Sensations' Fix - Portable Madness. 1974 Italy

And here we have... the single greatest space rock album of all time!

No small claim that. Not an irreverent throw out to grab one's attention. Not an epiphany on the 4th beer. No - this is pretty much where I've stood for the 26 years I've owned the album. Last night it comes up again, and reminds me that it is, indeed, the single greatest space rock album of all time. Of course, not everyone will agree with that, and probably the it's overrated crowd will be along here any minute...

Twisty, turny, kinetic, psychedelic, jumpy, murky, primordial, psychotic, and melodic are just a few adjectives that come to mind here. The opening two numbers are great enough, but once 'Phase One and Phase Two' starts spinning in multiple directions, you are sucked into the vortex of another world and dimension. If this doesn't happen to you, then stop surfing the net, watching TV, texting on Facebook with a Russian hooker, or vacuuming the rug. Start from the beginning and pay close attention. OK you there now? Good, so now by the time you get to 'Pasty Day Resistance', you have reached what I consider the single greatest space rock track of all time. There's more twists and turns on this 5 and half minute track then I've heard on full double albums. 'Leave My Chemistry Alone' will finally polish you off, and presumably you're in a cold sweat by now. The album closes with two relatively sane compositions, and tries to return you to Earth, but doesn't quite get there. You are lost forever.

The fuzzy photograph on the front cover, taken in the same spirit as Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, tells you all you need to know about its provenance. This can't be Italian - nor German as it may seem - but something from another galaxy.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Polydor
CD: 2009 Universal (as part of Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 1 - The Universal Music Collection)

According to my database, I bought this in 1991, which would have been a bit late for an album such as this. But I do remember the circumstances. It was not one I could find locally, though I had found the other albums already by them. And then every time a mail order dealer had it, I was always too late and it would be gone. Once I procured it, and put it on the turntable, it blew my mind. And still does, a full 26 years later. It never fails.

As for reissues, the album has been poorly served in the marketplace. The only CD reissue is part of the box set above. It's not the best transfer either. However, on this listen I heard the CD first, and then pulled out the LP for a second listen. Truth is, it's not a great recording, but that's part of its charm I think.

It appears the rights are tied up with the label, and Falsini has gone about releasing alternate recordings of Sensations' Fix work - which is known as Music is Painting in the Air, which is worth seeking out too.

Temple of the Smoke - The Lost Art of Twilight. 2013 Serbia

Temple of the Smoke are a four piece psychedelic spacerock band from Serbia. The country itself has spawned perhaps one of the greatest progressive psych bands of our time in Igra Staklenih Perli. Well, Temple of the Smoke certainly won't remind you of the great ISP, but they are carving out their own niche in the genre that is just as exciting. It's rare to hear a band that mixes early 80's Tangerine Dream sequencer based Berlin School electronic with modern day slabs of riffing metal, ala classic Kyuss or Colour Haze complete with lengthy psychedelic blues guitar solos tagged to the end. There's some Ozric Tentacles reggae inspired space rock bits mixed in. Elsewhere, long tracks driven by woody bass, steady drums, and soaring synthesizer solos. Late 70s Eloy meets an instrumental Manilla Road? Wow - that's a comparison that'll have me mailing in a check for a copy as fast as possible! Am I exaggerating? I don't think I am.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

Hokr - Zahřáté Brzdy Optimismu. 2012 Czech Republic

It's been 8 years since Hokr's last album, and in between they released an album under the name Poco Loco. Zahřáté brzdy optimismu is closer in sound to Poco Loco than the last Hokr. The vocals have an anguished guttural quality similar to Peter Hammill (except sung in Czech), and the dense complex compositions recall the early 70s albums by Van der Graaf Generator. Sax, fuzz bass, and amplified organ lead the instrumental side of the band. This a fairly unique album overall. Perhaps only Garden Wall of Italy has a similar compositional style. Remove the metal guitars and add sax, and you have about the closest cousin you can spot. And they are distant cousins. Very distant. Highly recommended for the adventurous progressive rock listener.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Ears & Wind

Hokr - Hokrova Vila. 2004 Czech Republic

At its core, Hokr are an organ based trio (whose history goes back as far as 1981) that seems to be the spiritual successor to Collegium Musicum, but put through the Elephant9 hyper amplified grinder. Additional guests on cello, tenor sax, and guitar augment their sound greatly. Though primarily an instrumental album, the Czech vocals are delivered in an impassioned narrative like a cross between Pholas Dactylus, Devil Doll, and Deus Ex Machina (at the higher registers). The cello gives them a slight Anekdoten feel. This is the best album from the Czech Republic since the heyday of The MCH Band, who they share some similarities with especially on the tracks with sax (minus the guitar of MCH of course). 'Mouse in a Trance' is a certified monster quality track! Hokr evolved into the also creative Poco Loco, a group I need to spend more time with obviously. Don't miss this one!

