31 March 2010

Steve Hillage - 1979 - Rainbow Dome Musick

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

I originally picked up this album with no knowledge of Steve Hillage or Gong. The cover art simply grabbed my attention, as did the title. Rainbow Dome Musick sounds like a psychedelic planetarium to me, which is very appealing to my sensibilities. Fortunately, that description fits the actual music quite well. While Steve Hillage's space rock albums may have had some clues towards this sound, Rainbow Dome Musick is worlds away from those earlier albums. This is an ambient chill out album, with sliding sequencers, watery noises, and glissando gliding guitars. 1979 may seem earlier for an ambient chill out album, but Alex Patterson of the Orb famously DJed his late 80's chill out room using this, and once it caught Hillage's attention, the guitarist ended up both working with the Orb and founding the fine electronic group System 7. It's not a stretch to say that this album is ground zero for an entire genre.

This is music that must be experienced - you will not find yourself humming it as you go down the street. As such, we are presented with two side long tracks. With Tibetian bells, spacey sequencers, Hillage's restrained guitar playing, and the sounds of flowing water, it's difficult to focus on these sounds. But that's the point. If these album clicks with you, it will likely shirft your brain into a more zen state. All I can say specifically is that I'm always disappointed hearing the ting-sha at the beginning of "Four Ever Rainbow" as that lets me know that the album is now half way over.

Those that read this blog regularly are probably aware that I have a soft spot for trance inducing records, and this is one of the best ones to come from a rock background (not that you'll find anything resembling rock here). I would go as far to say that this is one of the albums that got me motivated to start writing this blog. Why it took me three years to actually write about it is beyond me (probably laziness).

Note: The vinyl pressing of this is on clear vinyl. It looks awesome and fits the sounds found in its grooves.

Buy Me:
Steve Hillage - 1979 - Rainbow Dome Musick

30 March 2010

Steve Hillage - 1979 - Live Herald

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

First off, I'm taking a look at the CD-era version of this album, which is completely live. The original issue of the album boasted a side of studio tracks, which have now been ported over to the Open album. Anyway, this is one of those live albums that sort of double as a greatest hits collection. Your favorite track from Hillage's first four albums may very well not appear here, but what's here are still fine tracks. The performances definitely benefit from Hillage's road worn band, and Giraudy's electronics add a nice new dimension to the tracks from the first few albums. The cover of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is even better here and the "Lunar Music Suite" contains an energetic tear through the always welcome "Om" riff.

The sound quality on this disc is not quite as clear as I'd like, but it is a live album and it is certainly listenable. This is not to rip on the remastering; the Hillage reissues are one of the better sets of reissues I've come across.

When you get right down to it, this isn't a bad place to start if you're unfamiliar with Hillage. Those who are already fans will find a lot to love here as well. As with Green or L, this is about as good as British space rock gets (I have to give the Germans the win in the end).

Buy Me:
Steve Hillage - 1979 - Live Herald

Steve Hillage - 1978 - Green

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

Golly! I started with these Steve Hillage reviews more than two years ago and never really got back to them. Well, here's Green to continue the tale. As you may or may not be aware, Steve Hillage was one of the more notable guitarists to spend time with the freaky psych-prog band Gong and I would count him (along with Manuel Gottsching probably) as the premier space rock guitarist of the 70's. This album includes some extra space rock royalty as Nick Mason of Pink Floyd served as this album's producer. His presence and the 1978 date on this album do push the sound into the territory of Animals or Wish You Were Here. Hillage's endearing new age Jesus vibe helps to distinguish the affair, and with top rate instrumentalists backing him up (especially his 'life partner' Miquette Giraudy handling the electronics), I'll go ahead and say that I prefer this to the sounds of 70's Floyd.

The songs on Green don't really slap you with an aura of instant awesomeness, but they definitely grow on you. A few songs like "Sea Nature" and "Unidentified (Flying Being)" have an entertaining slight funk edge. The P-funk style bass in the latter probably takes it a step further. "Ether Ships" and "Leylines to Glassdom" focus on the tranced out electronics and guitars that Hillage and Giraudy would focus on more and more over the years (the two are still active and producing fine electronic albums under the monkier System 7). "Crystal Ships" shares an affinity with the music that Bowie and Eno were releasing around this same time period. The proper album closes with "The Glorious Om Riff," which was originally recorded as "Maser Builder" on Gong's You. I'm hesitant to say this one is better, especially with the bias of considering You as one of my favorite albums, but I will say that this track is at least as good as the original.

The reissue of Green also features four bonus tracks. Three of these are contemporaneous live tracks (the studio version of "Not Fade Away" is on Motivation Radio). Hillage has a fine live album with Live Herald, but you can make a pretty fine live set by compiling the tracks from these reissues. There's also an alternate mix of "Meditation of the Snake," which is a little odd since that track is from Fish Rising, but whatever.

This doesn't bug me too much, but it's probably worth noting that Hillage doesn't have much of a singing voice. Space rock bands don't seem to put a lot of stock into vocals (Gong's Daevid Allen doesn't have much of a voice either), and I would describe Hillage's golden throat as a slightly more unhinged Roger Waters. Perhaps Hillage figured this out, and that's why he doesn't sing on the System 7 recordings.

My first impression of this was not the best, but after some time I feel that this is a competitor with L for the title of Hillage's best rock album. It's got a bit of a sci-fi nuance to the sound which always gets my attention. This is also the happy point where Hillage's album artwork switches from 'embarassing' to 'awesome.' Green should go straight to the top of your space rock heap.

