The Plastic Cloud - s/t. 1968 Canada

Kingston's The Plastic Cloud - to my ears anyway - practically define what late 1960s underground psychedelic music sounds like. Look at the cover - fast forward 45+ years - and tell me they wouldn't fit perfectly into today's hipster culture. They have a strong sense of that era's light ethereal melodies coupled with credible vocal harmonies, and yet they also possess this subversive streak that shows up primarily in their heavy use of a biting "bumblebee" sounding fuzz guitar. Tracks like 'Shadows of Your Mind', 'You Don't Care', 'Face Behind The Sun', and 'Civilization Machine' are massive in their execution, and the jams can get super intense  - especially on the longer tracks (two of which go into the 9 to 10 minute mark). Imagine The Doors going "all in", as they would in their early days, but utilizing fuzz guitar instead of electric organ. And even the "straight" psychedelic tracks are memorable such as 'Art's a Happy Man' and 'Bridge Under the Sky'. If you're a fan of the underground 60s psych movement, it's pretty hard to imagine not freaking over this masterpiece. A genre defining album if there ever was one.

Personal collection
CD: 1990 Laser's Edge (USA)
LP: 1999 Void (USA)

The original is a single sleeve cover with insert. Original copies can get way up there, and frequently sell for well over $1K. My original discovery came via a new upstart label called The Laser's Edge way back in 1990. I'd never heard of the group, and I was myself only in about Year 3 of having disposable income for buying albums when I felt like it. So I took a chance, and was rewarded in a big way from a music perspective. The CD comes with a fold out insert and replicates the original liner notes. Many years later I picked up the Void LP reissue - and it's probably superfluous to own this version given it's a straight reissue with the same original insert. But since it's such a favorite album of mine, it's nice to have a vinyl copy - especially since originals are pretty much out of reach. The Lion reissues include - according to their website - "The accompanying twenty-page booklet has all the lyrics, thanks to Don Brewer, the man who wrote them, as well as rare photos and a replica of an original press release that must be seen to be believed". And their edition of the LP is a gatefold.

Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera - Knirsch. 1972 Germany

A mixed effort, Knirsch combines the higher key heavy fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra with Dauner's own affliction towards experimental free jazz. On board for this excursion are noted jazz guitarist Larry Coryell, Colosseum's Jon Hiseman (drums), and long time Dauner contributor (and future Exmagma member) Fred Braceful on hand percussion - the all-star cast proves up to the challenge of mixing these diverse styles. Dauner himself provides a nice variety of keyboards from traditional Clavinet, piano, Mini-Moog, and Rhodes onto off-key analog electronik instruments for the most "out there" segments. Some of the experimental bits go on for too long, as was common from this era of jazz rock, but still a very worthy addition for any underground fusion collection. Final piece 'Yin' is the best track and closes the album in fine fashion.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 MPS / BASF
CD: 2010 HGBS

Knirsch comes in a mighty fine thick and sturdy gatefold, and as with every MPS album, is pressed on excellent vinyl. I bought my personal original LP copy on ebay about 15 years ago and added it to the CDRWL immediately. Dauner's albums are being reissued slowly, and on different labels, so it was with great delight that a new label HGBS (which stands for original MPS founder Hans Georg Brunner-Schweremerged) reissued Knirsch on CD. And so I purchased one as soon as it became available. It comes in a nice digi-pak and sounds fantastic (surely from the masters). Unfortunately there are no historical liner notes or bonus tracks.

Poliphony - s/t. 1973 England

Poliphony is a very nice instrumental jazz psych record. Not too far from some of the Italian film library bands like Fourth Sensation or Psycheground - or even the UK group Hungry Wolf. Some pointed fuzz guitar leads and flute forays add volume. Elsewhere, there's some jazz-tone guitar and plenty of Rhodes, typical of the genre. I think a little more fire in the belly would have lead to a better experience overall, but it's still worth hearing, and perhaps then getting the CD. This Poliphony is not to be confused with the more well known US band Polyphony.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Audio Archives

Housed in a standard single sleeve, and looking all the studio jam session album that it purports to be. My introduction to the album was about a decade ago while visiting Heavyrock's house. And he was kind enough to burn the LP onto CD-R for me for the ride back home. The recent CD reissue on Audio Archives definitely took me by surprise, as I would suspect demand to be very low. It's a fine reissue with very good sound (I suspect a vinyl transcription, but well done), with unique liner notes and clear participation from the band. Audio Archives decided to change the color from the original beige to a pinkish hue - perhaps to its advantage.