Personal collection
CD: 2011 private

This album was originally released as a CD-R and reissued in 2011 as a proper CD.

Setna - Guérison. 2013 France

For my tastes, I feel Guérison is a definite improvement on their debut, though the band still needs to take off the leash a bit. The introduction of Ratledge-styled organ, and fuzz bass, gives the band a cool Canterbury edge. Setna are definitely more of a Zeuhl band now rather than an atmospheric jazz ensemble with Magma trimmings. But they still seem to lay back all too much. Sure would like to see Setna go all-in like Corima or Koenji Hyakkei - at least on occasion. All that emotional build up needs an epic climax... a release of anger.  

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Soleil Zeuhl

Setna - Cycle I. 2007 France

If Zeuhl is the genre tag that must be applied, then it's Zeuhl in the same way Offering is rather than Magma. Cycle I is primarily an atmospheric jazz release with soft chanting female vocals. Electric piano, synthesizer, and saxophone are the other primary instruments of choice. Those coming to this looking for ripping Paganotti/Top-styled bass and insane martial Vander-like drumming, will surely come away disappointed. Certainly Setna sit towards the Magma side of Offering (especially as the disc spins on, and the last track features some fine Mahavishnu styled guitar from guest James McGaw), but still the metaphor holds. Ambient jazz Zeuhl.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Soleil Zeuhl


ARC - Umbra. 2014 England

Umbra is the latest ARC album, this one also a live recording - coming from the E-Live festival in The Netherlands on the date of October 19, 2013. Again we are treated to a CD packed to the very brim at 78+ minutes of sequencer filled goodness. While ARC have been known to surprise in the studio - such as the drummer fueled Blaze or the moody Fracture - in a live setting they are all about letting the sequencers blast away, while adding all sorts of textures, melody lines, and synthesizer solos on top. At this point in their career, Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve know exactly what their audience wants, and how to make it happen. And so Umbra goes, with some of the fattest and most dynamic Moog Modular sequences in the business, while setting the table for the various synthesized sounds layered as icing on the cake (including faux choir Mellotron). Berlin School music at its most professional. Some music never goes out of style, and this is one of them. Can't miss item here for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 DiN

ARC - Church. 2010 England

Church was recorded live on November 14, 2009 at Old St. Mary's Church in Philadelphia. Hence the title. You can pretty much presume how this album came about. Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy arrive in Philadelphia and setup their massive equipment, including the Big Moog (mostly donated by local musicians for the cause - it would seem a bit cumbersome to put a large Moog in the airplane's overhead bins wouldn't it?). They then ask the concert organizer Chuck van Zyl (an accomplished and respected electronic musician in his own right) what they should play. "Oh, whatever you want, I wouldn't dare suggest..." "Well, what would your audience prefer then you guess?" "Well, you know, probably the sequencer oriented material" "Yes, the sequencer stuff. Right. Of course." So if Fracture was ARC's most outside-the-lines album, then Church is smack dab in the middle of the field, giving the title a double metaphor to work with - if one sees a church as traditional that is. So what you get is two long-time masters at the art of the synthesizer, performing 74+ minutes of Berlin School sequencer driven electronic music, played in a church built in 1763. Not sure one could draft a better idea if they tried. Immaculate.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 DiN

ARC - Fracture. 2007 England

Perhaps ARC should have named Fracture something like "Departure" instead (and, as luck would have it, the second track is titled 'Departed'). As other reviewers have noted, this ARC album is indeed quite a bit different from its predecessors. The music can be defined as haunting and atmospheric - darkly shaded - with copious amounts of throbbing deep-bass Moog 'beats' (for a lack of a better term). This isn't a classic Berlin School sequencer fest, though one can hardly blame Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve for trying something a bit different. Shreeve in particular has already proven himself as the king of the Modular Moog sequences with his group Redshift. Perhaps they feel at times an obligation to do nothing but shredding sequencers and synthesizer solos, but then the music is no longer fun when it becomes a job, right? The music on "Fracture" could easily be background music at a hipster club in Brooklyn or San Francisco. The final track 'Rapture' does finally get down to some serious sequencer business, but only after ten minutes of creepy atmospherics - Sigillum S style (and it closes in a similar manner). I appreciate the effort here to be distinctive, but it remains my least favorite ARC album to date (2014). I know, I know - some people never really evolve. I write that as my knuckles scrape the ground...

