‘discard your faith in the virtues of civilization, for here lie the bleak rewards of decadence and degradation / for the few: opulence, for the rest: subjugation to the capricious whims of a dying nation.’ Heavy, heady stuff, but nothing you can disagree with, and the music will interest whatever your mind is too lazy to enjoy.”
The Global Muse
John Ludi presented a professional sound with distinctive originality and a spice of intelligence that is very hard to find in any genre of modern music. Not only was I impressed by the man, I was impressed by the music that he created. In an Americana kind of Neil Diamond sort of way, John delivers the most passionate music available. The songwriting on this album is superb and the vocals present a certain something that can’t be described, but the allure is very evident. This is music for the rest of us. For those who are longing for a style of music that can easily be related to and don’t insult our intelligence. The beauty of the John Ludi sound is something to be impressed with, but more than that, it’s something to be treasured.
“Although he’s given up on the world, John Ludi has not given up on his music. And it shows. He’s a talented player who does pretty much everything on the album. The thing about the album that really grabs the listener is the contrast provided by the dichotomy of the relatively upbeat pop rock music and the fatalistic lyrics. This album won’t change the world, but it’s something to listen to while you consider what you can do to improve society.
(Nutshell Review): A solid album that questions just about everything in the world and tries to force the listener to do the same.”
“John Ludi is a total DIY Artist/Songwriter who is an amazing master of studio wizardry a la` Todd Rundgren. His writing, playing and production of this whole disc (not to mention manufacturing and packaging) is nothing short of phenomenal.
The depths of Ludi’s intelligent, insightful, thinking man’s lyrics, with the type of biting cynicism needed to spark the mind as well as the soul, mixed with a far reaching and ever expanding knowledge of musical territory that can be identified with on several levels of sub/consciousness are defied by arrangements and hooks a plenty, all delivered with a Bowie-esque charm that immediately captures you as the songs take on the weighty issues of life, death and existence in the fragile world of human beings and our own minds.”
“Rock philosopher, historian and paranormalist John Ludi (a/k/a Tim Elder, Tim Eldair and Tim Zu***ski among other aliases) casts a jaundiced eye on contemporary society in this erudite, melodic set of unusually intelligent modern rock. Ludi hates being compared to Peter Murphy, but the vocal similarity is inescapable, so too the cinematic sweep of his arrangements. (To be clear, lest I be accused on pinning an unwanted Goth tag on Ludi, it’s Murphy’s post-Bauhaus work that comes to mind, in particular 1988’s Love Hysteria. And you know, they’ve both been known to quote Gurdjieff. How about I just compare them both to Berlin-era Bowie and get on with it?) On the other hand, he appreciates being compared to Neil Diamond and Elton John (I know this because Ludi reviews his reviewers on his Web site; can’t wait to learn what he thinks of this one) so go figure. In any event, this is a very enjoyable solo effort that makes the most of a limited budget; unlike other reviewers, I think he makes excellent use of a drum machine. Like many intellectuals, Ludi can be condescending and verbose at times, but his sour view of humanity is leavened by gorgeous melodies and passionate performances. Belying his stated contempt for the recording industry and pessimistic forecast for his own success, Hell’s Laughter is more commercial than Ludi may be willing to admit — or allow.”
State of the Rock World
“Intelligent songs are mixed with tight instrumentation creating a CD that I’d like to see more mainstream. But then if he was mainstream, wouldn’t that make him one of the people he likes to cut up? Regardless, I’d have to take John’s side in the argument.
“Hell’s Laughter & Heaven’s Ache” is a CD that deserves a chance, but most likely with today’s musical climate, might sell a few dozen copies.
John Ludi is definitely a musician. Give him a chance. I’m glad I did.”
“This guy really knows how to sell himself to the indie crowd – in his one page rant-instead-of-press-kit letter he slams just about everything (including those nifty light up shoes I had in junior high). I had no clue what to expect. And guess what, this really doesn’t suck. After listening to so many things (like radio) that tend to suck, this doesn’t. In fact, this is excellent, intelligent songwriting, and so far I haven’t heard a song on here that shouldn’t be getting massive airplay. The lyrics are great, the musicianship is great, and the hooks are there and apparent. Probably my favorite track would be ‘Progress’ – no specific reason, I just end up listening to that one more than the others. In a world where Shaun Mullins can have a hit record, why the heck can’t this guy? If you’d like to hear a great rock album by a gifted singer songwriter, get this now. Please.”
