30 December 2008

Kadura - 1997 - From the Depths of the Other Space

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

Here's a Japanese band that treads similar folky/spaced out sound to their countrymen in Ghost. I'd go as far to say that I actually prefer these guys at the end of the day. Although I wouldn't say their vocals are the best, they do fit in that 'monk-screaming-at-the-temple' sort of vibe, and the music has no problem working that angle. These guys are pretty loud, but they pretty much avoid the 'metal' tag entirely and instead dabble in a very loud psychedelic Japanese folk style.

"Beginning to Eternity" is a very darkly hued invocation to the strange ceremony that these folks are about to commence with. "Travel to Faraway" does just that with its 12 minute running time, the massive sounding percussion mingling with the warbling vocals. Kadura has no issue sticking with a psychedelicized Japanese folk groove. "Oceanic Element" gives us a sea of shimmering guitars, and move is like a short tour of hell. I keep equating these tunes with dark imagery, but I think there is a high enjoyability factor present in this music. "Inner Trance" blasts you back above the surface, only to float with the storm clouds of "Sky Heart." The closing "A Distant Land" brings in a bit more of the noise, recalling the sludgy freak-outs of Acid Mothers Temple (although I wouldn't say Kadura is quite as extreme).

This album is like a journey through the bleaker corners of Japanese folklore. That is to say that while it definitely evokes a dim palette, there's more than enough character and groove in these songs to keep you from getting depressed or anything. It's like a mystical event occurring right at the edge of your peripheral vision.

29 December 2008

Brainticket - 1972 - Psychonaut

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

I guess that for all intents and purposes, this is Brainticket's pop album. It's lacking the extreme freak outs that color Cottonwood Hill, and while it pushes against the envelope, it doesn't gleefully plow through as the band tends to do on other releases. What we do get here are top notch, assured performances, and by far the band's best songwriting. This is pretty awesome, 70's-style psych rock. It's not a bad introduction to the band; sometimes it's nice to become somewhat comfortable with musicians before they completely blow your mind.

The first couple tracks are very liquid and chill. I especially dig the chiming piano line and delayed percussion that grace "One Morning." Things pick up noticeably for the balls out "Watchin' You." Dawn Muir's vocals cut through the thick brew, piercing with absolute conviction. It doesn't hurt to have a nice face-melting guitar solo thrown in the middle too. "Like a Place in the Sun" is a jazzy display of the band instrumental prowess while Muir is at her wackiest for this particular album. "Coco Mary" is a very pounding, driving track with a cool marimba break catching the listener off guard.

This is probably the most consistently listenable Brainticket release. The catch is that you're not hearing their 8th ring of Saturn, cosmically deranged sounds, but you do get some fine songs and
a band playing with almost telepathic communication. I suppose that in Can terms, this would be their Ege Bamyasi, and I don't feel that's a bad thing at all.

Entheogens - 1995 - The Gnostic Mass

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.75 out of 5

I'd say that the band's name is a pretty dead give away that we're going to find a pretty psychedelic slab of music on this release. Now, information about the Entheogens is not the easiest to come by, but from what I can gather this is a Swedish collective, with this album being a series of jams. I envision that they are spending the winter in a Swedish cabin, buried in snow, but with an enviable collection of acoustic instruments and a seasonal supply of magic mushrooms at hand. It's worth noting that I didn't realize that this album is an almost a completely acoustic affair until several listens in. These folks create a very tranced-out and dynamic vibe that we typically expect with more electronically manipulated music (although I guess the Indians often hit that mark acoustically). I think there's only electric guitar deep in the mix and we occasionally get an organ blast.

"The Dance of the Priestess" a slowly building dervish melody. It's a little of a drum circle vibe, but as done by experts rather than stoned weirdos in the park. "Fire at Will" is the shortest and most conventional thing here; the sound is much more smoothed out and slick, reaching towards more of a new age vibe. Fortunately, they don't get all the way to new age land, and once again show their skills at achieving a satisfying, extended, musical buildup. The 22 minute long best is saved for last. "10 Pan" is one of those transportative tracks that open up doors in your mind with it's evocative and image-inducing sounds. We get several build-ups, walls of percussion, and a couple blasts of acid-seared wah guitar.

This album seems to have fallen deep between the cracks, but is fully deserving of your attention. It really does seem to make your listening space become the stage for some sort of psychedelic, pagan ritual. The cover is enticing enough; won't you step inside?

Limbus 3 - 1969 -Cosmic Music Experience

Quality: 2 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5 (but it's a bad trip)

When you get right down to it, krautrock had a pretty steep learning curve. The first efforts from folks like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (as Organization) were pretty awful, and even Can showed some serious improvement over their first few records. I'd happily admit that Amon Duul is an exception to this rule as their first release is classic, but not these guys. Track down the Limbus 4 album (on this site if you wish) for an enjoyable cosmic music experience. This release, however, is more of the plinking and plunking trial and error and questionable experimentation that the krautrockers had to get out of their systems. I'd say that this is probably a little better than the truly cacophonous Electronic Meditation by Tangerine Dream, but it's really comparing rotten apples with moldy cheese.

Anyway, "Oneway Trip" is one I'd like to stay home for with the track's free jazz bass mingling with horrific and annoying bowed sounds. "New Atlantis" is more of the same, but more manic... for 22 minutes. Sandwiched in between are a couple of short tracks I find more enjoyable. "Valiha" recalls some ancient market place with mysterious dulcimer-like tones and simple percussion. "Breughel's Hochzeitstanz" is back to the screeching strings, but at least it's only two minutes long. So I guess it's not so much that I like it as that it goes away quickly. This means that I only really enjoy about three minutes of this album.

No, I'm not really giving this any sort of recommendation. The reasons that I'd imagine you'd listen to this is that you're a krautrock historian or completist, or you're simply mentally cracking. I think I fit in the former category.... hopefully.

20 December 2008

The Taj Mahal Travellers - 1974 - August 1974

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

This music is pretty far out there, and seems to me to be the Japanese equivalent of the most deranged kraut rock. Using a variety of acoustics and a barrage of electronic instruments, the Taj Mahal Travellers attempted to reach as far into the sonic frontier as they could on an album side. Live, I can easily imagine that they'd continue until they simply passed out.

I have a pretty high appreciation for this album, but as the "4" rating above suggests, something doesn't completely click for me here. When we consider music this ambient and/or avant garde, it's often hard to put a finger on it, but I think it has something to do with their use of jarring noises in the middle of otherwise relaxing passages. I'd prefer to float into the ether. Another very subjective criticism would be their occasional tendency to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. That said, the first track probably ranks as the most etherial one with panning. buzzing electronic noises on top of a sea of ringing bells, marimbas, and electronic tones. Eventually some spaced-out wordless vocals enter the mix too. The second tracks produces a wall of shimming, amorphous sound (complete with kotos deep in the mix) before thinning out into a 'monks of doom' sounding choral section. "III" plunges into really avant garde sounds ala Can's "Peking O," while the final track makes me think of a prototype, way more experimental version of something Kitaro would have done when he was making music that didn't suck.

There is a lot of avant garde variation at work on this album, and it definitely one of the more psychedelic bits of music to crop up from Japan. Use it as aural room decor and see if it fits or not. It costs about the same as room decor with the current Amazon price tag of $359 for the 2001 vinyl reissue.

Maurice McIntyre - 1969 - Humility

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

I keep getting the wrong name for this album, calling it Insanity instead. I'd wager that this is a legitimate Freudian slip as Maurice McIntyre's attempt to fuse Coltrane/Sun Ra-like free jazz with somewhat American Indian sounding chanting is often pretty insane sounding. It probably doesn't help that McIntyre often sounds more like a crazy dude on a street corner than a shaman, but it does make for a pretty entertaining listen.