Personal collection
CD: 2007 DiN

ARC - Arcturus. 2005 England

Arcturus is ARC's 4th album, and represents their live concert as performed at the Hampshire Jam 3 festival on October 23, 2004. They're back to a duo, with an impressive array of analog synthesizers, most notably Mark Shreeve's big ole honkin' Moog Modular. Ian Boddy brings along most of the more modern equipment to make it much easier to accomplish what they need to accomplish. On Arcturus, ARC are square-on mid 1970s Tangerine Dream style. If you're the type who can't be fed enough of Phaedra and Rubycon - and apparently I would fit in this category - then Arcturus is going to satisfy your hunger. Incredible sequences provide the foundation for the layered atmospheric synthesizers that sound like Mellotron, echoed Rhodes piano, and sundry other vintage sounds (many of which are sampled, but honestly, the effect is the same). And nobody does the throbbing fat sequences of the "Big" Moog like Mark Shreeve. He's second to none in that field for the modern era.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 DiN

ARC - Blaze. 2003 England

Blaze, ARC's 3rd album starts with Rhodes piano and... could it be? Yes, a real drummer (provided by Carl Brooker). It seems the duo of ARC are paying homage to the late 70s pioneers who mixed their Berlin School electronics with real drums ala Klaus Krueger (Tangerine Dream/Edgar Froese) and Harold Grosskopf (Klaus Schulze/Ashra). Sequencers and Mellotron follow, and yee-haw, we're in Force Majeure territory in mere seconds. Half the tracks are sans drums, and all of these are atmospheric and pulsating, somewhat similar to the first half of Radio Sputnik. These tracks setup the more dynamic and rhythmic drum plus sequencer compositions that are devastating when presented in this manner. In particular 'Klangwand' and 'Pulse Train' deliver a powerful collection of analog synthesizers along with driving percussion. Another essential album from ARC.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 DiN

ARC - Radio Sputnik. 2000 England

ARC's second album, Radio Sputnik, is a live outing from the Alfa Centauri Festival in The Netherlands (recorded March 21, 1998). It is also their debut release on Ian Boddy's own DiN label. The concert features, as one would expect, songs from their first studio album Octane including 'Steam', 'Who Walks Behind You', 'Octane', and 'Relay'. Only 'Turn and Face Me' from the debut is omitted, but they add four other tracks including their landmark 'Arc-Angel' track.

ARC's music continues to be squarely in the electronic Berlin School tradition. No surprise there given that Mark Shreeve heads up what I consider one of the finest bands in the style with Redshift. The first half of Radio Sputnik is more atmospheric with pulsating sequences, while the latter half is more heavily geared towards the classic Redshift sound. 
The concert is entirely improvised, so there are many shifts and changes throughout each composition – not just the usual static monotone sequences. 'Arc-Angel' is one of their finest pieces ever, with incredible rapid fire sequencing all over, and choral mellotron layered on top which creates an extraordinary listening experience. Closing with 'Relay', arguably the finest track on Octane, puts this album in the indispensable category. 

Personal collection
CD: 2000 DiN

ARC - Octane. 1998 England

The ARC legacy starts with Octane, the debut studio album from this fruitful Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve collaboration. This is an album for those who like the classic Berlin School scene similar to other like-minded bands such as AirSculpture, Radio Massacre International, and Redshift (a band, incidentally, which Shreeve leads). Heavy on the analog keyboards, especially sequencers, and mellotron (sampled according to Planet Mellotron). The best tracks are, not surprisingly, the more heavily sequenced ones - and those would be the title track and 'Relay'.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Something Else


Relayer - s/t. 1979 USA

Relayer were a band from Houston*, who managed to release one album before disappearing into the mists of time. With a name like Relayer and a colorful rainbow fantasy cover, one can expect 'Gates of Delirium Part Deux' eh Oui? Non. Because they are from my home state of Texas, this private press wasn't too obscure up north here in DFW and I first heard this album some 25 years ago and quickly dismissed it as rubbish. During that time, I've gained an entirely new appreciation for the private press American music landscape of the 1970s that I've documented to death here on these very pages. And Relayer fits smack dab in the middle of that sound.

