Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunbirds - Zagara. 1973 Germany

Sunbirds - Zagara. 1973 Finger/Polydor

UMR feature of Sunbirds' debut

CD reissue: 2015 Garden of Delights

Release details: Single sleeve cover and quite scarce, similar to the debut. Unlike Sunbirds' debut, however, I was never able to secure one for the collection. Not sure I need to now, as GoD has come through with a fine CD reissue, with all their usual trimmings (historical essay, photos). The sound seems sourced from LP, though it's not stated as such. To my ears, the sound is excellent all the same. There is a 2 minute bonus track, but it is nothing more than a tuned percussion accompaniment.

Notes: Zagara is a more traditional jazz outing than Sunbirds' awesome debut. However, there are still some great moments to behold. Both Fire Dance and Ocean Song bring back the strobe light Kraut jazz rock groovliciousness, where our fantasy girl in white thigh high go-go boots returns for one more dance. African Sun and My Dear Groovin are also at a high level of melody, atmosphere, and grooves. The other tracks are more or less straight-up flute jazz, though all are thoroughly enjoyable if the genre is favorable to you. Along with the flute - piano, jazz guitar, and a cracking rhythm section provide the necessary ingredients. So perhaps not the ultimate essential album that the debut most certainly is, but a mighty fine followup for this studio-only project. Recommended.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Embryo - Live. 1977 Germany

Embryo - Live. 1977 April

Other UMR features on Embryo

CD reissue: 2015 Garden of Delights

LP reissue: 1999 April

Release details: Single sleeve cover from the April kollektiv created by Embryo, Missus Beastly and others. The album isn't particularly rare or expensive, and the quality isn't of the highest either. I bought this album in the late 80s at the same time as most other Embryo albums, as I was first getting into them. But my taste for jazz rock then wasn't what it is today, and I sold it off a few years later. The strange thing is, while all the other Embryo albums have been on CD since the 1990s, Live just received its very first press here in 2015 from the ever reliable Garden of Delights. Great reissue with full liner notes, photos, and a 16 minute bonus track. And the sound is as good as it will ever be. I think the most surprising tidbit out of these liners, for me at least, is the 1999 LP repress. Supposedly 1000 more (legit) copies spilled into the open market from a record dealer in Frankfurt. But I don't recall ever seeing Live available back then for new purchase? Must have been a Germany-only thing. Discogs corroborates this evidence.

Notes: Really fine set from Embryo, recorded in a town near Munich sometime in February, 1976. Very much a product of their jazz rock phase, Live will appeal to fans of We Keep On, Surfin', Bad Heads and Bad Cats, Apo-Calypso, and their contributions to the Umsonst and Draussen festivals. It's a bit more laid back than their intense Krautrock workouts of the early 70s, while pointing toward the earnest world fusion music that was to follow (Bambule in particular). Roman Bunka once again lights it up with his Eastern tinged psychedelic guitar, whereas Charlie Mariano burns on the saxophone and nagasuram, and Dieter Miekautsch gives us a splendid performance on the Fender Rhodes. Uve Mullrich and Christian Burchard lay down the energetic backbone. Maria Archer provides her usual sultry blues based female vocals on selected tracks, while Bunka brings his unique voice to the fore on occasion. Only 3 tracks will be recognized from their studio albums: Roadsong and After the Rain from Bad Heads (in truncated form), along with an extended version of You Can Turn Me On from Surfin'. The CD adds the 16 minute Just Arrived, from a concert a few weeks later. As you might imagine, given the length, Embryo stretch out a bit more here. A fine album, that improves with age.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Phantom - Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1. 1974 USA

Phantom - Phantom's Divine Comedy Part 1. 1974 Capitol

CD reissue: 1993 One Way

Release details: Relatively scarce US major label album. Single sleeve that lends itself easily to ring wear. As you can see, the label itself lists the band as Phantom, which to me solves that debate at least. The only legit CD is the bare bones One Way, which I obtained in the 90s and is the only version I've ever owned. It's long gone, and rarer than the LP at this point. Naturally, there are pirates all over this one. So watch out if in the market for one.

Notes: Phantom were in reality a Detroit area band slumming around with the name Walpurgis. Vocalist Tom Carson had an uncanny resemblance in both voice, and even appearance, to Jim Morrison, and thus Capitol thought it might be a good idea to exploit the myth that Morrison was still alive. It's hard to imagine a corporate entity such as Capitol getting in on such sophomoric antics, but it does appear that's exactly what happened. Naturally the whole idea fell on its face, and Phantom disappeared as they came, through the ether.