There's not a whole lot of sonic variation on this album. We typically get a very Sun Ra like backing with Coltrane style leads (and Sun Ra cohort John Gilmore would also be a clear antecedent), sprinkled with the aforementioned chanting. The good news is that if you dig the first track, chances are you'll like the entire album, and if you don't, you can feel safe flinging it out your nearest window. Sure, there are some compositional differences. "Pluto Calling" could fit directly on a mid-60's Sun Ra album, while "Humility in the Light of the Creator" provides a lyrical, "Love Supreme," sort of saxophone line. Then for all out free-jazz freakiness, I refer you to "Life Force" and the extended "Ensemble Fate."

McIntyre's Humility feels more like a tributary than a mainline expression of avant-garde jazz. If you're already into that sort of thing, you'll likely find something interesting here. If nothing else, the oddball chanting must be heard to be believed.

09 December 2008

William Basinski - 2001 - The Disintegration Loops I-IV

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

This collection of sounds really rates more as an experience than music. The concept at work here came about purely by accident. Basinski intended to simply convert some loops from tape to digital. Unfortunately (at first), his tape machine was slowly destroying the tapes. In a stroke of inspiration, Basinski simply let the tapes run on to their end, and that's exactly what we hear on this album. No music is really being legitimately played, and we hear only the sounds of slow decay. As a strange coincidence, Basinski converted and thereby intentionally destroyed some of these tapes with the smoke of 9/11 billowing over his NYC apartment (I think I saw a very well done 9/11 documentary that used this and ambient street sounds alone on its soundtrack to account for the events of that day; unfortunately I saw the doc on TV before becoming familiar with these discs, so I'm not entirely sure). Far from exploitational, this drives home the concept of mortality as the tapes degrade. This makes the music potentially depressing, but I find the loops far more intellectually stimulating than simply being depressing would entail. I think it's best to view this as a zen experience as we hear something beautiful fade away into absolute oblivion.

The loops themselves are mostly ambient sounding orchestral bits. Yes, this are intensely repetitive sounds, and just by listening, you would notice little change. If you skip around, though, you'll find that over time there are major changes to the loops until they finally sputter beyond the veil of any defined sounds. The tracks go on as long as is needed for the sounds to disintegrate. The shorter ones run out of gas in about 10 minutes or so, but some of the loops go on for more than an hour. All in all, there are four distinct loops heard in various stages on different tracks

This is the last thing that you're going to grab for your next party, and I would wager than this is best experienced in solitude. If you put in the effort to really listen to these very avant-garde sounds, I think you may find the dividends very rewarding. If you have any interest in ambient drones (like Coil's Time Machines), you very well may consider this an absolute masterpiece. As the rating above suggests, I do.

04 December 2008

Dr. Schluss' Best of 2008

Here are my top ten albums for 2008. Pretty much all of them have at least some kind of psychedelic flourish, but I do run a psychedelic blog. With all the older music I review on this sight, I think it's important to keep in mind all the great music that's being released in the present. I've included a few of my own recent compositions, too. It's not that I think they're the best of the year as I do with the other tracks, it's just my shameless ploy to get more listeners.

Here's a rundown (in order) of my favorites from 2008:

10. Alegranza by El Guincho - With the electronic freak-folk of Panda Bear's already classic "Person Pitch" as a starting point, El Guincho turns psychedelic atmospherics into a wild, percussive party in the pulsing heart of Barcelona.

9. Real Emotional Trash by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Malkmus seems to be comfortably settling into some kind of indie jam band mode. I'm not typically one for jam bands, but his songwriting is top-notch and I have to admit that I prefer this to Malkmus' former band, Pavement.

8. Smile by Boris - Boris continues to be the best current metal band out there, and the psychedelic accents, especially on the tracks with Ghost's guitarist Michio Kurihara, really make this the thinking man's metallic noise. While this album is exceptional, it still doesn't compare to their live barrage of sound. See them if you get the chance.

7. Preteen Weaponry by Oneida - These in-your-face walls of mostly instrumental sound produces an intensity that no one else quite matched this year. Bury your mind under these sheets of guitar and pounding percussion. It ends up in a sweet spot between post-rock and noise band aesthetics.

6. High Places by High Places - With plunking production and cute-in-a-good-way female vocals, High Places' debut LP comes across as island music transmitted from Neptune.

5. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel by Atlas Sound - Brandon Cox (of Deerhunter) shifted his main band's guitar driven atmospherics into the world of electronics and managed to create what may be the trippiest album that showed up this year.

4. That Lucky Old Sun by Brian Wilson - Brian Wilson may never again scale the heights of "Pet Sounds" again, but at age 66 he has managed to make music that matches the Beach Boys' 1965 pop prime, and that's more than good enough. This is the best sunshine pop you'll hear in the 21 century.

3. Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. by Deerhunter - Deerhunter takes their hazy guitarscapes and blends them well with 60's AM pop sensibilities. It's like being stuck between two amazing radio stations. See them live for an even more mindbending experience.

2. Skeletal Lamping by Of Montreal - Kevin Barnes' stumbles into uncharted territory as he melds his trademark psych-pop and electro-pop with his deranged alter-ego of a middle aged, transsexual, black funk singer. The disturbing thing is it works really well. The music changes often and drifts through about every possible pop genre, so hold on tight.

1. Just a Souvenir by Squarepusher - These are the electronic results of a wild and trippy dream about a surreal 'ultragig.' The results do not disappoint, nor do Squarepusher's phenomenal string bass skills. How could you go wrong when your concept revolves around a giant, glowing coathanger?

This are new releases, so I will not be treating you to the full albums, but you're more than welcome to the following sampling:

Track Listing:
1. The Release Will Come Soon - Glaze of Cathexis (3:02)
2. An Eluardian Instance - Of Montreal (4:35)
3. Vision's the First - High Places (3:37)
4. Operation - Deerhunter (4:04)
5. Antillas - El Guincho (5:28)
6. Planet Gear - Squarepusher (4:02)
7. Gardenia - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (2:53)
8. Live Let Live/That Lucky Old Sun (reprise) - Brian Wilson (2:34)
9. Paradise Drone - Damaged Tape (4:19)
10. Cold as Ice - Atlas Sound (3:33)
11. Flower Sun Rain - Boris (5:35)
12. Preteen Weaponry Part 2 - Oneida (11:26)
Total Time: (55:08)
97.3 MB

Listen To Me:
Dr. Schluss' Best of 2008

30 November 2008

Dr. Schluss' Psychedelic Pop Explosion!!!

Howdy, folks! I'm not really a big compilation guy on this blog, but I wanted to get together a primer that might help folks become more familiar with the stuff they'll find here. Of course, I've been doing this blog for almost two years and I quickly realized that I couldn't really get an accurate statistical analysis of the entire thing. Thus, I invite you to unleash the more psychedelically poppy sorts of sounds upon your ear. Well, by poppy I guess I mean catchy tracks that generally fit into a pop music structure, but the sounds are certainly demented. Most of the tracks you'll find here are straight from the prime late 60's era of psychedelic weirdness. I've tried to avoid the folks that you've heard on the Nuggets' compilations, although I can't vouch about Pebbles (never really listened to those much). Anyway, give these tracks a listen and then fearlessly plunge into the Psychedelic Garage archives if you dare.

