Haze - C'est la Vie. 1984 England

Haze were one of the more known names from the initial New Wave of British Progressive Rock bands that emerged in the early 80s. They were often mentioned in the same breath with IQ, Marillion, Twelfth Night, and Pallas. Armed with this knowledge, when I arrived in London in the summer of 1984, it was my every intention to come home with their first full length LP C'est la Vie. But it was one I could not find anywhere, and the band's hazy moniker represented my own memory of them. C'est la vie indeed.

Fast forward to 1992, now touring my own country, and we're in Greensboro, North Carolina visiting a record store (as if I'd be doing anything else...). And there (of all places), staring me right back, was the ever elusive Haze album, with its unique blue vinyl cover design. It was there, I was there, and it was $2. Mine. Finally. Eventually arrived back home, played it probably twice, filed it.... and haven't heard it since...

...Since today, 24 years later. The vinyl still has its comfy spot in the collection, but now the CD just walked in the door. Time for a serious headphones listen.

To be honest, I was almost afraid to listen to it. I figured perhaps my quest had added a point or two to the overall rating, in my often fits of nostalgia. The good news is, I enjoyed it more now than I remember. The album very much reminds me of the cassette tape culture that was prominent at the time. So yes it's true, the production quality is lacking, and the performance is amateurish. The band weren't ready for prime time, and yet that's where its charm lies. In addition, Haze weren't your typical Genesis/Yes fixated neo prog outfit, but rather they represented a variety of English bands - anywhere from Iron Maiden to Duran Duran to Van der Graaf Generator. No, they weren't metal or synth pop in the slightest, but the songwriting was reflective. The other major influence that emerges obvious is that of Rush, which gives the band the surge of energy they most certainly needed.

The CD decided to reverse the sides of the LP, so the first track you hear is 'Mirage'. This composition goes back to 1979, 4 years before anything else on the album, and demonstrates that Haze started out far more progressive minded than they ended up. The other standout track is the now-closer 'The Load' which is where VDGG becomes the lead influence. In between are subtle prog tracks, a ballad, a bit of hard rock, and just general no-budget-but-cool sounding 1984 rock.

The liner notes inform us that the song, and record label, Gabadon comes from a translated form of the license plate of a Land Rover the band usurped from a friend to help with touring.

With history now in place, Haze were an early dropout in the neo prog sweepstakes. They were quick to move away from progressive rock, and made their stab at more commercial offerings. A typical failed strategy. The band has reemerged for one last recording, but I have yet to hear it as I write this.

Personal collection
LP: 1984 Gabadon
CD: 1996 Cyclops w/The Ember EP

Last listen: August 9, 2016

Amon Duul II - Carnival in Babylon. 1972 Germany

I have a friend on RYM that declares: "Sorry, but if you don't like this album, you're stupid". That got a belly laugh out of me. Now maybe I wouldn't have phrased it quite the same way, but nonetheless, there is something to be said for the premise. In effect, Carnival in Babylon sees Amon Duul II go from a stoned Krautrock long form jamming band into thoughtful progressive rock songwriters. Truth be told, the short songs on the first 3 opus' were mere afterthoughts, and seemed to get in the way of what they did best. There is still some evidence of their past that creeps up here and there, in particular 'Hawknose Harlequin', but otherwise this album is far more subtle in its brilliance. In fact when I first heard the LP in the mid 80s - after already owning the first 3 - I was sorely disappointed. It wasn't until years later, that I took the time to understand they were no longer the same beast of the past. 30+ years on, and I'm now of the mindset that Carnival in Babylon is almost on the same level as Tanz der Lemminge, something I would have scoffed at years ago. Special mention should go to guitarists' Weinzierl and Karrer, who both put in exemplary performances for this session.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 United Artists
CD: 2007 Revisited/SPV

The original album was released around the world, including the United States (which was my first copy). Because of the large amount of supply, I don't think this title requires an LP reissue. Eventually I secured an original German LP and that was my only copy for years, not bothering to get it on CD until the 2007 release. The latter comes with a fine history and is housed in a nice digi-pak . However there are 2 lengthy bonus tracks to consider, both modern, that are not attributed anywhere. I found these tracks far more interesting than what Amon Duul II has been releasing in modern times, and it shows the band could have continued in a relevant manner past the 70s.

Last listen: December 3, 2016

Ash Ra Tempel - s/t. 1971 Germany

When you go around with a moniker like ashratom*, then presumably this is an album I'm going to enjoy. Yea, you could say that. Without hesitation, I would claim that Ash Ra Tempel's debut is in my Top 10 of all time. This is just an album that speaks to me. I can understand why some folks scoff at the album, but for me, it puts me right in the middle of 1971 Germany. I feel like I'm actually there! I was all of 6 years old when this album was released, and my first trip to Berlin came about not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. And yet it transports me back to that time and place. At least as my imagination would have it. With that backdrop, here is the review I penned for Gnosis in 2001, almost 16 years to the day. I've altered some of the wording, but for the most part, I see no reason to rewrite it at this point.

Germany. 1971. Underground. Those three terms evoke images of the Berlin Wall, intensity, angst, freedom.

Very rarely is a moment so well captured just through music. Yet this is just what happened on Ash Ra Tempel's self-titled debut. The opening piece 'Amboss' (Anvil), is one for the ages. Starting with dark sounds that seem like shadows, created only with primitive electronics and guitar, the piece seems on the verge of falling into a black abyss to never return. Slowly the tension builds to a deafening crescendo, and without warning, Klaus Schulze begins his definitive piledriver drumming pattern. What could be possibly more intense and more chaotic? The listener is pounded into submission. Only to be equally mutilated by Göttsching's furious jamming, certainly the most intense, psychedelic, heavy guitar ever recorded. After a few minutes of this sort of violent cosmic blues jamming, there is a sequence of free-jazz drumming and electric guitar polka-dots that just burst into another firestorm, and along comes Schulze even more furious than before with Göttsching and Enke trying to subdue the entire German nation with their blistering guitar work. The Berlin Wall must fall! It doesn't - but certainly the musicians must have. One gets exhausted just listening to it! This 19 minute opus is followed by the exquisite 25 minute 'Traummaschine' (Dream Machine). Again, the mood is somber but slowly the sound gets louder. The band manages to achieve an electronic cadence while the guitars and electronics swirl. Hand percussion enters in and Göttsching turns up the fuzz for another biting solo. There is a period of rest and again the rollercoaster begins for yet one more jam. To this day, there has never been an album of music that sustained this kind of intensity for 40 minutes. How they were able to so without a moment of wasted time is a testament to the brilliance of one of the greatest albums of all time.

