21 December 2011

Dr. Schluss' Best of 2011

I never got around to publishing my best of last year, but I've heard a pretty wide abundance of tunes this year and feel like I need to take a crack at it. For whatever reason, I've gravitated towards dreamy, ambient sounds even more than usual this year, so you'll hear a fair amount of that wafting around on these tracks. Anyway, here's the rundown for you:

10. Tom Waits - Bad as Me: The Man doesn't do anything new here. but it's a perfect iteration of his bone-clanging, skid row poet vibe.

9. Jonas Reinhardt - Music for the Tactile Dome: I definitely dig Reinhardt's Berlin school vibes vibrating through this release. Will zone you out for the most part but wake you up every now and again as well.

8. Yuck - Yuck: This UK band sounds like Kevin Shields fronting Dinosaur Jr., or My Bloody Valentine covering Dinosaur Jr.'s tunes. It doesn't really matter as we've got the modern shoegazer stance perfected on this disc.

7. Dementia and Hope Trails - Parts of the Sea: Although not quite Manuel Gottsching at his best, this ambient freakfest has had my undivided attention for the past few months.

6. Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What: Melding his sonic experiments of the past 30 years with the best of his 70's songwriting, Simon manages a classic album pretty late in the game. Dylan's the only other who could pull this off, but Simon's got the added draw that his voice isn't shot.

5. Atlas Sound - Parallax: Bradford Cox keeps pulling direct punches with his solo prokect and his main gig, Deerhunter. He's got it down to a science now, and Parallax continues to perfect his dream-rock sound.

4. Mohave Triangles - Eternal Light of the Desert Plateau: This is the grooviest ambient music I;ve heard this year. Although we'll always reserve a spot at the table for Philip Glass, this takes the yearly cup for a sonic Koyaniisqatsi.

3. Real Estate - Days: The best straight-up rock I heard this year walks a fine tightrope between early R.E.M. and Joy Division with some great songwriting keeping the balance.

2. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues: I didn't buy into the hype on their first album, but the Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, and Nash grooves shine through this disc. This mayvery well be your hillbilly Smile.

1. Panda Bear - Tomboy: Keeping Brian Wilson in mind, I'll be damned if anyone else manages to better fill the vocal space of that man in his 1966 prime than Panda Bear. Although the computerized trippiness of his last solo album is largely missing here, the stellar songwriting and insular production more than makes up for it.

Here's a sampler of some of the sounds that I've been talking about. You find the full releases of Dementia and Hope Trails and Mohave Triangles elsewhere on this site. As usual, I threw in a few previews of my new Glaze of Cathexis and Damaged Tape projects, not because I think my music is the best, just because it seems like a good excuse to run them by your ear.

1. Tom Waits - Raised Right Men
2. Panda Bear - You Can Count on Me
3. Jonas Reinhardt - To Lord Eminence
4. Atlas Sound - Te Amo
5. Glaze of Cathexis - Dream's Visions
6. Mohave Triangles - Eternal Light (edit)
7. Paul Simon - Getting Ready for Christmas Day
8. Fleet Foxes - Lorelai
9. Damaged Tape - Melted Into Angel Form
10. Real Estate - Kinder Blumen
11. Yuck - Holing Out
12. Dementia and Hope Trails - It Rung in My Ears and Still Does

Listen to Me:

07 December 2011

Mohave Triangles - 2011 - Eternal Light of the Desert Plateau

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

I've gone on a bit about all the strange electronic and ambient music that's been drifting around on cassette tapes over the past few years, and this is definitely one of the real winners. The truly trippy cover reflects the washes of sound that you're going to hear on this set. It's a hazy and mystical experience, with the tape hiss becoming a integral ingredient of this sound world. As a musician, I tend to pick out the instruments when I listen to tune, but I have no idea what the hell's going on in these tracks. Personally, I find this kind of disorientation invigorating.

The two tracks tend to follow a similar path of a full on drone which slowly builds in detail with small melodies slowly peaking through the haze. "Eternal Light" begins with an invocation/warning from a Mohave(?) fellow which echoes the environmental/apocalyptic vibe of the great film "Koyaanisqatsi (Life Out of Balance)." You'll hear him drift back into the track as if submerged later on. "in the Realm of the Desert Temples" build ominously, as if we're preparing for a human sacrifice before entertainingly plunging into a coda which provides release as it comes across like the tape of a new age album that's been melting in your Ford Escort since 1985.

It's been a few months since we've had a real brainwasher on the blog, but I think this'll do the trick. I've found it to be addictive listening. This kind of music requires a sort of painterly control and sweep. Mohave Triangles may very well be masters of the form.

Head to their website to download this one and perhaps a few more:

Parton Kooper Planetarium - 2011 - Glass and Bone

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

I'm really have no idea where these folks are from, but I'm going to guess it's a desert. I've done my psychic detective work. The first track is called "In A Desert," which seemed like a possible tip off. Also you slowly realize that this is a blooze-infected shoegazer album as the psychedelic shards of desert sands wind-blast like glass though your bones. Anyway, this album is slightly spotty, but in that positive sort of way where the good stuff is really good, and you find yourself hoping that this will be a nostalgic prelude to something even better in the future.

The opener didn't quite hook me, but I found myself diggin' the almost gothic rock of "Future Unions" quite well. Then the band floors you a bit more with the full bore shoegaze blast of "Chew Off Your Foot," before cranking the amps to 11 for the title track, which recalls the completely deranged noise-pop of Astrobrite. "Patmos" and "Voyager" also rank well in the sweepstakes for the next rockin' pop hit on Neptune, and I do hope the band expands a bit on the strange, truncated sound worlds of "Gasoline" and "Abstraction" next time around.

This isn't the best album I've come across this year, but it's got enough that I'm looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future. The bedroom shoegazer has become a bit of a cliche (which I've admittedly fallen into on some of my own Glaze of Cathexis recordings), but this album has the meaty production and band interplay to take it somewhere a little different, and that's definitely worth your attention. They also include influences such as the blues and "More," "Meddle"-era Pink Floyd, which shoegazers typically avoid.

Head to their website for a free download:

Akiko Nakamura - 1968 - Hit Album

Quality: 3.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 2 (plus a ghost point for surf guitar) out of 5

As you may or may not know, I'm based in Japan and as such many sounds of the island pass by my ear. Unfortunately, J-pop is pretty rotters, although there is definitely some awesome music lurking in the underground. I do did the older sounds of Japanese pop and old school enka (enka is the traditional form of Japanese popular music), and Akiko Nakamura's album has a bit of both running through her musical DNA along with a candy-coated obsession with the contemporary sounds coming from the West. I hope you dig the groovy, if a bit square, sounds on this LP. Japan didn't really have any of the 'peace, love, and LSD' revolutions we had in the West, and it shows.

Nakamura goes for a few Western cover tunes, but that's not really the place to start. The arrangements are pretty schmaltzy, and I've got to admit that I hate Peter, Paul, and Mary's "I Dig Rock n' Roll Music" with a passion - regardless of who's playing it. No, you're here for the day-glo, go-go dancing pop tune, and you'll get that in spades. "Niijiro no Mizumi (Rainbow Lake)" gets us started with an almost funky drumbeat almost drowning in an amusingly enka-like string arrangement and punctuated with a surf guitar lead (the Japanese LOOOOVED the Ventures in the 60's). "La, La, La" throws us another great surf guitar bone, and would've felt right at home in the Bond flick "You Only Live Twice." "Betsuri (Wakare) (Separation)" goes full-enka, which basically mean a depressing melody with even more depressing lyrics played melodramatically. Of course you haven't really heard enka until you've heard a drunken, middle-aged, crying salaryman belting it out at karaoke, but this will do for now. "Tokyo Flower" will pick you up again anyway with a jaunty horn arrangement. But y'know, by this part of the album they've completely stopped trying to be groovy for the kids anyway. They try to trick you by sticking the Peter, Paul, and Mary cover at the end, but that's kind of like trying to make up to your girlfriend by pooping on her doorstep.