Buy Me:
Steve Hillage - 1978 - Green

25 March 2010

Roger Manning Jr. and Brian Reitzell - 2000 - Logan's Sanctuary

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

This album is the soundtrack for an imaginary sequel to the 70's campy sci-fi opus Logan's Run. Now, I'll go straight on record and say that Logan's Run belongs on the short list of my favorite movies. It's a masterpiece of cheezeball 70's futurist designs and Jerry Goldsmith's score remains one of the best electronic soundtracks even today (it's of course dated, but in a rarefied way). Roger Manning Jr., a major musical force in the early 90's pop-psych band Jellyfish and the relentlessly amusing Moog Cookbook would likely agree with this, and Logan's Sanctuary is a haven for goofy analog electronic sounds. It's worth noting that Manning does not try to recreate Goldsmith's sounds. In our hypothetical world, Logan's Sanctuary would have been the ultra low budget sequel with a significant downgrade in production values and the soundtrack budget. Fortunately, if the idea of a Logan's Run sequel (at least musically) is even slightly appealing to you, then the goofier sounds of this disc will not bother you. You'll of course note the name Brian Reitzell from the artist credits. I have to admit that I know little about him other than he was a drummer for the underground band Redd Kross. The drumming here, when present, is pretty groovy, so kudos to you too Mr. Reitzell.

I'm don't really feel like there is a standout or highlight track lurking about here, but almost everything is pretty high quality and certainly listenable. "Islands in the Sky" would open up our low budget, sci-fi potboiler, and it would be a perfect match if this movie actually existed. "Lara's Rainbow" recalls the band Air in one of their darker moments (I think both of these guys have done business with Air), while "Pleasure Dome 12 is sort of like Kraftwerk with orgasms. We also have "Escape," which comes across like an 8-bit ripoff of "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon. My favorite, though, is the widescreen, technicolor, electronic polyester suit sound of "Metropia." It packs the most instantly memorable melody of the album as well.While by no means bad, the sleaze pop of "Search for Tomorrow" doesn't quite hit the mark for me. But all 70's genre films need a vocal track of this sort, so at least Manning and Reitzell made the attempt. "The Silver Garden" throws in a little faux orchestration at the end that I probably could have lived without.

If you dig Logan's Run, Air, and/or something like the Moog Cookbook, you'll find plenty to enjoy here. It's a trip through the sleazy dives of a dystopian future that at least I find infinitely entertaining. It will make you wish that this movie actually existed, but that's probably not realistic. I know that Hollywood has been entertaining the idea of a Logan's Run remake, but like the Willy Wonka remake, they'd probably miss out on the groovy tone of the original for some lame CGI and 'authenticity' to the original source material (well, a movie hewing closer to the original novel of Logan's Run wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I can't imagine that it would have the same insane charm).

Just to rant off subject a little bit, this album was released by the unfortunately now defunct Emperor Norton Records. This is one of the few labels (along with Impulse!, Blue Thumb, and Kompact) that drove me to buy anything I could find on the label. I guess you have to be a genre label in order to do that, and Emperor Norton specialized in freaky retro-electronica. Their biggest moment in the sun was probably the Lost in Translation soundtrack - another fine disc to track down.

15 March 2010

Conrad Schnitzler - 1981 - Conal

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

Conrad Schnitzler deserves a place among the krautrock royalty due to his early 70's work with major German groups like Kraftwerk and Kluster. By the early 80's timeframe of this album, Schnitzler was drifting deeper into the electronic ocean. He wasn't messing with the polysynths of that era as Conal seems to be the mostly (if not completely) the result of experimentation with a modular synthesizer. In fact, this would make a good alternate to the Logan's Run soundtrack as you're gliding through your peoplemover pod in the City of the Domes. This is very much in the line of something Morton Subotnick would've churned out in the late 60's. A positive contrast with some of the other 'bleepity-bloop' proto-electronica is the presence of some buzzing drones to ground the more liquid electronic sounds.

I suppose the idea here is to take the entire thing as a single, 40 minute piece, although we do get the divide in the middle to fit into the vinyl time contraits. With no traditional instruments present (and very little keyboard interface for the electronics), this is solid, otherworldly weirdness. There's not much diversity here, but if you gen zen you'll find plenty of varying textures. Fans of enjoyable primitive electronic music will find plenty to love here.

Warning - 1983 - Electric Eyes

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

Here's an album that will give you nightmares. It's a distinctly early 80's synth pop affair, so it doesn't really fit into our regular 'psychedelic' heading, but it will certainly twirl a few of your brain cells. I've never been to a German bondage club, but I would expect that this album would make a fine soundtrack for that setting. Along with the icy-yet-still-very-analog synths, we get a vocalist who sounds like he really wanted to be in a death metal band, but was kicked out for sounding too much like a satanic Cookie Monster. There's also an occasional disturbing female vocalist chiming in.

The first two tracks on here pretty much give you a feel for the best of the album. "White Camels" is certainly a fun one with an introduction to our demented Cookie Monster vocalist, especially when the song's chorus attempts to brighten up the tone a bit but with no change in the growling vocals. "Dark Crystal" pummels the beat along nicely too and we get a taste of the really creepy female vocals. She comes out sounding sort of like Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Lemon Incest," which is a whole new can of worms in and of itself (the video of that song show pre-teen Charlotte in bed with her daddy Serge). "Journey to the Other Side" and "Night Crossing" start off with cool dark ambient sections in their first halves before devolving into crappy Euro-pop tracks.

Yeah, when all is said and done, this is a pretty disturbing album. It earns points for some sterling synth pop, proto-industrial sounds, and scary Cookie Monster vocals, but I don't think I'd really get caught listening to it too much. I'd call it a guilty pleasure, but it's too freakish for me to apply the word 'pleasure.' Delve in if you dare.

As a side note, this is the second album by Warning. The first one is supposedly just as insane, but features some large slabs of distorted guitar that are mostly absent on Electric Eyes.