Track Listing:
1. Sweet December - The David (3:07)
2. (We Are) Dream Vendors - The Merchants of Dream (3:42)
3. Psyche Rock - Pierre Henry & Michel Colombier (2:38)
4. Jolly Mary - July (2:20)
5. Cancer (The Moon Child) - The Zodiac (3:29)
6. Whole Earth Rhythm - Saddhu Brand (3:22)
7. Wild Bill Hickock Rides Again - The Open Window (2:50)
8. Quem Twm Medo de Brincar de Amor - Os Mutantes (3:44)
9. 2086 - Bit' A Sweet (3:15)
10. At the Third Stroke - Picadilly Line (3:01)
11. Land of Sensations & Delights - J.K. and Co. (1:46)
12. Walking in the Forest (Of My Mind) - Paul Perrish (2:43)
13. Girl on a Swing - Kevin Ayers (2:49)
14. Cardboard Watch - The End (2:54)
15. Black Sunshine - Kennelmus (2:50)
16. Baby, Let Me Show You Where I Live - Chrysalis (2:35)
17. The Island - The Millennium (3:21)
18. Gas Board Under - Skip Bifferty (2:19)
19. My Sorrow - Chico Magnetic Band (3:07)
20. No - Rainbow Ffolly (2:58)
21. Blue Poppy - Mort Garson & Jacques Wilson (6:51)
22. A Little Star - The Orient Express (2:21)
23. End of the World - Aphrodite's Child (3:19)
Total Time - (1:11:21)
121 MB

Listen to Me:
Dr. Schluss' Psychedelic Pop Explosion!!! (Part One)
Dr. Schluss' Psychedelic Pop Explosion!!! (Part Two)

Los Brujos - 1991 - Fin de Semana Salvaje

Quality: 3.5 out of 5

Argentinean alternative band Los Brujos got involved in the local scene in 1988. Combining '60s beat sounds and '80s hardcore-metal, Los Brujos was pointed out as an experimental group. In addition, their theatrical performances, where musicians created a special atmosphere around them, made Los Brujos a very special rock act. Daniel Melero produced their first album, called Fin De Semana Salvaje, in 1992; soon, their song "Kanishka" hit the charts. In 1993, San Cipriano was released, followed by 1995's Guerra De Nervios, which had contributions by Gustavo Cerati and Juana La Loca's dummer Aitor Graña. The band announced its breakup in 1998.

Los Brujos somos un grupo de rock que renueva la escena musical de los 90, encabezando el denominado Nuevo Rock Argentino. Nuestro sonido es el beatcore, brindamos unos shows hiper energéticos, y poseemos un vestuario único.

No hay mucho más para decir!!!!!

Babasónicos - 1994 - Trance Zomba

Quality: 5 ( for an Argentinian rock band!)

Here`s one of my favourite argentinian bands, they made really good stuff till 2000 (in my opinion). Dig it.

Babasónicos' name is based on a tribute to Hindu prophet Baba combined with the name of a popular cartoon from the '70s. Singer Adrián Rodríguez, keyboardist Uma-T, guitarist Mariano Roger Sónico, bassist Gabo, percussionist Diego Uma, and drummer Diego Castellano recorded Pasto in 1992. That album included their hit song called "De-generación." As the popularity of this Latin rock group was growing, chances to play along with major bands came soon. In 1994, Babasónicos was the opening act to INXS, Soul Asylum, and Depeche Mode. That same year, Trance Zomba was released. In August of 1995, Babasónicos participated in an Argentinean festival called Nuevo Rock, having the chance to play along with Peligrosos Gorriones and Los Brujos, consolidating their presence in the local scene.

28 November 2008

Okko Bekker - 1971 - Sitar and Electronics

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

I'll admit that I have no clue who Okko Bekker is beyond the sounds on this album. It's basically one of those lounge-exploitation affairs where the producers use some unconventional instrumentation to hide the fact that the basic charts provide for music that would be perfect at a 1957 corporate martini party. Mr. Bekker chose to use sitar, and electronics (duh), and tabla, and fuzzed-out guitars (ooh!). All of these things hit my soft spot, so I'm pretty entertained by this album.

Most of the tracks are funky, Bollywood-ready instrumentals that portend to create some kind of Indian imagery. I don't know; I doubt the "Ganges Delta" comes across nearly as 'groovy-like' as it does here, but between the sitar and freaky synth lead, I don't care. There's a psychedelic lounge cover of the Beatles "If I Needed Someone," which is pretty fun, and a barely recognizable rendition of "A Day in the Life." "Himalaya Highway" sounds ready for play in your more confused local Indian restaurant, and "Shiva's Lullabye" is a far finer way to make a chill lounge track than by using 101 strings. "Painted Sails on Ganges" actually manages to be an extended track in a genre where songs tend to stay short, and it's a perfect track for the low-rent, basement psychedelic shack. "Santana" doesn't really sound like that band apart from some percussive similarities, but it does mix sitar and synth on the melody line in a truly odd way.

I can't say that this is any sort of classic, although it's definitely a few cuts above the typical psychedelic exploitation. I can say that it's wildly entertaining for myself, and you may find yourself a fan of its grooviness too. Let me say it one more time: groovy.

Popol Vuh - 1974 - Einsjager & Seibenjager

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

That title deserves a couple of umlauts, but I'm not quite smart enough to know how to get them in there. Anyway, the more important matter at hand is obviously this album, which is quite good, but very disappointing for those that drool over the band early interstellar sounds. At this point, Popol Vuh becomes a much more conventional rock band. Yes, they play well. Yes, new guitarist Daniel Fichelscher contributes some great space rock guitar parts. But I'll be damned if this doesn't sound like a band that would perform at a jam band tribute to Pink Floyd or something.

"Kleiner Kleiner" is a watered-down, but still potent suggestion of the band's mysterious tones, but "King Minos" is a better example of Popol Vuh's new M.O. There are touches of prog and the typical seventies rockin' sound that seem like an unfortunate retreat from the frontier that Fricke explored on albums past. Once you've explored the outer realms of sound, it's sort of a killjoy to return. The first side of the album does present a consistently high quality, and there are plenty of nice folk and space rock moments, but it comes across almost as generic for me. The side long title track seems like it could be a return to exploration, but it's really just several jam band-like sounds strewn about a 20 minute period with a couple of more ambient segues.

I've been throwing around the jam band term a lot here. There is far more of a sense of purpose and inspired instrumental command than you're likely to hear on a Phish or Widespread Panic disc, but this album still makes me think of those band while their earlier stuff (and most of the music I review on this site) does not. This isn't bad stuff, it just feels like serious underachieving from what should be a great band.

Buy Me:
Popol Vuh - 1974 - Einsjager & Seibenjager

Popol Vuh - 1972 - Hosianna Mantra

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

Now, I suppose that it may make me a little grinchy, but I really don't like 99% of the Christmas music that I come across. I usually find the melodies far too predictable and the typically 'warm' instrumentation annoying. Florian Fricke was not out to make Christmas music with the third Popol Vuh LP, Hosianna Mantra, but some of those Christmas characteristics do rear their ugly heads in the music presented here. Apparently, Fricke had decided to become a more hardcore follower of the Christian faith, and the concepts here very much reflect that. That's not really a problem (although it tends to be a bad omen, the prime example being Dylan's 'Christian' albums), but somehow his new-found faith also convinced him to chuck the Moog and focus primarily on more organic sounds. Here it manages to work pretty well, but as the 70's rolled on, I don't think Popol Vuh's music quite managed to create the otherworldly vibes the the first two albums (and the first side of this one) did. Basically we're looking at a pretty good transitional album with Hosianna Mantra; I just don't really like where the transition was going.

