P. P. Zahl - Alle Türen Offen. 1978 Germany

German polit-rock albums are typically a tough minefield to navigate. From the punk angst of Checkpoint Charlie to the theatrical Floh de Cologne to the earnest Ton Steine Scherben and onto the always changing Oktober, all these bands are a challenging listen. The German language is much welcomed, though the meaning is lost on me. P.P. Zahl are closer to the Oktober recipe (and apparently related as well), and that’s a good thing for those who are going more for the music than the lyrical component. Other than the usual rock instruments, a distinctly Spanish acoustic guitar makes numerous appearances. Fellow German language compatriots Novalis seem to also have played an influence, primarily the spacey texture of sound. And Minotaurus comes to mind on the synth bits. Picked up some counterpoint ala Gentle Giant on Side 2. One of the best for the style. Named after poet Peter Paul Zahl.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Antagon

Originals come in a nice gatefold cover. No reissues exists as I write this.

Orne - The Tree of Life. 2011 Finland

I haven't heard Orne's debut, so we'll dig right into their second The Tree of Life. Orne are yet another retro prog band on Black Widow. And honestly, at least from my viewpoint, you really can't have too many of those. In some ways, Orne are really like a 1970 band from the United Kingdom. That is, it can be a bit dirgy and slow. The English vocals are a bit flat, and not sure they're entirely necessary to be honest. On the plus side, the all analog instrumentation (though they cheat and use a Memotron rather than an actual Mellotron) is much welcomed, and includes some lovely Hammond B3 and flute, and that will always warm the cockles of my heart. Plenty of fine guitars leads as well, with the appropriate effects on display. But one does hope for a good meter break - the moment that transcends the composition to another level. Even Pink Floyd did that from time to time, at least through their Meddle era. Orne is an offshoot group to the doom metal band Reverend Bizarre, who I've not heard prior. I'm a casual listener to the doom metal genre (for example, I have all the Candlemass albums, and a handful of others from the genre - and of course I know Black Sabbath inside and out), but it's not something I've done a deep dive on. Some doom metal can be excruciatingly slow and monolithic. And there's some of that kind of pacing here as well. It's a style thing, but I prefer a bit more kinetic energy. All that said, I hear plenty here to a) recommend to fans of the old Vertigo Swirl bands (Still Life comes to mind in particular) and b) they clearly have the talent to release a more dynamic album. I also credit Orne for not falling into the typical Stoner Rock traps (90's styled metal slabs for example), that many bands of their background tend to do. Let's see if this project continues, and what they do with it.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Black Widow (Italy)

Tonton Macoute - s/t. 1971 England

Tonton Macoute was the name of Papa Doc Duvalier's private military force in Haiti, loyal to his rule. They brought forth a reign of terror that paralyzed the island state with its systematic violence. With such a menacing moniker, one would presume Tonton Macoute to be a heavy and sinister rock band. Quite the opposite. Their sole album is a proto-progressive jazz rock affair, similar to other UK artists of the day like Raw Material and Diabolus - though more instrumental than either. The album features one brilliant flute driven composition in 'Flying South for the Winter'. Other classic tracks include 'Don't Make Me Cry' and 'Natural High' Parts I and II. Only misstep is 'You Make My Jelly Roll'. I don't know what "campfire prog*" is, but if Tonton Macoute is its representative, then consider me a fan of this sub-genre!

* - A "reviewer" on RYM uses this term often as a pejorative.

Personal collection
LP: 2001 Akarma (Italy)
CD: 2010 Air Mail (Japan)

Lady Lake - SuperCleanDreamMachine. 2005 Netherlands

Lady Lake's comeback album is how all such reunions should be. No nods to modern music such as techno or heavy metal. No attempts at trying to win over a radio friendly audience. No overt plagiarist 1970s sound. Nope, Lady Lake pretty much picked up where they left off on No Pictures and recorded a new album in a similar style. Sure, it sounds like it was done in 2005 rather than the late 70s, just as it should be (though there's plenty of tasty Hammond and real mellotron here). Lady Lake play a type of music that is difficult to get right, since it's almost entirely built on melodic structure. Similar to like minded bands such as Camel and Sebastian Hardie. There are no sophisticated arrangements, fancy time signatures, or long jams. So if the music quite simply isn't appealing from a melodic perspective, it's going to be a yawn fest. As most are in this genre, truthfully. But Lady Lake is that special band that transcends the scene and the group hasn't lost their magic touch one bit. Maybe not the classic No Pictures is, but an excellent reunion, one of the best I've heard.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Musea (France)