Personal collection
LP: 1971 Ohr (556 label)
CD: 2004 Arcangelo (Japan)

This album had been my Holy Grail for about 3 to 4 years. I first discovered Ashra / Ash Ra Tempel back in 1985 from a store called The Record Gallery in Dallas when I was midway through college. I've spoken about this store in the past, and if you click on the Ash Ra Tempel label, you'll find it in one of those entries (and I learned the proprietor Steve Stokes recently passed away in Portland where he had relocated many years ago. He was a very good man who I will never forget). The odd thing about Ash Ra Tempel, is that all of their albums starting with Seven Up (Seven Up for Pete's Sake!) were reissued by Pop Import in the early 1980s. Those are the copies this store had. In Dallas, in 1985, I can assure you no one else did, not even Metamorphosis by then (locals will know what I mean). So with that, finding the first 3 albums became my determined quest. I found the PDU copy of Join Inn in 1987 as I was wrapping up my degree. And scored Schwingungen in early 1988 (I will tell that story when I get around to reviewing that album again). And finally, after years of searching, I scored the PDU version of the debut in late 1988. From the late great Jeff Baker. It was $55. Where the hell did I get $55 for a record? I have no idea. But I did and never regretted a second of it. My first listen was an unforgettable experience. Right around Christmas in fact.

Let's talk about the physical product for a minute. The original comes in an extraordinary fold-out-of-the-middle gimmix cover. There is no difference between the 56 and 556 releases except the catalog number. I've had both, but sold the 56 copy since it wasn't really in great shape. Today I would have kept it anyway as an extra. The PDU version is a single sleeve, without the gimmix. I kind of want it back too just for the memories, but it's not inexpensive. The Spalax releases are cheaply made and not worth the money. There is a convincing bootleg out there that mirrors the original, so watch out! In this day and age where the LP is once again treasured, I find it disappointing no one has bothered to reissue the LP in its original glory (legally that is). I'd buy one just for the heck of it. Gottsching himself owns his own catalog now, so maybe he'll do it right. Though in general he doesn't have too much regard for his early works, which is too bad. The CDs all come from vinyl as I guess the masters are lost or are in bad shape. The Arcangelo CD I own comes in a box set (somewhat cheaply made, unusual for Japan), that opens up to 3 mini-LPs, which also includes Schwingungen and Inventions for Electric Guitar (why not Join Inn? Who knows?). The packaging of the CD itself is outstanding and replicates the original in every way.

* So how did that silly moniker of ashratom come about anyway? I first signed onto the internet on January 1, 1995 via America Online (AOL). I tried numerous handles that were continually rejected as they already existed. Frustrated I jotted down ashratemp, and it took it immediately without validating that's what I wanted! Oh well.... When I started posting on chat boards, folks started calling me ashratom. And it stuck. So there you go.

Last listen: April 2005

KOM Quartet ‎– Jazz-Liisa 4. 1975 Finland (archival)

KOM Quartet's contribution to the Jazz Liisa series is an interesting one. The quartet itself is the musical core of a larger troupe known as KOM-Teatteri, who basically were a politically charged group who mixed theater, music, and commentary. In Sweden the band would have been categorized as progg (with the extra g). In retrospect it's humorous that all of these bands from the 70s seemingly were so radical, and yet 100% of them carried the same leftist political message. What would have been truly nutzo would be to espouse the virtues of capitalism or imperialism. Then they would have been tagged truly radical. Anyway...

So back to KOM Quartet. No, thankfully, none of this recording recalls polit rock in the slightest. What I hear most is the avant wing of the Canterbury movement, most notably early Henry Cow. But at their most accessible. The female vocal and intonation, along with the composition style, all have a similar vibe. Combine that with Jukka Hauru's fiery jazz rock guitar solos, and you have quite an intriguing mix of styles. Quiet Sun's Mainstream is also entering my mind. This may be one of the better surprises from this series, up there with Taivaantemppeli and Taivaanvuohi. Well worth getting on its own or on LP, or even better combined with Jukka Tolonen on CD.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Svart w/Jukka Tolonen Ramblin' Jazz Band

Logos - L'Enigma della Vita. 2014 Italy

Logos are a seasoned band from the northern Italian town of Verona, who bring forth an intriguing mix of progressive rock styles from the past. Those coming to this album hoping for a 70's styled sound, however, will most certainly leave disappointed. Even the supposed "vintage" sounds of the mellotron and organ are emulated, or certainly sound that way.

None of which deters this writer in the slightest. Logos seem more like a band of the 90s, that next generation of exciting Italian groups that blended the classics with a more modern sound. From a composition perspective, Logos certainly do look back further to the golden age.

The first impression you'll hear is one of mid 70's Pink Floyd, that peculiar deliberate and methodical songcraft, mixed with heavy spatial atmospheres. It isn't until 'In Fuga', that Logos demonstrate their Italian heritage (beyond the language of course). And the followup track 'Alla fine dell'ultimo capitolo' is where it becomes apparent that Logos came of age during the 90s. In particular I hear the influence of Consorzio Acqua Potabile coming through here. And the third ingredient is a healthy dose of space rock jamming, which provides that spicy kick to take off the implied rigidness. When Logos mixes their ingredients just right, the results can be divine.

One track that will certainly raise your head from your smart phone is 'In Principio', a title that holds a clue. Indeed there is a noticeable pastoral flavor here, reminding one of - yes - Celeste. Midway through there's a splendid space rock jam, as if Sensations' Fix walked into the studio with a bag of psychedelics. I've never heard anyone mix these two styles so splendidly.

