24 May 2009

Flower Travellin' Band - 1971 - Satori

Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

You're not going to do much better than this for vintage Japanese acid rock. Flower Travellin' Band is a name I've often head thrown around the psychedelic sphere, but I found that their albums often didn't rise up to my expectation. Satori fortunately justifies their reputation for acid rock gurus and leaves some change left over as well. This one gets just the right mix of psychedelia, Black Sabbath-style heavy metal, instrumental prowess, and odd flourishes of more traditional Japanese music. The only bad thing I'm going to call this album out on is the fact that the vocalist has a little trouble with that whole pitch thing. Maybe he was just REALLY wasted. The Japanese shy away from illegal drugs in general, but mushrooms were legal at the time and the country does have some awesome cold medicine. Anyway, the vocals are not enough to do any real damage to the music, and besides, most of this thing is balls-out instrumentals.

The tracks don't really have titles, but are presented as "Satori Parts 1-5." All of them are pretty awesome. Part 1 is a full blown sludgy riff rocker, with the vocals doing their best to hit that metal yelp. Next up is a psychedelic Bo Diddley-beat sporting cut with some great twin guitar leads. Part 3 picks up the speed for a rip-roaring instrumental, while Part 4 finds them working a Chicago blues groove (Part 4 is my least favorite, but some of you will love it). The final bit finds them returning to instrumental heavy metal, with a spaced-out vocal interlude. It also has some stoner metal leads that are trying to play koto parts. What fun!

On Satori, Flower Travellin' Band are fully communing with their muse. Their influences are easily spotted, but they manage to create a pretty singular sound from them. Let this be your musical diplomat from 70's Japan. This is top flight acid rock by any standards.

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Flower Travellin' Band - 1971 - Satori

A Cid Symphony - 1968 - Acid Symphony

Quality: 3 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.25 out of 5

A Cid Symphony makes me think of if the Incredible String Band was naught from the British Isles, but instead a shack without electricity in Appalacia. And we'll assume that they had a large supply of the substance suggested in their name. The music is definitely back country folk, but with a lysergic air, hippy philosophy, and a rambling nature. I doubt anyone will enjoy every track here, but you will likely find a few here you enjoy on this sprawling triple album.

I would suggest skipping the yodeling and silence of the first two tracks, and go straight for Loudusphone 3, which is a kind of dulcimer drone. It entertaining blurs some kind of line between American and Indian (of the India variety) folk. Side two retains this sort of minimalist folk vibe and things don't really change much until we're presented with the vocals on Golden Gate Number 2, which works well as hippy folk. The vocals become a bit more prominent on the Noismakers section of the album, which also finds a little room for found sound. The final section of the album has plenty of half-assed beat-poetry ramblings (BS indeed), but "Scrambled Psychedelic BS 1"manages a bit of interesting freak-folk.

I'll be honest, this is far from my ideal of psychedelia. I'd say that these guys' aim is clear, but dulicmers and folk blues may not be the best path to producing a psychedelic opus. I do enjoy some of the more droning tracks, but I must admit that my favorite thing about this album is the cover art. Yet for those obsessed with the musical world of the 60's, this is a valuable time capsule, and truly a product of the era (says the fellow born in 1979).

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A Cid Symphony - 1968 - A Cid Symphony

14 May 2009

Yatha Sidhra - 1974 - A Meditation Mass

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

Here we have another one of those albums that you'll find pretty entertaining if you're already a fan of the genre (the Popol Vuh side of krautrock in this case), but it probably won't enter your top 20 list for said genre. This particular collection is a bit rear-loaded, with the prime cuts appearing on side two. If you're up for meditation, I'd probably recommend something else, but the music included here should still waft around nicely with your cheap incense.

These guys were too awesome for track names, so we're left with parts 1-4. "Part 1" loses eight points for including too much proto-new age flute, while "Part 2" is an ill advised attempt at lounge jazz. I suppose Quentin Tarentino could probably find some redemptive use for the latter, but the three minutes could have been better used on this album. "Part 3" starts to find a better sonic bearing as Yatha Sidra goes for more of a freak-out, complete with some reasonable acid rock guitar leads. The last part makes me think of a more 70's informed version of the early Pink Floyd track, "Nick's Boogie."

There's certainly enough here to temporarily fill that teutonic void in your heart. I wouldn't presume to put this in the same league as the Cosmic Jokers or the aforementioned Popol Vuh, though. This is more like the local leagues where they have the guy in a strange mascot suit come out at halftime and flail around.

The Electronic Hole - 1970 - The Electronic Hole

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

The Electronic Hole exists in a strange netherworld between Cosmic Michael-style endearing ineptitude and strangely effective, stuttering, trance-inducing folk-rock sounds. The main problem, or charm if you want to see it that way, is that the Electronic Hole's ambition tends to outstrip their playing abilities. Drums stumble, vocals waver off key, and the rhythm guitar tends to get a little distracted. On the more conventional songs, this doesn't work out very well. Fortunately, there are some longer, droning tracks which make for a far groovier listen.

My view on this album is that the songs under five minutes are pretty disposable, but the ones longer than that are worth a listen. "The Golden Hour Part IV" is like a distilled, sloppier "Venus in Furs" with a garage-band plunking bassline driving it along, while "Love Will Find A Way Part II" has a fuzzed-out minimalism that strikes me as a predecessor to the signature Spacemen 3 sound. "Love Will Find A Way Part III" is one of those raga rockers that tend to shoot straight for the sweet spot in my ear. Meanwhile, tracks like the opening "The Golden Hour Part I" test my patience a bit as we hear the band attempt a sunburst West Coast rock sound, yet the band can't play their instruments very well and their ability to stay in time with each other is even worse.

