Sunday, March 22, 2015

Avalanche - Perseverance Kills Our Game. 1979 Netherlands

Avalanche - Perseverance Kills Our Game. 1979 Starlet

Originally published June 13, 2009. I'm going to move this post forward to the current date, since we now have a CD reissue! I listened to the CD this past week, and the album still continues to blow me away after all these years. I almost found myself in Oblivion, so to speak.

CD reissue: 2015 Guerssen (Spain)

LP reissue: 2015 Guerssen (Spain)

Originally published in Gnosis, April 2, 2001 and slightly altered here.

For hardcore collectors of progressive rock music, the obscure megabuck private pressing almost always ends up being somewhat of a disappointment. The hit ratio of great quality obscurities is quite low. There are many reasons for this including low budgets, amateur musicians, lack of direction and so on. So when a pure gem like Avalanche is found while wading through the chaff, there is some real cause to take notice and celebrate.

On the mostly instrumental Perseverance Kills Our Game, Avalanche achieves all that makes a low-budget production endearing. First of all, the playing is true to the heart - an intangible that is subtle though very recognizable for those who hear these type of recordings on a regular basis. The musicianship here is superb though hardly symphony orchestra quality. And there is a real intimacy that surrounds the atmosphere - as if you're in the room while they're recording. And perhaps the fact that Avalanche have six full-time members helps keep the album from the one-dimensional nature of most private releases.

Side one is primarily a folk rock affair with wonderful acoustic guitar, piano, bass, drums and sparse (one track), but well done vocals. The real highlights, though, have to be the gorgeous flutes (various types) and the soaring and spiritual electric guitar work. For pure haunting folk, 'Cola-tik' is the embodiment of melancholy whereas the progressive folk rock number 'Maiden Voyage' displays the band's talent with extended compositions.

While the opening side is excellent, there is no foreshadowing of the brilliance to be found on the flip side. It moves beyond folk rock to a more complex prog rock sound and climaxing at the end of the album with a psychedelic space rock sequence not found since the glory days of Krautrock and bands like Ash Ra Tempel. 'Transcendence' starts this side with serene piano and is augmented by bombarde and flute. Then a powerful electric guitar enters to play the same beautiful melody. The tone gets noticeably louder until there's a dramatic break. Here, Avalanche display a ferocity that is a complete contrast to the delicate and mellow nature displayed so far. A soft, two-minute acoustic ballad is inserted to calm the nerves before the massively powerful 'Oblivion enters. This 11-minute plus opus is the high water mark for folk rock. As on 'Transcendence', the composition opens softly with a stunning acoustic guitar melody which is then offset by some dire sounding flutes followed by harmonium. It's just unbelievably pretty yet somehow very sad. Just when you're ready to cry, the electric rhythm guitar begins a simple, jazzy pattern. The bass and drums follow shortly thereafter creating a head-moving groove. Entering unannounced is a twin guitar attack which begins to pulverize your senses. The sound is heavy and acidic like that of Manuel Göttsching, and the playing has the same soul the Ash Ra guitarist has. The solo contains a number of original melodies within that add to the special quality. And this goes on for close to seven minutes to solidify one of the most intense and beautiful guitar solos in rock history. The album ends at the peak of the solo; one almost wishes for another 15 minutes to be found from the same tape. What a trip through the emotions!


The original LP comes in a very plain single sleeve cover, similar to many a rare private press American album. Originals have always been rare and expensive. My first encounter of this album was via a cassette tape from a well known Dutch dealer back in the early 90s. He sold dubs of rare albums for a reasonable price (after all - it did take time to do + cassettes weren't free either), and this was long before the internet and Youtube. Ah, you kids have it so easy... :-D Anyway, I bought a few rare items from him (again, on cassette), and this was my favorite. I couldn't afford the album back then (not even close). It was fitting, then, that I did buy the original LP from the same gentleman (by this time, more of a personal friend) about 7 years ago or so. All the while hoping and pleading for a CD reissue. The main issue had been the band didn't want to go forward with a reissue because the master tapes were lost. But another old acquaintance of ours, Guerssen, must have said the right words - and with modern technology - has created a wonderful sounding reissue. There are no bonus tracks, but there are great historical notes from Richard Allen as well as some nice photos. A fine package overall.

Last update: July 27, 2016

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Maximum Indifference - s/t. 1996 USA

Maximum Indifference - s/t. 1996 Botched (CD)

For the debut Maximum Indifference provides us, in effect, an instrumental version of early 80s Rush. Take out the pop elements and vocals, and focus on Rush's tremendous technical music acumen, and you'll have a good idea what this guitar based trio (with synthesizers) sounds like. For whatever reason, you're likely to read this to be a jazz fusion album. This is an album based in rock, not jazz. These are rock guys, putting out an instrumental tech metal album - without the metal of course. And given this musical outlook, post rock is a good secondary genre for the band. In the 70s and 80's we'd have called this symphonic fusion, a genre tag that has gone extinct I'm afraid. And it's one of my favorite genres. If you do stumble on one of those sub $5 copies, be sure to nab it. Overall an excellent album, and one I have no intention of parting with. It has aged very well, and I purchased mine not long after release date.

