Il Cerchio d'Oro - Dedalo e Icaro. 2013 Italy

Despite having a heritage that dates back to 1974, Il Cerchio d'Oro seem to be paying homage to the 90's Italian renaissance rather than the original 70s movement. Odd, given that many of their peers are looking back 20 years further. Il Cerchio d'Oro reminds me of bands such as Malibran, Barrock, and Nuova Era. In my estimation, certainly better than the former two but not quite up to the standard of the latter. The analog instrumentation isn't convincing, the drums are more rock oriented rather than jazz, and Dedalo e Icaro definitely has that bright, digital sound. All the same, there's no doubting that Il Cerchio d'Oro plays in the classic Italian style. The constant thematic shifts within each composition, the lengthy instrumental interludes, and the rough hewn vocals (in Italian of course) all underscore the region's characteristics. There are better albums from Italy being created now, but Il Cerchio d'Oro's sophomore release is no slouch. Conditionally recommended to fans of the style. Of which I'm one.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Black Widow

Last listen: June 26, 2013

Liquid Wolf - First Light. 2012 Finland

While the keyboards are definitely retro (Hammond, Moog, Mellotron), I think it's only fair to let everyone know that there's plenty of chugga chugga metal riffing and androgynous nasally vocals here - putting it more squarely into the 2005 time frame than 1973. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but the descriptions I've been reading in cyberspace seem to skip that aspect of their sound.

With that out of the way, Liquid Wolf provide us with an excellent album, primarily instrumental (thank goodness, as the vocals are awful IMO - sorry to say) with plenty of long and creative instrumental runs. Lose the vocals and the metal sounding guitars (and I love metal - but not in this setting), and Liquid Wolf would probably be a 4.5 to 5 star (Gnosis 12+) band for me. And probably sell 30 albums, so don't listen to me! :-)

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Samsara

Last listen: May 7, 2013

The Freeborne - Peak Impressions. 1968 USA

The Freeborne represents some of the finest songwriting of the 60s psychedelic movement. There's echoes of the Doors, but in general, The Freeborne were one of the more innovative of the groups of the day - all operating with the context of relatively short songs (final track on each side sees the band stretching out a bit). Fine guitar, organ, vocals - everything you want in a psych album, but rarely get. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Arf! Arf!

The definitive reissue, with a booklet filled with historical liners, mono bonus cuts, as well as 3 reunion tracks. You will often times see this album listed as from 1967. However the CD corrects the record so to speak. There are multiple references and proof of a 1968 release. For example: "Notes on the master tape box imply that the mixing and editing of the album occurred on March 27, 1968". Another reference is a half-page advertisement in the July 1968 "New England Scene" magazine that blares out that Peak Impressions is "Just Released !!"

Earthen Vessel - Hard Rock Everlasting Life. 1971 USA

Earthen Vessel were a band from Lansing, Michigan who got caught up in the "Jesus Rock" movement. Whereas 99% of the bands operating in that territory are pretty wimpy, Earthen Vessel cranks up the amps and the guitars just wail on here. One of those albums that fall between hard rock and heavy psych, the first 25 minutes of this album just blazes throughout. Only the final short 'Get High' (On Jesus) will remind one of a typical church youth group hymn. And these guys aren't "sort of Christian" either, they're preaching the Gospel from the mountaintops, with dual female/vocals all through. And yet it doesn't distract in the slightest, unless you have religious issues. Easy recommendation to fans of the aforementioned genres.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Gear Fab

Fine reissue with historical liner notes written by one of the members of the band. Original LP's are a small fortune.

Group 1850 - Polyandri. 1974 Netherlands


One would expect that after 5 years on from Paradise Now, a band would have changed directions radically. Especially in an era when musical trends changed with the seasons. Perhaps a fusion album? Hard rock maybe? Pop? But not Group 1850. Still going after it with their unique brand of psychedelic progressive music. In fact, Polyandri is more refined and varied while still being a primarily instrumental album . This album features an array of sounds from complex progressive rock compositions to simple bluesy workouts and onto trippy psych organ based excursions similar to their first 2 LP's. Wonderfully out of touch for 1974!

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Rubber
CD: 2017 Universal (as part of the 2 CD set called The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music)

The LP comes in a folder cover. To talk about the date: There's no date anywhere on the LP except a mention in the insert of a recording time of January, 1974. By deduction, one could conclude this was released in 1974. However, according to the Pseudonym CD liner notes for Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth, they place Polyandri at 1975 (as does The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music 2CD set). They could be propagating bad data though. Does anyone know for certain?

The CD version of this isn't the best sound (doesn't sound like it's all from the master tapes), but it does beat the Twilight Tone boot by a long mile!

Group 1850 singles / Mother No-Head. 1966-1975 Netherlands


1966
Group 1850 were always ahead of their time by at least 2 years. Peter Sjardin is no doubt one of the creative geniuses of our era, a man with no commercial ambition whatsoever, but one who never lost his mojo. The fact 'Misty Night' came out in 1966 demonstrates the point at hand. This track could have easily fit on the Agemo's opus that was to arrive 2 years later, and it too is a pioneering effort. This is prog psych, before the former term existed and the latter term was just entering the lexicon in regards to music. 'Look Around' is a bit more typical for the era, in a punk garage sort of way. It's still very good for the style.