Although harbouring some serious flaws, the Electronic Hole's long player has at least half of a pretty hep album for you psychedelic junkies. Hey, that's all Love's "Da Capo" can lay claim to as well. Anyway, you can start the dirty jokes about the band's name... now.

02 May 2009

Bobby Beausoleil and the Freedom Orchestra - Lucifer Rising

Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.75 out of 5

Let's just get it out of the way that there is some serious bad blood involved with this album. Bobby Beausoleil was a member of the Manson family (and almost a member of the band Love) and he has spent the last few decades behind bars. In fact, this album was recorded by a group of inmates. I'm going to refrain from focusing on the morality issues surrounding Beausoleil, and instead accept the fact that I really like this album. For me this music is the perfect archetype of the kind of west coast psychedelic music to fill a late-night bohemian club or to score wildly avant-garde films. Of course much of the music here adorned Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising.

Beausoleil was promised the soundtrack work for Lucifer Rising back in the 60's, but Anger never completed the film until the early 80's. By that time Beausoleil had been incarcerated for several years and had no lack of notoriety. Yet, Anger stayed true to his promise (along with the fact that Jimmy Page was unavailable) and this music more than justifies that decision.

The first disc of this reissue is pretty much a sonic rendering of the film. This is very mystical music with majestic organs and plaintive horns wafting through the intentionally cloudy mix. This being a soundtrack, themes are repeated through the six movements and the whole thing is constructed in a classical manner despite the fact that the sounds are clawing towards psychedelic rock. While not a pristine recording, the production is very well done and the playing is generally pretty top notch. It's far better than its prison roots would suggest.

As good as the soundtrack work is, I have a affinity for the bonus tracks on disc two. I imagine that these tracks are simply the result of the warden having given the musicians more time to record. The sound gets murkier, and the disciplined sound of the proper soundtrack gives way to far more wild psychedelia. "Punjab's Barber" sounds like it may have been an attempt at a different approach to the soundtrack while "Flash Gordon" is a full-fledged West Coast acid-rock freak out. The extended tracks skirt free jazz/Sun Ra territory with "The Magick Powerhouse of Oz," and oscillate between acid rock jamming and organ ambience on "The Freedom Orchestra."

With the Manson family connections and the strong occult leanings, I can see where many people would be put off by these recordings. If you're able to get past that, you'll find some exceptional psychedelic music included in this collection.

And I'd be nothing but a tease if I didn't get to the film as well. Kenneth Anger is one of the major avant-garde filmmakers in this country, and I'd have to say that this is probably my favorite of his films. It has some disturbing imagery along with Anger's typical homoerotic subtexts, but you'll also note that many of his innovations have also been adopted by more mainstream filmmakers. Viewing this film will most certainly highlight the more occult aspects of the music.

Walter Wegmuller - 1973 - Tarot

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

So this is where those low German grades in my middle and high school classes come back to haunt me. Walter Wegmuller was a Swiss mystic who stumbled into recording with the best psychedelic musicians in Germany, the core of which were the same fellows who made up the Cosmic Jokers. I must admit that I can't fully appreciate Wegmuller's contribution as the language barrier is firmly in place. That said, I do think his presence works out better than the similarly structured Sergius Golowin album. Wegmuller's German-language passages are typically restrained (although often heavily echoed) and the focus of the album often shifts to the Jokers. Musically, this is a krautrock epic version of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I'd say that practically every facet of that genre circa 1973 is represented here, and they probably anticipated a few sounds as well. As a side note, I'm pretty sure that the titles reference various tarot cards, and I'd also be willing to infer that Wegmuller's spoken bits refer to those cards. Those of you that understand German will probably be able to wrap your brain around this album's concept in a way that the rest of us cannot. If anyone wants to post a few translations in the comments, I'd love to see them.

Making your way through this double album does require some effort, but you're sure to find several things that you enjoy here. For me the standout tracks are the deep space ones. After a questionable introductory track, "Der Magier' mainlines the listener directly into a magisterial nebula, Wegmuller's voice echoing through the cosmos, propelled by Manuel Gottschings echoing guitars and Klaus Schultze's analog synth madness. "Der Wagen" builds upon tribal-like rhythms, which is never a bad idea if you're looking for a rave up, which the musicians manage here with an intensity surely rivaling the Yardbirds - and with far more squealing electronic noises. Tracks like "Das Gluckstrand" and "Der Massigkeit" nicely channel early Tangerine Dream, but with more acid rock guitar and odd spoken word thrown in. While I wouldn't call it bad, I'm less partial to the more conventional rock blast of "Der Herrscher," the Hosianna Mantra vibe of "Der Hohepriester," and especially the slighly out of tune folk ramblings of "Der Teufel." Part of the charm of the album, however, is that these may very well turn out to be your favorite tracks as they tend to hit their musical targets, even if it's not one that I'd personally like to hear.

Although the presence of the star attraction is a bit of an oddity, Tarot pretty much serves as a primer for the prime years of krautrock. While this probably isn't going to overcome the double album curse for most people, you will find at least an album's worth of prime krautrock if you take the time to look for it. Once you've done that, feel free to allow the quality and trip-o-meters to notch all the way up to five.