28 June 2007

Jorge Reyes - 1985 - Comala

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

This little confection is a bit of a detour from the typical psychedelic obscurity. We usually focus on the psychedelic pop, tripping down Carnaby Street sort of music. Jorge Reyes is a musical mystic, and this is more of a sitting with the shaman in the middle of the jungle, sipping ayahuasca, and seeing spirit animal serpents climbing up your leg type of music. There is a mysterious, primordial sound at work here and much of it has an almost ceremonial feel. Reyes' roots are clearly of the ancient, distorted pre-Columbian sound of Mexico, but he is a master of mixing this influence with modern (well, at least 1985) electronics and ends up creating amazing soundworlds.

The opening title track takes up about a third of the album and it is quite a journey. Reyes' comes straight on with some awesome percussion, mixing it with some truly dark synth sounds. About halfway in, we start to hear some chanting mixing with creepy whispers from the jungle and a truly satanic sounding, electronically-enhanced voice.

While remaining a coherant whole, Reyes continues to sound-paint distinctive images throughout the album. "Nadie Se Libra En Tamohaunchan" and "El Animal Sola" are maybe the most accessible tracks with more familiar synth tones and some elements of modern dance music. Even better, though, are "Adios Mi Acompanamiento" and "La Diosa De Las Aguilas," which seem to start with a sound like the instrumental b-sides of Bowie's Low and Heroes, and builds on that template with Mesoamerican colors. The chanting on "Hekura" freaks me out in a good way.

This album is apparently based on a book called Pedro Paramo by the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. I've never read the book, and the cinematic sound here is strong enough that I don't think I really need to. For me, this aural paintings go along nicely with the painted visions of Peruvian shaman Pablo Amaringo (look here: http://www.pabloamaringo.com/).

I'm not a new age freak at all, but this music is visceral enough that it demands my attention. The only flaws here are a couple of tiny production touches that sound a bit cheesy (like 2%). But since this was recorded in the production quagmire of the mid-80's, I'd say this album beat the odds and ended up with a nice warm sound. This is a great find that should conjure up a few visions of your own when listened to in the dark.

Buy Me:
Jorge Reyes - Comala

Jorge Reyes - 1982 - Ek Tunkul

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5

Jorge Reyes logged in with an early melding of Mexican folk and electronic elements with 1982's El Tunkul. It's a pleasant album, but still shows Reyes perfecting his mixture and experimenting.

A few years after this album Reyes would show himself a master of painting images with sound, but this disc is not quite that evocative. Much of it is extremely chilled out, but to a degree where the ethnic instrumentation and chanting becomes window dressing rather than a major part of the tapestry that they'd later become.

On Ek Tunkul, the songs tend to highlight melody or texture, but rarely both. "Agua Quemada" starts the albums with some floating sequences and tones that almost recalls Philip Glass. "Nadie Supo De Donde Venia" and the title track relies on some somewhat out-of-place guitar leads that Reyes would drop on subsequent recordings.

I compare some songs on Compala as building off the basic sounds of some of Bowie and Eno's instrumental compilations. The same shows true here, but these tracks tend to emulate more than break new ground.

Ek Tunkul is not a bad album and gives the listener important insight into Reyes evolution as an artist. Still, it comes across as a work in progress and does not display Reyes at the height of his abilities. Ek Tunkul does not quite break out of the early electronic/new age mold.

Buy Me:
Jorge Reyes - 1982 - Ek Tunkul

24 June 2007

Robyn Hitchcock - 1990 - Eye

Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5 (5 for the lyrics)

Eye is a Robyn Hitchcock effort without the Egyptians, or any other backing band for that matter. The only sounds on the album are Hitchcock's voice, acoustic guitar, rather stately sounding piano, and a very occasional percussive thump. I have to admit that I'm usually a sucker for strange processed sounds and warped production. We have none of that here, but the spare sound does play to Hitchcock's strengths and probably stands next to the similarly arranged I Often Dream Of Trains as Hitchcock's best album.