The sad thing about this ruse, is it was entirely unnecessary. Phantom, in fact, were really quite adept on their own accord. In effect, Phantom are a hard rock band, with psychedelic and progressive characteristics. So the Doors comparisons begins and ends with Carson's voice. The rest is somewhat unique for an American major label band from 1974. The opening track 'Tales from a Wizard', 'Spider's Will Dance', and the last 16 minutes of the album are the highlights. It's just this kind of mystical hard rock that is now being recreated by a new inspired youth. So while Capitol were trying to exploit history, Phantom were actually predicting the future. Wonderful irony.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Legend - s/t + Death in the Nursery + Frontline. 1981-1982 Jersey (UK/Channel Islands)

Legend - s/t. 1981 Workshop
Legend - Death in the Nursery. 1982 Workshop
Legend - Frontline. 1982 Workshop

CD reissues: 2002 Monster ("Anthology" - includes all 3 albums plus a 1983 demo); 2009 Rockadrome

LP reissue for Legend: 2011 Svart (Finland)
LP reissue for Death in the Nursery: 2012 Svart (Finland)

Release details: All 3 albums are privately released single sleeve issues on the band's own Workshop label. Originals are scarce, but not terribly expensive ($50-$150). The LP reissues are adorned in gatefold covers, which is a nice bonus. I picked up one of these reissues only because I was able to source one dirt cheap. My introduction to Legend's music came via the awesome 2 CD set from Monster, which includes all of the band's work from 1981 to 1983. Features fine liner notes with historical newspaper clippings and photos. The 2009 repress demonstrates continued demand for the title. The CD is the way to go here I think.

Notes: Legend are a band from Jersey, which sits in the Channel Islands. For all intents and purposes they are part of the United Kingdom, but technically are separate. And if you look at a map, you'll see that Jersey is just off the coast of France. It's all intertwined with the Norman invasion of England, and thus has a mixed history and culture.

Understanding this isolation is critical to understanding Legend as a band and their place in metal history. Because they were like none other, and yet all very familiar as well.

The album starts harmlessly enough with the very good, though nondescript, 'Bad Girl'. Even here, though, one of Legend's many great characteristics is demonstrated: The vocals of Mike Lezala. He has a pleasant and soothing high pitched voice, absolutely perfect for the scratchy metal guitar sound provided underneath. He's no screamer, and can actually carry a tune. Starting with 'Taste of Life', the music becomes increasingly complex. Perhaps not in a technical way, but each song unfolds in unexpected fashion. Legend is superb in how they craft a memorable break via a crushing riff. So the familiar names of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest are brought to the fore - but in a way that is neither. Their sound isn't particularly heavy, almost hard rock, though there's just enough distortion to easily consider it metal. The guitar soloing is more psychedelic influenced, which I consider a major plus. The rhythms are also considerably more sophisticated than the usual 4/4 thumping beats one would hear in those early days of heavy metal.

In a perfect world, Legend would have been a great companion band to Iron Maiden on their rapid trajectory through the sales charts. Legend were miles ahead of bands like Saxon, Def Leppard, and Motorhead at this point in their career, especially in terms of creative songwriting. Only Iron Maiden and Diamond Head could compete this early on in the NWOBHM sweepstakes.

Despite the small press private release, Legend were not unknown amongst the 1981 metal intelligentsia, and received very good press from the UK metals mags of the day. Why they weren't signed up immediately is one of the great music industry tragedies, and one has to think their geographic location was the primary factor. I remember Legend being mentioned often, but always in the margins of an article. I never actually had a chance to hear them until Monster released the superb "Anthology" CD in 2002.


Legend's second album attempts to streamline their sound a bit, and tighten up the ship. And fortunately... they failed. Legend is one of those bands that just can't seem to help themselves when it comes to creative songwriting. One gets the impression that if you told Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) to write more poppy material, he'd come back with similar compositions as found on 'Death in the Nursery'. While no one would dare label Legend "Prog Metal", they are in fact more unpredictable than any established band in that field of music. Side 1 is a tad weaker than the debut, though almost all the material is still excellent, with 'Time Bomb' being their token "ordinary" metal track, similar to 'Bad Girls' from the debut. Side 2, however, opens up Pandora's Box, and the tunes begin to stray all over the place without rhyme or reason. Awesome.


Still marching forward without a label deal, Legend gives it a 3rd go with Frontline, this time going with the EP format. 'Stormers of Heaven' was the track that received the accolades from the metal press of the era, and it would seem to be the best choice for a single. For Legend, however, it's a bit ordinary. The other tracks, of course, are unpredictable with fantastic breaks/riffs, and cool psychedelic solos. It is the sound of Legend, one that most of the world unfortunately was deprived of for so long. If only a single enlightened label had come along...


Legend reformed in 2003, and we'll cover off on those albums in Under the Radar at another time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun + Phase Two. 1972 USA

The Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun. 1972 RCA
The Jimmy Castor Bunch - Phase Two. 1972 RCA

CD reissues: 1999 Camden/BMG (Europe); 2014 Robinsongs/Cherry Red (UK). Both albums on one CD

Release details: Garden variety mainstream US release. According to Discogs, It's Just Begun would appear to still be in production with new LP pressings every so often. I just recently picked up the Robinsongs CD, and it's a great reissue with complete liner notes and both albums in full.