The Mandrake Memorial - s/t + Medium + Puzzle. 1968-1969 USA

Philadelphia based The Mandrake Memorial began their career as a psychedelic pop group, with the distinction that all the songs here feature distant "lost" vocals and electric harpsichord. There's a certain sameness to their sound throughout. The music is every bit of its era, practically defining 1968 for us. The best tracks, naturally enough for a group existing in the psych world, are those that feature biting fuzz guitar licks such as heard on 'Here I Am', 'Dark Lady', and 'Strange'. Closer 'Sunday Noon' sounds like The Mandrake Memorial covering The Doors. And it's just as great as that might sound.

Medium: Side 1 sees The Mandrake Memorial taking a step back as they try to define their sound to a finer point. There's more of a downer folk blues sound going on, though its still psych based, and there's phasing and fuzz guitar here, along with the prevailing electric harpsichord. Side 2 definitely takes the straightjacket off, and the band spreads their wings further into longer compositions and creative instrumentals - peaking on the 6 minute instrumental 'Barnaby Plum'. A mixed album, with a much greater discrepancy - both at the top and from the bottom.

Puzzle: Side 2 of Medium was a harbinger of things to come for The Mandrake Memorial. Gone is the trademark electric harpsichord and its place is the guitar trio - with a fully staffed choir and orchestra in tow. The conventional psychedelic songs are undoubtedly The Mandrake Memorial of the first two albums, but the other tracks show the band pushing the boundaries of rock into exciting new directions, oddly reminding me some of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' suite that had yet to appear. Guitarist Craig Anderton's growing interest in electronics is given a test drive on 'Bucket of Air' - a splendid display of proto Kosmiche Krautrock if there ever was one. Overall, it's definitely an experimental record, and one that did not result in commercial success for the band. The subsequent 45 single sees The Mandrake Memorial heading back towards the middle - not sure where else they could have gone honestly - and then decided to hang it up, having accomplished a great deal in only 2 short years.

Personal collection
CD (The Mandrake Memorial): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Medium): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Puzzle): 1996 Collectibles

The first album is housed in a standard thick single sleeve, whereas the other two are gatefolds. And, if you're lucky, you might find the circular insert for Puzzle. I first bought the debut LP almost 25 years ago, appropriately enough, while in Philadelphia. I replaced that, and picked up the others, as soon as the CDs hit the market in the mid/late 90s. The debut sold well (over 100,000 copies according to the CD liner notes), especially within the local Northeast Philly/NYC/Boston market, and thus finding an original isn't too hard. Puzzle features a fetching Escher cover (House of Stairs from 1951), and comes with a cool insert. All 3 CDs feature full liner notes (the same liner notes for each unfortunately, though Puzzle adds in the original liners which are in Dutch and likely come from Escher himself). Puzzle comes with both sides of their final 45 single as a bonus, though they inexplicably "colored in" the Escher sketch (who knows why?). All of these are taken from vinyl copies, and only the debut sounds decent. I think they could have done a better job, though it didn't bother me much until I heard them intently with headphones. Watch out carefully for pirate editions, as they have proliferated the marketplace.

Robert Connolly - Plateau. 1978 Canada

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Ontario in the 1970's was an extension of the US Midwest - at least from an economic perspective. And so it comes as no surprise that the music shares similarities. We've waxed on a number of times about this most unique of American made rock music. And I'll be honest, I never viewed Connolly with this lens, until a revisit of the LP a couple of years back. Wham-bam, bullseye! Get your Ethos, Dillinger, Starcastle, and October albums out and compare.