The album itself is interesting, because it almost plays like an archival CD issue, verse a real time released LP. And that's because they front loaded all the progressive rock tracks on Side 1. So the first side rounds up the usual suspects like Yes and ELP, with a hint of Styx's Grand Illusion, for a very satisfying listen. Side 2 treads in commercial waters, more towards Styx's Pieces of Eight, with a bit of loungy fusion to boot. Overall, I'd weight it 55% AOR and 45% prog rock, so for those who have no tolerance for late 70s American FM radio rock, I'd steer clear. This is a very good album for the style, and one that I'm glad to have bought for the collection.

*Though the band named one song with nearby Victoria in the name, they are documented as being from Houston (internet search confirms), and that's what I recall from the early 90s as well.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 HSR

Supposedly this album was reissued by the band on CD. It has all the earmarks of a CD-R homemade type release. I could be wrong, as I haven't seen it, but just based on what I've read. Not listed in Discogs as I type this either. So it goes onto the CDRWL.

Ruphus - Flying Colours. 1978 Norway

When I buy albums like Flying Colours, I'm not expecting a wall to wall classic, but rather I'm looking for at least one or 2 strong compositions to make it worthwhile. And that's just what I received with Ruphus' 5th effort. The title track and 'The Rivulet' are both very pretty numbers, with a good groove, and fine melodies. The female vocals are very pleasant in this context. Both these tracks reminded me most of the debut by the Canadian band Contraction, of all albums. 'Joy' is a powerful fusion track with great use of clavinet, and represents the 3rd really great song here. 'Frysja' goes to Ruphus' Norwegian roots, and recalls what bands like Kebnekaise were doing over in Sweden. Unfortunately the opener 'Foodlovers' Diet' is very off-putting, where the vocals are strained, and the music is somewhat irritating to be honest. So best to start with 'Frysja' and enjoy the soft moods and warm afternoon. Overall a fine effort from Ruphus, who managed to tap into the best characteristics of the late 1970s funk fusion fad.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Brain (Germany)

Niagara - S.U.B. 1972 Germany

Niagara were founded by drummer and percussionist Klaus Weiss, who also happened to be the leader of the fine jazz rock group known as Sunbirds. Niagara released three albums in the early to mid 70s, the first which is entirely percussive. Their second album S.U.B. is a jamming rock fusion session with an all star cast including Daniel Fichelscher (Popol Vuh), Kristian Schultze (Passport, and leader of the The Bridge / Recreation album), and Udo Lindenberg among a handful of others. The presence of trumpet and the bass heavy percussive driven sound reminds me of early 70's Miles Davis, especially on the opening title track. Compositions such as 'Niagara' and 'Gibli' are similar to their debut, in that they are primarily percussion ensembles. 'Kikiriti' is the highlight for me, with an abundance of flute, and recalls Weiss' other outfit Sunbirds, especially on their own debut.

Personal collection
LP: 2016 PMG Audio (Austria)

The above represents the only standalone legit reissue for this album. There is a 2 (& 3) CD / 3 album comp as well from Made in Germany. But for my tastes, S.U.B. is the only album worthy of ownership.

Taipuva Luotisuora - 8. 2013 Finland

8 starts off like a space rock version of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', before settling down into their usual cosmic groove. The guitars are noticeably heavier than prior, and they seem to be circling the post rock genre a bit more closely than before. Faux organ sounds are never a bad idea, and nice to see Taipuva Luotisuora applying both that and the rare guitar solo back in the mix. Overall, 8 may be their most straightforward disc to date. I for one would like to see them reach back to their debut for some inspiration on future works. This is the first album where I feel they have stopped innovating. Too comfortable. But it's still excellent!