Notes for It's Just Begun: I'll never forget the first time I heard the title track. It was only a few years ago, and my wife had our cable TV on the "soul channel". Yes, that's right, the cable TV music channel (Urge I think - dreadful in every other way I'm afraid). And I looked over at the TV and said "What the hell?". I just sat there mesmerized (luckily not on YouTube or no doubt it would be viral now). I've heard - what - a million songs now? How have I never heard this? We are talking a grinding bass like Jannick Top of Magma, with some fuzzy guitars thrown on top for good measure. And, as you might guess, that's not the only monster track here. Psyche and LTD are freaking amazing - especially the latter, sounding like Funkadelic dropped in on a Santana concert - with Miles Davis performing on trumpet. Of course, it's not all like this, because if it were, it would be a 5 star monsterpiece. But we go way up here. Way up.

Notes for Phase Two: Many Americans will remember a comedy/drama show in the 1970s called "Good Times". It was set in the deplorable Cabrini-Green housing projects in central Chicago, and depicted a hard working family struggling to make ends meet - in the most difficult situations imaginable. But there was always time for a laugh amongst the serious drama. It was lighthearted, but very serious too. The show was excellent, and both critics and fans enjoyed it. Over time, though, folks apparently lost interest in the "hard hitting" drama aspect. And so the shows' popularity particularly soared when eldest son "J.J." would enthusiastically yelp "DY-NO-MITE". And as you might imagine, the show deteriorated rapidly into a caricature, where it just became plain silly. And all the seriousness was gone. And that, my friends, is Jimmy Castor Bunch's "Phase Two".

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Outer Limits - The Scene of Pale Blue. 1987 Japan

Outer Limits - The Scene of Pale Blue. 1987 Made in Japan

CD reissues: 1988 Made in Japan; 1999 Made in Japan; 1999 Musea (France)

Release details: Single sleeve cover housed in a fine cover with a cool painting from a renowned Faerie artist. The first CD followed shortly thereafter. A decade later, fresh demand brought about dual releases in Europe and Asia. I bought the LP not long after it was released, and picked up the Musea CD sometime in the 2000s as a supplement. The CD has two bonus tracks, and you need to be careful when evaluating the album proper, as they not appended to the end in the traditional manner. See my notes below. Though I still own both copies, I have decided to part with the LP, which I'll be selling this Fall.

Notes: The CD starts off in that typical brash, digital 1980s way the Japanese are famous for. I was beginning to question why I liked this album at all, as many of those 1980s Japanese prog bands have fallen into the sell bin over the years. Ah, but 'Marionette's Lament' is from a single, and not the LP proper.

Once we get to 'Mixer', we are off and running with The Scene of Pale Blue. And on this LP, verse their earlier stunted works, Outer Limits provides us with plenty of long exploratory instrumental parts. And a willingness to break out the old equipment, like the mellotron for example, which was still unusual in those days. Some of the heavy angular guitar / counterpoint parts recall mid-70s King Crimson. Lead violin and old school rhythm guitar flesh out the sound nicely. Unfortunately the band brought back the silly low singing voice on 'Anti Podean' and those sections have to be considered a lowlight. A fine album from the late 80s Japanese symphonic progressive scene.

Oh, and the CD also includes the fine 8+ minute fusion-oriented bonus track 'Pteridophyte' taken from the 1990 Made in Japan compilation called Out of Works. I would consider this track essential listening.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Manilla Road - Mark of the Beast. 1981-1982 USA

Manilla Road - Mark of the Beast. 2002 Monster. Also released as a 2LP set. Archival recordings from 1981-1982.

CD reissue: 2011 Rockadrome

Release details: Fantastic archival set from Monster, and the CD includes all the lyrics and a history of the album penned by one of the label owners.  Rockadrome is Monster V 2.0, and the reprint demonstrates the album still has demand, especially as Manilla Road's popularity has skyrocketed in recent times.

Notes: So the story goes that this album was originally intended to be the second Manilla Road release after Invasion, but was scrapped, and Metal ended up being the final product. The title was to be "Dreams of Eschaton". I'm not buying it for one second. There's way too much variation of style and sound quality here to be a coherent album. Not to mention the 66 minute length (double LP? C'mon...). But this is the story Mark Shelton himself tells, but we know how it goes with bands and their memories...

What I will believe, though, is that these are demo recordings from the 1981/1982 time frame, and that would fit the label owner's story of him receiving it at that time as a teenager. It's important to remember that Manilla Road were a hard rock band at their beginning, with psychedelic guitar and progressive lyrical themes. And mostly that's what you get here, along with some of their early chugging metal style that was present on Metal.

It's mostly a solid psychedelic hard rock release, with a couple of down moments like 'Court of Avalon' and 'Venusian Sea' both of which seem go nowhere beyond hearing Shelton sing for way past the song's shelf life. So 13 minutes of just-OK music is hardly a bad batting average. On the flip side....

