El Templo del Dinero - s/t. 1999 Mexico

As I've written about in the past, Smogless was a Mexican label in the late 90s something akin to the Kosmische Kouriers or Prescription Drug (UK), with a blend of bands celebrating the psychedelic underground. El Templo del Dinero was but one of these ensembles, likely collected for this recording rather than as a touring concern. The participants are an unusual lot for a recording such as this. Guitarist Victor Mendez had played in a couple of oddball bands from the early 90s - one was the unhinged Zeuhl group Vector Escoplo and the other was the arty Subsuelo. Neither very good to be honest. Drummer Victor Baldovinos comes from the decidedly symphonic group Iconoclasta. Newcomer bassist Alfredo Landa fills out the trio.

Based on this lineup, one wouldn't normally expect an homage to early Guru Guru and Sensations Fix, but more or less that's what we're dealing with here. Instrumental psychedelic space rock is the order of the day. The sound is raw and very much a product of the deep underground. El Templo del Dinero was hardly alone doing this kind of music in Mexico at this time, and one will hear similarities to Humus, Loch Ness, and Frolic Froth. The guitars are wonderfully compressed and super fuzzed out, and the rhythm section moves around constantly. Sometimes in sync, sometimes not - which is part of the allure. But it's definitely a competent work by experienced musicians. I've seen references to this being a jazz fusion type album, but I cannot hear it myself. No more than Guru Guru's UFO being considered such. Another reference would be the obscure Chicago based band Matter.

El Templo del Dinero is another one of those CDs I bought real time, enjoyed, and filed. Here we are 19 years later on a revisit, and I had very little music memory of it - only that it was in the Humus vein. I can understand this album being a bit too raw for some, but it's not in the wear-you-out genre like the Japanese groups such as Acid Mothers Temple can be. I enjoyed it myself, and hopefully will hear it again sooner than 19 years. Hopefully I can still hear at all by then....

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Smogless

Larry Coryell - At the Village Gate. 1971 USA

At the Village Gate is a very interesting album from jazz guitarist Coryell. I've heard quite a few of his albums prior including the Eleventh House works, and they follow similar fusion / jazz rock paths as laid out by John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera, Return to Forever, and Weather Report. In effect, musicians born out of jazz but with a strong interest in rock music. So even though I had read this album to be different, I wasn't expecting it to really be that way. And I was to be proven wrong.

At the Village Gate truly is an instrumental psychedelic rock album. This is very much in the realm of Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Perhaps not as intense as the burgeoning Krautrock movement of early Ash Ra Tempel and Guru Guru, but take away some of their more excessive moments, and you arrive At the Village Gate. The guitar tone is decidedly psychedelic with plenty of effects applied, while the rhythm section is constantly on the move. "Busy" as the liner notes suggest. For the style, it's a bit subdued, but for an experienced jazzer like Coryell, it's definitely risky and on the edge. For my tastes at least, it's the best album I've heard by him.

At the Village Gate is a relatively obscure album for a marquee name such as Larry Coryell, who sadly passed away recently. Real Gone has provided the first legitimate reissue on CD in 2017. Don't miss it this go round if what I say above resonates.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Real Gone

CD comes with unique liner notes and great sound.

Dungen - Häxan. 2016 Sweden

Dungen's CV for over a decade will read as a modern take on the 1971 Silence Records stable mixed with Mikael Ramel's Till Dej. The fact that the band defiantly sings in their native Swedish, and still manages to have a large cult following even here in America is something quite extraordinary. But what if the band decided to remove the songs and lyrics? Häxan is the answer to that question. Gustav Ejstes and company have provided their musical interpretation of a 1920's era animated German film. And the German reference can be taken even further, as this is spot on Krautrock from the Kosmische Kourier era. It has that warm analog feeling with the biting psychedelic fuzz edge juxtaposed against the wavering flute throughout. There are beautiful melodies and soundscapes, but little that would typically qualify as a traditional "song". So journey south with Dungen from Stockholm to Berlin and enjoy Häxan. I can listen to music like this endlessly.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Mexican Summer (USA)

Curt Cress Clan - CCC. 1975 Germany

Curt Cress Clan had one album released smack dab in the middle of the funky fusion era, and this album falls right in lockstep with expectation. Starts with a barnburner in 'Cyclone', and 'Fields' is wonderfully moody. 'Movin Right Along' also kicks a fair amount of booty. Despite the somewhat trite composition style, all is not lost, as it contains exceptional performances from Volker Kriegel (who obtains a wonderful fuzz guitar tone throughout); Kristian Schultze on keyboards (and yet again the fat analog synth tones are great here); and of course Cress himself on the drum kit, who gets in a few great patterns. One to buy if a fan of Kraut Fusion.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Atlantic
CD: 2010 Sireena

The CD is housed in a digipak, complete with liner notes.