So, this isn't really psychedelic, but it may be mind expanding, especially if you haven't spent time in Japan. Anyway, it goes well with senbei (Japanese rice crackers) and Asahi beer. Does anyone know a good blog for 60's and 70's Japanese pop? All I can find at the record store is damn AKB48.

22 November 2011

Glaze of Cathexis - 2011 - I Often Dream of the Apocalypse

The title here is a true fact, although my dreams do tend to be like tripped out blockbuster films rather than nightmares, so I pretty much welcome them. The seed for this album started as I was scoring tracks for the 60's styled exploitation film, "The Erotik Castle of Dr. Humpinstein." I was going for surfin', bikin', and all around 60's crunch. I really got going when I had some work days scrapped in the aftermath of the March 11th Japan quake, and kept on recording through the aftershocks. Obviously, some of the palpable paranoia from the prospect of getting irradiated by Fukushima is quite present as well. I remember being told by my boss to wear a mask outside during the radiation spike of March 15th. Not that I was going for a depressing vibe - I want you to rock n' roll to this music. Like the last Glaze of Cathexis album, I'm presenting this in both a rockin' crunchy mono mix, and a 60's styled psychedelic stereo mix with the drum kit shoved in the left channel. I also need to give some props to Gonzoriffic Films' Andrew Shearer, who was groovy enough to serve as the drummer, and pounded away to these tunes. Here are some song notes for your perusal:
1. I Often Dream of the Apocalypse (2:28) – I had already given this album the name, but I thought a title track would be fun. This was originally recorded for Andrew Shearer’s film ‘The Erotik Castle of Dr. Humpinstein’ as a dance number called ‘The F@&k!!!’ For the album track, I felt compelled to try and match the insanity of the original track, so I did my best unhinged Roky Erikson impression on the vocals.
2. Coconut Sunstroke (1:35) – I had a few drinks and tried to record this as a sort of 60’s Marc Bolan acoustic guitar and bongos thing. It was a little short for a real tune, so I decided to use it as an acoustic interlude. It does have a vocal melody that I never bothered recording, though.
3. Nuclear Sundown (3:06) – I came up with this tune while strolling into UGA’s Russell Hall during my freshman year of university back in 1997. For this rendition, I revised the lyrics to reflect the time after Fukushima went wild and tried to give it a groovy Byrds/Velvet Underground approach. Previously I’d tried to make it a punk or soul number, but I think this one fits best.
4. Cold Fusion (3:02) – And how to solve our nuclear problems? Maybe by inventing cold fusion. This started as a surf number for ‘Humpinstein,’ but for the album version I found a list of radioactive elements and sang all the ones that ended with ‘-ium.’ Certainly it’s the best track to follow ‘Nuclear Sundown.’
5. Drifting Concepts (3:51) – I recorded the original instrumental groove about 12 years ago and made a version with lyrics around 2007 (that one can be heard on one of the compilations at the 'Homemade Lo-Fi Psyche' blog). That recording sounded like strangled butt, though, so I’m glad that I made this re-recording.
6. Nothin’ll Ever Let You Down (2:26) – This was another instrumental for ‘Humpinstein,’ but I threw in some lyrics for this version, even if they get entertainingly pretentious. I started recording around the time of the March 11th earthquake, and you’ll hear a flaw in the recording at 1:05 that was the result of one of the aftershocks. Instead of getting under a table or leaving the building as a sane person would, I just kept recording as the room was shaking around me.
7. Technicolour Clouds (4:05) – I recorded this in Atlanta during the ‘Golden Konbanwa’ recording sessions. I recently rediscovered it on my hard drive. The track was a little more electronic and I intended it to be a Damaged Tape track, but I took out some synth parts and stuck it on this album. The tune is meant to be a bit of a palette cleanser. I really dug how ‘Treefingers’ on Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ sort of served that purpose, and that’s what I want this to be.
8. Explosions in the Sky (2:09) – This was the title track for ‘Humpinstein,’ but a retrofitted it and it kickstarted the apocalyptic vibe, along with the apocalyptic vibes that were all around back in March. I let my Southern accent rip a bit on the vocals, and the lyrics were meant to have a bit of a ‘Major Tom’ groove, with an astronaut watching the world end from a space station. Sonically, I was going for the theme song to the ultra-obscure psychploitation film ‘Psyched by the 4-D Witch,’
9. The World is a Circle (4:03) – This is a Hal David/Burt Bacharach tune from the horribly cheesy ‘Lost Horizon’ musical from the early 70’s. You can find the original on youtube, but you’ll probably regret it. For my take, I was trying to go for John Lennon stealing Kurt Cobain’s amphetamines and recording showtunes.
10. Stream Moves On (3:52) – I wrote this for ‘Underground Sound,’ but didn’t get around to recording it until this year. It ended up a little more acoustic than I originally planned, but I through in some Moog parts to balance that out. Vocally I’m going for the lovechild of Roger McGuinn and Ira Kaplan (from Yo La Tengo).
11. The World Cannot End (3:31) – I also wrote this for ‘Underground Sound,’ and recorded the drums and rhythm guitar during those sessions. I think it came out a little like R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen in a juke joint
12. Run Again (2:43) – This is a country ditty that I originally wrote and recorded in 2001. I used to try to sing it like Johnny Cash, but I found it was much better to go for a Roy Orbison approach.

If you are groovy enough to give this a listen, I'd love to hear your comments.

Lee Hazelwood - 1970 - Cowboy in Sweden

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

If you've spent any time listening to my Glaze of Cathexis recordings, then you'll know that I have an affinity for old school country and folk that slips through the psychedelia every now and then. Lee Hazelwood first crossed my radar when I was a college DJ, and his late 60's and early 70's albums definitely caught my attention. This is the best of them. Let's face it - a cowboy in Sweden is pretty trippy, and this is just what Hazelwood did in pursuit of a Swedish independent filmmaker who churned out a film of the same name. The tracks here kind of, sort of fit into a country pop sound, but there is some strange gauze informing the music here that at least sounds influenced by the wacky tabacky. The string arrangements are sometimes a touch overwhelming, but the overall effect of this album is worth your attention.

Hazelwood's road worn voice definitely takes us into the sonic labyrinth of his mind on the first to tracks, "Cold Hard Times," and "The Night Before." The well-picked acoustic guitar is well balanced by the arrangements and result in some catchy tunes. "For a Day Like Today," "Vem Kan Selga," and "Leather and Lace" serve up some fine female voices filling in for Hazelwood's old collaborator Nancy Sinatra (think of the 60's classic "These Boots are Made For Walkin'"). "Leather and Lace" in particular presents us with a great haunting melody where the string arrangement works out quite well. You'll find the orchestral arrangements cheesing up the sound a bit on "Hey Cowboy" and "What's More I Don't Need Her." Fortunately, "no Train to Stockholm" and the phenomenal psychedelic Louis Lamour vibe of "Pray Them Bars Away" balance things out.

Whereas a lot of psychedelic bands switched gears to country rock during this time period, you'll find Lee Hazelwood attempting a strange fusion of the two. You'll likely require a touch of a yearning to traverse the New Mexican wilderness by peyote-fueled horse to really get into this one, but it strikes me as a very groovy sonic prospect, and it may do it for your ear as well.

12 November 2011

Robyn Hitchcock - 1999 - Jewels For Sophia

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

This is sort of the starting point for the modern day Robyn Hitchcock vibe, and it's probably the album of his I've listened to the most. I grabbed a promo copy of this one in a groovy purple case at the university radio station that I used to DJ at, although I subsequently lost it to an old girlfriend (although in full disclosure, I probably deserved it). I recently came across a copy of it again, and realized that half the songs on here have been bouncing around in my head for the past 12 years. This is Hitchcock's songwriting at it's catchiest, and the indie rock royalty groove is boosted with the jangling guitar of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on a few tracks.