['ramp] / Ramp - Frozen Radios. 2000 Germany

Frozen Radios begins to demonstrate that ['ramp] have a penchant for the dark ambient sounds of Klaus Schulze's Cyborg or Tangerine Dream's Zeit. On the back cover, they inform us to "File Under: Electronic Industrial Ambient". And that's quite accurate, except the sequencers are still going full bore here, so you're never too far from the friendly confines of the Berlin School. Another highly recommended album for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 private

Ramp - Nodular. 1998 Germany

Regular readers of the CDRWL know that I'm quite fond of the Berlin School of electronic music as founded by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Atmospheric keyboards that give way to blazing sequencers, choral mellotron tapes (likely sampled in Ramp's case), and melodic synthesizer lines (and even better if there's guitar which Ramp unfortunately doesn't employ) will blow me away every time. Instant mental movie soundtrack music. Ramp were part of the original renaissance of the movement that gained quite a bit of traction in the late 1990s (especially in the UK and The Netherlands) with Radio Massacre International, AirSculpture, and Redshift leading the charge. Ramp were rare in that they were from the namesake country. Certainly Germany had support of the style within, but mainly from various individual synthesists like Bernd Kistenmacher and Mario Schonwalder (and owner of the influential Manikin label). So Ramp were indeed unique given they were a group effort.

Ramp originally started as a trio, and the synchronicity of ideas is apparent. There were (and are) a ton of solo electronic musicians, but many of those sound monolithic to these ears. The best acts, like the ones I mentioned above, feature at least 3 performers if not more. Later, the band changed their sound to what they call "doombient" which I hope to hear one day as well, though I'm not entirely convinced it's a style I'll embrace. Hardcore EM followers no doubt are already very familiar with Ramp.

The lineup on Nodular is:
Frank Makowski: sampling, sequencing, electronics, loops
Stephen Parsick: electronics, sequencing, rhythm programming
Lambert Ringlage: electronics, micro composers, tapes
Martina Fantar: voice on "before the storm"

Martina's atmospheric voice is positively enchanting in this setting.

All the tracks are good, but the 19 minute 'Phasenverzerrung' is absolutely brilliant. If it doesn't lay you out on the first try, then there's a better than average chance this style isn't for you.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Manikin

Siniaalto - Tallentumia. 2004 Finland

Tallentumia is Siniaalto's second album, and represents a unique twist on the retro electronic sound. There are some Berlin School sequences of course, but more emphasis is paid on atmospheric keys, including novelties for the genre like processed Fender Rhodes. It’s as if Siniaalto wanted to explore every avenue from Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra album, to the point of exhaustion perhaps. Many sections go for long periods of time, making this not one of the easier electronic albums to digest in one setting. All the same, a strong entry for the genre, if a bit different.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 If Society

Siniaalto - s/t. 2002 Finland

Finnish trio Siniaalto (Sine Wave) can trace their musical heritage back to an earlier electronic music era, primarily Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra. A full array of keyboards, both analog and digital, are on display here. Though it’s the good old Rhodes piano, heavily echoed and treated, that truly gives their debut album an early 1970s feel. I could swear there is a Mini-Moog in play as well, but it’s not listed. The general modus operandi for each composition is to start out by creating a dark atmosphere followed by a plodding, low pitched, sequence. This is then followed by the group adding a series of alien sounds, of which the most notable is the treated Rhodes piano as mentioned prior. There are only four tracks, clocking in at close to an hour, so plenty of room for meditative listening. A good start from a promising band in the ever increasing fold of groups performing in the Berlin School style of electronic music.

Personal Collection
CD: 2002 If Society

Fernand Pena et Puzzle - s/t. 1977 France

Fernand Pena and his backing group Puzzle are one of the few bands who actually put the psych in psychedelic folk. You've heard me go on about this already, but I often question where the rock parts are in these supposed acid folk / psychedelic folk albums. A lot of this stuff isn't terribly far from my Old Man's collection (that I still possess), and his albums were pure Irish/Scottish/English/American folk music. My pop couldn't stand listening to rock music  - and yet there's plenty of the "psych folk" albums I picked up along the way that he enjoyed. Because there was no rock!

