Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio (New Trolls) - Canti D'Innocenza Canti D'Esperienza. 1973 Italy

The big ? on the front cover has many different meanings, but there is no doubt that at this time the New Trolls were at a crossroads when it came to musical direction. Were they a hard rock band? Prog? Pop? Fusion? Searching for a Land tried everything whereas UT focused more on progressive hard rock, and is arguably their finest work. While Canti D'Innocenza, Canti D'Esperienza is nowadays referred to as Ibis version 0.5, the truth is they were the New Trolls in disguise. This particular album picks up where UT left off, and plays to their hard rock side with plenty of theme and meter changes to demonstrate their progressive pedigree. This isn't the Yes worship of Ibis' Sun Supreme. There's some acoustic interludes, and plenty of high pitched vocal wailing in Italian, all trademarks of the genre. I also hear a bit of a psychedelic throwback sound, perhaps like Garybaldi's Nuda. Really an excellent album that I think carries the New Trolls moniker baggage despite their attempts to disassociate. Best to approach this album as its own thing, and you'll walk away more impressed.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Arcangelo (Japan)

This CD replicates the original gatefold textured LP with photo pages.

Franco Falsini - Cold Nose. 1975 Italy

Franco Falsini's only solo album takes in one part Manuel Gottsching, one part Richard Pinhas, and 3 parts of the outer galaxy he apparently emigrated from. Analog wedgy electronics, and thick oozing heavy guitar shards define the sound palette, whereas the melodies are pulled from his own Sensations' Fix cookbook - you'll hear plenty of snippets from Fragments of Light and Portable Madness within. I would love to see the movie that was inside of Falsini's mind during this recording. Essential head space music.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Polydor
CD: 2010 Universal (as part of the 6 CD box set Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 6)

Like most of Sensations' Fix albums, Cold Nose has been poorly served in the CD reissue market.

Tako - U Vreci za Spavanje. 1980 Serbia

Tako's second album, christened with the of-the-moment name In the Sleeping Bag, is an almost perfect example of one of my personal favorite styles of progressive rock. That of what we used to call symphonic fusion. Quite simply instrumental progressive rock, but heavy on melody and tricky compositions - and no showboating whatsoever. It's a sound the Dutch perfected in the mid 70s, and was later adapted heavily in the late 70s and early 80s in France, Japan, and points unknown - like Serbia for example. Each individual track can be appreciated entirely on its own, without having to worry about its sequence within the album. The guitarist plays in a decidedly rough manner, a type of psychedelic hard rock sound. The keyboards are vintage 1980, which is a sound one expects to hear for the style. The fact that Tako keeps the album interesting throughout each minute is a testament to how strong they were as a functioning unit. The bonus tracks are just as enchanting as the album itself.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Record Runner (Brazil)

I first heard this album via the Kalemegdan LP reissue. The German label is famous for unearthing and reissuing the best from the former Yugoslavia - and they were responsible for the two bonus tracks found here. Oddly the album was only reissued on CD in Brazil, by the excellent Record Runner label. They licensed the recording directly from Kalemegdan. Definitely recommend either reissue, for the bonus cuts, and the superior sound to the original Eastern European LP.

Chaos Code - A Tapestry of Afterthoughts. 1999 USA

Baltimore based Chaos Code's debut is a most intriguing work. It's somewhat inconsistent, and the album does sound like various recordings - even though it appears the personnel remained the same throughout. Very much in line with other late 90s and early 00's prog rock, the album walks the tightrope between retro 70s and more contemporary modern prog. Opener 'The Cave' is a perfect example, coming across as "very American" with radio snippets and social commentary (a bit like The Muffins in that way). The music always seems on the brink of something fantastic, only to see 8 and a half minutes slip away without notice. 'Heights of Time' is Chaos Code clearly trying for an Echolyn type sound - once again pointing to their own era. So at the point where it seems the album is inessential, out comes 'Antiodote to Entropy', which channels early Genesis at its finest. 'A Silent Scream' does similar, whereas closer 'The Devil's Trombone' demonstrates that Chaos Code could have been a larger name in the retro prog sweepstakes, doing a fine rendition of the type of sound the Scandinavians are more famous for (Anglagard, Wobbler, et al..). 'Gravy Fries' is a fun instrumental diversion but not going to move the needle. So for me, the track that was going to determine whether or not this would be a 3.5 or 4 star album is 'Days of Reflection'. And I fear to say there's just not enough meat on the bone. There's a 5 minute track hiding in a 10 minute blanket here, and that's too much downtime. Still, it's an album that has held up well in retrospect. I bought this near the time of release and recalled little about it. Coming up on 20 years later, it proved my initial assessment was right. It's a keeper and better than most from this era of progressive rock music.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 private

