Dungen - Häxan. 2016 Sweden

Dungen's CV for over a decade will read as a modern take on the 1971 Silence Records stable mixed with Mikael Ramel's Till Dej. The fact that the band defiantly sings in their native Swedish, and still manages to have a large cult following even here in America is something quite extraordinary. But what if the band decided to remove the songs and lyrics? Häxan is the answer to that question. Gustav Ejstes and company have provided their musical interpretation of a 1920's era animated German film. And the German reference can be taken even further, as this is spot on Krautrock from the Kosmische Kourier era. It has that warm analog feeling with the biting psychedelic fuzz edge juxtaposed against the wavering flute throughout. There are beautiful melodies and soundscapes, but little that would typically qualify as a traditional "song". So journey south with Dungen from Stockholm to Berlin and enjoy Häxan. I can listen to music like this endlessly.

Personal collection
CD: 2016 Mexican Summer (USA)

Curt Cress Clan - CCC. 1975 Germany

Curt Cress Clan had one album released smack dab in the middle of the funky fusion era, and this album falls right in lockstep with expectation. Starts with a barnburner in 'Cyclone', and 'Fields' is wonderfully moody. 'Movin Right Along' also kicks a fair amount of booty. Despite the somewhat trite composition style, all is not lost, as it contains exceptional performances from Volker Kriegel (who obtains a wonderful fuzz guitar tone throughout); Kristian Schultze on keyboards (and yet again the fat analog synth tones are great here); and of course Cress himself on the drum kit, who gets in a few great patterns. One to buy if a fan of Kraut Fusion.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Atlantic
CD: 2010 Sireena

The CD is housed in a digipak, complete with liner notes.

Second Direction - Four Corners. 1976 Germany

Coming from the jazz wing of the ever large Kraut Fusion movement, Second Direction provides the listener some of the genre's finest moments. In particular when band leader Fritz Münzer pulls out the flute (primarily on 'Storm Flute', 'Flying Carpet Ride', and the title track), the results can be divine. Second Direction have perfectly encapsulated the optimism of the era, with gorgeous melodies and sublime rhythms. Hearing this makes you want to take a ride through the countryside, and enjoy a picnic with a bottle of wine and a beautiful girl by your side. Overall I'd submit that Second Direction ties closest to the two Sunbirds' albums, though all remnants of Krautrock have been filtered out here.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 Spinning Wheel

A very obscure CD reissue. The label is legit, and was active at the turn of the century.

Schnauser - Protein for Everyone. 2014 England

My big fear coming into Protein for Everyone, my first encounter with Schnauser, is that there would be traces of indie/alternative music. Not that I read this anywhere, but instinctively the younger bands have it in their DNA due to constant exposure, different than my own generation. I can't stand that music myself. The monotone sound and nihilistic outlook goes against my very optimistic and creative nature. Give me a pissed off metal band any day - at least they care enough to be mad!

So with that out of the way - Schnauser have succeeded entirely on not dragging that element into their sound. Hooray! This is square-on psychedelic era Canterbury music, of the kind that didn't get past 1971. The soft affected vocals, the period instrumentation (especially the keyboards and fuzz bass), and the melodies are all extremely well done. It doesn't quite have the depth of the masters, and one does begin to think that if Stereolab had emulated Soft Machine or Caravan, rather than French 60s pop and Neu!, this would have been the result. That would have been great actually, now that I think about it.

The first 4 tracks are the highlight, and it begins to slowly break down from there. On first glance, 'Disposable Outcomes' appears this will be Schnauser's 'Nine Feet Underground' or 'Esther's Nose Job'. Alas it isn't, primarily because the band opted out of giving us some fuzz keyboard jam moments, and instead offers some weird story. That's really too bad, because there are moments throughout where I thought this would be a 5 star masterpiece. So in the end, it lived up to its title. On that note, this is one of the very few albums where a 4 star/Gnosis 11/excellent grade could be considered a disappointment. All the ingredients are here (they go so far as to define the band makeup in the CD literally as ingredients!) and they succeed, but I feel they did not transcend the genre, when you instinctively know they have the ability to do so. Still - this is a must own if you enjoy the early Canterbury movement.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Esoteric Antenna