Reggie Lucas - Survival Themes. 1976 USA

Reggie Lucas - Survival Themes. 1976 East Wind (Japan)

CD reissues: 2002 East Wind (Japan mini-LP); 2015 East Wind (Japan)

LP reissue: 1978 Inner City

Release details: Unusual in that the original version is from Japan, and wasn't licensed to Lewis' native USA until two years later. Inner City must have had a bout of madness to even bother issuing this title - at least from a financial perspective. As such, original LP copies are obscure, though can be found easily as I write this. Both CD reissues are from the original parent label. I didn't know about the 2002 mini-LP until I saw it in Discogs. I'm guessing it was quite rare until the new pressing came along this year. And it's in a standard jewel case, which is not the norm anymore for Japan. Because of this, the price is very reasonable and I suggest you pounce on this title soon before it too becomes rare.

Notes: Well... now. I think we have something here, don't we? I never heard of Reggie Lucas prior, but seeing he's the guitarist in the great Philly based disco/funk ensemble MSFB, that already brings a smile to my face (not to mention a session guitarist for a slew of big names including Miles Davis). I hadn't run into his Inner City LP after all these years of crate digging, though I probably just passed right over it without giving it a second thought. Don't make that same mistake now, folks. I went ahead and forked over for the Japanese CD sound unheard based on a reliable tip from Gnosis Mike, and it proved to be money. Slewfoot is a foot stompin' Funkadelic like psych rock groover, with plenty of Lucas' wonderful guitar along with horn accompaniment and Clavinet. Tender Years is the only "period" piece here, a sunny and tropical romantic 70s cruise ship dinner number that gets all parties at the table in the right mood. And probably was the "bait song" that ultimately maddened those looking for similar type sound. Lucas must have been bored out of his mind by now, as he moved right along with a fusion psych piece in Barefoot Song, that features plenty of melodic interplay amongst the psych guitar madness. And this leads us to the side long title track, that is at once experimental, as well as off the rails insane. Hand percussion and heavily phased guitar define this most wacky composition from this most unlikely source. The final 8 minutes actually reminds me of the eerily and similarly titled Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush live piece Electric Reflections of War. Given that both pieces were released at the same time in the US (though Lucas' album was originally released in Japan in 1976, hence the CD release from there...) makes it that much more intriguing. It's just the kind of payoff track I look for to ultimately be enshrined into the Great Freaky Underground of albums. This album has zero commercial potential and makes you wonder what on Earth was Lucas thinking. Well he wasn't... Thinking that is... Just awesome.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ash Ra Tempel - Starring Rosi. 1973 Germany

Ash Ra Tempel - Starring Rosi. 1973 Kosmische Music. Also released in France, Netherlands, and Italy (latter on PDU)

CD reissues: 1991 Spalax (France); 2000 King (Japan); 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini); 2011 MG.ART

LP reissues: 1981 Pop Import

Next in our segment of Ash Ra Tempel releases

Release details: Single sleeve cover featuring Gottsching's doll faced girlfriend Rosi Mueller. Plenty of supply of this title for originals, but they still aren't cheap. All other variations can be found for far less money with a bit of searching. My story is similar to many of the Ash Ra Tempel albums, and I was able to buy a new Pop Import copy in the mid 80s. Sometime in the 90s I purchased (or traded for) an original LP. I eventually ended up with the Japanese mini LP for my digital copy. They all pretty much sound alike, including Gottsching's own MG.ART releases (of the ones I've heard), so you might as well get the nicest package. The King release is something I didn't know about until seeing it in Discogs this morning.

Notes: Starring Rosi is Ash Ra Tempel's 5th album, and a departure from the intensity of the previous 3 studio albums, as well as the drugged out live Seven Up outing. Gottsching recruited Dieter Dierks (Scorpions, a million others) not only for his usual superb production ability, but also for bass guitar duty. As well, Kosmische Kourier / Wallenstein standby drummer Harald Grosskopf makes his presence felt (and would later join Manuel in his Ashra trio format of the late 70s and early 80s). As stated in the premise, the album's contents are completely different from the emotional workouts of their previous studio offerings. The mood is light and carefree. And it appears as if Manuel and Rosi are just having a fun date here (she does glow radiantly on the album cover, one must admit). The guitar style shown on the latter half of "Join Inn"'s Freak N' Roll makes its presence on Interplay of Forces and Laughter Loving. Schizo recalls the intensity of the earlier albums, but is sadly all too short. Through it all we have Rosi's lovely spoken voice (in English verse the German of "Join Inn") and a bit of ill-advised singing from Manuel (something he fortunately gave up quickly). Overall a very pleasant and unique album. If the proper expectations are set, you will likely be rewarded here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Payne's Gray - Kadath Decoded. 1995 Germany

Payne's Gray - Kadath Decoded. 1995 Grau (CD)

One of the most oddball, out-of-nowhere, metal releases of all time. I bought this CD not long after it was released, and it remains one of my most intriguing metal albums in the collection. The group had a couple of demos in the early 90s, released the full length Kadath Decoded, and then disappeared into the ether without a trace. Most metal bands have "band trees" that would make an 1800s Kentucky hillbilly proud, with so much inbreeding amongst the groups, it seems they're all a big one-toothed family. But Payne's Gray were the ultimate outsiders. It appears only bassist Martin Mannhardt continued on, landing in the hard rock group Wicked Sensation. There is a Facebook page, but it's from a loyal fan trying to keep the name alive, not an official sanction.

