Friday, May 27, 2011

Radio Massacre International - Kuntsford in May. 1997 England

Radio Massacre International - Kuntsford in May. 1997 Centaur (CD)

The hardest part about writing on Radio Massacre International, is that they have so many doggone great albums, it's near impossible to determine what is great from what is really great.

If you're a fan of the Berlin School of electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, etc...), and you like sequencers, mellotron and electric guitars (and even real drums on later albums) - then do not wait another second - don't walk, but run out, and buy at least one RMI album. You almost cannot go wrong, though as I said in the prelude, there is a bit of separation on their respective titles.

Knutsford in May is one of their can't miss titles for fans of the genre. This one has more than its share of mellotron and guitars, and while listening to this you'll feel like someone dropped you into Edgar Froese's studio circa 1975.

RMI have completely mastered the style, and if you're looking for a starting place - Knutsford in May is as good as any.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nebelnest - Nova Express. 2002 France

Nebelnest - Nova Express. 2002 Cuneiform (USA CD)

When Nebelnest first burst onto the scene in 1999, they were a revelation. A mix of aggressive space rock and cosmic 60's Pink Floyd-like sounds, and for me represents one of the best albums of the 1990s. With Nova Express, the band tightened the ship, and were pretty much all aggressive... all the time. Gone were the hazy psychedelic dreams, and its place dark nightmares became predominant. With this shift towards constant intensity, Nebelnest always seems like they're in the middle of the song. So I do miss the build-ups and ultimate release. Very good album, but not to the level of their debut.

No vinyl as of this writing.

Last update: December 29, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CMU - Open Spaces + Space Caberet. 1971, 1973 England

CMU - Open Spaces. 1971 Transatlantic
CMU - Space Cabaret. 1973 Transatlantic

CD reissues: 1993 See For Miles (both albums on one CD); 2006 Strange Days/Universal (Japan mini-LP); 2008 Esoteric. Latter two released both albums separately.

Packaging details: As noted above, the SFM release contains both albums. But in order to fit them in, they excluded one 6 minute track from "Open Spaces". This version also has unique liner notes. I bought this CD in 1994, and it's still my keeper copy. In 2006, both albums received the mini-LP treatment from Japan, and most likely sounds similar to the SFM release. In 2008, Esoteric reintroduces both of these CDs (sold separately this time but now is complete) to the marketplace. Their version of Space Cabaret also has two bonus tracks, which I also haven't heard though one is only a single version of one of the duff tracks from Side 1.

Notes: Man, where do I start with CMU (Contemporary Music Unit)? Both of these albums are entirely frustrating listens. It's worth noting that other than the husband and wife team of the Odell's (and guitarist Hamlett), these two albums feature two entirely different lineups with different songwriters.

Since I own the See For Miles reissue and they put Space Cabaret first, I'll start with that. All of Side 1 is written by newcomer Richard Joseph. Sad to say, but I don't like any of his songs that much. They are of a pop / folk rock variety, and bear little resemblance to anything else by the band. The short opening title is kind of cool in a bizarre show tune sort of way, but the rest is mediocre songwriting. Side two opens with 'Dreams', and is the only composition written by guitarist Ian Hamlett. A brilliant track, that is highly progressive with a dark undertone. They should have let him write more. Here's where Larraine Odell shows she is a great female singer - in the big leagues with Linda Hoyle. But the real monster of a song is the closer 'Lightshine'. And sure enough, it is the only composition written by Leary Hasson. You may recognize the name Hasson, as he's the grand master of Marsupilami, one of the UMR's all time favorite bands. He joined only for Space Cabaret, and sadly wrote only this one song for them. As I listen to it, the reason I love it so much is it's basically a 10+ minute Marsupilami-styled track. This could have been their 3rd album! Hasson may be one of the best progressive rock songwriters ever. It is absolutely brilliant in every way, from compositional construction to the type of sounds generated (fuzz guitar, crunchy organ). I had goosebumps and hair raising through the whole thing. I'm not sure one modern band has been able to achieve the feelings I'm getting here. And as I write this, it tells me the creative well isn't empty - just no one knows where it is anymore!

