31 January 2010

Spacecraft - 1978 - Paradoxe

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

I've spent the past few months brainwashing myself with this album on a pretty regular basis. This guitar/synth duo hails from France, but I'd say they're pretty well in cahoots with your krautrock superstars. There's plenty of early Tangerine Dream synthetic iciness and Manuel Gottsching-style guitar insanity lurking in these tracks. They also seem enamoured with the drum machines of the era, which is pretty fun in a retro future way.

This album really slides on through as a single entity of trippiness, but if you break it down, there are basically two kinds of tracks. "Lumiere de Lune" and "Ananda" are distinguished by huge stoic walls of ambient analog synth; I'd say the quietr parts of Tangerine Dream's probably serve as a good reference point. "Pays de Glace," which I understand is a modern day bonus track recorded a few years after the rest of the album, is somehow both more ambient and threatening. Think of Tangerine Dream's Zeit sped up an imbued with the chiming qualities of the Om album you'll find in this blog if you hunt around. The other tracks fall in the category of "Logan's Run-on-crack." Here the primitive drum machines are everpresent and the guitar breaks out of the box. Basically, this is what something like the Moog Cookbook is aiming for, although the novelty value is replaced by sonic schizophrenia.

I'd say this album deserves a fair sight more attention. It compares pretty favorably with something like an early Popol Vuh album, and definitely earned its Trip-O-Meter rating. This is a fine collection to explore the thin rings of Neptune with. It would also work well to subtly scare everyone home if you played this in Tomorrowland around closing time.

Thundertree - 1970 - Thundertree

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

does a pretty fine job performing a balancing act among several different styles. Their actual playing is firmly rooted in garage band aesthetics, but the use this to explore the then-burgeoning hard rock genre (think Steppenwolf specifically), psychedelic pop, and prog, especially on the 16 minute closing track. Even on the lesser tracks, they tend to shift gears into groovy trippiness. While this is not a great album, there are some fine moments that deserve your attention.

Things don't start well with "Head Embers," which unfortunately manages to spew out the "What I Like About You" riff several years before its creation. It's not Thundertree's fault, but it still annoys me. The hazy coda is still worthwhile, though. Fortunately "At the Top of the Stairs" is an awesome psychedelic pop song somehow getting Syd Barrett, Steppenwolf, and a groovy breakbeat all in one track and capping it of with some insane sound effects. "Summertime Children" also rates well as a ballad in the psychedelic pop sweepstakes. The other shorter tracks on side one acquit themselves well, although they don't stand out quite as much in my mind.

Side two throws us into a prog fantasyland with "1225 (in 6 parts)." I would probably equate Thundertree's brand of prog with Van Der Graff Generator. These guys don't have the instrumental prowess of your better-known proggers, so they focus on providing power. Truthfully, the 'six parts' would have done just as well as separate songs, but that means there is plenty of stylistic change. I doubt the accapella and glockenspiel section would have made the cut as its own track, not that I really needed it on the album anyway. I suppose that they may have been aiming for a side two of "Abbey Road" sort of thing, but there's no McCartney among this bunch.

There are some joys to be found on Thundertree's album (for me tracks two, three, and some bits and pieces of side two). Those of you with an ear for the transition between acid rock and heavy metal will dig this a little more than others, provided you can deal with some psychedelic pop as well. If it helps, I'd say that the cover art is a pretty perfect fit for this collection.

Buy Me:
Thundertree - 1970 - Thundertree

18 January 2010

Dr. Schluss' Best of 2009

Sorry for the long absence from posting. It may be a day late and a dollar short, but here are my top ten albums of 2009. There were certainly some tripped out albums appearing this year, with many bands looking to the dark side of psych and sporting a tripped-out buzz. As I did last year, I stuck a few of my own tracks on (Damaged Tape and Glaze of Cathexis) at the end of this compilation, although I wouldn't have the presumption to actually consider them the best of the year. Anyway, here goes the list:

10. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms: This promising debut sounds like a tape of top forty radio circa 1986 that has been left out in the sun on a summer's day far too long. Although it is annoyingly short, the key tracks are some of the best warped pop songs that reared their musical heads in 2009.

9. Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years: After a few albums that left me lukewarm, this psychedelic welsh institution managed to deliver another winner. Although "Crazy Naked Girls" is a poor opening track which pays tribute to Grand Funk Railroad for some reason, "Cardiff in the Sun" may be my favorite track this year and "The Very Best of Neil Diamond" will not gt out of my head.

8. Sonic Youth - The Eternal: The band was finally reunited with their long-lost guitars (apparently they were stolen more than 10 years ago) and managed an album that is practically a guide to their musical DNA. If I had to get super specific, I'd say the basic flow of this album is a "Goo" sound with "Dirty" songwriting. The band may be comprised of folks around 50 years old, but their playing is still very youthful.

7. Prefuse 73 - Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian: The ultimate short attention span record. Prefuse 73 continues to make compelling sound sculptures with lots of samples and wild electronic sound. Compared with previous Prefuse 73 albums, there isn't as much hip-hop stuff present, but I think the current paradigm is better for zoning out.

6. Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship: Tortoise continues to stand out at the vanguard of the 'post-rock' heap, whatever that means. Although the album eventually evens out into some enjoyable and quintessential Tortoise jazzy grooves, the album is at its best with the innovative first half where the band finds new ways to electronically mangle their music.

5. Thee Oh Sees - Help!: Fun, scrappy, sort of lo-fi Nuggets style rock. The playing and the songwriting are both spirited enough to put this one a cut above the rest of the garage rock heap.

4. Oneida - Rated O: Practically unclassifiable triple album opus. I sort of feel like this is a modern sort of 'Tago Mago' by Can. There's a disc of experimental insanity, a more conventional indie rock one and the middle, and a fine drone-rock album closing out the set. This is one of those records that you can move into for a few weeks.

3. Atlas Sound - Logos: Bradford Cox continues to hit them out of the park both with Deerhunter and with this solo project. The psychedelic grooves of his dreamlike work tend to grab hold of your brain and not let go.

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion: The folk/psych gurus released their best LP this year and managed to accrue all the acclaim they deserve (and probably a little more). Panda Bear's vocals continue to be a perfect channeling of 1966 Brian Wilson and Avey Tare's singing is far smoother than usual. These fine vocal would be nothing, however, without the awesome soundscapes and hypnotic songwriting that these guys have worked up to perfection on this disc.

1. The Flaming Lips - Embryonic: Just when everyone had pretty much written off the Flaming Lips to 'dad' band status, they show up with their most out there album of the past twenty years. This is mostly dark, trance-inducing psych that brings in some of the best of both kraut-rock and fusion-era Miles Davis. Not everything here is great, but like the best double albums, it's always interesting. For some extra fun, download their cover of the entire Dark Side of the Moon (also released last year), where they manage to top pretty much every song from the original. Granted, I've probably heard the original 762 too many times due to radio overplaying the damn thing.

Listen to Me:
Dr. Schluss' Best of 2009