Side one is the keeper here, and best refelects what Julian Cope referred to as psychedelic music for a convalescent home. Fricke seems to be eternally rolling around on his piano on the Hosianna Mantra suite, and he's accompanied by plenty of horns, treated pianos, and other such accouterments. The big standouts, though, are the liquid, delayed guitars of Conny Veit, and the soaring vocals of Djong Yun which commence on the second track. The first side is a pretty major departure from the Popol Vuh sound that we heard on the earlier albums, but it is just as effective in creating a distinct sound world. I'm not so hep towards the second side. "Das V Buch Mose," which is arranged as a side-long suite, falls to what I feel is the Christmas music curse. Right at the start we get a flute part that sounds like it was ripped straight off of a Windham Hill Christmas sampler. Sure there's a sitar in the background for added effect, but that doesn't sate the odd feeling in my stomach. The short "Andacht" sections are pretty cool, but "Segung" provides Yun with a vocal line containing too much syrup (granted the instrumental here works relatively well), and "Nicht Hoch" comes across as a slightly psychedelicized "Silent Night."

There is a lot here worth your attention. For those of you with a ear for warm holiday sounds, you might even rate this as your favorite Popol Vuh album. But some of us psychonauts out there may wish that Fricke had not ejected the electronics and focused more on the otherworldly melodies that cropped up on the first two albums and even the title suite of this one.

Buy Me:
Popol Vuh - 1972 Hosianna Mantra

13 November 2008

Popol Vuh - 1971 - In den Garten Pharaos

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

This is a close kin to the previous album, Affenstunde, but Florian Fricke and his small crew did a fine job innovating the sounds they pioneered on that 1970 release. This is widescreen mystical music, finding an awesome balance between the cold, deep space tones of Fricke's Moog and the the warm, primitive percussive sounds. I do not hesitate to call this one of the cornerstones of electronic music. It's not too hard to imagine modern sequencing and pro tool technology rendering this as IDM ('intelligent dance music' for those that may not know), but I prefer this one just the way it is.

The opening track communicates its imagery perfectly, and I always appreciate music that I can describe in non-musical terms. We stand on the shores of the celestial ocean (or Nile as the title seems to suggest) as the god-like entities slowly enter, scouting the land for possibilities and bringing in their royal processionals. Eventually the building block for human civilization are introduced, both figuratively and literally. Reaching into the future, all traces of man are erased, leaving us with only the sound of receding waters. The organ-like, sunburst sounds of "Vuh" follow as our tour of the great beyond. The sounds combine over 14 minutes, attempting to attain that cosmic OM sound (or maybe Vuh in this context). I'm not quite sure how to fit the organ and detuned Moog sounds coda into my tale, but it certainly sounds fine. The bonus tracks here are a great addition, although they definitely do not fit the tone of the album proper. Forming what may as well be considered an EP, "Kha-White Structures" is much more overtly psychedelic and trance-like. My imagery here typically involves the idea of creatures living inside of of your multicolored-DNA who want to teach you about reality (I should mention that I'm not completely making this up - this somewhat arguable idea comes from Graham Hancock's book Supernatural).

We have here music that demands creativity from the listener. That means that you need to give this a dedicated listen to really appreciate it. The imagery it suggests is the gold at the end of the psychedelic rainbow. I'm happy to give this one my highest recommendation.

Buy Me:
Popol Vuh - 1971 - In den Garten Pharaos

Popol Vuh - 1970 - Affenstunde

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

Popol Vuh is the name of the Mayan holy texts. It is also the name of one of the premier krautrock band, although the mystical implications of the former meaning shine through clearly on this record. Florian Fricke, the band's leader and visionary, seems to have been trying to reach for primitive sounds through cutting-edge technology at this point of his career. He was one of the first in Germany to use a Moog synthesizer, and those extra-terrestrial sounds are often juxtaposed with walls of percussion on this collection. It still manages to come across as sound ahead of its time.

The first side of the original LP is a suite entitled "Ich Mache Einen Speigel," which translates to "I make a mirror." I suppose the shimmering synthesizer sounds and clanging percussion would certainly support this idea, but I get a very different image in my head. I see our ancestors seeking shelter in a dark, damp, and forlorn cave many years past. They tentatively creep out as the spring arrives and begin their hunting anew. Then winter arrives with the third section of the suite. Following that 20 minute piece is the eighteen-and-a-half minute long title track. It's is very good, but much more in line with the sounds of contemporary Tangerine Dream. But the fact that Fricke already had a Moog at that time and Tangerine Dream did not gives this one distinct and impressive coloring. There's a nice bonus track also present on the recent rerelease which picks up the pace a bit with some chugging synthesized train percussion, and actually makes for a pretty nice addition even considering the flow of the album

I think I'm in the minority here, but I feel that Popol Vuh began at the peak of their powers and slowly de-evolved into less-interesting and more conventional krautrock (if there is such a thing) and 70's bloated psych-rock sounds. As such, I see Affenstunde as one of the band's magnum opuses (the next one also deserves that tag) as they tear open the curtains of time to reveal mystical and otherworldly sounds.

Buy Me:
Popol Vuh - 1970 - Affenstunde

08 November 2008

Wendy Carlos - 1974 - Switched-on Bach II

Carlos saw the Moog voice as valid on its own terms, which may be one reason why this album still stands out today, when compared with some of the more flamboyant work that followed from others, such as Isao Tomita -- everything here is musical, with no sound effects to speak of until near the finale (and even that is restrained); and the Moog is working in its own "voice," rather than overtly imitating other, non-electronic instruments.

Wendy Carlos - 1972 - Sonic Seasonings

The same year Carlos finalized the score for A Clockwork Orange, the composer recorded a double album named Sonic Seasonings; it was a complete turn away from the majestic synthesizer soundscapes and classical inspirations that had marked the movie score. Instead, Carlos recorded large amounts of environmental passages to produce a work that cycled through the four seasons. Beginning with bird calls and a thunderstorm to mark "Spring," Carlos phrases the synthesizers only in terms of the nature sounds heard. They rarely interject themselves, and the result is closer to a nature recording with occasional effects than a synthesizer recording with nature sounds. Of course, there was no precedent for "nature," "environmental," or even "new age" music in 1972 -- Sonic Seasonings was basically the genesis for several entire genres of music two decades later. As part of East Side Digital's Carlos CD reissue campaign, Sonic Seasonings was issued as a two-disc set, including the original LP plus a second disc of "natural" recordings, originally begun in 1986 and known as Land of the Midnight Sun.

Dr. Schluss' ratings:
Quality: 5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 5 out of 5
(I should probably mention that this album happens to be one of my all time favorites; thanks Pablo!)

31 October 2008

The Essex Green - 2000 - The Essex Green

Quality: 3.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5

The Essex Green EP followed their debut LP by a few months, but it's unfortunately a little bit of a step back. I think the band wanted to make their music more contemporary-sounding, but to do that they sacrificed one of their strengths by clearing up the haze in their productions. They also managed to accentuate one of their weaknesses as the vocals here are completely rooted in 90's indie rock, unfortunately destroying the illusion of a quality 60's psych pop disc as they managed on about half of their debut LP. But let's not stay negative; there is some fine material here.

The standout by far is the opening track "Fabulous Day." Although my complaint about the vocals remain, it's not too bad here and the song is extremely well written. The psychedelic slithering of the instruments in the tracks is quite enjoyable to behold. "Trees" isn't too bad either, but "Chester" make me want to vomit my Lucky Charms, and "New Orleans" is a B-list cosmic country rock track that doesn't hold a candle to Gram Parsons (or Beachwood Sparks, who manage a good cosmic country sound contemporary to the Essex Green). We finally get some worthwhile sounds with the probing "Bald," although the songwriting is nowhere near the quality of the first track.

Basically, I would only give "Fabulous Day" a full thumbs up for your discerning attention. You really need to hear Everything Is Green first. But if you are in fact having a fabulous day, then this bite-sized chunk of music may rub you the right way.