Converse to Space Cabaret, Open Spaces starts excellent, with an ideal English styled psych rock track in 'Henry'. 1971 is a little late for the type of psych they're doing here, but it would have been the PERFECT soundtrack to a Swinging' London film like "Otley" or "Blow Up". However, the middle of the album tends to drag, with their interpretation of Pharaoh Sander's 'Japan' being a low point. But, like Space Cabaret, the last two tracks save the day, with the super sweet and exotic 'Mystical Sounds' followed by the weird psych space jazz title track, sounding like Kalacakra and Furekaaben jamming on the MPS label. Apparently the song 'Open Spaces' was commissioned for an interactive sculpture exhibition with a psychedelic light show. Any chance I can go back in time and see this?

Highlights for Space Cabaret: 6. Dream (9:46); 7. Lightshine (10:24)
Highlights for Open Spaces: 1. Henry (4:47); 7. Mystical Sounds (3:17); 8. Open Spaces (11:38)

So what happened to the Odell couple? They went onto to form one of London's most famous early 1980's disco groups in Shakatak (pronounced Shack Attack). There's plenty of vintage YouTube videos of the band out there for you to check out (be sure to find the ones from the 1980s not the modern renditions). Pretty talented bunch but playing the usual vapid music with bad hair. For me, though, it does bring back memories of a time and place and I quite like it. But that's way out of scope for the UMR methinks... If you did check out the videos you may be asking who is that 80's big-haired blond girl? No, that's not Larraine Odell (who doesn't appear to actually have been in the group long, though Roger is indeed the drummer), but rather Jill Saward - of ... ready for this? Fusion Orchestra (another UMR favorite band)!!! Jeesh, who knew?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gomorrha - I Turned to See Whose Voice it Was. 1972 Germany

Gomorrha - I Turned to See Whose Voice it Was. 1972 Brain

CD reissues: 1997 Repertoire; 2013 Long Hair

LP reissue: 2013 Long Hair

Packaging notes: One of the few green Brain albums I don't own in original form. I did have it once, but it wasn't a very nice copy, and I moved it. At this point, I wish I had it, but oh well. I'll have to cough up some serious jack to get a nice copy. The CD on Repertoire is excellent, as were all of their Brain releases, with unique liner notes, photos, etc... This CD is currently what I own. It's long OOP and pirate editions are beginning to surface. Many of them using the Repertoire name, so be careful!

2013 update: Long Hair has come to the rescue with both a new LP and CD reissue. I went ahead and picked up the LP, since I've yet to score an original on Brain. The liner notes are similar to the "Trauma" CD, with the addition of the lyrics. As such, I see no reason to upgrade the CD, but glad to get the gatefold repro LP.

Notes: As for the 3rd album on the legendary Brain label, the very cleverly titled "I Turned to See Whose Voice it Was" (referencing the Biblical story of Lot's wife), I can recommend this one easily. Now this is true hard styled Krautrock. The kind of album where fans of complex progressive rock go scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. It's underground rock, baby. Nothing more than simple blues rock motifs, gruff vocals, pounding drums, organ shards, and the cherry topping is the long stretches of fuzzy guitar solos, all played at "11" of course. And since it's on Brain, naturally Conny Plank was at the controls, so you can expect all sorts of echoing, phasing, and every other studio trick that just plain sounds cool. So while not necessarily memorable, it is the kind of album that sounds great while playing it. And really, isn't that when it matters most? So strap your seat belt on, plug in your air guitar, and get ready to jam. Best track is 'I Try to Change This World' (9:31).