'Avatar' has to be heard to be believed. To me, this is the perfect 5 star / Gnosis 15 track. What a glorious mess of a song. It is all over the place. It's psychedelic, it's hard rock, it's metal, and it's progressive. All at the same time. I absolutely adore this time in music when there were obvious influences - yes - but not properly placed at all. There were no rules, just whatever they felt like doing, whenever they felt like doing it. You could hear this track forever and not hear it the same twice. I want a triple album of music like this! And then follows 'Dream Sequence' which is an organ dirge with echoed voices, sounding right off a 1970 German Ohr Krautrock album. And no keyboards are credited! Guys, are you sure you did this?

Anyway, so much material here, and plenty more inconsistencies that make it so weird and wonderful. In other words: Must own album!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Caldera - Dreamer. 1979 USA

Caldera - Dreamer. 1979 Capitol

CD reissues: 1990 Capitol (Japan); 2015 Capitol/Universal (Japan)

Release details: Single sleeve cover and a relatively common record here in the States. The CD, on the other hand, was quite the challenge to find. Fortunately Universal of Japan has given us a recent repress. Unlike most modern Japanese reissues, this one is a straight jewel box reissue with no extras, but can be found at a reasonable price. I recommend everyone to grab this while you can, as I don't suspect we may see it again.

Notes: Most bands don't end a career with their most dynamic and progressive album especially in 1979. Caldera had dabbled with commercialism on their previous two works (both still very good IMO), but this one is primarily a fiery instrumental fusion along the lines of 1972-74 era Santana, with some nods to Return to Forever. They threw caution to the wind and just went for it. If only most bands had a similar attitude back then. Arguably - and probably - their best album.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Biglietto per L'Inferno - s/t. 1974 Italy

Biglietto per L'Inferno - s/t. 1974 Trident

CD reissues (selected): 1989 Vinyl Magic; 2006 Trident (mini-LP); 2009 AMS (mini-LP); 2009 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2010 AMS

Release details: This is a big one for collectors of vintage Italian progressive rock. The original is housed is a simple single sleeve, and isn't very noteworthy otherwise. If in the market for one, you need to tread carefully, as there does exist a very convincing boot from the 1980s. If you follow Augusto's rules, you'll be fine though. As far as I know, the only legitimate LP reissue is the recent one from AMS. As for CD's, they are numerous and constantly put back in print, so I'm only showing a representative handful here. They're all variations of the same source and all owned/licensed by the folks behind BTF.  Unfortunately none of them sound very good. I've not been fortunate enough to own an original, but a local friend has one, and I've asked he bring it over next time so we could do a fresh comparison. I bought the first CD as soon as it hit the market (the album's reputation was enormous even back then). Eventually I upgraded to the "Trident" version which features a fine gatefold mini-LP. I can hear an attempt was made to fix the sound, but... yea, it's never going to sound great I'm afraid. In some ways, that's part of its charm and... well, read below.

Notes: So how does one describe the brilliance of Biglietto per L'Inferno? It's not one of those obvious single listen masterpiece albums that's for sure. Let's put it this way: If Banco del Mutuo Succorso is the marquee at the Teatro alla Scala, and Celeste is found playing in a small Umbrian village church, then Biglietto per L'Inferno resides behind the Porta Alchemica. This album is pure arcana. Perhaps the ultimate example is 'Confessione', which turns into complete madness by the end, with more twists and turns in one minute than most albums conjure up for their entire length. Every track has this veil of mystery and exploration that goes beyond normal understanding. Venture deep into the forest and see for yourself...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Message - From Books and Dreams. 1973 Germany

Message - From Books and Dreams. 1973 Bacillus/Bellaphon. Originals also exist from Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

CD reissues: 1993 Bacillus; 2003 CityStudio Media Production/CMP

LP reissues: 1976 Bacillus; 1981 Bacillus;  2010 Second Battle

Release details: Originals come in a very striking gatefold cover, and I was able to secure one from a catalog dealer in the late 1980s that I've maintained to this day. It appears the 1981 press is a single sleeve. As for CD's, I supplemented the LP with the first version to come out in the early 90s. And 20+ years later, nothing has changed here regarding this album. It's a straight-up old school jewel box reissue with great sound from the master tapes. And nothing else. It appears the CMP version (essentially a reissue of the Bacillus CD) is readily available.

Notes: Perhaps I'm the only one who thinks this, but to me Message's second album, From Books and Dreams, absolutely obliterates anything else they've ever done, including the debut. This album is relentless in its intensity. It just pounds on your senses for 40 plus minutes, and yea, maybe you will want to get some sleep after this (careful with the dreams though...). Pure exhaustion. You'll see many references to Nektar regarding this album, and while I can see the superficial connection (among them a direct personal link between the two, and the whole expatriate in Germany from England thing), there are two elements that really distinguish Message: Little to no keyboards, and a strong saxophone presence. Message are definitely more hard rocking as well. I love early Nektar too, but Message are on a different plane here. There are really only three tracks here, the first side operates as a full suite, though they broke them into 3 separate titles. Not a weak moment can be found. Exemplary psychedelic guitar, amplified vocals, and a rhythm section that won't quit. I've owned this album on LP since the late 1980s and it continues to improve with each listen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Igra Staklenih Perli - Vrt Svetlosti. 1980 Serbia