The Essex Green - 1999 - Everything Is Green

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

The Essex Green are another group of neo-psych rockers affiliated with the Elephant 6 recording collective. Their specialty is refracting pastoral acid folk through a psych pop prism, and they're not too bad at the job. At their best the recordings osund like they could have come straight out of Joe Boyd's studio around 1968, although the Essex Green does have the occasional nasty tendency to revert to 90's indie rock cliches, especially in terms of the vocals (for example the cutesy female vocals on "The Playground"). Fortunately, the cover art does a great job of implanting a psychological suggestion that you're holding onto the real deal. This looks about right sitting next to an ISB or Stone Poneys album. Truth be told, I originally bought this about eight years ago based pretty much on the cover art.

Although a few things here do make me cringe, let's look at the highlights. "Primrose" is a very convincing amped-up acid folk track, and would probably sit unnoticed on a Nuggets-type compilation, despite being recorded about 30 years off the mark. "Grass" is a very hazy, atmospheric folk dirge that leaves no question about what kind of grass they're referring to. I especially dig the slightly phased vocals. "Tinker" is the only extended track here, and it recalls one of the better bands that you'd hear pounding away on some forlorn stage in a 60's psychedelic exploitation film. "Sixties" works well musically musically with its folk-rock-with-sitars sound, but the lyrics on this one are a touch cringeworthy. Speaking of cringing, "The Playground," "Mrs. Bean," "Saturday," and "The Sun" contain too much sugar for my soul. These are also the tracks where the vocals end up sounding like an anachronism. This particularly scars "The Sun," which I want to like but just don't.

This is a very pleasurable, if flawed album. For the most part the Essex Green aims for a pretty convincing retread of the 60's psych-pop scene, but the moments out of character do prevent this one from really doing the job properly. If you want to hear a band do it completely successfully, then I refer you to the Olivia Tremor Control's proper LPs. Still, there are several tracks present here that I wouldn't want to live without, and maybe you'd be a little happier with them in your life too. This is pretty happy music, even when they're trying to be melancholy.

26 October 2008

Wendy Carlos - 1972 - A Clockwork Orange

Quality: 5 out of 5

Even before Carlos knew of a film project concerning A Clockwork Orange, the composer had begun work on a composition (Timesteps) based on the book. It's the best piece of music in the score (and one of the most famed in the early history of electronic music), fitting in well next to late-'60s minimalist works by Terry Riley as well as the emerging Tangerine Dream (pre-Phaedra). Carlos also pioneered the effect of synthesized vocals (known as a vocoder), and their eerie nature perfectly complemented scenes from the film.

Much of the rest of A Clockwork Orange is filled with rather cloying synthesizer versions of familiar classical pieces (from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, Rossini's The Thieving Magpie) similar to Carlos' previous Switched-On Bach recordings. Still, it's worthwhile if only for Timesteps. A Clockwork Orange was originally released as a Warner Bros. soundtrack, containing only film cuts (which edited Timesteps down from 13 minutes to only four). Though Carlos released another version with more music, that issue was superseded in 1998 by the release of A Clockwork Orange: Complete Original Score by East Side Digital in the label's comprehensive reissue program.

Wendy Carlos - 1969 - The Well-Tempered Synthesize

Quality: 5 out of 5

Pressed for a sequel to Switched-On Bach, the unexpectedly hot-selling breakthrough album for the synthesizer, Wendy Carlos temporarily shelved plans to move out of the 18th century and instead came up with an album that is, in some ways, even better than its famous predecessor. Her instrument rack had grown larger and more flexible and her technical abilities even sharper in the year since SOB came out -- and the improvements are audible in the thicker harmonies and more sophisticated timbres, all without losing the zest and experimental zeal of the earlier record.

Here, she revisits J.S. Bach and imaginatively translates the music of Monteverdi, Handel, and especially Domenico Scarlatti into the electronic medium. Excerpts from Monteverdi's "Orfeo" and "1610 Vespers" serve as the gateway and closing benediction, respectively, to this collection, and four Scarlatti keyboard sonatas are given dazzling treatments (the sonata in G became well-known in the '90s on a Christmas TV commercial).

There is a mini-suite from Handel's "Water Music" at the center of the album, and the densely orchestrated yet still dancing treatment of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 4" serves as a signpost as to how far Carlos had come in only a year.

Wendy Carlos - 1968 - Switched-on Bach

This late 1968 release seemed innocent enough at the time; and actually, it was a sincere effort to use a then newly-practical interpretive instrument, the Moog synthesizer, in a decidedly traditional musical manner.

Indeed, at the time, it was simply extending -- in a somewhat more forward-thinking direction -- the kind of attention that had been devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach's music as early as 1782, barely over 30 years after the composer's death, when Mozart wrote a set of string trio arrangements of some of Bach's keyboard works. Heard 40 years on, the approach here seems very tame and formal, but in 1968 it offended some Baroque purists (of whom there were relatively few) and a lot of classical music Luddites (of whom there were a lot more); but it still became the first classical music LP ever to be certified for a Platinum Record Award, by selling to hundreds of thousands of mostly younger listeners who didn't normally buy classical recordings.

Wendy Carlos had come up with an artistically valid and musically legitimate approach to the most tradition-bound of all classical music that made it not only palatable but exciting to a generation of listeners more inclined toward the Beatles than Beethoven (much less Bach). Carlos' use of the Moog's oscillations, squeaks, drones, chirps, and other sounds was highly musical in ways that ordinary listeners could appreciate, itself a first in the use of this instrument, and was characterized by -- for the time -- amazing sensitivity and finely wrought nuances, in timbre, tone, and expressiveness. Carlos saw the Moog voice as valid on its own terms, which may be one reason why this album still stands out today, when compared with some of the more flamboyant work that followed from others, such as Isao Tomita -- everything here is musical, with no sound effects to speak of until near the finale (and even that is restrained); and the Moog is working in its own "voice," rather than overtly imitating other, non-electronic instruments.

On the downside of the ledger in the eyes of many serious listeners, this record and its success were also to "blame" for any number of excesses by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rick Wakeman (especially The Six Wives of Henry VIII which, to be fair, was his best album), Tomita and others, and helped foster the multi-keyboard musical barrages mounted by ELP and Yes, for starters. [Switched-On Bach has been reissued several times on CD, including an audiophile version and, in 2001, an edition with one bonus track.] -allmusic-

V.A. - 2000 - The Early Gurus of Electronic Music

Every 'history' is biased and has some kind of ax to grind. The one that Thomas Ziegler and I set out to do was no different. In the summer of 1999, he asked me if I wanted to help him put together a multi-CD set to cover the history of electronic music. I jumped at the chance, having no idea what I was getting into and with zero experience as a producer. After settling down on a year span (the '80's seemed like a time when things really splintered), we then had the pain-staking task of deciding which artists and which pieces should be on it. As detailed in our liners for the release, some legal problems prevented us from including everything that we would have wanted to but in the end, we had 3 CD's with about forty artists, covering some of the most extraordinary composers and visionaries of the last century.

A number of other collections had covered one particular time period or region but there wasn't one release that had all of them together in one place. Along with inescapible names like Cage, Eno, Stockhausen, Riley, Reich and Xenakis, I thought it would also be important to include other composers who have made important contribution but might not be as well known, such as Eimert, Lansky, Chowning, Dodge, Le Caine, Maxfield, Parmegiani, Risset and Ussachevsky.

The end result is OHM- The Early Gurus of Electronic Music on Ellipsis Arts (available April 24th). Along with Thomas and the Ellipsis crew, we worked long and hard to contact all of the living composers to get quotes about their pieces as well as find archival essays and photos to go along with comments from artists influenced by these composers. Gruelling as it was, I hope that the end result will be worthwhile to anyone with an interest in electronic music.

