Sunday, May 25, 2014

Woodenhead - Perseverance. 2003 USA

Woodenhead - Perseverance. 2003 Free Electric Sound (CD)

After 20 years, New Orleans based jazz rock group Woodenhead unleashed what would be their final album to date - the appropriately named Perseverance. At the border of fusion and progressive rock, this fine instrumental album features plenty of excellent electric guitar, piano, and a nimble rhythm section. The compositions are written as such to feature a multitude of ideas within each segment, and thus points it further into progressive rock territory. Perhaps the best feature are the Trombones From Hell, a trio who provide some tight horn charts amongst the usual progressive fusion fare. While it misses the spirit of a youthful naivete, it still possesses an optimism and professionalism one would expect from a mature band. Best track is the last ('Buzz Beat'). A very solid work.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Sweden

The Word of Life - Dust. 1995 Xotic Mind

CD reissue: 1996 Subliminal Sounds

The Word of Life return with their sophomore, and ultimately last effort, "Dust" which is somewhat different from the predecessor. There's more variety within the compositions, and is overall more song based and less jam oriented. It appears the album tries to please on a number of fronts. When I Was in Space opens (on the CD version that is) auspiciously with its oscillator-emulated synthesizer runs and heavy percussion cadence. As with Further Ahead, there's an amalgamation of psychedelic styles ranging from roaring space rock to folk. And flute meets fuzz continues to be a predominant instrumental theme. The lyrical songs on this album have a sort of retro lounge naïve melody line motif which I find oddly appealing (like on Flying, Up Here, and Love You). No doubt there are plenty of sizzling guitar jams to bang your head to, just a few less than the admittedly more ambitious debut.

As with the debut, the CD has a different track order than the original LP (and in this case features 3 bonus tracks).

The Word of Life - Further Ahead. 1992 Sweden


The Word of Life - Further Ahead. 1992 Xotic Mind

CD reissue: 1992 Satori (UK)

For a short period in the early to mid 1990's, a collective of Swedish musicians decided to relive the past and pushed on with creating improvisational psychedelic rock music similar to the early 70's masters such as International Harvester and Algarnas Tradgard. Local acts such as S.T. Mikael, Adam, Stefan, and The Entheogens all recorded for the underground label Xotic Mind during this era. The primary difference between the modern day purveyors and the 1970's masters is the one-dimensional nature of the proceedings. This trait can be attributed to the fact that most of these albums are solo projects with guest musicians, rather than cohesive band units.

One of the highlights on the label were The Word of Life, a band lead by Mans P. Mansson, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, sitar, synthesizers, percussion, as well as taking on vocal duties. He is joined by many guests, though most important is the fine flute work provided by Anna Nystom. On the debut Further Ahead, Mansson manages to create a varied improvisational psychedelic album. Long burning jams such as Space Fu?king and Can You Feel It - Flowing Free are offset by calm flute and hand percussion ragas like The Devil. What one notices with repeated listens is the need for a judicious editor (a problem for many solo ventures). Most of the jams meander on for far too long and the inclusion of a couple of Earthy-Country-Bumpkin vocal tracks with Louisiana-front-porch harmonica are in complete contrast to the hazy heady cosmic aspirations the album aspires to be. All the same, the album works on many levels, most notably the trance-like jams, which can get quite intense as they penetrate. The guitar tone is super-fuzz-loud and the percussion is particularly active (always a good sign). Recommended for all fans of Krautrock, space rock, and the early 70s Swedish pioneer groups as mentioned above.

The Word of Life is a group I've known about since their inception. I first purchased Further Ahead on LP (top photo), which featured a paste-on cover. I sold it once I obtained the CD (second photo). I'm not entirely convinced the CD is from 1992, but that's the date appended on all the online discographies. The CD itself doesn't list a date, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out it came out a few years later (I think I would have purchased the CD initially rather than the LP if that was the case).

Spyros adds: "It is strange to think that Mans P. Mansson played in metal bands (he even guested on Candlemass recordings). The CD of "Further Ahead" came later than the LP. Must be late 1993 or early 1994, because that was when I saw it first time at a very updated local psych record store. I remember it puzzled me that it had a different cover to the LP, which I owned upon it's release..."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Snowball - Defroster. 1978 Germany

Snowball - Defroster. 1978 Atlantic

CD reissue: 2009 Sireena

Packaging: The LP is housed in a typical nondescript late 70's single sleeve import. Still a common album on vinyl (especially in Germany), though finding copies in the US are much more scarce as it wasn't imported heavily. The Sireena CD comes in a fine digi-pak with great sound, lyrics, photos, and newspaper clippings. The CD is definitely the way to go here. Copies are still available new from online vendors at a very reasonable price.