Even though Connolly is standing next to a double neck guitar on the back cover, I believe his true passion is keyboards (and he's loaded with all the fun analog stuff like Mellotron, Mini Moog, and Hammond). The concept is pure 1970's space alien fantasy and comes complete with a goofy comic book (and any righteous CD label MUST reproduce this bad boy). For the album, Connolly put together two entirely different groups, each side represented. Side 1 mixes narration, female vocals, acoustic balladry and all out progressive rock that recalls Eloy's "Power and the Passion", but truthfully better. Side 2 is where Connolly hands over the guitar duties as well as brings on a male lead singer - while he focuses entirely on the keys. No question this side is the more traditional progressive rock, though the vocals tend towards the AOR side, typical of the region. Given this new outlook, I'm appreciating Robert Connolly's album more now than ever. It's the time and place.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Tube

Single sleeve cover with a comic book, that's absolutely awesome in its goofiness. And dig that back cover with the mounds of hair and double neck! Like the Pascal Languirand's from Canada, this is an album I bought used well over 20 years ago, and could still buy one for the same price today. It really is a good album too (and still quite obscure - few seem to know about it after all these years). No reissues to date, and I've had it in the CDRWL since day 1 of the list. There isn't a year listed anywhere on the LP. However, the comic book is dated 1978, so that's generally the accepted release date for the album.

Deja-Vu - Between the Leaves. 1976 Norway (archival)

Deja-Vu features two members from the Norwegian hard progressive band Høst, and the music is very similar actually, especially at the time of Hardt mot Hardt. Perhaps more symphonic given the heavy keyboard presence (Fender Rhodes, Mini-Moog, String Ensemble, Clavinet, Mellotron), but the compositions have that relentless bass guitar induced driving flair - also recalling Trettioariga Kriget or Ruphus' works a couple of years prior to this. Hard to imagine anyone into the symphonic progressive rock sound not appreciating this album at a high level. As you listen to Deja-Vu, it becomes apparent that a modern band like Wobbler has no doubt digested this album as a matter of national pride. And it shows in their own recordings, especially their latest Yes-like offering Rites at Dawn.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 Research Records / Record Heaven (Sweden)

Supposedly a test pressing from 1976, I don't think one has ever been for sale. So a classic case of an archival tape, and my first exposure - along with just about everyone else I presume - was the Research Records CD, which I bought immediately upon release in the mid 90s. Today that CD is pretty much extinct and will probably remain a collectible unless it gets reissued again. The CD is an excellent release with liner notes, photos, and great sound.

Lost Nation - Paradise Lost. 1970 USA

Detroit's Lost Nation recalls another band from nearby Ann Arbor: SRC. Especially at the time of Traveler's Tale. There's a distinct late psych vibe here (the dreamy vocals and harmonies are a pure giveaway). The driving guitars and Hammond Organ call out Deep Purple from their late 60s era, and the music definitely carries over into progressive rock territory with their sophisticated development of composition - especially over the longer tracks of which there are a few. It's a pity Lost Nation didn't catch on, as they certainly were one of the stronger groups to emerge from the American confused year of 1970. For my tastes, the best album on the Rare Earth label.

Personal collection
LP: 1970 Rare Earth

Single sleeve cover with colorful label as shown above. I was first tipped to this record over 20 years ago by a friend who also happens to be one of the biggest Dutch record collectors (where the album was also released). He told me that if I was looking for a great hard psych album from my own country, I should look for this LP since he knew it wasn't very expensive - and it was still an unknown (it kind of still is!). Unfortunately this album remains completely ignored in the reissue market (beyond pirate editions of course), and has been in the CDRWL since its inception.