Astrolabio - L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari. 2014 Italy

I could say that L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari is Italian prog-by-the-numbers, but that would be rather cheeky of me. See, Astrolabio are not ones to take things too seriously. The album's title means "Isolation of the Even Numbers", and witness the cover as the even numbers are roaming about in a body of water. Meanwhile the tracks are all indexed by the odd numbers (1,3, 21). Musically, the metaphor holds as well - but in a good way. No question Astrolabio have studied their 1970s Italian prog, and though the instrumentation teeters both the 70s and 90s, the overall execution is splendid. If one were to be critical, it's that the album doesn't feature any dramatic highs, nor too many surprises, so in that way they aren't like the very best the genre has too offer. Our good friend Apps79 offers up Jumbo and Biglietto per L'Inferno as a couple of benchmarks, but they aren't near as passionate and experimental as the former, nor as jarring as the latter. And yet, of course, it's a good comparison all the same. I hear more Osanna in the "hard core Italian" aspects of the album, whereas Pink Floyd (cheers Snow!) gives us our Anglo sound (perhaps Mary Newsletter from the home country gets a shout out). Very good album overall. No surprises or head lifting moments, and yet it accomplishes what it set out to do. Hard to complain about that. For fans of classic Italian prog.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Andromeda Relix

Bag - Tripdream / Nothing Will Remain (single). 1971 Netherlands

On these two tracks, Bag demonstrates that they could go toe to toe with the almighty Group 1850, and they sound somewhat similar. One can only wish more music will emerge at some point from this fine band. A brilliant 45.

Pseudonym reissued this on its own as well as a compilation primarily made up of the Flame label. I heard it on YouTube.

Haymarket Riot - Trip on Out / Something Else (single). 1968 USA

Wow. Going through these obscure psych era US singles can be revelatory. So it turns out Haymarket Riot are from Enid, Oklahoma. Now there's the center of the psychedelic universe eh? My old man was in the laundry business, and one of his top clients was in Enid, so I went there a lot more than your average big city kid. I'll just put it this way - psychedelic is not the first thing one thinks of when in Enid. 'Trip on Out' is great - very much in the spirit of the era. 'Something Else' kind of blows honestly, but I can understand why they would play two entirely different styles. They must have gotten plenty of odd looks for sure.

You can find 'Trip on Out' on multiple comps. I heard it on YouTube

Crystal Garden - Flash / Peach Fuzz Forest (single). 1969 USA

After hearing Crystal Garden (what a name, eh?) and The Cave Dwellers, I find myself pining for a Bay Town Records compilation, hopefully with some amazing unreleased material. Seems Oakland had it going on just at the point where the American record companies were abandoning any kind of experimentation. Unless they were from England of course. Sigh.

Available on at least one Pebbles volume. I heard it on YouTube. I need to start seeking out some of these compilations on CD.

Sound Expedition - Ultimate Power / Think it Over (single). 1969 USA

Add Lincoln, Nebraska's Sound Expedition to your list of killer one-time psych songs. That would be 'Ultimate Power' of course, and a rather lengthy single track at that. The other side is somewhat typical psych pop. Worth checking out.

Available on at least one compilation. I heard it on YouTube.

The Purple Sun - Doomsday / Give Your Life (single). 1968 USA

'Doomsday' would have been a perfect fit for the St. Albert's Dream compilation, especially considering the band were from south Texas (presumably that is, given it was pressed in Houston). Excellent heavy guitar psych. I haven't heard the flip side to date.

Available on at least 3 compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Cave Dwellers - Meditation / Night Runner (single). 1968 USA

The Cave Dwellers were a psych/lounge band from Pleasanton, California in the late 1960s. Coincidentally where yours truly had a physical office from 1999 to 2002. Though I'm sure the late 60's Pleasanton was nothing more than an "over the mountain" farming outpost of Oakland verse the mega-million dollar software capital it was to become in my era. In any case, 'Meditation' is the reason you will seek out this single. An absolute monster of a track, which contains a freaky psychedelic mid section that sounds as if Iron Butterfly suddenly thrust themselves into the 1970 German landscape. 'Night Runner' shows another side of the band, pulling off a Doors like sound, via your local Holiday Inn's lounge. It's ladies night, and the women are all plus 40. I wish you luck my friend. They can't all be good.