Notes: Snowball were a supergroup of sorts. Formed out of the Curt Cress Clan, which featured Passport veterans Cress and Kristian Schultze, along with former Embryo (and other German fusion/rock bands) bassist Dave King. These three from CCC were joined by none other than Nektar vocalist/guitarist Roye Albrighton to try their hand at the more commercial late 70s jazz funk sound that permeated the era. Opening in dubious fashion with the woofer Hold On, the album suddenly becomes a surprisingly enjoyable, but still somewhat typical, late 70s funky fusion album. There are plenty of good melodies coupled with a few decent breaks, and well-done vocals from Albrighton that separate this one from the common KrautFunkFusion rat pack. Excellent unison playing from all involved. While a good album, one can find better examples from Germany in this style such as Embryo's "Bad Heads and Bad Cats", Missus Beastly's "Dr. Aftershave and the Mixed Pickles", and the Real Ax Band's sole album.

Igzit-Nine - s/t. 2003 Japan

Igzit-Nine - s/t. 2003 Poseidon (CD)

CD reissue: 2003 Musea (France)

On their sole album, Igzit-Nine provide us with eight solid instrumental progressive rock tracks with a strong jazz underpinning. Focus is on melody, rather than chops, so songwriting takes precedence over technical acumen. Frequent meter shifts within each track keep this in the progressive rock category versus traditional fusion / jazz-rock. All pluses as far I'm concerned. Igzit-Nine are a four piece where the guitarist and keyboardist own the compositions, the primary melody lines, and the solos. Keyboards are of the modern variety, so retro analog gearheads will need to look elsewhere. I would place Igzit-Nine on the continuum from Ain Soph to Kenso. This is a really good one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chillum - s/t. 1971 England


Chillum - s/t. 1971 Mushroom

CD reissues: 1998 See For Miles (as Chillum...Plus); 2010 Sunbeam; 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2010 Sunbeam

Fell way behind again as I needed to take care of some family business in Denver and Fort Collins this past week. I have a few entries to wrap up on the CDRWL as well as the UTR. And then we'll be back to digging into my collection for this blog. Luckily, I already had this one baked and ready to go from a listen two weeks ago.

Packaging: Originals have always been scarce, and each single sleeve album (with a flapback design) is individually spray painted with a stencil framework. Typically these range anywhere from $150 to $350 if you're in the market for one. My first copy was a cheap 80s bootleg LP, before upgrading to the See For Miles CD (second photo). This version contains fine liner notes and extra bonus tracks. A few years ago, I decided to purge it, and that was probably not the best decision. Fortunately Sunbeam placed the album back into circulation, and I was able to snag one recently for a bargain price. This issue comes with a fresh new set of historical liners, unique photos, and another group of bonus tracks - some overlap with the SFM, and others are unique to this release. The LP reissue comes as a gatefold, and I will presume based on other Sunbeam issues, that they have included the history within the fold out cover.

Notes: Chillum is basically the third Second Hand album - and is in reality - a series of loose instrumental jams while auditioning for a new guitarist. Urged on by a French industry friend, the band was encouraged to release the tapes as a mysterious underground group. And thus the legend of Chillum began. So while conservatory compositional awards are out of the question, the album does work well within a 1971 English underground context. The epoch's instrumentation, production styles, and attitude are in abundance here. Good period piece that delivers exactly what it promises.

Agusa - Högtid. 2014 Sweden

Agusa - Högtid. 2014 Kommun 2

CD issue: 2014 Transubstans

Agusa are a new band from Sweden that has ties to two other UTR favorites: Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting and Kama Loka. Seeing the album is on Kommun2, and the description read that the music is in a similar 70s retro vein, it seemed a guarantee I would like it. And indeed it came to pass - I love it. Once again we are presented with a heavy - yet subdued - primarily instrumental psychedelic rock album, with Hammond organ, acoustic and fuzz guitar, wordless voices, pounding percussion - all with that distinct Nordic touch (while occasionally looking east towards Asia), that shows up in the melodies and overall atmosphere. There are no pyrotechnics here - this is an album for reflection and careful study. For fans of Flasket Brinner, early Trettioariga Kriget, Kebnekaise, Saga, and other classics from the Swedish 70s underground.

The LP of Hogtid comes in a fine gatefold heavy duty sleeve, and was first to market. The CD only has one short 3 minute bonus track. So it's not necessary to get the CD as well, if you already have the LP. But of course I had to have both, because I'm insane.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Noa - s/t.1980 France


Noa - s/t. 1980 private

CD reissue: 2011 Soleil Zeuhl

Packaging: The original is housed in a somewhat typical late 70s / early 80s French austere single sleeve cover. New copies of the LP were still available from a couple of US mail order houses as recent as the early 90s at a normal import LP price ($18?) - and so I nabbed one back then. Today the album sells for roughly around $75, though I suspect you could get it cheaper if you waited patiently enough. I seriously doubt there is high demand for it, but I could be wrong. Not selling mine in any case. Since I've owned it for a long time, it was a regular entry on my CDRWL, until 2010 when we first announced the intention of a CD. Soleil Zeuhl came through with a fine reissue, as they always do, that features superb sound and unique historical notes. Sadly there are no bonus tracks. Interesting to note that my (old) review below was used as part of the advert to sell the CD.