I'll mention this once for all the Group 1850 singles (and note exceptions on their individual entry if applicable): There's a few good ways to obtain these, without having to buy each 45 individually (and expensive at that).

The first to market was Pseudonym's fantastic CD reissue of Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth (1997) - which contained no less than 13 bonus tracks. You even get the 3-D cover and glasses!

Second was the individual CD/LP release of the singles (plus demo varieties) known as Mother No-Head (2012)

Third, and the most inconspicuous, is a double CD release called The Golden Years Of Dutch Pop Music (A&B Sides And More) (2017). Not only does this CD contain all their released singles, but it also has reissues of Paradise Now (which already had multiple releases) as well as the very first legit CD reissue of Polyandri! It was the latter that compelled me to buy this, but it also reminded me to revisit these great singles.

Worth noting that the tracks '1000 Years Before' and 'Dream of the Future' were left off the Golden Years CD. These two songs (both excellent) were never released originally, and first appeared as bonus tracks on the Agemo's reissue. I'm not sure of their provenance honestly. Perhaps it's discussed on the Mother No-Head reissue, which I've never owned.

1967
I'm not quite sure why the psychedelic era had so much infatuation with the French nursery rhyme Frere Jacques*, but Mother No-Head is Group 1850's interpretation. Apparently the name is a bastardization of the Dutch "Vader Jacob" with some free association to English. OOKAAY then. Uncut drugs I presume. In any case, from what I understand this was Group 1850's most successful single. It definitely is a unique variation of the jingle and is quite good. 'Ever, Ever Green' is the most normal song Group 1850 ever did, and the only one I'd probably skip over in their entire ouevre.

* The German psych band Bokaj Retsiem dedicated their name (Meister Jakob spelled backwards) and their one album to the rhyme.

1967
Another brilliant pair of tracks from these Dutch cosmic travelers.

1968
The pinnacle of Group 1850's singles. 'Little Fly' is the same version as on Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth, and is brilliant. And 'We Love Life' is the perfect encapsulation of Group 1850's ability to consolidate many psychedelic ideas into 4 and a half minutes.

1968
The second best of Group 1850's singles (after Little Fly/We Love Life), this captures the band at their peak (and probably peak experience if you know what I mean).

1970
This is the only single left off the Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth CD reissue. And they are not to be missed either. Two more great tracks (especially 'Don't Let it Be') from an otherwise silent year in Group 1850's discography.

1971
I think there can be no doubt Arthur Brown was on their mind when they did 'Fire'. It's not just the song title, but also the style. A surprising copycat move from a band who were always innovators. It's still a great track despite this. The highlight here though is 'Have You Ever Heard', which basically consolidated the "?!" track from Paradise Now into a song with lyrics. Of course it doesn't have the long trippy organ and guitar parts, but it's great to hear how they recycled some of the themes.

1975
The only single from Group 1850 than can be ignored, if you already have these two tracks from earlier releases (1967/1971 respectively). This appears to be a cash-in job recycling their most known hit 'Mother No-Head', but this time sung in half-French, which is where this single was released. 'Fire' is the exact same as the '71 single. By 1975, Group 1850 was barely a cohesive entity anyway, and their brilliant Polyandri album had absolutely zero commercial potential, especially for 1975!

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Pseudonym (reissue of Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth)
CD: 2017 Universal (2 CD reissue known as The Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music)

Snakes Alive - s/t. 1975 Australia

In the early 70s, the music world was teeming with jazz fusion / jazz rock bands. The major two schools were a) The technically proficient, as defined by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Weather Report. And b) The Miles Davis long track deep groove, with many followers in Germany (in particular the MPS label), Poland, Italy, USA, and beyond. These were jazzers who were fascinated with rock's rhythms and power. But finding rockers who were fascinated by jazz was a much more rare breed. Snakes Alive are a rock fusion band. Of course bands like Mahavishnu still come to mind. Even early Zappa and Xhol Caravan to be honest. But, you know, Finch came to mind too. There are vocals, but they are sparse. Trumpet, sax, flute, organ, and guitar are the solo instruments. And it rocks with a capital R. This is a good one, that's now receiving its just notoriety.

Personal collection
CD: 2017 Belle Antique (Japan)

The CD is housed in a single sleeve mini-LP. Originals are extremely obscure and it is in reality a demo pressed in a quantity of 50 without a cover. A cover therefore has been appended in modern times (via the Poor House Record shop and subsequent bootleg), and this is what the official CD issue used as well.

Yajuh Ohkoku - Live. 1997 Japan

Yajyu Ohkoku - often times stylized as Yajuh-Ohkoku, in kanji 野獣王国, literally translates to Beast Kingdom, or colloquially Animal Kingdom - are a hard hitting fusion band from Japan. Unusual in that they debuted with a 2 CD live set. So this is nearly 100 minutes of instrumental jazz fusion, which is a monthly dose for moi. The style is 1990s digital all the way, so for those looking for 1970's raw wah wah guitars, fuzzed out Rhodes, or Hammond organ, you'll have to look elsewhere. This is Yahama land and pig squeal guitar all the way. Still, for what they set out to accomplish, Yajyu Ohkoku does an admirable job at doing such. If you're a fan of the Japanese fusion scene of Side Steps, Prism, Fragile, and Exhivision, then "Beast Kingdom" is well worth seeking out. The band continued on to release 6 more studio albums, each more obscure than the last.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Clinck

The CD is stored in a double mini-LP gatefold. My copy is part of a 4 title box set called J-Fusion Masterpiece Collectors' Box that includes the 2 Keep albums + the Hiroshi Mirukami & Dancing Sphinx album. I bought it for the Keep albums, and like the name itself, I'm keeping all of these for those 2.