Second Direction - Four Corners. 1976 Germany

Coming from the jazz wing of the ever large Kraut Fusion movement, Second Direction provides the listener some of the genre's finest moments. In particular when band leader Fritz Münzer pulls out the flute (primarily on 'Storm Flute', 'Flying Carpet Ride', and the title track), the results can be divine. Second Direction have perfectly encapsulated the optimism of the era, with gorgeous melodies and sublime rhythms. Hearing this makes you want to take a ride through the countryside, and enjoy a picnic with a bottle of wine and a beautiful girl by your side. Overall I'd submit that Second Direction ties closest to the two Sunbirds' albums, though all remnants of Krautrock have been filtered out here.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 Spinning Wheel

A very obscure CD reissue. The label is legit, and was active at the turn of the century.

Schnauser - Protein for Everyone. 2014 England

My big fear coming into Protein for Everyone, my first encounter with Schnauser, is that there would be traces of indie/alternative music. Not that I read this anywhere, but instinctively the younger bands have it in their DNA due to constant exposure, different than my own generation. I can't stand that music myself. The monotone sound and nihilistic outlook goes against my very optimistic and creative nature. Give me a pissed off metal band any day - at least they care enough to be mad!

So with that out of the way - Schnauser have succeeded entirely on not dragging that element into their sound. Hooray! This is square-on psychedelic era Canterbury music, of the kind that didn't get past 1971. The soft affected vocals, the period instrumentation (especially the keyboards and fuzz bass), and the melodies are all extremely well done. It doesn't quite have the depth of the masters, and one does begin to think that if Stereolab had emulated Soft Machine or Caravan, rather than French 60s pop and Neu!, this would have been the result. That would have been great actually, now that I think about it.

The first 4 tracks are the highlight, and it begins to slowly break down from there. On first glance, 'Disposable Outcomes' appears this will be Schnauser's 'Nine Feet Underground' or 'Esther's Nose Job'. Alas it isn't, primarily because the band opted out of giving us some fuzz keyboard jam moments, and instead offers some weird story. That's really too bad, because there are moments throughout where I thought this would be a 5 star masterpiece. So in the end, it lived up to its title. On that note, this is one of the very few albums where a 4 star/Gnosis 11/excellent grade could be considered a disappointment. All the ingredients are here (they go so far as to define the band makeup in the CD literally as ingredients!) and they succeed, but I feel they did not transcend the genre, when you instinctively know they have the ability to do so. Still - this is a must own if you enjoy the early Canterbury movement.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Esoteric Antenna

Leviathan - The Legendary Lost Elektra Album. 1969 England (archival)

Leviathan were an English band from the late 60s with quite a backstory and a decidedly sad ending. Rechristened from the more mod sounding Mike Stuart Span, Leviathan were like many bands of the era, who were moving from catchy pop oriented singles into more heady album material. Oddly the band's demise appears to have come from a confusing promotion wherein Elektra decided to issue 2 singles at once, and both failed to chart. The first two tracks on this album represent the better of the singles, and demonstrates why Leviathan should have been a force on the psychedelic / upcoming progressive rock scene. Fantastic guitar leads, psychedelic infused vocals, and solid melodies are the name of the game with Leviathan. The other single contained 'The War Machine' and 'Time', and were both a bit dated for the cutting edge 1969 mindset, though still quite good. My pick for the best track is 'Through the Looking Glass', which is that rare breed of true "psych prog" as one might hear on the Pussy Plays album for example.

In any event, the album was pulled by the label president, for reasons that are still not clearly understood. It is suggested that the band still needed to improve on the album, but funding was going to have to come from within if the album wanted to see the light of day. This of course was not possible, and the band disintegrated on the spot. As noted by the title, the album indeed had gained legendary status via the record buying community going back to the 1980s. It took almost 50 years in total, but finally we can all hear this most promising group. It's bitter sweet though, as we'll never know the what-if scenario.