About the only group from France that Fernand Pena et Puzzle remind me of is Canelle. And as you may recall from that entry, my initial thought about them is that they were from Quebec. Perhaps Fernand Pena et Puzzle is a bit less pop/country than Canelle, and more geared toward progressive and psych. So in that light, Fernand Pena et Puzzle recall groups such as L'Engoulevent, Connivence, and Harmonium more so than the standard Brittany groups of Malicorne or Gwendal. While it's not specifically cited in the liner notes, I doubt Pena is from Breton, and thus that adds another dimension to the usual folk music coming from France. There is some really fine electric guitar work here, among the folk/vocal based compositions. At times it's straight rock, others it's haunting acoustic folk, and even a little bit of funky business to date it precisely at 1977. Despite the band moniker, this isn't really a solo affair, as the group Puzzle features no less than 10 members (mostly on various stringed instruments).

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Centaur

The album is housed in a nice gatefold cover. Still no legit reissues can be found.

McLuhan - Anomaly. 1972 USA

McLuhan's sole album, despite being American, is a very British sounding, quirky progressive rock / horn rock blend. Fuzz guitar, organ, menacing bass, wailing sax, some narration with twisted lyrics, flute, and horn charts ala early Chicago define this fantastic work. The soft vocal style and composition structure calls to mind Uriah Heep's side long title track on Salisbury. Brainchild and Heaven (UK) are other good references, without the pop aspirations. The only missteps here are a short ragtime bit and a funk soul sequence that is off track. For those who love both progressive rock and horn rock, McLuhan comes as an easy recommendation.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Brunswick

This album never did get reissued. I was in touch with McLuhan member Paul Cohn back from about 2007 to 2011 or so, but I hadn't been able to find out anything else. I don't think they ever found David Wright, who was the primary songwriter. There's more info from my old CDRWL blog here. That post also points to Paul's blog, where he has a recent entry that should be read.

Far East Family Band - Parallel World. 1976 Japan

While Germany is most known for being at the forefront of electronic psychedelic music, Japan certainly had its share of cosmic travelers. One of the best of these groups was Far East Family Band, a band who would gain some stature throughout the world during the latter part of the 1970s.

Klaus Schulze was one such luminary to be attracted by this large Japanese ensemble. Helping produce their early albums (the first two albums are very similar, the latter of which was re-recorded and sung in English, and other slight variations), Schulze saw an opportunity to promote cosmic rock all over the globe. However, I always felt the debut album/successor tried too hard to be the next Dark Side of the Moon. The instrumental bits are great only to be ruined by sensitive pop ballads - not Far East Family Band's strong suit I'm afraid.

But it all came together on Parallel World. Focusing on their instrumental cosmic sound and pretty much foregoing the pop commercial-oriented songs, the six-piece Far East Family Band unleashed a gem that easily could have found itself on the Kosmische Kouriers label. In fact, the recording comes closest to sounding like the first Cosmic Jokers album with more focus given to the whooshing synthesizers than the guitars (Schulze's influence?). As one can guess, the two keyboard players are featured most prominently, and it's hard to imagine that Far East Family Band actually had two guitarists as well!

The album opens with 'Metempsychosis' (Arzachel anyone?) which is a tribal drum and synthesizer atmospheric backdrop piece that sets the stage for 'Entering' which contains some intense fuzz bass and a ripping guitar sequence among the 12 minutes of keyboard ecstasy. Brilliant, and this is the finest track Far East Family Band has ever recorded! 'Kokoro', thankfully, is a short psych ballad. This is the sort of piece their first albums featured, so one can get a brief whiff of this style. The side long closing title track sounds like a long-lost Galactic Supermarket recording and aptly finishes a masterwork of cosmic progressive space rock.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Super Fuji

There are at least two covers for the original. The first scan above represents the original cover. My first exposure to this album was the second LP press (second scan). I eventually sold it, once I obtained a CD press, which ended up being a boot despite it being sold in legitimate channels. One has to be very careful when looking for the CD. There are only 2 legitimate presses that exist, as I write this. One is the very obscure 1991 release on Columbia, and the other is the Super Fuji Japanese mini-LP, which I ultimately sourced for the collection. There are numerous pirate editions, so be careful!

P. P. Zahl - Alle Türen Offen. 1978 Germany

German polit-rock albums are typically a tough minefield to navigate. From the punk angst of Checkpoint Charlie to the theatrical Floh de ...