Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
Atem (German for "breath") is a transitional album in the best sense of the word. Having taking the minimalist concept to the extreme on Zeit, the Dream returns to somewhat of a space rock vibe. There actually is a fair amount of percussion here, especially the raging torrent of the first few minutes of the side long title track which excitingly builds until it crashes into an ambient soundscape, thus giving the ambience more context. It's also a lot less bleak sounding. "Fauna Gena" recalls the alien landscape imagery of "Alpha Centauri," although with some added bird-like noises.
So with the return of the space rock, and ingenious use of Zeit-like soundscapes, Froese, Franke, and Baumann managed their past work magnificently. Fortunately Atem looks toward the future too. Froese seems to barely pick up his guitar here, more often opting for mellotron. It'sa definite precursor to the entirely keyboard dominated sound that would mark some later albums. We also hear the first glimmers of sequencing at the ends of "Fauna Gena," and "A Circulation Of Events." This would become a Tangerine Dream staple starting on their next album (and Virgin Records debut).
There are only two things here that really hold Atem back a little. One is the closing track "Wahn." It's far from terrible, but the Ligeti-like voices and percussion recall the undisciplined din of Electronic Meditation a little more than I like. Fortunately, it's the shortest track here by far. A bigger problem is the production. By this time, Tangerine Dream were breaking serious new ground and I doubt there were many engineers who could really record them properly, especially without a state-of-the-art sudio. The opening of the title track loses a little majesty due to murkyness and I bet even "Wahn" would be better with more crystaline sound. Fortunately, the band would get top flight recording after this album with a jump to the majors.
It's really worth noting that the first four Tangerine Dream albums almost sound like the work of completely different bands. There are some stylistic similarities, especially one the line up stabilized, but each album is very much its own experience. Even when making a misstep, it's clear that the early Dream was an exceptionally pioneering band and their mistakes are usually interesting.
I'll be saying "goodbye" to my Tangerine Dream reviews here, as they become far less obscure starting with the next album. They managed some great major label albums like Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear, Encore, Force Majeure, Tangram, and Logos, all of which I'd easily recommend. As the 80's wore on, they got a little too slick and new-agey for my tastes, but the four albums reviewed here really are but the tip of the iceburg.
Tangerine Dream- Nebulous Dawn (includes Atem)