28 May 2010

Far East Family Band - 1976 - Parallel World

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

Far East Family Band was one of the absolute best psychedelic/prog bands from Japan, while producer Klaus Schultze was (and is) at the top of the electronic krautrock pile. Even with such strong credentials from the outset, this album is more than the sum of its parts. The two musical forces meld perfectly, with the best parts of their musical identities at the forefront without obscuring the other. Parallel World is how every collaboration would go down in a perfect world (a perfect world that is parallel to ours I would suppose).

"Metempsychosis" is sort of a prelude track, working a tribal groove not too far removed from Schultze's "Moondawn." Schultze's presence is felt even more with his cascading Moogs on "Entering," which eventually crashes head on with the full blast of the Far East Family Band on "Times." Yeah, they're probably echoing Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" a bit too much, but I'll forgive them as I think "Times" is ultimately a superior track. We then get an extended 'sad Japanese man' psychedelic ballad with "Kokoro." It's my least favorite track here, but the quality of this album is so high that it would be a highlight on a lot of other albums. Side two consists of the "Parallel World" song suite, and of course is not to be missed. "Amanezcan" provides some modular Moog haze, while the band cranks up the voltage into some fine psychedelic funk beats on "Origin" and "Zen." The rest of the album lets the sonic DMT kick in as we're treated to some cosmic sounds that rival those on Tangerine Dream's Alpha Centauri.

Parallel World is one of the best psychedelic/prog albums of the 70's. It's definitely the best the Far East Family Band ever sounded, and it's a high point for Klaus Schultze as well. This reaches farther out into the space rock aether than most of the space rock luminaries ever managed, and deserves the ear of all the heads out there.

Gaa - 1973-1987 - Alraunes Alptraum

Quality: 3 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5 (for the first three tracks)
-268 out of 5 (for the rest of the album)

Gaa was one of the more obscure krautrock bands, which I suppose is already a somewhat obscure genre. The first three tracks were earmarked for their never completed second album, while the rest comes from their "second wind" in the 80's. They don't sound like the same band at all. 70's Gaa has a smooth psychedelic jazzy sound while the 80's stuff is more like manna for leather-clad eurotrash neon-lit club dwellers of the period.

You'll want to give this a listen for "Autobahn" and "Morgendammerung." The first has nothing at all to do with the Kraftwerk tune, but sounds sort of like if Roger Waters had taken his World War II obsession to the next level. I'll admit that it could just be because they're singing in German. Either way, it's got a pretty awesome spacey groove. "Morgendammerung" is a lengthy jazz-rock instrumental that has a great flow, even if the bass player seems to have trouble holding the beat a few times. "Heilende Sonne" is a perfectly listenable track, but the rest of the album is ridiculous. I don't necessarily want to dismiss the rest of the album as the inspiration for David Hasselhoff's musical career, but I can help but get an imagine of the Hoff himself working his way through a no-budget karaoke video as this stuff plays. I bet seeing the 80's Gaa in concert would have been a memorable experience, but it sound silly on your sound system.

So we have the memory of a pretty decent 70's krautrock band side-by-side with a bit of the absurd. At least the last four tracks are jaw droppingly bad in a 'I can't believe this is happening' sort of way. That's got to make it worth one listen during which you can pump your spikey bracelet-lade fist. It also a fine album for you to subtly end your next party.

Note: Yes, I know that the first "a" in "Gaa" has an umlaut, but I'm too lazy to figure out how to type that out.

Note 2: While I do enjoy the bug green on the cover, the rest of the art work makes me extremely unhappy and I think gave me a nightmare last night. Fortunately, the other dream where I went skydiving is the one that I remembered well.

08 May 2010

Gandalf - 2007 - Gandalf II

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

If for not other reason than the spectacularly psychedelic cover art, I'd wager that a fair amount of you psych-heads out there know Gandalf already. The thing is that the baroque popsters had already broken up by the time that first album came around in 1968, and these recordings are mostly from 1968-1970. No, this is more of unearthed odds and sods from Gandalf luminary Peter Sando - but this is not a problem at all. Sando wrote the two original songs on the first Gandalf album, and I lamented in my review that there should have been more. I was very happy to find that we get eight more Sando tunes on this disc. Now, fans should come forewarned that the organ sounds and endlessly echoed vocals that formed the band sound is not often present here. In fact, these songs are pretty much all over the place stylistically, with acid-folk, psych rock, and pop rock along the lines of the better early 70's Beach Boys recordings representing a few of the genres bouncing around the grooves of this album. The recording quality varies a lot as well from full production numbers to sputtering demos.

We get the best tunes at the beginning and the end of the album. "Bird in the Hand" is a great opener and could have slipped in nicely on the Beach Boys' Sunflower. "Days Are Only Here and Gone" and the cover of "Ladyfingers" do drift a little closer to the more recognizable Gandalf, so you don't get left completely high and dry with this collection. The tail end of the album has some live tracks that are not of the best recording quality, but they do rock out. "Golden Earrings" is arguably better than the studio version and they make a nice Yardbirds' style rip through "Downbound Train."

I don't think this really qualifies as a real Gandalf album, but there are lots of groovy sounds for you to pick and choose from. Besides, when dealing with a good band that only released one album, there's something to be said for any attempt to scavenge for some more tracks. It certainly plays better straight through than Syd Barrett's Opel.

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Gandalf - 2007 - Gandalf II