According to the liner notes of the Repertoire CD, this was it for the band, and they quit music and went into the workforce. A pity really.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Body - The Body Album. 1981 England

Body - The Body Album. 1981 Recession Records

CD reissues: 1992 SPM (Germany); 1997 Ozit (as Body Album Plus); 2009 Air Mail (Japan mini-LP)

I seem rate this album higher than most of my peers, and I'm not entirely sure why. Body are a really good space rock band that is completely incongruous with anything else coming from England in 1981 (other than maybe the first Twelfth Night album). There are very few references to the early 80's UK synth pop scene though a couple of tunes are musically relevant 'Brave New World' being the most obvious whereas 'Lights Out' could have easily been a hit single during that era. Overall I hear elements of You era Gong as well as the obscure Italian group St. Tropez here. The near 15 minute spaced out 'Andromeda' is the song Pink Floyd never made after Ummagumma and is the standout track on the entire album. The bonus tracks are uniformly excellent except for maybe the goofy Falkland Islands political rant - but no matter - it was, after all, an important topic in the mid 1980's!

The 1997 Ozit release (second scan) comes with 4 bonus tracks, a full history, photos, and is overall a great reissue. Definitely a marked improvement on the bare bones SPM release.

Last update: August 28, 2016 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

TNVVNÜM - Ouroboros. 2009 Estonia

TNVVNÜM - Ouroboros. 2009 private (CD)

Excellent new, primarily instrumental, band from Estonia whose full name is Tõele Näkku Vaadates Võib Näha Ükskõik Mida - just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? The name translates more or less to Facing The Truth You Can See Anything.

The opening of TNVVNÜM's second album Ouroboros sits somewhere between the post rock of Tortoise and Ummagumma era Pink Floyd. The song structures meander similar to the former, but the Gilmour leads and fuzzy sounding ancient organ point to a late 1960's sound. By track 4, the album is already in full blown psychedelic rock mode, which endears itself to this listener anyway. The eerie narration/vocals of 8) give off more than a whiff of first album Trettioåriga Kriget. The album peaks on the sublime 'Bad Chemicals', an appropriate name given the disorienting psychedelic nature of the song. This song could have easily been part of the Pärson Sound repertoire of 1968.

Highlights (using the provided English translations as I'm too lazy to type in the Estonia names): 3. Seagull (3:30); 4. State of the Dream (6:36); 6. Ambrosia (4:10); 8. Solar Eclipse (6:09); 9. Bad Chemicals (5:31); 10. Earthbound (5:30)

The band seem to be very enthusiastic for downloads, but through persistence I found a CD on ebay, and it comes in a nice hard bound mini-LP sleeve. I hope they don't go download only. I refuse to buy worthless assets, so let's hope they continue to press CDs for old-schoolers like me.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dasputnik - Cyclokosmia. 2011 Finland

Dasputnik - Cyclokosmia. 2011 Art Safari

CD issue: 2011 Art Safari

And really, there isn't much to add here from my Parapsykosis review, other than Cyclokosmia is even better than the debut! I don't think I've ever heard a band catch a heavier groove, while maintaining control throughout. I keep expecting the sax player to go bonkers, and start screeching and howling to the point of nausea. But he never does, preferring to maintain an almost smooth jazz tone, while holding up the melody lines amongst the chaos behind him. Meanwhile the rhythm is changing every 30 seconds, while the riffing  (non metal) guitar keeps shredding these amazing complex charts. Like Ozric Tentacles on speed. This juxtaposition of styles is absolutely brilliant, and is perfect for my set of ears. When Dasputnik combines guitar and sax for the unison melody, I'm most reminded of those great German bands of the early 70's like Brainstorm.

The track '...Phantom Wakes' has to be heard to be believed. What a smoker!

Best album of 2011 so far IMO. Will be hard to top.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Neom - Arkana Temporis. 2009 France

Neom - Arkana Temporis. 2009 Soleil Zeuhl (CD)

Neom's debut is a slow burner, built on intense thematic melodic lines while adding guitar, Rhodes electric piano, wordless voice, and of course the all important driving woody bass and percussion. The guitar is a unique dimension for the Zeuhl style, and only on the debut by Eider Stellaire will you hear so much of the instrument in this context. The fact that they can write beautiful melodies within the confines of the martial style of Zeuhl is a testament to Neom's talent.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ramp - Nodular. 1998 Germany

Ramp - Nodular. 1998 Manikin (CD)

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.