Hitchcock is one of the best modern lyricists around, and certainly one of the trippiest. His voice, while not technically great, is full of character and also one of his best assets. Every lyric on Eye is delievered crystal clear backed with almost endless layers of meaning. Certaintly "Napoleon wore a black hat, ate lots of chicken, and conquered half Europe" has to be one of the best opening lines on any album ever. "Queen Elvis's" opening line "People get what they deserve/Time is round and space is curved" would have been a contender also had it been track one. Both the opener "Cynthia Mask" and "Queen Elvis" are early highlights of this disc.

Every track here has something great to offer. Depending on the listener, you might prefer the wacked out vibe of tracks like "Certaintly Clicklot" or "Clean Steve." If you're like me, you might like the spacey acoustic vibe of stuff like the tracks I quoted in the last paragraph, "Glass Hotel," or "Aquarium" (which actually does feature an electric guitar). I feel it's hard for anyone to deny the devastating lyrical and vocal impact of "Linctus House," or "Agony Of Pleasure." There's a nice instrumental halfway through with "Collage Of Ice."

While Eye is a spare album, it sports great production. His voice is in top form and supported by a crisp sound with just the right amount of echo, and sometimes a few harmony Robyns joining in. The guitars and pianos are balanced just right on every tracks. Compared to a Sgt. Pepper, many folks think it must be easy to produce an acoustic album, but the spare balance is often difficult to achieve, yet Eye hits it on the mark. This sound fits Hitchcock like a glove, and I was not at all disappointed when I attended a Hitchcock show four years ago and found it to be completely solo (usually I want to hear a band at a rock club). Eye's quality is a testament to this.

The bonus tracks here are once again demos, and have a few amusing, if minor, changes. I think they serve to show just how well the proper album is produced.

Buy Me:
Robyn Hitchcock - Eye

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - 1986 - Element Of Light

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

Element Of Light was Robyn Hitchcock's 5th solo studio album and his second with The Egyptians. In many ways Element Of Light is a logical progression from Fegmania!, but there is a lot of creative growth here too. Whereas the previous album often went for an energetic folk-rock sound, Hitchcock and his band go for a more smoothed out, dreamy effect this time out (not to say that there's no bite to the music here and there). Further disproving Hitchcock's reputation as a Syd Barrett wannabe, Hitchcock includes a distinct Lennon vibe to this album, a little bit musically but definitely vocally and lyrically.

The album opens with its best track, "If You Were A Priest." It's almost as catchy as R.E.M.'s contemporary breakout hits on Document, but Hitchcock's somewhat blasphemous (yet genius) lyrics doomed the track never to play on anything but college radio. Hitchcock treads strange lyrical ground on the poppy "Ted, Woody, And Junior." "Winchester" effectively introduces the dreamy side of the album and it's another classic Hitchcock track.

The aforementioned Lennon sound is most noticeble on "Somewhere Apart," which is either a homage or a ripoff of the Plastic Ono Band album. Many other bits on the disc recall Lennon lyrics or vocals such as the lyrics of "Never Stop Bleeding." There is still plenty of Barrett influence most apparent on tracks like "Bass" and "Lady Waters And The Hooded One." Element Of Light closes with the fun little confection "Tell Me About Your Drugs," which is practically a compete return to the sound of The Soft Boys. I guess Hitchcock wanted to throw his old fans a bone.

Element Of Light's production better fits Hitchcock's music than on Fegmania!, but it's still not completely inspired. There is a strong dreamy atmosphere adorning several tracks here, but some of them like "Raymond Chandler Evening" and "Never Stop Bleeding" end up sounding practically the same. Still, the 80's-ness from the last album is much more smoothed out and for me is an improvement.

Once again, there is a clutch of bonus tracks on the Rhino reissue. This time they are all demos and live tracks except for the basically pointless spoken word "The Can Opener." The others are fun for comparision's sake, but add little to the album. I do like the demo for "Raymond Chandler Evening," and I'd like the spare "Leopard" demo if it didn't sound horrifically out of tune.

Buy Me:
Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - Element Of Light

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - 1985 - Fegmania!