Igra Staklenih Perli - Vrt Svetlosti. 1980 PGP RTB

CD reissue: 2007 PGP RTS (2 on 1 CD including the debut album)

Release details: Single sleeve original. My LP copy is like the auction photo (except in a bit better condition) and has a blue label. Apparently there are originals with orange labels as well. Not sure why other than it was probably pressed in more than one location, which was common in Europe in those days. I've owned the LP since the mid 90s, but the wait for a CD reissue took forever. There are many pirate editions out there for both LP and CD, so you really have to be careful. If in the market for the CD, be sure it has the cover like the second scan above. It's a fine tri-fold digi-pak, with embossed lettering, and full liner notes (in Serbian) with covers of all their albums including the Kalemegdan LP archival issues of the 90s (which have not yet come out on CD).

Notes: Igra Staklenih Perli's second album "Garden Light" takes their sound from 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' all the way forward to... 'Echoes'. So they were a decade behind - just the way we like it!

The music here is more streamlined and upbeat, but it's essentially still zonked out of its mind. One could see this as a legitimate Krautrock release from 1971, without any other data at your disposal. Psychedelic guitar, cosmic - and at times crazed - vocals, and heavily phased organ define this psychotic work. Without a doubt, Serbia's finest progressive rock group from the Yugoslavia days.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Day of Phoenix - Wide Open N-Way. 1970 Denmark

Day of Phoenix - Wide Open N-Way. 1970 Sonet. Also released on Greenwich Gramophone (UK/Germany) and Stateside (France)

CD reissues: 1994 Repertoire (Germany); 2000 Sonet/Universal (w/The Neighbor's Son); 2010 Universal (w/The Neighbor's Son. mini-LP); 2012 Esoteric (UK)

Release details: Originals are housed in a fine gatefold as seen in the auction photo (and all other originals are gatefolds as well). My only copy is the first CD to market which I picked up a couple of years after its initial release. It's a fine reissue with liner notes for both Day of Phoenix and the Danish late 60s psychedelic scene overall. It does appear the CD is sourced from vinyl however. I would at some point like to get the Esoteric CD for comparison. An original LP would be nice too, but not a personal high priority. Speaking of which, there are no LP reissues surprisingly. Thanks to reader Achim for pointing out that Wide Open N-Way was reissued with The Neighbor's Son (second album from 1972) on Sonet/Universal (and also taken from vinyl). I never did hear the second album, though by all accounts, it's an inferior effort.

Notes: I've seen quite a bit of passion for this record over the years, which has always seemed puzzling to me. Oh, it's a fine album for certain, but it's definitely more middle of the road to my ears. There's not much in the way of songcraft or melodic development. Instead, Day of Phoenix jogs along in a loose, rambling, jammy style. The album is remarkably consistent, with the title track winning by a nose. And I suppose if you have bought into their compositional framework, then yes, one could see this album being a favorite as there are no dips in quality whatsoever.

I consider this album a "high 3.5" (Gnosis 10), in that the music doesn't quite warrant the higher rating, and yet it is essential listening for the progressive meets psychedelic genre.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Lily - V.C.U. (We See You). 1973 Germany

Lily - V.C.U. (We See You). 1973 Bellaphon/Bacillus

CD reissue: 2002 Garden of Delights

LP reissue: 2012 Long Hair

Release details: Single sleeve in a particularly dumb cover (we discuss this below). Good thing they interpreted VCU, otherwise who would know? All the same, originals are scarce and fairly expensive. The only CD is from the always great Garden of Delights, and this was my introduction to the album upon its release. On this reissue, you get a full album's worth of material from what was to be their second album in 1974. And of course all the usual great liner notes, photos, etc... Garden of Delights is the gold standard for CD reissues! Meanwhile the other great German label came through with an LP reissue, minus the bonus cuts though. I haven't personally heard or seen this version myself.

Notes: As the liner notes of the Garden of Delights CD state: "(Lily) had a specific style of their own and were almost uninfluenced by other bands." Amen to that. You'll hear snippets of other Krautrock bands such as Nine Days Wonder, Nosferatu, Out of Focus, Thirsty Moon, and Brainstorm. And yet none are really that similar. Psychedelic guitar and saxophone are the primary instrumental vehicles here, while the rhythm drives forward the compositions at a healthy clip. An excellent album.

The album cover and band moniker, of course, does the band no favors at all. Completely misrepresented as some sort of 3rd rate and unfunny glam rock band, Lily is none of the above. The actual name of the group was Monsun. But some moron at Bellaphon thought that since Tiger B. Smith were selling well with their glam image, so should "Lily". And one and done Monsun goes...