It appears the bands naming convention is 2 to the (x-1) power where x is the actual release number (not counting the demo of course). We'll see if that holds up. If so, the next album will be either 16 or XVI.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - IV. 2009 Finland

Seems that many new bands are attracted to the post rock sound, and Taipuva Luotisuora are no exception. Now normally I'd associate the moniker with the "dull" adjective, but in the hands of the almighty Taipuva Luotisuora, they take the lethargic yet melodic approach and add quite a bit of complexity to the proceedings. There's also a big sweeping sound that gives IV a cinematic quality rarely heard in digital form. Analog 70s styled Moog synthesizers provide many of the solos, adding a much needed warmth to the overall sound. Copious use of tuned and hand percussion is another plus. Fortunately Taipuva Luotisuora have foregone the vocals (excepting some wonderful atmospheric wordless voice), though it also appears that they've ventured away from pyrotechnic guitar solos as well, which is missed. And the indigenous kantele is never too far away. IV is a step forward for the band.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - II. 2006 Finland

After being completely blown away by their debut, I rushed out to buy the followup which had just been released at the time I’d discovered the debut. Some noticeable changes have taken place in the short year since. The guitars are slightly heavier, not quite metal, but a distinct modern hard rock crunch is present. There are now vocals, which could be a great addition for a band like Taipuva, but I felt they’re executed all wrong for the exotic music at hand. First the lyrics are in English, rather than the more interesting and non Indo-European Finnish. Worse, they’re delivered with the whiny American indie style that seems will never go away (sigh). Perhaps a more mysterious approach to the vocals (female, echoed, whispered) would be far more interesting for the music that Taipuva play. The instrumentation seems stripped down a bit (though the liner notes still call out the kantele, violin, Hohner Melodica, and woodwinds). Also, not near enough of the Hidria Spacefolk, Korai Orom sound as prior – though as a plus I do hear some of the much missed Dutch group Kong. And finally, the modern electronica sounds of the debut are even more in use here, most notably on ‘Uotila’ and ‘Unaja Infinite Laser’. Now this latter point actually demonstrates some progress for the band. Like a good movie director would employ, the special effects are used to enhance, not overwhelm the proceedings. I don’t want to overplay the negative here with the vocals, as "Viking Zulu" does possess a good voice, and there are only 4 tracks where they are utilized, out of 9 total. In some ways, all the tracks (including those with vocals) are more complex than even the first album, which is outstanding to see. Still, the Taipuva Luotisuora tribe" that the music created for my imagination is missing here. So probably this album is the one that is favored by the majority, but I found it more typical of the underground scene. I miss the exotic nature of the debut. Not wanting to send the wrong message here – this is still a fantastic album, just a bit disappointed that it seems to be a step towards the middle.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Kaakao

Taipuva Luotisuora - I. 2005 Finland

Deep in the dark forests of Finlandia, where lurks the mysterious Hidria Spacefolk, hushed whispers abound of another pagan tribe nearby known as Taipuva Luotisuora. On one dark misty night we ventured carefully over, and while peeking through the leaves, we listened to the tribe perform their magical brew. A small, furry group, only numbering five, armed with guitar (electric and acoustic), bass (fuzz), drums, percussion, synthesizers galore (some even fuzzed like the Farfisa’s of previous civilizations), piano, violin, flute, and even kantele (a Finnish zither like instrument). They played with a strong sense of the groove, with gorgeous melodies. They are sometimes quiet, sometimes intense. Always mesmerizing. Sometimes they’d even use modern percussion. In fact this infatuation with modern electronica reminded us of that distant tribe from the land of Hungaria known as Korai Orom. Sometimes we even thought of the ancients like the Ozric Tentacles people. For as much as we tried to walk away and head home, we were entranced, no one could stop their endless stare. We hadn’t felt this way, well, since the last time we visited the Hidria Spacefolk. When it was finished, we looked at each other and thought, Taipuva Luotisuora are the best new tribe we’d visited in years. We raced home to tell what we had saw, but no one knew who we spoke of. Go to the mountaintops and yell ‘Music For Kortela Space Hood Elevators’ we said. And o’er the land, our people were wiser and filled with joy.

On this album, Taipuva Luotisuora proved they are absolutely one of the best bands in the Ozric Tentacles genre. Perhaps second only to Hidria Spacefolk.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Kaakao

Sensations' Fix - Portable Madness. 1974 Italy

And here we have... the single greatest space rock album of all time! No small claim that. Not an irreverent throw out to grab one's...