Opening track "Mexican God" gets a prime spot in the top of the pops of my head, and the fine lyrics ("Time will destroy you like a Mexican god.") are shored up with an acoustic arrangement backed by a slowly pounding beat. My band at the time of this release seriously considered taking on the name of this track - that or the absurdly referencing 'Sexxxican Gods.' 'Viva Sea-Tac' is a mildly dopey, but infectious stomping ode to Hitchcock's adopted home base. 'I Feel Beautiful' and the closing title track pretty much own the psychedelic ballad, while 'Sally Was a Legend' and 'Elizabeth Jade' are endlessly catchy rockers that suggest what Syd Barrett would have sounded like fronting an indie band. And I'd be remiss not to mention the infamous hidden bonus track paranoidly ranting on about Gene Hackman.

I don't think that this one typically tops most people's list of Robyn Hitchcock albums, but it's pretty near this top of mine. With some wonderfully crisp production and some lyrics that sound hit in the head with a psychedelic paddle, it'll at least keep you entertained for three quarters of an hour. We'll give a pass to the already dated album cover, which would probably be a fitting one for the worst of Sarah McLachlan.

02 November 2011

The Mojo Men -1966-1967 - Sit Down...It's the Mojo Men

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

This compilation covers the second iteration of the Mojo Men, who sprang forth from the primordial San Francisco scene. They started off as a more garage rock affair, but had added singer/drummer Jan Errico and ambled off into fields of folk-rock and sunshine pop. The other big early San Francisco band, Autumn Records labelmates the Beau Brummels, were arguably a little better, but the Mojo Men throws out more sonic signposts to the later explosion of Bay Area rock n' roll. Jan Errico comes across like a less intense version of Grace Slick (who was of course the legendary Starship vocalist), and the folk rock strut here is not too far removed from the Jefferson Airplane's first album with Signe Anderson. You'll also hear some very groovy early touches of psychedelia, and a sunshine pop sheen borrowed from the Mamas and the Papas. It may be heresy, but I think I dig the Mojo Men a little more than that particular musical (kinda) family. There's a touch of the Buffalo Springfield lurking around as well, which makes sense since Steven Stills penned their hit, "Sit Down, I Think I Love You." Round two of the Mojo Men never resulted in an actual album, but we get their awesome singles, some of which include the arranging talents of Van Dyke Parks, and a few tracks from an aborted album.

The production here is nice and chonky, and the sound makes most of this sound like a coherent even though the music is sources from several different places over a two year period. "Whatever Happened to Happy" is a prime sunshine pop singles, with some space echo adding just the right of trippiness to a fine melody. Of course "Sit Down, I Think I Love You" did make it to the charts, and it's a classic folk-rocker. Most of the tracks here are pretty stong, but I really stand up and take attention to "What Kind of Man," which evolves into a full blown psychedelic raga jam. I typically don't dig horny rock (y'know, of the brass kind - am I just digging my hole deeper?), but the arrangements on "Flower of City" does set the song on fire, and if you pay attention, there are also some nice pizzicato strings. The band occasionally threatens to ring the cheese alarm, but they only manage to do so on "Do the Hanky Panky." Really, though, I can't blame the band. Not even musical Jesus can save that song (along with "The Hippy Hippy Shake," which fortunately does not appear on this album).

This is an essential collection for a variety of you seekers. Historically, it's a not-so-missing link on the road to San Francisco rock. It's also prime rib for those that are squinting for sunshine pop. But most of all, it's a catchy set of lite psych, where all of those light touches are primed for maximum grooviness.

27 October 2011

Seventh Sons - 1968 - Raga (4am at Frank's)

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

The somewhat unverified claim behind this album is that it was actually recording back in 1964, making it one of the first (if not The first) white boys ragas put to tape at a time when the Beatles still just wanted to hold your hand. If this is true, then these boys certainly deserve some props, although later folks of various colours would certainly top the achievement of sound found here. Still, this is a very groovy raga and coasts along nicely as it bops through your brain. It makes me think of that time about ten years ago when I visited San Francisco and jammed with a bunch of hippies in a century old house. If nothing else, this rather short album will likely send you into that psychic zone as well.

We've got two tracks here, although it's a casualty of a vinyl split and really amounts to one tracks. Really, the whole thing is a sonic mantra and pretty much stays in the same groove with some cycling instrumental and vocal parts wafting in and out of the mix. You've got your trance-like acoustic guitar augmented by bongos permeating the entire thirty minutes. There's also plenty of bohemian flute cropping up competing for time with some stoned, wordless chanting vocals. Honestly, that pretty much constitutes the beginning and end of this release. There's really no variation, but the gentle floating, western raga will transport the minds of those of you inclined to follow this thing.

Really, after the first thirty seconds, you'll have a pretty good idea if you're into this or not. I find it a pretty enjoyable affair, but it all comes down to a question of taste. Are you down with the manically strumming hippies or aren't you? Fortunately, the smell of this thing is more of the nag champa variety, and not that patchouli scent that makes me run out of the room in terror.

16 October 2011

Dr. Strangely Strange - 1970 - Heavy Petting

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

I suppose one of the strangest things about this collection is how addictive it is. This a relatively above average set of Irish folk rock. Typically, that wouldn't interest me too much, but this album does have a few aces in the hole. While it's squarely rooted in Irish folk, a few San Fran psychedelica hallmarks make an impact, with some of the male/female vocal leads coming across like Grace Slick and Martin Balin, as well as a few great acid guitar leads hiding away on the disc. It probably doesn't hurt that psychedelic/folk deity Joe Boyd was behind the boards as the producer. The drums in particular have an awesome, crisp sound.

While the band does stick mostly within the folk millieu, they do manage quite a few diverse sounds in that context making for a fine variety of sound on this album. 'Ballad of the Wasps' will likely become stuck in your head forever with its great melody. There are some distinct echoes of the Incredible String Band on 'Kilmanoyadd Stomp.' Although Dr. Strangely Strange doesn't quite match the manic minstrel vibe of the ISB, their result does seem more 'groovy' to me. The mostly instrumental 'Sign On My Mind' gives us a fabulous folky space rock jam. Maybe this is what mid 70's Floyd would have sounded like if they'd stuck with the folkier tunes from "More" or "Obscured By Clouds." I really dig the very pastoral instrumental of 'When Adam Delved' as well. The band finally blasts out some full-blown rockin' on "Mary Malone of Moscow,' which is punctuated with some fine acid rock guitar leads and a billowing organ.

This is definitely a top-self set of folk rockin' Irish style. I'd claim this as one of the highlights on Joe Boyd's resume. Come to think of it, I'd wager that this is more or less what the Essex Green (whose early albums we covered on this blog some time ago) was using this album as a template, especially as their sound and album cover wasn't too far removed from "Heavy Petting." Here's the gold though - it's more authentic and very groovy.

13 October 2011

Various Artists - 2000 - Stone Fox

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

When this compilation came out, I was DJ'ing at the University of Georgia and had some serious label love for Emperor Norton Records. They specialized in quirky, rubbery electronica and reissuing some of the albums that inspired it. I always tended to grab the CDs with their mark, and this one just happened to be in the free bin. I'm usually not a huge fan of the 'various artists' sort of set, but this one has always done it for me.

Arling and Cameron has the greatest presence here, They'd recently released an album of fake soundtrack music, which is represented by the Esquivel-by-way-of-Paris "Le Flic Et La Fille." Some remixes of tracks from that album also appear here, with Fantastic Plastic Machine's original mix of "Take Me to the Disco" trumping the album version, while the remix of "1999 Spaceclub," while entertaining, does not match it's album brother. Speaking of fake soundtracks, you'll hear a bit of the non-existent 'Logan's Sanctuary' with "Metropia." In the 'real soundtrack' department, there's an alternate version of Air's great "Playground Love," recorded for 'The Virgin Suicides,' lurking around here. For playful blasts of retro-electro-psychedelia, DJ Me DJ You's "Set the Controls" should hit the spot, and Takako Minekawa gives us a nice image of Bjork passed out in a Shibuya gutter with "Fantastic Voyage" while simultaneously referencing Lou Reef's "Walk on the Wild Side." Some oldies but goodies show up with a bit of homemade synthesizer guru Bruce Haack in the form of the kids' song "Upside Down," and Walter Murphy's "Dancin'" is ambiguously destined for an educational film of a sort-core adult movie- it's really hard to tell. And let's not forget, "Citroens 'n' Sitars" has sitars! Yay!

