Niemen - Strange is This World. 1972 Poland

Not sure when SBB became the backing band for Niemen. It may have been here or the two Volume (aka Marionetki) albums (see comments from reader Bas as he clears all of this up for us). Niemen obviously was quite prolific during this period. Recently we spoke of Ode to Venus, and that album definitely seems like the SBB 0 (zero) album. Here, Niemen's vocals dominates more of the proceedings along with Helmut Nadolski's "double bass" which sounds like a cello gone mad, and (going off memory here) was also a big part of Niemen Vol. 1. Niemen's voice here goes beyond the blues, to an almost gospel like croon. It's no doubt going to solicit polarizing opinions, though I definitely appreciate the passion brought forth here. As others have said, and I tend to agree, I would have preferred his native Polish rather than English. Still, SBB gets plenty of time to unleash their rock fury, and Apostolis gets in a few mean fuzz licks here and there. Organ is another dominant instrument presented. This album is a bit more unhinged and experimental than Ode to Venus, so I'd start there - though Strange is this World is well worth investigating on its own merits.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 CityStudio Media Production / Green Tree (Germany)

Catch Up – Birth of the Second Life. 1976 Germany

The quality of Catch Up's second album isn't quite as apparent as the debut, and it takes awhile to assimilate the various styles present here. Birth of the Second Life starts off with a funky, disco-ish instrumental that recalls perhaps bands such as MFSB. This leads to a Hammond organ and piano driven track with an Andalusian theme. Followed by a moody horn and keyboard jazz track. And so it goes. Until the last 3 tracks, where Catch Up really take it up a notch. There are great Moog and organ solos, deep bass grooves, timeless melodies, and the closer that features tripped out female narrative bits against atmospheric keyboards and tuned percussion that instantly recall the early 70s Krautrock masters. A really fine album.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Production Dessinee (Japan)

As with the recently featured Mike Selesia album, here's another surprise reissue we announced on the CDRWL back in June this year. And similarly it's a Japanese mini-LP, from a reputable label. When reading through the Production Dessinee discography, I found myself trying to find a musical link with Catch Up. I can't - it seems to be an anomaly for the label. As for the packaging, the original was a single sleeve, and thus this an exact miniature replicate. As is custom with Japanese releases, the only liner notes are in kanji. But barring any specialist label reissuing this, then this is a fine alternative. Not sure why Crippled Dick Hot Wax didn't release it, since they had already reissued their debut album.

Haizea – Hontz Gaua. 1979 Spain

Picking up where the debut leaves off, 'Anderea' is a pleasant bit of Basque folk with female vocals. And then the wheels come off  - and we enter the realm that ashratom cares about - on 'Egunaren Hastapena', a dark acoustic piece with cello, recorder, chimes, acoustic guitar, and flute that I swear recalls some of the Scandinavian psychedelic acts such as International Harvester and Algarnas Tradgard. This track finishes in Gotic (a Catalan progressive rock band) mode with happy flute and a full rhythm section. 'Argizagi Ederra' opens with haunting female vocals and what sounds like a didgeridoo, and when the psychedelic guitar enters in, we are once again reminded of Algarnas Tradgard. Who and what were these guys tuned into? No way they could have known these Swedish albums - right? 'Arnaki' continues with flute and electric guitar in an instrumental psychedelic space rock setting.

And we haven't even hit the album's most transcendental piece - the two part title track that encompasses all of Side 2. Starting with male monk like chants, you already know this is going to descend into the deepest recesses of your mind. Acoustic guitar, cello, flute, chimes, wordless female voices, and hand percussion fill out part one 'Hegoa Heldu Da', and then it goes deeper down the well on the second part 'Maritxiki Korupeko', where they subsequently turn on the electricity. And the female voices become more haunting. And then... well... discover for yourself I'd suggest.

This is a special work and entirely unique amongst all the albums coming from the Basque country.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Elkar / Lost Vinyl

The original is a gatefold, and has always been rare. Released exclusively in the Basque country of Spain, the album had very limited distribution. I bought the CD when it came out, and that was my first exposure to the album. It's a joint release from Basque specialist label Elkar with the progressive leaning Lost Vinyl label of Valencia. Worth noting that the CD has a purple night sky rather than the dark blue as found on the LP (the photo above is the original LP cover).