On the other hand, L'enigma della vita can drag on occasion, and the rhythms can often be more perfunctory than creative. Personally I found the vocal style to be very good, perhaps not to the standard that Italian prog often brings forth, but if from any other country, Logos would fly high.

There's an enormous amount of music here to absorb, and given that much of it requires one's full attention, the relistenability factor is high. I was torn between 3.5 and 4.0 here (Gnosis 10/11), but given my predilection for the style, I'm staying with the higher score.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Andromeda Relix

Last listen: December 27, 2016

Happy the Man - s/t. 1977 USA

Happy the Man were a band from Washington DC, by way of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They were just the type of quirky band that found themselves on the progressive oriented Arista label in the mid to late 70s, even though the label owner wasn't really a fan himself. But he was supportive of his staff, and they did have an interest in promoting what essentially was considered an "English thing" in the States. The liner notes of the Esoteric CD indicate that the band have been called the "Grandfathers of progressive rock" in the United States, but that's a ridiculous assertion, and all one needs to do is review this list to prove my point: USA Midwest / Ontario Progressive Rock (1970's/early 80s). Even if one considers major labels, 1977 is late to the game.

With that out of the way, Happy the Man is entirely unique. If nothing else, the placement of tracks is extraordinary. Opener 'Starborne' is about as beautiful and tranquil a song as has ever been put on vinyl. Hardly the blast-out-of-the-gates hyper complex prog song that was even the norm back then. This is then followed by the complex and quirky 'Stumpy Meets the Firecracker in Stencil Forest', yet another instrumental. It's clear at this point, Happy the Man has no commercial potential whatsoever. And yet here they are on a major label, and best I can tell, the album sold relatively well in its day. 'Upon the Rainbow' is the first song that will at least sound familiar, with vocals tacked on at the end of the recordings. Why? Because once again the label owner wanted something to promote beyond an audience that in effect were a small cabal. From here, the blueprint had been drawn, and the other tracks more or less fall into the 3 buckets above. Those who are bellyaching about the vocals, clearly didn't hear the album close, as there's only two tracks total with them in place. Personally I find them quite good considering they were stand-ins to begin with.

Happy the Man is an album that stands clearly on its own, and has aged very well because of it. There's really no other album like it, even if its British prog influences are obvious.

Personal Collection
LP: 1977 Arista
CD: 1988 Edison (Japan)

Estes Brothers - Transitions. 1971 USA

The Estes Brothers (and sisters - there were 12 of them in the family! though the band only featured 2) were from the shores of Lake Erie between Sandusky and Cleveland, right in the middle of steel country, and the epicenter of the gritty working class Midwest. The music fits this scene perfectly. A mix of blues rock and driving hard rock, and translates that feeling of no hope and despair - that ended up being quite accurate historically speaking. 'This Morning' absolutely jams, in the tradition of bands like Cargo (Netherlands), Wishbone Ash, and Man. 'Gary's Thought' adds a bit of Take 5 era Dave Brubeck piano for a cool jazzy vibe to end the day. This album is a good one, and the perfect representation of the blue collar ethos of the time.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 World in Sound (Germany)

Original LPs are extremely rare (4 figures). And both reissues are now long OOP and hard to find as well. I was fortunate to snap up the World in Sound CD recently at a good price. Second photo is the Rockadelic LP. The CD has the single version of Tomorrow's Sunlight as Track 7. There are also 4 live tracks and 3 "at home" recordings appended as bonus tracks.

Korai Orom - s/t. 1995 Hungary

Korai Öröm's debut, from over 20 years ago, laid down the blueprint that the band continually draws upon to this very day. They were at once influenced by the UK Festival Psych scene, as well as many of the free spirited dance cultures that came about in the 90s. In effect, Korai Öröm are an organic chill out band. While they certainly do utilize electronics as a core component, the separation aspect is the use of real rock band instruments. In particular the electric guitar is a centerpiece, and often times played with in a fiery fuzz tone manner, and sometimes in high octane mode, which creates excitement within the generally low key "chill" environment. The unusual use of trumpet is also a fascinating addition to their sound. The musical themes often borrow from Western Asian and Australasian indigenous traditions, the latter represented by the heavy use of didgeridoo. On their debut, I'm most reminded of Ship of Fools, a band that arrived late to the UK Festival Psych scene and had a similar approach to crossing over with dance. The main drawback on this debut, is that Korai Öröm stretch their ideas a bit too far, and often times boredom ensues. The group were still finding their identity at this point, and hadn't quite seen their potential yet as a dynamic psychedelic rock unit. All the same, there's a solid 30 to 35 minutes here of excellent music (out of 55), and if you're a fan of the band, it's a must pick up. They were to improve from here. Exponentially in fact.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 private

I bought the CD not long after release, and have picked up every new album since. So yes, definitely a fan here.

Barcelona Traction - s/t. 1975 Spain

Barcelona Traction was actually a Canadian utility company (later owned by Belgians) operating in Franco's Spain, to which he went to battle with in the 1960s trying to limit foreign business influence in "his" state. It resulted in a court battle.

I learned that trying to find something interesting about this band, which I failed to do, other than they started life as "The New Jazz Trio", which is telling. Well, Barcelona Traction is an interesting name then, isn't it? What does it have to do with the sound of the namesake band? Absolutely nothing.