The Emperor Norton story is a tale that I think everyone might have forgotten. But I remember it, dammit! It's a little goofy at times, but I find it charming. In the top 40 of my mind, Arling and Cameron, DJ Me DJ You, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and Takako Minekawa were superstars!

29 September 2011

Dementia and Hope Trails - 2011 - Parts of the Sea

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

Here's a tripped-out set that I stumbled on one of the many, way underground cassette tape releases than seem to be all the rage with the bedroom studio hep kids these days. This is a guitar drone album whose press release gleefully states that all the sounds on this recording were made with a guitar. Now, as a musician I tend to be a bit of a synth geek, but I do very much appreciate guitarists who are interested in melting and mangling the sounds of their guitar as you'll hear here. It's sort of like the trippier, medatative moments of Slowdive or Godspeed You Black Emperor, but, y'know, without all of those annoyances like the rest of the band or songs. I swear I meant that last sentence as a complement.

It's almost useless to discuss songs here, as the tracks are all guitar drones and simple but effective riffs sometimes extended to insane proportions. What you're looking for here is texture - choosing the track you're going to play is like choosing the your ice cream flavor. Maybe it's a bigger decision as several of the tracks here will last far longer than it takes for you to eat your 'squid-flavored' ice cream (if you want to try that flavor, head here and look for the Ice Cream City:http://www.namja.jp/):. Anyway, I find myself typically going for the marathon sessions on the second disc where "Sunflower" and "I Miss You, Don't Fall Asleep Yet" space out for around a half hour each. It suits me well as I screw around on the internet, make trippy marker art drawings, and so forth. That said, the first disc does present more of those hardcore drone-y sounds that are akin to sticking your head in the cosmic freezer.

Most of the music labelled 'new age' seems to sort of blow. I don't think anyone's slapping this set with that label, but it's much more likely to teleport your brain to the calm, intergalactic cloud that so-called new age music tends to imply. At any rate, this is not a bad introduction to the strange world of underground cassette tape drones if you haven't already made the plunge.

Head over yonder to download a copy:

22 September 2011

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - 2003 - Sleep/Holiday

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

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci had very much fallen into a relaxed Brit folk rock groove by this point, and they were pretty much coasting on it. Fortunately, this wasn't so much a dip in quality as in avant garde ambition, and as this ended up being their last album, the band gets an easy pass. Euros Childs great crooning vocals makes up a fair portion of the glue that holds this disc together, but the crisp, warm production and Megan Childs' violin certainly pull their weight as well. For the most part, this is a very relaxing and dreamy set of psychedelically tinged folk rock.

This band had no problem cranking out a bunch of quality tune, and there are definitely some fine examples stowed away in the grooves of this disc. The first two tracks ('Waling for Winter' and Happiness') and 'Eyes of Green, Green, Green' have the band's brand of folk rock down to a science, while the band takes a fine detour into their older, rockin' sound on 'Mow the Lawn.' I hear some serious Beach Boys influences creeping into some tunes as well. 'Leave My Dreaming' comes across like a Beach Boys session at Stax Records at 3am, and 'Pretty as a Bee' goes for the often ignored Dennis Wilson approach, although it's kind of like Dennis trying to record 'Dark Side of the Moon.' 'Single to Fairweather' doesn't have so much of a Beach Boys vibe musically, but its sweet ballad awesomely ruined by a left field punch line reminds me of Brian Wilson's 'I'd Love Just Once to See You.' You'll also have a ball droning out to the extended instrumental coda of 'Only Takes a Night.' The only tune that I could do without is the overly obvious 'Country,' which is trying a few bits to hard to live up to that title.

Gorky's probably could have gone on for years cranking out records like this one, but this one retains just enough freshness to take up a solid place in the band's discography. As this appears to have been their last album, it's a nice way to keep the band's reputation solid. I don't see many references to these guys anymore, but maybe a few of you can rediscover them and spread the word.

21 September 2011

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - 1999 - Spanish Dance Troupe

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

I believe that this was Gorky's American debut and it's certainly the first time I came across them as I was spinning discs at my college radio station. By this time, the band had toned down quite a bit, and had developed a sort of 'twilight' haze to the music. Things are much folkier and violinist Megan Childs has far more to do. Typically, I would not see this as a plus. I'm a conceited cellist myself, and violins typically don't do it for me (especially in rock and jazz), but Child's violins parts are well thought out and irreplaceable bits of the tunes. While not quite as exuberant as their earlier material on average, their mature sound presents a band that really has grown into their own thing and this is probably their best album.

Now, after going on a bit about the quieting down of the band, the rockers on this disc do put in duty of some of the highlights. 'Poodle Rocking' is just as entertainingly dumb as it's title and will end up stuck in your head forever. It's the only spot on this album where the band rips into the tune with wild abandon. The amps crank up a bit on 'Desolation Blues' as well, and the awesome crunch guitar riff fits along with Euros Child's crooning vocals. The rest of this disc is chock full of folkier tunes, and they don't disappoint. I'm particularly enamored of the blissfully melancholy 'She Lives on a Mountain,' the country folk sound of 'Faraway Eyes,' and the burned out in the Spanish countryside vibe of the title track. The band fares well with some brief instrumentals as well, with the textured 'The Fool' leading the bunch.

This is a pretty subdued collection, but is a top flight set of acid folk. The influences stick mostly to the late 60's and early 70's here, and if the Soft Machine had been more into folk than jazz, they might have comes out sounding a little like this. It'll do you well for your listening late at night or on a particularly golden sun-bleached day.

Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - 1996 - An Introduction to Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

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

Technically, I suppose that Gorky's Zygotic Mynci was part of the mid 90's Brit pop explosion, but happily they make up part of the freaky branch that includes their Welsh countrymen Super Furry Animals. , This music is clearly echoing the psychedelic jazz/folk lens of acts such as the Soft Machine and Kevin Ayers, although the band rocks out with some full-blast punkish guitar as well on this compilation of their early material. The band's not-so-secret weapon is the vocals of frontman Euros Childs, a great vocalist who finds a great warm balance between youth-like wonder and psychedelic knowing, without sound quite like any of his musical forebearers.

This isn't a particularly long compilation, but it is well stocked with awesome tracks. The opening clutch of tracks is great, great stuff, with 'Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd (Girls Doing Each Other's Hair)' leading off with kind of an acid-fried version of the Pixies loud/soft thing, while 'Methu Aros Tan Haf (Can't Wait Till Summer)' is first rate psych folk and 'Bocs Angelica' contains a really amusing chorus which comes across a little like the doom metal Beach Boys. Later on, 'Why Are We Sleeping' does a pretty fair update of the early Soft Machine sound, and 'The Game of Eyes' earns kudos just for being so damn strange. Only 'Miss Trudy' strikes the twee alarm a little to much for my liking, although it does remain perfectly listenable. 'When You Laugh At Your Own Garden' is probably disposable since it is basically a short, stoned psychedelic experiment. I imagine it worked better on a proper album.

Gorky's made their (still somewhat small) American impact a few years later after they'd upped the acid folk ante and dropped some of the louder bits. Some of this set may come as surprise as it's the sound of a band still thrashing about in their sound, but having a fine time of it. I believe there are a few different versions of this compilation drifting around, with somewhat varying track listings. For better or for worse, I believe this version is the briefest of them, but you'll still have a rollicking good time.

07 September 2011

Damaged Tape -2011 - Nude Witchcraft EP

This is the soundtrack for a film that doesn't exist. I made these tracks for Gonzoriffic Productions ringleader (and Glaze of Cathexis drummer) Andrew Shearer. He was on his way to a filmmaking vacation in Hollywood, and I made these with the intention of providing him with some Michael Mann sleaze for his endevours. Somewhere along the line, he had a dream about making a film called 'Nude Witchcraft.' While he didn't make the film, he did come up with a trailer and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make a tune for that as well.