La Statale 17 / Emphasis - Rock Scene. 1978 Italy

1978 was a lost year for the Italian progressive movement. Polarizing politics pretty much ended the genre and there were a couple of (big) last puffs in 1977 before completely dying out. Naturally enough, the music itself continued on with small studios or in live settings despite the relative unpopularity. Most of these were released in the last 20 years as archival material. But this split LP, with two unrelated and distinct sounding bands, actually managed to get out real time. The album was recorded in Bozen, better known as Bolzano in the far north of the country, in a mountainous region bordering Austria. Then released privately in Germany - to (not surprisingly) almost no audience. Thus its insane rarity today.

La Statale 17 is a fine melodic instrumental progressive rock act. Nothing overly dramatic or dynamic, as would be found in the 1973 Italian progressive heyday. Just a pleasant romp with guitars and string synths brought to the fore. Similar to other northern European progressive groups from this time frame such as Lady Lake (Netherlands), Ocarinah (France), and Flame Dream (Switzerland). I'm sure had the band possessed more of a support base, they could have been a top tier group. As it stands, they are a nice historical curiosity.

For Side 2,  Emphasis looks towards Genesis as an influence. They took the unusual step, for an Italian band that is, to sing in English. And they also employ some flute and acoustic+fuzz guitar strengthening the comparison. But like La Statale 17, there's a distinct Northern European slant to their sound, most notably Hoelderlin at the time of Clowns and Clouds comes to mind. But references to Saga (Netherlands) and Neuschwanstein (Germany) would not be out of place. There are some really fine instrumental passages throughout, and Emphasis represents the better of the two acts to my ears.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Mellow

A very rare album, released only in Germany originally to an audience of absolutely no one I presume.

Ragnarok - s/t. 1976 Sweden

Ragnarok's debut is a soft, tranquil style of instrumental rock, based on typically Swedish themes. Somewhat like a less rollicking Kebnekaise circa their second album. Flute, acoustic/electric guitar, and Rhodes electric piano lead the instrumental parade. A fine album that aurally represents a Nordic winter by the fire. The band's later albums, coming in a full four years after this, are considerably more energetic than this debut.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 Silence

My first copy of the album was the original LP, but moved it after replacing it with the CD, to no regrets.

Zed - Visions of Dune. 1979 France

Zed is one Bernard Szajner, a French synthesist and theatrical design artist, who would later plant his own name on future recordings. On Visions he is joined by guests on guitar, bass, drums, and vocals from various members in and around the Magma camp - though this is mostly a solo electronik musik affair. Overall the music portrays an aural painted landscape of darkness, with sequencers, Moog solos, and guitar providing the ominous atmosphere - all designed to recall the Dune novel. If this all sounds familiar, it is because fellow countryman Richard Pinhas (Heldon) did exactly the same thing with his second solo album Chronolyse one year earlier with arguably better results. Both apparently shared a fixation with Frank Herbert. Late 70s Conrad Schnitzler also comes to mind here. For fans of French dark electronic music, this one is hard to pass up.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Spalax

SRC - s/t. 1968 USA

When I think of 1960s psychedelic music, the debut by SRC is exactly what I want to hear. A 6 piece, with 2 guitarists and an organ player. The Quackenbush brothers clearly lead the instrumental sections with Glenn pounding away on his Hammond while Gary lays down these insane acid guitar solos - splattering it all over everything like The Plastic Cloud do - and just the way I like it. Meanwhile Scott Richardson's (Scott Richard Case is what's behind the acronym) vocals are spacey and trippy - a flower power voice in a psychotic setting.

From the town that hosts the University of Michigan, and it's clear the student body was TURNED ON in 1968 (which might explain why they lost to Ohio State 50-14 that year, but that's another story...).

SRC's debut is one of the gems of the major label US psych scene. Crushes most albums in this genre. Don't miss out on this one.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 One Way

Magical Power Mako – Music From Heaven. 1982 Japan

Solo artist Magical Power Mako provides us with fourteen musical interludes, that could be classified as incidental music for TV & film (aka Library Music). The music has a distinct psychedelic Eastern bent with sitars, fuzz guitars and indigenous scales. Mako also performs drums and percussion on occasion.