Brainchild - Healing of the Lunatic Owl. 1970 England

Brainchild's Healing of the Lunatic Owl is perhaps the single best album to have emerged from the late 1960s brass rock movement that had gained immense popularity due to Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chicago Transit Authority's chart topping hits. Brainchild definitely falls on the Chicago side of this equation from a musical perspective. I've long felt that Chicago is somewhat under-appreciated in today's world for how groundbreaking they truly were - mixing carefully crafted pop songs, with complex horn charts, and insane unhinged psychedelia. The latter two elements eventually fell off the train (so to speak), and all that most anyone remembers today is an old boring pop band for middle aged housewives who spend all day on Facebook. The English septet Brainchild is the embodiment of everything that was good about Chicago - without any of the excess or trivial moments. Brainchild's ability to pen a beautiful pop song is jaw dropping in its execution. The horn charts are complicated, perfectly played, and yet still tuneful. There's an element of psychedelic rock, but it's not the main focus - but rather a powerful ingredient to the overall stew. There's also one other aspect to Brainchild, that most horn rock bands did not pursue back then, and that's an absolute appreciation of progressive rock. The latter element shows up repeatedly in how each composition develops - the constant changing of moods, dynamics, and meters. The title track perhaps is the best example of everything mentioned above: A stunning pop melody, great vocals, psychedelic interludes, and a progressive rock structure. Other superior tracks include 'She's Learning' which features a grungy organ, gravelly vocals, psych guitar, and an ominous brass section; 'A Time and Place', a progressive oriented track clocking in at 9 minutes, which starts with melancholy flute, before launching the Latin percussion, organ, jazz rhythm guitar, and hard hitting trumpet/trombone charts; 'Sadness of a Moment' is the kind of song that Greg Lake could have penned for King Crimson in his prime - complete with soft echoed vocals, acoustic guitar, and flute. Goosebump inducing music right here!; 'To "B"' closes the album, after a brief but beautiful flute opening, as it started with 'Autobiography' - a powerful horn rock song in the Chicago Transit Authority tradition. For me, the best horn rock album ever. Unless the style reemerges in our lifetime, it's hard to imagine anything ever besting it.

Personal Collection
LP: 1970 A&M
CD: 1991 Pony Canyon/A&M (Japan)

Originals are stored in a single sleeve, and features that rather goofy - but wonderful - cover. As for reissues, yep - that's it - the CD from A&M's parent company in Japan. It's direct from the masters, and comes in a standard jewel case with an insert in Japanese, and nothing else. Esoteric has talked in the past of reissuing it, but nothing has come of it to date. It was by pure chance I received the CD in the first place. It was literally a throw-in to a larger deal I made about 20 years ago. I was curious about it, but didn't have much hopes that it was anything special. Not to be too dramatic here, but it damned near changed my life! Needless to say, it remains one of my favorite albums ever. By now, you've probably discerned that picking up an original LP was of paramount importance to me. That day finally came over two years ago. Of course, it wasn't cheap, but there are just some things where it's worth paying top dollar for - and this was one of those things. They'll be throwing this LP in the grave with me.

Tusmørke - Riset Bak Speilet. 2014 Norway

Riset Bak Speilet sees Tusmørke beginning to carve out their own identity, and the strong Jethro Tull influence of the debut has subsided significantly. Tusmørke have moved towards a distinct Scandinavian folk rock sound, with more vocals, less complexity, and Viking styled anthemic choruses. Even though the album seems to use only analog instruments, the style of music has a certain modern sheen to it - similar to some Scandinavian heavy metal bands - but minus the metal guitars (if that makes sense). It's not until we get to the title track, which happens to be almost double the longest, clocking in at nearly 15 minutes, that the familiar progressive rock of the debut returns. Here we get multiple shifts in theme, meter, and dynamics, along with more instrumental time for Hammond organ, flute, woody/fuzz bass, and Mellotron. The lyrics are in both Norwegian and English, though it's interesting to note that while they took the time to translate the Norwegian ones, they did not the English (presuming, I'm sure, no one in Norway needs them translated anyway). And just to add to the confusion, or fun as they probably would have it, 'Gamle Aker Kirke' is sung in English. OK, I give up! As for the bonus tracks, once again its curious to label them as such, as the music is exactly like the album proper. Of course, since it is being released on LP, it's fair to consider the extra tracks on the CD as bonus I suppose. In conclusion, I feel Tusmørke has stepped in a direction that's moving away from my personal interest area. As stated prior, this has more in common with folk rock than progressive rock, or even progressive folk rock. It's very lyric heavy, and as such, instrumental flights of fancy are rare. It's still a very good album, barely a half point off the debut. I'm ready for the third, though I do hope they consider moving back towards progressive rock styled compositions in the future.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Svart (Finland)