The CD version contains 40 minutes of bonus material (tracks 7 to 10) meant for a second, yet unreleased, album from 1974. These are of lesser sound - and music - quality. It's loose jam material for sax/guitar for the most part, and certainly are worthy as bonus tracks.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fruupp - Modern Masquerades. 1975 Ireland

Fruupp - Modern Masquerades. 1975 Dawn. Also released in Japan on Teichiku

CD reissues: 1989 Teichiku (Japan); 1996 See For Miles (w/ Prince of Heaven's Eyes) 1997 Si-Wan (Korea); 1999 Victor (Japan mini-LP); 2006 Strange Days (Japan mini-LP); 2009 Esoteric

LP reissue: 2005 Get Back (Italy)

Release details: Originals come in a fine single sleeve cover with a fetching painting of a medieval dinner party. I included the back cover primarily because of my notes below. My first copy was the original LP that I found at a local record show in the late 1980s. The first CD to market was actually the original copyright holders in Japan, as it did receive an original release there in 1975 as well. I sold that one away to obtain the mini-LP, which of course looks great and includes the original lyric insert just as my own LP copy has it. The sound isn't great though in some places, a bit distorted almost. I need to compare to the original just to see if it's the source or not (I doubt it). I should also look to obtaining the first UK CD to market (as a single album I should say) which would be the usually reliable Esoteric. I should have held onto the original Japanese CD as an extra in retrospect. I would avoid the temptation of the See For Miles reissue, since it cuts out 3 tracks total from the two albums, including the excellent 'Gormenghast' from Modern Masquerades.

Notes: There are a couple of ways at reviewing Modern Masquerades. The normal way would be to go down the path of saying it's the 4th album by the Northern Irish progressive rock band Fruupp, and they've run out of interesting ideas, Side 2 blows, etc...

Or... Or....

You could look at this as a pioneering album by about one or two years. The back cover of the album gives the game away, for all of you that actually own the LP or CD. And I conveniently added it here to my post.

Anyway.... Back in the 90's I called this style "High-Ball Rock". 20 years later, it turns out I was on the right track, but they (the ever present they) gave it another name. Yacht Rock. OK, I like that even better - same idea, but yea, Yacht Rock indeed. Checkmate on that. Sure, it's still progressive rock. Some Yacht Rock albums actually are.

Me? I like it. It is in this scenario you discover that 'Sheba's Song' is brilliant. You can file this album right next to Kestrel's awesome one album, though it's not quite that good.

Friday, July 3, 2015

various artists - Psychedelic Gems. 1970-1973 Germany

various artists - Psychedelic Gems. 1996 Garden of Delights. archival recordings from 1970 to 1973

Release details: Technically GoD named the label Psychedelic Gems, but for all intents and purposes... In any case, nobody does deep diving in Germany better than Garden of Delights, and this CD is no exception. Lots of great liner notes, and a wonderful compilation, that I've detailed below.

Notes: Psychedelic Gems is the first in a series from Garden of Delights covering the vast amount of 45's and unreleased material from Germany's psychedelic past. These artists, at least on Volume 1, are definitely distinguished from their peers that played in the style now widely known as Krautrock. This set is more like what was coming out in the US and UK during the late 60s psychedelic rock boom, and would have to be considered dated even in their own day.

Dom (1972). Not related to the group who released Edge of Time. This band released one 45 single (Newcomer label) that is straightforward instrumental psych rock, with some excellent guitar with plenty of effects added for good measure.

Pax Vobis (1972). First track is very much like the Doors. The other 3 are instrumental, and similar, minus the Morrison styled vocals. Superb organ (older vintage) work here. Two tracks are unreleased prior (the other two were on Soundfire - what a great name for a label!). I quite liked this group myself, and consider them the highlight of the compilation.

The Ooze (1970). Continues in a similar manner, though with much more of an Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge influence. Great organ and fuzz guitar leads. Both tracks from a 45 on the CCA label.

The Devils (1973). All three tracks were unreleased prior. First track has a bit of an electronic edge recalling Friend Sound at their most coherent. After that it's hardly more than surf rock, and a sound that is outdated by at least 7 years at this point (though the electronics fortunately do reappear on Darkness). Definitely the low point of the compilation.

Blues Ltd. (1971). 45 single on Progressa. Not surprising, this bunch go for more of a blues psych sound. Hearing some Procol Harum on this, and the added sax even gives off a whiff of Xhol Caravan, especially considering the progressive nature of the recoding - the first (and only) indication of a Krautrock sound found on here.

Scramp (1972). Like Dom, this one was a 45 on Newcomer. And like Dom, it's way past its shelf life, sounding like a US punk psych band from 1968. Which is to say - it's pretty good actually!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Night Sun - Mournin'. 1971 Germany

Night Sun - Mournin'. 1971 Zebra

CD reissues: 1997 Second Battle; 2001 Second Battle

LP reissues: 1972 Polydor (there's also a Canadian pressing); 2010 Second Battle

Release details: Single sleeve. The Zebra copy is the original, and you'll often see the Polydor version touted as one, but it is technically a second press, though not much less expensive. That was my introduction to the album as I found the German Polydor copy at Bananas in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1996. It did have a pin hole though. I traded it away the next year when the first legit CD hit the market (Second Battle). These CDs are rare in their own right now. The CD features great sound and a fine digi-pak cover, though no other extras except Second Battle catalog items. As you can see, Second Battle has followed in recent years with an LP reissue.