The tunes are very much focused through the analog early 80's. In fact, except for a vocoder on the title track, everything here is 100% analog electronics. I applied a bit of Scott Atkinson's poetry to 'Light's Passage.' Meanwhile, 'Harp of the Triple Goddess' comes from some tracks I've been working on with Andrew Bland, whom I worked with several years ago on the 'Paper Tigers' LP (the rest of the tracks will appear soon). None of the original track remains, but I did recreate some of his melodic contributions for this cut.

I considered putting these with some other tracks for an LP, but they work so well together and are so much cut of the same cloth that I decided to keep them as a shorter length collection. I hope you dig what you hear.

Track List:
1. Nude Witchcraft (2:54)
2. Musings of the Horned God (4:35)
3. Raindrops in the Waterfall (5:01)
4. The Molten Universe (3:05)
5. Light's Passage (4:45)
6. Harp of the Triple Goddess (3:22)

Listen to Me:

This isn't especially out of bounds, but you do get at least some of what you clicked for when you click on 'Nude Witchcraft':

31 August 2011

Jaim - 1969 - Prophecy Fulfilled

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.25 out of 5

This blinding blast of sunshine pop arrived from parts unknown (to me at least) back in 1969. Although it's a private pressing extreme obscurity, the squeaky clean sounds found here do rank up the big boys. The production has a nice snap, crackle, and pop, and at least fits into the same ballpark as yr. Brian Wilsons or Curt Boetttchers, even if this album doesn't quite touch that upper pantheon. The songwriting is a fair sight cheesy - but that's really the norm for sunshine pop and most of these tunes are solid constructions. As a warning, though, this is one of the 'whitest' albums that you'll ever hear. Don 'No Soul' Simmons and his brother from the Methodist commune (this is only a guess - I have pretty much no infor on the background of this set) hit all the right notes, but in an extreme 1910 fruitgum company barbershop quartet sort of way. I recommend chasing this album with some early Funkadelic or something.

The songs are pretty much custom fitted for the sounds of late 60's AM radio, we're in the twilight zone between the Grass Roots and Sagittarius on this one. "Your Loving Voice" is a catchy, blue-eyed, porcelain doll, soul ditty that is practically repeated at the start of side two as "Back in Circulation Again." Oops! "Pretty Woman" (not by Roy Orbison) and "Sunday Dawning Morning" are some gleaming shards of sunshine that much be in some parallel universe's top 40, where Jaim still play Vegas and have middle-aged panties thrown at their heads nightly. They nail the lyte-psych pop ballad twice with "Running Behind" and "Ship of Time." These are the sort of tunes that Greg Brady could have chased the girlies with as Johnny Bravo. The not-particularly-authentic-touch of bossa nova on "As the Sun Meets the Sea" does manage to brand the tune as an album highlight nonetheless. Only on "Sparkle In Her Eyes" does the cheese level rise to the point where I end up vomiting on my record player (not that I actually have this on vinyl).

If you've got the stomach for hardcore sunshine pop which comes from a land where 'R&B' only stands for 'recreation and bicycles,' then you'll find that this is a lost classic of the genre. Despite the albums obscure and vague origins, it does have the professional-sounding spit and polish that this kind of music needs to really work. It's still funkier than Harper's Bazzar. Don't you dig the cover shot, too? It's like they're about to include you in their satanic, death-cult ceremony. That's not what this music sounds like.

30 August 2011

Staff Carpenborg's Electric Corona - 1969 - Fantastic Party

Quality: 3 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

Although I believe that the intention of this band was to knock out some psychedelic free jazz with a dose of teutonic 'Firesign Theater' thrown in for giggles, in retrospect this album serves as some of the primordial ooze of krautrock. Really, these audio freakouts barely qualify as songs. On the plus side, most of the tracks feature some killer breakbeats (really, if no one's sampled this album someone needs to), perhaps a groovy bassline, and some completely aimless noodling on guitar and organ. It's unfortunately the organ and guitar that really stops this set from being particularly good - that and the horribly annoying vocals when they appear.

As I mentioned, this are more like half-assed studio jams with a great drummer more than tunes than you'll whistle while strolling down the street. 'Lightning Fires, Burning Sorrows,' and the last track I suppose do this best job of recreating an evening at London's UFO Club, although it would have admittedly been a substandard evening there. Avoid 'The Everyday's Way Down to the Suburbs,' 'P.A.R.T.Y.,' and 'Let the Thing Comin' Up' as the vocals will drive you to take out everyone in your neigborhood and finally turn the flamethrower on yourself.

No, this isn't a particularly good disc, but it is interesting for the armchair music historian as an early example of Germans going completely nuts. And there is definitely some fodder for the sample junkie here as I think electronic and hip hop producers have picked the corpse of David Axelrod's music clean.

25 August 2011

Glaze of Cathexis - 2010 - Underground Sound

My original intention for this album was to create mono and stereo mixes to bring out the 60's style grooviness for this album, but some technical difficulties got in my way last year and I just released the mixes that I had. In fact, my work folder for the album was titled 'Mono/Stereo Album.' Fortunately, I found some ways around those problems last month and got these mixes together. The stereo mix is my attempt at a psychedelicized early 1968 vibe complete with ridiculous stereo separation, while I tried my best for an old school mono punch on that mix. If you've already downloaded the album and dig it, take a chance with these versions. If you're new to this and really want the first mix, they remain linked at the original post. Here are the notes I posted last year for the collection:

Here's the new set of Glaze of Cathexis recordings, which has been percolating since May 2009. It was originally going to be a sort of stoner metal thing, then a folk rock affair, and finally I just went straight for the marrow of my favorite 60's bands. 'Pala Ferry' has some elements of all three of those mindsets. This is a lot more guitar heavy than the last set. Every track here is anchored by guitar, and I just went to the Moog synth a few times to add some rubbery density. For once I had the opportunity to record some actual drums, so you get my spazzy drumming all over this album as well as a little bit of drumming from Gonzoriffic filmmaker Andrew Shearer. Hopefully you'll dig these psychedelic rock sounds. Here's some song notes for those of you who have the yen to listen:

Pala Ferry - At various times I was aiming for R.E.M., mid-period Byrds, and Dennis Wilson on this track. I think the Beatles 'Rain' was stuck in the back of my head as well. Lyrically, this is an invitation to join my cult, which doesn't actually exist. I always got that sort of vibe from the Millennium's Begin, which was my first post on this blog and is one of my absolute favorites.

Further Instructions - Here I'm commanding you to do abstract and impossible things. In my head it was going to be a fireside, smelly hippy folk rock chant, but then some Talking Heads style beats, Chuck Berry guitar riffs, and the goofier side of the Beach Boys backing vocals invaded my muse as well. This comes in second as I wanted to continue laying down the groundwork for my meaningless cult.

Launch - I'm not sure what this one's about lyrically, but I wanted to go for a Black Sabbath sort of riff heavy song. Some Cream found its way into the wah-wah'ed out lead guitar as well. Apparently my attention span ran out as the coda takes a sudden and strange turn into electronica.

Sign From Your Face - This is another one from my folk rock phase, and I was going for a Rubber Soul sort of vibe here. One with the Harrison parts being beamed in from the early 70's. My original vocal take tried to emulate Lennon and Dylan all at once, but it sounded ridiculous so I ended up dialing it back for this finished version.

Blues For A Red Planet - This is from a basement jam with Andrew Shearer on drums and myself on rhythm guitar. For the overdubs, I ran my Moog for a vacuum tube for the first time, and I kind of got off on it. I couldn't find my guitar slide for the lead guitar overdub and ended up using a plastic ear cleaner instead. The title is from an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, which you should all watch right now.

Sometime With You - This song has been bouncing around in my head since my university days ten years ago, so I had to record it just to get it out of my damn head. Actually, the lyrics in my head were far dumber, but I was able to get away from those.