Available on a couple of compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Black Sun Ensemble - s/t. 1985 USA

1985 is not the year one starts with in seek of psychedelia. In fact, the music of that era could be considered the polar opposite of such. It is in this environment that Jesus Acedo launches the Black Sun Ensemble in isolated Tucson Arizona, predicting the rise of the neo psych movement by a few years - one that continues to this day in one form or another. For those that have seen Ken Russell's Altered States movie, then The Black Sun Ensemble is the perfect soundtrack that never was. A mescaline trip to the caves of the Mexican desert by way of Libya and Morocco. As good as it gets for the limited palette the band offers, and a beacon of light in an otherwise sterile era of progressive/psychedelic music.

Personal collection
CD: 2001 Camera Obscura (Australia)

Important to note that the CD is not a straight reissue of the LP, nor is it to be related to the 1988 LP on Reckless that shares similar themes and music. What I wrote for Discogs: "Liner notes state: "The music of this album is not exactly what was presented on the original LP. Its mix feels far clearer and two of the LP's tracks ("Cobracalia" and "Red Ocean") have been lost and are replaced here by previously unreleased contemporaries ("Emerald Eye 2" and ""Bleeding Heart")"" I'll need to investigate the original LP at some point.

Secret Saucer - Second Sighting. 2007 USA

Second Sight is Secret Saucer's second album (quite alliterative I'd suggest). It took me a long time to digest this one. Though I first purchased the CD nearly 8 years ago (a few years after initial release), it's not one I had absorbed at all. When I began to tackle it a few days ago, I didn't think it would take me a week to grasp it. But sometimes that's what it takes. The reward is I raised the rating, and Second Sight definitely is a cut above your garden variety modern space rock album. Though ironically it doesn't start that way. 'Lift Off' is a prototypical Ozric Tentacles styled opening with whooshing synthesizers and ripping guitar solos. After that, the album shows a wide array of influences. 'All the Way to Outer Space' has a strong bluesy hard rock twist, that is unusual in this type of setting. 'D-Walker' introduces the key ingredient to the album's success: Piano. There's something magical about the sound of the grand old dame of acoustic keyboards juxtaposed against modern synthesizers and electronics. 'Tranquility Base' introduces yet another form, that of electronica, though still very much rooted in space rock principles. 'Untitled Dream' sounds like an outtake from Edgar Froese's Ages album, and is heavily drenched in discordant mellotron (sampled I'm sure, but very well done). The album peaks on the 'Disintegrator'/'Integrator' duet where the piano is quite prominent while the intensity is raised. By now you'll find yourself fully immersed into their sound. 'Reflections' adds electric sitar to great effect. Every track is great, and most feature well written compositions and melodies. This is a far cry from your garden variety jamming space rock band. If looking for something different in the space rock field, give this one a shot.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Dead Earnest (Scotland)

Medina Azahara - La Esquina del Viento. 1981 Spain

I had written recently that Medina Azahara's debut is one of the pillars of the Andalusian progressive rock scene of the mid to late 70s. Now the 80s have arrived, and Medina Azahara did what most bands did back then: streamline their sound, and added period synthesizers. Have no fear though, Medina Azahara are still focused on the plot here, and there's no mistaking this for anything but what it is - Rock Andaluz. I suppose if looking for a metaphor, think of Medina Azahara as southern Spain's very own Saga. That is to say a band that was able to seamlessly meld the 70s and 80s together, without leaks and cracks. Not sure how I managed to compare Saga to Medina Azahara, but hey... Anyway, unfortunately from here, the band took the metaphor too far, and ended up strictly as a pop group for a few years. But their first 2 albums are essential for the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 CBS/Sony (w/Andalucia)

The CD above combines their 2nd and 3rd albums, so if you're curious about where Medina Azahara were headed, then you'll get a chance to without further investment. My first copy was the original single sleeve LP obtained in a trade back in the early 90s, but I felt the CD was a better package and sold it shortly thereafter. In retrospect, I still think that was the right decision, unless of course, you have an obsession with guys in red pants...

Electric Orange - Misophonia. 2016 Germany

Misophonia is Electric Orange's 11th proper studio album. They were one of the first Krautrock revivalists from the Fatherland, and have more or less stayed on script throughout their 25+ years career. I started with the band at the beginning, and have dutifully picked up all their albums to date. And the all instrumental Misophonia definitely has the right sounds, with rumbling drums, and grungy Hammond organ to the fore. So it comes as a surprise to me that I really don't enjoy this album very much. It's certainly good enough, but for Electric Orange, it's a sub par effort. I picked up the CD upon release, and heard it last year for the first time - and have stuck with it now for over a year. But the needle isn't moving.