Personal collection

CD: 2016 Grapefruit / Cherrry Red

Namaz - 300 M.P.H. 1981 Germany

For Namaz's debut, try to imagine Embryo circa Bad Heads and Bad Cats, or the Real Ax Band - but carrying on into 1981. Tropical and breezy Kraut styled fusion with sultry female vocals are the order of the day here. Final track 'Cyklus III' goes into freaky Santana guitar mode to close in excellent fashion. A fine album for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Creole Stream (Japan)

Mystere de Notre Dame - s/t. 1996 Italy

Mystere de Notre Dame were like many bands of the mid 90s, and definitely engaged in a bit of Dream Theater worship. The chops weren't quite there, and the professionalism was B grade, but no doubt competent all the same. For the first 3 tracks, you will admire Mystere de Notre Dame, but a bit of deja-vu will come about soon enough, Then comes 'Dominus', and it's still Dream Theater - as found in the Twilight Zone. It's not on-purpose attention grabbing either, but rather a tad off-center. In this way Mystere de Notre Dame reminds me of those nutty German bands of the same era like Payne's Gray and Cant. It's as if the band knew they were sleepwalking, and needed to do something else - but weren't quite sure what to do. Was it their Italian heritage? Perhaps Semiramis was on their mind... By no means is this radical in the same way as fellow countrymen Garden Wall are, it's just...different. The album has received relatively low marks across the board on both RYM and Gnosis, and I figure it's because of the typical Dream Theater association, and the first 3 tracks don't help. But a deeper dive reveals something more. I wondered why I kept this CD all these years, and now I know. And I will continue to do so.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Music is Intelligence (Germany)

Yves Laferrière - s/t. 1978 Canada

If viewing this record for the first time, one could be forgiven for marrying the album cover with the 1978 date, and coming to the conclusion this is yet another period fusion album. But that's not the case at all. Yves Laferrière was one of the primary songwriters on both of the Contraction albums, and on his one solo album, he has successfully recreated the past. This sounds every bit like an early 70s Quebecois progressive rock work, and could easily be considered the 3rd Contraction album. The same style of songwriting and the beautiful female vocals are just 2 of the components that make this comparison obvious. All the songs are relatively compact (save the more lengthy and raucous closer), and there are no obvious standout moments - and yet each and every track fits "just so". If you're a fan of Contraction, you'll want this.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 ProgQuebec

Ars Nova - Fear & Anxiety. 1992 Japan

The all-female keyboard trio Ars Nova were a breath of fresh air that blew into the landscape in the early 90s. They proudly followed other such acts like Deja-Vu, Social Tension, Motoi Sakuraba, as well as the various acts that contributed to the Kings Boards compilation. It is this sampler where we find Naomi Miura's (Rosalia's keyboardist - Rosalia incidentally is an all-female progressive pop band) brilliant instrumental piece 'Corde Spirale'. This track, no doubt, provided the inspiration for Fear & Anxiety (Naomi is mentioned in the credits). Keyboardist Keiko Kumagai displays an enormous amount of talent and creativity as she composes all the songs and obviously directs the course of each track. Though she plays a myriad of modern day digital synthesizers, the centerpiece of her sound comes from those wonderful old analog machines - the Hammond organ and the Mini Moog. 'Dark Clouds' opens the album rather ominously with minimalist piano, and haunting synth voices. Then the rhythm section kicks in courtesy of the Saito sisters, Yumiko and Kyoko, and we're off into keyboard trio nirvana with '[dziha:d]' (I think something got lost in translation here...). Ars Nova consistently play with angst and passion! On 'House of Ben' Keiko produces a sound Black Sabbath would be proud of. 'Prominence' and the two part 'Fata Morgana' finish this work with a similar display of imagination and performance. Fear & Anxiety is strongly recommended for those into the aforementioned Japanese groups, legends such as ELP and Supersister, as well as anybody into innovative progressive rock.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Made in Japan

After waiting for some years for someone to upload the original CD cover, I finally did it myself yesterday on Discogs. I bought this CD upon release. The album was reissued in 1994, and that's the common cover you see (second scan).

Shiva - Firedance. 1982 England

I'm such a sucker for the older NWOBHM bands, before they felt compelled to be in lockstep with the "scene", and here they just sort of made things up as they went along. Very much like my favorite progressive rock bands of the early 70s. Has more of a Rush influence than usual for a UK band from this era. There's some commercial stuff here that keeps it from a higher rating (especially on Side 2), but it's still a great listen. It'll probably grow on me over time (and it has!). File this one in the innovative early metal category next to Legend (UK), Diamond Head, Sacred Blade, and Manilla Road.

Personal collection
CD: "British Steel" (Russia)

Damn. I fear I ended up with the bootleg. I got it on ebay from a US seller, and I'm convinced they would have had no idea. The only way you can tell it is unauthorized is by the matrix on the disc, or lack thereof. Oh well it didn't cost much, so it wasn't worth complaining about. I'll ditch it if and when I get a legit reissue.