My Little Utopia - I wrote this sitting on a 50 meter cliff on a small Canadian island about seven years ago. I re-extrapolated the melody of the Dean Martin standard 'Melodies Are Made of This' for this track, but if Brian Wilson can get away with turning 'When You Wish Upon a Star' into 'Surfer Girl,' I might be safe.

City of the Domes - My buddy had just put a bunch of Iron Maiden onto my ipod, and I got the urge to write that kind of guitar riff and meld it with a tacky sci-fi reference. When it came time for the vocals, I found that I couldn't do a convincing metal growl, so I defaulted to glam Bowie instead. The electronic coda here has a little more relevance if you've spent some time with the strangely awesome film 'Logan's Run.'

Cliffs - I wrote this one back in 1999 on a bit of a bender in my college dorm room. I had recently been introduced to Syd Barrett's music at that time, so this is one of the Barrett-iest tracks I've come up with. I could never get quite happy with a recording of this, but it turned out that it needed those swinging Soft Machine-style drums.

Visions of the Unreality - This is another basement jam with Andrew and myself. My frequent collaborator Scott Atkinson crops up here with a bit of visionary poetry. It's actually the first time we've worked on music together while in the same room (or same country for that matter).

It Means a Lot - Ironically, the lyrics pretty much mean nothing. I set out to rip off "Yur Blues," but got sidetracked by another period of obsession with the Doors, and then decided to top it all off with my Dylan vocal impression. I guess I was getting into that whole Dukes of Stratosphear 'be your favorite band' sort of vibe.

Centrifugal Bumble Puppy - A gold star for those of you who get the title reference. I set out to write a song of my surreal and false triumphs, with each line starting with "I" and then a different verb. Music wise, I wanted to do a 'dude' version of the dronier and harder rocking Stereolab tracks.

Taking the Time Out - This one kept popping up in my head as a crappy emo punk song, but I think I successfully guided it into 'Who' territory instead. If I ever make it onto a neo-Nuggets compilation, I could imagine this being the one.

Hope you dig this stuff. I'd love to hear your comments and impressions, even if you end up thinking that this is a steaming pile of poo.

18 August 2011

Iasos - 1975 - Inter-Dimensional Music

Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.75 out of 5

Here's an album that I know almost nothing about, but have found myself listening to incessantly. I imagined that Iasos was some kind of new age commune. If you visited their home, I thought you'd find them doing yoga while wearing tight pastel yellow tights and tank tops and frizzy hair, after which then insist that you join them for a trip to the wood-paneled vegetarian supermarket. I didn't want to spend time with them, but I was infatuated with their sounds. Then I look at the All Music Guide, and it said that Iasos is actually one guy who is considered one of the first artists of the new age musical genre. It kind of deflated my vision behind this album, but fortunately the music is still great. Yes, it is new age, but of the 70's variety with analog synthesizers and hazy, groovy taped production (as opposed to the Great Digital Recording Terror of the 80's). Yeah, it probably would have played in that wood-paneled health food store in the 70's, but you would have enjoyed the music and maybe you could have found that awesome Panda cherry licorice somewhere in the aisles of the store.

This is another one of those albums that really works as a continuous whole. It loses quite a bit of its vibe if you isolate the track. That said, when I'm particularly enamoured with a tune and take a look a the track listing, I've found that it's usually "Formentera Sunset Clouds," "Rainbow Canyon," "Angel Play," or the closing "Maha Splendor." The first half of the album tends to be the more tuneful half. Once Iasos 'gets you in the mood' so to speak, the music becomes far more ambient. This does end up making the second half a little more murky sounding (although "Angel Play" shines quite well) and "The Bubble Massage" ends up being just five minutes of percolating bubble sounds, which I could achieve on my own by sticking my head into a jacuzzi.

Really, though, this album is quite a trip and a very groovy musical time capsule of its era. It's on a slightly different plain of existence than Berlin schoolers like Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schultze, but these sound would actually complement those artists very well. So light your opium scented candles, recite a few verses you've memorized from the Bhagavad Gita, jump into your giant round hot tub with several big-haired sexually liberated women (or hairy chested, medallion-wearing men), and give this a play.

17 August 2011

Helium - 1997 - The Magic City

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

I have a bit of a strange history with this band. I was introduced to Helium by a show in Atlanta back in 1998 while under a, uh, somewhat altered state, and then never got back to listening to them again until a few weeks ago. Still, they stuck around in the back of my mind and I probably should've returned to them earlier. The band, led by singer/guitarist Mary Timony, is basically a mid 90's indie-rock affair, but they distinguish themselves quite well with touches 70's prog and a few echoes of shoegazing. Honestly, this is far from outright psychedelic rock, and several steps away from the music I typically rant and rave about on this blog, but I dig it.

The satellite pulsin', girl-group-of-the-future-sound of "Leon's Space Sound" is a pretty hooky place to get acquainted with this album. There's a very groovy string synth riff bubbling just under the surface. "Medieval People" is a standout instrumental, although I imagine that the people in the title are heading for some kind of day glo, Authurian rave or something. Actually, I think they mixed up the titles with the also fine, short instrumental "Blue Rain Soda." Just swap them and it makes far more sense. "Lullabye of the Moths" sort approximates something that might have sprung forth from the late 60' UK psychedelic pop/folk scene, while "The Revolution of Hearts Pts. I & II" really does run too long at eight minutes, but sort of makes up for it with an array of insane sound effects later in the track.

This album probably requires a strong tolerance with some of the more stereotypical sounds of 90's rock, but having said that, it's one of the better albums I've heard that functions within those perimeters. I'd certainly place this far above most of Juliana Hatfield's or Liz Phair's discography (although I'll give Phair's first album a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card). There are some nods to vintage psychededia lurking in the production that really do enhance the songs and for me qualify this set for a mention here at the Psychedelic Garage.

27 July 2011

The Incredible String Band - 1968 - The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

Quality: 4.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

The Incredible String Band and their producer, Joe Boyd, managed to bottle up everything that was groovy about their previous album and lace it with some prime Supercool. The sound of the recording is notably beefier and more nuanced, and both Robin Williamson and Mike Heron's songwriting and actual singing voices seem to blend together a bit better here. Although the album cover can't touch "5000 Layers of the Onion," this is arguably the sonic apex of acid folk in general.

With the musical synergy seemingly in full effect, this album lacks the ping-ponging song credits of the last album. Instead, we start off with a clutch of Williamson's songs. "Koeeoaddi There" is likely the group at its catchiest (although I doubt this could manage much radio play), although Williamson does amusingly randomly bounce around from one theme to the next, but it's balanced by the great trancey guitar work. There's some really entertaining vocal affectations and call-and-response on "The Minotaur's Song," and it ends up sounding like something the villagers from "the Wicker Man" (the Christopher Lee one, not the Nick Cage one) would have rocked through in the pub on a Saturday night. Heron clocks in with the first of the band's epic length tracks, "A Very Cellular Song" (unfortunately, I can't help but think of mobile phones here in the future). I'm not sure it really justifies its 13 minute length, but the various, droning sections and oddball sound effects remain entertaining. Personally, I dig Heron's percussive and concise "Mercy I Cry City." Williamson is a little more tentative with his epic track only clocking in at eight minutes, but his sitar infused "Three is a Green Crown" ranks as one of my favorite tracks here. "The Water Song" provides some very groovy pads of woodwinds, but do they really fit with the Incredible STRING Band?...... yes, they do.

If you have any need for some acid folk in your life, this very well be the best place to go. This is the ISB at their best as an acoustic unit. After this, they'd start mucking around with a few electric instruments, and eventually end up as more folk-rock sort of band. They never really did the electric thing as well as Dylan, however, and this album stands tall as their masterpiece.