Joe O'Donnell - Gaodhal's Vision. 1977 Ireland

Joe O'Donnell's debut is a much unheralded album, but it's quite good. All instrumental fusion driven by O'Donnell's electric violin. There are smokin' parts offset by what could be best described as cinematic atmospheric pieces. Best tracks for my tastes include 'The Exodus', 'The Battle and Retreat Underground', 'The Fair', and 'The Great Banqueting Hall'. One of Ireland's best albums.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Polydor (Ireland/Germany)

There are a few LP pressings of this album. The Irish presses are all housed in German gatefolds strange as it may seem, and that's what I'm keeping. The UK press is a single sleeve. There's also a German pressing as well, which I will be selling shortly. There also exists an obscure CD reissue released by Rory Gallagher's Capo label in 2004.

Melody - Yesterlife. 1977 France

Don't overlook this one! Or rather - don't judge a book by its cover. Given the 1977 date, the band decided on - or were forced - to use the rather atrocious looking Earth & Fire styled disco album cover. But in the end, Yesterlife is a far more professional album than their debut Come Fly With Me, in both composition and production. There's a high level of sophistication beneath the gloss. In fact some of the songs are re-recordings of tracks from said debut. Sure it's mitigated somewhat by the ambition of its producers, but the end result predicted the best aspects of the upcoming neo prog movement. Recently I visited the superb Edge - Suction 8 album from my collection, and Yesterlife recalls that fine album many times over. Woody bass, complex rhythms, loud fuzzy guitar leads, Mini-Moog lines, and powerful female vocals.

Unbelievably - for those that already know the Tapioca mispress of Come Fly With Me - which contains half of the avant-garde Mahogany Brain album, would you believe that Vogue switched the first two tracks on this album? Yea, 'Welcome to Wonderland' is the opening track. Jeez, these guys got the same breaks as those trying to leave Gilligan's Island...

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Vogue

Comes in a fine gatefold despite the otherwise mundane typical era cover. The older tracks that have been re-recorded include: 'Merry-Go-Round', 'Run Faster', and 'Yesterlife'.

Quiet Sun - Mainstream. 1975 England

Quiet Sun's sole album is about as good as it gets when melding the tuneful Canterbury style with that of a ferocious jazz rock band. Love those thick fat analog fuzz tones throughout! The title seems to come from the rejection of the album by multiple record companies who were more interested in obtaining a hit record. Though it appears the A&R gentleman from Warner Bros quite liked the sound and was at least interesting in hearing them live. Island, on the other hand, trashed the sound so. And that's the label it ended up on. So go figure...

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Arcangelo (Japan)

The above mini-LP is basically the exact same as the Expresion reissue (Manzanera's own label) with similar liner notes and exact sound. The only difference is the better packaging of course.

Medina Azahara - s/t. 1979 Spain

One of the 3 pillars of the Rock Andaluz scene of the mid to late 1970's, Medina Azahara's debut is filled with the energy of southern Spain. Great fuzzy tones and an urgency similar to Mezquita, and the passionate Arabian vocals recall Triana at their very best. 'Hacia' Ti' is the 5 star highlight, but 'En la Manana' and the closing two tracks are in the running. A brilliant album throughout.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 CBS
CD: 1994 CBS/Sony

The gatefold LP cover is just as gorgeous as the music itself, and is a fixture on my "wall of albums". The CD is nothing special but gets the job done, and is taken from the masters.

Sensations' Fix - Portable Madness. 1974 Italy

And here we have... the single greatest space rock album of all time!

No small claim that. Not an irreverent throw out to grab one's attention. Not an epiphany on the 4th beer. No - this is pretty much where I've stood for the 26 years I've owned the album. Last night it comes up again, and reminds me that it is, indeed, the single greatest space rock album of all time. Of course, not everyone will agree with that, and probably the it's overrated crowd will be along here any minute...

Twisty, turny, kinetic, psychedelic, jumpy, murky, primordial, psychotic, and melodic are just a few adjectives that come to mind here. The opening two numbers are great enough, but once 'Phase One and Phase Two' starts spinning in multiple directions, you are sucked into the vortex of another world and dimension. If this doesn't happen to you, then stop surfing the net, watching TV, texting on Facebook with a Russian hooker, or vacuuming the rug. Start from the beginning and pay close attention. OK you there now? Good, so now by the time you get to 'Pasty Day Resistance', you have reached what I consider the single greatest space rock track of all time. There's more twists and turns on this 5 and half minute track then I've heard on full double albums. 'Leave My Chemistry Alone' will finally polish you off, and presumably you're in a cold sweat by now. The album closes with two relatively sane compositions, and tries to return you to Earth, but doesn't quite get there. You are lost forever.

