21 April 2010

Mike Mainieri - 1968 - Journey Thru an Electric Tube

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

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you're probably aware that I'm a sucker for sitars. I don't think I've quite let readers on to my obsession with the sounds of the vibraphone (I've got a shrine to Roy Ayers in the closet of my mind), but we've got a fine album here to scratch that itch. Mike Mainieri may not be on the A-list of jazz vibraphonists, but he definitely manages to work out some great grooves on this LP. Helping out immensely is flautist Jeremy Steig. His contributions should erase that image of Will Ferrell rocking the jazz flute in Anchorman. This will be in regular rotation on the sound system when I open my chain of opium dens.

On Journey Thru an Electric Tube, we've got several groovers and ballads. All of the groovers are top notch - "It's All Becoming So Clear Now" and "We'll Speak Above the Roar" glide through time and space quite well, with the rhythm section providing a nice platform for Mainieri, Steig, and some fuzz guitar to train off from. "The Bush" makes me thing of early Allman Brothers if you're up for that sort of thing. I'm not quite as hep to the ballads here, but they are perfectly listenable. "I'll Sing You Softly of My Life" fares the best of those tune. But for all of you psychonauts out there, we have the extended "Allow Your Mind to Wander" for your discerning ear. This track has some wild improvisation, strange echoing effects, and is firmly planted in the more avant guard realm of existence. You'll be best of following the instruction of the track's title.

Once you've played out your Cosmic Brotherhood from Bill Plummer, this is a nice destination for your fix of psychedelic jazz. Several of the tracks here have the ability to launch your mind straight through a psychedelic basement club at 3am (well, that's where the electric tube took me), and the rest are perfectly listenable affairs.

20 April 2010

Colours - 1968 - Colours

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

Here's a distinctly American take on the more psychedelic, orchestral sounds that the Beatles were known for. The project was initiated by songwriters Jack Dalton and Gary Montgomery and features fine session players that also played with A-listers like Derek and the Dominos and Taj Mahal. Besides the obvious Beatles influence, the music here is crossbred with the sounds you'd find with Three Dog Night or hippy musicals like Hair, but this one immediately scores an extra Twinkie on the totem pole of psychedelic sounds as I much prefer this to Hair or Three Dog Night. The production is meaty and top notch, and the vocals are of high quality, both with the singer's Lennon-on-quaaludes sound and the Brian Wilson-worthy back ground harmonies. My only major critique with this one is that a fair portion of the lyrics sound like they were written by a 12-year-old ("Smoke a while, think a while - I feel I'm getting mighty bored - I know what I can do - I think I'll rob a liquor store..." FAIL!!), while the rest don't make much of an impressison. Fortunately, the music half of the songwriting more than makes up for this problem with some top notch psychedelic/sunshine pop melodies.

It's hard to pick out the choice tracks here as the album almost plays like a 'best of' collection, which serves to illuminate the quality of the songs. I could live without the music hall/vaudeville schtick of "Don't You Realize," but I have a bias against that sort of thing on rock albums and it's not as bad as the typical late 60's journey into that territory. My favorite tracks are stuck in the middle of the album, although everything here is pretty good. "I'm Leaving" benefits from a groovy beat and a fine fuzzy guitar solo, while "Brother Lou's Love Colony" brings out the sitars and has what I believe is the most memorable. "Love Heal" veer the closest towards Hair territory with it's call-and-response chorus, but the perfect Magical Mystery Tour emulation (the drums and bass are spot on) makes it awesome. "Where Is She" and "Rather Be Me" start off with pretty lame intros, but stick with them for 10 seconds and you'll find some very groovy tunes.

If you frequent the Psychedelic Garage for psychedelic pop, then this album is what you're looking for. No, it's not perfect, but I would say that the flaws here are more endearing than annoying. Yes, they probably borrow a bit too much from the Beatles, but they do it well enough that it's not a problem. At least this makes for a better faux-Beatles album than those of Klaatu or ELO.

Buy Me (this includes a bunch of bonus tracks and their second album):
Colours - 1968 - Colours

13 April 2010

Brad Smith - 2010 - Moon8

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

I have to confess that I really don't like Dark Side of the Moon very much. Maybe I've just heard it too much. I tend to stick to left of the dial stations on my radio, but I feel like whenever I venture into the higher frequencies, I end up hearing "Money." Yet I can't deny that there is some fine artistry behind the Floyd's efforts, and fortunately the last couple years have seen a strange cottage industry of folks covering the entire album. I dug the Flaming Lips faux-krautrock take on the album last year, and I'm a fan of the reggae version that the Easy Star All-Stars cranked out. Here's another one that's gotten my attention. Brad Smith is a video game programmer and musician out of Canada who has managed to make an 8-bit rendition of the music. For those of you who are not retro gaming geeks, these are the sounds that populated Nintendo's FamiCom system back in the 80's, so all of the sounds have to be programmed to fit on a chip set on a game cartridge. I'd say that the man has done his job quite well.

Now, I'm not one to listen to retro game music outside of a game. 8-bit tones can wear on your ears pretty quickly, and they don't make you feel very cool while gliding down the highway. That said, Mr. Smith has managed to stuff in most of the arranging quirks and harmonic tones of the original album using a very small set of musical resources. I think it's fun to hear the saxophones, soul singer, and Roger Waters reduced to simple square waves. Of course with the self-imposed limitations, this is all instrumental.

While this may not be the best album as seen out of context, I would proclaim it the best retro video game soundtrack ever were it actually in a video game. Still, I think that there is something a little more than just novelty value behind Moon8. This is a fine place to try and hear the ghost in the machine. I'd suggest giving this one a listen while running your emulation (or Famicom if you've still got one) of something like Metroid or the first few Final Fantasy games. That would make this one sound like an utter classic.

Note: The files for this are only listed as "Side One" and "Side Two." This is the artist's preference. Head here to take a look at Brad's website:
Moon8 Website

Listen to Me:
Brad Smith - 2010 - Moon8

08 April 2010

Drum Circus - 1971 - Magic Circus

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

Something pretty strange must have been seeping into the Germanic water supply in the early 1970's. This uber-freakout involves Swiss drummer Peter Giger, some folks from Brainticket including Joel Vandroogenbroeck playing flute and sitar, and apparently Timothy Leary sending some of the lyrics their way. The sound here is definitely follows a firm trajectory through the outer reaches of the krautrock universe, but there's also a notable jazz influence that sets this one apart.

The main event here is the twenty-four minute long track, "Magic Circus." This tune offers several distinct sections, with percussive walls of sound, clouds of flute, sitars, modal jazz passages, spoken word, and odd chants. The chanting in particular makes me start thinking about the Firesign Theatre or the Monkees' oddball chant from their film Head. It's a first rate musical trip and chances are that even if you don't dig all of it, some of it will get your attention. Side two brings us some shorter form pieces, with "Papera," "Groove Rock," and "All Things Pass" putting on a convincing jazz and/or funk hat on pretty convincingly, and "Now It Hurts" and "La-Si-Do" recalling the lysergic sounds of Brainticket.

If there's nothing else you can say about this album, it's pretty diverse. But I can say a lot more in favor of it and I'd be willing to toss it at least in the "underrated minor classic" category. Drum Circus is very ambitious in terms of their sonic targets, and I think you'll find that they mostly hit the mark. I just wish that someone had made some groovy psychedelic artwork for the cover instead of the 'I just learned Photoshop yesterday' look (I'm assuming this art is for a more modern release).