So what gives? Well... I've struggled to put my finger on it, but for one thing there is no songwriting. Now with Krautrock that certainly isn't de rigueur, but most at least intersperse a few melodies among the chaos. Electric Orange did not do that either. But if there aren't any songs, then one would look for a climatic payoff of some sort - a build up to an intense jam for example. Nope, not here. Then there's the lack of tonal diversity. A flute, saxophone, or more electric guitar would have helped immensely. The latter is there primarily to set the tone, but doesn't play a major role in the album. In effect, Misophonia is one of those albums that has all the right ingredients, but doesn't taste right. To be honest, it's a bit dull. If I were to characterize the album - it would be something of a new genre - Ambient Krautrock. Not electronic in the slightest - definitely a rock based album. But it's very static. I do think that's what the band was striving for. To create the mood of the original early 70s Krautrock movement. To that end, they succeeded then. But that's all they did. Overall, I expected more.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Studio Fleisch

CD is housed in a nice digi-pak. I'll hold onto it for now, but I doubt I'll keep it for the long haul. Unless the light goes off. It's happened many times before...

Quintessence - In Blissful Company. 1969 England

Quintessence isn't a band you hear much about when talking psychedelic and progressive rock, and that has to rank among one of the great mysteries of music collecting. I had passed over their albums in the bins for years and years. I never remember anyone talking about, referencing, nor recommending the band. Not via catalogs, nor any like-minded friends. So I just presumed it was a sort of hippy dippy folk rock with maybe a Indian singalong or two.

It wasn't until late 2014 that a friend virtually elbows me and asks: "Have you heard Quintessence before?". And so off I went to some discount seller and retrieved In Blissful Company on CD per his recommendation. How on Earth could this be so obscure - and yet so common? I have no idea. So here we are in 2018 on my second revisit, and I've probably played the album 5 times in a row. It's really an excellent example of the psychedelic / progressive rock crossover blend.

For 1969, Quintessence definitely possessed a pioneering sound. The key sound components are electric guitar (often times fuzzed out) along with flute. And sonorous vocals. It took me awhile to figure out who they reminded me of most - but then it hit me last night. Quintessence laid the groundwork for a similar type sound that Marsupilami pursued a short couple of years later (the vocals were the giveaway). And given this latter band is one of my all-time favorites, then it stands to reason as to why I enjoy In Blissful Company as well. Listen to tracks like 'Manco Capac', 'Body', and 'Pearl and Bird" and compare. Other than 'Chant', which is the obligatory Hare Krishna moment, the rest of the album is divine so to speak. And yes, of course, it has a strong Indian element to their sound, which I see only as a plus.

Personal collection
LP: 1969 Island
CD: 2004 Repertoire (Germany)

The CD is a fine digi-pak with excellent liner notes from Chris Welch and includes 2 bonus tracks which made up the single release. A couple of years ago I also picked up the LP. It comes in a fine gatefold, with a 12 page die-cut book. My copy is the palm tree label which dates it to 1970 most likely, but technically copyrighted 1969.

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

April 27, 2018 update: I recently received a very nice note from RD Francis, who has written a book about "The Phantom". Looks very interesting, and nice to know the facts are now coming to the fore.

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.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 One Way

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.

Originally published: July 25, 2015

Peter Baumann - Romance 76. 1976 Germany

Even though Baumann joined Tangerine Dream in 1973, he was still only 23 when he embarked on his first solo album. It was Edgar Froese who encouraged him to pursue other creative paths, and Baumann basically setup right where T Dream did. A few years ago I had noted in my review of Edgar Froese's Macula Transfer, that he had diverted a bit from the standard Tangerine Dream sound. That is to say, Macula Transfer was not his interpretation of Stratosfear. Instead, we get Baumann's interpretation of Stratosfear. Side 1 is unmistakably the sounds, themes, and sequences that define one of Tangerine Dream's landmark albums. Which is telling, in that it demonstrates how much influence Baumann had by then on TD's overall sound. Side 2 however is a bit different. Primarily in that he chucked the mellotron and hired his old man - he himself a mover and shaker in the more formal areas of music - to secure a choir and orchestra for his son. So in effect Baumann went Jean-Claude Vannier here. Why bother with a sampling tool when one can just have the real thing? Once the ears adjust, the composition style emerges somewhat the same, minus the electronic equipment. 'Meadow of Infinty' Part 2 confirms this for us, as Baumann was back in the studio with his trusty synths and mellotron, and closes the album in a similar fashion to how it started. Overall an excellent album in the Berlin School tradition, but not one that strayed too far from the script after all.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Bureau B

A common album on LP, and was released domestically here in the States, where I first picked up a copy during my original Tangerine Dream discovery phase while still in high school (early 80s). CD's however is a different story, with only the afterthought Virgin release from 1990 going OOP and staying that way for years. It wasn't until 2016 that not only one, but 2 CDs appeared on the market. I picked up the Bureau B version, which comes in a digi-pak, and features excellent sound and informative liner notes.