Personal collection
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Music From Heaven was originally released on Tokyo's own Marquee Moon as a promo LP, and may have in fact been the first release for the label/magazine/store. Though the Belle Antique CD lists 14 tracks, everything is stuffed onto one indexed song making it a PITA to listen to one particular track. When listening to the CD carefully on headphones, you'll hear background music, as if the master tape contained other music before being overwritten with Mako's album.

2015 update: I sold my CD copy (1994 Belle Antique)

Group 1850 - Paradise Now. 1969 Netherlands

Wow. The first 3 tracks are psychedelic songwriting at its best. Trippy droned-out voices, acid wah-wah guitar, psychedelic organ, pounding bass, active rhythms and memorable melodies round out the opening of Paradise Now - Group 1850's second album, and a work of pure genius. 'Friday I'm Free' is my pick for the ultimate late 1960's psychedelic song . This is followed by 3 short incidental psychedelic interludes, whose placement is perfect and sets up the album's masterpiece - the appropriately named '?!'. Perhaps in 2012 they would name the track 'WTF?!'. This instrumental journey into the netherworld of your mind is highlighted by some of the most incredible organ sounds you've ever encountered. 11 minute closer 'Purple Sky' shows Group 1850 paying homage to the blues psych of Jimi Hendrix, but tripped out Amsterdam coffee shop style.

A stunning work of psychedelic music, that makes you pine for more of it. If only there was more of it....

At least one well known collector on RYM says it's his favorite album ever. That's outstanding. I'll say top 75 for me. An amazing piece of music.

Personal Collection
LP: 1969 Discofoon
CD: 1991 Free (Germany)

The original LP comes in a fine single sleeve with a flapback cover. An album I paid good money for a nice copy, and wouldn't have it any other way. This one's coming to the grave with me anyway. Can you believe this album was released by a department store (Vroom & Dreesman)? It blows my mind to even dream of albums like this coming out from, oh I dunno... say... Montgomery Ward. It's impossible to fathom! Incidentally the store is still going strong today, but it's been many years since they were in the music business. The 1978 release features a completely different cover. Gone are the stoned guys on the front. That's part of the charm!

I once had the Free CD listed as a bootleg, but I received a note from the label stating adamantly that it was legit. There is a pirate Free label, and I'm not sure if it's the same one. Discogs, for their part, label this CD as "unauthorized". The sound is fine and the cover has been faithfully reproduced. And that's it. It's a cheap one page liner card. There is a recent reissue on Pseudonym that I should investigate.

Anyone’s Daughter – Piktors Verwundlungen. 1981 Germany

Anyone's Daughter returns to their progressive roots on Piktors Verwandlungen, the group's 3rd effort. In fact, this was a pre-Adonis composition brought to fore for the first time on album. As such, the instrumental sections here bring back the Teutonic take on the mid Genesis sound similar to other German bands of their era like Ivory and Neuschwanstein. The narration (in German) can be a bit much to take in, as they sort of give off the feeling of "going to church before enjoying lunch" type of delay. And that's with consideration that I actually enjoy narration as a musical vehicle - as found in bands as diverse as Flaming Bess, Latte e Miele, and Pholas Dactylus. But here the fact remains there are over 11 minutes of Hesse's poetry to endure. All in all a good album, but with notable demerits. The Tempus Fugit CD adds a 26 minute version of the same track from the late 70s, and has to be considered an improvement.. The narration has been cut back and the instrumentation is more analog. The trimmed time seems to have highlighted more of their instrumental capabilities, and because of this, is more enjoyable on the whole.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Tempus Fugit / SPV

The Tempus Fugit CD is the definitive edition. It comes in a slip case, with a full poster, new essay, photos, and a 26 minute bonus track. The CD also includes a replication of a poster from a concert in  Stuttgart, resembling the album cover art.