In fact Barcelona Traction were a very early entry for jazz rock in Spain. They favored the sunny and the tropical, predicting a type of sound that would dominate the landscape for the next few years. Acoustic piano dominates the proceedings, while bass, drums, and percussion fill out the lineup. Rhodes and Mini-Moog provide much needed texture. Given that it is early in the continuum, I found this one to be a tad rawer than the usual slick cruise ship sounds. A very strong 3.5 (Gnosis 10), and a pleasant way to watch the sunset on a beach with a frozen margarita.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Picap

Last listen: January 13, 2018

Ozric Tentacles - Spice Doubt Streaming. 1998 England

If you are seeking out the high octane variation of Ozric Tentacles, then look no further than Spice Doubt Streaming. This album completely eschews their reggae and new age electronic characteristics, and focuses strictly on their ability to set your stereo in flames. Which is my favorite aspect of the band. The first good clue is that the album opens with two of their most incendiary tracks - both the opening salvo on their respective albums (Become the Other, Erpland). 'Eternal Wheel' remains my personal favorite track by Ozric, and it's probably the only song on here that isn't quite up to the task of the studio version. The others I feel surpass their studio equivalents. And these aren't the only openers they chose. Perhaps best of all is 'Dissolution' (from Pungent Effulgent), which is absolutely lethal here. Elsewhere they have two of their most intense electronic pieces in 'Sploosh!' (Strangeitude) and 'Oddentity' (Curious Corn). If that isn't enough they throw in two mid album barn burners with 'Papyrus' and 'Myriapod'. Only to be bested by two new compositions 'Citadel Jam' and 'Spice Doubt', the latter renamed and rerecorded as 'Space Out' on Swirly Termination. All that's missing is 'Kick Muck'! But that track had already been well represented on prior live outings. All of these were their live debut on CD at the time.

What a smoker. This is probably my favorite Ozric Tentacles album, only in that it filters what I like best by them. And I have to say, I enjoy all of their albums! So there you have it.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Snapper

For some reason, I did not buy this when it first came out. I can recall having an opportunity to buy it at Tower Records in the SF Bay Area not long after release. I think I was suffering from Ozricitis at the time and passed. Apparently the unique oil based packaging of the private release is now a mess (first scan), so it's a good thing I did pass. A few years later I bought the Snapper reissue in a traditional tri-fold digipak (second scan).

Napoli Centrale - Mattanza. 1976 Italy

Napoli Centrale's Mattanza is an intriguing sophomore effort. This is jazz fusion with the pendulum swinging far to the jazz side of the equation. The gruff vocals are still present, often in scat form. At times, there's a late night John Coltrane vibe that permeates throughout, especially on Side 2. Some of the sax sequences get a bit shrieky for this listener, but for those predisposed to that sort of sound, I can imagine that would only add points. For my tastes, there are much better jazz rock oriented albums from Italy. I can let this one go.

Personal collection
None... sold the CD (2001 BMG)

Goat - Requiem. 2016 Sweden

Mid 1970s Embryo, Archimedes Badkar, and Kebnekaise all mashed up and distilled for the modern age. I dig it. Immensely so.

So the above represented by quick scratch off review. In listening again, I don't have that much more to add. Clearly the band are about indigenous ancient traditions, mixed with the psychedelic. Mostly African, but also the original inhabitants of South America too. My initial 3 bands listed above all have history with recording music with African musicians, and/or at least focusing on the continent exclusively. I would also add Los Jaivas to this mix as a good representation of South America. Then I'd add a bit of Flasket Brinner, when Goat turn on the psychedelic aspect of their sound. The album runs the gamut of the 1970s, where the first part of the decade is psych oriented, and the latter half of the decade was more into the exploratory spirit of World Fusion. While I'll maintain my 4 star rating, I have two small complaints that hold it back from being an even higher rating. 1) Some of the instrumentals have an excellent premise that they do little with. 'Temple Rhythms' in particular is just screaming for some guitar soloing. The tribal drums and wood flutes provide the perfect backdrop. But rather it just repeats itself rather than progress. I'm sure that's the point - to create a trance like state. But for this listener, it would have been devastating to hear it developed. 2) The female vocals here sound like annoying wails rather anything associated with singing. To be honest, it sounds bitchy as opposed to transcendental. Fortunately the album isn't dominated by them.

Small gripes to an otherwise excellent release. I love that modern bands are revisiting these musical areas that were abandoned all too quickly back in the day.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Sub Pop (USA)

El Reloj - s/t. 1975 Argentina

Like many bands from Argentina, El Reloj had a case of the blues. But they were an impetuous bunch, and didn't have the patience necessary to wallow in their sorrows. So they kicked out the jams instead. More hard rock than progressive, though El Reloj did flash signs of the brilliance to come, as you can hear the guitars working through some more complicated patterns. I had been pretty tough on this album in the past, but a fresh listen demonstrates the album has aged well. A timeless sound.

The 4 bonus singles show that El Reloj could capture their unique sound in a tighter frame. Just as good as the album proper.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Record Runner (Brazil)

The aforementioned 4 bonus singles were first introduced on the Cronologia CD (2nd scan), and all other reissues have maintained those (best I can tell anyway). As mentioned, I wasn't too keen on this album initially and sold the LP well over 20 years ago. Glad to have revisited the CD, and worth keeping for certain. As for the covers, the Cronologia introduced arguably the better artwork (essentially blowing up the upper left corner section), and the reissues have used either the original or that new one.

Gold - No Class What So Ever. 1980 USA

Gold are a southern Florida band and I found this album to be a very appealing piece of instrumental music. I love the guitar work, both in the psychedelic tone, and with his melodic style. No shredding here - this is the emotional style that Santana or even Frank Marino (think 'Poppy') can get when they focus on their instrumental side. The compositions are tight, and they pack a lot of ideas within relatively short time frames. It's sophisticated but not complicated. And while it ostensibly comes from a jazz fusion angle, I'd say it's more in the instrumental progressive rock camp. There is no doubt that this album will improve with multiple listens, as it possesses an uncommon depth. This one really came out of nowhere, and I don't think it's on the collector radar yet.

This is an album that I first heard via my research for the CDRWL. It was provided by this gentleman (a year prior to this posting), who is still at it after all these years. In any case, I'm thrilled to have finally found a vinyl copy, and thus it makes its first appearance here on the UMR. It's a really great album.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Alpha

BTW, Gold's first album, Night Ride, is best forgotten. My notes: It's hard to imagine this is the same band that released the excellent No Class What So Ever album. Especially the first half of the disc which is really no more than boogie shuffle rock, and is quite hideous in fact. By Track 5, the band started to turn to more intriguing instrumental guitar fronted fusion, and foreshadows the much better sophomore album to come.