The fuzzy photograph on the front cover, taken in the same spirit as Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, tells you all you need to know about its provenance. This can't be Italian - nor German as it may seem - but something from another galaxy.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Polydor
CD: 2009 Universal (as part of Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 1 - The Universal Music Collection)

According to my database, I bought this in 1991, which would have been a bit late for an album such as this. But I do remember the circumstances. It was not one I could find locally, though I had found the other albums already by them. And then every time a mail order dealer had it, I was always too late and it would be gone. Once I procured it, and put it on the turntable, it blew my mind. And still does, a full 26 years later. It never fails.

As for reissues, the album has been poorly served in the marketplace. The only CD reissue is part of the box set above. It's not the best transfer either. However, on this listen I heard the CD first, and then pulled out the LP for a second listen. Truth is, it's not a great recording, but that's part of its charm I think.

It appears the rights are tied up with the label, and Falsini has gone about releasing alternate recordings of Sensations' Fix work - which is known as Music is Painting in the Air, which is worth seeking out too.

Temple of the Smoke - The Lost Art of Twilight. 2013 Serbia

Temple of the Smoke are a four piece psychedelic spacerock band from Serbia. The country itself has spawned perhaps one of the greatest progressive psych bands of our time in Igra Staklenih Perli. Well, Temple of the Smoke certainly won't remind you of the great ISP, but they are carving out their own niche in the genre that is just as exciting. It's rare to hear a band that mixes early 80's Tangerine Dream sequencer based Berlin School electronic with modern day slabs of riffing metal, ala classic Kyuss or Colour Haze complete with lengthy psychedelic blues guitar solos tagged to the end. There's some Ozric Tentacles reggae inspired space rock bits mixed in. Elsewhere, long tracks driven by woody bass, steady drums, and soaring synthesizer solos. Late 70s Eloy meets an instrumental Manilla Road? Wow - that's a comparison that'll have me mailing in a check for a copy as fast as possible! Am I exaggerating? I don't think I am.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Cosmic Eye (Greece)

Last listen: May 31, 2013

Hokr - Zahřáté Brzdy Optimismu. 2012 Czech Republic

It's been 8 years since Hokr's last album, and in between they released an album under the name Poco Loco. Zahřáté brzdy optimismu is closer in sound to Poco Loco than the last Hokr. The vocals have an anguished guttural quality similar to Peter Hammill (except sung in Czech), and the dense complex compositions recall the early 70s albums by Van der Graaf Generator. Sax, fuzz bass, and amplified organ lead the instrumental side of the band. This a fairly unique album overall. Perhaps only Garden Wall of Italy has a similar compositional style. Remove the metal guitars and add sax, and you have about the closest cousin you can spot. And they are distant cousins. Very distant. Highly recommended for the adventurous progressive rock listener.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Ears & Wind

Last listen: May 18, 2013

Hokr - Hokrova Vila. 2004 Czech Republic

At its core, Hokr are an organ based trio (whose history goes back as far as 1981) that seems to be the spiritual successor to Collegium Musicum, but put through the Elephant9 hyper amplified grinder. Additional guests on cello, tenor sax, and guitar augment their sound greatly. Though primarily an instrumental album, the Czech vocals are delivered in an impassioned narrative like a cross between Pholas Dactylus, Devil Doll, and Deus Ex Machina (at the higher registers). The cello gives them a slight Anekdoten feel. This is the best album from the Czech Republic since the heyday of The MCH Band, who they share some similarities with especially on the tracks with sax (minus the guitar of MCH of course). 'Mouse in a Trance' is a certified monster quality track! Hokr evolved into the also creative Poco Loco, a group I need to spend more time with obviously. Don't miss this one!

Personal collection
CD: 2011 private

This album was originally released as a CD-R and reissued in 2011 as a proper CD.

Last listen: April 28, 2011

Setna - Guérison. 2013 France

For my tastes, I feel Guérison is a definite improvement on their debut, though the band still needs to take off the leash a bit. The introduction of Ratledge-styled organ, and fuzz bass, gives the band a cool Canterbury edge. Setna are definitely more of a Zeuhl band now rather than an atmospheric jazz ensemble with Magma trimmings. But they still seem to lay back all too much. Sure would like to see Setna go all-in like Corima or Koenji Hyakkei - at least on occasion. All that emotional build up needs an epic climax... a release of anger.  

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Soleil Zeuhl

Last listen: May 8, 2013

Setna - Cycle I. 2007 France

If Zeuhl is the genre tag that must be applied, then it's Zeuhl in the same way Offering is rather than Magma. Cycle I is primarily an atmospheric jazz release with soft chanting female vocals. Electric piano, synthesizer, and saxophone are the other primary instruments of choice. Those coming to this looking for ripping Paganotti/Top-styled bass and insane martial Vander-like drumming, will surely come away disappointed. Certainly Setna sit towards the Magma side of Offering (especially as the disc spins on, and the last track features some fine Mahavishnu styled guitar from guest James McGaw), but still the metaphor holds. Ambient jazz Zeuhl.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Soleil Zeuhl