I myself learned a lot from the experience and found myself with a treasure trove of material that we were not able to include in the accompanying booklet. Rather than let this historic material gather dust in my drawers, I thought I'd like to share this important material with the online world. As with OHM, I hope that this will become an invitation to you to explore more of this rich and astounding field. (internet source)

22 October 2008

Ash Ra Tempel - 1973 - Seven Up

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

Sometimes I get the impression that I may be a little dense. Schwingungen is considered a masterpiece, but I just don't see it. Meanwhile, this one is seen as a misstep in an otherwise stellar run of albums. The catch is that I love this one and pretty much see this as Ash Ra Tempel's shining moment as a proper band (I'd still give the top slot to Inventions For Electric Guitar, which is a Manuel Gottsching solo album in all but name). With the revolving door in full swing, we get new drummers and guests appearing here, most notably LSD guru Timothy Leary. He provides vocals for the album. He can't really sing, but he does sound focused, yet demented, which I think perfectly matches the music.

The first side of the album is listed as "Space," which is probably a fitting name for any track this band produced. Leary merrily belts out what I would classify as bubblegum blues as the band blasts at full tilt on sections like "Downtown" and "Right Hand Lover." Now this alone would rate the music as an amusing novelty, but these sections are juxtaposed with full-tilt walls of intense psychedelic noise. It's like the band was hired at a party to play some groovy dancing tunes, but are so blasted away on acid (with Leary on board there's no alternative substance-wise) that they keep getting distracted and begin searching for the great cosmic sound of Om. Then they realize their error and return to the bubblegum blues before gleefully losing focus again. It's this disorienting loss of focus that makes "Space" one of my favorite tracks period. Just picture these freaks playing this stuff at a bewildered high school dance and maybe you'll dig it.

Side two's "Time" is more Ash Ra Tempel by-the-numbers if such a thing is possible. It's a very chill ambient that lightly recycles themes from the last album and bears a bit of resemblance to Tangerine Dream's Alpha Centauri. This makes sense as Steve Schroyder played organ on both recordings. Leary has a very different role with some strange spoken word vocals often over some beautiful wordless female singing. We don't hear quite so much of Gottsching's guitar on "Time" as is typical, but Ash Ra Tempel was still a proper band at this point, so it's ok. Realistically, "Time" is probably superior musically, but I just can't get over the rush of "Space." But as Einstein theorized, space and time belong together.

So I'm going to put this album forth for some serious reassessment. This is about as psychedelic as rock music gets. You really don't need the help of any substances for this one to utterly and completely blow your mind. It doesn't hurt that the cover art is completely dang awesome either. Give it at least two listens.

Buy Me:
Ash Ra Tempel - 1973 - Seven Up

Ash Ra Tempel - 1972 - Schwingungen

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

Schwingungen is often cited as Ash Ra Tempel's magnum opus, but I have to admit that it's never really clicked with me. The band remains very experimental, but the have lost the unhinged, going for broke dynamic that makes their debut so appealing to me. One issue might be that Klaus Schultze's drum stool have been filled by Wolfgang Muller. Mr. Muller's certainly not a bad drummer, but he doesn't gel quite as well with Manuel Gottsching's guitar playing. Maybe it's just a function of not having played together for long. Despite my reservations, there are some fine sounds to be heard here.

The opening track, however, is by far my least favorite track on any of the early Ash Ra Tempel albums. It's a vocal track called "Light: Look At Your Sun." Vocalist John L.'s warbling quickly gets my hand on the needle to switch to the next track (ok, it's the mp3 player button; I only wish I had some Ash Ra Tempel on vinyl), and the band has blunted their experimental edge by incorporating TOO much song structure and an unwelcome emphasis on blues riffs. I have no problem with blues or song structure, I just prefer these guys without a net. "Darkness: Flowers Much Die" is a huge improvement and by far the best song on the album. The beat builds up over twelve minutes with a metronomic tribal pulse eventually augmented by a wall of bongos. John L. doesn't bother with lyrics on this one, and effectively improvises strange sounds and made up words that would give Can's Damo Suzuki a run for his money. The only other track here is the 20 minute long "Suche and Liebe," which I'm ambivalent about. After a long stretch of vibrophonic ambient sound, the band finally kicks into gear only to sound like contemporary Pink Floyd. Considering the innovative and experimental charge the band manges on the debut and on later albums, sounding like Pink Floyd is a major disappointment. On the positive side, they ape that superstar band pretty well, possibly even bettering that basic template.

This is a revered album by many, and I think I'm in the minority seeing this as a step down. I just want to hear something wild when I put on Ash Ra Tempel, and I feel that Schwingungen is too restrained and mannered, not playing to the band's strengths. Even so, it's a solid piece of work by a phenomenal band and the second track is a highlight in the band's discography.

Buy Me:
Ash Ra Tempel - 1972 - Schwingungen

Ash Ra Tempel - 1971 - Ash Ra Tempel

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

With a reputation as one of kraut rock's leading lights, Ash Ra Tempel does not disappoint on their debut LP. The initial line-up of the band includes such luminaries as guitarist Manuel Gottsching (who will turn out to be the band's only mainstay) and drummer Klaus Schultze (who shows up on about half the albums made in Germany during the early 70's on drums or synths). The sound here is pretty much wild, acid-rockin' improvisation, but it's all a cut above the norm as the players still come across as sounding tight as they probe the deeper reaches of cosmic sound.

This is a purely instrumental affair, which is probably for the best as words would simply distract us from the onslaught of sound this band whips up over the course of the two tracks present here. "Amboss" is a firestorm which starts of with a strong groove before unhinging the gates of hell in its final few minutes. Gottsching's intense soloing doesn't get old during the 20 minutes stretch as Schultze's relentless pounding goads the guitarist further and further. Things chill out considerably on "Traummachine," where Gottsching's guitar dives into a pool of reverb which anticipates his guitar work in the second half of the 70's, and the percussion is either spread out lightly or entirely absent. It doesn't quite stand up to the intensity and visceral nature of "Amboss," but it remains a wonderful mood setter.

Ash Ra Tempel's debut is one of the cornerstones of krautrock. It's presents a gold standard for psychedelic improvisation and retains the power to blast your mind into a distant galaxy. You owe it to yourself to listen to this if you're not already familiar.

Buy Me if you're rich:
Ash Ra Tempel - 1971 - Ash Ra Tempel

21 October 2008

The Minders - 1999 - Cul-De-Sacs and Dead Ends

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

The Minders were (are?) one of the lesser-known tributaries of the neo-psychedelic hurricane of the Elephant 6 collective. This compilation of singles appeared at the collective late 90's peak (at least in terms of productivity). Frontman Martyn Leaper has a pretty strong way with a melody, and the songs press their way straight through the somewhat low-fi production to present us with tunes that could of found their way to the 1967 hit list. This is not necessarily to say that we're talking about a classic. There are a few dated late-90's indie rock cliches running rampant, especially is the vocal timbres, and Leaper put a little too much sugar into the sonic mix. I'm of the opinion that even the sunniest sunshine pop or psychedelia needs an undercurrent of darkness which we don't really hear on this. I guess this is where the disc shows its true colors as a singles compilation, as we don't get any balancing album tracks.

As sugary neo-psych singles go, however, Cul-De-Sacs and Dead Ends is quite a bounty. The songs are of a pretty consistent quality, so your favorites will probably be the ones that forever get stuck in your head. For me "Almost Arms," "Better Things," "Now I Can Smile," and "Waterlooville" just won't leave my brain playlist. Maybe this disc is a little dangerous after all.

I have to admit that I was a bigger fan of this disc when I was rollocking around the University of Georgia nine years ago. Now, this album is much like a bag of Twizzlers for me. I enjoy them and can't stop eating them when they're in my hand, but I end up with a stomachache later. This album too will give you a stomachache, especially if you eat it.