You - Wonders From the Genetic Factory. 1984 Germany

Wonders From the Genetic Factory is You's 3rd studio album, and definitely the weakest from the original incarnation. This one has quite a bit of computer drum work and happy melody lines, which can get a bit nauseous after awhile. However, there's a surprising amount of mellotron on here, which is a very unique combination, and thus I moved it up to "keeper" status. Imagine mid 1970's Stratosfear-era Tangerine Dream playing Le Parc. Well, I know, but try. They were to bounce back mightily on their 4th album Laserscape, which is one of the 1980's best Elektronik Musik albums... meiner Meinung nach, of course.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Cue

Syd Arthur - Apricity. 2016 England

Apricity is the 3rd album from Syd Arthur and sees the band shifting away from late 60s/early 70s Canterbury style prog rock, to one of a more modern band. They still retain their "Englishness" as it were, and the vocals still possess that Richard Sinclair soft affectation. But it's applied differently. Syd Arthur has bet the farm on their ability to craft a good song, because they are no longer obfuscating it with instrumental flights of fancy. Which for this author is a bit of a disappointment. 10 tracks in the 4 minute range, without much variation within, is a tall order and there are times the album tends to blend together. Admittedly they do have a knack for penning thoughtful compositions. In some ways they are to the Canterbury scene what Stereolab was to Krautrock. That is, there's no denying it's a modern interpretation, but it does not lack for charm. All the same, I'd like to see the band return to a progressive rock slant, where they mix the best of both worlds.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Harvest (USA)

Sun Dial - Zen For Sale. 2003 England

Sun Dial's debut Other Way Out could be considered one of the greatest psych releases from the late 1960s. Except for the small fact it was released in 1990. And then inexplicably the band dismissed the genre entirely for that annoying shoegaze/indie style that was so popular in the early 90s. I'm sure from a commercial/economic standpoint, it was a prudent thing to do. Or it better have been. But bandleader Gary Ramon was always a child of the 60s, and one had to figure eventually he'd return to his favorite style. 1995's Acid Yantra held out hope, but then the group dissipated and it seemed the dream was over. Until 2003 that is. Zen For Sale is finally the album we've all been waiting for from Mr. Ramon and company. It's a fine return to form, and the first 3 tracks are as good as anything on Other Way Out. From there it goes from merely good to great. Sun Dial, it seems, have perfected the late 1960s UK strain of psychedelic music. They tap into the best parts - the fuzz guitar, the phased and accented vocals, the charming and naive melodies - and the absolute essence of pure psychedelia. Excellent.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Acme

This album proved hard to source upon release, and was somewhat obscure. I didn't secure a copy until 2010 myself, and I had been looking for some years.

Promenade - Noi al Dir di Noi. 2016 Italy

Promenade are a band from Genoa, and Noi al dir di Noi is their debut. The album has been pitched as an Italian prog take on Canterbury, similar to perhaps the first Picchio dal Pozzo. So I had huge hopes this would fall in line with similarly minded new groups like Moogg and Homunculus Res. Uhh... no. The opening move 'Ahtletics' is a barnburner with that wacky RIO strain of circus/cartoon styled music. References to anyone from Samla Mammas Manna to Miriodor to Yugen wouldn't be out of place. And while that wasn't exactly what I was hoping to hear, it turns out to be their best style that they revisited a couple of other places throughout. Otherwise, this is pretty much straightforward indie rock. Seriously. I fear to say that I vigorously disagree with some of the reviews I've read. There is very little classic Italian progressive rock within, if at all. I've given this one a few really detailed listens (when you have a 20 hour flight to Thailand, there isn't much else to do...). It's very rare these days for me to thumbs-down a new release - primarily because all the reviews and tools we have at our disposal to research - but this one passed the filters only to find out it wasn't at all to my taste. File under indie avant-prog. Sell bin. Sorry.

Personal collection
None... sold the CD (2016 Fading)

Too bad it has to be sold, as the CD is housed in a wonderful thick tri-fold digi-pak. The album was released on Alt Rock's Fading label, which is geared towards more traditional progressive rock. IMO, this should have been on the parent label.

Zhaoze (The Swamp) - Intoxicatingly Lost / Yesternight, Yes Tonight. 2015 China

I said it before within the review of a Trail Records sampler, and I will say it again: You can be rest assured the next big wave for fans of progressive rock, and for new artists, will come from China. Is it imminent? Probably not, but it’s coming just as other populous nations like Japan, South Korea, and Russia did before them. Zhaoze is more commonly known as The Swamp, and have been releasing albums (in obscurity it appears) since 2001. Intoxicatingly Lost is basically a reissue of their last album Yesternight, Yes Tonight (2015) and filled out with tracks culled from earlier works. This is, as the label designates, their first official "Western" release. Trail Records continues to release some of the most interesting albums from around the world, and are to be commended for such. Musically, Intoxicatingly Lost is really more in the post rock category. Long instrumental pieces that are built on atmospheric passages, taking the late 70s Pink Floyd ethos into Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor! realms – all with indigenous instruments mixed in (primarily the guqin) with the usual rock setup. I also found the rare use of flute as highly effective in this setting. The final title track gives us a glimpse into Zhaoze leaning in the space rock direction, and is the highlight. From a government regime/controversy standpoint, the album is about as subversive as a glass of milk. And the fact the band didn’t ignore their own native sounds, it seems the album will appeal to many worldwide as well as closer to home. At least of those who know of its very existence, that is to say.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Trail (USA)

Bandhada - s/t. 1984 Chile (archival)

Very much in the Gotic school of Mediterranean influenced jazz rock. Flute is the predominant melody instrument, as if Jeremy Steig played in a late 70’s Spanish progressive rock band. Or one from Quebec. Great songwriting throughout, only drawbacks being the use of early 80’s synthesizers and electric drums. If only this had Moog and Fender Rhodes instead of Yamaha’s, this would be a slam dunk classic**. The two live tracks have a rawer quality in the instrumentation, which is especially nice to hear considering the guitar department.

** - Ah, what the hell... Despite this potential shortcoming - it's still a classic.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Mylodon

After doing some research, I don't believe there is an original LP of this title. It appears this is an archival release. The online discographies still mention the existence of the LP, but I couldn't evidence of that.