Last listen: May 15, 2013


ARC - Umbra. 2014 England

Umbra is the latest ARC album, this one also a live recording - coming from the E-Live festival in The Netherlands on the date of October 19, 2013. Again we are treated to a CD packed to the very brim at 78+ minutes of sequencer filled goodness. While ARC have been known to surprise in the studio - such as the drummer fueled Blaze or the moody Fracture - in a live setting they are all about letting the sequencers blast away, while adding all sorts of textures, melody lines, and synthesizer solos on top. At this point in their career, Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve know exactly what their audience wants, and how to make it happen. And so Umbra goes, with some of the fattest and most dynamic Moog Modular sequences in the business, while setting the table for the various synthesized sounds layered as icing on the cake (including faux choir Mellotron). Berlin School music at its most professional. Some music never goes out of style, and this is one of them. Can't miss item here for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 DiN

Last listen: August 31, 2014

ARC - Church. 2010 England

Church was recorded live on November 14, 2009 at Old St. Mary's Church in Philadelphia. Hence the title. You can pretty much presume how this album came about. Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy arrive in Philadelphia and setup their massive equipment, including the Big Moog (mostly donated by local musicians for the cause - it would seem a bit cumbersome to put a large Moog in the airplane's overhead bins wouldn't it?). They then ask the concert organizer Chuck van Zyl (an accomplished and respected electronic musician in his own right) what they should play. "Oh, whatever you want, I wouldn't dare suggest..." "Well, what would your audience prefer then you guess?" "Well, you know, probably the sequencer oriented material" "Yes, the sequencer stuff. Right. Of course." So if Fracture was ARC's most outside-the-lines album, then Church is smack dab in the middle of the field, giving the title a double metaphor to work with - if one sees a church as traditional that is. So what you get is two long-time masters at the art of the synthesizer, performing 74+ minutes of Berlin School sequencer driven electronic music, played in a church built in 1763. Not sure one could draft a better idea if they tried. Immaculate.

Personal collection
CD: 2010 DiN

Last listen: August 30, 2014

ARC - Fracture. 2007 England

Perhaps ARC should have named Fracture something like "Departure" instead (and, as luck would have it, the second track is titled 'Departed'). As other reviewers have noted, this ARC album is indeed quite a bit different from its predecessors. The music can be defined as haunting and atmospheric - darkly shaded - with copious amounts of throbbing deep-bass Moog 'beats' (for a lack of a better term). This isn't a classic Berlin School sequencer fest, though one can hardly blame Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve for trying something a bit different. Shreeve in particular has already proven himself as the king of the Modular Moog sequences with his group Redshift. Perhaps they feel at times an obligation to do nothing but shredding sequencers and synthesizer solos, but then the music is no longer fun when it becomes a job, right? The music on "Fracture" could easily be background music at a hipster club in Brooklyn or San Francisco. The final track 'Rapture' does finally get down to some serious sequencer business, but only after ten minutes of creepy atmospherics - Sigillum S style (and it closes in a similar manner). I appreciate the effort here to be distinctive, but it remains my least favorite ARC album to date (2014). I know, I know - some people never really evolve. I write that as my knuckles scrape the ground...

Personal collection
CD: 2007 DiN

Last listen: August 29, 2014

ARC - Arcturus. 2005 England

Arcturus is ARC's 4th album, and represents their live concert as performed at the Hampshire Jam 3 festival on October 23, 2004. They're back to a duo, with an impressive array of analog synthesizers, most notably Mark Shreeve's big ole honkin' Moog Modular. Ian Boddy brings along most of the more modern equipment to make it much easier to accomplish what they need to accomplish. On Arcturus, ARC are square-on mid 1970s Tangerine Dream style. If you're the type who can't be fed enough of Phaedra and Rubycon - and apparently I would fit in this category - then Arcturus is going to satisfy your hunger. Incredible sequences provide the foundation for the layered atmospheric synthesizers that sound like Mellotron, echoed Rhodes piano, and sundry other vintage sounds (many of which are sampled, but honestly, the effect is the same). And nobody does the throbbing fat sequences of the "Big" Moog like Mark Shreeve. He's second to none in that field for the modern era.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 DiN

Last listen: August 28, 2014

ARC - Blaze. 2003 England

Blaze, ARC's 3rd album starts with Rhodes piano and... could it be? Yes, a real drummer (provided by Carl Brooker). It seems the duo of ARC are paying homage to the late 70s pioneers who mixed their Berlin School electronics with real drums ala Klaus Krueger (Tangerine Dream/Edgar Froese) and Harold Grosskopf (Klaus Schulze/Ashra). Sequencers and Mellotron follow, and yee-haw, we're in Force Majeure territory in mere seconds. Half the tracks are sans drums, and all of these are atmospheric and pulsating, somewhat similar to the first half of Radio Sputnik. These tracks setup the more dynamic and rhythmic drum plus sequencer compositions that are devastating when presented in this manner. In particular 'Klangwand' and 'Pulse Train' deliver a powerful collection of analog synthesizers along with driving percussion. Another essential album from ARC.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 DiN

Last listen: August 27, 2014

ARC - Radio Sputnik. 2000 England

ARC's second album, Radio Sputnik, is a live outing from the Alfa Centauri Festival in The Netherlands (recorded March 21, 1998). It is also their debut release on Ian Boddy's own DiN label. The concert features, as one would expect, songs from their first studio album Octane including 'Steam', 'Who Walks Behind You', 'Octane', and 'Relay'. Only 'Turn and Face Me' from the debut is omitted, but they add four other tracks including their landmark 'Arc-Angel' track.

