Sepi Kuu - Rannan Usvassa. 1980 Finland

One of the most tripped out albums from an era not known for it. Contained within are intense droning/narrative Finnish vocals, acoustic guitars, and flute along with searing fuzz/echo/phased guitars, synthesizers, and hand percussion. The overall vibe recalls the more serious tracks as found on Krautrock classics such as Walter Wegmuller's Tarot or Sergius Golowin's Lord Krishna Von Goloka. Comes completely out of left field, and is pretty much one of a kind, especially considering the time and place.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Help
CD: 2015 Rocket

Single sleeve album and very scarce in original form. For as long as I've been collecting LPs, there really aren't that many albums that I personally discovered, but this is one of them. Or at least popularized it for the overall collector community. I was introduced to this album by a knowledgeable record store in Helsinki when I visited there back in 1993. I knew it was a special album the minute I heard it, and bought a few of them on the spot (and one was given to me as a gift). At that time, the album was a complete unknown, and I enticed well known dealers from around the world with it - and all reported back their satisfaction with the music. And as such, it had been on my CD reissue wish list for 22 years. Rocket finally came to the rescue, with their usual great job. Unfortunately the master tapes were lost, so it's not as pristine sounding as we would hope, but this is far better than not having a CD at all. There are liner notes (less than usual), and once again we've been treated to a full translation from our friend Kai (see below).

English translation of the Rocket liner notes. Once again, a huge thanks to Progressive Ears member Kai for these: "The Finnish music industry was going through a huge transition in the late 1970s. Record sales dropped dramatically with the onset of recession. This bankrupted many small Finnish record companies or forced them to stop releasing records.

Fewer records were sold, but consumption of recorded music changed, too. Of Finnish rock music styles, especially new wave punk and, briefly, rockabilly enjoyed chart success. At the same time, styles like progressive rock found their market niche shrinking more and more. Mainstream iskelmä music had been dominated by nostalgic dance music since the mid 1970s, but now it began to seek hits from more obvious pop numbers, such as Finnish covers of disco songs.

Amidst all this change, the music industry entrepreneur Jorma Heliander (1946 – 2013) set up his Tophits-Finnhits record label in 1978. The label only lasted until 1981, but it released a lot of dance music, cover versions of contemporary hits and rockabilly.

In 1980, Heliander set up another label, Heliander Production, in parallel with Tophits-Finnhits. The label operated for two years, releasing about twenty albums and a host of singles. Its greatest commercial success was the comedy album Iltaravit (The Evening Horse Races) which starred, among others, popular actor Heikki Kinnunen.

The most individual and undoubtedly least commercial album Heliander Production ever released was Sepi Kuu's Rannan usvassa (In the Mist of the Shore). Released in 1980 on vinyl only, Rannan usvassa had been recorded earlier that year in a bus converted into a recording studio. Juha Heininen was the recording engineer.

In the musical climate of 1980, the psychedelic folk rock of Rannan usvassa went almost totally against the grain. Some contemporary listeners may have been reminded of Pekka Streng's albums Magneettimiehen kuolema and Kesämaa from ten years earlier. They may have also found it dated at the time. Today it sounds arguably like an album ahead of its time. Its groundbreaking experimentalism and unconventionality have inspired and encouraged many experimental music makers in the 21st century.

Rannan usvassa is truly a solo album by Sepi Kuu (alias Teppo Lehto). He not only sang and played all the instruments but also composed and arranged all the songs and painted the cover. The lyrics were provided by artist and poet Mikko Tola (1954 – 1989).

Rannan usvassa garnered little attention on release. It never had a sequel either. Over time this record shop nightmare has become a much sought-after collector's item, with copies changing hands for as much as 600 Euros on international Internet auctions.

You are holding the first official re-release of Rannan usvassa. Shadoks Music will re-release the album on vinyl concurrently with this Rocket Records release. Unfortunately, these releases could not be made from the album master tape. It was destroyed in a fire at Jorma Heliander's house a few years ago. What you hear has been sourced and expertly mastered by Thomas Hartlage from a good-condition vinyl of Rannan usvassa."