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5 (4.5 for the lyrics)

Robyn Hitchcock is often cited as being Syd Barrett's successor, but I feel that this is a bit of a misnomer. Hitchcock possesses a similar vocal range and often writes similarly twisted lyrics, but his sound contains a lot more control and purpose, and also throws in more than a fair share of folk rock, especially The Byrds' 12-string electric jangle.

On Fegmania!, Hitchcock practically reformed his legendary new wave band The Soft Boys, albeit using them for entirely different means. A good 75% of this record is strong 80's indie jangle rock which is not dissimilar from early R.E.M. (who also worshipped The Byrds). Unfortunately, the album is often the victim of standard 80's production sounds too, but there are enough psychedelic flourishes to keep this listener amused. Hitchcock's vocals also remain front and center, which is a big plus as nobody else writes surreal, insect imagery-laden lyrics quite like him.

Fegmania! is frontloaded with its best songs. Hitchcock successfully and diagonally references hot topics such as transgenderism, necrophilia (or just mourning), and incest on opener "Egyptian Cream," "My Wife And My Dead Wife," and "The Man With The Lightbulb Head" respectively. They come close to sounding like novelty songs, but Hitchcock lyrical skill pull them out of of that particular mire. "Lightbulb Head" also has the bonus feature of featuring interesting, hazy psychedelic production as it was recorded earlier and doesn't share the scrubbed stamp of the rest of the album. Hitchcock does manage the detached, paranoid sound of Barrett on the explosive "Goodnight I Say," which is my personal favorite on the disc.

Side two of the album is significantly less impessive, although never embarrassing. The songs are well crafted, but not as memorable for me. There are are few ill-fitting stylistic shifts such as the not-too-authentic sounding calypso of "Strawberry Mind." Otherwise, "Glass" has some interesting chord changes and there is a good, if by-the-numbers cover of "The Bells Of Rhymney," done of course in The Byrds' style.

The Rhino CD includes five bonus tracks. Four of these are relatively disposable demo and live tracks. The last one, however, is a truly groovy instrumental called "The Pit Of Souls (Parts I-IV)." Hitchcock and his band really force themselves out of their comfort zone here and end up throwing around several interesting ideas. The tracks runs a diverse ten minutes and significantly ups the value of Fegmania!.

Buy Me:
Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians - Fegmania!

19 June 2007

Gong - 1974 - You (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt.3)

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

You was my first exposure to Gong and remains one of my favorite albums of any genre. The slightly gaudy, but strangely mystical cover art drew me in (I'm a sucker for Mayan imagery) and the music inside is an accurate reflection of the cover. Gong is very much at the peak of their powers here, even as it is also clear that the band is splintering.

Whereas on previous Gong albums, Daevid Allen was clearly in the driver's seat, You is more of a schizophrenic affair. Allen chimes in with a series of really deranged shorter songs that make me thing of the better songs on Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money. The rest of the band seemed to have some different goals in mind as they go practically instrumental for a completely cosmic sound. Pink Floyd had nothing on Gong for pure space rock. I try not to give track-by-track descriptions of albums, but You provides a musical story (never mind the Radio Gnome elements) and I feel warrants it.

"Thought For Naught" and "A P.H.P.'s Advice" start the album with a creepy carnival atmosphere before the visions take over with the band's phenomenal space grooves. "Magic Mother Invocation" plunges the band into the mystical and mysterious ether as it melds into the fantastic and powerful "Master Builder."

"Master Builder" practically defies description. For one it's a percussion tour-de-force. Pierre Moerlen is basically held in check for the first seven or so minutes of the album (except for some random percussion instruments) before finally hitting the trap set in "Master Builder." On top of interstellar synth and guitarist Steve Hillage's truly great riff, Moerlen proceeds to completely pummel his set while maintaining complete synch with the other musicians. Allen brings in his vocals about halfway through with a possessed chant-like quality. The track spins like a whirling dervish until abruptly ending where we find ourselves on the alien landscape of "A Sprinkling Of Clouds." This purely instumental track recalls Tangerine Dream's work on Alpha Centauri and Atem and compares more than favorably.