Oh crap, now "Sally" is stuck in my head too.

The Detroit Escalator Co. - 1996 - Soundtrack (313)

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

What we have here is an enjoyable slice of downtempo ambient sounds. Soundtrack (313) is basically a tribute to the wild and wooly hometown of producer Nick Ollivierra. The hook here is that Ollivierra recorded snippets of natural ambient sound and street conversation from within the 313 area code. This is not really taken to any experimental extremes, however, and the real meat here lies in Ollivierra's synth and sequencer sculptures.

With the first two tracks setting the mood nicely, "Force" (number three in the track listing) extends the length to nine minutes to frame it's pulsing light industrial sounds and soaring synthesizer pads. "The Inverted Man" constructs a very groovy lattice of synthesized patterns. The beats are generally pretty sparce and subterranean, although the eight minute closer "Shifting Gear" has a suggestion of jungle beats, which were pretty trendy in 1996.

The most fitting comparison with this disc would probably be with early Aphex Twin. In fact, the sounds here are like a more hi-fi version of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92, although Ollivierra doesn't match that album's genius. That's a pretty tall order to match, though, and this album's pleasures are well worth hearing.

08 October 2008

Rolf Trostel - 1983 - Narrow Gate to Life

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

Here's a slice of pretty obscure German electronica. I don't think it quite fits in with the Berlin school (don't you need lots of sequencers for that?), but it serves well as an early 80's update of the early Tangerine Dream sound (like Zeit). Rolf Trostel recorded this live in a Spanish cathedral according to the liner notes. This is a very ambient album and I believe we are getting some atmospheric sound from the location, just as Paul Horn used the Taj Mahal as his personal echo chamber.

While there are technically five parts to Trostel's piece, I've got it as one long track and it probably makes sense that way. Staying below the surface, Trostel builds layers of synthesized tones. You'll find plenty of evolving pads of sound at work. Of course, that makes this pretty much slightly disconcerting background music, but at least I like to make my apartment an aurally creepy place from time to time. Make sure to wait for the grand finale when Trostel manages to play more than one note every five seconds (along with a bit of sequencing, so maybe this segment is very Berlin School), not that he really needed to for the first forty minutes; this is deep in ambient territory.

This is a notable disc of droning, electronic atmospherics. If any music is going to alter the chemicals in your brain, Narrow Gate to Life should do the trick (although not quite as spectacularly as Coil's Time Machines).

Dino Valente - 1968 - Dino Valente

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

Dino Valente rates as San Fraciscan, Summer of Love royalty. Among his flower child qualifications are his contribution of the song "Get Together" as part of the hippy lexicon, as well as his involvement founding the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Of course, due to a drug bust he didn't actually record with that band until it was arguably past its prime. This solo album dates from shortly after his release from prison. It's basically psychedelically folksy shambles, but it's far more coherent then the truly unhinged solo releases of Skip Spence or Syd Barrett, of which this album compares to (sort of).

If there's a problem here, it's the lack of diversity. Valente's voice isn't bad, but he seems pretty incapable of any kind of range or modulation. He does sound fully involved though, so we'll give him a past. Most of the tracks are ornamented simply with a reverb-laced acoustic guitar and a bit of spare instrumentation that's also been blasted through an echo chamber. When we finally get some orchestration on "My Friend," it's like a light shining through the clouds and manages to creep into Tim Buckley territory. Other highlights here are the sprawling, epic "Children of the Sun," and the opening track, "Time." "Me and My Uncle" is an enjoyable rendition of that grammatically incorrect standard. I also have an affinity for the strange and experimental "Test," although it's pretty atypical for the album.

This is a decent release with some solid songwriting. The sound here exists in a pretty thin range. If that range happens to push the right buttons, you may rate this as a buried classic. The rest of us will likely get one or three spins out of this before heading out for new sonic horizons.

Buy Me:
Dino Valente - 1968 - Dino Valente

26 September 2008

We're Late For Class - 2008 - Trippin' In A Plymouth Belvedere

Hi, everyone. My posts will be a bit sporatic as I just moved and my internet connection is a little dodgy right now. For now though, let me point you back in the direction of We're Late For Class, who have recently posted their latest opus. It's sort off a mini odds-and-sods collection, and is a nice primer to their particular brand of improvised psychedelia. Click on the link below to voyage onto their site and download the thing!

We're Late For Class - 2008 - Trippin' In A Plymouth Belvedere

24 September 2008

Steve Reich - 2001 - Triple Quartet

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

Steve Reich is an acknowledged master of modern classical music and his music has no lack of class, but if repetition is not your thing, if repetition is not your thing, if repetition is not your thing, then he may not be your cup of tea. Or his magical music powers may lull you into a trance and convince you that you do love repetition, you do love repetition, you do love repetition. Don't knock it until you've tried it.

This isn't so much a fully conceived album as an anthology of works contemporary to its release. I suppose the main event is the titular suite performed by the renown Kronos Quartet. The varying string parts work quite well on their own in the Reich mold. It's a very different flavor than what they achieve when working with Philip Glass, but no less important. My favorite performance here, however, is the relentless "Electric Guitar Phase." The modus operandi of a phase is that several players of the same instrument repeat the same phrase over and over at slightly different speeds, so that the phase eventually disintigrates, oscillates, and recombines in a myriad of different ways (of course recording overdubs make this far easier). Here we get that for 15 minutes with an absurdly rockin' guitar. At least I see that as a good thing. Following that is the "Music For Large Ensemble,' which on this album by far most recalls Reich's seminal Music For 18 Musicians with its more fleshed out, orchestrated sound. Capping things off is the "Tokyo-Vermont Counterpoint;" basically the same idea as "Electric Guitar Phase" but with marimbas or something like that.

This is a fine release, and probably the best introduction to the sonic world of Reich other than the aforementioned Music For 18 Musicians. If you're a Reich fan already, this one is candy for your Halloween pumpkin, and if you're not familiar with Reich, your musical sensibility requires that you at least give him a try. Those of you that don't like Reich can go to hell (wait,no - that's way too harsh).

Buy Me:
Steve Reich - 2001 - Triple Quartet

Flying Karpets - 1968 - Flying Karpets

Quality: 2 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5

OK, lets start off here by being plain-out nasty. This is a pretty terrible album. The band can't play particularly well, the lead vocalist is even worse, and that puts the harmony vocals at some exponential kind of vile growth. On top of that, the band's songwriting chops are negligible as they are pretty much just working in terrible covers of stuff like "White Rabbit," "Twentieth Century Fox," and "Mercy Mercy Mercy" (that last one represents their trend to do even worse soul covers). Yet, I'm feeling charitable today.

You see, I just had a viewing of the timeless epic film, "Ghetto Freaks" (aka Love Commune, aka Sign of Aquarius). The film follows the blissed-out trials and travails of flower children weathering out a particularly frigid Ohio winter. Through their stoned apathy is a glimmer of productivity that results in a trickle of terrible art, you know, the kind of thing that all the earth mamas cheer for. I guess it's the only time all parties involved deliriously manage to get off the floor. So the Flying Karpets make me think of that kind of creation, except that they're from the significantly warmer Mexico. I'm really just giving these lovable stoners the equivalent of a cheek pinch as they do their best, which isn't nearly good enough. At least, I hope they were really, really stoned. Otherwise, there's absolutely no excuse for this.

If this kind of extroverted loathing sounds appealing, then this is indeed the album for you. But if you're goal is to hear adeptly-played artistic triumph then you might want to stay away from this one. I doubt this will see another proper reissue, so you could want this as a rarity (no you won't).