Solis Lacus - s/t. 1975 Belgium

Solis Lacus' sole album is a mix of deep grooves and sweet melodies, which is the blueprint for the mid 70's instrumental jazz rock scene. One could easily see Solis Lacus operating as the 4th Placebo album. Though by 1975, some of the rougher edges have been smoothed over, and it's not ever going to win any underground awards. But it definitely serves well for 70's styled "gettin' in the mood" with plush coaches, wood paneled walls, and shag carpet. Trumpet and saxophone lead the solo parade, while band leader Michel Herr provides the Fender Rhodes and monophonic synthesizers. This is the right music for the right time.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Heavenly Sweetness (France)

The CD is housed in a fine tri-fold digipak using the original cover (scan 1). Comes with a history in English and French, and further on the band members each reflect back on the album, but this time only in French and Flemish. Also displays the two other album covers, as the LP was surprisingly reissued twice in the late 70s and early 80s by different labels (see scans 2 and 3)

Moonwagon - The Rule of Three. 2015 Finland

The Rule of Three, is appropriately enough, Moonwagon's 3rd album. Picking right up from Foyers of the Future, the album starts off more geared towards broad strokes and atmospheric space rock. This goes on for the opening 3 tracks, with 'The Infinite Pattern' being the highlight with its strong melodic content and various meter changes. 'Run to the Sun' recalls the 90s neo psych movement, and  is the only track to feature vocals (in English). 'Skylines at Night' seems almost like a homage to the late 70s French and German guitar oriented electronic scene, with soaring guitar leads, steady beats, and a heavy synthesizer presence, perhaps like Christian Boule's Photo Musik, for example. This leads to the final epic track, where we get the payoff for the time invested. Mostly an old school early 1970s Kosmische Kouriere trip with echoed electric piano, scattered drums, acid guitar leads, and moody synthesizers. The mid section follows - but more towards the jumpy Quantum Fantay variety of Ozric Tentacles, and finally finishes with an almost Zeuhl like bass riff with atmospheric Rhodes electric piano over the top. Not like anything else I've heard prior, though still quite familiar. Superb. A new direction for the band perhaps? We can hope.

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Presence

Moonwagon - Foyers of the Future. 2012 Finland

For their followup Foyers of the Future, it appears Moonwagon are consciously moving away from their Ozric Tentacles roots, and trying their hand at slower, more melodic music - citing perhaps the influence of a group such as the Future Kings of England. 'Elsewhere' opens the album with a Pink Floyd styled atmospheric rock number. This is followed by two rave-ups 'New World Warrior' and 'Dawnwind' that recall "Night Dust", and it would seem Moonwagon are off to the races. But from track 4 on, they put on the breaks and the focus is more on melody and atmosphere, rather than rhythms and pyrotechnics. I think I prefer the former style, but it will be interesting to see where Moonwagon goes from here.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Presence

Moonwagon - Night Dust. 2011 Finland

Moonwagon are yet another instrumental band from Finland that was smitten with the Ozric Tentacles sound, similar to Hidria Spacefolk, Taipuva Luotisuora, and Dasputnik. So where does Moonwagon fit in all of this? Beyond the usual guitar rave-ups and hyper rhythms, Moonwagon offer five distinct qualities that endear them to my tastes, at the very least: A concentration on melody; bluesy electric guitar solos; copious use of acoustic guitar; spatial keyboards/synthesizers (including some fat analog sounds); and a thick / woody bass guitar that drives the music forward. Music like this is timeless: Complex, memorable, energetic, and heck of a lot of fun. Can't go wrong here, especially if you're a fan of the prior bands mentioned.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Twilight Works

Gerard - Live in Marseille/Battle Triangle. 1998 Japan

Gerard had 7 studio albums prior to this, their first live album. All the tracks have been culled from their studio recordings, and there's an additional cover of a Banco del Mutuo Soccorso composition from Darwin. Generally live albums bore me, as they're nothing but a run-through of the studio material, but recorded in front of a live audience. That's not the case here. First of all, it's just the keyboard trio. As such, no vocals or guitars are present. Rather it's a non-stop blitzkrieg of Hammond fueled* instrumental workouts with fuzz bass and hyperactive drumming - and where each track has been turned up to "11". The album is just relentless in its intensity. Those looking for color or nuance will need to skip right over this one. Imagine the 1970 UK group Aardvark on a non-stop bender without vocals. Not for the fainthearted.