Leviathan - The Legendary Lost Elektra Album. 1969 England (archival)

Leviathan were an English band from the late 60s with quite a backstory and a decidedly sad ending. Rechristened from the more mod sounding Mike Stuart Span, Leviathan were like many bands of the era, who were moving from catchy pop oriented singles into more heady album material. Oddly the band's demise appears to have come from a confusing promotion wherein Elektra decided to issue 2 singles at once, and both failed to chart. The first two tracks on this album represent the better of the singles, and demonstrates why Leviathan should have been a force on the psychedelic / upcoming progressive rock scene. Fantastic guitar leads, psychedelic infused vocals, and solid melodies are the name of the game with Leviathan. The other single contained 'The War Machine' and 'Time', and were both a bit dated for the cutting edge 1969 mindset, though still quite good. My pick for the best track is 'Through the Looking Glass', which is that rare breed of true "psych prog" as one might hear on the Pussy Plays album for example.

In any event, the album was pulled by the label president, for reasons that are still not clearly understood. It is suggested that the band still needed to improve on the album, but funding was going to have to come from within if the album wanted to see the light of day. This of course was not possible, and the band disintegrated on the spot. As noted by the title, the album indeed had gained legendary status via the record buying community going back to the 1980s. It took almost 50 years in total, but finally we can all hear this most promising group. It's bitter sweet though, as we'll never know the what-if scenario.

Personal collection

CD: 2016 Grapefruit / Cherrry Red

Namaz - 300 M.P.H. 1981 Germany

For Namaz's debut, try to imagine Embryo circa Bad Heads and Bad Cats, or the Real Ax Band - but carrying on into 1981. Tropical and breezy Kraut styled fusion with sultry female vocals are the order of the day here. Final track 'Cyklus III' goes into freaky Santana guitar mode to close in excellent fashion. A fine album for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Creole Stream (Japan)

Mystere de Notre Dame - s/t. 1996 Italy

Mystere de Notre Dame were like many bands of the mid 90s, and definitely engaged in a bit of Dream Theater worship. The chops weren't quite there, and the professionalism was B grade, but no doubt competent all the same. For the first 3 tracks, you will admire Mystere de Notre Dame, but a bit of deja-vu will come about soon enough, Then comes 'Dominus', and it's still Dream Theater - as found in the Twilight Zone. It's not on-purpose attention grabbing either, but rather a tad off-center. In this way Mystere de Notre Dame reminds me of those nutty German bands of the same era like Payne's Gray and Cant. It's as if the band knew they were sleepwalking, and needed to do something else - but weren't quite sure what to do. Was it their Italian heritage? Perhaps Semiramis was on their mind... By no means is this radical in the same way as fellow countrymen Garden Wall are, it's just...different. The album has received relatively low marks across the board on both RYM and Gnosis, and I figure it's because of the typical Dream Theater association, and the first 3 tracks don't help. But a deeper dive reveals something more. I wondered why I kept this CD all these years, and now I know. And I will continue to do so.

Personal collection
CD: 1996 Music is Intelligence (Germany)

Yves Laferrière - s/t. 1978 Canada

If viewing this record for the first time, one could be forgiven for marrying the album cover with the 1978 date, and coming to the conclusion this is yet another period fusion album. But that's not the case at all. Yves Laferrière was one of the primary songwriters on both of the Contraction albums, and on his one solo album, he has successfully recreated the past. This sounds every bit like an early 70s Quebecois progressive rock work, and could easily be considered the 3rd Contraction album. The same style of songwriting and the beautiful female vocals are just 2 of the components that make this comparison obvious. All the songs are relatively compact (save the more lengthy and raucous closer), and there are no obvious standout moments - and yet each and every track fits "just so". If you're a fan of Contraction, you'll want this.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 ProgQuebec

Chickencage Experience - KamaSutra BlackBelt. 2014 Germany

Polytoxicomane Philharmonie were already an odd bunch, but their offshoot group Chickencage Experience took things to a whole new level. T...