ARC's music continues to be squarely in the electronic Berlin School tradition. No surprise there given that Mark Shreeve heads up what I consider one of the finest bands in the style with Redshift. The first half of Radio Sputnik is more atmospheric with pulsating sequences, while the latter half is more heavily geared towards the classic Redshift sound. 
The concert is entirely improvised, so there are many shifts and changes throughout each composition – not just the usual static monotone sequences. 'Arc-Angel' is one of their finest pieces ever, with incredible rapid fire sequencing all over, and choral mellotron layered on top which creates an extraordinary listening experience. Closing with 'Relay', arguably the finest track on Octane, puts this album in the indispensable category. 

Personal collection
CD: 2000 DiN

Last listen: August 26, 2014

ARC - Octane. 1998 England

The ARC legacy starts with Octane, the debut studio album from this fruitful Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve collaboration. This is an album for those who like the classic Berlin School scene similar to other like-minded bands such as AirSculpture, Radio Massacre International, and Redshift (a band, incidentally, which Shreeve leads). Heavy on the analog keyboards, especially sequencers, and mellotron (sampled according to Planet Mellotron). The best tracks are, not surprisingly, the more heavily sequenced ones - and those would be the title track and 'Relay'.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Something Else

Last listen: August 25, 2014


Relayer - s/t. 1979 USA

Relayer were a band from Houston*, who managed to release one album before disappearing into the mists of time. With a name like Relayer and a colorful rainbow fantasy cover, one can expect 'Gates of Delirium Part Deux' eh Oui? Non. Because they are from my home state of Texas, this private press wasn't too obscure up north here in DFW and I first heard this album some 25 years ago and quickly dismissed it as rubbish. During that time, I've gained an entirely new appreciation for the private press American music landscape of the 1970s that I've documented to death here on these very pages. And Relayer fits smack dab in the middle of that sound.

The album itself is interesting, because it almost plays like an archival CD issue, verse a real time released LP. And that's because they front loaded all the progressive rock tracks on Side 1. So the first side rounds up the usual suspects like Yes and ELP, with a hint of Styx's Grand Illusion, for a very satisfying listen. Side 2 treads in commercial waters, more towards Styx's Pieces of Eight, with a bit of loungy fusion to boot. Overall, I'd weight it 55% AOR and 45% prog rock, so for those who have no tolerance for late 70s American FM radio rock, I'd steer clear. This is a very good album for the style, and one that I'm glad to have bought for the collection.

*Though the band named one song with nearby Victoria in the name, they are documented as being from Houston (internet search confirms), and that's what I recall from the early 90s as well.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 HSR

Supposedly this album was reissued by the band on CD. It has all the earmarks of a CD-R homemade type release. I could be wrong, as I haven't seen it, but just based on what I've read. Not listed in Discogs as I type this either. So it goes onto the CDRWL.

Ruphus - Flying Colours. 1978 Norway

When I buy albums like Flying Colours, I'm not expecting a wall to wall classic, but rather I'm looking for at least one or 2 strong compositions to make it worthwhile. And that's just what I received with Ruphus' 5th effort. The title track and 'The Rivulet' are both very pretty numbers, with a good groove, and fine melodies. The female vocals are very pleasant in this context. Both these tracks reminded me most of the debut by the Canadian band Contraction, of all albums. 'Joy' is a powerful fusion track with great use of clavinet, and represents the 3rd really great song here. 'Frysja' goes to Ruphus' Norwegian roots, and recalls what bands like Kebnekaise were doing over in Sweden. Unfortunately the opener 'Foodlovers' Diet' is very off-putting, where the vocals are strained, and the music is somewhat irritating to be honest. So best to start with 'Frysja' and enjoy the soft moods and warm afternoon. Overall a fine effort from Ruphus, who managed to tap into the best characteristics of the late 1970s funk fusion fad.

Personal collection
LP: 1978 Brain (Germany)

Niagara - S.U.B. 1972 Germany

Niagara were founded by drummer and percussionist Klaus Weiss, who also happened to be the leader of the fine jazz rock group known as Sunbirds. Niagara released three albums in the early to mid 70s, the first which is entirely percussive. Their second album S.U.B. is a jamming rock fusion session with an all star cast including Daniel Fichelscher (Popol Vuh), Kristian Schultze (Passport, and leader of the The Bridge / Recreation album), and Udo Lindenberg among a handful of others. The presence of trumpet and the bass heavy percussive driven sound reminds me of early 70's Miles Davis, especially on the opening title track. Compositions such as 'Niagara' and 'Gibli' are similar to their debut, in that they are primarily percussion ensembles. 'Kikiriti' is the highlight for me, with an abundance of flute, and recalls Weiss' other outfit Sunbirds, especially on their own debut.

Personal collection
LP: 2016 PMG Audio (Austria)

The above represents the only standalone legit reissue for this album. There is a 2 (& 3) CD / 3 album comp as well from Made in Germany. But for my tastes, S.U.B. is the only album worthy of ownership.

Taipuva Luotisuora - 8. 2013 Finland

8 starts off like a space rock version of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', before settling down into their usual cosmic groove. The guitars are noticeably heavier than prior, and they seem to be circling the post rock genre a bit more closely than before. Faux organ sounds are never a bad idea, and nice to see Taipuva Luotisuora applying both that and the rare guitar solo back in the mix. Overall, 8 may be their most straightforward disc to date. I for one would like to see them reach back to their debut for some inspiration on future works. This is the first album where I feel they have stopped innovating. Too comfortable. But it's still excellent!