Notes: Like Gutura, Noa features a histrionic female vocalist, piping the French language and enunciating syllables like another instrument. The music of Noa is of the jazzy Zeuhl variety, with plenty of sax (some shrieking), soaring flute, and the expected rhythms of the genre. A pretty experimental record that could have only come out in France during this era.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Comus - First Utterance. 1971 England


Comus - First Utterance. 1971 Dawn

CD reissues: 1989 Teichiku (Japan); 1995 BGO; 1995 Si-Wan (Korea); 2002 Victor (Japan mini-LP); 2005 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2005 Castle (as Song to Comus along with the second album To Keep From Crying); 2006 Breathless; 2008 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP);

LP reissues: 1998 Get Back (Italy); 2006 Earmark (Italy); 2010 Rise Above Relics

As mentioned at the beginning of the year, it is my hope to eventually document my entire collection, beyond the common fare. As we get into the summer months, this will be my primary project across both this blog and UTR. I still have some cleanup to do from the last record buying season, but my new purchases will slow down for a few months, so that will allow me some focus. Of course, my wife and I do much more travel during this period, so that always slows down my music projects (I benefit either way).

Here's an album that, in today's world, would almost have to be considered "common fare". And yet it wasn't always that way. Not by a long shot. I'm completely fascinated by the transformation that "First Utterance" has had in the public eye. As such, I don't need to write anything further about the music - there are hundreds of reviews out there - many of which will say what I would say. So I'm going to talk about its rise in popularity (see Notes section below). I personally think that many of these "once obscure" progressive rock albums will undergo a similar trajectory in history. We may not be alive to see it, but it's my prediction that the progressive rock movement will not be viewed with the ridicule it received in its own day, and perhaps even now as we are about three generations in. But every year, it seems more and more acceptance is being projected onto certain albums - by a younger generation. Those who would have more of an objective viewpoint of music from the past (while no doubt struggling with their own contemporary sounds, just as any generation does).

Packaging: The original on the high class Dawn label is housed in a fine gatefold cover, and the second photo shows the full original package with insert. Hard to imagine now, but this was a $100 record in the late 1980s (I have the catalogs to prove it), and only sold in mail order lists that you may have lucked into finding in the back pages of Goldmine. Still far beyond my budget in those days. By the time I did have some disposable scratch, this album had already gone up exponentially. And it continues to do such. The selling price of the album in the second photo? $2,700. While this was an exceptional copy, the album generally sells for well over a thousand dollars in decent shape.

---So it's always been a rare album - therefore how did it get to be so known? Your first inclination might be to think via CD reissue - but that's simply not the case either. The first legit CD (1989) was on a little known Japanese label called Teichiku. It was a straight jewel case, and didn't even have a backplate. And it was a bitch to find back then. It took me a couple years to source one, and it wasn't cheap. It wasn't until 1995 that BGO finally put out a proper reissue that was more readily accessible. But even today, the majority of the CDs on the market are high priced Asian imports.  I personally upgraded to the 2002 Victor mini-LP, which is a beautiful rendition of the cover. I would recommend, though, that you consider one of the Arcangelo mini-LPs as they feature a second disc with the Diana EP. The 2005 CD pairs First Utterance with their inferior second album To Keep From Crying, and also includes the Diana EP. This would appear to be the definitive CD reissue. As for LP reissues, the Italian label Get Back was the first to market (1998). And it was a splendid exact replication that did include the Diana EP as a separate disc (which is why I didn't upgrade the CD). I bought that copy upon release, and that along with the Victor CD is my personal collection. Rise Above, of course, would probably have to be considered the de facto LP reissue, and I think the source for many newcomers to this great album.

Notes: Now that we have established the product packaging and availability, let's talk about the popularity of the album. RYM - which has hundreds of thousands of users - ranks "First Utterance" as the #18 highest rated album for 1971!!! What? I don't think I have to announce to you all what a great year 1971 was for music. Many argue it was the greatest year ever for music, and I may be one of those. But there's "First Utterance" with an extraordinary 4.01 rating with 3,533 ratings and 202 reviews (I have 5 stars on it myself). The majority of RYM users are much younger than myself. If we go to Gnosis, which is a select group of raters with a progressive rock slant, "First Utterance" comes in at 8th place (stripping out the deluxe issues) (my current rating is a 13 - though sometimes I give it a 14 depending on my mood - both equate to an RYM 5 star). I find all of this utterly fascinating. In 1988, "First Utterance" was no different than many of the albums that I eventually collected over the years: Obscure and Long Forgotten except by a select few diehards like myself. And here in 2014, Comus' debut is truly a "cult classic", an album that is ranked amongst the most known and heralded albums of its time (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Stones, The Who, Doors, Pink Floyd, Yes, Tull, etc...). No doubt "First Utterance" is musically unique even in the context of obscure 1971 albums. One has to ask, though, how many others will rise in a similar fashion in our lifetime? I could see an album like Algarnas Tradgard taking hold in a similar fashion (though it's already at #140 for 1972 which is phenomenal in of itself).

Just like the master painters of the past - sometimes the best works weren't praised until long after their passing. Comus got a head start on that at least.