The Incredible String Band - 1967 - 5000 Layers of the Onion

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

First off, this is one of the most awesome albums ever. I first picked this up while in high school in the mid 90's as it looked to be a notable freak out and I'd heard the band's name spoken of in reverent tones. Unfortunately, I hadn't even gotten to electric freak outs like 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' yet, and have to admit that I didn't really 'get' this one for years. This is straight up acid-folk, without any electric embellishments. Of our main duo, Mike Heron tends to walk more the Dylan/Donovan continuum, although with his own voice very loud and clear, while Robin Williamson is more like the crazed minstrel hopping out at you from atop a tree in a fog-filled primordial forest (although they admittedly do drift into the other's role on occassion). Both of the excel in writing completely tripped out whimsically British lyrics that make Syd Barrett look like a rank amateur - not that Barrett isn't awesome, but the lyrics of "The Gnome" don't do well when placed next to "The Mad Hatter's Song." Williamson had also recently taken the hippy tour to North African, and sounds from that area abound as well as the sounds of other incredible stringed instruments such as the sitar.

If your ears are open to the folk scene, you'll find this album is packed with absolutely top-notch songwriting. In fact it's far easier to talk about what doesn't quite do it for me. "Blues for the Muse" tries really hard to stretch the 12-bar blues somewhere interesting, but this group still fares much better with the British Isles folk template than the blues. "My Name is Death" take the 'death' concept a bit too literally sonically, and it sort of drags the song down. Although it's only 2:46, it is the longest song on the album (despite some tracks running 5:40 or 4:05 or something; I can type more numbers if you like). Fortunately the list of winners pretty much includes everything else on the album. I particularly dig the first four tracks, "First Girl I Loved," and "You Know What You Could Be." If I ever ran the Renaissance Fair, you'd eat mushrooms instead of a turkey leg, and then you'd listen to this band. There'd also be giant, iron robots there.

Just for a bit of name checking, this set had psych/folk guru Joe Boyd in the producer's chair, and the legendary string bass player Danny Thompson shows up on several tracks. Basically, as far as acid folk goes, this album is setting your rear in the middle of the royal court. And let's just mention that phenomenal album cover one more time. I should get it tattooed on my brain or something. Huh, huh... yeah!

11 July 2011

Kimio Mizutani - 1970 - A Path Through Haze

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

I'm a little hesitant when I come across the term 'prog rock.' When musicians can work it towards a spacey groove rather than multi-suite wankery, though, that form of music does get my attention. With that in mind, we'll peg this one as a 'prog rock' classic. Kimio Mizutani was a psych rockin' session guitarist who created this album for his solo debut. He's got pretty awesome chops, and collaborated with some classical chamber groups on this album. Typically, the classical prog turns me away as well, but the band is smart enough to respond to the more orchestrated moments with a jazz vibe. Even Frank Zappa, who often recorded this way as well, tended to miss the point when he'd have his guitarists play rapid-fire walls of intricate guitar when a melodic solo would have done nicely. Mizutani doesn't make this mistake.

This set starts with several awesome tunes. The opening title track does indeed provide some nice jazzy haze, cut straight through with a monster riff from Mizutani's guitar supported by some groovy, Ginger Baker-like drums and streams of strange electronic noise. Once "Sail in the Sky" gets going, we're treated to a fusion vibe which features a very complementary woodwind arrangement. "Turning Point" sounds surprisingly like the post-rock band Tortoise, who wouldn't start recording until about 25 years after this album was released. "One for Janis" might not be the best tune for Janis, but it does give us another riff monster which is pretty fun. On the lesser side "Tell Me What You Saw" veers into hamfisted atonality which actually sounds pretty much the same as Phish jamming (although I'm sure that's a positive point for some of you), and "Way Out" doesn't tend to fit in very well as the only track with vocals. It comes out sounding like early-Return to Forever's vocalist stumbling into a funeral as the music is rather dirge-like.

Yeah, so this is prog-rock that I can be down with. The jazz vibe seems beamed in from the Canterbury scene, while the construction recalls Zappa, although without the 'too many notes' problem. Also, Mizutani is more than sharp enough to have a few of his own tricks up his sleeve and his guitar playing is psychedelically impeccable.

Kalyani Roy and Ali Ahmed Hussein - 1968 - Soul of India

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

I'm going to go ahead and guess that this release was intended to latch onto the coattails of Ravi Shankar's appearance at the Monterrey Pop Festival (in fact, Ravi's 1968 release was 'Spirit of India') along with a general interest in Eastern mysticism. Fortunately, this is no exploitation release, but legitimate Indian musicians doing their thing. Kalyani Roy was one of the few female sitarists at that time, while Ali Ahmed Hussain is wailing away on a shehnai, which is a wind instrument that sounds somewhere in between a violin and a horn. You'll get the needed dose of tabla pounding as well. Expect a completely traditional affair, with no postmodern touches or anything.

There's only three tracks here, so you're either 'in for another long raga' as Krusty the Clown would say, or you're not. If you're down for this kind of thing, this album is an affair with lots of color added to the general raga vibe courtesy of the shehnai. I enjoy the whole thing, but honestly, I don't know enough about classical Indian to really distinguish much between the tracks. They all seem to more or less go down the same sonic path - but the trail is clearly being led by master musicians.

I've played this collection often, and I've sort of considered it one of my 'mind bubblebaths.' I don't tend to fixate or concentrate on the actual music much, but it creates a cloud of sound that I find very appealing. I'm sure there are some major musical point or accomplishments that I'm totally missing here, but something about the spirit of the recordings has definitely burrowed in my brain.

24 June 2011

Tim Hollier - 1970 - Tim Hollier

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

Tim Hollier clearly dug Tim Buckley's early records. This disc is sort of a slightly psyched-up 'Tim Buckley-lite" affair that manages to hold one's attention pretty well. Hollier's voice is very pleasant and tuneful, although he can't really touch the wild dynamic range of Buckley's voice. The production is is a little muddy sounding, but in a fuzzy way that complements the music pretty well. Although folk-rock is clearly the order of the day, the band does work up a groovy head of steam to give the songs a nice sonic push when needed.

Most of the tunes here are pretty solid, though only a few really stand out. Despite some really clunky, cliched lyrics, "Seagull Song" worms its way into your head with a fine folk melody and some groovy guitar and flute leads bouncing about in the background. "And It's Happening to Her" and "Love Song" are very catchy ballads, with some guitar leads that seem to echo the late night soul vibe of the guitars on the Velvet Underground's third album. "Evolution" is the longest tune here, and finds a pretty fine sweet spot between Buckley, the Byrds, and a touch of Dylan. "Evening Song" is a fine tripped out coda with Hollier's ghostly vocals searching through a forest of tremelo guitar.

I keep referencing American artists, but Hollier is a Brit and the echoes of that islands folk traditions are on display here. Still, it's clear that Hollier likely had a large pile of L.A. folk-rock vinyl taking up space in his 'flat.' This set isn't really a mindblower. It's probably not going to change your life, but it's a very groovy concoction while it's playing - although I do occasionally wonder why I'm not just listening to Tim Buckley's "Goodbye and Hello" instead.

23 June 2011

Rex Holman - 1970 - Here in the Land of Victory

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

This album is a reasonably entertaining set of sort of mellow, singer-songwriter light psych. The production has a nice think woodsy sound, and the songwriting is rarely embarrassing. Holman has a pretty strong 'dude-with-a-mustache' voice, although his vibrato often gets a little out of control - it's like he's singing in a fan or something. Still, this music sits in a strange grey area between Kris Kristofferson and Donovan that should hold your attention for a bit.

The best tracks here blend Holman's 'manly-hippy-on-the-moors' sound with a bit of an Eastern vibe, which basically means a few bongos and a sitar. "Rowin'," "Sit and Flatter Me," and "Debbie" all ride this sort of groove pretty well and are probably the best tracks here. "Debbie" especially has a cool shuffling rhythm and makes me think of Scott Walker before he started using slabs of meat as percussion. I also dig the twilight psych of "Copper Kettle" and "Come On Down." Yeah, for some reason side two seems to be the superior side. Well, the opening title track is pretty solid as well, adorned with chimes, flute, and a catchy Brit folk melody. It's also worth mentioning that Rex doesn't rock. He sort of, kind of gives it a shot on the bluesy "Red is the Apple" and the 'Dylan as bubblegum pop' "I Can't Read My Name," but, y'know, they're both still pretty mellow when you come right down to it.