It appears the bands naming convention is 2 to the (x-1) power where x is the actual release number (not counting the demo of course). We'll see if that holds up. If so, the next album will be either 16 or XVI.

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Kaakao

Last listen: March 26, 2013

Taipuva Luotisuora - IV. 2009 Finland

Seems that many new bands are attracted to the post rock sound, and Taipuva Luotisuora are no exception. Now normally I'd associate the moniker with the "dull" adjective, but in the hands of the almighty Taipuva Luotisuora, they take the lethargic yet melodic approach and add quite a bit of complexity to the proceedings. There's also a big sweeping sound that gives IV a cinematic quality rarely heard in digital form. Analog 70s styled Moog synthesizers provide many of the solos, adding a much needed warmth to the overall sound. Copious use of tuned and hand percussion is another plus. Fortunately Taipuva Luotisuora have foregone the vocals (excepting some wonderful atmospheric wordless voice), though it also appears that they've ventured away from pyrotechnic guitar solos as well, which is missed. And the indigenous kantele is never too far away. IV is a step forward for the band.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Kaakao

Last listen: 2013

Taipuva Luotisuora - II. 2006 Finland

After being completely blown away by their debut, I rushed out to buy the followup which had just been released at the time I’d discovered the debut. Some noticeable changes have taken place in the short year since. The guitars are slightly heavier, not quite metal, but a distinct modern hard rock crunch is present. There are now vocals, which could be a great addition for a band like Taipuva, but I felt they’re executed all wrong for the exotic music at hand. First the lyrics are in English, rather than the more interesting and non Indo-European Finnish. Worse, they’re delivered with the whiny American indie style that seems will never go away (sigh). Perhaps a more mysterious approach to the vocals (female, echoed, whispered) would be far more interesting for the music that Taipuva play. The instrumentation seems stripped down a bit (though the liner notes still call out the kantele, violin, Hohner Melodica, and woodwinds). Also, not near enough of the Hidria Spacefolk, Korai Orom sound as prior – though as a plus I do hear some of the much missed Dutch group Kong. And finally, the modern electronica sounds of the debut are even more in use here, most notably on ‘Uotila’ and ‘Unaja Infinite Laser’. Now this latter point actually demonstrates some progress for the band. Like a good movie director would employ, the special effects are used to enhance, not overwhelm the proceedings. I don’t want to overplay the negative here with the vocals, as "Viking Zulu" does possess a good voice, and there are only 4 tracks where they are utilized, out of 9 total. In some ways, all the tracks (including those with vocals) are more complex than even the first album, which is outstanding to see. Still, the Taipuva Luotisuora tribe" that the music created for my imagination is missing here. So probably this album is the one that is favored by the majority, but I found it more typical of the underground scene. I miss the exotic nature of the debut. Not wanting to send the wrong message here – this is still a fantastic album, just a bit disappointed that it seems to be a step towards the middle.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Kaakao

Last listen: November 2006

Taipuva Luotisuora - I. 2005 Finland

Deep in the dark forests of Finlandia, where lurks the mysterious Hidria Spacefolk, hushed whispers abound of another pagan tribe nearby known as Taipuva Luotisuora. On one dark misty night we ventured carefully over, and while peeking through the leaves, we listened to the tribe perform their magical brew. A small, furry group, only numbering five, armed with guitar (electric and acoustic), bass (fuzz), drums, percussion, synthesizers galore (some even fuzzed like the Farfisa’s of previous civilizations), piano, violin, flute, and even kantele (a Finnish zither like instrument). They played with a strong sense of the groove, with gorgeous melodies. They are sometimes quiet, sometimes intense. Always mesmerizing. Sometimes they’d even use modern percussion. In fact this infatuation with modern electronica reminded us of that distant tribe from the land of Hungaria known as Korai Orom. Sometimes we even thought of the ancients like the Ozric Tentacles people. For as much as we tried to walk away and head home, we were entranced, no one could stop their endless stare. We hadn’t felt this way, well, since the last time we visited the Hidria Spacefolk. When it was finished, we looked at each other and thought, Taipuva Luotisuora are the best new tribe we’d visited in years. We raced home to tell what we had saw, but no one knew who we spoke of. Go to the mountaintops and yell ‘Music For Kortela Space Hood Elevators’ we said. And o’er the land, our people were wiser and filled with joy.

On this album, Taipuva Luotisuora proved they are absolutely one of the best bands in the Ozric Tentacles genre. Perhaps second only to Hidria Spacefolk.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Kaakao

Last listen: 2008

Oxhuitza - s/t. 2013 Italy

So we have a strange one here. If you read the advert for the band, you'd think Oxhuitza were a pure retro 1970s Italian progressive rock play. But this is two separate bands playing together. On the one hand you have the guitarist laying down chords in a pseudo metal style that was popular in the 90s. And the plodding fat rhythms could have backed up Dio in his prime. Then there's the two keyboard players, who seem completely oblivious to modern times. Each are playing away on a bank of Moogs, Mellotron, Hammond organ, and acoustic piano in the grand tradition of the 70's Italian masters. Meanwhile the bass player straddles both genres with his decidedly retro flute playing. I suppose the keyboards are truly the focus here, so it definitely appeals more to my tastes. But one does wish for Furio Chirico (Arti + Mestieri's drummer) and Danilo Rustici (Osanna's guitarist) to walk in and lay the place to waste, for something truly extraordinary. Maybe next time?