The album itself is as strange as the group's isolation. It's not even until the 3rd track, almost 10 minutes in, does one begin to realize that it is a metal album at all. The compositions are certainly 90s styled "prog metal", but the instrumentation is far more diverse than the usual riffing and crunch on top of the chords emanating from that week's latest digital keyboard contraption - along with some eunuch screaming about something no one cares about. Nope - on Kadath Decoded there's flute, acoustic guitar, and real singing and lyrics as well. The music doesn't appear to be based in genre norms, and had it been released 20 years earlier, most assuredly would be under consideration for my "Wonderful Freaky Underground" list. There's no other album quite like this one, and I find it endearing because of it. That's not to say it's not recognizable - oh no not that - it's still very familiar. Like a skewed camera shot of your living room. They took their one crack at creating a unique vision of an album concept based on Lovecraft, and left something to ponder for years to come. A real head-scratcher for sure.

Ash Ra Tempel - Seven Up. 1973 Germany


Ash Ra Tempel - Seven Up. 1973 Die Kosmischen Kuriere

CD reissues: 1991 Spalax (France); 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP); 2011 MG.ART

LP reissues: 1974 Die Kosmischen Kuriere; 1974 PDU (Italy); 1975 Barclay (France); 1981 Pop Import

This is the next segment in our Ash Ra Tempel retrospective.

Release details: Originals are housed in a cool gatefold design (first cover) and comes with a small detailed insert. Die Kosmischen Kuriere was the original name for what became known as Kosmische Musik - and this is the debut album for the imprint. The second scan is the "alternate" cover, for purposes of promotion (exploitation?) of LSD guru Leary, and is a single sleeve. All other presses use this design. Except I believe the Barclay press is a single sleeve, but utilizes the original cover art. My first copy came in the middle 80s like most of the ART albums, as the Pop Import copy could still be purchased new back then. In the late 90s I traded for an original. Since I've never been a big fan of this album, I didn't pick up a CD until the Japanese mini came out, which of course replicates the original to the finest detail.

Notes: During this period, Ash Ra Tempel were contributors to a kind of cosmic circus, touring around with others of a similar mindset concerning philosophical thought, lifestyles, and music. Seven Up, is the recorded document of this time while in Switzerland. The fame the album has achieved is due in part to two elements: (1) The involvement of drug culture icon Timothy Leary, and (2) the dropping of acid into the band members' 7-Up. While that might sound radical up front, Seven Up is quite tame compared to the first two masterpieces. The first side long montage is a medley of electronics and drugged reworks of pop hits from the 50's and 60's. Unique? Yes. Satisfying? Perhaps not. Side two is a rework of the spacey 'Suche and Liebe' from Schwingungen. This version, called 'Time' and which contains a slightly different opening, is quite good - but not overly moving - and you get the impression the band's ready for bed after partaking in too much alternative nutrition. A much better version of Seven Up can be found in the outtakes and studio reworks found on Gilles Zeitschiff's Sternenmadchen album.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Neighb'rhood Childr'n - s/t. 1968 USA


Neighb'rhood Childr'n - s/t. 1968 Acta

CD reissues: 1997 Sundazed (released as Long Years in Space); 2007 Airmail (Japan mini-LP); 2011 Sundazed

LP reissues: 1997 Sundazed (2LP released as Long Years in Space); 2011 Sundazed

A well documented psych album, and I'm in the majority with those who say that Neighb'rhood Childr'n are a prime example of the entire American late 60s era. Originally from the southern Oregon town of Medford, the band migrated to San Francisco like many others to be a participant of the scene. While never hitting the big time, they were certainly one of its finest exports. The music is tight and compact with memorable melodies, bumble fee fuzz, older stock organ, and male/female vocals. The songwriting is extraordinary, and Neighb'rhood Childr'n could have easily been one of the big names of the entire genre (and beyond). Essential for fans of late 60s American psych.

The LP comes in a classic American psych era single sleeve cover with a wonderful photo of the rolling hills of San Francisco and the Victorian housing with the classic bay windows. Acta was Dot Records psychedelic era imprint and only lasted about 2 years. Now the reissue situation is a bit confused. The first CD reissue is the 1997 Sundazed version which is known as Long Years in Space (second scan). And you really have to pay attention here, because it's not "album as released" + bonus tracks, but rather the original is all jumbled up and one of those tracks were mixed in with the "bonus" tracks. Overall it's an excellent document, with great liner notes, and fascinating renditions of cover songs and other originals. The Japanese CD is a reissue of Long Years in Space, rather than just the album proper, though they retained the original artwork (and no title). The 2011 reissues are baffling, in that they are a straight reissue of just the album proper, rather than the full blown production of the past.