Cytrus - Kurza Twarz. 1980-1985 Poland (archival)

If you ever wondered what it would sound like if mid 1970s Kansas mixed with early 1980s Solaris - and who wouldn't wonder about that? - then you now have your answer. With perhaps some additional guitar rave-ups similar to late 70s Fermata. It's obscure prog blender night! Seriously though, this archival release from Poland's Cytrus is absolute dynamite. Recorded from various radio studio sessions over a period from 1980 to 1985, the band goes on to prove they are an instrumental tour de force. At least for the first 11 tracks presented here (1980-82, 84). The final 4 tracks (1983; 85) apply vocals to a bit more conventional songwriting, though they never stray too far away from a creative break... or three. Cytrus' wunderkind is Marian Narkowicz, the inventive gentleman who provides both the violin and the flute.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Metal Mind

The CD comes with full liner notes in Polish, but laid out so one can easily discern the salient facts. Many photos as well. Wonderful sound too.

Sproton Layer - With Magnetic Fields Disrupted. 1970 USA (archival)

Back in February/March of 1998, while still a "road warrior" consultant, I had a gig in San Ramon, California, which included a corporate apartment there. So every Sunday night, like clockwork, my wife would drive me to the airport and I'd make the flight from Denver to Oakland, usually arriving by around 9:00 PM local time. As soon as I sat into the rental car, the first thing I did was turn the radio dial to KFJC, certainly the most interesting radio station one can hear in this country. They played all sorts of experimental/progressive music, and it was usually a learning experience for me. The catch was I had limited time to hear it. Since the station is based in Los Altos Hills (closer to San Jose), their range was somewhat limited. Once I crossed the East Bay foothills, into the area of what is known locally as the Tri-Valley, the signal would be broken and ultimately lost.

One evening, in that 20 minute period, on came this pretty incredible psychedelic album with fuzz guitar and trumpet (?!). Since most of what they played was modern, I was very intrigued by what I was hearing. My only fear is I would lose the signal before knowing. But I caught a break, and needless to say by now, it was Sproton Layer. No other explanation was offered. I said to myself: "Well I got to get me this new group called Sproton Layer!" lol. I started doing research on the internet, and lo and behold Wayside had it in stock, with the explanation that it was an archival release from 1970. That certainly makes sense! But why would Wayside have it? Because the ever creative Roger Miller, was not only in Mission of Burma, but also the avant prog band Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, a band who was on Wayside's own Cuneiform imprint. Amazing how all these things fit together sometimes. I bought it immediately, and now it has come up for a revisit. I'm not sure I've heard this album since 1998!

Anyway, if all the above bores you, suffice to say Sproton Layer will not! The band hailed from Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and the music is a highly creative post psychedelic album, just prior to the progressive movement taking hold, and the trumpet adds a fresh layer of sound not typically found amongst the fuzz guitar blasts. I often say that 1970 is the American confused year both musically and socially - and Sproton Layer is the perfect representative of that era.

If you've gotten this far into the review and you're reading about a psych band from 1970 with trumpet, what might be you thinking? Yes, that's correct, the "psych monster" C.A. Quintet of Trip Thru Hell fame. And the results are remarkably similar. The only difference is Sproton Layer never released an LP in their day. Because if they did, it would also cost over $1,000 today. With ample availability (I think the first press is still around even), this is an easy recommendation for fans of late psychedelic and early progressive rock. This album is still criminally unknown.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 New Alliance

Neat little archival release from New Alliance, a subsidiary of SST, and a long way from anything you would expect from the label. No doubt it obtained a release due to the Mission of Burma ancestry (Roger Miller). In doing research for this title, I discovered it was also released on LP, and perhaps even more surprising, it was reissued by Germany's World in Sound on both formats.

Kin Ping Meh - s/t. 1971 Germany

Since we're cooking on the hard rock / heavy blues psych / progressive rock borderland, it's hard to avoid stepping back into 1971 Germany - where there were dozens of such bands. Kin Ping Meh's debut is a classic of the style, with great guitar riffing, and Hammond organ solos at every turn. The vocals have that wonderful Teutonic slightly-out-tune heavily accented English that seemed to be all the rage back then. The drums are even phased, indicating that perhaps Dieter Dirks walked in to knob twiddle a bit (but it was indeed Conny Plank - so the street cred here is off the charts). The lyrics would make any of today's motivational speakers proud "..don't you know we need each other" (ad infitium) and "Too Many People..le...le.. TRY to PUT ME DOWN". The latter track being the only low point, with a bloozy boozy harmonica driven sound. As if to make up for this letdown, Kin Ping Meh blow the speakers out on the followup track, the exceptional Drugson's Trip. Some mellotron and extended space rock jamming only add to the vibe of yet another great 1971 German release. Unfortunately this was to be the only decent album from Kin Ping Meh, who seemed anxious to find their audience on American radio. With no such luck, despite multiple tries.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Polydor /Universal

The Universal CD comes in a fine digi-pak, with a full history that I'm sure was also provided on the Repertoire CD (same reviewer). Unfortunately, this version leaves off the bonus tracks, though I haven't seen anyone speak that highly of them in any case.