Allen and Smyth return to the front for the side two opener "Perfect Mystery." If anything on the album doesn't quite fit, it's this track which would have fit better on Angel's Egg. It's still a fun little intermission from the extended voyages which continue with "The Isle Of Everywhere." It's a space-jazz affair which I imagine prefigures the Moerlen-led Gong, but hits upon an awesome bass groove and some fins sax playing along with a cool spash of etherial synth. Allen's vision finally merges with the rest of the band for the closing epic "You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever." It literally includes everything that made Gong great and ranks as one of their best tracks. We get Allen and Smyth's strange utterances and voice acting along with great playing across the board, a bit of jazz, and plenty of sounds streaming out of the solar vortex. Everyone playing is at the top of their game and focused, providing the perfect climax for the three album voyage.

This is by far the most cosmic of Gong's recordings, and I feel their best. There are clearly some different visions at work here, but they eventually combine and with a little creative sequencing, end up as a cohesive work.

Buy Me:
Gong - You (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 3)

Gong - 1973 - Angel's Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 2)

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

Gong continues their strange adventure in sound with the second part of their Radio Gnome Invisible series. Daevid Allen is at the top of his game here, using a top notch group of musicians to colour his strange alternate reality. While this is of a piece with Flying Teapot, there are some serious changes here, almost universally for the better.

First off, the songs still sound epic, but the running times are not necessarily so. It feels like there is a lot more going on in the idea department and makes the album more than the sum of its parts. Following the story is even less necessary here than on Flying Teapot. Opening track "Other Side Of The Sky" may contain some story elements, but it's the sound of a nebula cloud slowly enveloping and disorienting the listener.

The synth patterns here also take a much stronger role in the backbone of the songs. On Flying Teapot synths served to create a touch of coloring and were more or less icing on the cake. Here there are some really innovative sequences tying songs together and creating awesome rhytmic beds. This is not to say that this is at all an electronic album as Steve Hillage provides some of his best space guitar here and Didier Malherbe throws in some often exotic sounding sax and clarinet.

Gong's jazz edge is additionally more pronounced on Angel's Egg. Drummer Pierre Moerlen is present on this disc and procedes to make the percussion an often restrained, but still lead instrument. His playing is technically superior, but also extremely musical and ensemble friendly unlike many flash players. He swings and sounds far looser than traditional flash players such as Neil Peart from Rush. When the wall of vibraphones breaks through halfway through "Love Is How You Make It," it never ceases to send a chill down my spine.

"Oily Way" is probably the catchiest track here. I doubt Gong was ever heading for any sort of mainstream success, but in my own alternate reality this would have been one of the early 70's big hits. Gilli Smyth gets another great chance to psychedelically vampl around on the strangely
dirty "Prostitute Poem."

Side two of the LP highlights Gong's instrumental prowess a little more with Daevid Allen receding just a bit on the mostly instrumental and totally spaced-out "Inner/Outer Temples," before the album ends with a few more wacked out Allen-led tracks.

Amusingly, the album comes with a small book that attempts to outline the complete story of the Radio Gnome Invisible story. It's amusing, but completely incoherant, at least without copious amounts of substances that I don;t keep around the house.

Angel's Egg really is Gong at their peak. Nevermind the story and jump into the band's wild and technicolor cound world.

Buy Me:
Gong - Angel's Egg (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 2)

18 June 2007

Gong - 1973 - Flying Teapot (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 1)

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

Gong usually falls into the progressive rock catagory, but the definition only applies superficially. They do tend to drift through many musical sections as folks like ELP do, they have ridiculous concepts for their albums, and later on the instrumental prowess is definitely in place, but the execution and character is completely different. First off when the band finds a groove, they are prone to sticking to it and not suddenly shifting gears for complexity's sake (as too many prog bands seem to do). Gong has an incredibly goofy charm and never comes off as the least bit pretentious. Cambridge export Daevid Allen is more of an oddball tour guide through an acid-fried fairy land with wife Gilli Smyth as the oversexed sidekick of sorts. This element is readily apparent on this disc.