Agusa - Katarsis. 2016 Sweden

Agusa's first live album, and third album overall, sees the band do what they do best: Jam. Recorded in Greece, and released on CD in the same country, this was obviously a planned event and Agusa clearly prepared heavily for it - meaning the band is sharp on all fronts. The material is culled from two tracks taken from their debut. Both are stretched considerably here, especially 'Kärlek Från Agusa' which was only a short bonus track on the original. Musically, the band hasn't changed one iota. This is 1972 Sweden brought forth and distilled for the modern age. Folk based melodies, progressive rock structures and changes, with psychedelic sounds (Organ, flute, acid guitar, pulsating bass, and pounding drums). It's a recipe that has patrons lined out the door for more. No point in tweaking that now. Given the improvisational nature of the concert, this album is entirely unique to the studio offerings, and as such, is a worthy investment on its own.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Sound Effect (Greece)

As with all Agusa releases to date, the album was originally released on vinyl from Kommun 2. Which makes sense of course, since the owner of the label is the bass player. As noted above, the CD is from Greece, and comes in a nice over-sized cardboard mini-LP styled cover. It's available in two colors. Mine is blue, and that's my sole copy to date.

Amon Duul II - Phallus Dei. 1969 Germany

I'll let a four decade plus old newspaper article write my review for me today. Süddeutsche Zeitung said once, which happens to be the largest German national subscription daily newspaper according to Wikipedia: "Amon Düül II is a pop band that needn't shy away from comparisons with Pink Floyd or the Velvet Underground, but they are much better, more influential and more progressive than their English and American counterparts." OK then, my work is done here I think....

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Sunset (UK)
CD: 1993 Repertoire
CD: 2006 Revisited

German originals, while hardly common, are actually much easier to find than the UK copy (2nd photo). This is the desired copy among collectors, and is by far the most expensive. I've never owned either. My first copy was the UK Sunset version, that also features a unique cover (photo #3). I found this new in a record store in the mid 80s. I sold it when I first got the CD (1993 version). But I realized recently I had to have it back. It's not terribly expensive either. What's great about this version is the back cover (photo #4), which is hilarious. Sunset was known for releasing adult pop music. What on Earth were they thinking when they put Amon Duul II on the label with the not-too-disguised title of Dick God? I always imagined some old codger with a pipe, getting excited at the strip-mall record store "Look Edna, a new album on Sunset! I got to get this!". Imagine the scene back home. ROFL. As for reissues, they are plentiful,and it's just a matter of preference. I prefer the digi-pak and liner notes of the 2006 release, but I thought the sound of the 93 CD was better. So I kept both.

Last listen: June 14, 2016

Tusmorke - Fort Bak Lyset. 2016 Norway

Ført Bak Lyset is the 3rd studio album from Tusmørke. The band continues to move away from their obvious Jethro Tull beginnings, to something far more native. As if to respond to the critics, the album opens up with a musical quote from none other than Edvard Grieg himself. English is a thing of the past, and Tusmørke are now defiantly singing in Norwegian 100%. The Viking styled choruses from the second album are still here in abundance, but they've fortunately returned back to their debut when considering the progressive quotient. Flute continues to be the main instrumental driver, and the compositions have added a bit of complexity. There's an underlying hard rock muscle throughout. It takes awhile for the ears to adjust to this one, but Ført Bak Lyset is a step in the right direction as far I'm concerned. This album just basks in its Norwegianess (word of the day). If bands from the 70s like Host and Hades excite you, then you'll be pleased with this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Svart (Finland)

Moogg - Italian Luxury Style. 2016 Italy

With a name like Italian Luxury Style, one could be forgiven in thinking that Moogg has abandoned progressive rock for the Shibuyu-kei style, similar to Pizzicato Five and Fantastic Plastic Machine. Well, noooo, but it's not entirely unfair to tag some of this as kitschy. There is a cool jet-set late 60s vibe, mixed with a slick 70s jazz funk tone throughout. All mixed in with their patented Italian take on the Canterbury sound. This is one of those albums that sounds very familiar, and yet is entirely unique, which is quite an accomplishment actually. Multiple listens reveals something new every time, and there's a subtle complexity that lurks underneath what seems like gloss - similar to some of the best 70s fusion artists. Melody is Moogg's strength, and they are anxious to exploit. Another strong outing from Moogg, perhaps a step down from the awesome debut, but it's clear the band is stretching out a bit here and taking chances.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Mellow

For some odd reason, this album was only available as a download for the longest time. A disturbing trend. Provide us physical assets please!

Eye - Vision and Ageless Light. 2016 USA

Vision and Ageless Light is the 3rd studio album from Columbus, Ohio's Eye. The band clearly are moving into the "professional" category and leaving their amateur status behind. And in this case, that's a huge plus, even if I enjoy all their albums roughly the same. Eye seems to now be embracing their Nektar leanings, while digging deeper into a new found love for early non-sequencer Tangerine Dream. As with the latter group, mellotron is omnipresent, and it's clear the glorious sounds of the aging tapes are fascinating to the band as much as the audience. Eye is also beginning to drive harder in the Hawkwind space rock column, but with a UK festival styled edge, similar to the best groups like Omnia Opera. All of this combined with more focus paid to composition, and less on improvisation and jam. I could swear I heard a musical quote from Osanna's Palepoli as well, but don't hold me to it. This is a group that is mixing common ingredients but have a come up with an entirely new recipe. If the band continues in this manner, it's hard to imagine the next release being anything less than a masterpiece. I really like the direction Eye is heading in.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Laser's Edge

The CD comes in a fine single sleeve mini-LP format. Glad to see this packaging format taking off for new albums as well.