Notes: The album that answers the all important question: What would have Deep Purple sounded like if they were on the Brain label?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jiro Inagaki and His Soul Media - Dosojin. 1972 Japan

Jiro Inagaki and His Soul Media - Dosojin. 1972 Nippon Columbia

CD reissue: 2015 Nippon Columbia (mini-LP)

Release details: Extremely rare as an original. In fact, I didn't find one even for a price check, so I'm sure an original is a small fortune. Fortunately for the rest of us, Columbia has come through with a fine CD, housed in a sturdy and beautiful mini LP reproduction, with great sound. This was released through their Deep Jazz Reality series, even though this particular album isn't jazz based at all.

Notes: We featured this title on the CDRWL a few years ago, and so it is with great pleasure to be able to bring it here to the UMR, now that we have a CD in hand. Dosojin is a collection of traditional Japanese folk songs, but in many cases distorted beyond recognition, and at times, very psychedelic. The AC sums it up nicely: "The songs, arranged by composer Yasuhiro Koyama (who also penned one side of Toshiyuki Miyama's "Tsuchi No Ne", another of Columbia's "Adventure In Sound" albums (and also now reissued)), are all actually variations and elaborations on traditional Japanese "minyou", old folk songs known to people all across Japan for countless generations. The whole album flows very nicely, running seamlessly from solemn folky songs to fuzz-guitar and piano led progressive pieces and back again, always maintaining a deeply Japanese atmosphere."

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sepi Kuu - Rannan Usvassa. 1980 Finland

Sepi Kuu - Rannan Usvassa. 1980 Help

CD reissue: 2015 Rocket

LP reissue: 2015 Shadoks (Germany)

Release details: Single sleeve album and very scarce in original form. For as long as I've been collecting LPs, there really aren't that many albums that I personally discovered, but this is one of them. Or at least popularized it for the overall collector community. I was introduced to this album by a knowledgeable record store in Helsinki when I visited there back in 1993. I knew it was a special album the minute I heard it, and bought a few of them on the spot (and one was given to me as a gift). At that time, the album was a complete unknown, and I enticed well known dealers from around the world with it - and all reported back their satisfaction with the music. And as such, it had been on my CD reissue wish list for 22 years. Rocket finally came to the rescue, with their usual great job. Unfortunately the master tapes were lost, so it's not as pristine sounding as we would hope, but this is far better than not having a CD at all. There are liner notes (less than usual), and once again we've been treated to a full translation from our friend Kai (see below). As you can see in the notes below, Shadoks received permission from Rocket to reissue the album on LP. It's not out as I write this, but should be available shortly. Of course I would never sell my personal original copy. I wish I'd kept at least one more. I traded all the others back in the 90s.

Notes: One of the most tripped out albums from an era not known for it. Contained within are intense droning/narrative Finnish vocals, acoustic guitars, and flute along with searing fuzz/echo/phased guitars, synthesizers, and hand percussion. The overall vibe recalls the more serious tracks as found on Krautrock classics such as Walter Wegmuller's Tarot or Sergius Golowin's Lord Krishna Von Goloka. Comes completely out of left field, and is pretty much one of a kind, especially considering the time and place.

English translation of the Rocket liner notes. Once again, a huge thanks to Progressive Ears member Kai for these: "The Finnish music industry was going through a huge transition in the late 1970s. Record sales dropped dramatically with the onset of recession. This bankrupted many small Finnish record companies or forced them to stop releasing records.

Fewer records were sold, but consumption of recorded music changed, too. Of Finnish rock music styles, especially new wave punk and, briefly, rockabilly enjoyed chart success. At the same time, styles like progressive rock found their market niche shrinking more and more. Mainstream iskelmä music had been dominated by nostalgic dance music since the mid 1970s, but now it began to seek hits from more obvious pop numbers, such as Finnish covers of disco songs.

Amidst all this change, the music industry entrepreneur Jorma Heliander (1946 – 2013) set up his Tophits-Finnhits record label in 1978. The label only lasted until 1981, but it released a lot of dance music, cover versions of contemporary hits and rockabilly.

In 1980, Heliander set up another label, Heliander Production, in parallel with Tophits-Finnhits. The label operated for two years, releasing about twenty albums and a host of singles. Its greatest commercial success was the comedy album Iltaravit (The Evening Horse Races) which starred, among others, popular actor Heikki Kinnunen.

The most individual and undoubtedly least commercial album Heliander Production ever released was Sepi Kuu's Rannan usvassa (In the Mist of the Shore). Released in 1980 on vinyl only, Rannan usvassa had been recorded earlier that year in a bus converted into a recording studio. Juha Heininen was the recording engineer.

In the musical climate of 1980, the psychedelic folk rock of Rannan usvassa went almost totally against the grain. Some contemporary listeners may have been reminded of Pekka Streng's albums Magneettimiehen kuolema and Kesämaa from ten years earlier. They may have also found it dated at the time. Today it sounds arguably like an album ahead of its time. Its groundbreaking experimentalism and unconventionality have inspired and encouraged many experimental music makers in the 21st century.