Christian Boule - Photo Musik. 1978 France

Christian Boulé had previously played guitar on albums and in concert with French underground rock royalty such as Clearlight, Dashiell Hedayat, Gong, Lard Free, and Delired Chameleon Family, so it was only natural he'd get his chance at a solo career. At the height of the French progressive rock movement in 1978, Boulé released his debut Photo Musik on Polydor - the current label of Clearlight at the time (and no coincidence as Cyrille Verdeaux personally made the arrangements). Adding female vocals in English, the album mixes the psychedelic space rock and electronic music of Clearlight with the oncoming New Wave styles that were just approaching on the musical landscape. At once Photo Musik recalls Ash Ra's New Age of Earth combined with more obscure French bands such as Superfreego and even Eskaton (stripping away the Zeuhl of course). All throughout, Boulé's fuzz guitar is sublime. Those familiar with Phillippe Besombes and Hydravion will find much to enjoy here. A hidden treasure of 1978 France.

Only misstep is '22 Broad Street' while all of Side 2 is great, especially 'Orange Climax'.

Musea CD adds two newly recorded (1999) short tracks from Boulé, Verdeaux, Tim Blake and others. Both are surprisingly relevant and very good.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Musea

Mike Selesia - Flavor. 1976 USA

Fresno, CA based jazz musician Mike Selesia (who plays sax and flute) presented this fascinating hybrid of early 60s Coltrane, early 70s Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar and Jimi Hendrix. Album starts with the former and gradually moves to the latter. By the end we have an almost Kosmische Krautrock type sound, something that would have been comfortable on the Ohr and Brain labels. Wild fuzz guitar, fluttering flute, sitar & tamboura, hand percussion, haunting voices and reckless experimentation. As if the drugs kicked in about half way. Excellent album.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Shout! Deep Jazz Reality (Japan)

As mentioned in the CDRWL, talk about a surprise reissue! Deep Jazz Reality is a respected label out of Japan, who reissue obscure US based jazz albums. The package is very nice - an exact replica of the original single sleeve cover (presumably, as I've never actually owned one). There's an interview with Selesia in the liner notes. The bad news is it's been translated to Japanese, so not much help for us English readers. Maybe someone can translate it one day.

Alphataurus - s/t. 1973 Italy

The Italian progressive rock scene between 1972 and 1974 seemed to foster a culture in which bands would compete to determine who could be more imaginative, which group could create the most exciting, intelligent and challenging album to date. Historically, Italy has always had this mindset. The painters, poets, sculptors and other artisans of the Renaissance dueled frequently to catch the eye of Popes, Kings, mighty nobles and other magistrates of the era. With this is in mind, Alphataurus were one of the better contenders, a clear winner to create the frescoes for the small village church.

Like all worthy Italian bands of 1973, Alphataurus on their self-titled debut, featured top notch musicians to play guitars (electric and acoustic), bass, drums, and an arsenal of keyboards (organ, synths, piano, spinet, vibraphone). And, of course, the requisite dramatic, powerful vocals in the Italian language. The music alternates between heavy and soft, and is at most, heavy rock with hundreds of time signature changes, not to mention navigating through the style changes which include classical, blues, jazz, Italian pop of the 19th century and hard rock. How this all meshes seamlessly is the brilliance of the Italian progressive rock Renaissance. The five long tracks here all display these wonderful qualities and represent yet another classic of the day. Stylistically, they compare most to Banco del Mutuo Succorso.

Fortunately, it wasn't just the music that called for high levels of creativity. The album art work was but one more exciting component of the movement. And here, Alphataurus moves to the top of the class. The original on Magma Records features a triple fold out cover of an olive branch-carrying dove dropping nuclear bombs out of its hatch while an inferno takes place below. A jaw dropper.

Personal collection
LP: 1992 Si-Wan (Korea)
CD: 2003 Arcangelo (Japan)

One of the most extraordinary covers of them all (as stated above), the original is a amazing triple FOC, and is now extremely rare and sought after. I was never fortunate enough to own one, and now the price is exorbitant. My first copy was the single sleeve Japanese LP on King that I picked up the late 1980s. I eventually replaced that with the triple FOC on Si-Wan, and still own this copy today. Si-Wan later repressed this as a single sleeve and is relatively common. One of a handful of original LPs that I don't have, and that I'd consider spending major money for to obtain.