*This is absolutely the sound they obtain, but in reading the liner notes and the internet, it appears all the keyboards used were modern day Korg synthesizers run through Leslie pedals. If only other contemporary bands had adopted such a thick and meaty sound!

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Made in Japan

The first scan is the MIJ release and the second is from Musea. The album is titled Live in Marseille, subtitled Battle Triangle, and further it says "Ltd. Edition for Fan Club", as the indigenous release features one short bonus piece called 'Revenge', which sounds just as great as everything else on the album.

Wobbler - From Silence to Somewhere. 2017 Norway

For any number of legitimate reasons I can lay out, it wasn't until November that I heard my first new album of 2017. And that one album was Wobbler's 4th opus From Silence to Somewhere. But what a way to ring in the new year! 11 months belated perhaps, but it doesn't matter because I can say with a certain amount of confidence this will be album of the year for me. It's currently in the running for album of the decade. Of course not everyone will agree to such an assessment, but as I write this, it maintains the top spot on Gnosis, ProgArchives, and RYM (for the style progressive rock that is - only #42 overall, but impressive all the same). For the same reasons Anglagard finds themselves under the bus on occasion, so will Wobbler: It's an old sound brought forth. Oh my though - we're talking an album that goes toe to toe with the best of 1972. From Silence to Somewhere is Wobbler living up to their potential - and then some. I've been a fan since Hinterland first hit the shelves, and had no problem with its, and successor/predecessor Afterglow, obvious Anglagard/Sinkadus worship. Wobbler took an odd turn on Rites of Dawn, circling The Yes Album wagon and draining it completely of all its assets. Though one can't blame the band for taking advantage of Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo's strong resemblance to Jon Anderson.

But what of From Silence to Somewhere? Well it's pretty much progressive rock perfection, that's what. I've stated this phrase before, but it bears repeating: If you find yourself not enjoying this album, then it's time to reassess your love of classic progressive rock. At a bare minimum I can say this as a matter of fact, rather than opinion: This is what I look for when hearing progressive rock. At this stage of my life, it's rare I want to hear an album more than 2 times straight before moving on to the next one in the stack. With From Silence to Somewhere, it's all I wanted to hear for days on end. I came back to it in the same way I would revisit Close to the Edge as a young teenager. Each time the album would reveal more about itself. Like a John Le Carre novel, it twists and turns in various directions, keeping you guessing even though you already know the outcome. And the sound is so perfect. Thick and wedgy and luscious. You just want to bathe in it.

The 21 minute title track and the closer 'Foxlight' are just merely great. But it's within the depths of the album you find the 2 gems that are lifetime achievements. The moody introspective 'Rendered in Shades of Green' is the definition of a piano and mellotron soaked instrumental. The melancholic feel of a misty windswept Scottish countryside. Then blasting out of the gates comes the piece de resistance 'Fermented Hours' sounding every bit like Il Balletto di Bronzo tackling 'Gates of Delirium'. Every metal band worth their leather strap would love to create this kind of intensity, and yet it's done through an obvious progressive rock lens. Breathtaking.

After the album is finished, there's only one thing left to do. Hit Play again. And again.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Karisma

Agusa - s/t. 2017 Sweden

Agusa is back with their 3rd instrumental studio release, and continue on with their unique take on the 1973 Swedish landscape. No change in style, but the execution continues to accelerate in a  positive way. The songwriting is memorable, and the instrumentals more kinetic than even before. It's as if the Silence label just released the next Flasket Brinner album. The usual instrumentation of organ, psychedelic guitar, and flute continue to drive Agusa's sound. To my ears, this is Agusa's best album to date. It's a much welcome style, and one that isn't over copied. I can listen to this kind of music all day. Brilliant really.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Laser's Edge (USA)

Malady - s/t. 2015 Finland

One of the common complaints I often hear regarding the "retro prog" movement is that the various bands that attempt it either 1) use new instrumentation to emulate old sounds or 2) use newer production techniques, even if the instrumentation is authentic. I have no such qualms, but for those where 1) and 2) are a problem, then Malady is the remedy for your... (cough) malady. Hammond organ, flute, loud acid guitar, woody bass, vocals in Finnish... you know the drill by now.  This is an album that sounds like it was recorded and released in 1973. If groups with names like Tasavallan Presidentti, Kalevala, Nimbus, and Fantasia get your heart started, well then, do I have an album for you...

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Svart

El Templo del Dinero - s/t. 1999 Mexico

As I've written about in the past, Smogless was a Mexican label in the late 90s something akin to the Kosmische Kouriers or Prescripti...