Maxophone - s/t. 1975 Italy

Late to the game, Maxophone's album missed the heyday of the Italian progressive rock movement by about two years. To add more doubt, Produttori Associati was a pop label that hadn't shown much interest in progressive rock, having only released the very obscure jazz rock Duello Madre album prior. Despite these setbacks, Maxophone's sole album is a fastball-down-the-middle for the style. Everything is here: Complex compositions, memorable melodies, dizzying meters, large symphonic sound, a myriad of analog keyboards (incl. Hammond organ, piano), biting electric guitar leads, soft acoustic guitar soundscapes, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, French Horn, tuned percussion, and fantastic vocals in Italian. If you're a fan of the style, then it's hard to imagine Maxophone not satisfying on many levels. As is usually the case, be careful not to judge based on the English language version. Hear it in Italian, as it was originally intended, and then draw your conclusion. The 1977 45 single (added as a bonus to later reissues) is geared more towards orchestrated pop, and it clearly shows Maxophone had walked away from progressive rock by then, as just about everyone else in Italy had during those days.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Arcangelo (Japan)

The original album is housed in a splendid gatefold cover. True Italian originals are scarce and in demand, like all original progressive rock albums from there. Watch out for German originals on the same label. Some dealers like to sneak those in as originals - which they are - but still not quite the same (though I might add - would still make a great addition to the collection - and costs about 33% of the real thing). You can distinguish by the catalog number, and that the label is orange instead of the original black (the original is the first photo). The English version was released in America on the California based PAUSA (Produttori Associati USA) label (second scan). Like most folks here in the States, this was my introduction to the album. Like most Italian albums, hearing the English language version is going to be an inferior experience. And as such, I wasn't overly impressed, but kept it around long enough to replace it with the first CD to hit the market which was the Japanese Crime version. Now I could hear the album as it was originally intended in glorious Italian, and the album jumped a couple of points as a result. I eventually replaced that version with the first Japanese mini-LP that replicates the original down to the last detail (including a rare sticker). Maybe one day I'll get the Italian original, but it's not of the highest priority right now.

Mar-Vista - Visions of Sodal Ye. 1976 France

Mar-Vista are the duo of Jean Skowron and Claude Cuvelier. According to the liner notes their influences were a bit more esoteric than the usual suspects and include Terry Riley, Balinese music, Klaus Schulze, Neu!, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, "and the glorious Popol Vuh" as they state. Each side of the album is composed by one of the gentlemen. Side 2's 'Sodal Ye' is Cuvelier's contribution. It's a long electronic piece, in the German spatial tradition. It's well done, and fans of the style (including me) will enjoy it. The real revelation here, though, is Skowron's 5 part 'Vision'. He plays a myriad of instruments including electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizers, electric piano, percussion, organ in addition to taking on the vocal duties. Cuvelier I presume adds in his bank of analog keys as well. The music reminds me of other murky progressive folk albums coming from France, with lots of wild fuzz guitar, haunting acoustic passages, bizarre electronics, mournful vocals, and a wealth of other ideas. This side is a real revelation, and I think fans of the progressive, yet very psychedelic, folk rock underground will eat this up! The two bonus tracks are also excellent. 'Synthetik Way' is another lengthy electronic piece recalling Frenchman Claude Perraudin or the Italian Eletriktus. And 'Crash '73' is a full-on progressive jazz rock number that conjures up bands such as 1970 era Soft Machine (this may have come from an earlier incarnation of the group when they were a larger ensemble - though it's unclear).

Sadly we learn from the liner notes that Skowron is no longer with us. However to finish on a positive note, Cuvelier is back and recording a new album.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Strawberry Rain (as Visions...)

The one and only species captured in the wilds, at least with visual evidence, is the first photograph. Le Kiosque d'Orphee is not a label so much as it is a custom record pressing plant. So it's like the American labels such as RPC or Rite Records, and everything on the label is likely to be obscure, and in some cases, extinct. The CD comes in a fine digi-pak (second scan), with liner notes that fill in the story of how the album came about. The CD also features two excellent and relevant bonus tracks. Though the CD is entitled Visions..., and the LP cover above says nothing more than Visions, the liner notes clearly attribute the title to Visions of Sodal Ye.

Skywhale - The World at Mind's End. 1977 England

Skywhale's sole album is one of the rare non-Canterbury UK fusion albums that sound more in line with what was happening over the Chan...