Rousseau - Retreat. 1983 Germany

The older I get, the more I appreciate bands like Rousseau. They exemplify the simpler joys in life. Of course not everyone shares this positive outlook, witness one RYMers wonderful and uplifting review, pasted here in its entirety for reference: "This symph rock abomination should come with a barf bag. Avoid it!". But music doesn't have to be discordant, angular, and complex to enjoy. For certain I'm not promoting banal music to gain position with commercial radio either. But one can still fall well within the guidelines of the broad based term progressive rock, without having to possess a doctorate degree.

Listening to tracks like 'China', 'Yago', and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' makes you just want to crawl into the cover painting, sit under the large tree with a bottle of wine, a beautiful girl, and simply watch nature go by. No insane taxation, stock markets, nor geopolitical tensions to worry about. Just beautiful life. Sigh.

Of course one cannot escape the influence of mid 70s Camel in any discussion about Rousseau, a band that shares their romantic side. But also early Genesis at their most pastoral comes to mind. The addition of vocals on 3 tracks was not a good plan however, and completely ruin the vibe. 'One of a Thousand' and 'Incomplete' are good songs otherwise though. The album closer was a truly bad decision as it appears Rousseau was going for some sort of New Wave pop hit. Double dumb actually, and a terrible way to end an otherwise splendid album.

One personal story: In 1991 while backpacking through France, I spent a full Sunday in Retonfey (near Metz) at Musea's home. During the day, various musicians appeared in what seemed like an eternal revolving door. It was quite extraordinary actually. Very casual and fun. The last band to arrive were two members from Rousseau (closing out the reissue of this album actually). That night I had planned to train to Luxembourg. Instead, these two gentlemen drove me there on their way back home to Germany. A fond memory for certain and great conversation along the way!

Personal collection
LP: 1983 Sri Lanca
CD: 1991 Musea

The original comes in a single sleeve. Sri Lanca later in the decade tried their hand at heavy metal before shuttering. The Musea CD is fantastic as usual, with full liner notes. No bonus tracks this time unfortunately.

Ozric Tentacles - Strangeitude. 1991 England

Long ago (1989-1992), a buddy and I hosted a monthly 6 hour radio show on Dallas' local NPR station (one of those Saturday night fill-the-airwaves from midnight to 6 gigs - and I did it as a volunteer...) showcasing underground progressive rock, jazz, and electronic music - pretty much the oeuvre I write about here minus hard rock and metal. It was in 1990 that we were first introduced to Ozric Tentacles via a mutual friend who had just purchased the 2 LP set Erpland. We were both mightily impressed, immediately picked up its predecessor Pungent Effulgent (the earlier cassettes weren't widely available back then), and proceeded to play choice cuts from each album. We did get many requests for them, as Ozric has a sound that is immediately likable.

A year later, we were super excited to learn of their new album Strangeitude. And it did not disappoint at all. 'White Rhino Tea' is as progressive a track as Ozric ever penned, with constantly shifting themes and meters. 'Bizarre Bazaar' is this album's 'Kick Muck' - tight and energetic. And they finish on a high note with the blistering 'Space Between Your Ears', where Ed Wynne really lets loose, and is one of their best tracks in their entire canon. For my tastes, I've never been a big fan of Ozrics' pure electronic work, and here there are two, including the title track and fan favorite 'Sploosh!'. The latter does have a foot stompin' beat, but would have been more effective at half the length I'd estimate. So not perfect, but still an excellent 3rd album, and showed the world that they still had plenty more to offer from a creative standpoint. This latter element would slow over the years.

Personal collection
LP: 1991 Dovetail
CD: 2010 Madfish

It was the LP that I first purchased, and later on added the same year CD. A couple of years ago while rummaging around ebay, I found a cheap copy of the Madfish release. A wonderful package, it comes in a hardbound digipak cover with photos plus an extra disc of live material from this era.

Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio (New Trolls) - Canti D'Innocenza Canti D'Esperienza. 1973 Italy

The big ? on the front cover has many different meanings, but there is no doubt that at this time the New Trolls were at a crossroads when...