Jackal - Awake. 1973 Canada

A good followup to the Claudio Gabis we featured yesterday. Jackal's sole album is a very fine hard rock album with bluesy guitar, choppy Hammond organ, and gritty soulful vocals. Like a more lethargic Micah, and anytime that fine band is in the reference column, then investigation should follow in hot pursuit. The album has a bit too many slow moments to be a classic, but when they're on, it is a fantastic experience to behold. Listen to tracks like 'At the Station' , 'For You', 'How Time Has Flown', 'Lost in the World', and the superb closing title track.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 The Labyrinth (USA/Italy)

The only reissue is the CD from The Labyrinth which was a joint effort between The Laser's Edge and Minotauro, and who managed about 4 releases in the early 90s.

Claudio Gabis y La Pesada - s/t. 1972 Argentina

The impact of this album has me reconsidering all of the Argentine heavy blues psych/rock albums from the early 70s, which are fortunately numerous. Blues is something that has aged well for me, and hearing some of the more impassioned hard psych records coming from the Southern Cone, makes me think I have a few more discoveries awaiting me. I owe much gratitude to my French RYM friend Horus_in_Monoxyde, who's brilliant review drew me to the album in the first place. I love his writing style anyway, but this one really caught my attention.  I asked if I could share it here on the UMR, and he graciously agreed. So with that: "Wow ! Fantastic scorching, bluesy heavy psych from Argentina with a heavy-handed, shaky amateurish production full of dirt and greasy charm. The opener "Fiebre de la ruta" ("The fever of the rut" ???) burns along and consumes itself with the intensity of something like Night Sun or Orange Peel, and features some crazy, blood-curdling screamed vocals. And that violin is really something! Even the slower, bluesier numbers like "Mas alla del valle del tiempo" or "Blues del terror azul" are genuinely trippy and drenched in a syrup-thick stew of reverb and psychedelic FX.  This is one of those lucky picks, in that it's exactly the kind of thing I want to hear right now - raw, sloppy, post-Altamont psychedelic hard-rock that sounds like it was recorded in some disused garage smelling of motor oil and cold cigarette smoke."

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Microfon / Sony

The CD above comes in a nice digi-pak, and is easy to find. I sourced one for all of $3.74 on Amazon recently.

Burnin Red Ivanhoe - W.W.W., 1971 Denmark

W.W.W. (now that's a forward thinking title) has its roots in the early jazz rock tradition, with clear influences coming from the Canterbury scene. I personally appreciate Side 1 more, as it possesses that unique Continental European take on the Canterbury sound, perhaps recalling similar era Supersister or Moving Gelatine Plates. The 6 minute title track is a wonderful atmospheric organ driven avant-garde piece right out of the Krautrock playbook. And the two instrumental pseudo-French titles sound like Supersister and Embryo jamming with Group 1850, which is nothing short of great. Side two is more traditional bluesy jazz rock, with gruff vocals and soprano saxophone in the lead (from future Secret Oyster honker Karsten Vogel), and comes off the highs of the earlier set.

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Esoteric (UK)

The original album is housed in a gatefold cover, all in wonderful day-glo yellow with fire engine red lettering. The first CD from the ever reliable Repertoire has been OOP for many years, and is something I had regretted not picking up sooner, so I had been limping along with a CD-R copy. Esoteric has now resolved this problem with a very fine reissue, complete with full historical notes from noted music writer Malcolm Dome (who, perhaps ironically, introduced me and hundreds of others to Metallica's Kill 'em All when he wrote for metal mag Kerrang! all those years ago). The always UK centric Esoteric informs us in big red letters that the album was originally released in 1972 on Dandelion. Guessing then, that the Danish press from a year earlier, was a reissue...

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...