In full disclosure, this isn't quite up my particular musical alley. I'm definitely cool with the psych and Eastern touches, as well as the general British folk underpinnings, but this really is halfway down the Wonder Bread, 70's singer-songwriter hallway. If you've got a 'thang' for that sort of thing, then you'll probably have some additional appreciation for these recordings.

10 June 2011

13th Floor Elevators - 1968 - A Love That's Sound

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

The third 13th Floor Elevators album, "Bull of the Woods," has always been somewhat of a disappointment. The band had pretty well disintegrated from legal troubles, insanity and various other pressures. With vocalist Roky Erikson and lyricist/electric jug player Tommy Hall pretty much out of commission, guitarist Stacy Sutherland did the best he could and he did manage to pull off a pretty good psych rock album. The problem was that it didn't really deliver as an Elevators album. This collection gives us a much groovier view of what a real third Elevators album could have been. Rocky Erikson sings on all of the tracks that feature vocals, even if a few of them are likely just guide vocals, and the band rocks a lot closer to their signature sound. The monoural sound quality is somewhat muddy, but us longtime Elevator fans should be used to that from years of substandard versions of their first two albums. The electric jug only shows up on one track, but let's face it - the jug was always a bit of a novelty and the band does pretty well without it. Also, we get to lose those damn horn overdubs which marred "Bull of the Woods."

The first six tracks here are first rate, if a bit rough, 13th Floor Elevator rockers and stand up pretty well in comparison to the classics on the first two albums. "It's You" is a fine display of the poppier side of the band with a chorus that will end up stuck in your head forever, while "Livin' On" and "Never Another" serve up a tighter version of the psychedelic guru vibe that the group pursued on "Easter Everywhere." Erickson's version of "May the Circle Be Unbroken" is one of the group's absolute masterpieces, although it does admittedly come across a little better in its stereo version on "Bull of the Woods." Since the first six tracks only clock in at about 22 minutes, the disc is filled out with some instrumental takes called "Sweet Surprise" and "Moon Song." They're relatively dispensable, with the former coming across like a blues based jam and the latter sounding like a rocked up version of "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)." Still, they're a nice momento of the prime Elevators sound just before it was lost forever.

I typically shy away from recent releases, but I imagine many of you may stay away from this release due the somewhat poor reputation of "Bull of the Woods." Surprisingly, this document of the band is almost as essential as the first two albums. If you have any doubts, note that this is actually the first disc of the set while "Bull of the Woods" is relegated to the second disc. There are some pretty interesting liner notes included as well. Buy it - Roky deserves the royalty checks.

Buy Me:
13th Floor Elevators - 1968 - A Love That's Sound

03 June 2011

We're Late For Class - 2011 - Music of the Spheres

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

These psychedelically-minded musical bloggers have been blasting a few tunes our way every now and again for a few years now, but I think this is one of the better efforts I've heard from them. We're Late For Class is a rather free-form grouping that records whatever abstractions fits their mood at the moment, and it seems that they were in a jazzy, space rock mood for this one. The production quality here is also a nice step up, with a hazy, crisp vibe propelling the sounds into interstellar space. I'm also a sucker for the kind of cosmic cover art that this one sports, and the music reflects it pretty well.

We've got two tracks here that almost form a bit of a musical suite. "Blood Queen of Sun Ra" shuffles along the rings of Saturn, and includes some groovy samples from god knows where. "SOL's Time and Space" drifts along a more conventional, but well played Floydian strut. There's some vibraphone, or xylophone, or somethingmaphone that brands the track with a nice, unique musical identity.

When you need a quick fix of modern psychedelic jamming, We're Late For Class serves well as your sonic dealer with almost 60 shorts sets to tickle your ear. Have a gander at their offerings here: We're Late For Class

Listen to Me:
We're Late For Class - 2011 - Music of the Spheres

02 June 2011

Sister Waize - 2011 - Realignment Series

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

To many, it may seem that creating a drone is a simple procedure - just sit on one note of your synthesizer for 20 minutes or so and let 'er rip. I've given it a shot on several occasions, though, and getting it right is not so easy. This album, happily, gets it right. Sister Waize's latest release isn't so much music as a set of experiences for you to enter. David Mekler, the fellow behind these, calls his recordings 'folding drone music.' I don't quite get that concept, but put these on in the right frame of mind and the visions will surely come.

I typically like to ramble on a bit about the songs, but the tracks here pretty much defy description. Even Mr. Mekler doesn't suggest playing more than one or two of these at a time. In fact, he's created a set of instructions to go along with these albums. I can't write anything better than the man himself, so here's an extended quote to get you ready for this psychedelic dark ride:

"1. Listen at night, before going to sleep. Make sure you are not too tired though because it will be very easy for you to just fall asleep.

2. Be in total darkness, pitch black.

3. Lay in your bed, on your back and make yourself as comfortable as possible. Lay for a minute or two until you've settled into your bed before you start the track.

4. Make sure there will be no interruptions that will take you away from the track before it ends, the whole thing must be listened to in one sitting without interruption (this is extremely important, think about it as losing your train of thought and then trying to continue).

5. Only use decent headphones/good headphones. Do not use earbuds by any means, you will just be wasting your time. Sennheiser is my personal brand of choice, you can easily get a great pair of headphones from them for less than $50.

6. While listening try your best to keep your eyes closed and body still as much as possible. It's very difficult to avoid fidgeting for 20 minutes or so, but try your best. This is so you can give complete attention to the sound as it moves.

7. Keep your mind on the sound and let your mind ride with it. Letting your mind wander is fine, but don't get hung up on anything specific for too long. Just try and let go.

8. If you can, stare at the back of your eyelids while you listen and focus on the colors. This is where the inner eye hallucinations can usually come from, don't stress it too much though, keep most of your attention on the sound.

9. Most songs that I've made which are applicable to what is being talked about here are shorter than a television show... keep this in mind before listening. Understand how long the track is exactly so that you know ahead of time. I say this so that you won't start to think about when it will be over while the song is in progress. I promise you, it will end eventually. They are as long as I feel they need to be, and as short as possible."

I followed the instructions and ended up with a pretty surreal meditational experience. It's certainly far removed from typical music theory, but it serves its intended purpose quite well. It's sort of like what Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" could have been if Reed wasn't so busy trying to stick it to the record company. Give it a listen when you're ready. In fact, it's pretty late at night here in jolly old Japan, and I do believe I'm going to go ahead and trip out to a track or two right now. For more of Sister Waize's sonic world, head for this website:
Hidden Dojo

Listen to Me:
Sister Waize - 2011 - Realignment Series I
Sister Waize - 2011 - Realignment Series II
Sister Waize - 2011 - Realignment Series III

31 May 2011

The Nirvana Sitar and Strings Group - 1968 - Sitar & Strings

Quality: 3 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5

I'm always up for a psychsploitation album early in the morning (oh crap! it's 11:30am), and this one can certainly fill in for the cheese missing from my eggs. Just as the title sort of suggests, we've got a bunch of late 60's hits with the melody lines played on a sitar while 101 Strings-style orchestrations lumber on in the background. You're either in for this ride or you're not.

There's not a whole lot to say about most of this album. These aren't going to replace the revered versions of "House of the Rising Sun" or "The Letter," but they'd make for a wonderful bit of ironic film soundtracking. They did throw the sitar player a bone, however, and let him run wild in the studio for a few original tracks. "Crashing," "Mind Waves," and "Head" all ditch the strings, throw in a few tabla, and give us sort of the Whisky A-Go-Go, L.A. Strip sort of Indian meditation. As you probably know, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and those tracks kick up my appreciation of this monstrosity a bit. They actually sort of, kind of match the very groovy cover art, which you can't really say for the rest of this album.

This is a sort of a 'for connoisseurs only' type of release. If you're on the fence about it, you'll find far groovier things hanging around in the Psychedelic Garage,' but I know a few of you are going to dig this (even if mostly ironically).