09 September 2008

Damaged Tape - 2008 - Ship of Lights

I've been abusing my analog synthesizers as of late, and these are the results. Maybe I haven't been looking so much to the future as the late 1970's, but I'll let you be the judge of that. There's a pretty liberal sprinkling of Moog here, so if you have a soft spot for those sounds, then you might like what I've done here. You'll also hear a bit of the very groovy TB-303 recreation that Future Retro produces. I would definitely give that piece of equipment a thumbs-up for any of you electronic-minded musicians out there. With the first track, you'll get a sample of the incredible Criswell, whose amazing predictions have yet to become true. The rest of the first half of the album is sort of my attempt at Neptunian disco, while I give in to my strange obsessions with Mayan history on the second half. That concept is that from 'Boneyard' on, we hear the warriors and captives enter the city, and the king makes a bloodletting offering that takes his mind on a psychedelic trip to meet the gods and see the fabled ballgame at the core of Mayan mythology. Two tracks here, "Boneyard" and "Lords of Xilbalba" are about three years old. I really dig the tracks, I just never really had a proper home for them until now. It's not that there aren't more recent tracks, the older ones just edged them out. As always, please share the music, leave some comments for me here, and repost elsewhere. Thanks for listening!

1. A Push Button World (5:20)
2. Wet Candy (5:17)
3. Hot Dog Jets (8:03)
4. Tell Me Your Secret (5:01)
5. Boneyard (2:25)
6. Offering (3:50)
7. The Crystal Sphere (3:03)
8. Thin Air (6:15)
9. Lords of Xilbalba (4:24)
10. Hunahpu and Xbalanque (5:22)
Total Time: (48:55)
89.9 MB

Listen to Me:
Damaged Tape - 2008 - Ship of Lights

Creation Rebel - 1980 - Starship Africa

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

Dub is the wildly psychedelic offshoot of reggae that I have thus far pretty much ignored in my reviews. Of course if you're unfamiliar with the genre it wouldn't hurt to head for the better works of Lee 'Scratch' Perry or King Tubby. For now though we'll blast out of the Caribbean to find a pretty rare album from British dub producer Adrian Sherwood with his Creation Rebel project. Now, this band had several fine albums (some others of which we may eventually see here), but this is the one that got me hooked onto these guys and is a pretty wild trip into the reggae stratosphere.

Dub is synonymous with weird echoing sound and deformed proto-samples, but Starship Africa seems to take everything one additional step out there. As it should, the tracks rest on a rock solid rhythm, but all the audio effects and sounds drifting around here are fair game for an interstellar interpretation. The original album was arranged into two side-long groupings, Starship Africa and Space Moment. As far as the bedrock of the LP is concerned, most of the tracks are pretty similar. The layering of sounds on top of that is the main bit of creativity at work here, and it's some of the best I've heard in this sort of setting. Spaced-out alien voices, bubbling synths, and ringing percussion are combined and recombined in some pretty mind bending ways.

If you have yet to enter the world of dub, this isn't the worst introduction and this album serves as a fine litmus test for the genre. For anyone, you'll get to hear the best of a practically unheralded master of the form. If you have any love for dub, I think it's worth giving this a spin or three.

06 September 2008

Subway - 1972 - Subway

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

Here's some French acid folk that just begs comparison with the Incredible String Band. Now, I have to admit that I've never really "got" the renowned ISB, so my comparison should probably come with a grain of salt. Technically, I suppose that this is inferior to the ISB at their best, but it's far less oblique and I have to admit that I enjoy it more. As the cover emphatically enjoins, Subway is a duo and their name apparently stems from their regular gig location. Fortunately for this somewhat downtrodden duo, they were signed to Epic Records, and this recording has some nice production values, although I would imagine that sales wise it must be somewhere in that companies bottom 10 sales list.

There's not a ton of diversity on this album, but the general tone is quite enjoyable. The crux of the music is very ISB-sounding vocals, finger picked guitar, psychedelic gypsy violin runs, and usually an interesting production trick or two per song. For example, "Warm You Are" gains some color from shimmering, phased cymbals and a knock or two on a bongo, while "Rosanna of the Roses," "Enturbulston-Free Form," and "All the Good Things" actually end up with a full rhythm section backing up the song and inch much closer to actually being psych rock. Philistine I am, those are my favorites on the disc. "Enturbulston-Free Form" is a freak out that almost seems to meld acid folk with some krautrock, while "Roasanna" comes across as a damn fine and rough-around-the-edges psych-pop number.

Although Subway borrows quite a bit, they've got a few chops that manage to get them to stand out. Those of you out there who consider yourself full-blow acid folk and/or freak folk fans need to hear this, while the rest of us should remain at least mildly entertained. The subtly tripped-out, minstrels-on-acid cover art doesn't hurt either.

05 September 2008

The Aeolian String Ensemble - 1998 - Lassithi/Elysium

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.75 out of 5

This is a disc that it's almost impossible to pay attention to, but that is among its prime advantages as a swirling whirlpool of ambient sound. The Aeolian String Ensemble is a group that portents to create all of their sound through the use and electronic modification of the ancient Aeolian harp. I suppose that through said electronic modification you can get anything you want, but I swear there are a few underpinning synths here and there, or perhaps we're hearing masterfully controlled wooden echoes from the wooden box of the instrument. Regardless, the star of the show is the harp and this album takes it to some strange and very meditative places.

There are only two tracks making up this release, and the title of the disc includes both of them. "Lassithi" runs at a mind-boggling 58 minutes, and I guess it would be the kind of thing you'd actually want to hear as you're chilling out at the spa (although I must admit that I have little experience with spas beyond the Japanese hot spring variety). The sound is slowly shifting, and is extremely fluid, with the listener just barely discerning the slow changes. I think that last statement is going to help define if you're going to be interested in this one or not. Next up is the brief (at 14 minutes!) "Elysium," which runs on the same basic modus operandi, but spews forth a much darker and clausterphobic sound. If the first track is intended for relaxation, "Elysium" is more for intense contemplation. I suppose that the mood shift is quite welcome after 58 minutes.

There are no melodies and little to grasp onto with the Aeolian String Quartet. What they do present is an ocean of tones that will influence the deeper parts of your brain. This is hard-core ambient music, if you will. I find this disc to be a perfect background setting and I hope that you may also find this useful in that regard.

Lucifer - 1971 - Black Mass

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

Lucifer is a psudonym for Mort Garson, the electronic madman behind freaky early electronic works such as "The Wozard of Iz." This purely instrumental album isn't quite as strange, but the wall of Moog synth that makes up the instrumentation is still something impressive to behold. It's chock full of that awesome analog clunky sound that so many musicians still strive for.

When I've strolled through Disneyland's Tomorrowland (at least the Tokyo version), they're usually setting the future-retro mood with stuff like the wacky pop interpretations of the Moog Cookbook. Some of this could fit in that mold, but with minor keys abound, the tracks here would probably serve better in the hellish variety of Disneyland; y'know, the one where Donald Duck is creeping behind you with a butcher's knife. That's pretty much where this disc is at.

Trackwise, there are a lot of goodies here. "Solomon's Ring" launches with a soaring yet creepy Moog melody, while "Incubus" dementedly contorts basic synthesizer sounds into a kind of electronic warning system. "The Evil Eye" almost gives us a soothing break, but let's keep in mind that it is quickly underpinned by electronic evil. Later on, we are presented with the sound lab of "Philosopher's Stone," while "ESP" closes the album with what sounds like an alien armada landing (maybe Garson was going for the opening of the gates of Hell).

While not necessarily the best of primitive electronic music, Lucifer does press most of the right buttons for those of us wanting to hear this sort of thing. It's trying to conjure the ghost in the machine using the darkest of magic, and for the most part it succeeds. You can merrily join along for this particular black mass.

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.