Flying Teapot is Gong's first major foray into their Radio Gnome Invisible universe. This includes plenty of lyrics involving Pot Head Pixies and Octive Doctors. To be honest I've never been willing to dive into the Gong mythology or try to follow the "story," but the music is high quality that you don't really need to. The sound here harkens back to psychedelia's 1967-68 prime while adding enough new elements to stand out. There are plenty of infinitely echoing glissando guitars and vocals makeing everything else shimmeringly dense. As an added bonus, Steve Hillage is present (credited as Stevie Hillside on sperm guitar and slow whale) with his phenomenal space rock guitar.

The album starts out strong with "Radio Gnome" introducing Gong's sound world perfectly with wacky sound effects and vocal blurbles all set to a galaxy streaked background. "Pot Head Pixies" would have made a great rocking psych-single if not for its self defeating title (can't see the FCC happy with that one). Gilli Smyth gets her showcase near the end of the disc with the strangely nasty "Witch's Song." Apparently Gong still plays live and Gilli Smyth is somewhere around age 70. Is she still singing this with the band? The thought scares me a little, although good for her if she is.

There are two more epic tracks present, and one of them is a little bit of a downer for me. "Zero The Hero And The Witch's Spell" is classic Gong repleat with nine minutes of tripped out lyrics, amusing voice acting, and truly interstellar sounds. "Flying Teapot" often gets the accolades here, and it has some cool stuff, but the main riff is a little too derivitive sounding for my tastes. It sounds like a riff that almost every garage band stands around jamming out to. I tend to hold Gong to a slightly higher standard, but I guess we can't get a "glorious Om riff" in every song.

The other thing that keeps me from putting on the album as much is the lack of a first rate drummer. I have to admit that I discovered these albums backwards and by the time I got here I had become an unabashed Pierre Moerlen fan (although I have yet to hear his later jazz-rock version of Gong). Pip Pyle is a fine player here, but doesn't play with Moerlen's jazzy polyrhythmic intensity. As with "Flying Teapot," I'll chalk this one up to personal preferences rather than mistakes from the band.

Not quite the height of Gong's powers, Flying Teapot is awful close. I like the next two albums even better, but Flying Teapot is still a respectable and often fantastic opener to Gong's Radio Gnome Invisible set.

Note: There are a lot of shady looking reissues of the Radio Gnome albums. I have somewhat expensive Japanese issues, which more than delivers the sonic goods. I would be wary of the Charly reissues as those don't have the best reputations. Charly certaintly burned me on their terrible sounding Red Crayola reissue.

Buy Me:
Gong - Flying Teapot (Radio Gnome Invisible, Pt. 1)

13 June 2007

The Soft Machine - Volume Two (1969)

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

The Soft Machine came straight off the heels of their debut with this second volume. Of course changes were nonetheless afoot as Kevin Ayers had departed for poppier territories while the talented (and former roadie) Hugh Hopper stepped in on bass. At this point the band gained some extra instrumental chops with Hopper on board, but they weren't quite as immediate as before.

Although the jazz edge was noticable on the first album, it starts to take center stage here. I have to admit that I'm pretty much of the opinion that The Soft Machine started out with their best material and slowly went downhill, especially once drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt left. As this is the second album, things are going pretty well but the songwriting has noticably deteriorated in favor of jazzy explorations. It's a telling sign that my favorite tracks here are the two 10 second iterations of the alphabet song. The most songlike segments here are the shortest tracks.

Still more of a psychedelic tinged rock band, the Soft Machine do a respectable job jumping into trippy jazz. It's not quite electric Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock, but this band has a distinctive sound and cool jamming technique. Somehow, this disc feels like less than the sum of it's parts and seems to run longer than its 33 minute running time.

Keeping things mildly stitched together are Robert Wyatt dreamy and slightly off key vocals. He's pretty much alone here without Kevin Ayers, but maintains a charming edge that reigns in even the more chaotic tracks like "Out Of Tunes." I haven't been mentioning too many specific tunes as they all kind of blend into each in a messy, but interesting, mix.

Volume Two is a key disc by the Soft Machine, and the only album that can match the underground psych vibe of the first disc. Although a little unfocused and spotty, it still creates an otherworldly zone that can aurally transport you to other places.