Manfred Mann Chapter Three - s/t. 1969 England

Manfred Mann leaps from his mod pop days and into the murky waters of the British rock underground. As such you have a seasoned veteran who bridges the gap from other pros such as Ian Carr's Nucleus with newcomers like Locomotive, Raw Material, Ben, and Tonton Macoute. The songwriting is top notch, and you get some great jazz inflicted background music complete with sax/flute/trumpet solos and a horn section. But of course it's Mann's cranky organ that puts it all together, and sends this one to a higher level. It does get a little loose in places ('Devil Woman', 'A Study in Inaccuracy'), which can be annoying depending on your preference. For my tastes, the best track is 'Snakeskin Garter' followed by 'One Way Glass' and 'Time'.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Cohesion

The CD above adds 4 bonus tracks which are pretty much worthless as they are single and/or mono versions of tracks from the album. The CD features a nice 2 page essay in English and full recording details. A very nice reissue that is still widely available.

Psiglo - Ideación & II. 1973-1974 Uruguay

Ideación: Psiglo's debut starts out in a rather typical fashion for the 1960s (noting this is indeed from 1973), with straightforward blues based psych rock tracks and hippie styled vocals (in Spanish). 3rd track 'Catalina' is a pleasant ballad with organ and orchestration. By track 4 'Vuela a mi Galaxia', the drugs must have kicked in as the band experiments with wild sounds on the organ and guitar. Not to mention the phasing and other studio effects. Side 2 opens with the instrumental 'Nuestra Calma' and perhaps not surprisingly is the highlight of the album. Album ends on a fine note with the aggressive Deep Purple styled number 'Piensa y Lucha'. Overall the album reminds me somewhat of the very early Italian post-psychedelic / pre-progressive bands like Il Balletto di Bronzo on Sirrio 2222, Formula 3's Dies Irae, or maybe Gigi Pascal e La Pop Compagnia Meccanica. A short, but fun, album. BTW, the missing track as noted above is currently on YouTube, so be sure to check it out if you haven't heard it. It's a varied piece that combines big band, free jazz, and blues rock to mixed results.

II: This one picks right up where the debut left off, with a noticeable production improvement. The muddiness of the debut is mostly absent here (though still far from perfect), and the guitar solos have more bite. As with the debut, Psiglo have a certain outlook similar to the Italian scene from the same era. So for this album, Psiglo starts off in a more conservative manner and track 2 'Construir, Destruir' is squarely in singer songwriter mode (complete with flute). Track 3 'No Tiene Razón de Ser' appears at first to be going into the same direction, but it's a head fake and begins to introduce more complex ideas. From here on out, this one has it all for progressive rock fans - dizzying tempos, inventive structures, psychedelic instrumental sequences, dozens of ideas. Final two lengthy tracks are near masterpieces! Psiglo II is more classic Italian sounding than, for example, Argentina's Los Barrocos, a band they share many similarities with.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Record Runner (Brazil)

Psiglo's second album was originally recorded in 1974 in Argentina, escaping the repression from their home base in Uruguay. Argentina was no bastion of freedom either, and the album remained in the vaults until 1981 (not 1980 as noted on RYM), where a small pressing eked out in Uruguay before being erased from the market landscape. As such, originals of the second album are actually rarer than the debut. The album was finally rescued in the 1990s by the CD age - with no further restrictions from more tolerant political regimes.

Worth noting that while the Record Runner CD combines both of Psiglo's albums, it does exclude the track 'Es Inútil' from the debut which, at close to 9 minutes, is a pity. However it does add the 1972 single 'Gente sin Camino' (6:07), which is arguably a better composition. There isn't enough space to include both unfortunately so they made the hard choice to go with the single. The CD also features all the lyrics, band snapshots and a newly written short essay in English. This is the version I own and was my introduction to the band.

Bonfire - Bonfire Goes Bananas. 1975 Netherlands

The comparisons to Focus and Finch are hard to avoid here. The melodic nature of the former is met with the driving guitar fronted fierceness of the latter. I would also throw in the playfulness of another Dutch group - that of Pantheon (of Orion fame), which Bonfire perhaps shares more in common with (minus the sax of course). Worth noting all 3 bands above are all instrumental as is Bonfire. In addition, some of the humor-in-rock recalls the Flemish band Kandahar as well as the Danish group Dr. Dopo Jam.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Belle Antique (Japan)

Architrave Indipendente - Azetium A Otto Piste. 2009 Italy

Architrave Indipendente's sole album is the closest I've heard yet of a band sounding like the original 1973 Italian progressive r...