Ingranaggi della Valle - Warm Spaced Blue. 2016 Italy

Warm Spaced Blue is an odd sophomore release from Ingranaggi della Valle. Their debut was a kinetic progressive rock album, with powerful Italian vocals, jagged rhythms, and fiery instrumental chops. Very much in league with the Italian school of symphonic fusion like Deus Ex Machina or DFA. On Warm Spaced Blue, they've embraced more modern progressive tendencies, some angular dissonance, representing King Crimson, Anekdoten, and even the Avant Prog contingency of Thinking Plague. In effect they've gone from being an Italian prog rock band to a prog rock band from Italy, if that makes sense. Similar to Not a Good Sign perhaps. As such, the album has been praised in international progressive rock circles, as it's a popular sound amongst the faithful. Personally, I was a bit disappointed, as it seemed Ingranaggi della Valle were poised to take the baton from the much missed DFA, who are unlikely to ever reform. All of this to say, Warm Spaced Blue is hardly an abject failure. To be honest, I'm a bit tired of this sort of cold and clinical modern progressive style. And yet Ingranaggi della Valle somehow brings it to life, adding just the right amount of romantic touches to what could have been just another academic exercise. Having Warm in the title, whether intentional or not, provides an ingenious hint. The compositions are dense, as these kind of albums tend to be, and requires multiple listens to absorb. Even with that, I'm not sure I have - absorbed that is. Which is fine - makes future listens all that much more intriguing.  I'll give it 4 stars on faith.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Black Widow

Corsair - One Eyed Horse. 2015 USA

Corsair's blueprint comes from that exciting time when the late 70s hard rock movement first transitioned into heavy metal. It was a period where muscle and might met thoughtful compositions and progressive ambitions. And most importantly, melody was front and center, not an afterthought or an inconvenience. Where Corsair really shines is in their ability to write awe-inspiring breaks, followed by twin guitar melodies and further followed up with psychedelic solos. On this latter front, the band moves away from the 70's, and more into modern times, somewhat similar to the more sophisticated stoner bands emulating the late 60s, and who actually know how to play their instruments - for example a group like Colour Haze. The vocals are almost too soft affected for the music, bordering the indie style, but just enough grit to earn its 70s badge. In the end, the influences are wide ranging, and provides a different path than the usual metal revivalists. I'm not really sure of any other band that has the sound of Corsair - past or present. When looking at similar bands from the late 70s like Alkana, Legend, Granmax, Manilla Road, and Thin Lizzy, not a one of them really sound like Corsair. They have found a small niche inside a crowded field. Not sure what the market is, but I'm sure it should be larger than it is. This is the kind of music I wish I was hearing on the radio when still a teenager.

Personal collection
CD: 2015 Shadow Kingdom

Flight - s/t. 1975 USA

Flight were a Florida based progressive rock/fusion band with mellotron, Moog, guitar, trumpet, and quite a bit of kinetic energy. This is one of the most confused releases from a most confused time in American history (think Gerald Ford and hyper inflation). The album opens up as if Starcastle had decided to sound like Yezda Urfa instead of you-know-who. But then there's trumpet. Trumpet? OK, then. This leads to 'Make a Miracle' which is more like Earth, Wind, and Fire. "Baa-bay, I need you...baa-bay" It's actually quite accomplished for the style. Then how about some fusion runs similar to Mingo Lewis' Flight Never Ending? And so it goes, yo-yo-ing back and forth from insane prog to complicated fusion to radio soul hits. What a cool and dopey album, really. Too sophisticated for chart topping; too mainstream to be an underground cult classic. Can't imagine what the hell Capitol were thinking here. The more I review albums on the Capitol label, the more I wonder just how drugged up were those guys in the 70s? Flight were to get even more bizarrely contrasting on their followup album. Awesome.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Capitol

Originals are easy to find, though obtaining one without marks and in mintish condition can be a challenge. I finally managed that, and it still cost me all of $7. For some reason Eastworld decided to only reissue their second Incredible Journay, and thus this self titled remains without any reissue.

Opossum - Bear's Banquet. 1974 Germany (archival)

Opossum is the predecessor group to Morpheus. And after hearing this archival release, one can tell that Opossum is much looser in their embryonic stages to the more rigid Morpheus. Despite lacking cohesion and strong melody composition, the rough styling here can be quite appealing. Maybe like a less avant-garde Exmagma perhaps. I also hear some Xhol especially considering their own archival releases. Or even Missus Beastly with Eddy Marron. It's at that borderline area of jazz and Krautrock. 'The Sun and Moon Have Come Together' is actually a cover of the title track from the relatively obscure American jazz rock outfit The Fourth Way (what an odd choice...). Interesting to note for an album cover that prominently displays a flute, it’s surprising how little the instrument is used. And that's because the gentleman displayed is also their second drummer and percussionist.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Garden of Delights

Four Levels of Existence - s/t. 1976 Greece

The Four Levels of Existence are at once ahead of their time... and behind. On a cursory listen, one can hear a ferocious modern styled hard rocking album along the lines of Icecross or fellow countrymen Socrates Drank the Conium. But a more careful study reveals that of a late 60s garage band, somewhat like the primitive grass roots American bands that emerged during that tumultuous era. The songwriting is not one of the levels of existence apparently. Most of the tracks begin to blur together, as they feature the same loud dynamic. Non stop fuzz guitar, slightly higher pitched vocals and standard drum fills define this highly collectible work. It sticks out primarily due to the time and place. Not essential, but a good one for late psych / hard rock genre fans.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Lion (USA)

Originals are hyper rare and expensive. Even the LP reissues are going for decent money now, though I don't recall getting that much for mine which I sold off less than a decade ago. The CD version comes with excellent liner notes penned by the band.

Food Brain - Social Gathering. 1970 Japan

Food Brain's sole album starts off wonderfully. In fact, all of Side 1 is an aggregate of the heavy psych UK scene of the same era. There are few albums from this time period that are as concise and consistent as Food Brain are here. But then comes 'The Hole in a Sausage' and everything comes to a screeching halt. And when I say screeching that is also a description. Free improvisation has its place, but one would hope for a bit of direction or spiritual guidance within. There's none of that. This is 15 minutes of pure noise making hell. No melody, no structure, no jams, no anything but what are random sounds from the various instruments in the studio. When you consider the blessed side 1, and you have Shinki Chen on guitar and Hiro Yanagida on organ within your midst, this can only go down as one of the biggest wastes of time in the annals of rock music. I think the reviewers sort of gloss over this, but it represents 40% of the album, and I don't think it can be overlooked so easy. Still, this is one of those 3 star albums that results in being a keeper, because the rest is very good.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 P-Vine

Originals come in a fine gatefold as do the CDs in the mini-LP format.