Buy Me:
The Soft Machine - Volume Two

11 June 2007

The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine (1968)

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

As a child, I found this one hiding in the midst of my father's otherwise more mainstream record collection. I was never quite sure if I should have even brought it out with the naked woman hiding withing the evocatove spinning mechanical wheel cover, but I through it on and caught a spot of prime psychedelia at a nice young, impressionable age.

The early Soft Machine were at the vanguard of the underground British psychedelic scene along with the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd. For whatever reason, they were latecomers in terms of making an LP, completely missing the red-letter year of 1967. By that time, they had lost later Gong-guru Daevid Allen due to immigration issues. Even with these problems that would have completely sidelined other bands, the Soft Machine's debut remains a must-have of vintage psychedelia.

Pink Floyd often gets cited as kings of 60's Brit freakiness, but they have nothing on these guys. In this incarnation, the Soft Machine held in its ranks Cambridge troubadour Kevin Ayers on bass, who would depart for a solo career following this disc, along with the multi-talented Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, and Mike Rateledge on organ. The band was almost completely lacking in guitar, but the tumultuous buildup of jazzy drumming and organ swirls insures you'll never miss that particular six-stringed instrument.

On the exceptional opening suite "Hope For Happiness," the band takes its time with a minute-and-a-half long intro that seems almost there to insure the uncommerciality of the project. The songwriting chops here as enviable with both Ayers and Wyatt on board, but the band is fueled by its jamming prowess. This is not equivilant of a modern jam band with aimless noodling, but a jazz-inflected group with a sense of purpose marrying their excursions to some truly awesome freak-pop songs.

The top of these in my book is the Ayers' written "Lullabye Letter" which has managed to burrow its way into my head for many a year now. The lyrics are more than on the surreal side and powered with a great hook. On the other side of the equasion we find the seven minute long "So Boot At All" which includes some deep excursions into the stratosphere along with some amusingly goofy stereo effects. Somewhere between we find "I Did It Again" trying to turn it's simple repetitive hook into a mantra.

If there's any flaw here at all, it's in the lack of Kevin Ayers' vocals. I love his deep, strange bass singing, but the songs here stick around in the higher range of main vocalist Robert Wyatt. This is really just a completely subjective opinion as Robert Wyatt remains a great vocalist in his own right. I just dig Ayers a little more and wish I heard him distictively a little more.

Along with the Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, the Soft Machine's debut disc is an absolute psychedelic necessity. The Soft Machine would continue to shine for many years, taking a much more jazz inflected role in the process, but for me the band never quite matched this one.

Buy Me:
The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine

06 June 2007

Sandy Salisbury - Do Unto Others (1969)

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3 out of 5

Do Unto Others is a post-Millennial (as in the band, not the year) blast of sunshine pop from 1969. The billed artist, Sandy Salisbury was a close Curt Boettcher cohort showing up in the Ballroom, Sagittarius and the Millennium. Although his contributions to those bands like "5 AM" were often very strong, this sustained dose of Salisbury is a little hit or miss.

The good spots here belong a space on the shelf right next to the best of other Boettcher-produced sunshine pop. He's still on board here as producer and also logs in with two co-writing credits. "Spell On Me," "The Good Ol' Times," and "Once I Knew A Little Dog" all could have rated a spot on Begin a year earlier. Well, the last of those has awful lyrics, but the sound remains quite ethereal. Even on the lesser songs, there's usually a production trick or two to increase the tune's interest. For example, "Come Softly" is basically a harmonic vocal exercise, but gets a little more textured with the insertion of sound effects near the end. On the more negative side, the strange muddying halfway through "I Just Don't Know How To Say Goodbye" sounds pretty ill-conceived to my ears. Even on the lesser tracks, however, Salisbury's singing voice is extremely strong and is perfectly fitted for sunshine pop.

The weakness here is that Salisbury just isn't a top flight songwriter. Something like "Baby Listen" or "Come Softly" succeed in creating a cool vibe, but tends to echo better songs from earlier in the decade. He's great at presenting himself as a laid back pop troubadour, but these recordings are often missing an inspired spark. Unfortunately, when Salisbury takes on an A-list cover with Brian Wilson's Smile-era "With Me Tonight," it ends up sounding like something out of a Vegas spectacular.

