19 August 2008

Pierre Henry & Michel Colombier - 1968 - Les Yper Sound

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

This EP is an amusing concoction, lounging in the easy listening section of your soul but containing a pretty groovy blur of psychedelic synthesis to stir your mind. The "Psyche Rock" track will probably seem pretty familiar to you, even if you've never heard it. The theme song of the cartoon "Futurama" is a direct homage/rip-off of the track, depending on how you feel about the situation. The chord structure and rhythm are about the same, but we do get the jolly noises of early synthesis ripping through the track. Sounding even more psych-rock like than that titular track are the grooving "Jericho Jerk" and the full-thrust "Too Fortiche," in which an acid rock guitar battles with a sawtooth wave. You might also note that Stereolab nicked a song title from the title of this EP. This does make an impact as one of the more notable 'hipster' influences on that band's sound. There's a lot of droning noise here juxtaposed with dancin'-down-Carnaby Street sort of groove jazz. Take that for what it's worth. More reviews soon. Too many martinis right now. Mix the martinis with some psychedelic substance and you'll end up with this disc.

Homemade Lo-Fi Psych Compilations

I tend to shy aware from compilations, but this one deserves your psychedelic attention. Mike Floyd over at the Homemade Lo-fi Psych blog just got together another fine collection of tripped out sounds from an international constituent of musicians. In fact, there's a previously unreleased Glaze of Cathexis track there waiting for your ear. Give it a listen here:

Embryo Thoughts

If you dig it, check out the first volume (featuring a track from Damaged Tape's "Electric Ocean"), available here:

Relax and Float Downstream

12 August 2008

Sun Ra - 1978 - Space Probe

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5
(both 5's for the title track)

After all that talk about Sun Ra back in the Brother Ahh review, I feel like we need to take a look at some of Mr. Ra's music on its own terms. This album is not really one of his best, but as far as I know it's extraordinarily rare. I don't even know what the cover looks like for this one. That's part of the mystique, though. Although Sun Ra left for Saturn (i.e. died) almost 15 years ago, there's at least two or three of his recordings that are reissued every year, and most of them had absurdly low production runs on their original release, so they might as well be new. Space Probe is one that's still waiting to be properly unearthed.

The title track is by far the star of the show here. The 18-minute track features Sun Ra alone except for an arsenal of Minimoogs. If you're familiar with his 70's work, you will understand that this is a good thing. Ra coaxes sounds out of these machines that really do seem to plunge into the depths of interstellar space and sound positively ahead of its time even thirty years later. If you want to consider this track on its own, feel free to crank up both the quality and trip-o-meter ratings to a 5.

The other tracks here don't suck, but I'd rank them as a typical Sun Ra holding pattern. "Primitive" is a short percussive overture with a touch of clarinet bouncing off the walls. This leads into "The Conversion of J.P.," which is pretty much more of the same percussive template, except five times as long, and featuring some abstract, almost R&B sounding, acoustic piano playing from the Sun one.

This album is far from entry level Sun Ra. For that, I'd advise you to search for the still in print Space is the Place (Impulse) or maybe We Travel the Spaceways. Granted those two albums are already worlds apart in sound. However, if you've already been indoctrinated into Sun Ra's spaceship, you know that 18 minutes of Moog-ing Ra is an absolute necessity, and you'll need to hear this.

11 August 2008

Bit 'A Sweet - 1968 - Hypnotic 1

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

Although saddled with a terrible name, Bit 'A Sweet turns out to be a fine psychedelic band. These guys get a gold star for psychedelic diversity, managing to stuff raga rock, straight up psych-pop, twee, bubblegum, and futurist Moog squiggles into a 40 minute album. I doubt you'll like everything here, but I find that the batting average is pretty high.

Really, it's difficult not to make this review simply a category of style, and I'm not going to try too hard to do otherwise. We'll get the negatives straight out of the way. The 'happy days toy town' vibe of "Monday-Tuesday" doesn't do it for me, nor does the watered-down Procol Harem organ soul of "A Second Time." Unfortunately, the latter goes on for 8:38 and typically convinces me to end the album early (it's the last track). The rest is much better. Bit 'A Sweet acknowledges the East in typical hippy-fied manner on the great opening raga rock of "Speak Softly," and the Indian-influenced folk rocker "Travel." Yeah, I know sitars are a cliche, but I still dig it when they show up anyway. "2086" is a gleefully stupid futurist track which builds stock with me through it's primitive Moog sounds and the pure mindless optimism of the lyrics (In 1983 we banished sad). The squiggly synth sounds also appear on the bubblegummy "Diamond Studded Eyes." "How Can I Make You See" is a decent enough rave up and the band even manages a worthwhile Beatles cover with "If I Needed Someone."

This should satisfy your hunger for psychedelic sound for at least a few days. The great thing here is that if you don't dig a track, just go to the next one and you'll get something completely different.

Brother Ahh - 1972 - Sound Awareness

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

This is a little more on the jazz side than what we typically see in the Garage, but it's definitely one of the more psychedelic offerings from that genre. Brother Ahh was an acolyte of the truly tripped-out Sun Ra (not tripped-out on any substances mind you, he was just gloriously nuts). Of course Sun Ra has no short supply of psychedelic obscurities, and we'll see a few of them here eventually. But before I get off on too much of a tangent, let's focus on the Brother in question. While this album probably doesn't touch the heights of Sun Ra's Arkestra at its best, Sound Awareness is far from a pale imitation.

The crux of this recording takes some of the percussive and echoing innovations from Sun Ra's best 60's albums such as Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy and Atlantis, and finds a few new mis-en-scenes to place them into. We hear some very exotica-style female vocals on "Beyond Yourself," which expands to a full 90-member chorus for "Love Piece." I'd say that this recording shows an evolution into classical, ambient, and fusion styles that the laser-focused Sun Ra typically didn't mess with. The sound is more nebulous, but no less appealing. Also, while the Arkestra's percussion ensembles are nothing to sneeze at, Brother Ahh brings in the big guns here with Max Roach and some of his drummers appearing as guests. The spoken piece of "Love Piece" is a fine rant mixing black power and religious imagery before shifting to call-and-response new age philosophy on the power of love.

Overall, this worthwhile album provides us with a worthwhile different flavor of the innovations made by Sun Ra and his cohorts. Fortunately, the albums holds up very well on its own, but as a contrast tool with the sound of the Arkestra, Sound Awareness is educationally invaluable.