Personal collection
CD: 2013 Mirror

Last listen: May 7, 2013

Mantric Muse - s/t. 2012 Denmark

Mantric Muse are a band from Denmark that have been around for nearly 20 years, and have received many great write-ups for their fiery club concerts in Scandinavia. But the band never officially released anything (beyond some archival live stuff on CD-R), and it seemed this tree would produce no fruit. Mantric Muse proceeded to become the root system for Oresund Space Collective, which dimmed hopes further for a studio outing. OSC, ironically, have been incredibly productive since 2005. While OSC tend to be more sprawling, improvisational, and more in line with traditional space rock - Mantric Muse are a much tighter outfit. This is bread and butter Hillage-era  Gong styled progressive rock. For fans of early Ozric Tentacles and Quantum Fantay, this a no-brainer pick up. Always great to hear new inspiration applied to an already excellent formula. 7 minute 'Azur' has to be heard to be believed. A breathless track with many twists, turns, spins, swoons, and just an overall dizzying track of immense proportion. Don't miss this gem.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Transubstans (Sweden)

Last listen: May 7, 2013

Necronomicon - Haifische. 2012 Germany


Now this is how you do a reunion album! Essentially Necronomicon reformed and newly recorded previously composed tracks from the early 1970s. These compositions were never properly recorded, so the band reformed last year to finish the job. What's most interesting to me is that this sounds exactly like a well recorded album from 1973. There isn't a hint that this is a modern recording. The instrumentation, the production, and the songcraft all point to 40 years earlier. And, best of all, the four lengthy tracks presented here are better than their 1972 album proper! Much more progressively minded, with plenty of space for instrumental improvisation. As with their "Tips For Suicide" album, all the lyrics are sung in German. Perhaps the only downfall is the 13 minute 'Wenn die Menschen Tiere Wären' which is a tad too wordy for my tastes, but that's just a personal grump. But otherwise, Necronomicon's comeback is superb! And I hope they don't stop here. I wish all reunions would use this as a blueprint for how to restart a career (or hobby as it should be known).

Personal collection
LP+CD: 2012 private

And now let's talk about the packaging, which is nothing short of magnificent. It is an exact duplicate of the multi foldout Tips zum Selbstmord - but this time it's white on black (see above photos). As well, the LP comes with a free CD to take along for the car ride. If you're an LP collector, this is the kind of album you dream about.

Last listen: March 3, 2013

Walrus - s/t. 2013 Sweden

Exciting new album from Sweden that mixes retro progressive with classic Krautrock sounds. Opening track 'Tromso III' gets the motorik running with a steady beat and analog keyboards layered on top. The real party begins with 'Signals', a haunting organ and violin led piece. Heavy bass and drums propel the track forward in an exciting way. Bleeping synthesizers are dropped on top to create a truly psychedelic atmosphere. But it's the 14 minute 'Spitsbergen' that really places Walrus in the big leagues. Starting out in Ohr music territory, with a decidedly funereal backdrop of organ, synthesizers, bass and plodding drums - the composition suddenly comes alive with an insane and massive fuzz bass attack followed by swirling organ and mellotron . If you don't fly off your couch and put a fist through the wall, then you are... ... legally dead. Very few bands ever capture a perfect moment like that. What a stunning song.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Electricity
CD: 2013 Electricity

The Electricity label is a new project from the same folks behind Kommun 2. They are really going for a retro look (think 1968). The LP features wonderful  artwork, and is of high quality. The only bummer is they decided to not go with a gatefold on this one.

Last listen: April 9, 2013

Kama Loka - s/t. 2013 Sweden

Starting with a droning minor key cello, Kama Loka immediately evokes the sounds of classic Algarnas Tradgard. The violin, Hammond organ, flute, sax, and Swedish vocals only enhance the comparison. Eventually some psychedelic guitar enters in, and the music moves closer to classic Flasket Brinner. Kama Loka is a project made up from the fine folks who brought us the Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting albums. For those who love the early 1970's Swedish psychedelic progressive scene, like myself, then this album is a no-brainer pickup.

Personal collection
LP: 2013 Kommun 2
CD: 2013 Transubstans

The LP comes in a wonderful thick and heavy lavish super-sized gatefold sleeve.

Last listen: April 9, 2013

Kharmina Buranna - Seres Humanos. 2012 Peru

Seres Humanos continues in the same path, though they aren't as pointedly retro, and their sound has been updated ever so slightly. While the analog keyboards and production are still in full force, the composition style reminds me of the best bands of the early 90s. Gone is the blues rock, and in its place is a more stately sound with added female vocals. I hear a cross between Quaterna Requiem with Solstice in many places (though there is no violin). I found their new album no less enjoyable than the debut, despite a conscious move away from the early 70s style. The compositions are multi threaded and consistently engaging. Kharmina Buranna has certainly put forth a strong argument that they may be the best pure symphonic progressive rock band from South America today.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Azafran (Mexico)

Last listen: February 18, 2013

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...