“Produced and well-written by an accomplished and obviously experienced musician, John Ludi draws his material from the late 60s and 70s pop culture. In the song “Secret Serenade,” the lyrics here — just like the build of the music — give no release. The definition of the music is punctuated well with superb strings and bass drum. The words, however, are at odds — and yet this is perfect for what I believe Mr. Ludi is trying to convey. Again the strings in “All Dead Dictators” give a richness to this Bowiesque tune. “Progress” has a Beetles refrain hidden deep. Many of the songs have a Mamas and Papas feel to them. Overall — Mr. Ludi well done! Also, your biography was exquisite. This release made us, and some of the others who heard this CD, fall in love with you.”
“John comments that he is out of the loop. I beg to differ. John, you are in the loop my friend (just a different one), you’re one of those courageous individuals that believe that they don’t need to be dishonest or go with the flow to have their voices heard. I applaud you Mr. Ludi. Your approach to your life and music are unique and greatly appreciated and admired by this writer.
This CD is a rock-pop-alternative soundtrack to life. Give it a good listen; there will surely be something you can connect to. As you are tapping your feet, and taking in all the auditory pleasures that this outing has to offer, you will find everything that I have said to be entirely true.”
“At times, I’m reminded of David E. Williams, minus the morose and grotesque characters that populated his songs. However, the wit is still there, a dark wit that’s part satire and part commentary. Ludi, however, is less obtuse than Williams. His lyrics are consistently concerned with modern society, in all of its bleak failings. It’s not a political commentary or rhetoric. No, we’ll save that for the Zack De La Rocha’s and Chuck D’s of the world. Ludi’s commentary is far more, dare I say, esoteric and spiritual than that. Or, as Ludi says in his own words, “a Don Quixote-like crusade against the dumbing-down of our culture”.”
Delusions of Adequacy
‘Throwing complaints at the dartboard of life, John Ludi’s Hell’s Laughter and Heaven’s Ache is the brand of intensely brooding singer-songwriter album that does what it can to smash illusions and shake belief systems. Ludi, formerly known under the aliases of Tim Elder, Tim Eldair, and Tim Zu***ski, seems to know the uphill battle he’s against, making a point to mourn the loss of quality and intelligence in both music and American culture in his press release. And he’s right. In what is probably the most relentless indictment of modern life since John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Ludi uses 11 songs to present a convincing case against the complacency and apathy of modern man. Knowing that the door to commercial success is probably forever closed to him, he takes the unconventional route of actually making those who’ll never buy his albums the targets of his songs.’
‘If you have never had an inkling what music could be like if everyone decided to give up their pretense and just created what they felt, what they wanted and what they endeavored then listen to John Ludi’s “Hell’s Laughter and Heaven’s Ache.” There is a strong sense of pride and self determination in Ludi’s music, basically because he doesn’t try to make his music for the masses. He does take aim at the greater society in “All Dead Dictators” and “The Complacent Song.”
The greatest strength in “Hell’s Laughter…” is that Ludi doesn’t try to sound like the current pop or “popular” rock that is widely available. Indie music is supposed to have a unique sound, an underground feel that isn’t quite represented by the masses. Ludi does a good job of skillfully presenting thoughtful music.
This is music created out of love for music, not just for the money behind it. There are palatable, conscious thoughts in the lyrics, actual insights that will stick with you.’
‘Filled with heavy musical messages, Hell’s Laughter And Heaven’s Ache is a pop album for the thinking man. The album will never make the Billboard charts and there’s no chance that Ludi will ever become an MTV favorite, but that’s really the point. By exposing the fallacies and shallowness of the 21st Century pop culture, Ludi drives his vision home with alarming awareness.’
‘Ludi is a poet, priest, anarchist and peace-monger. Contradictory as that may seem, much of his inner mind is wrapped in the intelligent lyrics and impassioned pleas that demarcate the recording, delivering many of us from the glut of banality often seen in the music world. The catchy hooks are merely sugar coating on lyrics that pose questions and ideations long buried in our slumbering psyches.’
Go Ludi Go, Show ‘em how it’s done! Get the blood pumping! “The Beast of Armageddon” can do just that with some of these mediocre artists. It doesn’t all have to be grey or blue. “Feet of Clay” for instance, has John shouting out the lyrics while the drums are being played the way rock was meant to be played. Then in the very next song “Home”, John starts out sing with a breathy vocal that shows off his range. Just then I’m really starting to believe. Great vocal range, equally talented drum technique, guitar progressions and lead work that screams “ROCK”, and what can I say. THANK YOU!!! Now it’s time to write, and suddenly I can’t find more than a couple of musician credits-Ken Shaw and Greg Kutcher. I feel like I’m walking into my friend’s house who has his own picture in every frame. Say it ain’t so Ludi (who sings) and who knows what else and who else and all else.