Tetragon - Stretch. 1971 Germany (archival)

Stretch was to be the second album from Tetragon, and the third when considering Trikolon. This bunch never were what I would consider a classic Krautrock band. Definitely more of an English vibe. Colosseum is certainly one guidepost. But even more so, from the beginning with Trikolon, keyboardist Hendrik Schaper was heavily influenced by a one Brian Auger. The two cover tracks are the same ones Auger had recorded recently ('Listen Here' and 'Dragon Song'). But where Tetragon earn their namesake shape is the performance and the orientation. This is Brian Auger for the instrumental prog rock set. And while the music certainly is jammy in nature, it is remarkable how composition acumen is continually portrayed. 5 long instrumental tracks is a recipe for boredom, and yet Tetragon are anything but. Since this album was completely in the can and ready to be released, you are getting far more than the usual archival release here. It's as if a new treasure had been found in the caves. Not one to miss.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Garden of Delights

Gotic - Gegants i Serpentines. 1978 Spain (archival)

Gotic’s second album, never released in its day and forever bootlegged it seemed, has finally seen the light of day courtesy of the band themselves. Well worth the wait, as Gegants I Serpentines is a worthy successor to the fantastic Escenes. Perhaps a bit more typical in the fusion department, as was protocol for the day. But there are also a couple of tracks that amp up the progressive quotient, with a bit more variety and meter shifts within each track. No worry though, the happy and magical melodies of the debut are carried forth here, while flute, keyboards, and guitar are still front and center. In fact, the guitar is more fuzzed out than prior. Highly recommended.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 private

There are a couple of releases for this album (legit that is, not counting bootlegs), the first as a CD-R, and the second as a fully pressed CD (which I own). The latter has the catalog number of CDR-001 (oh brother!). Be sure to inquire first, as obviously the factory pressed CD is the better asset for the long term. The tri-fold digi-pak is fantastic, no matter which version you buy.

Purson - Desire's Magic Theatre. 2016 England

Purson’s second album, like spiritual sisters’ Blood Ceremony, finds the band going further back in time from their prior album. So if The Circle and the Blue Door was their recreating of 1971, then Desire’s Magic Theatre is their homage to 1969. This is a rather straightforward psych album, where the progressive rock influences are becoming more rubbed out. That’s not to say the album is without thought or merit – far from it – in fact had it come out in 1969, it would be hailed as a period semi-masterpiece. Rosalie Cunningham is obviously gaining confidence, and this is her band, no more questions asked. Their sound still fits squarely into my Post psychedelic, proto progressive with female vocals list – though this time they border outright Jefferson Airplane/Savage Rose-like psychedelia at times. ‘Electric Landlady’ is not only a funny title, but it is indeed Hendrixian. And while I do like the album, I would hope for some more creativity the next go ‘round. This one plays it too safe, and the songs aren’t memorable enough to sustain interest over repeated listens. Purson certainly have the potential for better.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Spinefarm/Universal

Galactic Supermarket - s/t. 1974 Germany

As good a place as any to jump in on the happenin' Berlin Kosmische Kourier Musik scene. A non-stop peak experience with roaring guitars, swirling synthesizers, pulsating bass, frantic drums, and echoed female vocals. Moment-in-time live jamming that perfectly captures the ethos of a bygone era. Mandatory.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Kosmische Musik
CD: 1994 Spalax (France)

Last listen: June 3, 2016

Tabletom - Mezclalina. 1980 Spain

Such a strange little album, perhaps mirroring the surrealistic cover. On the surface, Tabletom seem to opt for a light, Spanish flavored, jazz rock sound. Flute is the initial featured instrument of choice. Then comes these crunchy power chord guitars, and irregular flamenco style rhythms. Violin and sax also make appearances. The vocalist reminds me of some of the more gravelly Italian guys as found on Jumbo or Odissea. It takes a bit to get into, but this one has a lot to recommend. The last 9 minute track is a barnburner. I had thrown the Mezquita name out in the past, but that's a bit misleading, as Tabletom aren't quite as Andalusian influenced as that may imply. They had a few albums after this debut, but I understand they are of less interest, but don't know for certain. Great Dali-esque cover.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 RCA

Still not on CD as I write this entry.

Last listen: June 29, 2009

Von Zamla - No Make Up. 1983 Sweden

Second album from international version of the zany S/Zamla Mammas Manna bunch with ties to Albert Marcoeur’s group. Featuring an expanded lineup of six, including Univers Zero reeds man Michel Berckmans, No Make Up! is undeniably an avant progressive tour de force. The album opens, interestingly enough, with ‘Forge Etude’, a rework from Zamla’s (then) final album Familjesprickor. A rarely mentioned fact, possibly due its obscurity, is the relationship of Von Zamla with the German fusion band Munju during this period. Both recorded for the German based JA&RO label (aka Exil). And not only do they share a full time member, bassist Wolfgang Saloman, but Berckmans also played extensively on Munju’s Le Perfectionniste album. This collaboration is reflected on the third track ‘Für Munju / Indojazz’, one of the livelier pieces on No Make Up!. Throughout the album, it’s once again Lars Hollmer’s familiar accordion, that drives most of the Nordic European style folk melodies. The ensemble work is tight, in typical chamber music fashion, with the aggressive rock edge provided by guitarist Eino Haapala, the same role he played for the Zamla clan prior. It’s fair to say that most of the groups in the Rock in Opposition camp find it hard to avoid some crazy improvisation, sort of their bitch-slap to the establishment. Here Von Zamla only utilize one piece for that, the unbelievably irritating (and mercifully short) ‘Voice Improvisation’. Fortunately the remainder of the tracks remain composed, energetic and satisfying. No Make Up! was slotted to be reissued on CD in 1998, but for reasons unknown, did not happen.  Highly recommended to fans of the original RIO movement, the collective avant progressive sound, and those who have recently arrived through the Nordic front door via the Northside label.

Personal collection
LP: 1983 JA&RO (Germany)

Still no CD as I write this.

Last listen: 2008

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...