Being 1969, there are also some touches of dusty, faux-cowboy rock showing up here. It's usually in measured doses. No one's going to confuse this with, oh, Poco (let's leave Gram Parsons out of this). Only on "The Hills Of Vermont" does this instinct completely take over to mixed results.

This is far from the main stage of the L.A. rock scene, or even Curt Boettcher's productions. There's still enough here to sate the truly obsessed and Do Unto Others remains a pleasant, if rarely mindblowing, listening experience.

Sandy Salisbury's solo recordings have been anthologized in several different collections in the past 10 years or so. I'm not sure if Do Unto Others is the best of these, although it's certaintly a fine collection and happens to be the one I came across. There is a disc entitled Sandy that at least has more bonus tracks. Do what you must.

Buy Me:
Sandy Salisbury - Do Unto Others

The Ballroom - Preparing For The Millennium (1966)

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3 out of 5

I discussed this slab of Curt Boettcher produced sunshine pop in my very first posting. I didn't, however, provide a posting for the tunes. So here it is. Along with a short recap of the review:

This disc presents the Boettcher-led Ballroom's rejected LP. It's a not-bad collection of sunshine pop with a few slight hints of psychedelia. Think of it as a second rate Mamas and Papas. The first two tracks, "Spinning, Spinning, Spinning" and "Love's Fatal Way" are worthwhile am radio style pop, and there is the great tune "Would You Like To Go," which Sagittarius later reused. It's here in a mono mix (as this album is in mono). Another Sagittarius track present here is "Musty Dusty." Unfortunately, this ultra-syrupy ode to childhood was by far my least favorite track on Sagittarius' Present Tense, and it remains so here.

Buy Me:
The Millennium/The Ballroom- Magic Time

03 June 2007

Manuel Gottsching/Ash Ra Tempel IV - Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975)

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

OK, let's get one thing out of the way straight off. Worst. Album. Cover. Ever. I really don't know what Mr. Gottsching and/or his promoters were thinking of with this gag reflex worthy cover image, but I'd be more than happy to throw this in the lot with the likes of Tino and Devastatin' Dave (go here straightaway if you don;t know what I'm talking about: http://salamitsunami.com/archives/91). But, fortunately we can't always judge a book (or album) by it's cover and the contents here are spectacular.

I'm not sure quite whom to credit this to. The original Ash Ra Tempel had pretty much split by this point, and the only artist we hear on this disc is Manuel Gottsching, whose name is bigger on the cover than the band's. After this Gottsching would reduce the band's name to Ashra, but I'm gonna call this one a solo album.

This is in fact a solo album in the strictest sense of the word. Every sound here is created by Gottsching's enviable guitar. In an Eno/Fripp-like fashion, he has layered many delayed and echoed bits of guitar, occasionally punctuated by an acid-style lead. Also like the Eno/Fripp recordings, the compositions here represent a major precusor to ambient music.

Ash Ra Tempel was one of the leading kraut rock bands, fusing the experimental side of the Can along with the electronic glide of early Kraftwerk and Neu!. On this disc the sound has been distilled to it's essence, and it's truly a propelled glide into space. As well it should be with song titles like "Echo Waves," "Quasarsphere," and "Pluralis."

"Echo Waves" and "Pluralis" work on the dame modus operandi, with slowly shifting delayed guitar patterns serving as a foundation for some strange processed guitar sound effects and an occasional lead. The much shorter "Quasarsphere," sandwiched in the middle, is an even more ambient exercise missing the delayed framework of the other tracks.

This is a perfect album to zone out to, and heralds a major stylistic shift from the more rock (if avant garde, freak rock) sound of Ash Ra Tempel. Gottsching continues to mine this vein of more electronic music to this day, but on Inventions For Electric Guitar he managed to hit upon a ripe vein which continues to sound ahead of its time.

Buy Me:
Ash Ra Tempel - Inventions For Electric Guitar