30 November 2010

Pisces - 1969 - A Lovely Sight

Quality: 3.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.75 out of 5

By 1969, a lot of the sounds presented on A Lovely Sight were already becoming cliches. You'll get a plethora of various West Coast sounds speeding towards your ear, along with the vaudeville music urges that a few too many of the hippy bands indulged in. Fortunately, the musicians involved in Pisces play pretty well, and while they're song writing is no great shakes, there are a few aces up their collective sleeve. Pisces' drummer in particular hits upon a few breakbeats that someone needs to sample if it hasn't been done already. Also, occasional vocalist Linda Bruner does a pretty good job of putting forth a depressed Grace Slick vibe, which does work better than my description probably suggested. The production is also generally clear with a bit of amusing 60's experimentation, which I see as a pretty good thing.

Now the big stand out here is 'Mary,' an awesome psych track that could open up any Nuggets style compilation. The beat is phenomenal, which the fuzz guitar and disembodied sounding vocals float perfectly on top off. It's almost like a precursor to the shoegazer vibe that the Brits would dig 20 years later. There is a slightly disjointed middle section complete with sampled radio announcements, but it still has a fun retro charm. The spare "Motley Mary Ann" managed to get stuck in my head despite the terrible song title, and I swear the pretty good "Children Kiss Your Children Goodnight has something that sounds like a digital synth in it. "Sam" has a pretty cool drum delay, although the track is basically an average sounding San Francisco style slow rocker. "Are You Changing in Your Time" is a nice acid folk track, while "In the Dreams of Paula" sort of takes the acid folk idea and tosses in a bunch of fuzz guitar to mix it up a bit. "Circle of Time" works up a nice head of steam in the instrumental, even if the rest comes across like a second tier Jefferson Airplane. Really, nothing here is particularly bad, although very little stands out as very original.

By no means a classic, A Lovely Sight is a fine listen for those already indoctrinated into the San Fran scene and/or acid folk. For the rest of you, you'll at least want to give "Mary" a try, as I see it as the one completely classic track on an otherwise pleasantly average album. Truthfully, this album is more or less just a compilation of everything the band recorded, and not so much of a coherent album anyway. If this had been my musical legacy from Illinois in the 60's, I'd feel perfectly groovy begin associated with it.

Susumu Yokata - 1994 - Acid Mt. Fuji

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

The title of this makes me think that we're supposed to slap it with an 'acid house' label. Certainly, many elements of that genre are present and accounted for her, but the music presents these beats with a pretty light touch. There is a strong pull towards ambient sounds present as well, and it comes in a flavor not too dissimilar from the early Orb albums. Really, it's an approach that saves this music from the glossy sound that accompanied much of the acid house of the 90's. Yeah, that production sheen is there, but this music is much more of a mind trip than the gritty dance-floor freak out that acid house often aims for.

The tracks are pretty well sequenced, with a notable build up throughout the album. The first couple of songs feature fine soundscapes punctuated by some light beats. They come across like a slightly more in-your-face version of the electronic sounds of Gas. "Meijijingu" pushes the BPMs a little faster, and the flavor of ambience takes on more colours from the Orb. "Saboten's" late night dance floor vibe is definitely one of the highlights of the album. The mid section of the album gets a little too involved with clanging noises and long stretches of programmed percussion, but "Akafuji" brings back some focus with it's dark soundscape, and "Tanuki" is a fine world music groover, even if the world music elements sound a bit like they took a trip through the Nature Company store. On the other hand, "Alphaville" comes across almost as insistently annoying as the computer voice from the movie I assume the track is titled after.

While this is not top flight electronica, and does offer quite a bit of trippy sounds and should be appealing to those of you who dig stuff like Gas or the early Orb. There's definitely a nice 'art' vibe here - Yokota was clearly trying to create some textured, visual sounds, and some of the results are quite beautiful.

12 November 2010

Bruce Haack - 1970 - The Electric Lucifer

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

Bruce Haack expended a lot of his efforts on children's and novelty music. Here, he tries to make a more 'adult' album, although the insane concept and sounds keeps it charmingly goofy. I guess you could say that this album sits at a crossroads among the Jefferson Airplane, the easy listening Moog stylings of Perry and Kingsley, and wacked out mysticism. No, that combination doesn't really make sense, but that's probably a good thing for this album. The album's concept has to do with 'Powerlove,' a force that is supposed to bring humanity together and reunite it with the forgiven Lucifer. Word up!

Despite the concept, this album comes across best as a series of great, and very out there, tunes. My favorite here is "Program Me," which really does come across like alien doppelgangers of the Jefferson Airplane playing rubber instruments in a glass moon dome. "National Anthem to the Moon," meanwhile, has a great minor-key melody and "Electric To Me Turn" features some awesome homemade vocoder. "Word Game" is sort of an even more deranged version of what Haack was doing with Miss Nelson. For a dose of pure psychedelic madness, I direct you to "Super Nova." You get your 'powerlove' anthem with "Requiem," although it entertainingly loses focus after each verse, and then ends with a bit of "The First Noel."

This is a pretty phenomenal album. It's certainly unlike anything else that you'll come across. Bruce Haack really was a mad genius. Although his approach and music was extremely different, I feel that Haack must have shared the same astral plane as Sun Ra (I like to think they still do). When I bought this one on vinyl, the fellow at the record store gave me a discount for the simple fact that I was buying The Electric Lucifer.

Bruce Haack - 1968 - Way Out Record For Children

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

Bruce Haack was an early electronic music pioneer who went to the trouble of creating his own electric noise makers and synthesizers. He also had a serious whimsical streak, which must have brought in contact with Miss Nelson, his collaborator for this and a few other albums from the period. I believe Miss Nelson was a bona fide kindergarten teacher, and this is a bona fide children's album. Granted, I get an image of the kids in Huxley's Brave New World dancing to this just after their first hit of soma, but that's still children's music, yeah?

For the most part, these are more chants and stories than proper songs, but Haack's musical insanity often comes springing out of nowhere for a passage or three. 'Motorcycle Ride' doesn't have much more than a (sampled?) drum loop going for it musically, but the strange affectations of the vocals make me think of tots rolling down the street in a bike gang. 'Mudra' is probably the most mind bending of the tracks here, with the structure of a basic kindergarten activity, but the synthesized faux-Eastern sounds making the whole thing far stranger. "Accents" will just hurt your brain, but I suppose that it is somewhat educational. "Nothing to Do" is just waiting for a Yo La Tengo cover - maybe they've already gotten to it.

There aren't many psychedelic children's albums out there, and it's perfectly possible that all of them were made by Bruce Haack and Miss Nelson. Should you actually play it for your kid? Probably not - but I did. She seems to like J-pop better, though.