Rannan usvassa is truly a solo album by Sepi Kuu (alias Teppo Lehto). He not only sang and played all the instruments but also composed and arranged all the songs and painted the cover. The lyrics were provided by artist and poet Mikko Tola (1954 – 1989).

Rannan usvassa garnered little attention on release. It never had a sequel either. Over time this record shop nightmare has become a much sought-after collector's item, with copies changing hands for as much as 600 Euros on international Internet auctions.

You are holding the first official re-release of Rannan usvassa. Shadoks Music will re-release the album on vinyl concurrently with this Rocket Records release. Unfortunately, these releases could not be made from the album master tape. It was destroyed in a fire at Jorma Heliander's house a few years ago. What you hear has been sourced and expertly mastered by Thomas Hartlage from a good-condition vinyl of Rannan usvassa."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cytrus - Kurza Twarz. 1980-1985 Poland

Cytrus - Kurza Twarz. 2006 Metal Mind. Archival recordings from 1980 to 1985

Release details: CD only release with full liner notes in Polish, but laid out so one can easily discern the salient facts. Many photos as well. Wonderful sound too.

Notes: If you ever wondered what it would sound like if mid 1970s Kansas mixed with early 1980s Solaris - and who wouldn't wonder about that? - then you now have your answer. With perhaps some additional guitar rave-ups similar to late 70s Fermata. It's obscure prog blender night! Seriously though, this archival release from Poland's Cytrus is absolute dynamite. Recorded from various radio studio sessions over a period from 1980 to 1985, the band goes on to prove they are an instrumental tour de force. At least for the first 11 tracks presented here (1980-82, 84). The final 4 tracks (1983; 85) apply vocals to a bit more conventional songwriting, though they never stray too far away from a creative break... or three. Cytrus' wunderkind is Marian Narkowicz, the inventive gentleman who provides both the violin and the flute.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sproton Layer - With Magnetic Fields Disrupted. 1970 USA

Sproton Layer - With Magnetic Fields Disrupted. 1991 New Alliance. Archival recordings from 1970. Also released on LP

CD reissue: 2011 World in Sound (Germany)

LP reissue: 2011 World in Sound (Germany)

Release details: Neat little archival release from New Alliance, a subsidiary of SST, and a long way from anything you would expect from the label. No doubt it obtained a release due to the Mission of Burma ancestry (Roger Miller). In doing research for this title, I discovered it was also released on LP, and perhaps even more surprising, it was reissued by Germany's World in Sound on both formats.

Notes: Back in February/March of 1998, while still a "road warrior" consultant, I had a gig in San Ramon, California, which included a corporate apartment there. So every Sunday night, like clockwork, my wife would drive me to the airport and I'd make the flight from Denver to Oakland, usually arriving by around 9:00 PM local time. As soon as I sat into the rental car, the first thing I did was turn the radio dial to KFJC, certainly the most interesting radio station one can hear in this country. They played all sorts of experimental/progressive music, and it was usually a learning experience for me. The catch was I had limited time to hear it. Since the station is based in Los Altos Hills (closer to San Jose), their range was somewhat limited. Once I crossed the East Bay foothills, into the area of what is known locally as the Tri-Valley, the signal would be broken and ultimately lost.

One evening, in that 20 minute period, on came this pretty incredible psychedelic album with fuzz guitar and trumpet (?!). Since most of what they played was modern, I was very intrigued by what I was hearing. My only fear is I would lose the signal before knowing. But I caught a break, and needless to say by now, it was Sproton Layer. No other explanation was offered. I said to myself: "Well I got to get me this new group called Sproton Layer!" lol. I started doing research on the internet, and lo and behold Wayside had it in stock, with the explanation that it was an archival release from 1970. That certainly makes sense! But why would Wayside have it? Because the ever creative Roger Miller, was not only in Mission of Burma, but also the avant prog band Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, a band who was on Wayside's own Cuneiform imprint. Amazing how all these things fit together sometimes. I bought it immediately, and now it has come up for a revisit. I'm not sure I've heard this album since 1998!

Anyway, if all the above bores you, suffice to say Sproton Layer will not! The band hailed from Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and the music is a highly creative post psychedelic album, just prior to the progressive movement taking hold, and the trumpet adds a fresh layer of sound not typically found amongst the fuzz guitar blasts. I often say that 1970 is the American confused year both musically and socially - and Sproton Layer is the perfect representative of that era.

If you've gotten this far into the review and you're reading about a psych band from 1970 with trumpet, what might be you thinking? Yes, that's correct, the "psych monster" C.A. Quintet of Trip Thru Hell fame. And the results are remarkably similar. The only difference is Sproton Layer never released an LP in their day. Because if they did, it would also cost over $1,000 today. With ample availability (I think the first press is still around even), this is an easy recommendation for fans of late psychedelic and early progressive rock. This album is still criminally unknown.